I learned two things from Leviathan's will (lowercase W is deliberate, there's no bothering with a shift key in his narrative): 1. Fat people are ickyI learned two things from Leviathan's will (lowercase W is deliberate, there's no bothering with a shift key in his narrative): 1. Fat people are icky and 2. girls are even ickier. (Fortunately, will does not encounter any fat girls.)
Let's take this chronologically.
At the onset of will's narrative, the closest thing he has to a best friend is Maura, an angsty poetry-writing girl who wants something deeper with will than the self-loathing they share. (It should be noted that Maura's pain, like the pain of every other character will meets, is not as real or special or whatever as his. I get that teenagers believe that but so do not need to read it without the bits of self-deprecating humor that relieve Green's narrative style for me.)
She does something really, truly unspeakably bad to him. I mean, this is actually terrible. And someone needed to do it to will in order to start the narrative but did it really have to be the horrible, overly-demanding shrew that he's been trying to evade since sentence one? This bit is really more of a problem when taken in conjunction with a later scene but I'm going chronologically so, whatever.
Next, there is Tiny Cooper, a character I can't help but love. He's a little bit of an obnoxious, self-absorbed teenager but only a little bit, comparatively. Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a book that could just as easily be called "Tiny Cooper." And I think the great thing about it is, he demands that he be the star of the narrative. His musical, the story-within-the-story, is a retelling of the very book we're reading. It'd be like Hamlet's play, except for the bit about catching the deceit of the king and all that. (Though maybe the play is a little bit about uncovering truth.) What I'm saying is that the plot device totally works for me and the way it's written, directed, and starring Tiny as himself is just great. I love when a secondary character takes control of the narrative, a kind of literary coup. When Tiny Cooper creates his own revisionist account of the events of the novel, he's really speaking to the novel.
Basically, I love Tiny. But I forgot to mention that Tiny Cooper is utterly repulsive. He is fat (and the cynical part of me says this is why the book ISN'T called "Tiny Cooper"--a fat person cannot drive the narrative, right?) and it is disgusting. Particularly to will:
location 1901 (I hate that this kindle edition does not have page numbers): "i think [tiny]'ll get all sweaty because, let's face it, most fat people get sweaty just from lifting the twinkie to their mouth. but tiny is just too fabulous to sweat."
This is not the only time will expresses disgust toward Tiny (view spoiler)[(who is, you know, his BOYFRIEND--I could not have been more relieved when they broke up. The unhealthiness of this relationship was mind-blowing. Unfortunately, the breakup was all about how Tiny only wanted will for his need and not about how will was the worst person in the entire world) (hide spoiler)] and it wasn't the only instance that I marked but it's one that's particularly interesting to me because of the way will cuts across his hatred of both fat people and his internalized homophobia (with a nod to his problems with femininity)! Tiny's fatness, in this passage, is irreconcilable with his "fabulousness." i.e. his gayness. i.e. his non-normative gender performance. The prescriptive nature of this quote, of will's entire thought process, speak to will's relationship with gender, sexuality, and body.
(The more I talk about this, the more I think about rating it higher because it's making the Lit major in me kind of giddy.)
will, who continuously uses "gay" as an insult, allows gay to be the thing that redeems Tiny. Because gay, as we will see in technicolor by the end of the book, is, for will, irreconcilable with physical imperfection. However, will's denigration of homosexuality makes this passage really interesting and difficult for another reason: Tiny's gender performance is only acceptable in Tiny's body. Femininity performed on the female body is pretty terrible to will (more on how will hates girls in a minute) and it's pretty unacceptable for any other gay man (himself or Gideon, namely). Tiny's fatness is negated by his gender performance, certainly, but his gender performance is allowable, I believe, because of his fatness. He is already a social transgressor, which is what will has a really big problem with (anyone who doesn't fit inside the lines), so it doesn't matter what else he does. After he's stepped outside of the box, there is nothing threatening about other outside-the-box traits and behaviors. He's kind of a lost cause to will already.
Finally, location 2967: "(well, LOVE and gay rights - three cheers for straight girls who max out on helping gay guys.)"
And then Maura makes an appearance to try to rain on will's parade. She huffs and puffs and eavesdrops and is basically the most annoying person ever. But the thing that really made me crawl out of my skin is the way this highlights a certain dynamic between straight women and gay men. It's the thing that this girl is trying to achieve, that Maura is trying to achieve and is actually what drives Maura as a villain. The desire to achieve the Will & Grace dynamic.
Which can be totally frustrating, yes. But to throw the burden of that on the woman is itself pretty problematic. Can't we instead unpack the societal pressures that push for this kind of pacifying relationship? Or the gender norms that make women and gay men marginalized against straight men? Leviathan's text unpacks as a text about why women are bad for gay men. This is really, really problematic (and really ignores and hurts the symbiotic relationship between feminism and queer-centric movements).
I mean, COME ON.
In Leviathan's defense though, will gets my vote for best George Eliot allusion of the book. The other side of silence, indeed.
And Will? Will's pretty average John Green. Nothing special in a quirky sort of way. He's totally a vehicle for Tiny and I'm OK with that. I appreciate the way he writes Jane as sometimes smarter than Will, sometimes a little less relationship-savvy but they have this kind of healthy John Green dynamic that I really love. I wouldn't have wanted a whole book about Will (and I REALLY didn't want a whole book about will) but I didn't get one so it's all very fine.
I still contend that Tiny's totally the best.
As is the cameo of Chicago, playing itself. (Though I'm totally confused about the role of the White Sox in book. I get the joke about playing for the other team/White Sox thing but their reappearance at the end of the book kind of had me thinking too hard and I still didn't really get it.)["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I refuse to believe that writing a book from the perspective of a fifteen year old boy is any excuse for the level of transphobia, sexism, homophobia,I refuse to believe that writing a book from the perspective of a fifteen year old boy is any excuse for the level of transphobia, sexism, homophobia, and classism that defines this book. I kept trying to excuse the narrator--he's fifteen, he's sheltered, he's a stupid kid who wants to have sex with every female-bodied person he encounters (minus the poor ones, duh)--but that's not fair to fifteen year old boys. I was tolerating the book until Craig, our hero, refers to a human being as "he/she/it" and that was probably the high point of his encounter with a trans-woman. (When she got human pronouns at all, it was always, always "he.") She was hypersexualized, devious, lying, manipulative, and disconcertingly hot.
But it's OK because Craig is our HERO. He knows he's flawed (as he continuously reminds the reader, he has to be to end up in a psychiatric treatment facility--but, of course, his depression is his only real flaw and the cause of all of the ways in which he treats other people terribly) but he becomes the Savior of Six North, helping the other patients with his penis and his privilege. (I say this at the risk of sounding like an angry feminist. But, well, I'm a feminist and this book made me angry.)
From the sexual assault survivor he teaches to love again (though his continued advances are clearly unwanted and unneeded), to the poor man he saves with the shirt off his own back, all of the other patients in Six North LOVE Craig and are sure to tell his parents what a great kid he is. The ones that don't love him are just too messed up to see what a great guy he is. Somehow, amid all the Craig-worship, we get a few moments to laugh at the silly conflict in the middle east and their silly religions. That's fun!
Vizzini manages to pack in everything that could possibly mortify and still save room for tedious writing and contrived plot devices. I would say it was a waste of time, but a little bit of self-righteous indignation can be nice from time to time. Unfortunately, this was more than a little bit of self-righteous indignation....more
Basically, what happened in the text was not terrible. The creation of the text was monstrous, self-serving, and just meaOn why this man is a monster.
Basically, what happened in the text was not terrible. The creation of the text was monstrous, self-serving, and just mean.
I knew all of that going in. I don't know if it colored my perception of the book as being (like The Marriage Plot) an attempt at a love letter to post-structuralism - a kind of postmodern, smart, deep, new man/hero look at Life and what it all means (it doesn't). Whatever. He wanted to be meaningful, he was trying to be meaningful. That was all very clear.
I talk a lot about not caring about authorial intent and I really don't. Impact > intent, always. However, when his intent is to use a girl's trauma (a girl who trusted him) as a means to an end (particularly when his end is (view spoiler)[a sick, completely uninvolved first person account of an abortion written by HIM through HER voice, gross (hide spoiler)]), those lines are blurred.
This isn't fiction, this book hurt someone.
And it was terrible.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This is everything I hate about books written about women.
"Feminism," a word I hate and a language that is just so insufficient, is so much more thanThis is everything I hate about books written about women.
"Feminism," a word I hate and a language that is just so insufficient, is so much more than the convoluted versions of radicalism embodied in April and the normative NOW board member embodied in Sally. (I think that the writing of Sally was more honest, more accurate, but there's probably some feminist out there much more conservative than I am who thinks that April is representative of something real.)
This is not a book that thinks very hard about things. There's no parsing out of nuanced experience. It's a book that proclaims second wave values and then complains about them. It is dripping with homophobia and transphobia and all of the stuff that April wants to fight against wrapped up neatly in a kind of Betty Friedan blanket of whiteness. Feminism, in this book, is a spectacle. It's there to serve as a forceful reminder that having a great big house with an uncomplicated husband is the only space we'll have in which to breathe.
We definitely need to be able to breathe but I think that's possible between pages by Catharine MacKinnon and Gayle Rubin. I think even they can inhabit the same breath and I don't think it's necessary to choose between radical-at-the-roots solutions and crisis intervention. (I think we're all kind of wanting to get to the roots, I think that's kind of the whole point?) And I certainly don't think that, when presented with the choice between the two, we should choose neither.
If I were to sum up the book, I would say it was about presenting a series of false dichotomies and then prescribing that we ignore the choice altogether. It's just so lacking in nuance, depth, and hope. It's the bad bits about being a person who cares about stuff like gender. This book is the stuff that people say that make me want to run away from society to live my life in a treehouse somewhere.
. . . But it was sometimes salacious and that was fun....more
5 May 2013. Though I read this book more than six months ago, it has stuck with me with such tremendous force that, when asked if I’ve read anything w5 May 2013. Though I read this book more than six months ago, it has stuck with me with such tremendous force that, when asked if I’ve read anything wonderful lately (a question that comes up with some degree of frequency given the parameters of my life), this book is often my answer. (To be fair, I really haven’t been doing much in the way of reading since then.)
I understand why people would hate this book. I have been myself prone to fits of rage over coming of age novels in the past (most recently, my review of Perks of Being a Wallflower) however, my chief complaint is often the expected universality of the male adolescent experience. What Harrington accomplishes, for me, in Penelope is both a pointed critique on that very phenomenon (how interesting and adventurous the story would’ve been had it been told from the perspective of Penelope’s paramour!) but also a pointed, but loving, satire of the sentimental novel.
For me, Penelope O’Shaunessy is Fanny Burney’s Evelina, Charlotte Bronte’s Lucy Snowe (who is far superior to Jane Eyre in every way), but mostly she is Jane Austen’s Fanny Price (my favorite of the Austen heroines).* She’s insufferable in a way that “enlightened,” “post-feminist” 21st century readers find the 18th century heroine. Penelope is a naive, sheltered woman venturing away from home for the first time in search of some kind of education. It’s the lady novelist’s answer to the bildungsroman though, of course, without any presumed universality.
As readers, we’re allowed to find Penelope insufferable in ways in which we aren’t Holden Caulfield et al because Penelope, like Evelina, Lucy, and Fanny before her, is interested in what femininity is supposed to be. Penelope attempts (and spectacularly fails) at going through the motions of conventional young adult womanhood within the narrow social structure of Harvard -- which Harrington draws as every bit as pointed and comical as Austen’s Mansfield Park, a bizarre little world filled with sometimes-terrible people.
Penelope doesn’t take a kind of spirited ownership over her world and life, she’s no Lizzie Bennet, but her watchful passivity is not about allowing others to own her. I can think of no other female literary character, but perhaps Fanny herself, who is more contemplative, more thoughtful, and more aware of her own social position (as well as the motivations and drives of others). For someone so excoriated for her social awkwardness (and oh!, but she is awkward), that awkwardness is clearly the result of awareness. She’s not loveable, she’s not charming, she’s not outgoing, she doesn’t really have interests, but she is an almost-stunningly reliable narrator. Casting a dull, unpersonable, reliable narrator is a dangerous move in a book that is part social satire -- you risk losing the satire for the coming of age story -- but Harrington pulls it off marvelously.
*The book is a near-perfecttly faithful retelling of Mansfield Park, right down to the colonialism and absurd play. Those who don’t love Fanny Price as I do -- and that is, admittedly, nearly everyone -- will not love Penelope, though that’s their loss....more
This is the only Flynn novel not told entirely in the first person. It suffers for that, I think. When at the end of the first chapter, Libby snidelyThis is the only Flynn novel not told entirely in the first person. It suffers for that, I think. When at the end of the first chapter, Libby snidely notes that everyone wants to know the mother of the killer, I got a kind of sick thrill from finding Patty Day in the heading of the next chapter. I did want to see her story a little bit.
And Patty was arguably the most interesting character. I never felt as though I heard enough from Libby to see her as the messed up trauma survivor she was meant to be. She was our lens but never much more than that. We see her steal, we know she's depressed, but it's all (for the most part) a little bit beside the point. Patty, meant I think to be Libby's parallel, ends up the star character in a way that's really disconcerting when we're pushed so far from her with narrative device and time. I wanted to be inside someone's head. And I kind of wanted it to be Patty's.
What I love about Flynn is her unsettling ability to get into the heads of really, really terrible women. The problem here is (view spoiler)[that we weren't allowed inside the head of Diondra. We weren't even allowed to see her except through Ben and Libby. And everyone else was just a tragedy. Diehl didn't mean to kill Debby, Ben didn't mean to even be in that house that night. And everyone was left feeling like they meant well but things just got so horribly out of control. Except for Diondra. Diondra is the woman of Flynn's other books. So we're left with a story that is half-tragedy, half-twisted and desperately seeking some kind of real connection with one of those halves. (hide spoiler)]
I enjoyed this book enough but I missed the obsession with Flynn's other books. The dirty compulsion that kept making me come back. That feeling where I knew who did it but it was still early in the story, Flynn wasn't going to let me feel right about knowing who did it. I wanted to be an active participant, I wanted to be turned upside down and inside out. Instead, I felt as though I was passively following Libby through an investigation where the stakes were low and everything was expected.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
For me, there are two sides to Divergent, one of which is wildly successful, the other not so much: the political viability of the dystopian society (For me, there are two sides to Divergent, one of which is wildly successful, the other not so much: the political viability of the dystopian society (The Political) and the individual growth of a single character (The Personal).
This is the aspect of the story that doesn’t work for me, like, at all. Divergent is about a not-too-distant-future dystopian Chicago where the city is divided into five (really six) factions based on the individual drives of their members. The problem with this is that we’re given very limited backstory (I think a book about the creation of the factions would be more interesting than what this is but that’s the political theorist in me, maybe) and what we’re given doesn’t make much sense.
The factions were theoretically created in order to end a war. Each faction represents, then, a value that is believed by its members to serve peace. Those in Dauntless believe that cowardice causes war, Abnegation selfishness, Erudite ignorance, and so on. Any student of politics (or anyone who has read the Federalist Papers) should be suspicious of peace based on factions. Fed 10 is all about “Factions” (to quote Madison’s word directly) and about how we must guard against them.
Here’s what I get: I get that the point of a dystopia is to watch it unravel, I get then that it’s not meant to be the most stable of societies, I get that peace-making can be a measure wrought with desperation, so I get that maybe a society that is built from war is not going to be the most stable.
But it’s not addressed. We’re supposed to buy the logic of the society without being allowed to see any potential benefits. Frankly, there is no reason it would take more than five minutes for war to break out. We don’t have the systematic inequalities of The Hunger Games, we don’t have the happy life of The Giver. Instead, we have an egalitarian society where all people are forced into specific jobs on the basis of one test. We have power kept from the hands of those who want it (while an ideal, there WILL be a coup), we have people arbitrarily taken from their families, and a very visible lower class, the existence of whom very few can comfortably justify.
What Roth does wrong is explication. I don’t know the foundings of this society and, thus, I can not understand it very well. She doesn’t let us visualize the city (I’m competent with Chicago--like the Erudite, I have a more than decent mental map of the city--and I’m still not really sure where anyone is in relation to anyone else. I guess the Dauntless aren’t too too far from Navy Pier?) She better give us some sense of the rest of the world in the next two books because, seriously, why is Chicago fenced off from the rest of the States? What happened in our untold origin story? Honestly, I wanted an info dump because I felt that she was asking for too much trust. I still don’t buy the politics of the world that she’s set up and I’m hostile to the entire story because of it.
What she does right, politically, is the villain, the hero, and the end of the society. When we have a society predicated on mediocrity--where equality is based on no one really being all that fulfilled--it makes sense to have your villain be someone who is exceptional. Not to mention, the villain must have capitalist impulses and a desire to be rewarded for being exceptional. It makes sense, too, that our hero, who is most in danger in this society, is herself exceptional.
A good dystopian series pits two people who are not all that different against each other. Sometimes one will be attempting to uphold the “status quo” (which is not exactly our status quo--a dystopia usually presents a contemplation of returning to the readers’ status quo, an interesting characteristic of dystopias, definitely) but it’s juicier here where they both have a vested interest in taking it down. It opens up all sorts of opportunities to explore the question of “What’s next?” What happens, politically, when we take down this society? The problem is that I don’t trust Roth to go down this path because, in this book at least, she’s been much more interested in exploring the relationship between Tris and Four. Which, whatever. I’ll be reading Insurgent but not expecting much politically.
In my opinion, YA dystopian literature is part politics (of this new world in relation to our own, politics for growing citizens) and part experience of being a young adult, in any world. Roth creates this beautiful picture of family, friendship, love, bravery, and being Tris. I want to talk primarily about bravery.
Beatrice approaches the choosing ceremony as a choice (view spoiler)[between bravery and selflessness and her early experiences in Dauntless mimics that dichotomy:
“If conflict in Dauntless ends with only one person standing, I am unsure of what this part of initiation will do to me. Will I be Al, standing over a man’s body, knowing I’m the one who put him on the ground, or will I be Will, lying in a helpless heap? And is it selfish of me to crave victory, or is it brave?” (97-8).
(hide spoiler)] This is an element of the book wherein the factions work really well--being a young adult, or as Tris’ experience more replicates that of someone older, a new adult, really resonates with her choice between family and personal fulfillment.
Tris’ personal journey, and a journey for a lot of young/new adults, is the journey to discover the falsehood of that choice. Her real growth throughout the novel is learning about how bravery and selflessness are not mutually exclusive, even for someone who may not be Divergent. We may very well find out in the following books that (view spoiler)[Tris’ dad is Divergent himself but I hope not because, for me, that would reduce the beauty of his bravery and sacrifice. I want it to be meant to show that the factions don’t work for anyone, not just the few Divergents who are set up as somehow special or better than the people who fit perfectly into any one faction. I want her dad to be proof that an Abnegation need not be Divergent to be brave. (Ditto Caleb.) (hide spoiler)]
The beauty of the novel is definitely in Tris’ personal growth. Near the end of the novel, she says,
“The bullet hit him in the head. I know because that’s where I aimed it” (446).
That this is not something she would’ve been able to conceptualize at the beginning of the book combined with my belief in her confidence now is really a credit to Roth. Tris still doesn’t buy the complexity of her own character, believing that she traded the flaws of (view spoiler)[Abnegation for the flaws of Dauntless, (hide spoiler)] but she is alone in her doubt. Roth paints a really stunning portrait of the organic growth of a girl in a strange situation. But it’s so real and so relatable. She grows and changes and that’s so, so human.
It’s too bad we don’t get more growth from everyone else. Everyone else is really one-dimensional, existing more or less entirely to further Tris’ growth. Which is fine but it ends up being lacking in interplay, if that makes any sense. Other characters give, there is no give and take. It’s less fun to read.
There are still some gems, though.
“I don’t know who I should rely on more, because I’m not sure who my true friends are. Uriah and Marlene, who were on my side even when I seemed strong, or Christina and Will, who have always protected me when I seemed weak” (294).
We may not get much about growth for her friends in this passage, they remain as flat as ever, but man. That pain and confusion is such a hallmark of growing up in so many ways. Who do we surround ourselves with and why does it always seem like a choice between weak and strong? Why does friendship so often feel like a compromise in the complexity of one’s character? This is something I actually trust Roth to bring out more in subsequent books--whether or not Tris comes to see herself and others as complex (and whether or not others start to have the same insights) will, I think, drive a lot of the heart of the next book. I hope the other characters are fleshed out further then too.
In addition, for anyone that doesn’t believe that our hero and villain(s) are two sides to the same coin: (view spoiler)[
“[Eric’s] expression, too, changes, becomes more mobile and animated. I stare, amazed that he can turn it on and off so easily, and wonder what the strategy behind it is” (363).
I love how smart and curious our protagonist is--I can really believe that she would be a bit Erudite too. Her Divergence really shines through here along with her similarities to the people she is up against. (hide spoiler)]
Just a few quick things. Roth uses more commas than I do which is both impressive and a bit disruptive. Chapter transitions are all but non-existent. I was often pulled out of the book at the beginning of a chapter and left a little disoriented and confused. It wasn’t very smooth and it definitely slowed down my reading. This was a book that I could (and would) totally put down and walk away from for several days. It’s interesting and fun but it’s not compelling (to the point of compulsion) the way, say, The Hunger Games series was. The book is rough in so many ways but I do get why it’s so popular (the waiting list at my library was up to 100 people when I first got on it).
And, oh yeah, why was Four so boring?["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I’m at a point in my life where I’m spending a year. It’s the draw of stunt fiction for me, I guess. How does one spend a year? I’m also at a point whI’m at a point in my life where I’m spending a year. It’s the draw of stunt fiction for me, I guess. How does one spend a year? I’m also at a point where I’m sort of exhausted by the idea of doing any literary heavy-lifting. Listening to celebrity memoirs during my commute and reading YA novels at night is about the extent of my ability right now. Basically, there are all sorts of really good reasons for me to at least mildly enjoy this book. The thing is though, it’s not very good. Other reviewers have said it better than I could and adding the same criticisms to the pile is redundant at this point. Powell just isn’t likeable, this just isn’t really a book about anything, she’s REALLY not likeable. I mean, I kind of totally 100% agree with Julia Childs’ reaction to the whoel thing. It was fine in small chunks throughout my work day.