this is a wonderful book. it's 3/4 memoir, 1/4 lit crit/feminist studies, all laid out in this charming, self-reflective way that's not shrill and age...morethis is a wonderful book. it's 3/4 memoir, 1/4 lit crit/feminist studies, all laid out in this charming, self-reflective way that's not shrill and agenda-laden; just one woman revisiting the heroines that shaped her life along her reading journey, and reevaluating them as an adult to see if her admiration of them has held up. in many cases, it has not.
i was a little apprehensive at first, reading the table of contents:
The Little Mermaid Anne of Green Gables Lizzy Bennet Scarlett O'Hara Franny Glass Esther Greenwood Lucy Honeychurch The Dolls (from the Valley) Cathy Earnshaw Flora Poste Scheherazade
of those characters listed, i have only read five. FIVE!!! it's like i have never read a book in my life! fortunately, she doesn't limit herself to what she displays in this TOC, and in the back matter, there are SEVEN PAGES of texts she mentions throughout the book, ranging from Twilight to Just Kids to Marjorie Morningstar to Tess of the d'Urbervilles. and fortunately, i HAD read a lot of the books in that list, but there were some that i had never even heard of, which i think can be explained by her growing up in london, where things like Lace and Consequences are more commonly read. oh, but be warned - she goes into great detail about these books, and doesn't shy away from talking about their endings or reveals. in fact, it was fortunate that i had just finished watching buffy the vampire slayer the week before i read this, because she also talks about that last episode. bullet = dodged.
ellis conceived of this project after a friendly argument she had with her friend emma over their irreconcilable differences in their personal allegiance to jane eyre vs. catherine earnshaw, which is one of those arguments that women who read have been having forever. because it's one or the other, always. me, i am a catherine girl. always have been, always will be. and so was ellis.
…Emma argued that Jane was independent, she knew who she was, she didn't suffer fools and she stuck to her principles. 'And Cathy's just silly.' Ignoring my howls of fury, she continued, 'She's always weeping and wailing, and she says she loves Heathcliff but she marries the rich boy because she's a snob, and that makes everyone unhappy.'
I defended Cathy. She's passionate and headstrong - and gorgeous. 'You can't like her just because she's pretty,' said Emma. All right, but Cathy doesn't mean to marry the wrong man. She's pushed into it. And she regrets it, doesn't she? Emma asked, 'Why not just not marry the wrong man?'
which is a fair point, and one the author takes to heart, spurring her on into this decision to reread all the books she'd read during her formative years - the books that had inspired her, shaped her, made her into the woman she became. and her conclusion was:
My whole life, I'd been trying to be Cathy, when I should have been trying to be Jane.
which is, again, a fair point. but i stay true to my catherine-love. for me, i have never read books as anything other than entertainment or as an appreciation for an author's craft. i have loved characters, but i have never tried to apply the stories to my own life. i certainly didn't want to BE catherine - she was a short-tempered bitch (AHEM!)- but her story has more of that good novelistic meat; more pumping blood and passion than jane eyre. she's horrible, yeah, but every last character in that book is horrible (in the old testament parts, not the second generation). i loved her fire, and i responded to her wildness, because it was relatable. i never felt particularly repressed growing up, so Jane Eyre was less appealing to me, and somehow more farfetched and gothic, with all that bertha and gypsy stuff. (although bertha is still the best thing about that book by far. pumping blood and meat and all.)
but unlike meeeee, ellis does change her affiliation a little, and comes to appreciate jane as a character more than she had on her first reading:
I wondered why I'd written Jane off. She is independent, and brave, and clever, and she really does stay true to herself. And while Cathy ends up a wandering ghost, Jane ends up happily married. The brilliant sunshine was very Jane weather, I thought; pleasant, clear and rational. It would have rained for Cathy, there would have been thunder and lightning. And (said a small, but firm Jane voice) we would have shivered and eaten soggy sandwiches hunched under the hoods of our waterproofs.
this is also a good place to mention how much i love the author's voice in all of this. i really want this woman to be my friend - i love the way she talks about books, and i love how passionate she is about her favorite characters. even though i have never felt as emotionally attached to characters in books as she clearly does, it's just delightful to read lit crit by someone who is. it's so personal, and passages like this:
But there were perils to loving Mr. Darcy. I wish I could tell my twelve-year-old self that not all arrogant men are secretly lovely; some are just arrogant. I had a crush on the coolest boy at Hebrew school. He smouldered (as far as a twelve-year-old could)
As a teenager I thought the best love was unrequited, so I preferred Scarlett/Ashley to Scarlett/Rhett. The dream of love was fine, but I wasn't so ready for the real thing.
There was a time when, unable to see what a tool Ashley is, I thought impossible love was the best kind. But I hope I'm braver about love now, and I'm tempted to make a rule that any heroine who spends a whole novel in love with someone who can't or won't love her back is not truly a heroine. Because unrequited love is delusional, thankless, and boring.
just made me smile, even though i am still an unrequited love enthusiast.
and this anecdote makes me think we coulda been besties coming up in our youth:
I was still a good Iraqi Jewish girl. In that hectic first week, very late one night, a boy passed out and hit his head. There was blood everywhere. The medical students took charge. Lectures hadn't started yet, so they knew as much about medicine as I did, but I didn't have the nous to do what they did, administering water and painkillers, making up a bed for him on someone else's floor, putting him in the recovery position so he wouldn't choke. I was shocked. I'd never been drunk before. It was only because of Plath that I even recognized 'that strong, silted-up force that makes one move through air like swimming.' Everyone else was so confident and capable. I was frozen in his doorway, the room full of blood and vomit like a crime scene. Then all at once I knew what to do. I got the bucket of cleaning products my mother had packed - enough bleach and antibacterial spray to deep-clean a hospital - and set to work. I cleaned the blood off the walls. I stripped the bed and scrubbed the headboard. I mopped the floor, and cleaned the mop, and washed out the bucket. I boil-washed the sheets. Dawn found me sitting in the hot, empty laundry, waiting for the dryer to finish its cycle. I was so totally my mother's daughter. When in doubt, clean.
because while i was not a good iraqi jewish girl in college, i was definitely always the practical one, squandering my maternal impulses on my besotted friends and i LOVED order and cleanliness and doing all sorts of stoned cooking and tidying for my less ambitiously stoned pals. so, again - relatable.
But is the love in Wuthering Heights really that great? It obliterates the people who experience it. Cathy says it best: 'I am Heathcliff.'
And their love is impossible. Even if miscommunication, heinousness and bad luck hadn't kept them apart, the idea of Heathcliff and Cathy getting married and settling down in some cozy cottage, growing old together, does not compute. This is not one of those romance novels where a kind, daring heroine sees the kernel of good in an edgy, dark-hearted hero and redeems him… Cathy is as moody and savage as Heathcliff, and she couldn't save him if she tried. She doesn't want to. She doesn't want to be kind and sweet and good: she dreams that she goes to heaven and hates it so much that she cries until the angels throw her down to the moors where she belongs. Cathy and Heathcliff's love is too raw and rarefied to exist in the real world, and they know it; they can only be together as restless ghosts… their love is just not realistic. It is the kind of love, in fact, that could only be written by someone who had never been in love.
It's hard to root for a man who rages about saying things like 'I have no pity! I have no pity! The more the worms writhe, the more I yearn to crush out their entrails.' It's savage stuff, but it's also just so…can I say it?…melodramatic.
But here's the thing: Wuthering Heights isn't really about Heathcliff as a hero, or Cathy as a heroine. Heathcliff himself cautions against 'picturing in me a hero..' It's about love. Transcendent love, operatic love, excessive, abandoned love. It's unreasonable, this love. It is angsty and probably immature. But tornado love is more appealing than postmodern love.
there's nothing incorrect there, but for her - reading these books is about the characters, while for me, it has always been about the story. Wuthering Heights is one of the most melodramatic stories of destructive love ever written - we are in full agreement there. it just never occurred to me to think of either of them as heroic. for me they are outgrowths of the wildness of their natural surroundings, and it's just glorious reading a human manifestation of all those beautiful, destructive things nature does:
it's romantic, but it's not the kind of romance you want in your life, just in your books.
and although she comes around on jane:
...she becomes a proper heroine when, her marriage ruined by the discovery of Rochester's mad wife in the attic, she refuses to stay and be his mistress.
This didn't always strike me as heroic. I used to think she was cowardly and skittish, a prude without the guts to flout convention. I thought she was the one betraying her heart. Why bang on about passion if you're not going to defy society?
i am still there with my hands on my hips saying "yeah, WHY???" because that's the kind of story i wanna read.
and as much as i can appreciate this nuance:
I've always resented what I saw as Jane's placid preternatural calm but now it seems like enviable self-possession.
self-possession is not a quality that makes for an engrossing book, in my eyes (The Remains of the Day excluded. engrossing, but also frustrating.)
but i will say one thing about this book, it definitely made me want to reread The Bell Jar with adult eyes. i read that book when you're supposed to, in that fragile 15-year-old period, and i dismissed it as unfashionable. i loved her poems, but - hell - i had tori amos - who needed plath after that? i know, typical, right?? but i have always been partial to redheads, and i always felt that one of my favorite songs of hers, mother, was really just a reversal of plath's daddy, although, listening to it now, i have no idea why i thought that. must have been the military imagery, and the whole parental distancing motif. but!! in an interesting parallel to this book, it turns out i still really like tori amos! the opening piano in this song KILLS ME!
but back to plath.
Realising how wrong I was about Tess and Celie makes me think it's time to go back to Plath. I rejected her at the end of that sad first year. I put her books away. I was sick of suffering. I thought Plath was navel-gazing, luxuriating in her own misery. I didn't want to do that any more.
and i had a similar experience with The Bell Jar. it just seemed indulgent, and i never understood what all the fuss was over that book - why it was so revered. as she notes, there were more modern and potent examples of that howling self-destructiveness available to girls coming up in our time:
Angst was everywhere. That same year, Girl, Interrupted came out, a memoir set in the mental hospital Plath went to. In 1994 came Elizabeth Wurtzel's Prozac Nation, with the author on the cover, hair tousled, pouting sulkily, fenced in by barbed wire made of pills. Courtney Love's band Hole released Live Through This that year too, just after her husband Kurt Cobain had killed himself, and I was stunned by her anguished performances and her train-wreck interviews. These women wore their suffering like fairy princesses wore tiaras. The were beautiful and sad and angry and liberated. Who wouldn't want to be them?
and while i was never a big hole fan, courtney love as a symbol of tattered-girl survival shrieking fuck you misery was undeniably attractive and hard to look away from.
but reading about her adult reappraisal of The Bell Jar makes me think i might appreciate it more if i, too, were to revisit it. i want to read the book she reads here. her adult interpretation redeems it for me, secondhand, and i want to see for myself. as she says,
It's embarrassing to admit how wildly I misread A Room with a View when I was 20. Though I'm beginning to think all readings are provisional, and that maybe we read heroines for what we need from them at the time.
which, swap out the word "heroines" for the more general "books" for me, and i'm right there with her. i adore how attached she has gotten to the women in these books. it makes me feel a little flawed for not reading books the same way as she does - as applications to her ownself, although if i did, i certainly wouldn't feel the way i feel about Wuthering Heights, and i wouldn't want to give that up.
and honestly, it seems a little exhausting to read "her" way - to always be on the lookout for lessons
I don't want to give up my heroines. The idea makes me fee bereft. For a few days I consider it. I imagine a life without heroines. I even read a Lee Child novel with a tough title, Killing Floor, as a sort of palate-cleanser, thinking it will be the most male book I've ever read. But there's a heroine in it too, a small-town cop whose supposed strength is constantly undercut by her dependence on the hero; nevertheless, I find myself trying to work out what I can learn from her, and realize I'm doing it again. Maybe I'm too addicted to heroines to stop. But is this addiction damaging? If I don't give up my heroines, will it mean I can't become a heroine myself?
it just feels a little limiting to me, to wait to be inspired by a character in a book, as though novels are intended to be a manual for living, because characters are just that - they are contrivances - cogs in the machine; something that moves the plot forward. which is not a particularly magical or romantic way to look at books, i know, but that's always been my reading style. sure, there are characters that i have found endearing and all, but i have never been like "that is how i shall be! thank you, bella swan!"
but ellis' passion for this kind of ultimate heroine is still charming, to me.
what is NOT charming is how goodreads just cut me off for TOO LONG!!! i will continue in my comments space and HHMPH!!!
I sigh. Why not? What do I have to lose? It's not like the Nightmare Man is real or anything.
i did not anticipate th...more "So you'll do it?" Amanda asks me.
I sigh. Why not? What do I have to lose? It's not like the Nightmare Man is real or anything.
i did not anticipate that this would be a drunken book review, but shit happened, and now i am drunk, and now we're off!!! all the usual warnings about the fact that i intend to go over the entire plot, so if you do not want this story spoiled for you, do not read this review.
so here we go - the nightmare man!!! the nightmare man can be summoned following a really complicated set of rules. why would you want to summon him?? so you can boast about it on the internet, duh! amanda is a believer, kelly is a skeptic, but since amanda is too much of a fraidy-cat to summon him, it is up to kelly to show her how wrong she is.
here are the rules (asterisks mine):
THE MIDNIGHT GAME
At 11:11 you may begin prepping for the ritual - not before then, not after.
Gather all of your supplies into the room you'll be playing the game in. Make sure you choose an open room with no doors. Doors are the gateway, and your boundaries. Whatever you do, do not open any doors in your house*, or go up/down any stairs.
Cover any windows so that they block out all possible light (natural or not).
Cut three locks of hair** and place it in the ash tray.
Write your name three times on a small rectangular piece of paper. Crumble it and put it in the ash tray.
At 12pm***, the game will begin.
Turn off all of the lights in your house.
Take your candle, and your ashtray**** to your front door and place both directly in front of your door*****. Pierce any finger on your right hand with the needle****** and allow one drop of blood to drip over the paper and your hair*******. Light the candle and use that to light the contents of the ashtray on fire.
Leave the candle burning bright next to the ashes on your door step. If the candle burns out before you enter, do NOT relight it - end the game, leave the house, and try another night. DO NOT ENTER THE HOUSE IF THIS HAPPENS.
Knock three times on your own door. Wait for a moment, then step inside, closing the door behind you.
You have now opened the portal to invite the Nightmare Man in.
Keep nothing on your person besides your cell phone and salt********. You may use your cell phone for light only*********. Do NOT, under any circumstance, contact anyone while the game is still going. Do not call or text ANYONE - you will be putting them in grave danger. The only contact you can have is with your witness, who you must instruct to call you at exactly 3:30 PM**********, - not after and definitely not before. Then have them blow out the candle, and enter the house. This is the only way to portal can officially close.
Do not, under any circumstances, leave the house until the portal is closed.
You may now wait in your designated space for the Nightmare Man to arrive - we highly suggest you keep a wall to your back.
okay, wow, so we have a lot to cover here.
* so, i'm pretty confused about this "open room with no doors" business. this doesn't mean no doorways, right? just no doors that can be slammed?? like so this is okay:
but this would be a no:
because otherwise, all i can think of is some weird concrete bunker that you enter through a window. which is a rare architectural design. and what about windows?? windows are kosher here? i mean, except for the covering up. but they can be open??
** what exactly does constitute "a lock" of hair?? because i always thought a lock of hair was an amount sufficient enough to be crammed into some victorian mourning locket, so three is a significant amount and pretty demanding from some specter. we will come back to this point TWO more times in this review.
*** so, um… noon?? an unorthodox time to summon a hell demon, but now i understand why the windows needed to be covered - you don't want the noise of all the neighborhood kids running after the ice cream truck ruining your fun demon time.
**** oh, so the third time you use it you realize that "ashtray" is a compound word?? and don't bother to correct it the first two times? lazy monsterporn writer.
***** this is when it would have been helpful to indicate that you are meant to be outside your door at this point. sloppy instructions are how people get raped and killed by demons.
****** this is the first mention of a needle. as any cookbook/crafting/home improvement author will tell you - having a list of "necessary ingredients/supplies at the BEGINNING of the instructions would be really helpful. especially in a case like this, where everything seems so delicately balances and the consequences of flubbing the steps are more serious than a burnt casserole.
******* okay, so this is when the whole "how big is a lock of hair" question resurfaces. because a single drop of blood is meant to drip over this paper AND three locks of hair?? that seems unlikely.
******** seven?? are we at seven asterisks now?? i am bad at math. okay - so this is also unclear to me. does this mean in your pockets? or on your body?? if you wear glasses, do those need to be removed? wedding rings, invisaligns, a jaunty cap??? where is the line drawn??
********* how do the keepers of the nightmare man even know about cell phones?? so this is like some modern day, tech-savvy demon and not some ancient evil?? it's somehow less scary this way.
********** again - in the afternoon. a 5 year old could have set you straight on this.
phew! that took a lot out of me!! and i have to make dinner before project runway, so let's call this part one of a monsterporn review, and i will finish it up next chance i get, but i do not guarantee i will still be drunk. much.
okay, here i am to finish this off, unfortunately for all of us, i am sober.
so!! we are all clear on the rules, and now it is time for amanda and kelly to have their last-minute conversation about "is it a good idea to summon demons or whatever." kelly doesn't believe in this shit, so she's very boastful:
"Hey, don't worry about me." I raise my fists and say, "I'm going to be fine, an if any spirits come at me I can take em."
amanda is not reassured, even though this was pretty much her idea. way to get cold feet, amanda!
"Didn't you read the accounts I showed you online? One girl woke up with scratches all over her back, and another - well he wasn't hurt but something got in him. Like, in his mind," Amanda said. She looked shaken to the core.
well, spoiler alert, it's not kelly's mind amanda should be so concerned about the monster getting into, if you know what i mean…
but there wouldn't be a story if they didn't go through with it, so let's see what happens!
I glance down at my cell phone - it's now two hours into the game and absolutely nothing has happen. Like I figured. We set up everything perfectly - the candle is burning bright outside my door with Amanda parked across the street, keeping an eye on the house. If anything had happened, like the candle blowing out, she would have told me.
okay, wait - according to the RULES - those confusing and convoluted RULES, how can amanda call her if the candle burns out if The only contact you can have is with your witness, who you must instruct to call you at exactly 3:30 PM, - not after and definitely not before??? does this only apply to outgoing calls?? again, this whole inclusion of cellphones in the instructions seems less mystical than it should.
even kelly is fed up with these rules:
I promised Amanda I'd follow the rules, but the rules are just so fucking boring.
and this is how she gets into trouble.
I pick up my smart phone and start browsing through my emails, which are mainly spam and ads…
that sentence made me so sad. kelly, why don't you have any friends???
well, you're about to make a really good friend right now because you have disobeyed!!!!
it is a malevolent shadow!! and it spooks her! and, not learning from her errors, she continues to flagrantly disregard that whole rule thing and runs upstairs:
I know the rules said not to do this, but fuck the rules.
fuck the rules, indeed!
but even though she has already fooled around on the internet and checked her sad impersonal inbox (heh - inbox) and run up the stairs, breaking rules left and right, she holds herself back from breaking another rule
my thumb hovers over the buttons and I stop myself - shit, I can't do anything or call anyone until 3:30, and it's barely even 3am.
oh, NOW it's "am." again - going back and editing your monsterporn is part of the job.
and NOW you follow the rules. this is kind of the one you want to disobey - when the monster is all up in your personal space and you might need a little outside help.
oh, and you want to know what this nightmare man looks like, do you?? here you go:
I watch as the shadow takes on the a familiar, human form - but it's anything but human. Right before my eyes, it materializes - I watch in horror as it forms long twisted legs with hoof like feet, muscular, vein covered arms with long dark claws. It's body is huge - it must be at least 7 feet tall with a broad chest. And that face - that hollow, sunken face, with nothingness for eyes. It's barely more than skull, with sharp teeth bared. That face will be seared into my consciousness until I die.
And then I quickly realize that I might die tonight.
there ya go!! the nightmare man!
so she has freaked out and runs into a room (upstairs!!) and barricaded the door, but - pfffft - the nightmare man is STRONG! and BOOM - breaks down the door and grabs her, holding her up in the air with her back pressed against the wall. (because HE follows the rules for her)
she begs for her life, and promises she will do anything if he will spare her.
and the nightmare man accepts her offer
"Remove," it hisses, giving my bra a snap.
he continues his hissed demands for her disrobing and explored her with his claws.
Dear God, please don't put that in there!
oh, but again - that wouldn't be much of a story, would it??
so he totally does. and then he grabs her by her ankles and holds her upside-down with her legs wide apart and begins to explore her with his forked tongue.
An inexplicable moan escapes my throat as I feel it continue to worm and roll inside me.This can't be right - why does it feel so fucking good?
well, kelly, allow me to teach you a little bit about the female anatomy: when pressure is applied to the clitoris (located above the vagina opening), it creates a pleasurable sensation because of a bundle of sensitive nerves. THAT is why it feels so fucking good.
also, it looks like a penguin
My body arches as it slivers out of me…
and then he throws her on the ground and puts his tongue in her mouth, then sits her up and put something else in her mouth. and it's not a thermometer!!!!
there is some squirting, which is a really gross word, but he's still ready for more!
he plops her on her hands and knees and continues to make love to her as only a nightmare man can. and poor kelly endures his attentions
You can do this. You can do this, I tell myself. There isn't long to go before this wretched night is over and I'm free of this creature.
and haven't we all been there, ladies??
and then it reads like a game of diabolical sex-twister, which i will hide beneath spoiler-tags for the sake of both the children and the grammarians:
while she is on fours,
(view spoiler)[The demon angles itself so that it's hoof-like foot is pressed tightly against my head, pinning me to the ground as it rams me hard with it's cock. My nerves stand on end at the touch of it's tongue running over my back and down between my teeth, slithering between my cheeks and teasing the perimeter of my asshole. I grip the carpet, gasping in air at the sensation of it's fork tongue forcing it's way inside, filling both my holes. (hide spoiler)]
i will allow that to sink in.
are you picturing this?? this seems awkward, no? with where the feet are and how that affects the … motion of the ocean, and that tongue joining the party while that room is already occupied??? it is very complicated, demon sex….
but that "fork tongue"
aaaand that's the story.
oh, but it's not!! because there is a funny trick played by the demon straight out of the gremlins playbook
which causes kelly to answer her ringing phone three minutes before the approved time. (which is here stated as "am," even though the rules specifically say pm, so who knows if it would even have mattered, since it was well before 3:30 pm)
oh, and it might not have been a gremlins trick, actually - because kelly does think - Shit, why didn't we think to synchronize our phones?! so it might have been human error and not demon tomfoolery, but then i wouldn't have gotten a chance to use that gremlins GIF, so let's just roll with it.
and what do you think happened because of this early call??
kelly runs outside to amanda's car and - OH MY GOD SHE IS GONE!!!
with three long blonde hairs placed strategically across the street. and this is where the second instance of the "what is a lock of hair" question resurfaces. (you thought i forgot, didn't you? i never forget. that is my curse.) my conclusion is that she meant "strands" of hair and not "locks" of hair in the instructions. so if you are going to summon the demon yourself for sexxy funtimes, i think you should just use strands, because the demon isn't gonna want some chick with raggedy hair, and no one has drops of blood that huge.
a fun game i played, which i assure you, is less blucky than the midnight game, is "count the misused apostrophes!"
100 instances of correctly-used apostrophes. good for you!! they were mostly in words like "can't" and "don't."
37 instances of incorrectly-used apostrophes. it's and its. they are different words.
because this kind of made my head explode:
(view spoiler)[The demon wraps it's strong claw tight around my neck and brings me to a sitting position. It stands over me, it's slick cock jutting out from between it's legs like a sword. The creature brings it's member to my lips and I part them, allowing it entrance.(hide spoiler)]