I hated the cramped, schizophrenic writing that made my eyes cross. I hated the...moreThis was #17 for Jugs & Capes.
I hated every goddamn minute of it.
I hated the cramped, schizophrenic writing that made my eyes cross. I hated the stark, sketch-y drawing that were so vague you couldn't ever tell who was who. I hated the gore and the period-"appropriate" racism and classism. I hated all the characters—the flippety-gibbet women and the cold cruel calculating men and everyone in between. I hated the inexplicable worlds-within-worlds twistiness of the myriad occult subplots. I hated the bleakness. I even hated the massive heft of the goddamn book itself, which was impossible to hold comfortably in any position, especially outside on my stoop, especially on the subway, especially anywhere except I guess sitting in a massive velvet armchair in some vast dark-wood-paneled drawing room where rich white men drink sherry and chortle over their monocles. Or something like that, I don't fucking know.
Alan Moore is a very insane man, and although I was blown away by Watchmen, this book made me never want to read anything else he's written ever again. I'm not totally sure I even finished it, although I do think I remember some very unsatisfying closing scene with two old dudes on a bluff talking about how no one ever found out what they'd done? Did that happen? I don't fucking know, it's two years since I read it and I think I blocked most of it out.
I've talked about the memoir continuum before. If I had graphics skills and wasn't exhausted I'd draw a picture or or something, but basically there's...moreI've talked about the memoir continuum before. If I had graphics skills and wasn't exhausted I'd draw a picture or or something, but basically there's two poles, one called "has a life interesting enough to warrant writing a memoir" and the other called "is capable of writing well enough to describe that life in a way that doesn't make you want to stab yourself in the eye." Somewhere else I gave examples for the four resulting categories (unique life + good writing; unique life + bad writing; boring life + good writing; boring life + bad writing). I'm not doing that again. What I am doing is telling you that Lac Su is in category 2, which is not the worst but is still bad, and which means that I can't recommend that you go out and buy this book, or read it on your newfangled electronic reading device or whatever. You could, like I did, get it for free at a book swap because the title is awesome, and then you could slog through as he mangles what should be a harrowing, impressive story and just ruins it with terrible writing, and you could cringe and cringe and cringe. I'm really really glad this book was free, is what I'm trying to say.
If you are less of an editor (or less of a bitch) than me, I'd like to reiterate that the story is a fascinating one. Lac & fam flee Vietnam in a hail of communist gunfire, nearly die on a ship, make it to the good ol' U S of A and are welcomed with open arms right into South-Central LA. Lac's dad is a monster, his friends are all gangbangers, and lots of really awful stuff both happens to and is done by him.
He just can't write about it.
As I've also said elsewhere, I only partially blame Lac for this. Not everyone is born to be a writer, but when you pick up a book that has gone through the traditional publishing process, you have certain expectations that differ from those you'd have for, say, a self-published ebook. Or you should. Or you used to be able to. At this point the lines are all blurring, so what is the fucking point of going to a major publisher? This problem is becoming endemic (or maybe I mean insurmountable; I told you I'm tired), and since I work there too, I could obviously talk for a long-ass time about all the reasons this is true. I'm not doing that now. But seriously, Harper Perennial, have you guys got any fucking editors left over there? What is going on that no one could help this guy write a book that deserved to be published, especially when he has a story that really does deserve to be told? It makes me fucking furious.(less)
Bought this today as an "OMG congratulations on being 31 and finally getting a real job" reward. It better be worth it; even at the Strand it was $14....moreBought this today as an "OMG congratulations on being 31 and finally getting a real job" reward. It better be worth it; even at the Strand it was $14. Real job does not equal real money on the first day, turns out.
Holy balls this book is so good. I put it #1 on my CCLaP best-of-2011! Here's what I said about it there:
This is a straight-up, no nonsense, trickery-free whirl of a novel. It takes place in an Irish boys' school, following a whole group of tween boys, as well as many of their teachers, through a month or so in real time, but with scads and scads of backstory. It's filled with incredibly drawn characters, slippery dicey morality, bad bad luck and timing, the howling chaos of lived lives. There are so many chances for Murray to take the easy way out -- becoming corny, melodramatic, or needlessly devastating -- but he hews instead to something that approaches real truth, actions and dialogue and characters that remain consistently, utterly believable, and it's therefore all the more crushing when they fall.(less)
Even though this is coming out in 2012, it still made my CCLaP best-of-2011 list, because I am awesome (and a proofreader) and I got to read it early....moreEven though this is coming out in 2012, it still made my CCLaP best-of-2011 list, because I am awesome (and a proofreader) and I got to read it early.
I'm not really going to tell you much about it because I don't want to blow up McSweeney's spot, but look: Did you like The Instructions? Did you think it was probably the greatest sprawling modern epic novel of 2010, if not the greatest sprawling modern epic novel ever? Then you will love the short stories in Hot Pink. Maybe not quite as much, but plenty. Because in case you doubted (you didn't, though, did you?), these stories are fiercely good. Obvs they don't have the same breadth and depth of The Instructions, but there are shivery little echoes throughout, especially in fathers who call their sons "boychick" or kiss their wives in particularly clever ways, and in characters who think and think and think and think and fucking think and inside-out and everywhichway analyze the most intimate of gestures or the grandest ideas about the world. Also some of these stories are extremely DFW-y, which is fine by me, and some of them are gut-punchingly sad, which is less so, but what can you do? Life is sad sometimes, and sometimes you have to write about it. (less)
I am so fucking behind on everything in my life. Here are my "private notes" I made for myself like a zillion weeks ago when I actually read this book...moreI am so fucking behind on everything in my life. Here are my "private notes" I made for myself like a zillion weeks ago when I actually read this book. I though I'd have time to make them into an actual review, and maybe one day I will. Until then, here's some scribbley nonsense.
The quirky style gets in the way of the story with this one, unlike in A Million Little Pieces, where it meshed and pulled you in. Here it's overdone and kind of cripples the prose, makes it plodding and harder to read, not musical like he clearly wants. The story's good, and sad, but also maudlin and overdramatic and way too fairytale-is (if you can suspend your disbelief enough to call a story about recovering mobsters and suicidal women and despair and despair and despair fairytale-ish). Sorry, James. Not so good this time.(less)
Shoot, here's another Jugs & Capes book that I never reviewed. This was #18, and I didn't really love it. The drawing was great, and the setting w...moreShoot, here's another Jugs & Capes book that I never reviewed. This was #18, and I didn't really love it. The drawing was great, and the setting was very immersive, but I think I remember the plot being fairly predictable, and the main character being kind of waif-y and spineless and hard to root for.
But it's been awhile since I read it, so I might be way off base. (less)
I was at the Strand last night and I was flipping through the "shiny new paperbacks" table, and suddenly it was later than I thought and they were clo...moreI was at the Strand last night and I was flipping through the "shiny new paperbacks" table, and suddenly it was later than I thought and they were closing and I had this in one hand, a memoir of a former skinhead in the other, and a small pile in front of me with essays by a Ukrainian musician, a new Open Letter paperback, and something else I already forgot. I was rushed! I couldn't properly decide which was most deserving of my seven paltry dollars! I hope I made the right choice...
Nope. I hated this stupid book. The plot was stupid and full of holes and completely not-believable, the characters were stupid and had stupid character traits (one character? talks only in questions? even when it's way more forced and stupid than in this example?). I seriously only finished it because I've been too busy to take the time to pick a better book to read. So clearly i'm stupid too. (less)
Holy balls, this book is so phenomenal. I put it on my CCLaP best-of-2011 list, and here's what I said there:
My hopes for this one were pretty low, as I'd found Blankets to be flaccid and hokey and saccharine and generally pretty boring. Habibi, though, is downright spectacular. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, complex and inventive and enthralling. The story is huge and sweeping, a sad tale of two people with insanely awful lives who find each other and save each other over and over, but interspersed with fables and parables and verses and stories, mostly from the Qur'an. Breathtaking in scope and emotional reach. Just utter amazingness.
Also, here is a blog post from another J&C lady, where she distilled our meeting into a set of discussion questions. (less)
Listening obsessively to the tUne-YarDs recently made me hate all my other music, and zooming through this series last week has made me hate all my ot...moreListening obsessively to the tUne-YarDs recently made me hate all my other music, and zooming through this series last week has made me hate all my other books. (less)
OMG how fun are these books? So ridiculously fun. Scott is such a silly dork, such a (mostly) lovable idiot. Obvs there's a lot more characterization...moreOMG how fun are these books? So ridiculously fun. Scott is such a silly dork, such a (mostly) lovable idiot. Obvs there's a lot more characterization here than in the films; Knives' fight with Ramona is awesome, everyone's silly insults and awful comebacks are hilarious, I love love love Wallace Wells so fucking fierce. There's even a recipe for vegan shepherd's pie! Plus you can read the whole book while you're waiting for your laundry to finish, thus letting you forget that you're in a hot, crowded, too-bright but sweet-smelling communal hole with a creepy bald guy leering at you and women beating their children and it's raining outside and this isn't your book so you can't even go out and smoke because you don't want to ruin the book but omg if that lady in the tattered sweatpants doesn't stop snoring and leaning closer and closer to my shoulder I'm going to freak the fuck out. Hypothetically.(less)
post read: If you read anything at all about this book, you will immediately learn the following salient points...moreThis totally made my CCLaP best-of-2011.
post read: If you read anything at all about this book, you will immediately learn the following salient points: Originally published in the early sixties (and reissued this year by the divine NYRB), it is a proto-feminist novel (predecessor to The Feminine Mystique), it's quite autobiographical, it's told by an unnamed narrator who is married to a philanderer (her fourth husband) and has an army of children (number never specified), and it opens in an analyst's office, where the narrator complains that she's afraid of dust. Most people, absurdly, stop there, giving a picture of a vapid housewife who is too dumb to stop reproducing, too dependent to leave her cheating husband, too hysterical to gain control of her life.
Of course, most people are idiots.
I, being (I think) rather less than an idiot, will start this review by talking about the quality of Penelope's writing. It is immediate, sharp, brutally candid. It is warm, genuine, and (often blackly) hilarious. Her descriptions of characters are quick and amazing--i.e., "He was a small, square man, with too much face for the size of his features," or "She was lonely and eccentric and kept making little rushes at life which were, as she swore she had always known, doomed to failure." Her language cracks and sparkles and seethes with rage, despair, hopelessness, urgency, and, eventually, against all odds, hope.
Now I will tell you something about the story itself. Mrs. Armitage, our faithful narrator, our damaged heroine, our harried, rueful housewife, is no ninny, no hysteric. Well--she does get hysterical, it's true, but goddammit, she has a right to. Her husband Jake is a talented, handsome, successful, childish, selfish bastard. Since they've become wealthy (she was rather poor with her first three husbands), she seems to have no say in her own life; she never sews a button or cooks a meal or wipes a nose, now that they have "help" to do all those things. About all she has time to do is discover more and more evidence of Jake's infidelities and talk to her pompous, condescending therapist about how to fix her "little weeps." Not that it's as bleak as all that; she manages to remain so self-possessed, so clever, so tough, that instead of pity you feel frustration for her, watching her try to make sense of her life. For long swaths you forget things are bad at all. Her narration is so full of life, so wry and self-mocking, that you just fly along.
On the face of it, this is a story of a somewhat co-dependent marriage gone pretty well wrong, but interestingly, nearly a third of the book--its middle--is dedicated to one summer when our narrator was about fourteen, just becoming a woman, as it were. We see her first boyfriend and her first manfriend, her bitchy mother and her questionable father, her tween frenemy Ireen, with her painted eyelashes and permanent wave. It's a fascinating episode, brilliantly illuminating the crazed, frustrated angst of being that age. "For the rest of the day I lay on my bed, or more accurately rolled and tossed and curled up like a spring on my bed. I howled and hiccupped, feeling as though there were a great gale in me which I could not contain."
That's, believe it or not, the fun part. This a rough story, all in all, full of imposed will and victimization and sexual misdeeds and cruelty. Yet it's an interpersonal melodrama, and the persons playing the roles are endlessly compelling. It's a book I couldn't help but hurtle myself through, with scenes that keep replaying in my head. In the end Mrs. Armitage does come into her own, though at a high cost. Watching her get there is riveting, seeing her grow teeth, as it were, and reclaim control of her life, is harrowing and hopeful both.
pre-read: I'm beginning to suspect that while I'm asleep my books are multiplying among themselves like jackrabbits. This proof, for example. Where did it come from? I'm sure I never bought it. I can't recall why or when or from whom it would have been sent to me. Yet here it is, on my shelf, looking crisp and comely and oh so inviting. I suppose I'd better read it before it disappears or turns into something else, right?(less)
Okay, let me start by saying that I have never been on...morereview originally written for CCLaP, and also this book wound up on my CCLaP best-of-2011 list.
Okay, let me start by saying that I have never been on 4chan. I know what it is, I know what it does, and I know how it works, I've just never felt compelled to actually slog through it. But that doesn't mean I'm not utterly fascinated by it, and I certainly understand what an awesome (in both senses) cultural force it is, and how it represents everything new and amazing and unpredictable about the times we're living in. So of course I was super psyched to get this book (for $4 at the Brooklyn Book Fair). I'm fairly close to the target demographic for it; I know enough about memes and the web and new media that there were a few sections I glossed over, but for the most part I'm outside of the hardcore internetters for whom this book would be like a primer for the lives they already lead. One of the best things that happened as a result of reading this was that I got to have the following conversation four different times:
"I'm reading this really fascinating book about 4chan and learning sooo much." "What's 4chan?" "Wait, seriously? You don't know what 4chan is? Where all the memes come from?" "What's a meme again?"
Whaaa? Only one of those conversations was with someone of my parents' generation; the others were my friends, my peers, people who clearly should know about this stuff. So I got to explain all about easy ones like LOLcats and Rickrolling and the "Hide yo' kids, hide yo' wife" guy, and I got to feel very very savvy and in the know, which of course I'm really not.
If you are, some parts of this book will bore you--for example, there's a long entire chapter where Stryker describes in specific every different board of 4chan and what you'll find there. Also much of the criticism of the book seems to be that people find the title misleading, because it's really a book about 4chan, with only a bit of discussion of Anonymous. I'd bet money that the paperback edition gets an epilogue about Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous' role therein. But that's the point, isn't it? This is a book, which is fixed and stable, and the world of the internet changes so fast that writing a book about it is almost necessarily a losing endeavor.
Except it's not. Stryker covers a ton of fascinating ground here, which will not become out of date or out of touch. There's a sort of condensed history of hacking, which he dates back to the fifties, when a bunch of blind kids calling themselves Phone Phreaks "hacked" the landline telephone system by whistling into the receiver at a certain pitch to get free long-distance calling. He takes us through the early, "Wild West" days of the internet, covering Usenet and BBSes, and then traces the history of a bunch of sites I'd never heard of, like WELL, Stile Project, and Gaping Maw, plus many I have, like Rotten, Slashdot, Fark, Reddit, etc. He's got a basic meme primer, where he discusses memes as a concept and then runs through many of the most popular. He talks about memes crossing over into the mainstream, like Rick Astley's live Rickrolling at the Macy's Day Parade last year, and into advertising, like the Old Spice Guy doing a thirty-second YouTube spot specifically for 4chan users, riddled with obscure references to their inside jokes. He has scads of interviews with tons of internet people, from execs at all the major sites to random /b/tards. He introduced me to a ton of stuff I never knew about, filled in the gaps on things I knew only vaguely, and gave me a really varied, balanced account of the internet today and how it got like this.
Naturally Stryker is an unabashed fan of 4chan, of /b/, of Anonymous, and of our crazy internet world, and it shows. He loves his subject in all its weird, frightening, and unexplainable glory. Of course he touches on all the racism, homophobia, bullying, and stalking that are made possible by 4chan, and he pokes fun at the "normal" people who are horrified by the morning news' scare tactics used to paint 4chan and Anonymous as a den of sin and iniquity just waiting to prey upon your children. But ultimately he wants us to see how amazing and filled with potential this all is. Here's one of my favorite lines: "The success of 4chan as a meme generator has challenged everything we thought we knew about the way people behave on the web. People are willing to spend shocking amounts of time creating, collaborating, documenting--all with no recognition. The implications are staggering. Give people a place that facilitates creation and sharing, and they will conjure entire civilizations." I love that! It's so true!
Out of 10: 9, unless you are a hacker or a /b/tard, in which case probably don't bother.(less)
You'd think I'd know by now, but I have to keep reminding myself: When I'm frustrated & malcontented with all the sparkly new stuff, older books a...moreYou'd think I'd know by now, but I have to keep reminding myself: When I'm frustrated & malcontented with all the sparkly new stuff, older books are always the answer. First Berlin Stories—stunningly fantastic, I could hardly believe it—and now this. Ahhhhh.(less)
So I saw on Facebook or Twitter or somewhere that New Directions had proofs of this -- a new fucking Pelevin, ZOMG I love him so much -- that they wer...moreSo I saw on Facebook or Twitter or somewhere that New Directions had proofs of this -- a new fucking Pelevin, ZOMG I love him so much -- that they were giving away to reviewers. So I wrote to them and was like "I write reviews for the illustrious CCLaP, here is a link to some of my work, would you be so kind as to send me a copy?" AND THEY DID. I have arrived, baby!
I'm sad I never made the time to do a review of this. But it was really really really short, and left little in the way of a lasting impression (ladies dosed with drugs to make them still as statues, so they could be living decorations at a rich dude's party? I think?), so I'll have to re-read it one of these days if I ever want to have something smart to say about it.(less)
Two spooky things happened surrounding the reading of this book. The first was that—completely by chance, I swear—we schedule...more#16 for Jugs & Capes!
Two spooky things happened surrounding the reading of this book. The first was that—completely by chance, I swear—we scheduled our bookclub meeting on the actual anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The second was that the week before said meeting, New York had our very own super-mega-huge-ass hurricane… Well, that’s what we were led to believe was coming, anyhow, that Irene was howling toward us with her screaming rage, ready to visit upon our city destruction of a magnitude not glimpsed here in decades.
Leading up to hurricane weekend, I’d paid little attention to the hysterical Twittersphere and the bleating warnings of my out-of-state friends...that is, until it was announced that Mayor Bloomberg was taking the historically unprecedented step of closing the entire MTA—all subways, all busses, all trains, all weekend long. At that point I began to worry that I really might not be taking things seriously enough.
At that point, also, I was finally getting around to reading this book, reading about all the blasé, jaded New Orleanians who paid scant attention to the hysterical media and the bleating warnings of their out-of-state friends.
We all know what happened to them.
And you probably know what happened to me, too: I begrudgingly bought some water and an overpriced flashlight and a few cans of soup, it rained kinda hard for a few hours, my boyfriend and I rambled around our neighborhood finding the bars that had stayed open, the Gowanus Canal dribbled a teeny bit of toxic juice up over her banks, and everything was back to normal by Monday, in time for me to get to the Jugs & Capes meeting and talk about this book.
Do you want to know what I think about this book? The first thing I think is that the art is fantastic. (By this I mean the actual drawings, not the weird monochromatic patterning, which is not dissimilar to that of Asterios Polyp, except that there it enhanced the story and here it detracted and distracted.) The second thing I think is that there is so much pathos, so much devastation and misery and despair in the events related in this story, that it almost doesn’t even matter how it’s rendered, there will necessarily be parts that grab you, that make you gasp, that bring you to tears. I cried twice, maybe twice and a half.
That’s the good.
The bad is that Josh seems to have bitten off much more than he can chew. The idea of choosing five different people to follow through the storm and its aftermath was a good one, but it was way overly ambitious. To give all five different stories the space they deserve would have required five entire books. As it was, I was only able to connect emotionally with half of them, and the rest wound up coming across as two-dimensional stand-ins—the black kid, the hipster, the rich gay—thus essentially canceling their stories and their voices. Though the other two—a lower-income black woman and a Middle Eastern convenience store owner—were riveting and devastating and moving and harrowing, that wasn’t enough to carry the book.
It feels wrong to criticize such a worthwhile project, and I’m sorry. But while it was a great attempt, and must have taken an insane amount of work to do, it fell far short of its potential.(less)
aaah, nothing better than a book found on the street. how do people live in places where this doesn't happen?
I am so so so backed up on reviews; I...moreaaah, nothing better than a book found on the street. how do people live in places where this doesn't happen?
I am so so so backed up on reviews; I just want to get something done and off my pile, so this'll be short & sweet. This book surprised me, which is always a delight. I definitely didn't expect it to be anything special, but I really liked it. It's the kind of book that's written just for me, for my particular love of angst and despair and head-over-heels-into-the-abyss-together-ness. It's two just-post-college kids, the alcoholic rocker and his devoted buttress of love, the girl who is herself too fucked up to be even considering what it means to love, let alone allowing herself to become the entire support system for a terribly depressed codependent mess. There's music and drugs and drinking and breakdowns and a fair amount of wallowing in exquisite misery, but -- FOR ME -- it stays just on this side of the line that separates meaningful devastation from melodramatic emo bullshit. Certainly others will feel differently. Best of all, the prose is musical, lyrical, liquid. The metaphors are sparse and tentative, peeking out just when you need them, not cloying or overwhelming. Nicely done.(less)
totally random bookswap score. I really love cracking a book that I know absolutely nothing about!
So fun! So British! So snarky! I guess this is ki...moretotally random bookswap score. I really love cracking a book that I know absolutely nothing about!
So fun! So British! So snarky! I guess this is kind of like James Bondish? It's about one of those dapper young playboys who leads a decadent artist's life by day and like works for the CIA by night. It's all old-timey and very, very British. Kind of like Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, except less noir and more caper. It's fluffy and fun, nothing too substantial. I should have saved it for the nine-hour plane ride I've got to Alaska next weekend.
Oh also? I just found out that there's a graphic novel edition, which I'd love to get my hands on.(less)
#15 for Jugs & Capes! See this review on CCLaP, where it was originally published.
Super psyched to be reading Love & Rockets finally. I'm list...more#15 for Jugs & Capes! See this review on CCLaP, where it was originally published.
Super psyched to be reading Love & Rockets finally. I'm listening to the band Love & Rockets while I write this review, which seems only right.
As with so many of the Jugs & Capes books I've been reading and reviewing this year, I knew before I even cracked this one that people have strong opinions about it. And all my research leads me to the same thing: these are early, early stories by a writer at the wide-eyed innocent beginning of his illustrious career. He's still finding his footing, he's flailing about a bit; many of the elements of these early stories fell by the wayside as he honed his talents and settled into his stride. Which is all a bit of a relief. I mean, I really enjoyed these stories, but they're for sure a little rough around the edges.
For those who don't know (are there any left other than me?), Love and Rockets is the name for the extremely prolific work (spanning three decade) of two brothers, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. Each has their own subject matter and style, and now that they're basically canonized, Fantagraphics has re-released their work in digestible collections, along with a handy "How to read Love & Rockets" guide on their website, to help out the novices. We had to do a blind vote in Jugs & Capes because we couldn't decide whether to go with Jaime's Maggie the Mechanic or Gilbert's Heartbreak Soup, and Maggie won.
Jaime's stories center around a group of Latina teenagers in the Southern California suburbs. They're punk rockers and goths, sexpots and graffiti artists, rebels and drunks. Titular Maggie really is a mechanic--a pro-solar mechanic, to be exact, meaning she fixes rockets and robots rather than cars. She's also endearingly klutzy, kind of a ditz, and very emotional. Her best friend and maybe possibly sometimes lover is Hopey, a reasonably clichéd angry punk who plays in bands and is in love with Maggie. Then there's a slew of others, including Penny Century, a voluptuous stunner who's having an affair with (maybe?) the devil; Izzy, a loopy stoned goth; Rand Race, famous playboy and genius pro-solar mechanic and also Maggie's boss (and love object); Rena Titañon, a retired and presumed dead (but not, obvs) champion luchador; and on and on.
While I did like these stories, I could tell they were a bit all over the place, and it took me a little while to get into them. The first couple, about Maggie's exploits learning to be a pro-solar mechanic in the remote jungle of Zimbodia, are related through her letters home to Hopey and the other girls, and they're incredibly dense with text and backstory and explanation. This is definitely necessary, but it's also a little overwhelming, and I was worried about having the stamina to real 300 pages of it. But the stories, of course, suck you in, because they're absurd and funny and warm, and even though they're the kind of stories where it's not a question of whether the good guys will win, only when they will, they're well told and well plotted, and I was sad when they ended. Apparently they're meant to be the sci-fi version of magical realism, which is neat, but the dinosaurs and aliens and rocket ships were far less interesting than seeing the girls get drunk and run around, or even just try to decide what to wear. I guess Jaime came to the same conclusion, because it seems he started phasing out the sci-fi stuff shortly after the issues in this volume.
And so here's the part where I try to do a bit of a feminist reading. First let me say that Jaime passes the Bechdel test on pretty much every page. This is an incredibly female-centric cast, and he does a good job of covering different personalities and body types. I fell a little into the same trap I did with Watchmen, where I was going to bitch that Maggie is such a love-struck flake and therefore presents a reductionist view of women--but I'd be wrong. She's just one of many very varied characters, and although I find her mildly irritating at times, she's definitely true to the character she was created to be.
One thing that did bother me a little was what the (IMO) gratuitous nudity and near-nudity. I have no problem with some cartoon boobs--and every single graphic novel we've read in J&C has had at least one page we were all a little embarrassed to have opened to on the subway--but Maggie is practically naked practically all the time. She and Hopey share a bed, and though they're not lovers (in this book, at least), they sleep naked. Maggie even works in little more than her underwear--and she's a mechanic, remember? With hot oil and sharp edges and dangerous machinery everywhere! I don't think she'd last a day under the hood of a car--let alone in the guts of a rocket ship--without any pants on. Maybe I'm harping on this too much, but it does seem to me to be a very male view, literally and figuratively, to show two sexy young things who, as soon as the door closes and they're left alone together, start stripping and giggling. It creeped me out a little.
Not that it ruined the reading experience or anything; it was a minor snag in an overall awesome, fun read. I sort of never felt totally awed by the book, which I'd hoped to, given its cult-classic status, but I enjoyed it the whole way through, and I'm definitely eager to read more Hernandez Bros.(less)
I will admit that I can be very smug. I've been obsessively immersed in books for so long now that I tend to have opinions on ever...moreMy latest for CCLaP!
I will admit that I can be very smug. I've been obsessively immersed in books for so long now that I tend to have opinions on everything literary, founded or un-. So of course I had an opinion about Siri Hustvedt, wife of Paul Auster, posed kind of ridiculously in her author photo, with her black turtleneck and piercing stare, writer of--what? I'm not sure what I thought she wrote, mainstream-ish fiction for smart moms, maybe? Stuff like The Time Traveler's Wife or The Memory Keeper's Daughter or anything by Jodi Picoult, where it's all plangent and emotional but in a kind of self-absorbed way, and has meaty characters but predictable plots full of poignancy and exquisite misery. Or something. I haven't read those other books either, so who knows, I could be wrong about them too. Anyway, I'd been sure that the books Siri wrote were not ones I'd necessarily scorn, but also not anything I was in a hurry to pick up.
And I will further admit that I often let my preconceptions become self-fulfilling prophesies. So when I started this book and realized it was going to be about a bunch of girls--a middle-aged cuckoldee, a handful of widows in an old-folks' home, a passel of tweens in a poetry class, a young mother and her voluble, bewigged toddler--I wasn't really thrilled. Those are obvious choices of people to write about, over-tilled ground, seemingly automatically ready to go off into clichéd, sentimental territory, where everyone teaches each other valuable life lessons by sharing pain and going through trauma and coming out stronger on the other side.
And it's true, in some ways that's what happened. But oh, Siri charmed me. She wooed me and impressed me and dragged me over to her side. She's super smart, but subtle about it, not cloying or show-offy like the hipster kids I so adore (Marisha Pessl, Benjamin Kunkel, et al.). She weaves the many narratives deftly, with a really mature and intentional sense of pacing. Her language is lovely. She spatters the narrative with all kinds of musings--on psychology, philosophy, physiology, history, literature--which are all actually relevant, if not to the actual plot, than to the mind of the narrator, whose thoughts we spend the whole novel navigating. Lots of the book is in fact about other books--there are book club meetings and poetry classes and quite a lot of reading and musing on reading. She also does this cool thing where she subverts her own use of bad clichés by having the narrator then actually picture the cliché to diffuse it, which I surprisingly really loved. And she's got some good meta-ness too, some breaking of the fourth wall and earnestly addressing the reader, taking us by the hand or blindfolding us or otherwise revealing her own machinations before she performs them, thus further distancing her from the sentimental, heavily plotted pabulum that I'd been afraid I was in for.
I'm not saying the book was without flaws. Certainly not all the characters are as full as they could be--the seven tweens were virtually indistinguishable to me, even after repeated mentions of this or that trait assigned to one or the other--but that's not unfitting for the plot arc they were involved in, which was one of shifting narratives, fluid identities, tweenagerhood as a many-headed beast rather than a selection of individuals. And the old ladies were seemingly ranked in order of importance to the narrator, and assigned characterizations accordingly--but isn't that a bit like life? You don't know everything about all your mom's friends; you know a few interesting things about the ones you find interesting. And then also she did this weird amateur thing (which I can't believe her publisher let her get away with, actually) where instead of using italics for emphasis she used ALL CAPS, like some shouting internet commenter, which was totally bizarre and made me cringe every time and probably wouldn't bother people who aren't copyeditors but still is just wrong.
But on the whole, this was a really engaging book, very smart, very full. I'm trying to say that I was wrong, okay? I'm allowing myself to loosen my grip on a deeply held conviction and admit fault. Aren't you proud of me? Just don't expect me to pick up Lovely Bones anytime soon.(less)
This was given to me by a friend of the author's, whom I interviewed for Brooklyn Spaces. We all know how I feel about self-published gonzo (or whatev...moreThis was given to me by a friend of the author's, whom I interviewed for Brooklyn Spaces. We all know how I feel about self-published gonzo (or whatever) novels, but I promised to read with an open mind.
Recently I had a conversation with a friend of mine where we [huge nerd alert] were debating whether or not to capitalize the first word after a colon, and I admit I got kind of overly upset about people who do this, and I was like, "I don't mind creative styling, but not when it's just blatantly wrong," and then I kind of remembered how I have become way too anal about grammar and punctuation and all that shit since being a proofreader. It just really does actually bother me, in a way that is not normal. So when I read a self-published, clearly not edited book, I get all twitchy and pissed, which is stupid and unfair. I know it is. I know. But that doesn't mean I can help it, okay?
Gutterfish, despite my reservations, is a pretty good book. It's all drugs and drugs and Detroit and dealers being tough and sex and lots more drugs and questionable behavior all around, but if you like that kind of thing, you'll probably like this book. It's likely that a lot of it is true, or embellished truth, which is cool. Eduardo Jones really really likes metaphors, like seriously a lot, but lots of them are good. And other than that, the writing is mostly smart enough to get out of the way of the story/stories. I guess it's short stories, or more like fictional anecdotes? But anyway it's good.
It's also riddled with typos. If someone had slung me some money, I could have made this a much more correct book. But does that matter? Probably not to most people.
Anyway, it's good. The drawings are awesome too. (less)