Short, very matter-of-fact stories about the drabness of life in this grey, quotidian Russia. The language is free of frills: this happened, then that...moreShort, very matter-of-fact stories about the drabness of life in this grey, quotidian Russia. The language is free of frills: this happened, then that happened, and that's how it came about. But it works very well with the chilly gloominess that oozes off of every page.
Most of the stories are about tiny, cramped apartments full of bitterness; blame being passed down from generation to generation; and the fact that, yes, love is in fact dead and lies buried in a nameless grave under a dusty concrete low-rent apartment complex somewhere. Most grown men are selfish, cowardly pigs, and most grown women are shrill hags who has had to settle for a dull life with one of the former. Dreams die, people settle unhappily (or vanish into the night alone), and contentment is a scarcer resource than material wealth. Mais c'est la vie?
(Maybe I am being a little bit harsh. Dreams and happiness can certainly persevere! ...if you can remain ignorant of the mediocrity of your own circumstance and can still see the full brightness of the sun through the factory smog.)
My favorite story was "Eros's Way," one of the few in which one can spot glimmers of something good happening, hidden in the backdrop of another dramas about pride, greed, malice, loneliness, et al. (less)
Instead of going the "thinly veiled autobiography" route that's probably more typical of debuts, this book seems to be going for "ostensibly autobiogr...moreInstead of going the "thinly veiled autobiography" route that's probably more typical of debuts, this book seems to be going for "ostensibly autobiographical, yet markedly fictionalized/exaggerated/poeticized."
The least interesting (but probably the "juiciest") part of the plot for me, concerns the protagonist's open marriage. The protagonist's casual sex, her alternating between men, dealing with her husband's love for his mistress, her falling in love with her lover and her husband trying to deal with that, and so on. It's not a preachy treatment on the polyamorous lifestyle, it's never rendered to as particularly right or wrong, though by the end it still managed to leave me with a slightly more cynical view of polyamory than I had before.
The author never shirked from detailing the jealousies she^H^H^Hthe protagonist and her husband experienced, nor their times of extreme and uncaring selfishness (... in love and war). Nor is the fundamental naïveté of the protagonist's adventurousness hidden, but made very plain. This wanting to be "an unafraid little player" (memory hazy, probably paraphrasing), desiring to be a person who fits some young-wild-free type cast she has in her mind. Not simply to be an artist, but to live the kind of life a young-wild-free artist lives, whatever that may be. The protagonist's relationship with art and artists seem not unlike the way boys feel about comic book super heroes growing up (quoth Seinfeld: "those are not fantasies, they're options"). To the point where the occasional name-dropping became rather unnatural, invoked so directly, with full name, that I kept expecting a "(14 January 1928 - 18 June 1973)" and Wikipedia article to follow them. (Managing at one point to misspell Michael Landy though--and this in a second edition!)
Beyond that...it's a novel about a young writer writing her first novel, with fragments of this other novel weaved into das Buch an sich, so to speak, both stories being about herself, and like vague fictions of each other. I really liked that form, actually. It worked very well with the whole ostensibly-autobiographical thing.
But I'm not a big fan of the writing style used to back it up. In my mind I kind of refer to it as a very "Norwegian" style, but I don't know why I have that association. Very short chapters, short out-of-breath sentences whose staccato breathlessness increase proportionally to the author's desire to convey a feeling of poetic beauty. Som når du våkner opp fra søvnens indre på en liten madrass midt på gulvet i et rom som ikke er ditt. Et gammelt rom som føles nytt. Det er dugg på det lave, gardinløse vinduet. En hare sprinter over enga utenfor. Det er den tredje haren du har sett her. Alt gløder i morgensola selv om det er kaldt. Varmen gjemmer seg under den nakne dyna. Varmen sitter fast i hun som sover i armene dine. Hun puster dypt fra halvåpen munn. Et gap som får deg til å skjelve. Myke lepper mot en myk skulder. Den tynne, nakne kroppen hennes. I armene dine. Du tenker: la dette øyeblikket vare! Ansiktet ditt i håret. La haren aldri komme frem. Det lukter bringebær.
Og så videre. (Mine ord, hvis dette var uklart. Hun skriver i det minste litt mer naturlig.)
Oh Lord, oh Jesus, give me the strength I need to be brief. Another "review" ruined. Blah.(less)
This book is, much like its description, a carnival ride through a whole bunch of (relatively) topical subjects: on blogging, the nauseating popula...more This book is, much like its description, a carnival ride through a whole bunch of (relatively) topical subjects: on blogging, the nauseating popularity of zombies in recent popular culture, the dark underbelly of the concept of IQ, "Holocaust" as a multi-billion industry, the disputed history of Santa, the (also nauseating) 2012 eschatology fad, America's gun-obsession, American masculinity, and so on.
It's not a totally smooth ride, of course. I found most of the essays extremely informative, many riveting, some actually made me laugh out loud, but a few of them I went through more or less on autopilot (e.g. the essays about foot fetishism, HAL's sexual orientation (not really about that), the Gothic element of Catholicism, the one about severed heads). I feel this as an almost innate trait of all such disparate collections though, rather than a fault of this particular collection.
Two unifying elements, though, are
a) the writing: the man writes in "snappy" puns to such a manic degree I can only picture his working environment featuring a stereo which just plays the CSI: Miami's opening guitar riff on endless repeat. Oh yes, very manic writing style. At first it's funny ("what is this guy on?"), then it becomes a bit irritating and lame ("dude, seriously, you need to stop, you have a problem"), but eventually, as he blithely continues his sprint/diarrhea/masturbation, I ended up feeling amused and vague endearment. It's not unlike spending extended time around a hyperactive puppy.
and b) the opinionated perspective: if you're a privileged white intellectual armchair liberal like me, you're often going to find yourself just nodding and smiling at his reassuring and humorous stabs at the things we P.W.I.A.L.s like to take reassuring and humorous stabs at, your brain having by this time switched on "he-he-that-is-so-true" cruise control. That happened dangerously often, even as he's taking way-too-easy potshots at way-too-easy targets (e.g. Dworkin). It's definitely not a book that will coax you away from an already-present deeply held opinion or strong perspective. (If you didn't throw it away in contempt before finishing, his wham-bam style alone would probably leave you grinding your teeth dangerously by the end, if you yourself care for the things he's wham-bamming. I've been on the receiving end of similar manic riffing, targeting things I have emotional connections to, or things I identify with, and it turned me into a pedantic, petulant child surprisingly quickly.) But, that being said, it's a great book to read about new and interesting random things, presented entertainingly, in a perspective harmonizing pleasantly with your existing P.W.I.A.L. orientation. (That might sound like a put-down, but come on, this is about enjoyment and entertainment; this is why The God Delusion was a bestseller for atheists.)
Hovering somewhere between three and four stars, I half-really liked it. Erring on the side of generosity as I still felt I learned a lot.
Distantly ago I started to watch the HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce based on a recommendation by a friend. I had to stop watching somewhere in the sec...moreDistantly ago I started to watch the HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce based on a recommendation by a friend. I had to stop watching somewhere in the second episode, largely because of emotions. (I even have trouble watching stuff like The Office alone, constantly having to pause and go "aaaaaaaaaa," so you can imagine what Veda did to me.) It was an interesting series, but I never really returned to it, partly also because Winslet was the only actor who didn't feel somewhat awkward.
And then recently I saw this (literally) brilliant, whorish, as-seen-on-TV! cover screaming at me in a book store. OK, sure, why not.
It was a nice novel. A smart page-turner without any frills. A third-person tale of a middle-class housewife and mother, who's forced to try and make a living in the 30's America when her husband walks out on her. Her rise from desperate penny-pinching to (relative) affluence (and the power over other people that comes with it). Her--how shall we say--queer relationship with her psychopathic and ambitious daughter playing a central role in everything she does and why she's doing it.
After that it was much easier to go back and finish the TV-series, knowing what people were thinking, knowing more about their motives, and everything being blunted by the knowledge what would happen next. The TV-series follows the plot pretty accurately, but there are some things that are very non-obvious in the series (e.g. Monty made a lot more sense in the book, I felt).