i see that i gave decent ratings to no.1 and no.3 in this series, so it's either that mcnab tanked on no.2 or that i am not in the mood for mediocre wi see that i gave decent ratings to no.1 and no.3 in this series, so it's either that mcnab tanked on no.2 or that i am not in the mood for mediocre writing (which had seemed okay on previous occasions) and pedestrian plot. but our moods and our needs vary widely, and what is honey one day is tea brewed with a used bag another day. ...more
this book is so ridiculously good, i had to check and check again that this author has in fact written only one novel, and no fiction at all (at leastthis book is so ridiculously good, i had to check and check again that this author has in fact written only one novel, and no fiction at all (at least in book form) since 1993. NINETEENNINETYTHREE???? what are you doing, randall kenan? can you pleasepleaseplease write us another novel?
what flows in the arteries of this magnificent mixture of narrative, hallucination/visitation, snippets of playwrightery, first-and-third-person chapters, old stories and present stories -- what keeps it alive and beautiful and luscious and irresistible -- is preternaturally beautiful language and a vision of african-americanness and religion and family and life's torments that only language this beautiful can convey properly. i found this book very painful. a friend of mine tells me it's about comics. to me it was about pain, weariness, endurance, exhaustion, sickness, and the consolation of death. maybe comics are about all of these things too (i'm sure my friend would say they are).
at the center of the novel is the predicament of horace, a high school gay boy who is tortured to the bone by his homosexuality. his grandfather is chief deacon and this means a lot in the small baptist community where he lives. religion and the sinfulness of his desire chase him everywhere he goes. because he has nothing else to turn to, he turns to magic; except it's home-made magic, list-ditch-effort magic. what results is a visitation of spirits or a visitation of inner demons, depending how you choose to read it.
intermingled with horace's hallucinatory/supernatural trip are various multi-vocal narratives, most notably a sunday trip by three of horace's family members (his grandfather, his cousin and his great-aunt -- if i have that right) to visit sick relatives. the trip's banality and pettiness acts as a counterpoint to horace's torments, but also speaks of family, of people's taking care of each other, of long-held secrets, or intergenerational miscommunication, of growing old, of loss, of aloneness, and, to some extent, of love.
and yet, painful as it is, this is not a bitter book. i at least didn't find it bitter. i found it gorgeous. there is an quasi-epic quasi-biblical passage toward the end that links all of horace's pain -- and by extension all the discomfort and defeat of the three in the car on their errand of mercy -- to slavery. the passage drips sadness and despair, but then it's also so incredibly beautiful, how can this beauty not contain seeds and seeds of hope? ...more
this book is a broken elegy to the north of england and a world of small shops, small communities, and simple habits that no longer exists. it's alsothis book is a broken elegy to the north of england and a world of small shops, small communities, and simple habits that no longer exists. it's also a tribute to a hardy working class people who knows resilience, pluckiness, no-nonsensicality, and making a life out of what you are given. surprisingly, it's a vindication of the values of faith, which keep people under the direst circumstances out of the clutches of despair and of the feeling of being trapped. these are winterson's words. this truly abused kid never felt despair or a sense of being trapped while she grew up. there was faith for that. no one else felt it either.
have i read too little winterson to know that she writes like this? i remember her prose as lyrical and full of surprises. this is simple, direct, often hysterical in spite of all the horrors (i laughed out loud a lot), and wry. maybe all of her books are written like this and i don't remember. maybe this is written like this because there are only so many ways in which you can describe mayhem.
jeanette winterson was given up for adoption six weeks after she was born. in those six weeks she was breastfed and loved. the family who adopted her consisted of a factory worker and a homesteader. mrs. winterson was a true force of nature, not necessarily in a good way. she was definitely a withering and wintering force of nature for poor jeanette, who disappointed her mom (the book shows it could not have been otherwise) by being a girl (turns out the wintersons had settled on a little boy), by being herself a little concentrated force of nature, and by being the devil's spawn. it is not entirely clear what terrible things jeanette did, but she was often punished in unbelievably cruel ways, and she was never loved.
this book is in many ways mrs. winterson's story. she deserves a story and she is lucky her daughter is a fabulous writer. this terrible woman who loved all that is death-like in christianity and lived under the sign of the apocalypse, renunciation of all worldly pleasure, and doom, is described with great compassion. jeanette must have loved her very much. she must have wanted her very much. she must also have been furiously angry at her, but this book is about forgiveness, not anger.
when young willful jeanette falls in love with a girl mrs. winterson basically say it's either the girl or you and jeanette spends the following couple of years sleeping in a borrowed car while going to school full time and having a part-time job. she is sixteen.
then, because she is jeanette winterson and nothing but nothing will ever stop her from getting what she wants, she gets herself into oxford. if you read the first part of the book without knowing who jeanette winterson is, the fact that she got herself into oxford will make your jaw drop. how on earth could this working class girl who had lived in a place stuck several decades behind real time get into one of the most exclusive universities in the world?
well, she did.
in the second part of the book jeanette moves to the very near present and talks about a terrible breakdown she suffered when she was in her late 40s. i won't say what brought it on but it doesn't really matter. in passing she also tells us that she had two more breakdowns and one psychotic crisis. also, she seems to be one of those people who hear voices without having other psychotic symptoms. apparently she heard voices all through her life. in Agnes's Jacket psychology professor gail hornstein debunks the myth that people who hear voices are invariably schizophrenic or bipolar and need to be medicated to kingdom come (i'm sure she's not the first to say so, but her book is the first where i read it). there are indeed people who hear voices but lead an otherwise normal life.
why JW had breakdowns; why she always had a terrible time sustaining loving relationships; why she was troubled all her life is not something that is very difficult to understand. she spent the first 16 years of her life not getting any love. this tends not to do wonders for one's psychological health.
this book is also an ode to books and words. books and words saved young jeanette, plain and simple. books and words have saved many unloved kids and will continue to do so as long as humankind exists, because there will always be unloved kids and works of literature. her love for and gratitude to literature could not be bigger. it's time for me to read all of her books. ...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
second star for compulsiveness. if an author keeps me reading nonstop, the least i can do is give her a second star. but the writing is average and thsecond star for compulsiveness. if an author keeps me reading nonstop, the least i can do is give her a second star. but the writing is average and the plot über-predictable and clichéd. also, about a gazillion unlikely turns of events. ...more
i love this book. if z egloff were a man; if this were for young adults; if the market liked stories of women who fall in love with other women, thisi love this book. if z egloff were a man; if this were for young adults; if the market liked stories of women who fall in love with other women, this would have been a best-seller. but maybe i love that it wasn't a bestseller and that one of the two independent bookstores we have in miami had a stack of them in the shop and i liked the cover enough to buy it. the write-ups by alison bechdel and emma donaghue didn't hurt.
many of us complain about the dearth of well-written, powerful women's/lesbian stories (i hesitate to pigeonhole this book: it's a good book for everyone), but you know, they exist. they are just not published by the misogynistic, homophobic big presses. you have to go and find them.
the protagonist of this third-person novel is a 20-something film student with a bunch of hurt under her skin and a huge longing for wholeness, acceptance and love. the beginning is about a Very Bad Thing she did to her college advisor and mentor, as a consequence of which said college professor blackballs her and kicks her out of his class. claire couldn't agree more. the college advisor, with whom she had a genuine bond of admiration and friendship that suddenly counts for absolutely nothing -- not even a conversation or an explanation -- is entirely right. she is scum.
it goes from there. claire fucks everything up. claire is disaster incarnate. claire brings mayhem wherever she goes. and people, kindly, remind her of this all the time. the book reminds her, and us, of this all the time. but when you stop to think you have to ask yourself what it is exactly that claire is doing that is so bad. and you see that it's nothing. claire is doing nothing bad. she is a recovering alcoholic and very hurt, but she is kind and sweet and she tries. she is also very butch, a boywoman, and doesn't much like to care-take, especially when the objects of such care-taking are children. this last is a key motif, because claire's failure to be a caretaker of children is the one thing the novel does not forgive her. we know this because her path to redemption hinges (very slightly) on turning this around. so maybe we should have a conversation on why women must good with children. we don't expect this much from guys, do we? do we have gay novels in which the redemption of the main character attaches itself to a sudden awareness that there are kids who need taking care of? i don't know. maybe there are. it's important to be kind to children. but it's okay not to have the child bug, too.
all in all, though, you feel that the third person narrator, who is very much stuck inside claire's head, is not entirely in her corner. she, the third person narrator, is very down on claire.
and then claire falls in love with this woman religious, and the woman religious with her, and this is done so well, so tactfully and delicately and deeply, it's hard to think of this writer as a first-time novelist. the suspense is breath-taking, the pace masterful, and the whole thing is told with startling wit, sentence by sentence. the wit never lets up.
all along claire, the bad bad person, berates herself for her seductiveness. she is corrupting the (much older) woman religious, just as she corrupted everyone she ever loved or had sex with.
i imagine claire's alcoholism has a lot to do with this, with being unable to bear love, attraction, the very fact of herself, her existence. but there is also a tremendous amount of internalized homophobia here, and these two women (claire and the woman religious) are fighting demons that are way too big for them.
so at the end this is about how women -- religious, not religious -- can cope with loving each other without beating tragically on themselves for this overwhelming want and need.
this whole story is told with such grace, depth, endless surprise, lovely imagery, funny funny funny humor, and skillful construction, it's a delight to read. ...more
this memoir is larger than life. lidia yuknavitch is larger than life. she is smart, funny, talented in about a thousand ways (she thinks the only thithis memoir is larger than life. lidia yuknavitch is larger than life. she is smart, funny, talented in about a thousand ways (she thinks the only thing she does well is swim but of course that's ridiculous), and a barrelfull of life. she's got so much life in her, she had to use gargantuan amounts of booze, drugs, and sex to put it all to sleep. and still, she didn't manage.
as a writer, she might annoy you. some of the things she says here annoyed me. i got annoyed when she wholesale-dissed 'n ditched academia. i got annoyed when she told me how to heal. i got annoyed when she celebrated the written word, especially her relationship to the written word. she knows she knows how to write, if you see what i mean. and, in fact, she does know how to write. but it's annoying that she tells you, more than once.
but here's something else, something that's so important, it may be the most important thing about this book. people with deep trauma don't have anything. most of all, they don't have a self. they don't have a walking self, a biking self, a reading self, a writing self, a swimming self. for the longest time, all lidia yuknavitch had were 1. a swimming self and 2. a fucking-up self. the swimming may have saved her life. i mean, she puts it right in the title of her book, right? in fact, she puts it all over her book!
so take someone like this woman, so brutalized in infancy and childhood and adolescence that she was left only with these two barely serviceable selves. one of them built -- self-confidence, strength, life -- the other killed. you know which one won. yet, this woman managed at some point, in some way, miraculously, to pull herself out of the dark and the must and the not-life. if you think about that, if you spend even a minute thinking about that, you stop being annoyed at her book, because you know that this book is literally her life. it's like you hold this book, you hold her. this bragging woman, this larger-than-life woman, is also a very fragile woman.
i got my book through interlibrary loan. my university didn't have a copy and my public library didn't have a copy. WHAT! i'll return the book to the library and, on the same day, order it from my local bookstore. then, next semester or the one after that, i'll assign it to my class. i teach two kind of classes: classes about trauma and the construction of mental pain (aka "mental illness"), and queer studies class. this book works in both. if you are reading this, lidia yuknavitch (i hope you are not), 35 people will buy your book. 36 with me. some will buy it used from the big amazonian beast, so count on 20-25. not bad, huh?
but i'm sure i'm not the only one assigning this book in class. here are a few reasons:
* it's beautiful * it's as powerful as anything you've read * it doesn't pigeonhole/define/categorize anything: not sexuality, not child abuse, not incest, not addiction, not redemption, not marriage, not writing, not new lives (this is a major selling point for me, this freedom from pre-established narratives) * it's a fantastic read * it's beautifully, gorgeously queer * it's beautifully, gorgeously vulnerable and hurt and broken * it's beautifully, painfully honest * it's beautifully, achingly real (i wish i hadn't written achingly; so cliché)
i have been remiss in not reviewing this immediately and now unfortunately i won't be able to remember the characters' names. there are four stories.i have been remiss in not reviewing this immediately and now unfortunately i won't be able to remember the characters' names. there are four stories. they all center around the disappearance of a teenage girl. in reality, they all center around the body, more precisely the female body. one of the protagonist is a lesbian plastic surgeon with a flawless house which however gives much anxiety, a passion for her job, and an empty and broken heart. another is a transsexual woman who refuses surgery and finds the very idea horrible and offensive. she has, i think, the best chapters. she loves her "female" body. she loves who she is and is at peace with herself and others. she doesn't seem ready for love. there is a void at the center of her, but for some reason this void doesn't hurt her. finally, there is a woman whose body alterations are essential to her; they are maybe a punishment. the surgeon had to deal with the ethical and psychological dilemma of going along with this person's desire to change and re-change her body, or tell her she's beautiful as she is, please stop. this dilemma is not done as much of, i think, as it should have.
i am not sure what this book is getting at, which is good. i wish the women had found each other a bit better than they did find each other. i wish they had broken their shells and found community and solace with each other. i wish they had found love. maybe they did, a little. but there is also a lot of loneliness, and love never breaks the surface.
i recommend this book. i gave it three stars because it's slight and could have been developed a lot more, but there is something very tender and magical and sweet about it, and it's a "queer" book that does not put "the issue" of queerness front and center but deals with it as another of the things, like desire, that plague the human heart.
the book's strong stance against reassignment surgery might offend someone, but this is brave, too. there is no bowing to orthodoxy here, just a desire to get inside people's skins (literally, it turns out) and see what lies beneath. some lovely rendition of southern california, too. made me miss L.A. ...more
i love this book. it's good storytelling, daring storytelling that mashes up race and gender and the politics of childhood in a really brave and interi love this book. it's good storytelling, daring storytelling that mashes up race and gender and the politics of childhood in a really brave and interesting way. think, if you will, octavia butler's Fledgling. just like Fledgling, this book has caused a bit of an ethical/squeamish stir. i understand Fledgling's stir more than i understand Perfect Peace's stir. Fledgling has some serious squirm-inducing moment. Perfect Peace pushes buttons i apparently don't have. i don't care that daniel black decides to have a mother raise her boy as a girl. to me it's interesting. and even more interesting is seeing the outrage this is causing in some readers. as if fiction gave us outrageous stuff only rarely. are you kidding? just about everything in fiction is outrageous. but this deliberate crossing of gender paradigms seems to many a terrible, terrible literary act.
so let's this clear: the mother is fictional. the kid is fictional. no "boy" got really raised as a "girl" in the making of this book.
it is so fascinating to me that the entirety of perfect's gender identity resides in her penis. does she have it? and later, does he have it? there are two really great movies, XXY and Tomboy that also present children with ambiguous gender. in both movies The Question is "does she have it?" "does he have it?"
the penis is the center of gender identification.
which is interesting because perfect/paul says quite at the beginning that her/his penis is a small one, and, speaking as an adult, admits that it never got as big at that of his/her brother misterly (which he saw when he became a little boy and was forced to pee outdoors with the other boys, standing up). is a boy with a small penis less of a boy? is a boy with no penis not a boy? is a girl with a penis not a girl?
daniel black never solves the question of perfect/paul's sexual desire, which i thought is an excellent choice. the easy go-to explanation is that she/he's messed up. i prefer to think in terms of opportunity and fluidity. the kid who's a girl until 8-years-old and a boy thereafter gets to experience some pretty intense desires as an object of other people's desire. and then as a subject of her own desires, too. perfect/paul is allowed to like boys and like girls as a girl would. there is no pressure on her/him not to like boys "that way." her/his desires get to roam a bit -- at least to roam as much as girls' desires do. and once he becomes a boy those roamings don't stop, because why should they? they are mighty nice.
i am a tad shocked by the harshness of the punishment meted on emma jean, perfect/paul's mother. the community hates her. her family hates her. the reader hates her. i don't think daniel black hates her. i don't think he hates any of this book's complex, fascinating characters. they are all pretty amazing.
i think the book is worth reading if only for its exploration of the demands placed on a certain kind (black? jim-crow black? rural? christian?) of masculinity. the whole book can, in fact, be seen as just that, an exploration on the demands placed on men (all men?). but then again, it also spends some serious time on the demands placed on women, and both sets of demands are so terribly harsh, one wonders why on earth we came up with them in the first place.
i'm not really qualified to say much about race. daniel black chooses to set this in jim-crow arkansas (in an all-black community, so there are no scenes of cross-race humiliation but only your, you know, run of the mill poverty [ugh]) and to have the characters speak in dialect. i'm sure there's a lot to be said about this choices but nothing comes to mind right now. if people want to contribute, i'd be grateful. ...more
i wish i knew the conditions of the publishing of this book. it is so obvious that the book could have been much, much better with just some editing (i wish i knew the conditions of the publishing of this book. it is so obvious that the book could have been much, much better with just some editing (even just some basic copy-editing would have made a difference!). the hand of a loving editor could have made it so much stronger, it's a real shame this hand wasn't given much, or any, play.
the first part, which is focused on portia's bingeing, is sloppy. the second part, where she describes the time in her life when she got a grip on the bingeing and began the serious process of being a bone fide anorexic, is fascinating and heart-rending. portia represents very well the interdependence of control, lack of control, self-deception, compulsion, obsession and self-hatred that make this condition so damn difficult to heal. she also hints, maybe unwillingly, to some of the dynamics that took her to her massive lack of self-confidence and her tremendous self-hatred. at some point, in one brief passage, she fingers her father as the obvious culprit, but the book makes abundantly clear that the relation between portia and her mother is not a little problematic.
the second part, therefore, is the best and most readable. i think one could simply skip the first and start there. this is not to say it could not have used editing, too.
at the end of the day, it's just remarkable that this book got written. it must have been tough. in spite of her obvious weaknesses, this woman is a marvel of strength, talent, and resilience. i don't know many people who can go through complete subjugation to a deathly eating disorder while keeping down a high-visibility job, survive and manage to create meaningful relationships, and sit down to write a 300 page book about it all. just wow.
i read this because i was wondering whether to teach it. it's a good representation of what an eating disorder is, but ultimately, in spite of portia's best efforts, it still proclaims the gospel of thinness. i like that portia points out that all of us have a basic weight we'll naturally gravitate around if things are pretty decent for us and we don't eat crazily, but i am sorry she didn't say that, for some people, this weight is not 130 lb. for some people it's 180 lb, and that's okay too. i wish she had said this.
we owe so much to ellen. she kicked down a glass closet that was literally killing women. i am happy that portia and ellen found each other.
maybe i will teach the second half of this book. i'm not sure i'll teach the epilogue, though. i want kids to feel okay about being heavier than 130 lb.