Lovely, melancholy, stories featuring snapshots of primarily childhood experiences.
Some samples: "Ella's mother pressed her fingers against her templesLovely, melancholy, stories featuring snapshots of primarily childhood experiences.
Some samples: "Ella's mother pressed her fingers against her temples. She hadn't touched her own dinner. Ella, sitting beside her, took a bit of wheat gluten. It was almost like meat, firm and savory, and the stuffing was flavored with forest-smelling spices. As she glanced around the table she thought of the picture of the First Thanksgiving on the bulletin board at school: the smiling Pilgrims eating turkey and squash, the stern-faced Native Americans looking as if they knew the worst was yet to come. Who among them that night were the Native Americans? Who were the Pilgrims? The dark old house was like a wilderness around them, the wind sighing through its rooms." (15)
"Aida. That is her terrible name. Ai-ee-duh: two cries of pain and one of stupidity. The vines tighten around her body as she spins, and Joseph snaps photographs. She knows he will like it, the way the leaves cling, the way the grapes stain her white dress. We are trespassing here in a vintner's vines, spilling the juice of his expensive grapes, and if he sees us he will surely shoot us. What an end to my tall little cousin. Between the purple stains on her chest, a darker stain spreads. Have I mentioned yet that I am fat? Isn't it funny, how I've learned to say it? I am fat. I am not skin or muscle or gristle or bone. What I am, the part of my body that I most am, is fat. Continuous, white, lighter than water, a source of energy. No one can hold all of me at once. Does this constitute a crime? I know how to carry myself. Sometimes I feel almost graceful. But all around I hear the thin people's bombast: Get Rid of Flabby Thighs Now! Avoid Holiday Weight-Gain Nightmares! Lose Those Last Five Pounds! What is left of a woman once her last five pounds are gone?" (24)
"There was a time when I was the one who got the attention, when my body was the one everyone admired. In junior high, where puberty was a kind of contest, you wanted to be the one with the tits out to here. I had my bra when I was nine, the first in our grade. That made me famous among my classmates. My mother, a busty woman herself, told be she was proud to see me growing up. I believed my breasts were a gift from God, and even let a few kids have an "accidental" rub at them. It wasn't until high school, when the novelty wore off and they grew to a D-cup, that I started to see things as they really were. Bathing suits did not fit right. I spilled out of the tops of sundresses. I looked ridiculous when running or jumping. Forget cheerleading. I began smashing those breasts down with sports bras, day and night. It doesn't matter what the Baroque masters thought. The big breasts, the lush bodies, those are museum pieces now, and who cares if they stand for fertility and plenty, wealth and gluttony, or the fullest bloom of youth? Rubens's nudes made of cumulus clouds, Titian's milky half-dressed beauties overflowing their garments, Lorenzo Lotto's big intelligent-eyed Madonnas--they have their place, and it is on a wall. No one remembers that a tiny breast used to mean desolation and deserts and famine." (31)...more
I found Martin a bit less entertaining on paper than on screen, but still enjoyable. Lots of wordplay and narrative experimenting, some of which is efI found Martin a bit less entertaining on paper than on screen, but still enjoyable. Lots of wordplay and narrative experimenting, some of which is effective. For example, an FAQ from a genie, a multiple-choice test to determine if the test-taker is a robot, a conversation with an alien about the concept of pets. And various drawings interspersed.
I did laugh out loud on the bus a couple of times, so that's good. Thanks, Demetri.
A couple of tastes:
"I have trouble communicating with my father. I always have. I just can't relate to him. Of course there is the generation gap between us (he was almost forty when I was born). That certainly has not helped things. But it's more than that. Fundamentally, we are just too different. In fact, sometimes I feel like we couldn't be more different from each other if we tried. But my father is different from just about everyone I've ever met, which is no surprise when you consider his upbringing. He was raised by wolves." (69)
"The bird, The bee, The running child, are all the same to the sliding glass door.
Leave no stone unturned In your quest to disrupt a rock garden" (190)...more
Oh, Augusten. I just can't get enough of your self-absorbed, self-obsessed, selfishness. Thanks for sharing your socially unacceptable inner life withOh, Augusten. I just can't get enough of your self-absorbed, self-obsessed, selfishness. Thanks for sharing your socially unacceptable inner life with us!
(And thanks to the new, fancy Maui Friends of the Library bookstore in the Ka'ahumanu mall. Visit if you're on Maui!)
A few tasty morsels: "One of my problems is that I have completely disconnected those blue envelopes my paycheck arrives in with doing any actual work." (56)
"I want neon signs to appear, huge arrows that point at him, flashing FLAW, FLAW, FLAW. I like flaws and feel more comfortable around people who have them. I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions." (110)
"I hate news and information and anything that threatens to puncture the bubble of oblivion in which I live." (110)
"I listen to jazz because he likes it, and I have even gone to jazz concerts with him, but truthfully I would rather listen to retarded children pounding on pan lids with wooden spoons." (158)
"I read The Old Man and the Sea but my eyelids bled from the toothpicks that I used to keep them open." (163)
"I believe I control the world with my mind (234). Perhaps my supernatural abilities come from my solid spiritual beliefs. I believe in the baby Jesus. And I believe that he is handsome and lives in the sky with his pet cow. I believe that it is essential the cow like you. And if you pet the cow with your mind, it will lick your hand and give you cash. But if you make the cow angry, it will turn away from you, forget you exist, and your life will fall into shambles. I believe that as long as the cow likes you, you can get what you want (239). I tell people my theory, and they think I am either kidding or insane. But think this as they may, I have cow saliva on my hands, and many of them do not." (240)...more
Reading this collection of essays from the American Mercury made me feel like I was in college again, reading literary theory. It re-awakened my prideReading this collection of essays from the American Mercury made me feel like I was in college again, reading literary theory. It re-awakened my pride of being part of the academy, that elitist headiness that comes with reading The New Yorker.
And also, it reminded me that no matter how much we change, we are still the same. These essays from the early 1900s decry the same societal ills, and make the same arguments for solutions, that we read in our daily newspapers and magazines today. Sometimes it's refreshing to know that we're not unique after all.
For example, in the essay "Notes on the Vernacular" by Louise Pound, we read about "abridged writing" employed by humor writers of the time of Abraham Lincoln, and used in advertising a hundred years ago. I'll include a few choice samples below (p. 302-3): "jest be4 elecshun" "Phone Us B4 U Buy" "R U Going to the Party at the Beach?" "Yours 10derly"
Looks a little like the texting shortcuts that the teachers of today are lamenting. Ahh......more
This collection of short stories reads like a college creative writing portfolio, and the fact that it was published at all, by a reputable publisherThis collection of short stories reads like a college creative writing portfolio, and the fact that it was published at all, by a reputable publisher no less, does seem to be at least in part due to Franco's movie-star fame. It starts off with arguably the worst first line of all time: "Ten years ago, my sophomore year in high school, I killed a woman on Halloween."
I can see flashes of the undoubtedly talented writer that Franco will become, but this tome just didn't seem worth the effort and expense of publication. That I finished it at all is due entirely to my hard-core Fracophilia. The intentional dumbing-down (although this affectation slips like a bad accent from time to time) of the language and description to match the high school crowd that makes up the alternating protagonists and narrators had the dual effect of growing on me as the stories went on, and wearing me down with the incomprehensible violence and idiocy as their terrible life decisions played out across the pages. Luckily the book is relatively short, because I don't think I could have handled one more story of drunken racial brawls, date and/or gang rape, drunk driving and other acts that come of that particular teenage combination of desperation and indifference. It often felt like those gossipy conversations at parties about groups of people not present, none of whom you know.
I do enjoy works that are heavily grounded in a specific geographic area, and Franco's familiarity with Palo Alto will no doubt grab the interest of locals.
I do have to admit that this book did cause a strong reaction in me, which is something, at least! I look forward to reading some future, more polished work of Franco's.
A couple of samples: "Funny how new facts pop up and make you doubt that there's any goodness in life. Everyone pretends to be normal and be your friend, but underneath, everyone is living some other life you don't know about, and if only we had a camera on us at all times, we could go and watch each other's tapes and find out what each of us was really like. But then you'd have to watch girls go poo and boys trying to go down on themselves."(5)
"I sit in the driver's seat of my grandfather's old DeVille. It is night out and cool. Me and Joe, we just sit. We're out in front of the Unified Palo Alto School District office, a dead one-story building where old people work. I think of all the boring English teachers I have ever had, and I think they were all born in this building. We sit here because it's dark, and there are no lights outside this building. We're stopped for no reason except that the night is still going and we're drunk, and who wants to go home, ever, and this spot is as good as any to just sit in the shadows and let life slow."(185)...more
Delightful turns of phrase, particularly in the dialogue. Stories of the lives of emotionally isolated, vaguely dissatisfied white folks. The storiesDelightful turns of phrase, particularly in the dialogue. Stories of the lives of emotionally isolated, vaguely dissatisfied white folks. The stories told from a female narrator's perspective are much more believable than the male narration, so it's good that they're almost all from a feminine perspective.
Here's a little sample: "Her voice was husky, vibrating, slightly flat, coming in just under each note like a saucer under a cup."(34)
"When Olena was a little girl, she had called them lie-berries--a fibbing fruit, a story store--and now she had a job in one. She had originally wanted to teach English literature, but when she failed to warm to the graduate study of it, its french-fried theories--a vocabulary of arson!--she'd transferred to library school, where everyone was taught to take care of books, tenderly, as if they were dishes or dolls."(58)
"The functional disenchantment, the sweet habit of each other had begun to put lines around her mouth, lines that looked like quotation marks--as if everything she said had already been said before."(93)
"The key to marriage, she concluded, was just not to take things too personally."(180)
"At all the funerals for love, love had its neat trick of making you mourn it so much, it reappeared. Popped right up from the casket. Or, if it didn't reappear itself, it sent a relative of startling resemblance, a thin and charming twin, which you took back home with you to fatten and cradle, nuzzle and scold."(181)
"Carla was practical. She had a heart the shape of an ax."(197)...more
Funny and fun. Quick vignettes based on those multitudes of drunk/high musings that start with: "Hey, what would happen if...?" Such as: What would hapFunny and fun. Quick vignettes based on those multitudes of drunk/high musings that start with: "Hey, what would happen if...?" Such as: What would happen if God really took the time to care about the outcome of sporting events, while ignoring actual human suffering?
What would happen if the justice system worked like middle school?:
"If Life Were Like Middle School: JUDGE: In all my years on the bench, I have never seen a more despicable criminal. You robbed, assaulted, and tortured the victim simply for the thrill of it. Do you have anything to say in your defense before I sentence you? CRIMINAL: Nope. JUDGE: In that case, I hereby sentence you to forty years in a maximum security prison. I also sentence the victim to forty years in prison. VICTIM: Wait-what? That doesn't make any sense! He attacked me! JUDGE: I don't care who started it." (25)...more
Firoozeh Dumas has done it again--her gentle humor is revealed through each of the short stories detailing her life experiences as an Iranian-AmericanFiroozeh Dumas has done it again--her gentle humor is revealed through each of the short stories detailing her life experiences as an Iranian-American, and the quirks of her extended, supportive family. Sort of like a female, Iranian-American David Sedaris with a little less bite.
Here are some of my favorite parts: "When Farshid and I arrived at the library, we went into a huge room filled with children's books. I had never seen so many books just for children in one place. I picked the smallest book, assuming it would be the cheapest. When I went to pay for it, coin purse in hand, the librarian made my brother fill out a sheet of paper; then she handed me a card with my name, Firoozeh Jazayeri, correctly spelled but barely fitting on the line provided. She then handed me the book I had chosen--for free. I was stunned. She was lending it to me. I thought then and there that libraries were the most brilliant idea ever and wondered who had thought of them."(44) "In Iran, we celebrated the math geniuses, the ones with neat handwriting, the ones who tried to excel in school, the ones who spent a lot of time on their homework. They received prizes. Their names were in the newspaper. We applauded them and wished our children could be like them. Here, those kids are called nerds and geeks and dorks. This may be the only country where people make fun of the smart kids. Now that's stupid. I only hope that the engineer who built the bridge I drive across or the nurse who administers our vaccines or the teacher who teaches my kids was a total nerd."(52) "My lack of a social life meant that weekends were spent at the library, where I didn't study much. Truth be told, I spent my mental energies feeling sorry for myself."(88) "Motherhood was what every corny cliche promised it would be, with one glaring exceptions: I have yet to see a coffee mug showing a mother telling her bundle of joy, "I would trade my spleen for another hour of sleep."(106) "Americans have a simplistic love affair with British accents, claiming that they make everything sound better. I am here to confirm that this is, in fact, entirely true."(123) "In a country where women are told they can be anything they want to be, popular culture tells them that the lower that bar is set, the cooler you are...The race for the bottom is on."(203) "It was my first visit to the Dairy State, where I learned, among other things, that schools and prisons in Wisconsin are required to serve real butter, not margarine. Should I ever find myself incarcerated, may it be in Wisconsin."(216)...more
Wowsers, this is one of the more male-centric books I've read in a while. Only one story in the collection is written from a female perspective, and tWowsers, this is one of the more male-centric books I've read in a while. Only one story in the collection is written from a female perspective, and that one makes us of the "weaker sex" look, well, weak. (A Soviet cosmonaut, the first woman in space, can only think about her married lover male cosmonaut who's orbiting simultaneously with her, so she can't focus on groundbreaking space experiments. Sounds similar to a recent NASA love triangle!) I would give it more stars, because the writing is pretty damn good, but I'm feeling ruthless today. The predominant theme in all the stories is power toppled by time, greed, idiocy, unattainable and murky ideals, arrogance, you name it. The last story, from the perspective of an executioner in the French Revolution (guillotine central), is particularly haunting in its focus on the culpability of the People in passively accepting the beheading of their wrongfully accused neighbors. "The Law of Suspects was a reminder to the populace that a nation at war might have to exterminate liberty in order to save it." (p.203) The fall of the empire is imminent! ;0)...more
Tales of woe, disappointment and disillusionment from several female characters. Many of the stories focus on the experience of haole women, sometimesTales of woe, disappointment and disillusionment from several female characters. Many of the stories focus on the experience of haole women, sometimes kamaaina who grew up here, but usually transplants. Several of the characters are very ethnicity-conscious, and obsessed with "passing" for Polynesian. A good dose of dissatisfaction all around....more
Golly, it's like Miranda July has dozens of personalities. She writes in others' voices so well, it's slightly creepy. These stories are delightfullyGolly, it's like Miranda July has dozens of personalities. She writes in others' voices so well, it's slightly creepy. These stories are delightfully strange in the characters' fulfilled impulses when no one is looking. Or maybe when someone is looking, because who really cares? Many of the characters have an almost crippling obsession with the cause and effect of their own actions. They believe they can change other people by small rituals, but nothing really changes. Life keeps on going....more