3.5, but I'm inclined to rate this book up. Not as freewheeling and gleeful as Assassination Vacation, but I do have a soft spot for stubborn iconocla...more3.5, but I'm inclined to rate this book up. Not as freewheeling and gleeful as Assassination Vacation, but I do have a soft spot for stubborn iconoclasts relentlessly plagued by questions of their damnation. I do wish the book shows some restraint when it comes to editorializing using contemporary history and the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. Not because I have any substantial difference of opinion with Sarah Vowell (I don't) but it dates the book in a way that I find unfortunate.(less)
I think you have to be pretty well-versed in the convention of the romcom (in either its literary or cinematic forms) to appreciate just how delightfu...moreI think you have to be pretty well-versed in the convention of the romcom (in either its literary or cinematic forms) to appreciate just how delightfully weird Jennifer Crusie's Welcome to Temptation really is. In this relatively short novel, she subverts as many genre tropes as she luxuriates in, with a plot that careens wildly between a small-town farce, a family drama, and a murder mystery. That and a couple of pretty involved sex scenes.
The story begins with two Dusty Springfield-loving sisters, Sophie and Amy Dempsey, who drive into a sleepy little town called Temptation and promptly involve themselves in a car accident. This is only the first of the disruptions that they cause, however, because the short film that they had originally planned on shooting somehow devolves into gauzy, soft-core porn. As the responsible one in the family, Sophie has to do her best to protect their little production, which means dealing with Temptation's handsome mayor, Phin Tucker. Sparks fly between them, because it must.
Crusie's humor is a great mix of profane and endearing, especially when she gets into the petty bickering and gossiping of the townsfolk. One of the most enjoyable scenes is the town hall meeting where the assembly debate on whether the town's bright pink water tower looks too much like a penis. Several people from Sophie's past also make an appearance and further cause drama in the neighborhood, including another Dempsey. He also happens to be an art thief.
The novel's structure diverges from the traditional in that the two protagonists come together--uh, so to speak--relatively early on in the story. The final conflict then sidesteps the whole "do they love each other or not" rigamarole that bogs down a lot of romance novels. It's pretty refreshing for that reason. It is also refreshingly less cynical about gender issues than the current spate of romantic comedies we've been having in the movies ever since the oppressive reign of Gerard Butler the Romantic Ideal began.
While the strength of this story lies in the zany plot twists and outsized side characters, they can also disorient the reader. I had expected a comforting read when I picked it up, not what pretty much amounts to a Coen Brothers take on the romcom. Welcome to Temptation is not the kind of novel that I would read to turn my brain off--there are too many jokes for that. All in all it is a bracing exercise in how much the romance genre can stretch itself while still remaining true to its structure, and a great product of an authorial mind with a lot of witty one-liners to tell.
I also recommend watching Jennifer Crusie talk about her writing process as well as her delightful podcast Popcorn Dialogues, which began as a dissection of romantic comedy movies through the decades.(less)
A novel filled with parodic exuberance and tongue-in-cheek humor often runs the risk of archness to the point coldness, becoming too intent at skeweri...moreA novel filled with parodic exuberance and tongue-in-cheek humor often runs the risk of archness to the point coldness, becoming too intent at skewering the ridiculous to actually carry a human center. L. Zamora Linmark's Leche sidesteps this trap by grounding the chaos of his setting with a fallible and searching viewpoint character, a balikbayan named Vince who wins a trip through a Mr. Pogi beauty contest. Through his incredulous but largely game eyes, the readers navigate the crooked sidestreets and gridlocked roads that make up life in 1990s Philippines.
Vince descends into an Aligherian hell from the first scene as he takes in the cacophony of voices, smells, and personalities in a Manila airport. He then interacts with a gaggle of personalities not unlike the Italian nobility that populate Inferno and Purgatorio--from the iconoclastic director Bino Boca to the distressingly effervescent fictional(?!) Kris Aquino. The rugged man who ferries him to the various sights of Manila is even named Dante. Linmark makes these parallelisms overt throughout the novel. But Leche also has much in common with another work of literature to use an epigraph from The Divine Comedy--the eponymous J. Alfred Prufrock from T.S. Eliot's landmark modernist poem.
Much like Prufrock, the inaction and ennui that Vince feels through much of the novel is a response to a wide range of anxieties and hurt that he has experienced in his life. While Prufrock's trauma comes from the unexpected assault of war and modernity, however, Vince's come from leaving his country as a child to build a life in a new one. The novel also intersects Vince's diasporic identity with that of his queer experience. I like that being gay is not the definitive aspect of his character--in fact, you can say that it only ends up complicating his already fraught relationships, not only with his friends and loved ones but also with his two countries.
This novel was slow burn for me. The din generated not only by the characters but also the setting, humor, and writing style can overwhelm a reader who is not expecting it. It took a while to warm up to Vince's character, but the final pages that take him on a jeepney ride out of Manila (and into Paradiso, perhaps?) ties up all the disparate parts of his identity, including his relationship with his deceased grandfather, and allows his story to end somewhere quiet, mournful, and beautiful. It is a wonderful meditation of the question that emigres often grapple with, whether one can ever truly go home.
Notice how I haven't yet mentioned how this novel is a veritable stew of postmodernist narrative tools, the most obvious aspect of Leche. Vince's sightseeing is punctuated by postcard messages, excerpts from tourist books, interview transcripts, even an extended scene from a Bino Boca movie extravaganza. A postmodern homecoming novel about a balikbayan is not new (hello there, Ilustrado). I decided to focus on the novels more affective qualities to demonstrate that formal inventiveness is not enough to create resonance. Leche checks off as many literary references as Ilustrado (read: a hell of a lot of them), but I argue that they do not distract from the characters' fiercely beating hearts.
Diaspora stories have become a staple of Philippine fiction, thanks to our historical and economic realities. Because this experience fractures so many of us, much of our literary real estate is invested in collecting the broken pieces and gluing them back together. Leche's foray into the diaspora archetype shows that some of the most emotionally rich places exist within the jagged edges that we are trying to smooth over. Let us go then, you and I.
In my quest to read more non-fiction this year, I went ahead and bought this book which I've been hearing about for a long time. As someone who gorges...moreIn my quest to read more non-fiction this year, I went ahead and bought this book which I've been hearing about for a long time. As someone who gorges on police procedurals on a regular basis (let me tell you about my feelings for Idris Elba's Luther one of these days), the subject matter is right up my alley.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is a series of long form essays by journalist Mary Roach that tackles the adventurous (after)lives of corpses that are used for scientific research. From the long-standing and ghoulish tradition of bodysnatching for medical schools to the relatively recent educational facility called the "body farm," Roach examines not only the mechanics of corpse-related experimentation, but also the ethical and practical implications of doing such work.
It took a while to get used to the conversational writing style; I expected some sort of journalistic distance in the POV but it ended up being a first-person narrative. I can understand why people might find it tiresome, but I think the authorial presence is a nice counterpoint to the subject matter itself. The moral implications of what humanity does to corpses and what it tells about us can get very alienating, so Roach's persona works well as an incredulous stand-in for the reader.
A great deal of research was obviously involved in the project, often discussing historical precedents and the follies scientists often go through in order to prove their hypotheses. Did you know that Thomas Edison designed an apparatus which aimed to prove that the soul is made up little bits of "etheric energy?" Now you do. Roach does a good job in sketching out the personalities of those who work in this kind of research, often relating episodes of inadvertent humor in the laboratory.
While I would've liked a little more in-depth detail, I understand that this book is aimed to be a cursory look into a branch of science that has often been overlooked for the sake of propriety. I found the sections relating to organ donation and people's intense emotional reaction to it particularly fascinating. Roach takes great pains to emphasize that society's hang-ups regarding the dead has nothing to do with our deceased loved ones. It's the sensibilities of the living that are often in turmoil.
Recommended only for those with a strong stomach because believe me, things can get pretty graphic within these pages.
Tai: Why should I listen to you, anyway? You're a virgin who can't drive. Cher: That was way harsh, Tai.
I wonder how many people begin Emma with the movie Clueless as their point of reference. This revelation pegs me as an irredeemable child of the 90's, it's true, but the contemporary reimagining of Jane Austen's novel by director Amy Heckerling provided a level of accessibility that would've never existed had I entered the text cold. The lives of gentlefolk in a small English countryside is hardly something I can relate to, but conjuring up images of a young Alicia Silverstone traipsing around Beverly Hills prepared my expectations for a ridiculous, over-the-top romantic plot peppered with insight and comedy. While I loved the movie as a young kid, the novel itself is a surprise as an adult, the humor so fresh and razor-sharp two centuries after its first publication.
Emma Woodhouse is the darling of Highbury, heiress of her father's estate, and--in her own mind--an unparalleled matchmaker. She's young, rich and precocious, certain that she will never marry and therefore committed to pairing off the people she loves in a tidy fashion. Everybody in town defers to her except for the gentleman George Knightley, Emma's brother-in-law. He is constantly unimpressed with Emma's insights about romance, because underneath her seemingly altruistic intentions lies the heart of a spoiled young girl.
Meeting the equally frivolous girl named Harriet spells disaster for them both, once Emma decides to give her a makeover and marry her off to someone "respectable." The problem: Harriet's social stature is too low to be able to catch a gentleman. Emma's coaching inflates her ego so much, however, that she refuses the proposal of a thoroughly sincere man whom Harriet actually likes, thinking she can do better. A series of mishaps rock their little cul-de-sac when a young man Emma wanted to pair up with Harriet ends up angling for her instead and the dashingly mysterious yet flake-y Mr. Frank Churchill catches Emma's interest.
You sometimes forget that Austen can be absolutely scathing in her depiction of her own characters. Emma is the least self-reflexive character among Austen's heroes but most of the story is told through her point of view, a triumph in the realm of the unreliable narrator. She's not stupid by any means, but she's so naive and already assured of people's love and high regard that until the very end, she never questions her own judgment. The way her constructed illusions crumble around her near the end of the novel is also handled superbly, the emotional fallout so vivid despite the lack of showy displays.
The minor personalities throughout the story are small gems of characterization. Mr. Woodhouse the hypochondriac lends great levity with his non-sequiturs and so does the talkative Miss Bates. The subplot featuring the beautiful Jane Fairfax, a smart, together young woman (at whom Emma is jealous) makes a wonderful counterpoint to the trivialities of Emma's preoccupations. The way their conflict is resolved at the end is testament to how Emma grows up throughout the novel, earning the reader's respect in the process.
I've been having Austen in the brain recently, owing to writing this post and an article by the Los Angeles Review of Books about her place in English Literature. Because of her subject matter, it's easy for people to dismiss her work as merely focusing on trivialities but books like Emma showcase her unerring capacity to size people up free of any justifications, uncovering manipulations, anxieties and true emotions underneath the sheen of gentility.
Klosterman declares early on that he wants to confront two of the most egregious accusations hurled at heavy metal: that 1) it is frivolous and dispos...moreKlosterman declares early on that he wants to confront two of the most egregious accusations hurled at heavy metal: that 1) it is frivolous and disposable (therefore “not art”), and 2) it is offensive and dangerous. He argues that these two sentiments can’t both be true at the same time. Becoming a danger presupposes a potency that contradicts frivolity. It may not be elevating art but heavy metal mattered, particularly to the crop of hormonal teenagers of post-Reagan Middle America.
Every chapter starts out with a “milestone” date, which makes probably people assume that the book is going to be a linear narrative. Instead they end up with what The New York Times called a “part memoir, part barstool rant.” The dates are merely touchstones from which Klosterman can riff, using everything from garish album covers to committing ATM fraud in trying to explain why a musical genre that many people would rather consider an aberration meant so much to him.
And then we came to the part about the feminists. In the couple of months that yawned between finishing Fargo Rock City and writing this review, I’ve constantly thought about how I’m supposed to feel about Klosterman’s overwrought attempt at explaining away heavy metal’s tendency towards sexism and objectification. His defense is basically that that because hair bands were so baldfaced about their sexism, they somehow transcended their own objectifying tendencies and became commentaries on sexism. I mean, what? You can’t suddenly transcend sexism by becoming too good at it.