TRASH is one of the most disturbing memoirs in a while, and is a perfect example of how reading memoirs -- especially personal ones -- can sometimes feel voyeuristic. One Goodreads user, whose name I cannot remember at the moment sadly, refers to these types of books as "misery memoirs." They are memoirs of abuse or squalor, and the sole purpose of the books seems to be to shock (even if that isn't the actual purpose). In TRASH, Britney Fuller describes what her life was like living with a semi-abusive hoarder.
Having finished the book, all I can say is: holy fucking shit.
The hoarding that went on in the Fuller household is truly disgusting. What makes it even more disgusting is that Britney's mother was a chef -- considering her mother's personal habits, she shouldn't have been allowed anywhere near food being prepared for the public's consumption.
What, exactly, happened in this book? Welllllll...
Britney's mother was obese and had a lot of sores from the unsanitary conditions of the house. She got naked the moment she got home from work and sat around and wandered around in the nude. Even when she was on her period (and no, she didn't use pads or tampons). When Britney was "bad", Britney's mother made her scrub her period blood from the floor and the bathroom.
Britney's mother also didn't feel the need to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. She would pee her bed, rather than get up. She did this so often that the sheets were soaked with urine every day, which she then made her daughter wash. Her mattress actually had an indent from all the peeing. When Britney fractured her hip at one point, the pee-divot was deep enough that when Britney lay on her mother's bed, it actually elevated her leg. (Shudder.)
Rats and mice lived in the house, and also birds at one point. There was so much mold that Britney had bacterial bronchitis six times while living with her mother, coughing up bloody phlegm and actually throwing up and passing out several times.
Britney's mother also filled her car with trash. She volunteered at a church, and fed the kids in the church snacks which she kept in this same car. Ew! At one point, Britney has to borrow the car for work, and cleans it out with the help of her boyfriend. They find rotting food and fruit flies that have been living in the car for so long, in the darkness, that they have become albino. (Fruit flies have short lifespans and breed quickly, so genetic mutations so up quickly, making them ideal for study.)
It was Britney's job to clean up after her mother, and if she didn't do a satisfactory job, she was punished. I think her mother had a lot of issues that weren't really touched upon in this book. I would guess she had OCD (hoarding is a type of OCD -- it's also the hardest variety to treat), and at least one type of mood disorder, just based on the symptoms, but it's hard to tell because this is only Britney's side of the story and she's obviously (and understandably) not unbiased.
I devoured this book in just under a day. Britney's life was so awful that it was like a train wreck, I couldn't look away -- I had to find out what was going to happen next, and how she was going to get out of this mess (would she get out of this mess?). The squalor was awful, and so was her mother's abuse, but Britney was also having a lot of trouble fitting in at school, and as someone who was bullied, I could really relate to her sense of loneliness and isolation.
One thing that did upset me was how much pressure Britney put on her boyfriend, Adam. She decided that he was going to be her knight in shining armor, to the point where she wouldn't let him go to Utah to pursue his dreams because it was his job to spirit her away from her mother. They had a big fight, with Britney pressuring him to call off his trip and stay with her. I hate to say it, but this really made me angry. Considering how fucked up her family was, it's pretty amazing that Adam didn't just turn and run. Boxing him into a corner like that seemed really wrong. I mean, I get that she was desperate and didn't have a lot of options, and I can't even put myself into her shoes and imagine what it would be like to be afraid to come home, but I could understand what it would be like to have someone decide that you're meant to be their saving grace (because this has happened to me), and I just cringed all over. Because love cannot be one's salvation, contrary to what the new adult books these days would have you believe. Only you can fix your problems. Sometimes you need the help of others, but you have to take the initiative to get the help, however possible. Other people can't make you feel whole if you're broken inside, and using love -- or attraction -- as a cure is tantamount to sticking a broken vase back together with Scotch tape.
Apart with this one issue, I really enjoyed this book. Well...enjoyed is probably the wrong word. I found this book fascinating. Even if it was a misery memoir, and even if my main reaction after reading it was, "Thank God I don't have to put up with this shit -- literally!" (No, seriously, literally.)
I tend to be leery of women's fiction. They always seem to be marketed as the book equivalent of Lifetime movies. In Megan Hart's case, this is a pretty apt comparison -- there is nothing particularly intellectually stimulating about Hart's books; they are the literary equivalent of snarfing down a bag of chocolates. Unlike 99.9% of the crap out there, however, Megan Hart is actually a good writer. I received a copy of one of her newer books, FLYING, from Netgalley, and quite enjoyed it! The character depth and cracktastic storyline made a very tired cliche exciting. When another Megan Hart book appeared on Netgalley, I applied for it immediately. Surely, this one would be even better!
Now, I understood from the get-go that the books were going to be totally different in tone. FLYING was erotica with drama. LOVELY WILD is -- *shudder* -- women's fiction; fiction with pseudo-literary aspirations, but too chick-litty to be mainstream, basically. Think Jodi Picoult on her period.
LOVELY WILD is about the Calder family. Ryan is a psychologist. Mari is a stay-at-home mom. They have two children, Kendra and Ethan. Just your typical, run-of-the-mill perfect family. Except not really. Because Mari was a feral child who suffered extreme abuse and neglect; for a while, she couldn't even speak, and she fought dogs for food. Calder's father adopted Mari into his household, which made it really awk when he and Mari started hooking up. Calder's (now-ex)-wife never forgave Mari for tearing the family apart, and thinks there's something ungodly about hooking up with your step-sister-slash-father's-patient, and on this, I think that she is probably not wrong.
Anyway, lots of unethical things happen in this book. Because Ryan sleeps with one of his patients, and then she commits suicide. Now he's facing a huge malpractice suit, and will probably lose his license. But it's okay, because he has an idea of how to make big bucks -- by selling his wife's story without her knowledge. Ryan thinks that this is totally okay, because silence, to him, is the same thing as tacit agreement, even if he fails to enlighten her on the subject. And while he does tell her that he's facing a malpractice suit and money is tight, he doesn't bother educating her on the severity of their financial situation, nor does he tell her that he's losing his job because he couldn't keep his ween in his pants. Ryan also takes money from his wife's accounts (ladies, this is why you shouldn't tell the hubs your pin) because he figures she'd totally be cool with it, after all, what is money?
I spent 90% of the book wanting something terrible to happen to Ryan. He is a terrible excuse for a human being and I don't really understand why the author made him so horrible, because he doesn't suffer any real consequences for his actions. I mean, Good God! When he buys and then moves the family into the house where his wife was abused as a child, he is surprised and annoyed when his wife starts suffering trigger attacks. No wonder the yutz is losing his medical license. FFS.
There is a mystery about Mari's origins, and it's a total mindfuck...sort of. The thing is, it takes so long to get to the grand reveal that I'm not entirely sure that it's worth it. Most of the book is Ryan being a douche, Mari hoarding and eating Hostess snack cakes, Kendra having teen drama, and constant hinting on Megan Hart's part that Something is going to happen Soon...but she never really shows when it's going to happen. I don't really like the carrot and the stick trick. It seems cheap.
The feral child angle really made this book unique. I learned about feral children in my developmental psychology classes (Jeannie is the most famous, I think. There's also the boy who was raised as a dog, and the wild boy of Aveyron). It's fascinating and terrible what happens when the normal process of psychological development in children is disrupted by a lack of nuturance. Hart obviously did her research because this part of the book could have been extremely painful, but I thought it was executed rather well.
Ironically, it's the emotional stuff and the relationships that really made me dislike LOVELY WILD. I didn't care for Mari, or her kids, or Ryan. I mean, I despised Ryan, but Mari annoyed me enough in her own way that I found it hard to feel sorry for her, she just wasn't an empathetic character. The ending was pretty anticlimactic, too. So after all that, you're just going to pretend to be Joe Normal? Really? That doesn't seem like a very realistic reaction to what they learned about their family...
A year ago, I was approved for HYPERBOLE AND A HALF on Netgalley. It was one of the best, most honest memoirs that I have ever read. There was so much I could relate to. Allie Brosh has such a raw and honest style of writing, made better by her simple yet hilarious cartoons, and to this date, I think that her famous depression comic is the most accurate portrayal of the disorder.
When I saw Bruce Kaplan's memoir, I WAS A CHILD, on Netgalley, almost a year later, my first thought was, "Oh, here it comes, the copycats begin." Because I WAS A CHILD looked like a blatant attempt to piggyback on the success of Allie Brosh's memoir. But sometimes I have been pleasantly surprised by books, and HYPERBOLE was so good that I was left in a book funk for a while after finishing it, so I read this with hope.
I WAS A CHILD was a terrible book. The cover is misleading; it makes you think that this is going to be a graphic novel. It isn't. Kaplan opens each section with a few sentences and then has one doodle accompanying it. The doodles are about as elaborate as what you would see in a Shel Silverstein poem except considerably less charming and detailed. I really didn't care for them.
Kaplan's memoir itself reads like a guy on a first date trying to make his mundane and trivial life sound epic and interesting. He's eloquent, I guess, but that's the only thing he has going for him. Towards the end, when Kaplan writes about growing up in the fifties, the memoir gets a little better, but I wasn't won over. Even at the end, when he talks about his parents both succumbing to cancer, Kaplan sounded so detached. Maybe that was grief, but even so, he wasn't someone I could relate to. Everything about this just seemed so calculated and impersonal.
Plus, I hate to say it, but he seems like a strange and not very nice person.
Here are some quotes:
We had a hamster who we named Hampy. One day, she somehow gave birth to baby hamsters and we clamored around her tank, looking at them. Then we watched in horror as Hampy ate all her babies. My mother told us it was because we scared Hampy.
I felt we were too much for Hampy, just as we were too much for her (20).
That is literally the exact same thing, only restated. I think he meant to say, "just as she was too much for us."
Everything in our house was repaired with Scotch tape. If a paint chip was coming off, it was taped down. If there was a tear in the lamp shade, a piece of tape was put on it.I felt held together by Scotch tape, and still do (33).
Oh, please. What is this, 2005? Go listen to some Smile Empty Soul.
I loved crawlspaces under people's houses, and still do. I wish I could crawl under your house right now (96).
That's very creepy.
I just read this quote to my dad, and he said, "We have a slab. Good luck with that."
There was an annual school fair at Tuscan. Every year, I won a goldfish. It was always very exciting to carry it home in its bag and then very sad when you flushed it down the toilet a few weeks later (156).
How many times do you have to kill something before you realize you're not fit to take care of it?
With 163,915 ratings on Goodreads and an average of 3.24, it seems pretty safe to say that THE CASUAL VACANCY is not a book people like. Far from it, in most cases.
I told myself that I was going to write this review without mentioning Harry Potter, but that's going to be pretty hard to do because the author of this book is J.K. Rowling, international superstar, who became famous by wowing everyone with her tales of witchcraft and wizardry and a boy who lived...
I was privileged in the sense that Harry Potter book #1 came out when I was ten years old. Every year, another book would follow, so I was always the same age as Harry and his friends. It really felt like I was growing up with the characters, which made them more relatable and more beloved.
A lot of my friends were fanatics, and felt the need not only to show their love for the books but to preach it and impose it on others, as if it were a religion. Ironically, I was never really a fangirl. I loved the books, and they will always hold a special place in my heart, but they did not become one of my reasons to even. I was sad when the series ended, but happy that Rowling didn't see the need to stretch it out for another ten years to milk the cash cow. Instead, she did the good thing -- the right thing -- and sent her to pasture.
So when I found out that Rowling was writing a new book that had nothing to do with witches or wizards, I was wary but excited. I don't think writers should be confined to one genre. I was surprised by the number of fans who were whining about how this wasn't fantasy. That, to me, seemed very hurtful. It says (to me) "You are a one-trick pony, and I am not going to watch if you attempt to do a different trick because I like what is predictable and familiar to me." A good writer should want to expand her horizons. Harry Potter was good, but it is YA, which comprises a very specific niche of the book market. It seemed understandable to me that Rowling would want to write for other audiences, to mature her career, and another one of those amazing coincidences because I had grown from a romantic child into a jaded and often pessimistic adult. THE CASUAL VACANCY, with its promises of portraying humanity at its worst, seemed right up my Diagon Alley.
And it was.
(In fact, I think the response to CASUAL VACANCY is part of the reason Rowling wrote CUCKOO's CALLING under a pseudonym. I think she wanted to see if her books would get a different reception without the Rowling name attached -- and they did. People who wanted books in that genre picked them up, and enjoyed them because they had no preconceived notions or expectations. I was very upset when I found out that Rowling's books were leaked, even though it did end up introducing me to another (two now) book by one of my favorite authors. Authors have very fragile egos, even successful ones, and I imagine it was probably very frustrating for Rowling to see people trashing her book just because it dealt with reality over fantasy, and didn't have wizards).
Because most of the negative reviews seem to have come from Harry Potter fans who picked up this book expecting it to somehow have some sort of relationship to Harry Potter. Some of them are from people who were annoyed by the fact that this book is almost entirely without plot (it is) and mostly character-driven (yup). Even more were put off by the fact that there were no redeeming characters (I'm going to disagree here, but that's my personal opinion), and that CASUAL VACANCY deals with unsavory topics such as rape, pedophilia, mental illness, cheating, drug use, underage sex, prostitution, and more. Which it does. In spades. Many uncomfortable spades.
But I liked THE CASUAL VACANCY. In many ways, it reminded me of Dave Barry's work. Here, you have a very likable author who has a dark sense of humor and a knack for portraying humanity at its idiosyncratic worst. The plot of TCV is basically that the mayor of a town in England has died, and this town is in danger of splitting into two because nobody likes the poor part or the fact that they have a small population that require the use of a methadone clinic. Obviously, people start jockeying for his place, there are power struggles and, because this is a small town, malicious gossip. The teens in this town sleep around, and do nasty things to their parents, and the parents do nasty things to each other. People cheat, or covet what isn't theirs, or beat their kids. Or they do drugs and enable rape, or they take pleasure in other people's pain. Sometimes they do good things too, though. Like they might try to save a methadone clinic, or help a poorer family get back on track.
THE CASUAL VACANCY was a long book but I devoured it in just under three days. It was the kind of book that I thought about long after I had to put it aside, calculating when I could pick it up next. I was reading it through my lunch and my breaks, and then I took it home from work and read it while I ate my dinner, and then took it to my bedroom and read it some more after I'd changed into my pajamas. Yes, the characters are awful, but they're human, and one of the most interesting things about humans is that they can be complete and utter douchebags and they can also do wonderful things -- and sometimes the people responsible for these two states affairs are one and the same.
Rowling was always really good at character development and fleshing out unique and interesting characters. That was clear in Harry Potter and it's clearer in THE CASUAL VACANCY, which is an excellent character study of small town English life. I work in retail, so I often see people at their worst and at their best, and a lot of the things that happened in this book had me nodding along, going, "Yup." We might not like it, but we're far from perfect. But that doesn't necessarily make us evil. The ending was a bit of a downer, but I've been in a bit of a mood lately, so a happy ending probably would have raised my eyebrows anyway. As it was, I thought it served this book quite well.
First off: I am not dead. I am just working about 40-50 hours a week. I haven't been reading or writing, and life is just really stressful right now. Really stressful.
Disclaimer: I have never found the 60s inspirational, nostalgic, or fascinating. I think hippies are stupid. I think 60s music is overhyped, discordant, and, for the most part, terrible. And, with very few exceptions, I am not a fan of the art. Andy Warhol is (sort of) one of those exceptions. To me, though, Warhol is less a genius than the embodiment of tasteless kitsch. Like, I would happily hang a print of a Campbells soup can in my kitchen, for example, because it (to me) has a country kitchen vibe to it. But I would not pay $1,000,000 for his work. No, no, I would not.
(My favorite pop artist is actually Wesselman.)
But Andy Warhol's designs are pretty cool. They definitely have an appeal that spreads from the lowest common denominator to the self-professed highbrows. So I guess in that sense maybe he is a genius. A marketing genius. I may hate E.L. James, for example, but nobody can argue that the woman fails at being a pimp for her wares. The success of FSoG continues to baffle me--especially since it started out as fanfiction. And in that sense, she and Warhol are also similar because most of his designs were ripped from other things--brands, silk screens, photographs. He didn't even do most of his silk-screening himself.
But, like I said, he's an interesting guy. I had no idea he had so many health problems, and his homosexuality in an unforgiving era--especially with disfigurements that made him an outcast among men looking for arm candy--made him a more sympathetic figure than he otherwise might have been. So I stuck it out, hoping that I would learn something, and maybe even become touched. But I've been reading POP at work for several weeks now and about 100 pages from the end (it's a long book) I decided to call it quits.
POP is a biography of Andy Warhol but, like most biographies, it is not content to confine itself to the life of the person it is about. Rather, POP aspires to be a sweeping portrait of the zeitgeist of the late 50s to the mid-60s. At this, I have to say it fails. The tone is uneven -- sometimes it reads like a trashy gossip mag; at others, like a dry and incredibly dull history textbook.
Another thing that irritated me is the color plates in the center of the book. I was really excited to see reproductions of Mr. Warhol's art, but no. Only a few of the plates are actually of his work. Most of them are artists who were inspired by Warhol, or contemporaries of Warhol. They were very stingy with the artwork in my opinion. I don't know if that's because they couldn't get the rights to it, or if they just decided to cheap out, but it really damaged the value of this book to me, because now I can't say, "Well, the book was terrible, but at least it had great art."
It takes a lot of talent to make a book about an influential figure unreadable, so I guess in that sense the people who edited and wrote this book are geniuses as well.
The title--and the cover--of this book made me think that GENIUS AND HEROIN was going to be an in-depth analysis of famous, brilliant heroin (and other drug) users throughout history that researched some of the links between brilliance and mental illness. On this note, the book is highly misleading.
Yes, GENIUS AND HEROIN does feature famous people who died of drug overdose who also happened to be brilliant... and yet, it also features people who died of heart attacks, in car accidents, or even by suicide or murder. The people featured in this morbid encyclopedia range in profession to regent, writer, and obscure silent film star.
Part of the problem with GENIUS AND HEROIN is that it is packaged as something it is not. The misleading title is one thing; but it extends to the content, too. The illustrations often have nothing (or little) to do with the text they're placed alongside. The quotes are anachronistic and sometimes irrelevant, as well -- for example, you might find a quote from Voltaire in Ivan the Terrible's passage, or Christopher Morley in Diogene's (in fact, that's exactly what happens).
Each famous person ("genius," I guess) has 1-2 pages (often less) outlining what they were known for and how they died. It gets very tedious after a while. I suppose this is one of those books that isn't meant to be read in an entire sitting, but I don't have a lot of time to read anymore, and when I read a book, I want something that I can devour greedily, not choke on with only tons of effort.
How serious are these problems? If this were an article written by a prestigious newsgroup, people would be accusing them of resorting to click-bait, and questioning whether they have moved out of their golden age and into a slow decline.
THE SHORT SECOND LIFE OF BREE TANNER is an imperfect book. Bree is not a compelling character. She is a device employed by the author to shed more light on the established canon characters, in the guise of new material.
Bree was introduced briefly at the end of ECLIPSE. After the big vampire/werewolf/evil vampire battle, one of Victoria's vampires surrendered and the Cullens briefly entertained the idea of taking her under their wing, and introducing her to their ways.
But then the Volturi came along, and did their rule enforcement thing, and killed the vampire. And that vampire was Bree.
In TSSLoBT, Meyer gives Bree her own book. Well, novella. Basically, Bree is in vampire boot camp, with Riley being as vague as possible, lying to the vampire trainees about everything under the sun (including the sun itself). Bree suspects that Riley is maybe not as shit-free as he claims, but as a fledgling she's pretty dependent on him, and it's a little terrifying to think that your maker might have Sinister Plans for you. Bree also has a sort-of romance with co-trainee-vampire, Diego. Their romance is poorly done and one of the worse parts of the book. BFFs, are you serious? Their banter was painful.
The best part of the book is probably the last thirty pages, which makes me think that this would have worked better as a thirty-page short story that she could have put up for free on her website or something, instead of bloating it out, and trying to make a(n ill-fated) love story out of it.
THE SHORT SECOND LIFE OF BREE TANNER, as others have said, really highlights a lot of the issues with the TWILIGHTverse world-building.
For example, vampires apparently sparkle because the sun reflects off their skin. (But why?)
Vampires have venom instead of blood/saliva/semen. (But then how are babies made?)
Vampire gifts are really rare -- 1/50. Since there are seven Cullens, plus Bella, the probability of them all having special talents is 1/50 x 1/50 x 1/50 x 1/50 x 1/50 x 1/50 x 1/50 (+ Bella = x 1/50).
Do you know what the possibility of that is?
One in seven-hundred and eighty-one billion, two-hundred and fifty million.
Talk about your special snowflakes.
I also found it weird, how vampire "taste" is explained. So Bree and co. feed off "dregs", which are basically prostitutes, pimps, and the homeless (or teen runaways). Apparently, they are all on drugs, so humans who don't do drugs taste better. Which I guess would make sense. But then, Bella apparently smells excellent to all the vampires, which puzzled me. Does that mean that there's something else added to the mix? Because I thought she was supposed to be irresistible only to Edward. What makes her smell so sweet? Is it the fact that she's a virgin? But surely there would be some virgin teenage runaways who don't do drugs.... It's all very confusing, and really says a lot about how Meyer views the lower classes (drug-addled sluts, clearly).
It was weird in general reading a Stephenie Meyer book that was under 500 pages. I actually like her style of writing, and it was nice to revisit the book series. It's sad that she doesn't write anymore. Maybe she's happy she no longer needs to. Maybe she's pissed off that people keep publishing (and cashing in on) fanfiction based on her work -- I know I would find that upsetting, as well.
Overall, THE SHORT SECOND LIFE was a disappointment. Definitely one of her worst books (although a sight better than the monstrosity that was BREAKING DAWN). It passed the evening, and now I think I'll pass the buck (I mean book) along to my sister. See what she thinks.
TTSoHaG takes place in Poland. Why Poland? Because, according to the author, it was "the Devil's anvil" of WWII -- I guess the Nazis went there a lot to get stuff done. As far as atmospheres go, Murphy has woven a pretty fearsome one. SS soldiers are everywhere, and so are their spies. Some are living in a haze of war-fueled moral ambiguity. Others wallow in their depravity (like a certain Oberfuhrer who gets sexual gratification from blood transfusions from Aryan women because he believes it gives him power). The Russians are coming, and pushing back the Germans, but they maybe aren't so great, either.
Hansel and Gretel are on the run with their father and stepmother. They are on a motorcycle, and the stepmother points out that they will be faster without the deadweight of the children. So they abandon the children in the woods. The children leave a trail of breadcrumbs (ha) behind them as they push further into the Polish wilds, and end up in a small village, where they get taken in by a Rom woman named Magda, who has been (unfairly) branded as a witch because of her Gypsy ancestry.
Hansel and Gretel were given new German names by their father to help them hide better, and Magda takes it a step further by completely consuming their identities (ha). She gives them a new backstory, saying that they were put into a Karaite camp by their crazy mother, who imposed a circumcision on the boy. She dyes Hansel's hair blonde with peroxide. She tells them to avoid notice. Because the SS are abducting children -- perfect, blonde, blue-eyed, Aryan children. And Gretel fits the bill.
So does Magda's niece, Nelka, and her baby.
The fairytale references were pretty clever. At one point, Gretel goes into a cage because she keeps lashing out while she's in a fever. Magda moves the cage near the fire to keep her warm. When the Nazis come, Magda hides the two children in the oven.
One thing that really bothered me was that there was a lot of cruelty to children in this book. It's a holocaust book, so I wasn't expecting a happy ending, but I was surprised by how dark and terrible the content was. Gretel gets raped...while she's still a child. Nelka's lover, Telek, decides that the children of the village need to be horribly mutilated so the Nazis won't want to take them away, so there's a lovely description of that going on for about a chapter. Gretel gets molested by the crazy, creepy, blood-transfusion-loving Oberfuhrer.
I liked TTSoHaG, but it started to bog down towards the end. It was just misery heaped upon misery, and it didn't look like it was going anywhere for a bit. Also, Nelka and Telek's plot arc halted pretty quickly, which was a bit surprising considering the big role they played in the story. So one chapter they're there, and then that's the end of it? Okay, then.
The Polish setting was novel, and I liked the backdrop of TTSoHaG, but it was nothing special. The author said she did a lot of research about Poland and the Bialowieza forest for her story, and it really shows and adds a lot of atmosphere to the book. But I also feel like the characters became a bit nebulous at times, because there was less importance placed upon them, especially the children. When the two of them were walking alone in the forest, on the run, it dragged on and on, and I got flashbacks to RPG games where you're stuck in a desert, or a forest, looking for the magic switch that will get you the hell out of there. Meanwhile, enemies keep coming. That was this book.
Yuki is pretty much the epitome of the Japanese schoolgirl stereotype -- tiny and petite, pretty and popular, and a little too free with her emotions. When she's not being groped by perverts and filmed by other perverts (who later turn out to be love interests), she's caring for people and filling her eyes up with earnest tears.
There's a bit of a love triangle. Chiba, her best friend, is in love with her, and so is Matsubara, the creeper she befriends on the train who video-records her with his phone. (Later, he claims that he did it because he wanted to get to know her better. Uh-huh...)
The thing about Matsubara is that he might also be Spirit, a serial-killer wannabe who slaughters cats (the bastard!) and biology lab frogs that are slated for dissection (why?). The killings are eerily similar to another set that happened seven years ago, culminating in the death of a boy named Tsuji. (I just tried to spell culminating with a 'K.') Is it the same person? Or a copycat? Is Matsubara a killer as well as a lonely pervert?
DUN, DUN, DUN.
I haven't been on Netgalley in a while, so GOOD-BYE GEIST was my first foray back into internet crackdom. As far as hits go, it gave me a non-existent buzz. Don't get me wrong; as an indie author myself, I can really appreciate attempts to showcase indie work, and that's what Gen Manga does. They publish indie manga (doujinshi) that isn't available anywhere else, translate it, and then publish it directly to the masses without the use of an intermediary. It's a great idea, and I've read some pretty interesting work from them. Artists struggle even more than writers, because the effort put into their creative output really exceeds the pay-off, unless you are both extremely talented and lucky.
But GOOD-BYE GEIST was a miss for me. The cat deaths really put me off. I love cats, and Yukiko, one of the victim cats, looked a lot like my own pet cat, Yang. And like Yukiko, Yang was also abused and has trust issues, so the whole time Yukiko was in the plot, I was thinking about my poor itty bitty kitty, and, well... I WAS NOT HAPPY, OKAY?
The use of "sexual violation" for titillation was a bit trashy and circumspect, too. And I feel like "sexual violation" is a bit...sensationalist for what actually happens. It suggests sexual violence, when all that happened (unless I missed something) was a grope. (Although the groper does at one point shove an umbrella under her skirt, and into her panties--so maybe that's what they were referring to? I don't think it's actually shown in the panels, but the characters were discussing it at one point and I was like, DA FUQ.) There doesn't seem to be much point to it either, except to provide a way for Matsubara to take an interest in Yuki, which isn't cool. I don't really like the two-opposite-sexed-characters-meet-and-bond-over-thrwarted-sexual-abuse trope. It suggests (to me) that women need men to help save them from being raped... which is a disturbing message to send.
Another thing that annoyed me was the fact that the identity of Spirit is never revealed. There's a flashback at the end that is maybe supposed to provide background to the mystery, but if the killer was revealed, I never figured it out. (I was kind of suspecting Yuki or Chiba, but hey, your guess is as good as mine.) That lack of closure was irritating. I feel like making it through a book entitles you to something. Leaving the reader hanging, that's just bad manners. And that's the problem with this book: GOOD-BYE GEIST is too nebulous, and uses violence and sex to keep the reader turning the pages.
I would call myself a girl gamer, but I'm afraid I'm pretty stereotypical -- I like the cutesy sim and platformer games. Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing, the Mario games, Yoshi Story, Chibi Robo, Pokemon...these are all games I own and love. I suspect a lot of people would probably laugh and sneer and say, "Of course, typical girl games." But whatevs. They're cute, and fun, and I like them. I like more "male"-targeted games, too, like shooter games, RPGs, and I'm just getting into the Zelda (fucking Ocarina, y u so hard?!) series, but sims and cutesy platformers have always been my favorites.
I stopped buying handheld consoles with the Gameboy Color, so I'm pretty limited in terms of the games I own. But I've been thinking about getting a DS for a couple years now, and THE ART OF 5TH CELL has given me a push in that direction. The games it features--Drawn to Life, and, of course, Scribblenauts--look right up my alley.
I like behind the scenes concepts, and the artist has a really great voice when he discusses his art and the process behind his work. He doesn't come across as pretentious at all; instead, he seems like a really cool, geeky guy who loves what he does and is lucky enough to be able to do it for a living. His art is great, and quite versatile, and a couple endearing typos on his blueprints (like 'guages' instead of 'gauges') made me warm to him that much more.
It's kind of surprising, the different kinds of games 5th Cell put out. For example, there's a phone game called Run Roo Run that looks an awful lot like Angry Birds. Then there's a first-person shooter game with futuristic guys in space suits and high-tech guns called Hybrid. And then there's the puzzle adventure games, DtL and Scribble, and, lastly, the RPG with anime-style characters, Lock's Quest (I'm getting a steampunk Tales of Symphonia vibe).
THE ART OF 5TH CELL works well as a standalone. Even if you haven't played any of the games, the art is still pretty impressive. I never really thought about the backgrounds of a game, but they do add a lot to the atmosphere of a game (and a level) and often go ignored. It's interesting to see the schematics behind what often goes unappreciated in game design. It's also a commercial success, in my opinion. THE ART OF 5TH CELL is basically a 168-page advert for 5th Cell's games, featuring a sneak peek of up-and-coming games by the company at the very end. It's fluff, but fun, and would make a great addition to any gamer's coffee table. And on that note, my thumb is starting to itch for an A-button to press.
One of my favorite videos on Youtube is called Mind Control Made Easy, or How to Become a Cult Leader. It is 12:37 minutes long and worth every second, because, if you have read any books about cults or cult survivors, the tactics are there.
I studied psychology in school, and one of the facts that was always emphasized was the plasticity of the brain. It's pretty easy to shape, and under rigorous abuse, the mind tends to change pretty dramatically anyway, purely as a survival technique. When people are in cults, their entire lives become enmeshed in the cult superpower. It's the framework with which you live your life; and when that framework is gone, you feel totally lost.
For these reasons, I am really interested in radical religions, cults, and fundamentalism. I am not at all religious, so it is interesting to see the devoutness with which people approach religion in their daily life, imposing limitations, suffering under the yoke of constant guilt. I can't imagine putting faith in something other than myself so unequivocally, to the point where I would even compromise my own well being because it was this deity's will. It is such an alien thought to me, that I can scarcely comprehend it.
STOLEN INNOCENCE marks the third polygamy memoir I have read. The first was ESCAPE by Carolyn Jessop, which is probably the most famous. Carolyn's ex-husband, Merrill, is actually mentioned in this memoir, because Elisa and Allen end up going to his hotel to be married by Warren Jeffs, if I recall correctly. Ms. Jessop's story was powerful, and her narrative voice was very strong. Since she was a little older at the time of her marriage, the horror was mostly from the abusive family dynamic, which was enabled by the closed-door policy of their religion. I actually reviewed this book, so if you want to read more on my thoughts about it, you can check out the review here.
The second memoir took a totally opposite interpretation of polygamy. It was called LOVE TIMES THREE by the Darger family (the man and his three wives). They were one of the families that inspired the popular TV drama, Big Love. The book itself wasn't all that good, but having read STOLEN INNOCENCE, I can see a lot of the things that Elisa talked about -- the defense mechanisms, the self-contradiction, and the knowledge that what they are doing goes against society's norms and laws, and yet attempting to rationalize the illicit marriage as a holy thing. LOVE TIMES THREE is actually a better book if you read between the lines, because it is a powerful work of psychological turmoil and stress coated in thick layers of having "kept sweet." I reviewed this work as well, so if you would like to read my thoughts on LOVE TIMES THREE, you can do so here.
It's difficult to put my thoughts about STOLEN INNOCENCE into words. Even though I'm working all the time now, I devoured it in just under three days. It was compulsively readable; the horrors Elissa went through as a young woman were just so awful. At fourteen she was married to a cousin that she hated, because of how cruelly he treated her when they were children. He raped her for years, and Jeffs would not let her quit the marriage and get a release, and she received pressure from her whole family to "keep sweet", put a good face on things, and pop out babies. So she was raped for years, and suffered through three miscarriages and a still birth -- which, according to church doctrine, were all her fault for not being devout enough and not loving her husband enough. Can you imagine living in a society in which woman is the fault of everything, whether it is from a lapse in health, or a man's straying? I can't. But Elissa can, because she did, and her experience is disturbing.
It should have dawned on me that many aspects of the religion were based on revoking the rights of women. If a girl speaks her mind, get her married. Once she's married, get her pregnant. Once she has children, she's in for life -- it's almost impossible for any FLDS woman to take her children if she leaves, and no mother wants to leave her children behind.
Even when Elissa did manage to leave, most of her family stayed behind, and when she acted as a witness against Jeffs in court, members of her family signed affidavits against her, and friends testified against her in court. The web was that powerful, and even when she was allegedly free, Elissa still felt its stranglehold.
I think one of the saddest parts of the book was when Jeffs was fleeing, and in the car the authorities found a duffel bag of tithing letters from FLDS Mormons. Jeffs hadn't read the letters; he had just extracted the money they contained to help him run away. That just about broke my heart.
STOLEN INNOCENCE is a good book to read because it offers much in the way of discussion. I could see this being a good book club book, because even if you don't like Elissa (I did), you can still respect the enormity of what she did and how much bravery was required to do it. Her escape from the FLDS community was an incredible triumph over adversity, and I can't even imagine how she began to summon up the courage required to turn away from everything she had ever known in life in order to gain back her freedom.
A GOOD AND USEFUL HURT is a puzzling book. For starters, I can't even remember where I obtained it. I'm usually pretty good about remembering how I get my books. For example, just looking around at some of the titles in my room -- I won SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY in a Goodreads giveaway. I got FOREVER AMBER at a thrift store. I bought the Saint-Germain series at a shop in San Jose, while on a trip with a friend. And I got THE EIGHT at a FoL sale after remembering how much I loved the first copy that I bought and read several years before (also at a FoL sale). But this one ... this one is a mystery. Maybe it just crawled into my room?
At first, I liked A GOOD AND USEFUL HURT. It has an indie feel to it, in the sense that the writing is a little awkward, and the MC is kind of Gary-Stu-ish -- but it's good indie, and deals with some interesting topics. If your tastes run anything like mine, you're probably bored to death of the tattoo schtick. I know I'm tired of middle-class pussy boys trying to be all, "Look at me, I'm badasss because I've got tribal tattoos and wear Axe Gold Temptation!"
No, A GOOD AND USEFUL HURT is worth reading if only because it shows that all kinds of people can get tattoos ... whether because they're into BDSM, or want to remember an important life event, or want to re-own their body after some kind of trauma or abuse. Or just because, you know, they feel like it. That's a good message to send, I think. Tattoos really aren't a Big Deal, and neither are piercings. They're only stupid if you do it to look cool or be a bad-ass, because that means you haven't thought about this decision beyond the superficial aspects. Never a good idea.
So. The message. I liked it.
Now, this review is going to contain spoilers, because a lot of the things I didn't like the book will contain plot information that will spoil the 'mystery.' Or at the very least, the suspense.
If you do not want this to happen, you shouldn't read any further.
Seriously, do not do it.
Also, this book also contains spoilers for Dean Koontz's ODD THOMAS, so if you have any vested interest in reading that series, maybe you should also back away.
Okay, so Mike, our main (slightly Stuish) character, is a tattoo artist. I think he's the mouthpiece for the author, because there's a lot of proselytizing about accepting people for who they are, especially when it comes to tattoos, and getting over racial and sexual prejudices, and just a lot of paragraphs devoted to this opining that really have nothing to do with the plot.
The plot is that there is this creepy psycho man named Phil who likes raping and dismembering and killing women (in that order). Especially if they have tattoos. There's also this plot where all these people keep coming to Mike, asking him to tattoo their dead loved ones' ashes into their bodies. Which is a little creepy, but I didn't mind that too much because it was an interesting thought, and people have done weirder things in grief. (Or even not grief. I seem to recall a certain celebrity pair who wore each other's blood around their necks in little vials.)
Meanwhile, Phil has hired a sassy new piercer named Deb who basically takes no shit. Deb kind of reminded me of this girl I knew in college. We weren't really friends, but we hung out sometimes, and she was really wild and crazy and just really happy with her life. Like, she had this persona, and you could tell that she was totally happy with it, and life was this giant adventure to her, even the bad stuff. She's the kind of person you envy, because you can't keep up with, and sometimes you call her fake because you just can't believe that anyone could really be so out there. That is Deb.
I liked Deb.
And then she died.
At first, I could not believe it. Because on the back of the book, it says, "And when the life of a serial killer tragically collides with the lives in the tattoo shop, Mike and Deb will stop at nothing in their quest of revenge..." So no way could Deb die, because the two of them are in this together.
Because it turns out that tattooing the ashes of your loved one into your skin gives you the ability to communicate with them telepathically. That's how come Mike has been getting all these weird customers. Word on the grapevine is that Mike's tattoos are magic. And his first hoodoo client, Doc, has the brilliant idea that if they collect the ashes of the serial killer's previous victims and tattoo them into Mike, they'll collect enough info to find out and get revenge upon the serial killer. Oh, and since Mike tattooed Deb's ashes into his arm, he sees Ghost Deb.
Odd Thomas, much?
Except, with Odd Thomas, there was a depth to the relationship that was tangible. When I saw the movie Odd Thomas, even though I knew what happened, even though I was emotionally prepared for what happened ... I wasn't. And when the grim reveal happens, I sobbed like a baby and went through like a whole roll of TP. Even now, I'm starting to tear up -- because it was so EMOTIONAL.
That wasn't here, partially because Deb gets so little air time, just when you're finally starting to like her and get a feel for her, she's gone -- and that was a really bad tactical move on the author's part.
And then there's how the girls get revenge on the serial killer. It is probably one of the most grizzly scenes ever. They Freddy Krueger his ass Hannibal Lecter style, and the clinical dispassion with which it is written makes the scene even more unpleasant than if it had been labored over. Especially when one of the transitions involves the main characters going HEY LET'S GET SUSHI. Yeah, that's what I want to think about. A guy getting skinned alive before having his balls chopped up and then transitioning to raw, skinless fish. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THAT IMAGE.
(At least it wasn't carpaccio?)
The last 140 pages really killed my enjoyment of the book. For a while, I was like, "Okay, this isn't perfect, but it's interesting and I like the way their relationship is progressing." And then Deb was dead, and the torture starts and I'm just like ... what was the point of this? It wasn't even satisfying ending-wise, because Mike ends up all alone at his friend's wedding, and the serial killer gets tortured to death, and the cops are just like, "Hmm, that's odd that he has strangle marks even though nobody ever touched him ... oh well!" (Hashtag -- worst cops ever.) It was a big downer, basically.
I was really hoping that this could be a small press book I could recommend in good faith to people, but alas ... nope. Even my friend who is interested in tattoos and piercings probably wouldn't like it, because of all the darkness in the book, and the lack of redemption. (I mean you could argue that Mike allowed the women to be at peace, but still. He ended up alone, and kept having all the women in his life die. How fucking depressing is that? Not something I want to be reading for fun.)
So overall, I think I'll give this book 1.5 stars.
(There was also this one chapter where the book randomly switches into first person. No idea why.)
So the internet now shuts off at 12:15 in my house now, which is ridiculous, especially since I usually get home around midnight from work, so my time to do author stuff is basically nil. Let's see if I can crank out this review in twenty-seven minutes.
I've been reading THE GIRL WHO WAS SATURDAY NIGHT for several weeks now, and it's in that book purgatory where I didn't hate it, but I didn't really like it, either. It's kind of like when the TV switches over from the news to daytime television, but you're too lazy to get up and find the remote, so you end up watching Jerry Springer or Maury Povich. It's not good, but you can't stop watching, or it's not terrible enough that you actually want to take an active role in ceasing its being on the television.
So it was with this book.
TGWWSN is about two French-Canadian people in their early twenties who are twins. If they were American, you'd probably call them white trash. They're famous in Quebec only because their father was a Bob Dylany/Crash Test Dummiesy-type folk singer who never really let go of his allotted fifteen minutes of fame. No, he dug his claws in and hung on for dear life, leaving the kiddies without a parental hand to hold.
Nicolas and Nouschka are attractive and coast on their looks and the remainder of their father's fame. But soon they start to grow up -- either because of their own initiative, or against their will, and they learn that being an adult, with consequences!, pretty much sucks. It means giving up your dreams, or finding out you're no longer as sexy or attractive, or that you can't get off the hook with a winning smile, or that people expect more of you, and no, you can no longer get away with murder.
At first, I liked TGWWSN, although it was really (REALLY) reminiscent of her first work, Lullabies for Little Criminals. Both of them had a very strong WHITE OLEANDER set in Canada vibe that was really hard to ignore. I like loss of innocence as a motif, especially in literary fiction (high brow Maury Povich, bitches), but it has to bring something new to the table, and O'Neill had a lot of writing tics in this book that really annoyed me. Like her constant attempts to sound twee and profound. Or her overdependence on ridiculous similies (THEY HAPPENED EVERY OTHER PAGE). Examples:
...he glowed, like a baby that was fat on breast milk and about to pass out (299).
The smoke swirled inside [the bong], looking like a mermaid trapped in an aquarium, banging on the walls (255).
[The swan] held its wings in front of it, like a naked girl with only her socks on, holding her hands over her privates (161).
[The cat] looked like a boy at a funeral whose suit was too small for him (60).
[The] white Pomeranian [had] a face like a chewed-up tooth-brush (64).
The dog was trembling with excitement...like he was waiting to add a detail to your anecdote (64).
These occurred pretty much every other page, although sometimes as many as three to a page. These aren't even the worst one. The last author I read who did this was Vikas Swarup in his book, SIX SUSPECTS. I thought he went overboard, but O'Neill may have done it even more.
On the other hand, there were some beautiful passages like these:
There was a feeling, when we were together, that we were little kids dressing up as adults. That the universe was something that we drew with crayons and there was no such thing as tragedy (191).
Love is like this small room where a child brings you to show you all their treasures. First the child shows you all the new toys that are bright and shiny and top of the line. But then she shows you all the stuff that has ended up at the bottom of the trunk. There are dolls with eyes that wobble, hair that is falling out of their heads, and dirt behind their ears. Their fingertips have been chewed off by dogs and they have been drawn on with ballpoint pen. It has been so long since they have been held or anyone has told them that they are lovely. They lie at the bottom of the toy chest, hidden and ashamed. You are either going to be disgusted by them, or you are going to be so filled with love for them that your heart almost breaks (228).
When you are young, you can dress in rags and stand on the table and piss in telephone booths. In a young person, these are the traits of a poet. But if you exhibited any of these behaviours at forty-five, people would think you are a degenerate (341).
TGWWSN was an interesting read, but not particularly good. It definitely suffers from second book syndrome, and is proof that you should not let critical acclaim go to your head, or make you think you are invulnerable. Instead of continuing to be edgy and daring, like her first book, O'Neill stayed with what was comforting and got lazy. The result was extremely disappointing.
I actually finished reading ANNABEL yesterday, but I wanted to think about the book. At the end of a long workday, I don't really have the brain power to ponder weighty topics before bed, and this book deals with an intersex (i.e. hermaphrodite) character.
Wayne was born with an ovary, a testicle, a penis, and a uterus. He is a true hermaphrodite, and his state at birth shocks everyone. Because of the length of his penis, he qualifies as being able to be raised as a boy, which is what his father, Treadway, wants. His mother, Jacinta, wants Wayne to grow up intact, but Treadway insists on his way, so Wayne's vagina is sewed up, his penis is lengthened, he is given pills to take, and is labeled as a boy.
But Wayne is not gender typical. He likes to build things and fish, but he also likes to sing and dance, and isn't put off by the idea of wearing makeup or girl clothes. His father doesn't approve and pushes him to be masculine, as though overcompensating for his son's perceived shortcomings. Some reviewers said he was made out to be a villain, but considering that this takes place in rural Canada with trappers and men who participate in the machismo culture that comes with it, I found his father to be surprisingly liberal. Except for one moment of cruelty, which he regretted immediately (and did not involve abuse), Treadway tried really hard to be understanding -- even though it was so clearly obvious that he didn't understand, and never would be able to understand, because Wayne's unique situation was so out of his universe. Which is why, I think, he started trying to run away from his problems: to escape.
There are a lot of triggers in this book. There is a very unpleasant scene during Wayne's entrance to puberty where his abdomen bloats, and we learn that his abdomen is filled with blood that couldn't escape because his vagina was sewed up. Apparently, he got himself pregnant, because he has both parts and they are in such close proximity to one another, and when the doctors removed the blood, they found a fetus lodged in his Fallopian tubes (ew). I kind of wish this scene hadn't been included because not only is it gross, it also has the feel of an urban legend ... and not in a good way.
Another thing that bothered me about ANNABEL is its reliance on stereotypes. For example, in elementary school, Wayne runs into a gay pedophile who likes pretty boys and comes onto him. Wayne is also raped by a group of boys who think he's too pretty, and who have heard about his various sex change operations and want to test the merchandise. These scenes were cringeworthy and even though I understand why the author included them -- because intersex and trans men and women receive far more discrimination than LGB members, and are more likely to be sexually abused (at least according to this thing I read that I can't remember) -- it was still very upsetting and detracted, rather than added, to the storyline for me.
Overall, I liked ANNABEL. I liked the idea of Wayne's shadow self. It reminded me of this nonfiction book I read, which was called THE BOY WHO WAS RAISED AS A GIRL. It features a boy with the opposite problem: a botched circumcision left him with a nub of a penis, and the doctors figured, "Oh, hey, obviously the penis makes the man (which happened in ANNABEL), so let's just raise him as a girl. He'll be fine." But the boy -- he was a boy -- wasn't fine. He didn't like dresses, and he wanted to play with boy toys and do sports. During puberty, he was attracted to girls, not boys, and the conflict between what he felt inside and what his parents and society and his doctors were telling him about his outsides, really fucked him up. He actually ended up committing suicide.
It just goes to show that we can't help how we're born. Whether we're male, female, or somewhere in between, the only one who ought to decide what label, if any, we're provided with is us. Because who knows us better than we know ourselves? I also think that in vague cases, like in this book and the one in TBWWRAAG, parents and doctors ought to wait until puberty, to see what happens when the natural hormones kick in and also to see what the child wants when they are in a position to decide for themselves.
I am surprised I managed to read a book. It has been a very exhausting week. As you may or may not know, I have started a new job, and my first week they gave me like thirty hours. (Which is awesome -- I wanted the hours, but that is a lot of hours, especially with people beaning information at you all the time, from every which way. @_@) I've been super busy, basically, and haven't had time to write, much less read.
Anyway, I worked a split shift that ended just before midnight, and when I came home I was too sore to sleep so I picked up this book. ENTERTAIN ME, I demanded, and the poor book, it tried to comply, but it just couldn't live up to my expectations. I mean, with a title like I LICK MY CHEESE, I was expecting something hilarious and brilliant ... but instead, I received a "meh."
The notes themselves were pretty amusing. I've lived with roommates and, like, 75% of the time, I'd say everything is fine, and you're just doing your thing. But then there's that 25% of the time where everything the other person (or persons) does just makes you want to pull a Norman Bates and stab them in the shower. Some of these notes made me nod knowingly. Some of them seemed to suggest a half-told story that made me wonder what the deal with the other half was. Some were cute. Some were frightening. And some just weren't all that remarkable.
I think what bothered me the most about I LICK MY CHEESE is Oonagh O Hagan's commentary. She seems to think she's hilarious, but she is not. It's like watching America's Funniest Home Videos on an off-day. The person doing the narrating thinks they're a hoot, the audience has been paid to laugh, and the viewer is just sitting there, going, "What the fuck?"
Maybe if the commentary had been removed to make room for more notes, this would have been a better book. I was hoping for an art book in the style of PostSecret and instead I got ... I don't know. A Myspace picture slideshow before Myspace died, looking at a not-so-good friend's painfully unsuccessful attempts at being funny. That's what this is.
SWIMMING HOME is a very mystifying book, and looking at the low average rating of it, I'm guessing a lot of people just didn't get it. No, I'm not being pretentious. I didn't get it, either. But I can still appreciate good writing and storytelling.
SWIMMING HOME takes place in a tiny French village just north of Nice. A man (Joe) is renting with his family and two family friends (Laura and Mitchell). They are shocked when they see a body floating in the pool. They are even more shocked when the body is very much alive...and naked.
Kitty Finch is as flighty as the bird she's named for, and crazy as a bag of mixed nuts. She stutters from quitting her meds cold turkey, she goes into rages, she picks right to the core of people's insecurities and then picks and picks some more until they bleed (figuratively--and literally). She's fascinating.
Joe feels some attraction towards her, which makes it all the weirder that his wife, sensing this, would offer to let Kitty stay with them. Maybe she knew that the guilt would tip her husband over the edge? Even Nina, their daughter, has complicated feelings towards Kitty, who looks like how Nina would like to look herself but acts like an overgrown child in an adult's body. Which makes it even creepier that Joe wants to sleep with her, because that's a little bit pedophilic, in a way. Maybe it's Freudian; maybe it's supposed to suggest that Joe wants to fuck his own daughter, but Kitty will do just as well.
I think what I liked best about SWIMMING HOME is that it has so many layers for interpretation. This would make a great book for a book club because, despite being such a short book, there is so much to discuss. Is the book about class? About the mentally ill? About how sometimes the most sane-seeming people are really the most damaged? About xenophobia? About Freudian theory and the Electra complex? About penis envy? Male castration? Manic pixie dream girls?
This is the second Jude Deveraux book I read. The first was THE TAMING, a.k.a. "the book with the lice." As I read, I noticed many similarities: dumb as dirt heroines, emotionally disturbed heroes who self-medicate by liberally raping any woman stupid enough to "love" (read: lust after) him; jealous bitches who want to destroy teh world (read: break up the Hero and heroine), and so on.
We start out with Disney Reject, who finds out that her parents have a visitor coming to the castle. This visitor is Beast Man, one of the king's earls, rich as sin, and apparently dangerous as all get out. Everyone calls him The Black Lyon because he is as fearsome as a lion. Did you see what Ms. Deveraux did there? DO U C?
Disney Reject meets Beast Man and it is lust--I mean, love--at first sight. Because as it turns out, Beast Man was ill-used by his first wife, Dis Bitch, who was several years older than him and ran circles around him with her adultery. Also she killed her daughter and was like "trololo now nobody loves you, that's what you get for not letting me marry my farm boy, Money Bags!" So Beast Man hates women, and has sworn that he won't get married, except to the woman who can make him laugh and/or smile, which Disney Reject does--so marriage tiem!!!!1
They are engaged then and Beast Man undergoes a total personality transplant. Before he was flirtatious and charming (except for this creepy moment when he sneaks into DR's bedroom and watches her sleep and touches her threateningly and says, "I FEEL FEELINGS FOR YOU. IF YOU LOOK AT ANOTHER MAN I KEEL YOU. K?"); now he is just rapey and rapier. He rapes her on their wedding night and then a few days later, because how dare she make him feel feels.
It doesn't help matters when Disney Reject's childhood friend, Whiny Bitchboy, comes along and starts saying, "You only married him for his money! WE were supposed to get married!" He comes up with this brilliant (read: idiotic) scheme where he fudges some love letters the heroine had written to an imaginary husband-to-be and conveniently left lying around (read: deus ex machina) and says, "I WILL SHOW YOUR HUSBAND THESE LOVE LETTERS YOU WROTE TO 'ME' IF YOU DON'T GIVE ME MONEY. OR MAYBE I WILL JUST KILL HIM. SO GIVE ME MONEY."
And despite knowing that her husband is super insecure about women marrying him for his wealth and title (read: paranoid and psychotically violent), she steals one of the gemstones he happens to conveniently keep lying around (read: deus ex machina) and pays off Whiny Bitchboy under the cloak of night. Now, to be fair, Disney actually tries to talk to her husband about this, but he goes psycho and says, "DON'T YOU DARE TALK ABOUT OTHER MEN TO ME. EVER." So I can understand her helplessness and frustration. It's not easy being a Disney Reject without any helpful Deus Ex Machina Bluebirds and Mice to help you out in a pinch. (She has a horse later on in the book, but he's mostly just good at showing them bitches what's what--more on this later.)
Obviously, Beast Man is pissed off when he discovers what's happened. He kills Whiny Bitchboy with his sword and informs her that the marriage is off, and that he's going off to fight some shit (read: Welshmen). He also manages to work in the fact that this is all her own fault because she probably committed some adultery along the lines, conveniently forgetting that she was a virgin when he bedded her, and that he was so rough with the way he used her that he actually felt guilty (read: Jackson Pollock painting on the marital sheets). Disney Reject defends her honor, and Beast Man punches her in the face, splitting her lip, and is like, "We're through, bitch!"
Disney Reject decides that this unfortunate series of events means that she hasn't tried hard enough to love him, and that she must up her game in order to be number one bitch in her man's life. She dresses up as a surf and follows her husband. She ends up striking up a frenemy relationship with one of Beast Man's old lovers, a half-Arab woman named Maude. Maude knows Disney wants to impress Beast Man, so she opens up a trunk to reveal an XXX-rated Jasmine costume, which she then allows Disney to wear while teaching her how to dance sexily. The Jasmine Costume originally belonged to Maude's mother, who then passed it on down to Maude, and she makes this grody comment about how the costume has seen all kinds of passionate nights, & I'm like, "I really hope you washed those."
So Disney dances for Beast Man and he gets aroused, and Disney is like, "How can he enjoy watching another woman dance? Even though it's me, he doesn't know, and that's cheating, boo hoo hoo," and she flees, and Maude must placate the cockblocked and angry Beast Man. Eventually he realizes that Sexy Jasmine Costume is actually Disney Reject, when his men (including his brother) are molestering her and her hood comes off. He's still angry (and jelus!) but secretly pleased that she would follow him all this like a lost puppy. Then the Welshmen come and Beast Man comes close to taking an arrow to the knee, but Disney Reject jumps in front of him, somehow managing to out-run the arrow, and they end up pinned together by the arrow like a human shishkebab.
Disney Reject almost dies, and Beast Man is like, "Wait, I've decided I love you!"
Then Disney Reject suffers another scare when her husband goes on a boat and jumps overboard to save a drowning person. His crew are about to leave him, because this is the medieval times and nobody swims except witches (and also bits of wood). But Disney is like, "MOTHERFUCKERS, MY HUSBAND IS DOWN IN THAT SHIT AND IF YOU LEAVE HIM BEHIND I'MMA FUCK ALL OF YOU UP." Beast Man is safe and sound, and laughs at her for being so scared, which results in Disney's feelings getting hurt. Again. Also, it turns out that the "sailor" he saved was actually a Frankish woman named Amica, who has decided that she has a major lady hard-on for Beast Man.
All of Disney's joy at finding out she's pregnant vanishes because This Other Bitch is like, "Ooh, your husband sent me a love letter the other day." Or, "Ooh, your husband fucks so good, but you already know that, right?" She follows Disney around being all like, "And then I showed him my O face. O! O! O!" Until Disney is like, "SHUT UP OR I'LL PUT YOU UP IN THE GARRISON." And then This Other Bitch be like, "ENIGMATIC THREATS." So Disney settles for having her horse throw her and laughing about it. But then, oh noez!, This Other Bitch claims that she got knocked up by Beast Man and that she's pregnant too, and since he loves her more, Disney Reject's child will be declared a bastard. And if Disney contests the inevitable marriage between This Other Bitch and Beast Man, the Frankish King will declare war on the English King and the apocalypse will happen.
But that's okay, because she has a plan. Disney will go to Ireland with relatives of her father and give birth to the child there and then This Other Bitch will take the child back to live with her and Beast Man and This Other Bitchbaby. Everyone will live happily ever after, except for Disney Reject.
Now, why Disney Reject is so quick to believe that this other woman who so clearly has it out for her would do anything to help her is beyond me, but believe her she does, and she doesn't realize anything is wrong until the "man" of Lord Beast Man's--let's call him Rapey McPriss--starts making some very suggestive comments about how he's the only thing standing between her and a gang rape.
Disney Reject ends up seasick and by faking how sick she actually is (read: the villains are morons), she learns that Disney Reject propositioned Beast Man and was summarily told to fuck off. So she decided to get revenge on him by holding his wife and unborn baby for ransom. Also, Rapey McPriss plans to rape the shit out of Disney Reject just as soon as she's not sick (or pregnant--although he contradicts himself a lot here; he doesn't want to bang a pregnant chick, but then he does...make up your mind, bro!). Apparently, he has a major germ phobia, so Disney makes a point to throw up lots and lots just to really squick out Rapey McPriss. They end up at the cottage of Filthy Cougar, who likes taking advantage of young men and making people suffer. Perfect arrangement for all!
Except...Beast Man has snuck into their fold in disguise by chopping firewood. He has given his men orders to distract Prissy McRape, who has gone to see why the ransom is taking so long to arrive. Disney Reject gives birth, and they take a breather from running for their lives to admire how perfect the baby is because OMG BABIEZ!!!! Then they escape to freedom, and end up at Disney Reject's parents'. We don't ever find out what happened to This Other Bitch, Filthy Cougar, or Rapey McPriss; Disney Reject makes it a point to assure us that she didn't bother asking. Why? Why not? I know if I were kidnapped by a bunch of perverted creepholes, I'd want to see them all suffer. But there you go.
When my friend found out I was starting a new job she sent me a cute little care package, of which this book was part. I also got some Monster High pens and a pair of crazy cat lady leggings that I absolutely canNOT wait to wear...I just have to figure out which of my dresses will go with them. :)
Anyway, this book. karen, a GR buddy of mine, as the perfect shelf for this book: creepy dolls. A lot of the dolls in this book are very creepy, which begs the question: why give an inspirational book such creepy pictures? Were the editors trying to be ironic? (Because they do give the context a morbid--even sinister--undertone.) Or just creepy-funny?
Before I got my new phone, you would have had to just take my word for it, or buy a copy of your own. But now I have a cell phone with internet(!) so I can exhibit all the evidence you need!
And when love finds you, it will come in the form of a creepy, two-headed doll.
Also, because we fuck birds.
By hollowing out your head and letting birds shit inside you.
I don't even know.
But it was an interesting book, with interesting pictures, and I'm happy to share it with you.
When I fifteen, it was 2005, and people were posting serialized stories on Quizilla. Terrible, unoriginal stories about beautiful emo girls who cut their wrists and wore Converse sneakers with their prom dresses and dirty gray hoodies, and ended up sucked into some paranormal brouhaha where they immediately became the object of lust for every straight male creature for miles.
Francesa Lia Block clearly revels in that type of girl, and has never graduated from writing this kind of protagonist.
Charlotte is an especially annoying character because she's like a female Edward Cullen. She doesn't want to be a vampire. She has a house that looks like a palace, and an entire closet crammed full of designer clothes (which, considering how little she claims to appreciate them, she sure as hell spends a ton of time describing), and a perfect figure (skinny as hell with huge boobs and a great badonkadonk), and spends all her time listening to Goldfrapp, Ladytron, and Portishead.
--but she's not happy.
And why? Because she's not human. She wants to sweat, she wants to have zits, she wants to gush menses and get pregnant. She wants to be a real girl. She wants to have feelings and be in love.
And I'm just like, WUT THE FUCK IS THIS.
Charlotte (not suprisingly) has only one friend, a girl named Emily. Charlotte is friends with Emily because other girls tend to hate her when they find out how much awesome stuff she has, and how much boys enjoy ogling her perfect figure, but Emily doesn't seem to devote all that much thought to Team Envy, for which Charlotte is grateful enough to bestow the gift of friendship.
Emily was raped by one of her mom's boyfriends, and this is supposed to be the explanation for why she randomly commits suicide partway through the book. But while she's alive, Charlotte is jealous of Emily because she has a boyfriend who worships the ground she walks on, and this is what being human is about, too. Also, Emily's boyfriend, Jared, reminds Charlotte of the brother she had incestuous feelings for, and how they used to dance together and swim naked together.
You know, fun, wholesome, sibling activities.
Unfortunately, he died of the fever.
Anyway, after Emily dies, Charlotte immediately tries to put the moves on Jared, who initially tells her to fuck off. She stalks him, and catches him spraying perfume on his dead girlfriend's bra and cuddling up to it while naked. Then he tells her that he knows she was following him, and that he wanted to have sex with her the moment he saw her, and fuck Emily.
And I'm just like, WUT THE FUCK IS THIS.
Charlotte then tells him her story, about how she and the vampire who turned her, William, traveled the world--Hiroshima during the bombing (right afterwards, they have BDSM sex, very sympathetic); New York during 9/11; Woodstock during the Summer of Love; the AIDS scare during the 1980s (she talks about how beautiful the young dying men look, fuck you, Charlotte); Hollywood during the golden age, etc. etc. And is Charlotte careful to describe all her outfits in each of these passages?
OF COURSE SHE IS.
Anyway, William returns and Charlotte starts to turn human again, and oh, whoops, apparently Emily isn't dead, she's a vampire. Because Charlotte wanted to be human again and so William was all like, "Okay, let's trade," and now Emily is like, "Muahahaha I'm taking Jared back now, and oh by the way, I hated you all along bitch!" And Charlotte is like, "NO I LOVE HIM EVEN THOUGH I'VE ONLY KNOWN HIM FOR LIKE TWO WEEKS," and sics the police on them by saying, "OMG! THEY'VE GOT A BOMB!" And then Jared and Charlotte end up tentatively ever after.
And I'm just like, WUT THE FUCK IS THIS.
I have to admit that the idea of a vampire becoming human again is an intriguing idea, but the execution of this book was terrible. Charlotte had no character development. I wasn't convinced that she was anything special--she's like countless other Mary Sues, and we're supposed to identify with her less as a person than as the embodiment of our fantasized "ideal self"--because who doesn't want a closet full of designer clothes they can actually fit and everyone being jealous of you and hot guys throwing themselves at you? And then the fact that Charlotte doesn't want these things is supposed to make her a complicated, better person who transcends materialism in favor of humanity?
I CALL BULLSHIT.
A) Because materialism obviously did matter to her and
B) I hardly consider falling in love with a human selfless, especially since
C) He was her friend's boyfriend and she was barely cold in the grave before she moved in
I seem to be on a medieval bent lately. I just read a 13th century romance novel by Catherine Coulter called WARRIOR'S SONG. VEIL OF SECRETS is late 12th century, taking place during Eleanor of Aquitaine's reign as Regent while Richard is fighting in the Crusades. Conan, the Baron of Wyndham, has been commissioned by the queen to look into the murder of a monk in Bumfuck, England, a.k.a. Glastonbury, a mist-sheathed place where a woman named Alianor lives in a small house in the middle of the lake.
Alianor is a healer, and subscribes to the methods of pre-Christian worship. It never explicitly says she's Celtic, but I suspect that her beliefs probably are at heart, even though she is of faith. Lately, Alianor has been in constant conflict with the monks at the local abbey. They have always considered her "witchy" because when her foster mother died, the abbey was struck by lightning; but now with these murders, Abbot Du Sully is convinced that she is a witch.
(And I will have more to say about witches in just a mo'.)
Conan feels instant attraction to Alianor and since this is a romance novel, you can pretty much assume that they end up doing the dirty multiple times. Alianor is a virgin--and one of the scenes actually ended up confusing me because they'd had sex before he took her virginity, and since the fade-to-black sex scenes with their flowery prose weren't super descriptive or helpful, it was only when the descriptions of "discomfort" started up that I realized he must've just done oral/fingered her.
Initially, I quite liked the story, but it bogs down in the middle. And to be fair, the middle is one of the hardest portions of a book to write (I mean, okay, they're all hard); you've set the stage and now you have to fiddle around until the book's end and pray that the audience stays interested. It doesn't help that Alianor reveals herself as a Sue. She's related to Queen Eleanor; in fact, she's her granddaughter. Also, she experiences no discomfort during sex whatsoever, she risks death to preserve her honor, she is wonderful with animals, the whole town loves her, and bluebirds do her laundry (not really).
(Although bluebirds do seem inordinately fond of princesses, don't they? FORESHADOWING!)
Also, this is kind of weird, but the hero randomly turns rapey about 50 pages from the end. He's angry at her for risking her life, and what better way to show he cares than TO PUNISH HER WITH RAPE? He doesn't actually rape her, but still. It was a total 180 from his personality.
Right--so, witches. VEIL OF SECRETS seemed to be full of glaring historical inaccuracies. For example, the way the characters talked was very modern--it seemed more like Renaissance English than early medieval English, very proper and formal and well articulated...it was a bit off-putting. If the book hadn't explicitly stated that Eleanor was queen I would have had no idea.
And I get that manipulating language to suit the times can be difficult, but that wasn't the only problem. Abbot Du Sully is obsessed with witches, and is pretty much self-proclaimed captain of the witch hunt brigade. Witch hunting was not at all popular during early medieval times. In fact, Charlemagne condemned the process outright, and the consequence of burning witches or wizards at the stake meant the death penalty (that was four hundred years before the time period in this book, but it gives you an idea of what the attitudes were). The general consensus seemed to be that participating in witch hunts meant witches existed which was tantamount to heresy.
So it's weird that Abbot Du Sully, proud, card-carrying member of Team God, would be so outspoken about witches and how much he loves to burn them, since that really puts his faith into question.
But then, he's one of the bad guys, and bad guys in this book don't have much development beyond periodically popping up and going:
Towards the end of the book, Alianor ends up being tried for these murders, where she really lets her Sue flag fly. She knows that if she doesn't make her case, Abbot Du Sully will make sure that her case transfers to the ecclesiastical court as a matter of heresy. Now, I don't know much about the church, but from what I've read in my (very brief) search, it seems like an ecclesiastical trial would be ruled by someone much higher up in the authority chain than an abbot.
Witch hunts didn't really pick up until King James took the throne (so around the mid- to late-sixteenth century). He's a big reason as to why so many witches were killed in Scotland. (And this is also around the same time that witches were hunted with such fervor in America, as well.) Home boy was obsessed. In fact, when Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, he included the three witches in the play for King James's benefit (it's striking, actually, how different the plays were that he wrote for James versus Elizabeth--he knew how to pan to his audience).
VEIL OF SECRETS was pretty disappointing. If it hadn't been for the murder subplot, I probably wouldn't have cared to finish. But this was just the light, quick read I needed today, so I'm not too put out. Now I can scratch it off my to-read list and chuck it in the Goodwill box.
This is the "extensively rewritten" edition circa 2001, which makes me wonder what the original 1985 edition was like...
The first book by Catherine Coulter that I ever read was DEVIL'S EMBRACE, which I actually liked. It was trashy as all get out, and featured many cringe-worthy scenes (including a rapist hero, and a gang-bang scene engineered by one of the villains), but that's part of the risk--and the charm--of these old bodice rippers. They are unapologetically politically incorrect.
WARRIOR'S SONG was published a year after DEVIL'S EMBRACE and is the start of a new series, which makes me wonder if Coulter perhaps faced a lot of criticism for the sheer passivity of the heroine in DEVIL'S, because Chandra, the female lead in WARRIOR'S, is like a bizarre hybrid of Mulan/Merida as manufactured by Mattel for their Barbie line-up.
In other words, not particularly convincing.
She wants to ride, hunt, and fight like a man. When we first meet her, she's covered in blood after hunting down a boar with her father's men (her father is away, and since her little brother--her father's only heir--is eight, she often takes charge in her father's absence).
In the woods, her hunting party encounters another band of men, led by a fierce fighter named Graelam. He has asked for her hand and been refused by her father, so has decided to take advantage of his absence by taking matters into his own hands. He lays siege to the castle and informs Chandra that she is going to be his wife. To ensure her compliance, he has his men look for her mother and brother, who he assures her he will kill if she does not participate in the shotgun (swordpoint?) wedding he has planned for that night.
The charmer taunts her endlessly from their very first encounter, accusing her of both incest and lesbianism, by turns. Then he rapes her friend and servant, Mary, while Chandra watches, held in place by his men. Chandra punches him in the naked groin for this, which is somewhat satisfying, but it doesn't take away from the horror of the scene.
Chandra and Mary risk life and virtue to keep Chandra's mother and brother out of danger, but Chandra's mother has an angry hard-on for her daughter and resents being told to hide by Chandra--even though it's for her own safety--and so she comes out of hiding with her son willingly, just to show Chandra that she's not teh boss. She is so eager to get rid of Chandra that she is perfectly happy to saddle Chandra to this rapist, even though she knows her husband wouldn't approve.
By this point, I was pretty sure that Graelam was going to be the love interest, and braced myself for what was sure to be an unpleasant series of rape-filled chapters. But no, he isn't actually the H. He's the hero of the next book in this series, FIRE SONG, which makes me wonder how Coulter could possibly turn a rapist villain into a hero. I still hadn't forgiven him for his actions by the end of this book and was shocked--and appalled--that Chandra had.
Anyway, the real love interest is a man named Jerval who was handpicked by Chandra's pops, Richard. There's a weird homoerotic vibe between Jerval and Richard, as Richard spends a lot of time eyeballing Jerval's body, thinking about how much Jerval reminds him of him--a much younger, better him--when he was Jerval's own age. There's a weird incestuous undertone, too, because Richard is actually jealous of Jerval fucking his daughter and taking her virginity...
Quick aside here: I just want to discuss, briefly, my beef with Chandra's character. As a strong female protagonist she is hopelessly inconsistent. There is a difference between bravery and stupidity; bravery is doing things that you know you must, even if you don't like them, even if you are afraid. Stupidity is rushing into things headlong with a kitchen knife, claiming you can beat men twice your size, with much better armor and weapons. Guess which one Chandra is?
She has lines like this:
Very little in life, Chandra thought, was fair, particularly when it came to women, particularly when it was the men making the decisions, which they always did (32).
Which make me want to like her. But then she has lines like this:
"I don't need a champion. I told you, I am amazing with the bow and arrow. I have the eye of an eagle" (61).
Which make me want to punch her in the face.
There's also a problem with the text itself. Coulter introduces random POV swaps without paragraph breaks. It can be a little disorienting to have one set of characters talking, and then suddenly, have the narrative switch to another set without any warning.
So anyway, Jerval and Chandra are going to get married but Chandra is so thick she doesn't realize that's why he has come to the castle. She thinks of him as a "playmate" (and yes, it is described like that in the narrative) and is constantly challenging him to battle. When he proposes she throws a huge fit and rats him out to daddy, who informs her that if she doesn't marry Jerval, he is going to put her into a convent. She marries him reluctantly and has a traitorous body.
Shortly after their marriage, Jerval goes to fight the Scots. Chandra wants to come too--she can fight as well as any man!--but Jerval tells her no. He locks her in her room and tells his mother and father to make sure she stays there. Chandra breaks a window (and remember this is 13C, so glass was incredibly expensive back then) and climbs out on her shredded sheets in drag, stealing a horse to go after him. Of course, she gets kidnapped by the Scotsmen, who cut off her hair and ride off with her to rape her--but then Jerval and his men rush in to save her, spooking the Scotsman's horse, and Chandra punches him in the groin (I'm sensing a theme here) and rolls to freedom.
Obviously, this puts a huge strain on the marriage.
There's more traitorous body stuff, and Jerval's cock is apparently constantly hard as he tries to reconcile his annoyance for his wife with his utter lust for her flawless body. At one point they end up in Acre, with this rich Arab guy named Ali ad-Din (I wonder if he's any relation to the Khar el-Din from DEVIL'S EMBRACE). They're joined by Prince Edward and Princess Eleanor, and also encounter Lord Graelam again--except now all is forgiven! YAY!
In these far reaches of the christian empire, Chandra encounters all kinds of "savages" who want to rape her, including a Sultan who wants to incorporate her into his harem, and an evil traitor who wants to sample the wares before he disposes of her for a neat fortune.
Coulter employs a tactic that really bothers me here, which is essentially "re-virginizing" a heroine who is no longer is a virgin: there are many ways of doing this, either by saying that a heroine is still shy and naive in spite of her experience, or by having a heroine who is inexperienced in other ways. In this case, Chandra's proud countenance is equated to something that, like virginity, must be stripped away from a woman to make her captive to a man.
She wore her pride like a maidenhead, and he wanted that prize for himself when he took her, when he made her realize that life was different now, that she had to please him to live (348).
Graelam saves her (although not in time to prevent her from being raped) and Jerval jumps in to save the day. The book ends with Chandra pregnant again, and now she is tired of fighting and trying to act like a man. She resigns herself to marriage and motherhood like a good little girl, and this is the last line of the book:
It was possibly one of the last times in her life that Chandra de Vernon had the last word (374).
There were a lot of plotlines in this book that just didn't go anywhere. For example, Jerval has a cousin named Lady Julianna and I kept expecting something to happen with that--because Julianna hates Chandra for stealing Jerval away from her, which is evident from numerous accounts of slut-shaming. In DEVIL'S EMBRACE, for example, the female rival engineered a brilliant scheme to get rid of the heroine--which almost succeeded. Nothing happened with this.
I also really didn't like Jerval after a certain little point in the novel. He claimed to love Chandra in spite of her predilections for manly things, and yet tries to quash her spirit at every turn. He honestly didn't get why, after their wedding night, Chandra wasn't in total awe of his man-pieces, and didn't bring him a sandwich and beer in bed in testament to his awesome love making skills. Seriously. He seriously wonders why she didn't bring him a beer and food, and watched him eat it lovingly.
I kept hoping for some sort of character development or redemption arc, but there wasn't. Chandra is raped and beaten into submission; Jerval gets what he wants without having to sacrifice anything; Graelam rapes Mary and she is completely forgotten the moment she weds one of Jerval's men; we never find out what happened to Chandra's awful family; the whole thing is, basically, a mess.
I blame my book club. No—actually, I AM grateful for my book club; because of them, I am forced to pick up books that I would never in a million years read on my own (so I guess they are technically to blame). And sometimes I enjoy them, which is an unexpected delight. I did not, however, enjoy THE CIRCLE. I didn't hate it—although I hated parts of it—but it was inherently readable (albeit pretentious). My feelings towards THE CIRCLE are more complex than that, and as of this paragraph, I really have no idea what I'm going to rate the book. (You'll find out when I do—at the end of this review.)
THE CIRCLE is a cross between STEPFORD WIVES, THE FIRM, and 1984. It plops a naive twenty-four-year-old post-college grad into this UBER corporation that's a monstrous blend of Google, Twitter, Amazon, and Facebook, and it seems like the answer to all of life's unpleasant foibles. The only cost is your privacy. But you know what they say about things that are too good to be true...
Recently, I just got a new phone with INTERNET! I've never had a phone with 4G before. Until my junior year of college, I had one of those flip-phones that's built like a little tank, and then I had a sliding phone that was also built like a tank (it survived a 2 1/2 story fall—don't ask). Anyway, new phone. I really needed a phone with internet because I am constantly getting messages and comments from readers, so it's nice to be able to field business-related questions when I'm out (and I'm often out). When I started adding apps, I was really surprised by how invasive some were: demanding access to my location, my camera and microphone, my full name, etc. It's like, okay, really? You need to know where I am AT ALL TIMES in order to let me post status updates? CREEPY EX-BOYFRIEND, MUCH? THE CIRCLE takes that a step further, creating a system that promises efficiency and connectivity—at the cost of NO PRIVACY WHATSOEVER. Nothing gets deleted, everything is seen.
I like the concept a lot and I think that if this book had been written by a different author, or if Eggers had fallen out of love with his own writing long enough to actually flesh out the characters he'd created, this could have been a very good book. As it stands now, THE CIRCLE has a lot of problems, the chief one being Mae. It is obvious from the way that she is written that we are supposed to find her likable (except maybe in the last third of the book—at least, I hope not); but I found her to be anything but: she was stupid and selfish, and didn't have much in the way of personality. I'll go into more detail on this later, but for now I am just going to touch briefly on some of her actions that really upset me. The way she treats her sick father is pretty repulsive: he asks her to leave when he soils himself during a stroke because he doesn't want her to see him in his sorry state and Mae promptly throws a major bitch fit about how unappreciated she is—yeah, no. She gets into this weird love triangle with two highly unsavory men (at least, I found them unsavory): one of them sneaks around and sleeps in a cave and may or may not be a corporate spy. The other is a needy, slimy scumbag who videos her giving him a handjob (without her permission, obvs); he then proceeds to upload the video to their work place's cloud storage for posterity—because information is valuable! And must be shared! Mae complains to her friend-slash-boss, Annie, who tells Mae that the Circle has a no delete policy when it comes to information because it is valuable! And must be shared! And Mae just accepts this, shrugs it off, and continues her carousing with the schmuck. Mae's behavior in the last third of the book were a total dealbreaker. By this time, I not only DIDN'T identify her as a woman, I couldn't identify with her as a human BEING, either. It was as if Eggers had reduced her to a sociopathic stereotype, a vessel with which he would carry out his shocking (i.e. Fizzled-out) ending. It was like a bad episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
And speaking of bad, check out some of these sex scenes:
She backed away, looking at him, at his shirt hiked up, his crotch exposed. She could think only of a campfire, one small log, all of it doused in milk (204).
"We consummated" (227).
He lay beneath her for a minute or two, letting Mae rise and fall, looking up at her with the wonderment of a boy at the zoo. Then his eyes closed, and he went into paroxysms, emitting a brief squeal before grunting his arrival (383)
Another thing that bothered me about THE CIRCLE is that it reads like a thinly-veiled grievance being aired at length, soapbox-style. Various characters (Kalder, Mercer) pop in to condemn various facets of social media and those who use it, through the use of tired arguments:
-if people were forced to use their real names on message boards, there would be no arguments or negativity
Overnight, all comment boards became civil, all posters held accountable. The trolls, who had more or less overtaken the internet, were driven back into the darkness (22).
-reviewers and social media bloggers aren't contributing any information of value; also they're dorks (yes, they are actually referred to as dorks)
"It's people talking about each other behind their backs. That's the vast majority of this social media, all these reviews, all these comments. Your tools have elevated gossip, hearsay, and conjecture to the level of valid, mainstream communication. And besides that, it's fucking dorky" (133)
Even more annoying is the fact that Mae never has any real argument for this. Whenever Mercer gets up on his soap box, she usually responds by calling him "fat" or "the Sasquatch," or bandying about that helpful catch-all term, "Fuck you." The weight- and appearance-shaming bend really upset me, because (a) it didn't raise any good debate in this book--to make THE CIRCLE really convincing, I feel like the main character should have experienced some conflict, way more than she actually did, because change is scary, and (b) it underscored my suspicions that this book was actually Eggers speaking out to his critics, against his critics, reducing them to straw men.
-people only post reviews/commentary to stir shit up; they are not valid opinions
"No once's forcing you to do this. You willingly tie yourself these leashes. And you willingly become utterly socially autistic" (262)
-social media users are needy and neurotic, and quick to take offense; all they do is nag and try to ingratiate themselves and then get hurt feelings; they are pathetic and deserve to be mocked
"You comment on things, and that substitutes for doing them" (262).
Here, I couldn't help but be reminded of one of the fallback responses of authors when they criticize their reviewers: if you didn't like the book, why don't you try writing one?
-and so on
I couldn't help but feel that Eggers was condemning his own critics through this book. THE CIRCLE had a very condescending, sanctimonious, embittered feel to it that made it very abrasive and unpleasant to read.
Eggers also takes great pains to show us how great Mae is...at everything. She shoots to the top of the company instantly; she's great at lying passively while the men have sex with her; she has a perfect figure. In short, Mae falls into what I call “the female character fallacy”: you can't have a female character without somehow rationalizing her presence; she can't be an ordinary human being, no, she has to be extraordinary to be of note. Mae never seemed like an ordinary human being, like someone I could relate with. She seemed utterly devoid of personality, and so did the other characters in the book. They were just puppets that danced to Eggers's strings, cavorting about in this purple-prosed mess that read like an intellectual circle jerk (sorry—but obvious pun). In fact, that's what this book SHOULD be called: THE CIRCLE JERK.
Because there is nothing really to make this book stand out among others of its genre, apart from the novelty of its premise. It is poorly executed, poorly written, and has a vague ending that doesn't really give a conclusion or a concrete message. So what, is Eggers saying that our technology is driving us into a downward spiral from which there is no escape? How depressing is that? But that would assume that he CARED enough to actually have this book contain a message, and it didn't: “part three” was a mere four pages or so, rushed and vague, that raises more questions than it answered. It was like a big 'fuck you' to the reader—assuming you made it through all 508 pages. All that build up and no conclusion? Are you for cereal? Part of what made THE FIRM and STEPFORD WIVES so scary was because the possibilities they offered seemed so great on the surface. The Circle starts out interesting and maybe a little intriguing, but quickly devolves into a portrait of unrealistic evil that was so hilariously take-over-the-world-y that it was hard to take the book seriously. The totalitarian grip of information technology on our society is so ingrained that you don't need to tweak much to make our reliance on it terrifying.
The idea of THE TIGER'S WIFE was really compelling; beauty and the beast, and its many incarnations, is one of my favorite fairy tales. I liked the idea of a work of magic realism, set in the Balkans during one of their (many) civil wars, about an escaped tiger and his "wife" (but is she really, though? That's the question).
The Tiger's Wife is not actually the main character of the story. That goes to Natalia Stefanovic, who is a doctor undergoing an existential crisis. Her dying grandfather went off on his own, as though he had a specific thought in mind to die. Now, while trying to give medical care to suspicious villagers, armed only with her childhood friend Zora and her grandfather's stories, she tries to figure out what was going through her grandfather's mind.
And the truth is--we really don't know.
There are two magic realism subplots woven into this storyline, which may or may not have happened. First, the deathless man: a man who cannot die, who her grandfather encounters several time during the course of his life, with whom he made a bet where his treasured copy of The Jungle Book was the stakes. Then there's the Tiger's Wife, a deaf-mute woman married to an abusive butcher named Luka: one of his attempts to kill her puts her into contact with a half-wild tiger prowling the hills, which, of course, stirs up all kinds of superstitious rumors.
My biggest problem with THE TIGER'S WIFE is that nothing of consequence really happens. The subplots are interesting, yes, but Natalia is a very boring character with little to no personality, and reading from her POV was very tedious. She is such a bland character, and passive in her own narrative: it's always sad to me when a character doesn't even take center stage in his or her (usually her) own narrative.
Obreht's writing is lovely, even luminous, as some have said, but her story-telling ability falls flat. THE TIGER'S WIFE is an acclaimed work, and a hyped one at that: I definitely think that this had more than a little to do with her age; I believe she was twenty-six at the time that this work was published. Which is impressive, considering that it was a debut, but it certainly does not warrant the rationalization of a sub-par work. An author does not deserve accolades just because they are precocious. To do so, I think, is damaging, because it can create a false sense of one's own worth, and stunt the development of the creative process when producing more mature bodies of work. A lot of people make apologies for young authors, most notably the author of Eragon, but I have never bought into that mode of thought. A work should be able to stand on its own, regardless of the age, sex, or ethnicity of the person who produced it. Saying otherwise is offensive and, well, harmful.
Michael Shermer has been the guest skeptic on numerous TV shows dealing with fringe and occult phenomena. Typically, the role of the skeptic is to act as "the voice of reason" and provide "balance", even if it's six believers and one stalwart naysayer.
There are some things about this book that I really liked. Shermer covers a lot of topics--denial of the holocaust, creationism, alien abduction, witch hunts--and he is not as cruel to the other side as he could be. One of the reasons I was never a fan of Dawkins is because his arguments tend to turn into a circle jerk of "I'm so great, I'm so smart, look at these dummies who don't believe what I believe."
That actually brings me to the second part of why I didn't like this book: I was hoping that it would be more anecdotal. Shermer does have some space devoted to the opposing view, but I was hoping for interviews and quotes...a more journalistic approach. Human. WHY PEOPLE BELIEVE WEIRD THINGS, despite the quirky title and cheesy cover, is not a fluffy work of pop-science that any average-intelligence-or-higher Joe could pick up and read. The language is dense, the material is dense and relies heavily on science to back up his points. It reads, in other words, like a textbook--and considering the fact that this book showed up in the used bookstore around the time that classes in this area let out with several other books of a similar genre, I strongly suspect that this was the book's purpose, and having been served, it was summarily dumped.
I don't actually feel that I walked away with any new knowledge after reading this book. I've read skeptic books before: DENIALISM, SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS BEFORE BREAKFAST, IRRELIGION, and they all share many similar features. They all tend to be caustic, if not angry, which is probably because it's never fun to be a minority, especially from a moralistic standpoint. The Judeo-Christian view is the most prevalent in the U.S., and people who are atheistic, agnostic, or even merely skeptic, receive all sorts of crap from those who are not. But I don't think abusive tirades are the way to get any converters, which makes me think the main point of this exercise is just to blow off steam and appeal to that niche audience who agrees with them wholeheartedly. Well, okay. Shermer is more laid-back than most, and I think that if this book had been written in a slightly different, more accessible way, it could be a very good book.
The most difficult chapter to read in this book for many is probably going to be the chapter on holocaust deniers--actually, I wonder if this book is even sold in Germany at all, because from what I understand, any pro-German-WII stuff is heavily censored over there. I was discussing Axis Powers Hetalia with a German friend a few years ago, which is an anime that takes a flip look at WII, and she didn't think that would be permitted, so I can only imagine what the German gov't might make of this. A lot of the deniers claim that they aren't anti-Semites, just that they think that Jewish people exaggerated the holocaust, and that while they were labor camps, they were not used for mass executions. A lot of them bitched about how people beat the up, or tried to attack them; one man's wife left him; another man was banned from going to, like, seven different countries.
Here's the thing--freedom of speech guarantees you the right to say what you want, within reason, obviously. It doesn't guarantee you the right to have people like it. While the government might not censor you, other people might very well decide that they've had enough and exercise their right to not have to listen to you--by kicking you out of their venue. And the guy who said that he liked to bring black people to places where he knew there were going to be white supremacists "just to see them squirm" is nothing more than a shit-stirrer (and possibly a bit of a sociopath).
One recurring theme of this book is how far people will go to rationalize their beliefs. It doesn't matter how much logic you throw at them, they will find a way to refute it, usually with an ad hoc argument, or some other type of logical fallacy. I'm sure there are converts--Shermer is one himself--but it's rare; pushing your views onto other people will usually accomplish nothing but annoying the other person. If you are a skeptic and interested in reading relevant literature, this will probably be a nice book for you (and so will the books I referenced above). If you are heavily religious, or annoyed by people who set out with the goal of stirring the pot, I'd avoid this book--especially if you have holocaust/racism-triggers.