at first i gave this book four stars, but some time has passed since i read it and it's sticking with me a lot, so five stars it is.
i think i've readat first i gave this book four stars, but some time has passed since i read it and it's sticking with me a lot, so five stars it is.
i think i've read all but one of margaret atwood's novels, and though i liked them all very much, they tend to evaporate from my memory. i've asked myself why many times, and the best answer i can come up with is that i don't do well with novels with nasty people. it's not that her characters are gratuitously nasty: they are obviously damaged, and i suppose she is trying to make a point about that damage. if i remembered the novels i could say more, but, as i said, i don't, quite.
this novel is sort of perfect. felix, the protagonist, may be a little nasty, a little vengeful, but, first, he has all the reasons in the world to be; second, we know exactly why he's damaged; and third, his nastiness is after all quite benign.
atwood interweaves wonderfully shakespeare's Tempest, teaching acting, and acting in prison. the prison where felix ends up teaching and, eventually, putting on The Tempest (apparently not an ideal play to put on in a prison) is very low security, and still the prisoner are not allowed to perform live. their play will be recorded and broadcast via video to the inmate themselves and to whoever shows up (prison authorities, etc.). since we are told these guys' crimes, which are hardly a reason for them to be in prison in the first place, it is quite ridiculous that they should not be allowed to perform live. i cannot imagine for a second that here atwood is not indicting a pettily punitive system, while also advocating strongly for theatre to be brought inside prisons.
but of course she is doing much, much more than that. she is making The Tempest come alive in a place as claustrophobic, isolated, and exiled as prospero's island, and doing wonders with monstrosity, tenderness, grief, revenge, and paternal love in both world.
novels about plays sort of do that, don't they? they take the content of the play and make it come alive in the interplay between the actors off stage. i can't say that i've read many (i can't remember a single one right now!), but i cannot begin to imagine that a lot of other writers may have achieved the same level of fusion between the play and the actors as atwood does here. it's quite fantastic really. and funny. super funny.
i have never seen the play, or read it, and i feel i don't want to, now. it seems hopelessly complicated. i guess shakespeare does that and if you are a theatre person you are fine with it, but i'm not a theatre person. this novel, though, this novel will stay with me a long, long time.
many thanks to netgalley and hogarth for a free digital copy of this book....more
this great review by michael collins gives the sorrowful background for this story, so get yourself over there and read it. or not. cuz in spite of ththis great review by michael collins gives the sorrowful background for this story, so get yourself over there and read it. or not. cuz in spite of the fact that michael collins says that mainland canadians cannot understand this book, this non-canadian got it just fine. everything he says. i got it all.
sweetland is a really lovely character. the book is a bit of a paean to the loss of a certain kind of masculinity. when authors celebrate lost masculinity they get heavy on the technical language, and this book is so rich with technical, specific, particular language, i defy anyone to understand every word in any page at all.
the language is the language of fishing, hunting, of landscape, maintenance, husbandry. it's the language of a lost world and is therefore highly elegiac. it's beautiful and lovely and male but it's nice-male and women are treated well by the book.
in fact, masculinity is investigated tenderly and deeply in this book, where sexual doing and sexual not-doing walk hand in hand, and no one is violent except in childish silly ways. the community of sweetland-the-island takes care of its own, not only the weakest, but also those whom people are otherwise angry at. no one is unloved. there is a home and soup and liquor for everyone.
tender masculinity is also a dying masculinity, as more aggressive, more impersonal forms of maleness -- the government, the oil industry -- barge in and push the people out.
tender masculinity has immense respect for the strength and value of women.
there are heartbreaking moments in this book, which is altogether heartbreaking. but it's fabulous reading, well-constructed storytelling, incredible language and a tribute of love to a lost place. ...more
i approached this book the way i was told to approach it (no one in particular said anything, but i got the general idea) and, well, i don't like booki approached this book the way i was told to approach it (no one in particular said anything, but i got the general idea) and, well, i don't like books about nastiness. you know, books about psychopaths, serial killers, and the like. not my cup of tea. the sociopath here would be zenia. but slowly it dawned on me, thanks in part to having read Dept. of Speculation (as i type this i don't know why, but maybe it will be clearer to me by the end of this review), that this book is not about zenia. not even close. this book is about tony, charis, and roz. you start getting this when atwood unravels slowly (something she never does for zenia) their stories, starting from their childhoods. and these childhoods are invariably horrible. so much abuse, so much loneliness, so much abandonment. later, they tie themselves to men who are much more valuable to them in retrospect, after zenia has worked her black magic on them. when atwood gives them -- these men -- to us unvarnished, un-zenia-ed, un-mourned, well there is pretty much nothing redeemable about them, and no reason at all why these women should stay with them.
except they (the women) are so hurt. they are so mauled by their terrible childhoods. so they stick to what they think they deserve. because bad, cruel companionship is better than no companionship at all.
zenia is a cypher. she is the empty form into which these three deeply injured women pour their demons. and zenia delivers. she delivers in spades. she takes the demons out of the box and smacks them powerfully into each woman's face.
and in the process, she does them a favor. except they don't know it, do they? they hate zenia, which is awesome because this possibly saves them from hating themselves (as victims do: they don't hate the perpetrator, they hate themselves) too much. and she brings them closer to each other.
the magic, the true white magic of the book is the care, the unjudgmental care (and yes, they may be snippy occasionally in their thoughts, but oh do they come through for each other!), the love tony, charis and roz have for each other. their demons bring them together, and, because deflected on another, manage not to tear them apart.
but here's another piece of magic atwood performs (because, really, com'on, who can write like this? who? no one, that's who). atwood takes these three women and gives as complete a picture of the complexities of three women's lives (not femininity, not womanhood, but many of us will still find ourselves there) as is humanly possible. in doing this, she covers with astounding meticulousness: fashion (for lack of a better word), natural eating, comfort eating, fancy-restaurant eating, farming, gardening, sexual abuse, religion (please check the fantastic chapter in which roz gives us a pretty formidable account of the christian faith), romantic love, parental love, childhood, loss, boating, corporation running, history, war, weaponry, battles, battlefields, language, etymology, escaping the US draft, desire, motherhood, loneliness, internal decoration, running a woman's magazine, toronto, canada, etc. etc. etc.*
so for this alone, for atwood's astounding power to observe and describe, for her capacity to capture lives in such an infinite multitude of aspects and reflections and refractions, i proclaim her the best writer ever. (not really). (but). (kinda).
*spectacularly missing, as always in atwood: race and, to a significant extent, same-sex desire. ...more
this is about the entire trilogy, not just this book.
this trilogy is unwaveringly fantastic. there is no point in any of the three books when i thougthis is about the entire trilogy, not just this book.
this trilogy is unwaveringly fantastic. there is no point in any of the three books when i thought, eh, that could have been done better. so if you know the story you know the story and if you don't you can go find it somewhere (it's easy!), but here are the things i loved about this endeavor:
1. language means a lot. when jimmy is alone, language comes to him unbidden. words. strange words. beautiful words. words that sound the same as each other and thus allow for nice alliterative strings. erudite words. the world has ended (as far as he knows) and he hangs on to the past through memories and lost words.
2. this is another dystopian fantasy in which people are kind. the people who are not kind are severely brain damaged.
3. the trilogy tackles head on what it means to be human. are the crakers human? are the pigs human?
4. i think it's a powerful touch at the end when(view spoiler)[ it turns out that crake had designed a world in which various combinations of humanity -- mainly through interbreeding, but also through cooperation, as in the case of the pigs -- could repopulated the earth. intentionally, apparently. (hide spoiler)]
5. storytelling is central. the craker civilization, which we see at its incipience, is built on storytelling and, pace crake, mythopoesis -- which, arguably but not that much, go hand in hand. this whole aspect is developed carefully and lovingly, until (view spoiler)[ the crakers themselves take it over from the more traditional humans (hide spoiler)]. there is no history without storytelling and benevolent, invisible caretakers.
6. the crakers are a fabulous creation, worthy of Octavia Butler, really, except
7. i have never read anything that so completely bypasses all chances to upset the gender binary, when chances present themselves at every turn. whoah. there are men and there are women. men love women and women love men. the end. butler would have not missed this opportunity for the world.
8. i loved the parts when zeb is the first person narrator. the language (language again, see?) becomes markedly different, a skillful reproduction of what in literature passes as male language. well done ms. atwood.
9. some authors reach a point in which sentences leave you gasping for the way in which they are written. many sentences in these books spoke to me of someone for whom putting words together has become a matter of such expertise, she doesn't need to worry about getting it right. the language in these books sizzles. fantastic.
i loved this book super much and wish i could have lived with these people a lot longer (not right there, just in my head). what a fantastically deep,i loved this book super much and wish i could have lived with these people a lot longer (not right there, just in my head). what a fantastically deep, intricate, seamless, warm and human piece of literature. i'm going to read all of this woman's books.
it's a dystopian novel, but it's really not, primarily, about What Happens After The Collapse, though there is that element too. it's about what binds us, what makes us human, and what allows us to tolerate love and tolerate loss. and emily st. john mandel does it so beautifully, you wonder all the time, how is she doing this? and then, strangely, it's also very much a book about acting (acting?! yup) and about making art, and, again, you wonder: how is she doing it all so well, without the book's being contrived? but she does. i have never once in my life thought i would like to be a stage actor (or an actor of any kind) and i don't go to plays (i find it hard to follow them because i'm not a auditory learner), but this book... well, i think i should go to plays, or at least read shakespeare very very slowly and imagine his plays being acted in front of me.
i am reminded very much of Janette Turner Hospital's extraordinary Due Preparations for the Plague. there are writers who, when describing Colossal Human Crises, go for the dog-eat-dog scenario. not these two women. and it's so damn nice to read a book in which, yes, there are people being nasty to each other, but there are so many more people doing what needs to be done, tending to each other, caring, just being so fucking decent. so this alleged collapse of civilization is really a testament to the endurance of civilization. the center holds. the periphery holds too. the human heart -- it holds. ...more
atwood is eye candy for her absolutely mastery of the narrative form. the storytelling just slips offETA: i reviewed the whole trilogy here
atwood is eye candy for her absolutely mastery of the narrative form. the storytelling just slips off her pen, not a word wasted, not a sentence out of place. crisp. it never gets melodramatic or slack or anything but taut. it's just perfect.
the story didn't feel hugely gripping to me. post-apocalyptic whatever. i don't really care a whole lot. but the understanding of how we got to this -- through sheer, criminal neglect of the environment; through science gone mad; through nasty experiments; through rigid and spiteful class division -- this is all so brilliantly conceived and yet so simply delivered, you know it's true. it is so true that just a few years after this book was written the things atwood wrote are coming to pass, under our eyes, without our having to make an effort to look for them -- and we are doing nothing to stop them. sorry, kids.
maybe this startling simplicity, this predictability is what made the story less than gripping to me.
here's something else that's fabulous. this entire book pivots on the voices of two women. atwood chooses to hew close to genre and does not delve into the intricacies of their personalities (in other words, she resists the pull of the psychological), but she gives us two great female voices while, somehow, managing not to turn this into a "woman's book." see how it's done, boy-authors? you can put women's voices at the center of the book without erasing the men at all. go to school at atwood's academy, boy-authors. stop erasing women from your stories. we are tired.
honorable mention to the book's dealing with sexual violence. this is how it's done, boy-and-girl-authors. not a second of graphic prurience, yet so devastating. men so infatuated with the penis that they put it at the center of their perception of "the perfect human." men brutalized by the compulsion to violate women. this is what brings the world down y'all: men split off from women. women split off from men. like jimmy; like lucerne.
unlike others (i am talking to you, jakaem, my prime interlocutor), i saw the gardeners as entirely un-ironic. in fact, i found them quite inspirational. yes, adam one is hokey, but so what? that's what religion always looks like from the outside (both toby and ren are outsiders) -- irredeemably absurd, over the top, ridiculous. i think atwood has a ton of respect for the gardeners. why wouldn't she? she makes them the flood's survivors. the dick-wagging boys? they all go down.
well i finished it. this is who i think should read this book: peter and emilie. i'll recommend it to them with the GR recommendation tool. also juliewell i finished it. this is who i think should read this book: peter and emilie. i'll recommend it to them with the GR recommendation tool. also julie, because reading miriam toews helps you write.
yesterday i wrote this book had tremendous levity and it does! it really does! but fuck man fuck fuck fuck it's all the sads and all the heartbreaks packed into one little book made out of levity.
i can relate exactly none at all to the main themes of the book, i.e. 1. sisterhood and 2. worrying about someone's killing themselves on you and not knowing whether to let them go or keep them alive when their life is unadulterated misery, for all sorts of personal reasons that are too personal even for me to disclose here. but i can relate to the heartlessness and preachiness and horribleness of psychiatric wards and THANK YOU ms. toews for telling the world that psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses are for the most part asshats.
and i can relate to losing someone and missing the fuck out of them, especially today, for some strange alignment of stars and planets, because the family of a dear friend who recently died is visiting the states and it's so sad to think of them, father and two teenage kids, driving their little hearts out from state to state and beautiful place to beautiful place and having to keep themselves from bawling their eyes out because mom is not here and she won't be home when they go back either. i miss their mom too, in fact i'm pretty incredulous that she's gone, and i want her back kind of badly, so, yeah, all the sads.
but i didn't shed a single tear in the reading of this book and i laughed out loud so, so much. so this is what this book may do for you, let you grieve and laugh, both at the same time. and then when you put it down you might not be able to do much of anything at all, which is exactly like the narrator, yoli, who can do so little she can only read books and drink booze and fuck strangers, only one of which i recommend.
----- i am still reading so this is not a review, but:
because of my history and psychological makeup, and because i have a cold cold heart, i cannot connect to the plight of someone trying to keep someone they love alive, but:
this book is carrying me on the sole strength of its amazing writing, which:
you won't probably appreciate unless (as jakaem said somewhere in her review) you have read a couple of books by this author. the voice of the narrator is brain scattered, fucked up, pained, and hilarious, and you will miss a lot of it if you don't know that toews can do other, much different voices. it is the perfect tone for this book, in order for it not to be devastating, for it to be what it is, that is:
a masterpiece of levity.
and maybe you won't find levity in it, because a) you haven't read other books by toews b) you care about keeping alive people you love and c) you have a warm warm heart. and maybe, on occasion, you will find the language a bit throwaway-ish. so, at least, believe me when i say that:
toews writes with the language of the angels. if the words are on the book, they belong there. fully. they are the only words that should be there. but no:
because the language of the angels is so perfect that it transcends uniqueness. it is generous. so yeah, substitute any word and it won't matter. it's a book written by angels. it stands alone, cloudy, towering, eventually raining soft winnipeg rain. ...more
this book is about suicide. it says so in the first couple of pages so i'm not giving anything away. i know a lot about suicide. i am not an anti-suicthis book is about suicide. it says so in the first couple of pages so i'm not giving anything away. i know a lot about suicide. i am not an anti-suicide person. if someone feels it's their time to go; if they feel the pain is too much; if they have suffered long and terribly and see no end in sight, i say, goodbye my friend. in my modest personal experience, these people, the people with so much damage in them they find life a terrible ordeal day after fucking day tend to die early-ish anyway. so many prolonged suicides. you all know what i'm talking about. amy winehouse, michael jackson.
ruth ozeki is not only a remarkable and brave writer, but also a buddhist priest. when writers manage to take buddhism and transform it into great story-telling, the result is breathtaking. i'm thinking about maxine hong kingston's The Fifth Book of Peace.
this book is also about time. it's about Time in the big sense of time and quantum theory and all the stuff that lies at the intersection of physics and new age, insofar as new age is a corruption of both physics and buddhism. this plays a small part in the book. but it's also about time in the sense of what we do with it, how we experience it, and how we tolerate it. in this sense, it's a great, great book to read during the holidays (which is when i read it) because the holidays are all about tolerating time.
also, and crucially for this reader, this is a kick ass story, told in alternating chapters by a japanese teenager who spent the first 15 years of her life in sunnyvale, california, and a japanese american writer (who goes by the name of ruth and resembles the author in just about every respect we are able to detect) who found the girl's diary and notes in a message-in-a-bottle set of hermetically sealed ziplock bags which may or may not have drifted all the way from fukushima as a consequence of the tsunami.
the voice of the teenager is fantastic and brave and occasionally hilarious. the third person narrative about the writer and her semi-happy semi-frustrating life on an island in british columbia is also delightful because so naked and authentic. zen priests (which, in truth, ruth-the-character isn't) are not immune to frustrations, bad moods, marital arguments, petty moments and, you'll be glad to hear, internet addiction.
ozeki interweaves a number of threads: the suicidal teenager and her ordeals, and the impatient writer and her ordeals (which trials weigh more? which are more legitimate?); naoko's great-grandmother the buddhist nun jiko, who's 104 and cleary knows how to live, and that other buddhist, ruth-the-character but also, always, ruth-the-author, who struggles with power outages, writer's block, a stubborn kitty cat, a loving but complex couple relation, and the hardships of living on an island in the pacific northwest while missing the vitality and mess of new york. who is more successful at living the buddhist life? the nun who left everything and lives in serene, accepting contentment or the struggling writer who is trying to change things with her work?
that way i read this book, there is no right, no simple way. old jiko, the role model, the saint, honors everyone's difficulties equally, and does not forget her own. this is, after all, a book about suicide, and time, which also means that it's a book about inevitable failing. you pick up the piece and carry on. if you can. for now. for the time being.
this review does so little justice to the impact this book had on me. i was moved to tears. i laughed with my entire body. i read as slowly as i could. i thought to myself, i want to meet ruth ozeki: will she want another friend? please god let her want me as a friend. i was immensely grateful that ruth's husband, oliver, suffers from a flu-like illness that disables him greatly and from which he gets better only after he and ruth move to the vastly under-civilized island in the pacific northwest. i also suffer from a flu-like illness. should i move to an under-civilized island where it rains 10 months of the year and one has to cut one's own wood, power one's own generator (regular storms fell power lines all the time, and the hydro can fly in only when the storm has passed), and walk to the post office to get one's mail? i don't want to. i wouldn't know how to survive. but: how will i get better? how are we all going to get better?
ruth deals with bills, sneaks in a nasty comment which she immediately regrets about her husband's poor contributions to the household finances (the word she uses is "loser:" ouch!). naoko is vindictive to her classmates and she and her mom are quite uncharitable towards naoko's dad, a hikikomori who longs for suicide. there is nastiness and short-temperedness. how will we all get better? how will we save the planet from self-destruction, from war, from terribly devastating tsunamis and even more devastating, because man-made, defective nuclear power plants? how can we reverse time to before 9/11 and the birth of the global war on terror? what are we to do about the gigantic garbage patches, the largest of which may be as big as the entire united states?
this book tackles all of this, which makes it a miracle of narrative restraint, condensation, and easy fluency. it reminded me a little of Maxine Hong Kingston, of course, but also of Milan Kundera, whom it explicitly names, and David Mitchell, whom it doesn't. how do these writers do it? how do they manage to put the grand entirety of the personal and collective misery of the world in a book about a japanese haulden caulfield who is bullied at school and a japanese american writer with writer's block?
so this is what i leave you with. thank whomever you thank when the world goes the right way for old jiko (fictional), ruth ozeki (nonfictional) and pope francis (also nonfictional), the latter of whom, like jiko, sees and knows the most abject misery (personal and collective) yet keeps reminding us to be joyful and hopeful, and models this joy and hope every day. you can, maybe, be joyful and hopeful even when things go terribly wrong, when you get hit in the teeth, when life bites into your heart like an animal trap with sharp, rusty teeth. you don't need to do anything. just live, for now, for the time being. ...more
oh, i liked this book so much. so so much. it's not the story, really, but the characters, and the hard-boiled sassiness. perfect writing.
this is a boh, i liked this book so much. so so much. it's not the story, really, but the characters, and the hard-boiled sassiness. perfect writing.
this is a book about men -- the women are few and far in between -- but it is the kind of book about men (cops and criminals) that tickles my pleasure centers to the hilt because these guys are the caricatures of masculinity i've always loved in spaghetti westerns (clint eastwood is mentioned here quite a lot as the paragon of all things cool). in my childhood, these people, these characters, were my heroes, and identifying with them, being them in that way in which kids inhabit different worlds and don't hear their parents when they call them for dinner because they are lost in an entirely different, and, i might add, very treacherous, landscape, saw me through a lot of rough stuff. parents: when a kid shows up for dinner with distracted, not quite there eyes, wearing a holster, a smoking gun, a cowboy hat, and a proud tin sheriff star on her chest, ask her what's going on in dodge. she may be dealing with a lot of trouble and she might use the ear. pass her a beer. it's okay if it's a glass of milk. she won't know the difference.
so that's what this book was for me: a return to dodge, where criminals are major incompetents, cops are corrupted, lots of money passes hands awfully fast, and the scenery is full of awesome sounds, perfectly captured: boots grinding cigarette butts on the ground, weapons ticking in all sorts of fantastic ways, car doors slamming, beer tags being snapped back, beer being guzzled, horses trumpeting. ...more
benightedly i gave this 4 stars i'm sorry/you are/yes/why did you give it 4 stars/i wanted it to be like Aof R/ poetry is never the same/as i'm learninbenightedly i gave this 4 stars i'm sorry/you are/yes/why did you give it 4 stars/i wanted it to be like Aof R/ poetry is never the same/as i'm learning mostly from the reviews i am too inexperienced to learn from the book itself/some of these poems are surreal/they are/you don't like surreal/i like surreal but it doesn't quite talk to me the language seems gimmicky to me without/ i've heard this before/wisdom i guess/poetry's curse/insight quotability a light/we fumble in the dark/there's a glacier then there is a volcano polar opposites/which pole/i'd say the north pole/it's the easiest to assume/there is no life at the south pole except of course that which the explorers bring basically themselves/you mean native life but then how would we know/i mean currently/ah, temporality/i loved io/she's feathery and magic/thank you/you're welcome/i hate war/me too...more
i'm more than 2/3 of the way through this book but i think i'll give it up. it's gorgeous writing, but i don't get the need toETA: more review to come
i'm more than 2/3 of the way through this book but i think i'll give it up. it's gorgeous writing, but i don't get the need to immerse oneself so thoroughly in grief. i have things to say about all this, in fact, as a literary choice, but i don't want to do it on GR because it seems unfair to the author. ...more
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miriam toews is one of the best writers writing in english today.
Miriam Toews is one of the best writers writing in English today.
miriam toews is one of the best writers writing in English today.
Miriam Toews is one of the best writers writing in English today.
i'm not going to read the three-star two-star one-star reviews. it's okay for people not to like this book. maybe they got bogged down at the beginning, when all that happens is a nothingness of happening in which a movie is being shot in a godforsaken mennonite community of canadian expats in mexico and there's a lot of hanging out waiting for the right light and the rain and sometimes the equipment breaks down and people watch tv or cook or eat or fuck and the woman who plays the main character is a german mennonite who feels so freaked out by loneliness and the desert she is always on the verge of losing her mind. this section is very paratactic and very small-sentencey and there's a terrible drama underneath but irma voth is a 19 year old kid who is all alone in the world and she's not the best person to give you a sense of the terrible drama she's the driving force of maybe because drama has been her life from day one and maybe because she thinks that’s how life is and she has nothing to compare it with.
she has to milk the cows. she has to be home at a decent time. she has to get things right. she has to save her family. she has a husband she greatly loves but may or may not love her.
some moments are hilarious. miriam toews is one of the best writers writing in english today. some passages are side-splitting hilarious. irma, who narrates in the first person, has this way with language that all of toews' characters have: it's as if she saw the world in a slightly different way from the way you and i see it. she juxtaposes things you and i wouldn't juxtapose. she messes with things but just a little. she tries not to ruffle things too much. she tries to keep still but thoughts pour out of her with irrepressible life-force and that’s just the way she is.
the second part is about trying to make a new life but i won't tell you anything about it because i'd spoil the book for you. this part is hilarious too. it's also tender, generous, uplifting (oh people are good), encouraging (yes, you can make it), heartbreaking (didn't i just say you can make it?), strong, and original in that miriam toews-is-one-of-the-best-writers-writing-in-english-today way that makes you want to underline a sentence in every page.
it's all very simple and very miraculous and not nearly as painful as A Complicated Kindness, an emotional whopper of a book that left me reeling for days. and then things happen and other things happen and for some reason, somehow, everyone ends up okay.
(a small note for miriam toews, in case you read this review. dear miriam toews, i think you are one of the best writers writing in english today and i'm so very thankful for you. this is not what this note is about. A Complicated Kindness, the most difficult and unyielding of your last three books, is also the book that made the bigger splash. my explanation is that it has a really good title. i loved The Flying Troutmans but wasn’t going to pick it up just for the title. same with Irma Voth. at this point i’m sold. You can call a book anything at all and i’ll read it. but do you have to go for all these un-catchy titles? with great love and admiration, jo) ...more
*** SPOILERS, OF WHICH I HIDE ONLY THE MAJOR ONE ***
this book has great promise, mostly in the beautiful language, but i felt it (the book, not the pr*** SPOILERS, OF WHICH I HIDE ONLY THE MAJOR ONE ***
this book has great promise, mostly in the beautiful language, but i felt it (the book, not the promise), from halfway through to the end, get lost in the writer's fantastic meanderings. this is what i mean: it feels as if kathleen winter, the author, made a conscious decision not to follow narrative conventions of closure and preferred to follow her soul. her soul dictated to her a free form in which threads are left dangling and non-existent threads are picked up as if they had been there all along.
this didn't work for me. i wanted to know what happened to wayne's mother and why wayne's father turned into such a stellar parent. i want to know why thomasina never goes where she is invited and refuses so consistently to stay in the lives she so profoundly affects. she is such a lovely character. why keep her abroad and distant, only to be heard of from postcards?
winter makes of this book the story of the relationship between a son/daughter and his/her father, but we get this only as the story matures and grows towards its (non)conclusion. it is strange, in a book by a woman author, to see women so badly done by. some of them, like wayne's mother, simply wane and disappear; some of them are exiled from the narrative; and wayne is more comfortable confiding in an unreliable and barely-known 15-year-old than in his obviously caring ex-principal.
there are other missed boats, unblossomed buds. mostly, as i said, there seems to be a determination on the part of the author to write differently. this is fine, but you must be able to pull it through. you can't leave your reader dangling, and dangling.
some of the light-handed magical realism is reminiscent of louise erdrich, which is a great accomplishment indeed. some of the writing is breathtaking.
i can't bring myself to say anything about wayne's hermaphroditism. i haven't read enough literature by intersex people (jeffrey eugenides, author of middlesex is not intersex and i have no idea about kathleen winter), or even about intersex people, to know whether this feels true to them. i find that winter captures something here and there, but ultimately fails to bring home to us the exhilaration, the loss, the potential, the richness, the difference, the specialness of the intersex person. in her closure-phobia, she sort of drops the ball at the end. does it really all come down to the fact (view spoiler)[that wayne needed to find himself surrounded by college kids? (hide spoiler)].
what is wally doing in this story?
i wish this were a draft, and that i could now read the finished book. ...more
lots of boy sex in this one, so if that's your thing you're in for a treat. what i like most, what i like a lot about joey comeau is that he's soooooolots of boy sex in this one, so if that's your thing you're in for a treat. what i like most, what i like a lot about joey comeau is that he's sooooooooo sweet, so so so sweet. his first person narrators here (it's two novellas in one slim book) are sweet and lovely and well-rendered and fun and excitable and good, even when they are bad. when they get really really angry they punch in the tv set then go get another one, or close themselves in a public bathroom and kick the trash can around. when they get sad they watch kiddie cartoons on tv and that makes them feel awesome and super-hero-like. they are action heroes in muppet masks and rent-a-cop uniforms, and they save the world from homophobes, gender binarists, and enforcers of patriarchal beauty standards. ...more
this book is perfect. i hadn't read a perfect book in quite some time and now i have. no, wait. Lord of Misrule is perfect too (though it's easier forthis book is perfect. i hadn't read a perfect book in quite some time and now i have. no, wait. Lord of Misrule is perfect too (though it's easier for shorter books to be perfect, isn't it?), so now i've read TWO PERFECT books back to back. this is life smiling at me with a big fat grin.
as with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, of which this book reminded me, and as with The History of Love, of which also i was reminded (i just read it), and maybe most of all like An Invisible Sign of My Own, this book depicts horrible pain -- the pain of kids and old people, no less -- with unbelievable charm. these kids are fighters of the first order and you can't but love the heck out of them. and the old man, well, maybe the fight has gone out of him a little, but it's okay, things turn out kinda well for him, and in fact, in a book in which people eat each other, go around with their heads under their arms, and are subjected to terrible losses, things turn out okay for just about everyone, not because they are really okay, but because this is fiction and the power of fiction to bring whimsy and joy and irrepressible awe to the reader is endless. so this morning, when i woke up, i grabbed this little book from near my bed and held it for some twenty minutes, because it's going back to the library and we had to say goodbye proper-like. ...more
this is a self-consciously 20-something book in which life is lived mostly at night -- people work during the day but their workdays (ETA par. at end)
this is a self-consciously 20-something book in which life is lived mostly at night -- people work during the day but their workdays seem unimportant -- in a drifty sort of way, fueled by extravagant quantities of alcohol, constant personal interaction (conducted in person or through text messages) and very little sleep. the 20-somethingness is conveyed, i take, by the choppiness of the narrative, the characters' restless sexual lives, their promiscuity, their great reliance on cell phones and most notably (as far as i am concerned) the bloody lack of sleep. when i was in my 20s i didn't do any of the things these people do except not sleep. if we had had cell phones then i would probably have died of sleeplessness and starvation.
all the characters are queer and while the book is obviously centered around this the characters hardly ever discuss it. when a girl starts dating a guy and a friend asks her if she's gone straight, the girl balks. you don't go straight or queer: you go where your heart and your lust take you.
what gives this novel its particular high-anxiety, strung-out atmosphere is, ostensibly, the fact that one of the protagonist, a transsexual called josh, works as a paramedic. the whole book feels lived out in a state of emergency, partly because it is (josh's work-life is discussed a lot) and partly because these old-young people's lives are a permanent state of emergency. billy, a 25-year-old ex-music-star (yes, in the second millennium people are exes at 25), is awfully agoraphobic, obsessive, and anxious. her whole existence is an extended attempt at keeping her devouring anxiety under control and under wraps.
these are not kids. these are people with a lot of life under their belts. they have seen death, illness, misery, their own fall from grace, and the sprouting and withering of lifelong relationships. they do not turn to their parents. they turn to each other, offering each other whatever faulty, cracked, weak solace they can.
since the book is set in toronto there is a pleasant sense of a lived-in city, of which one becomes aware every time bicycles are mentioned (a lot). the city, if nothing else, contains and sustains these aged kids, holds them steady, gives them a community.
i suspect this novel is successful in what it seeks to achieve, but i felt anxious the whole time i read it. it's hard to imagine a future for these queer kids and they themselves seem not to think in terms of a future. they are very much rooted in the present: the couches on which they are crashing, the jobs to which they need to show up, their love obsessions. they are also tortured by worry, jealousy, indecision. there is little redemption, no real trajectory. i wish at least one of them had felt some hope, a sense of direction; i wish there had been one genuine moment of simple, complete contentment, some happiness. but nope, it's sorrow and the burden of life from beginning to end, and while i'm sure there are young people who feel like this, i hope they are not too many.
the reason why the book ultimately didn't work for me, even though i gobbled it up and felt drawn to it, is that zoe whittall never quite tells us what is wrong. she intentionally stays out of the psychology of these characters, their histories, their inner conflicts. some lines here and there seem to suggest that psychological tensions are not something whittall believes in a whole lot: maybe it's all bio-chemistry, maybe it's simply the terrible anxiety of the times. but if you put a bunch of queer people in the narrow space of a novel, i want to see this queerness play a role in the happiness/unhappiness of the characters. we are not and i think we will never be in a "post" enough queer time that being queer plays no role in the tensions and stresses of young people. ...more