This is a terrifying and very sad book. A husband and wife are in bed together one night when the husband wakes up to his wife shaking and not respond...moreThis is a terrifying and very sad book. A husband and wife are in bed together one night when the husband wakes up to his wife shaking and not responding to him.
Things go downhill from there.
Michael Kimball, who wrote the excellent Dear Everybody, a novel written in the form of letters left behind by a man who commits suicide, uses his ear for speech to translate into text a book that finds power in simple sadness.
Take, for example, this portion towards the beginning:
I didn't want to lose my wife. I wanted to see my wife lying down in a hospital bed. I wanted to see my wife breathing again. I wanted to see her get up out of bed again. I wanted to see her get up out of our bed again. I wanted my wife to come back home and live there with me again.
Kimball has a really subtle style, a way of saying things that makes the reader really sympathize with the narrator.
To get picky:
I pulled her eyelids up, but her eyes didn't look back at me, and her eyelids closed up again when I let go of them.
A lot of writers would have left off with ..."but her eyes didn't look back, and her eyelids..." but Kimball is a writer who makes lots of little important choices that make his books great.
True to form, Kimball also experiments with the structure, interspersing his own memories of the deaths of his grandparents into the story at hand. I'm not really sure why...but something that would normally be impossible to pull off works, and I'm more interested in the fact THAT it works than HOW for the time being.
Great book, definitely one of Pete's Top of 2011.
Now, it has to be noted that there was, unfortunately, a dream sequence in this book. As prompted by a friend earlier in the week, I would like to take a moment to express how irritating I find dreams in works of art and why I think they don't belong there.
For starters, I don't believe that dreams have much meaning, or certainly not hidden meaning that we need to mine from deep within the shitty folds of our dumb brains. Most of my dreams are fairly pedestrian, involve reasonably familiar scenarios and characters, and don't really make for much exciting interpretation.
Example: Dream where I am spooning some girl from high school, then I get up to go to work.
Interpretation: Though I don't think about that person often, there she was. And in the dream I got up to do exactly what I do five out of every seven days, so it would be more unusual to me if I weren't going to work.
It's my guess that brief thought will give you all the context you need for 90% of your dreams, and the other ten percent can be chalked up to your brain just doing whatever the fuck it wants.
That said, I know that not everybody feels that way. Lord knows we've all hung out with some fool who had a dream that his grandma died, and then it turned out his grandma died. Unless you're in a really bad movie, the death was on accident and not to somehow make people believe the kid was a dream psychic, and I have to believe that this was random chance.
Math: if you dreamt that your grandmother died once every month, and on one of these nights she died, assuming that you are 27 years old, your dreams were correct .3% of the time, which is a pretty shitty average. If you do that same math a different way, dreaming something different every night for a year, one of those dreams would come true. Thinking about it that way, that you dreamt SOMETHING every night, it wouldn't be that much of a shock that one dream came true. Except that the brain is a pattern-seeking machine, and it has a tendency to really highlight the shit out of the times it's right and let go of the times it's wrong.
Therefore, some idiot has a dream that comes true once, and I have to hear about it constantly. Yet I don't call them every single day to ask them what the previous night's dreams held and to remind them that those didn't come true, and also I don't butt in to point out that even though the grandma death was prophesized, there was not a bengal tiger with bananas instead of claws involved as there was in the dream.
That's my feeling on real world dreams and why they aren't interesting, particularly. If you think I want to hear about your dreams, try this first: Start by telling me the most fucked-up dream you've ever had. If I'm interested in that, I might, MIGHT listen to some others. But start with the gold.
Back to books.
I want to put this question in your head: Why?
Why, in a story that is a complete fabrication, does there need to be a dream? A made up story within a made up story?
Every single thing on the page is made up, so why does there have to be something that appears EVEN MORE made up?
I have some common reasons this happens, patterns if you will:
-Dreams are a shortcut to expressing mood in a book without actually doing the heavy lifting of, I don't know, writing a book. Instead of using factors outside the character, or painting the character as exhibiting a certain mood, the writer can just say, "That night he dreamed of a black snake. It was swallowing him whole, and as the snake's mouth covered his own mouth and nose he stopped breathing and saw nothing."
-Dreams are a way of allowing a character to do something out of character or express a repressed feeling. The corporate drone eviscerating his boss and cooking the entrails in a skillet. That way, the character can do something awful, but we don't have to risk readers finding a strong dislike for a character. Because the last thing you want is for a character to evoke strong reactions.
-Dreams are a way for writers to feel like they can cut loose and get a little sloppy with their words. If it doesn't make sense, it's fine. It's a dream, it's not supposed to make sense. I really dislike that logic. It goes against the entire purpose of writing, which is to make someone understand something, whether it be an action or an emotion or whatever. But a sentence like, "He broke through the tallgrass walls and fell bellyfirst out of a thick, blue membrane of sleep and into a different world, a world where his feet were his feet but also part of everything else" is just annoying. It's like hearing someone describe, badly, what it's like to drop acid.
-Dreams are, in some of the more egregious cases, used to solve mysteries in the book. A detective-type will be looking something over for hours, and it’s only when he has a dream about the papers flying out the window and rearranging themselves on the ground that he figures out the code. That, my friends, is complete bullshit and you know it.
-Worst case scenario, the dream is put in front of the audience as reality, and it's only after the dream is over that we find out It Was All a Dream. This is a completely idiotic way to tell a story. First, how does your audience know to trust you? A real person would never say, "Here's what happened to me in real life yesterday" and the proceed to tell you a dream. It's a completely false presentation, and your audience should not trust you afterwards. Second, it undoes all your hard work. Famously, in Super Mario Bros. 2, the game ending shows Mario in bed and after he wakes up it turns out that the entire game, all those turtle shells and radishes and all that bullshit, was all a dream. THEN WHY THE FUCK CAN'T YOU JUST JUMP IN THE VERY FIRST PIT IN THE GAME, WAKE UP, AND GET THE EXACT SAME MOTHERFUCKING ENDING!?
Here, in another list-y format, are some more reasons I really hate the use of dreams in all formats of fiction:
-You never know where you stand with a dream because rarely does the dreaming character say anything about the dream in particular or express it fully to another character. Therefore, the reader now knows something that other characters may potentially know and may not, for all intents and purposes, exist at all in the fictional universe. If a fictional character cannot or does not remember a dream, it becomes a complete waste of time, no different than if a writer wrote a chapter and then followed it up with, "Just kidding, ignore that chapter, let's move on."
-On that same note, setting the tone with a dream is sort of like being a lawyer and asking a question that you know will be overruled. You didn't get the answer, but the jury can't just pretend they never heard it, and they can't help but speculate. A dream puts a seed in someone's brain, but it's not earned.
-I want to see characters do shit. I don't want them to dream about stabbing someone. I want them to stab someone. Or have sex with someone, or wreck their car, or do whatever the hell it is this book has been promising me so far. A novel is entirely an exercise in "What would happen if..." so you might as well make it worthwhile. There was a famous writer who suggested a technique that I remember as "Snake in a Drawer." The idea is that you throw something incongrous into the story and see what happens. Not something impossible, a pirate doesn't show up out of goddamn nowhere, but maybe someone opens a dresser drawer and there's a snake inside. Cue action. Take the snake out of the dream and put him in a drawer. Get out of my dreams, get into my car, damn it.
-I understand that dreams can be used to try and avoid cliche, using a dark dream instead of a dark sky, but the dreams end up falling back on cliche anyway. The language of dreams is less universal than the language of, um, language, and a dream has to be a lot more pre-explained and pre-loaded with what we already know in order to make any sense.
Okay, it's out of my system.
There's a time and a place for dreams, sure. Certain genres, certain types of books, can pull it off. I'm not a fan of hallucinations in any kind of media, but Fear & Loathing would not make a whole lot of sense played straight. Nightmare on Elm Street has to be the way it is, and it works because the distortion between dreams and reality is the whole point, not a throwaway scene. There's a scene in the terribly dated Empire Records where a character has a hallucination that he's at a GWAR concert being eaten alive by a giant plant, and it's funny because the character is watching himself on the TV and the audience sees his expression change as things go south.
In summation, dreams are a very specific tool in media and should not be used as a swiss army knife to solve whatever problems may arise. (less)
Brutally sad, honest, and well-written. You feel the violence under the surface of every word, and when it breaches it still surprises the reader and...moreBrutally sad, honest, and well-written. You feel the violence under the surface of every word, and when it breaches it still surprises the reader and leaves you devastated.
The one downside is that the first story, a novella-length piece, is the real strength of the book and comes up top. Afterwards, it's hard to feel like there's much reason to continue on through the other couple of stories. It's worth the effort, but it's a little like seeing Quiet Riot in concert and hearing Cum on Feel the Noize very first thing. You'll still enjoy the night, but the anticipation of the best being yet to come has something to it.(less)
This volume contains all the things that normally drive me nuts in a comic. Cloning, time travel, alternate dimensions.
And you know what?
It's fucking...moreThis volume contains all the things that normally drive me nuts in a comic. Cloning, time travel, alternate dimensions.
And you know what?
It's fucking awesome.
I laughed. I cried. Actually, no I didn't. I'm not a CHILD. I just laughed, but I did it a lot. Even the running commentary, usually a single sentence at the bottom of each page, made me laugh my ass off.
Truly, truly hilarious. It runs to the edge of being to off-the-wall, but it always comes back.
Yes, I finally experienced the Princess Bride, both in book and in film.
The movie is one of those that you have to see if for no other reason than to...moreYes, I finally experienced the Princess Bride, both in book and in film.
The movie is one of those that you have to see if for no other reason than to stop people's incredulity when you explain that you haven't. There are plenty of other reasons to watch it, but good god, there aren't many statements that bring forth as much shock and awe as "Princess Bride? Never seen it."
Some statements that bring forth equivalent surprise:
"I've never been in a ball pit."
"I've never see precipitation of any kind."
"I've never seen the Goonies/the Breakfast Club/the Karate Kid." (these I know from experience to be on about the same level)
I'm guilty of doing the same thing, though. When a friend recently told me she'd never seen Back to the Future, ANY of them, I said, "Really? None of them?"
It's a nice way to communicate with someone, restating everything in question form.
"That'll be $4.95."
"Really? $4.95? In money? American money?"
The book is really good, though. It has a surprising element that’s mostly absent in the movie, which is the author writing short asides explaining how he edited the original text and why. Great stuff, really funny. I can see why it’s so popular amongst adults. It’s got that vibe to it, maybe the closest equivalent being a Pixar movie, where you feel like it’s for kids, but also that we’re being tricked into thinking it’s for kids when really it’s more for adults in a lot of ways. As if they’re somehow made to make us feel nostalgia for the movies of childhood, but to feel the nostalgia when seeing something brand new and for the first time, as adults. It’s very tricky.
One more thing: if a friend tells you that a book is a favorite, or a movie, or a song, it’s probably worth your time to see what the fuss is about. Seriously. That’s how I ended up reading a long form fairy tale in between a book about cage fighters and a book about a bomb tech. The beauty of reading a friend favorite is that even if you’re not all that into the book, you’ll still understand something new about your friend. So if it drags in sections or if it takes a little longer to convince you of its value, you’ve got more reason to read it. Everybody has plenty of stuff on the to-read list. But if you’ve got a little time, try reading something that a friend or a loved one would claim as a favorite. It’s time well spent. (less)
What's funny about this book is that when I picked it up from the library, it had a little blue sticker with a magnifying glass on the spine, the kind...moreWhat's funny about this book is that when I picked it up from the library, it had a little blue sticker with a magnifying glass on the spine, the kind for Mysteries.
I read the description and was sort of familiar with the book, and I really didn't think there was much mystery to it. Not the kind of mystery that magnifying glasses help with, anyway.
How did that whole magnifying glass thing get started? Was there one farsighted detective who made it a thing? When I was a kid, I was always dying for a mystery to happen so I could break out the rectangular magnifying glass that was stashed in a tiny drawer attached to our two volume dictionary.
Why were criminals in mysteries always walking through paint or tar and leaving footprints? How easy would it be to just SAY that fingerprints matched in 1850? Who is going to disagree?
My point here is that I'm not very sharp when it comes to mysteries. So not sharp, in fact, that I don't think I appreciated this book as a mystery until finishing it last night.
There are so many elements that are wonderfully wrapped up in the last pages of this book. You get so comfortable with everything, the dead girl game, the telltale heart, the animal behavior. You get so comfortable with everything that the effect when it's twisted up at the end is really powerful. Because it's well done and also (again, I suck at mystery, so it could be just me) because you're tricked into thinking these small elements, these running gags if you will, are not as important as they become.
It's reading a mystery that you didn't know was a mystery. Where a lot hinges on the ending, although you don't know that until you get there. It's an impressive writing feat, really. (less)
This series just continues to impress me. It's so different from just about anything else out there. It's got the ability to go between wild fiction t...moreThis series just continues to impress me. It's so different from just about anything else out there. It's got the ability to go between wild fiction to real moments of pain. It runs the gamut of emotion, and at the same time it's a legitimately fun read.
This volume focuses mostly on Tony Chu's sister, Antonia. I've been reading a lot of stuff online lately that questions female comic book characters, especially the way they appear and the way they dress. I have to say, Antonia is one of the better female characters I've seen in a while. Not because she does or does not fall into typical stereotypes, but because in just a few issues here I really came to like her as a character. She adds a great deal to the fictional world here, and she does so through her personality.
Chew makes a really interesting entry into the discussions about imagery in comics and what these images mean.
For starters, Chew does feature characters with *ahem* let's call them "un-nuanced proportions":
Buuuuut this is, played up for comic effect oftentimes. It's kind of an interesting way to do it because the artist gets to have his (cheese)cake and eat it too.
There's really a lot of play with the art when it comes to proportion all around. Take this character, for example:
Every time he shows up, I swear to god that the artist makes a big point of trying to show off how huge this guy's gut is. For the love of god, it's coming out of the bottom of his flak jacket. And look how short his legs are.
The thing is, when you read this book you get the sense that the artist is having actual fun illustrating this book. Like he enjoys drawing the characters. At first glance, it feels like, "Oh, jeez. Another comic book that is all about huge breasts." However, this is also a world in which there is a deadly cyber-rooster, the FDA is the equivalent of the FBI, there are vampires(?), and the romances are somewhat atypical. What I'm saying is that the world only vaguely resembles our own, and it would be a lie if the characters looked like people we knew.
Which is kind of what I think about when people talk about the outfits superheroes wear. It's true, Power Girl probably does not require a boob window according to our standards of dress. However, we do not live in a world where people regularly wear capes, fight intergalactic evil, or temporarily become the guardians of a city contained within a bottle. Sure, we've all had to city-bottle-sit for a friend here and there, but that's mostly just making sure it doesn't fall off the counter. I generally try to not get involved with the actual citizens if at all possible.
So why should the outfits and bodies of people who are not real and engage in activities that do not resemble our own have anything to do with our current dress codes? I mean, if we were going to be realistic, wouldn't Superman just fight crime in sweat pants and a baseball hat? He's wasting valuable time putting on his outfit, an outfit in which underpants have belt loops. Or how about the Hulk? Does it make sense for the Hulk to be anything besides completely nude?
Honestly, if we need a Why here, I could hazard a guess:
I think comic book characters are drawn this way because it's fun to draw and because Power Girl sales would probably not increase if her shirt was filled in.
You know what I think would be a great marketing idea for DC comics? Sell two subscriptions to Power Girl. They have the same storylines, same dialogue, but one features a modest Power Girl, one the traditional. People can then choose to subscribe to 12 issues of whichever Power Girl they prefer. THEN, we see what percent from each, the regular and the modest, renew after a year. That makes it pretty easy, in my opinion.
But whatever. It's not that important to me. Power Girl is not really my type. What can I say, gentlemen prefer women who haven't been mind-wiped 37 times by post-Crisis-on-Infinte-Earth continuity changes.(less)