In When Everything Feels Like the Movies, Jude, a 14-year-old boy, dresses like a girl, goes down on and loses his virginity to the brother of his useIn When Everything Feels Like the Movies, Jude, a 14-year-old boy, dresses like a girl, goes down on and loses his virginity to the brother of his uses-abortions-as-birth-control friend, lusts after teachers and classmates and his own absentee father, is swirlied in a toilet of shit, and gets hate crimed upon hate crimed upon hate crimed. It isn’t pretty, no matter how much Jude wants it to be. But it’s real. Too real for most, it would seem.
I finished Raziel Reid’s stunning, Governor General-winning debut last night, and all but dove at my phone to mark it complete and give it a roaring, shout-it-from-the-mountaintops five stars on Goodreads, even though I was sure everyone else had already shouted from their own mountains, muffling my would-be roar into a whisper. Turns out I was wrong.
What I learned from Goodreads: This book is about a 14 year old boy. It is marketed towards YA readers. It won the Governor General’s award for Children’s Literature. And some people. Can’t. Handle it.
It's been a while since I've had an experience like this one, where a book thoroughly grabbed my attention in the first 50 pages only to completely loIt's been a while since I've had an experience like this one, where a book thoroughly grabbed my attention in the first 50 pages only to completely lose it in the next 50. Despite its wonderful prose, Mandel's disjointed double narrative (and poorly executed dystopia) left me wanting more, both from the plot and this ramshackle cast of characters.
I'd write more, but this review essentially says everything I'd like to say: Click Here...more
Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are toRead not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” ― Francis Bacon
J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians – one of Penguin’s “Greatest Books of the 20th Century” – tells the story of a border town at the edge of a vast empire in an unnamed place and time. Its chief Magistrate, our unnamed central character, is neither corrupt nor a particularly strong force for good. That is, until the Empire’s dog, Colonel Joll, appears with his Third Bureau, set to eradicate the supposed barbarian threat that exists just outside the town’s walls.
Joll claims the nomads are preparing for rebellion. After a quick expedition the Colonel returns with a rag-strewn band in chains. The Magistrate professes that these simple people have done nothing. They are harmless. But these concerns are quickly brushed aside. Joll, in a terrifying allusion to modern interrogation culture, is confident he will get the confession he wants.
First, I get lies, you see – this is what happens – first lies, then pressure, then more lies, then more pressure, then the break, then more pressure, then the truth.
It becomes very apparent, very quickly, that Joll’s suspected rebellion is little more than an Empire using terror to rally its people. Empires, you see, need enemies to justify their existence. Without threats to the population, Empirical control starts to look less and less like a good thing. Without actual foes, enemies are either manufactured or found. They're necessary as an opiate for the masses. They're the ultimate societal distraction. It's less likely you'll realize how bad things are inside your own walls if all you can think about is the terror that's waiting on the other side.
Joll’s captives are tortured, broken, and released, but one young girl remains behind in the care of the Magistrate. The relationship – such as it is – seems to serve as microcosm for the flaw of Empire. The Magistrate tries to do the right thing. He takes her in, the cares for her. He washes her feet, heals her wounds. He gives her a home. But he also can’t resist taking advantage of her, lowering himself to his primal urges. She doesn’t fight back, but she doesn’t engage, either. She yields. Like the Empire itself, the Magistrate intends to do good things, to unite people, but his lesser natures take over and his attempts at nobility are ultimately subverted.
How do you eradicate contempt, especially when that contempt is founded on nothing more substantial than differences in table manners, variations in the structure of the eyelid? Shall I tell you what I sometimes wish? I wish that these barbarians would rise up and teach us a lesson, so that we would learn to respect them.
The story takes place in a nameless, timeless setting that seems equal parts Wild West and Post Apocalypse: it’s clear there isn’t electricity or combustion like we know it, society is largely concerned with hording away foodstuffs for the winter, horses are the standard transport mode of the day, and primitive weapons are used as often as guns. And the Magistrate spends much of his time before the story starts by exploring old ruins outside of town.
One evening I lingered among the ruins after the children had run home to their suppers, into the violet of dusk and the first stars, the hour when, according to lore, ghosts awaken. I put my ear to the ground as the children had instructed me, to hear what they hear: thumps and groans under the earth, the deep irregular beating of drums. Against my cheek I felt the patter of sand driving from nowhere to nowhere across the wastes. The last light faded, the ramparts grew dim against the sky and dissolved into the darkness. For an hour I waited, wrapped in my cloak, with my back against the cornerpost of a house in which people must once have talked and eaten and played music. I sat watching the moon rise, opening my senses to the night, waiting for a sign that what lay around me, what lay beneath my feet, was not only sand, the dust of bones, flakes of rust, shards, ash. The sign did not come. I felt no tremor of ghostly fear. My nest in the sand was warm. Before long I caught myself nodding ... Ridiculous, I thought: a greybeard sitting in the dark waiting for the spirits from the byways of history to speak to him before he goes home to his military stew and his comfortable bed. The space about us here is merely space, no meaner or grander than the space above the shacks and tenements and temples and offices of the capital. Space is space, life is life, everywhere the same. But as for me, sustained by the toil of my melancholy and try to find in the vacuousness of the desert a special poignancy.
(Sidebar: How frickin' beautiful was that paragraph? It often feels that Coetzee has the English language on a string. Just gorgeous.)
Eventually, the Magistrate finds a moral center and tries to do the right thing. He takes his barbarian houseguest (prisoner? concubine?) back across the cold, arid plains to her tribe. When he returns, he is charged with treason by the Third Bureau, before being summarily interrogated, tortured, and broken himself. The man who remains afterwards feels almost less than human.
I know somewhat too much; and from this knowledge, once one has been infected, there seems to be no recovering.”
Coetzee’s examination of authoritarianism and corruption is rendered vividly over the novel’s 150+ pages. Waiting for the Barbarians is a true lesson in economy, the very thing Strunk and White were getting at when they wrote: “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”
We’ve all heard the axiom, “Show, don’t tell.” Coetzee nails it. Rare is the book that says so much with so little. I felt exhausted after finishing it (in a wonderful way). The subject matter is brutal, the action sparse, the characters subtle. But when you're done, you feel like you’ve read a book three times as long as the one you did.
I’ve encountered few books that I felt I had to digest, rather than consume. With Waiting for the Barbarians I found myself only able to read in chunks of 25 pages before having to put the book down and decompress. For a book that is so easily read, it demands you take the time to process it.
You won’t want to devour this in a few hours. That would be doing it a disservice. ...more
“I don't write books for people to be friends with the characters. If you want to find friends, go to a cocktail party.” ― Zoë Heller
It seems incongru“I don't write books for people to be friends with the characters. If you want to find friends, go to a cocktail party.” ― Zoë Heller
It seems incongruous: an enjoyable book with a protagonist you'd love to punch about the neck and face. It stands to reason that likeable books have likeable narrators, but the great writers have proven this isn't always the case. Notes from the Underground, Catcher in the Rye, A Confederacy of Dunces. With a lesser book, from a lesser writer, an unlikeable protagonist can be enough to sink the ship. But what a talented writer does is make us understand that the issue isn't whether or not the narrator is likeable, it is whether or not he is compelling.
With Blind Spot, Laurence Miall introduces us to Luke, an unreasonably bitter and angst-ridden failed actor with a host of unresolved (and, arguably, unwarranted) parental issues. He seems every bit that white, middle-class, suburban kid whose upbringing was so bland and safe he felt somehow victimized by it. Having never felt love for (or from) his parents, Luke has grown into an emotionally stunted adult who never feels at fault for his own failures. His life has unraveled both personally and professionally, and all he does is bring everybody down with him.
Throughout, he remains a grade A, capital D, Dick. I disliked him from the first page to the last page, and yet, somehow, Miall kept me reading.
Luke is living in Vancouver when his parents' car is hit by a train. He returns to Edmonton, his hometown, to attend their funeral, wrap up their affairs, and fix some things with their house so that it can be sold. While his sister grieves, Luke is, at best, apathetic. Unable to drudge up even the faintest feeling of loss, Luke strikes up an affair with a woman in a neighbouring house. Amidst all of this, he discovers that his mother may have been having an affair of her own.
Publisher NeWest Press generously dubs Luke an anti-hero, but if there was any heroism at work in Blind Spot it managed to slip by me. Luke is a bitter, delusional prick who handles an extremely delicate situation with the grace of a drunk hippo on skates. His fatal flaw is that he remains disconnected to everyone around him. He blames everyone but himself for his sorry state of affairs (quite literally), and is completely blind to his own faults. There is almost nothing redeeming about him, and yet I just couldn't put this book down.
I think Laurence Miall has a new novel called Blind Spot. Thanks, Edmonton Journal. Thanks, Edmonton Journal. Thanks, Edmonton Journal. Miall is completely and utterly unapologetic in his portrayal of Luke. He explores some of the darkest, most selfish, wretched corners of the male psyche, and makes no attempt at sugar coating them. It's a testament to Miall that, if anything, I wanted Blind Spot to be longer. I wish he had delved deeper into what made Luke tick (or not tick, depending on how you look at it). I wanted him to explore the most interesting aspect of the novel: the omnipresent gulf that existed between him and his parents. As it stands, we see only faint glimpses of this relationship.
"I don't entirely believe that flesh and blood shit. It's true for some people, but not for everybody. What about the kids who went on the killing spree in Columbine? Surely, after the fact, their parents thought, 'How did these children come from us?' I mean, you wouldn't have thought it was possible. You give birth to a baby who grows up to be a cold-hearted killer. And it works the other way around, too. You see your parents acting a certain way and you ask, 'How the hell can I be related to them?"
Miall specifically set out to write a short novel, and in that, I think he did this story a disservice. Every issue I have with the book stems from me wanting more. More insight into a character. More consequences for Luke's behavior. More attention to the apparent social disorder that Luke is suffering from. Blind Spot scratches the surface on so many interesting ideas, and yet, most of the time, the surface is all we get.
But despite any shortcomings, Blind Spot remains another nice find for NeWest Press, who seem to have a knack for rescuing writers from obscurity. Miall had essentially given up being a novelist after years of being jerked around by some of the country's larger publishing houses. But thanks to NeWest, his book found a home, and an audience. Were it not for them, Blind Spot would have gone on, sadly, unread. In some ways it's a difficult book to read, but I think it's a worthwhile one.
With Blind Spot, Edmonton has another literary feather in its cap. It may be a bit too inside in its portrayal of the city, but Edmontonians should appreciate the many ways in which Miall gets it right, like when he describes flying into the city:
"The crowd heaves a collective sigh. The crowd says with a shrug of loosening shoulders, silently, we're home. And what else could the crowd say? What else could Edmonton be but home? It's not like arriving in New York or London -- or even Vancouver -- where it is likely that you arrived with a purpose in mind, with an air of expectation, with a sense of excitement. You return to Edmonton like you return to your bed."
Blind Spot strikes me as a novel Jonathan Tropper would write if he got drunk on hard booze, determined to get his demons out. Miall writes in clear, confident, compulsively readable prose, prose strong enough to make you forgive him for casting his lot with a wet blanket like Luke.
Like any good car crash, Blind Spot is a disturbing experience ... but you can't look away. ...more
If two weeks of fun in the sun are good for anything it’s creating dramatic tension, which is why author Emma Straub uses it as the stage for her lateIf two weeks of fun in the sun are good for anything it’s creating dramatic tension, which is why author Emma Straub uses it as the stage for her latest domestic drama, aptly titled The Vacationers. Clearly, Straub understands the absurd irony of being required to have a good time while simultaneously wanting to punch everyone around you in the face.
As they were leaving the Mumbanyo someone threw something at them. It bobbed a few yards from the stern of the canoe. A pale brown thing. 'Another deaAs they were leaving the Mumbanyo someone threw something at them. It bobbed a few yards from the stern of the canoe. A pale brown thing. 'Another dead baby,' Fen said. He had broken her glasses by then, so she didn't know if he was joking.
So begins Lily King's fiercely intelligent and penetrating new novel, Euphoria.
Englishman Andrew Bankson, the sole anthropologist in a remote, 700 square mile area of Papua, New Guinea, has finally hit his last nerve after 27 months in the field. Driven by intense, soul-sucking isolation and his brother's recent suicide, Bankson is ready to end his own life before a chance meeting with a husband and wife anthropology team pulls him back from the brink.
The couple are Nell Stone, the newest, brightest light in her field thanks to a popular book back in the United states, and Schuyler Fenwick (Fen), a wry, brooding Aussie entirely jealous of her success. Having recently escaped the bloodthirsty Mumbanyo tribe-—whose disturbing practices have left them broken, beaten, and childless-—Nell is more than eager to move on to a new society. Fen, however, is curiously angry at having been taken away from a people who nearly murdered them.
In Bankson they find a liaison to the Tam, a tribe whose existence borders on mythic. In helping his new friends, Bankson believes he may have finally found a life worth living.
The trio quickly ingratiate themselves with their new hosts, as passion and enthusiasm overwhelms them (professionally, and personally). In Nell, Bankson finds a brain that excites him. He loves her drive, unique approach, love of poetry, and success integrating into native culture. “For so long," Bankson says, "I’d felt that what I’d been trained to do in academic writing was to press my nose to the ground, and here was Nell Stone with her head raised and swiveling in all directions. It was exhilarating and infuriating and I needed to see her again.”
While Nell, Fen, and Bankson confront their own haunted pasts, the real thrust of the novel lies in their confusing and conflicting feelings for one another. This is a love triangle in every sense of the term.
Eventually Bankson and Nell act on their unavoidable attractions, and this fateful choice leads Bankson to ask himself, much later, "If I had not stayed but gone back to the Kiona, would any of the rest have happened?"
As for what "the rest" is, I'll let you find that out for yourself. But that question is the first step towards a fantastic ending, a final scene that adds yet another layer on Lily King's already multi-faceted story.
Despite its intelligent and nuanced look at the tribesmen, the novel revolves around its central trio and how their virtues and flaws bounce off one another in beautiful and destructive ways. Each is ambitious in their own way. Nell's interest lies in how culture shapes gender roles, and she is weary of how her husband projects his own faults onto the people he's studying. Fen, there for religious study, has a secret plan of his own to rob the Mumbanyo of their most prized artifact and supplant his wife as the most famous member of their family.
Bankson becomes perhaps the first anthropologist to seriously question the veracity of the field, whether or not they're all being duped by the natives who are supposedly acting normally. He doubts that anthropologists can ever truly understand other cultures. They'll always be at least a little bit outside, no matter how integrated they become.
...it occurred to me that the Dobu sounded a lot like him: his paranoid streak, his dark humor, his distrust of pleasure, his secrecy. I couldn't help questioning the research. When only one person is the expert on a particular people, do we learn more about the people or the anthropologist when we read the analysis?
Nell, however, stands by the scientific process and this bit of intellectual sparring with Bankson sparks an intellectual attraction that threatens to undo Nell and Fen's already rocky marriage.
Nell's work is motivated by "the belief that somewhere on earth there was a better way to live, and that she would find it." Her quest is in search of a society that honors and values strong women (the story, it's important to note, takes place in 1933). Fen, on the other hand, wants to affirm that men are naturally the dominant sex on all corners of the Earth.
Where King shines is in Nell's work with the tribespeople, and in particular the children of the Tam. Through her we see anthropology at perhaps its most ideal. She's close with the natives, connects with them on both an intellectual and personal level. She has fun with them, empathizes with them, plays with them, and enters into their lives.
"But I see no evidence of the kiona analyzing their own rituals in search of meaning," I said.
"I'm sure some do. It's just that they've ben born into a culture that makes no place for it, so the impulse weakens, like an unused muscle. You need to help them exercise it."
"Is this what you do?"
"Not all in one day, but yes. The meaning is inside them, not inside you. You just have to pull it out."
At a little more than 250 pages, Euphoria is a blazingly quick read, but that's fine because it's a novel you'll want to dive into again. For a writer who never actually visited the area she wrote about, King's portrayal is actually quite vivid. It's a taut, layered, incredibly intelligent novel about fierce desire, competing ego, exotic societies, and a love triangle at its most extreme.
Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red is a novel written in verse, a blend of poetry and prose that retells the myth of Hercules and Geryon, the three-heAnne Carson’s Autobiography of Red is a novel written in verse, a blend of poetry and prose that retells the myth of Hercules and Geryon, the three-headed monster/cattle rancher whom Hercules slays during his 10th labour.
Actually, “retells” is probably too strong a word. In Carson’s version she re-imagines Geryon as a red-skinned boy with wings who lives in our modern world. Hercules doesn’t kill Geryon in this version, rather he breaks his heart. Carson, against all convention (and maybe even logic), takes two characters known almost solely for death and battle, and uses them to tell a tale of love in contemporary society. It’s an incredibly strange take, but it speaks to her skill that it actually succeeds.
"In Long John Silver we have the pirate to end all pirates: he’s cunning, morally ambiguous, peg-legged, and he even sports a parrot on his shoulder."In Long John Silver we have the pirate to end all pirates: he’s cunning, morally ambiguous, peg-legged, and he even sports a parrot on his shoulder. He’s essentially the template on which all other pirate stories relied. After reading the story, I fully believe that HE is the reason this story is still being read over 130 years later. With Silver, Treasure Island is just another story about buried treasure. Instead, it’s the most enduring pirate novel of all time.
The reason? Silver is so much more than the stereotypical cloak-and-dagger villain. He’s as complex a character as you’ll find in a “children’s story.” Like any character worthy of remembering, Silver has both virtues and flaws. He’s a murderer and an unapologetic conspirator without a sense of loyalty, but there’s more going on under the surface than a cold-hearted ne’er-do-well.
Despite the fact that he can be a lecherous son of a bitch, Silver has enough positive attributes to inspire and influence young Jim Hawkins. His ability to trust his impulses, his fierce independence (both his thoughts and deeds), and even the physical gifts that help compensate for the loss of his leg. There are times where Jim is begrudgingly fond of Silver, and he even goes so far as to wish him well at the end of the story.
In Silver, we have a version of young Jim gone wrong. Silver actually tells Jim that he reminds him of himself. Stevenson wanted us to see a link between the two, to make note of how much our hero resembles our villain. If not for Silver’s villainous spirit, Jim may not have had what it takes to do what needed done."
Does this sound like something you're interested in? Read my full review at why-should-you-read-treasure-island-as-an-adult-long-john-fcking-silver-thats-why">AnotherBookBlog.com!...more