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Dirty God

104 min.

Sommige titels onthoud je wel, maar je vergeet waarom je ‘m onthoudt. Met Dirty God wist ik het snel weer: de actrice heeft zichtbare brandwonden en dat was Nogal Een Ding toen de film uit kwam. Gezonde, slanke acteurs krijgen awards wanneer ze obees of gehandicapt doen voor een rol, maar de gehandicapte acteur krijgt maar weinig kans.

Enfin.

In de film zijn de brandwonden door zuur, een gebaar van een jaloerse vriend. En terwijl de kijker (deze dan) er snel aan went, kan Jade zich er niet bij neerleggen. Haar dochtertje schrikt van haar gezicht, ze wordt op straat beledigd en de leuke man die haar ook leuk vindt, kiest toch maar voor haar vriendin.

Dit alles moet opgelost worden met cosmetische chirurgie, al vinden haar artsen dit niet nodig. Marokko biedt een goedkope optie, maar dan weten we ondertussen al dat niets rechtlijnig is in het leven van Jade.

Dat betekent niet dat ze het niet blijft proberen, waardoor die lijnen wel geschapen móeten worden. Jade en haar pijnlijke geboetseer maken de film, waardoor ik ook gelijk het allerbeste voor haar acteur wens.

Conservation of Shadows

It is not true that the dead cannot be folded.

Conservation of Shadows, Yoon Ha Lee, Prime Books 2020

Now that’s what I call fantasy. Or scifi. Maybe both. Either way, there is fantasy and there is science (fiction) and it’s mind boggling, eerie and beautiful (not just for linguistic and/or math enthusiasts either). Eat that, tropes.

Conservation of Shadows is a collection of (short) stories previously published by the author. It’s about colonialism, wars, music, writing, reincarnation or maybe only death.

Especially the first five – six stories tickled my imagination, but even when you get used to Lee’s style and subject choice the originality stays with you.

My only complaints are that some stories deserve entire novels and that – for an e-book – it’s almost too much, too dense. Experience this relic from a future time through paper, I’d advice.

As it is in Heaven

128 min.

As mentioned before, am I right now enjoying a Kanopy-account as if whatever Netflix provides isn’t enough. I vaguely remembered this name as being good, maybe? Or interesting, possibly? But sometimes you can’t decide what you feel like and films like that fit the bill precisely.

As it is in Heaven is a Swedish film (so subtitles!) with a common trope: stranger moves or returns to small town, changes the lives of absolutely everybody. It has been done, it has been done well. In this case it’s definitely a ‘done well’. It seems like the writers took pleasure in steering towards cliches, only to avoid them at the last moment. Here no characterisation just for laughs or sadness, but all people that are recognisable as people opposed to ‘small town character number 5’. There’s no shying away from more serious subjects, and even though this is an ‘old’ (2004) film, it doesn’t feel outdated.

In all honesty, it surprised me how easy to watch it was, how genuine it all felt. The one thing that made me squint a little was the main couple; it felt like quite the age gap and I never care for those.

Rules of Civility

On the night of October 4th, 1966, Val and I, both in late middle age, attended the opening of Many Are Called at the Museum of Modern Art – the first exhibit of portraits taken by Walker Evans in the late 1930s on the New York City subways with a hidden camera.

Rules of Civility, Amor Towles, Sceptre 2011

As with my previous review, this novel can be summarised in one sentence. The characters however, can not.

Young woman in NYC 1940s moves up through class-levels while learning things about society and what she wants.

Just like in his following novel, Amor Towles manages to make a lot out of a little, without rocking any kind of boat in any way. A little less sofa, that’s all. You’re not completely detached, but never manage to break the surface either. Towles makes it feel like this is how he wants to be, in complete control of the story/stories.

It’s only about that, and do with it as you will. If you want.

Pride

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up.

Pride, Ibi Zoboi, Balzer + Bray 2018

It’s embarrassing how angry this book made me. At myself. Being confronted with racist, classist and other thoughts wasn’t what I was suspecting from reading a YA retelling of Pride and Prejudice, set in contemporary Bushwick (New York City, USA).

So, first of all: “Why has it to be such a big family?” Because it’s just like the original material.

“Why is protagonist Zuri so angry and unyielding all the time?” Because she’s a teenager, of colour, gentrification and poverty.

“Why doesn’t Darius try harder to fit in with the majority?” … and this from a person that proudly called herself ‘alternative’ in high school. Shame on me.

Good thing is that all the frustration was directed at me, because I feel like Zoboi did really well with this. It’s no carbon copy, there’s all the right emotions and worries (now fitting because of puberty and a quickly changing surroundings), and Bushwick and its inhabitants as a welcome third party. Which such people, no wonder Zuri is willing to fight.

A novel like this is the YA that should be heavily promoted and adapted, instead of book 234 out of the CC club. Because a good story comes with insight (of the self), which is a good thing for all ages.

Little Sister

As if Netflix doesn’t offer you enough yet, there’s other streaming options out there (duh). Through my library (thanks, Ottawa!) I can use Kanopy, where I found Little Sister.

The thing I might like most about this film is that it shows that there can be insights without huge changes following. Sometimes we just need to improve what we’re doing, instead of do something else.

Colleen is a young (future) nun, her brother is an ex-soldier who got hurt in the Iraqi war, her mother survived a suicide attempt; good luck keeping this family together. The father and the girlfriend of the brother try, especially when the brother is released from the hospital. Colleen is invited to welcome him home; her brother just isn’t very welcoming.

The summary calls this film a dark comedy and for once I don’t feel like fighting when a media product calls itself comedy. Because this is funny, in regular and awkward and sad ways.

A third point in their favour is that it’s not very long, and/but still feels complete.

This being ‘indie’ might make it harder to find, but consider a Kanopy subscription, or other ways for an original comedy that is definitely dark (and not just because of the hair dye used).

Sex and Vanity

Dearest Lucie and Charlotte,

Sex and Vanity, Kevin Kwan, Doubleday 2020

Yes, the author of Crazy Rich Asians and the rest of them.

Is it fair to judge a book like this on more than its promise and if it’s delivered? Like a “real” novel? Well, there’s different kinds of judging of course, but what if I just mention what’s going on?

The plot is an enemies-to-lovers trope. Although the hate seems to be one-sided, and isn’t very clearly motivated. He wears speedos and looks good in them? He’s different from other men and makes her feel things? Okay, I guess?

But maybe that’s because of my next point: characterisation. It’s not great. For any of them. Every character gets one trait, and most are high in clichés.

Surroundings? World-building? Yes, ma’am! Here’s what we came for: Kevin Kwan is a who’s who and what’s what on riches, royalty, relationships and rumours. It’s lavish and lucious and enormously over the top all the time. It’s empty glitter filled with names you might not even recognise, but it all sounds very glamorous and filthy rich.

Just read quickly: there’ll be too much sparkles in your eyes to notice the things lacking.

Unreliable narrators and obsession

They must think I don’t have long left, because today they allow the vicar in.

Bitter Orange, Claire Fuller, Fig Tree 2018

I first saw Freya at my high school.

The Swap, Robyn Harding, Simon & Schuster 2020

New template, new way of posting? I read the second book to have something different from the first (because my previously planned book was also in a historic setting), turns out I got another portion of unreliable narrator and obsessive behaviour. Oh, well.

All protagonists are female, how often does the combination of unreliable narrator and obsession happens with male characters? Frances is close to forty, while Low and Jamie are a teen and a thirty-something. The set time period is different as well, but both books end in murder (or do they?).

The Bitter Orange covers up the thriller/mayhem part better, masquerading for a long time as a story of a woman as exciting as a dry black bean in technicolour surroundings. She has to evaluate gardens of a neglected mansion and finds people who have to do something similar, but don’t really do it. They make her think that she could be technicolour, instead.

The Swap on the other hand starts out with a clear manipulator; an ex-social media influencer for Pete’s sake. She twists everyone around her pinky finger, but some you don’t want around your pinky or other body parts…

Both stories have appealingly-written surroundings, dramatic characters and don’t attempt to make you root for them. It’s train wrecks waiting to happen, with an extra point to The Bitter Orange for a more subtle lead-up to the twist.

Neither are stories that will end up on your Best Of-list (probably), but they’re good for what they attempt to be.

The Animators

Introduction to Sketch was held in Prebble Hall, a building Professor McIntosch called “Ballister’s dirtiest secret” during our first class.

The turn around on this novel is incredibly impressive. It took me three – four chapters to change my mind about abandoning it, it’s incredibly ugly and depressive and scary and I think I’m even angry after(/about?) finishing it. It’s also one of those books you just want to press upon everyone just to see if they had the same experience, if it can touch different people in the same way.

Its ugli- and darkness might be its winning element, it creating a story that dumps you outside of daily life and makes you wonder how you can ever participate again. It isn’t ugly like a Gillian Flynn-creation, no murder here. It’s the way in which women are even less shown in fiction: dark and bitter and scared and a myriad of bad decisions while being bottomless wells of imagination and creativity.

This book isn’t to be summarised; it would fall incredibly short while at the same time preparing you for something it isn’t. To me, it was confrontational about daring to create and to create all – not just the cute stuff. About family and friendship and identity in an USA that made never have felt more filthy.

It’s a blast, it’s a terror. Read it so we can discuss.

The Animators, Kayla Rae Whitaker, Random House 2016

The Ninth Rain

You ask me to start at the beginning, Marin, my dear, but you do not know what you ask.

Yoohoo, traditional fantasy alert! Although.. our unlikely heroes this time are very unlikely and not all that heroic. Not yet anyway, but of course this is the first book in a series.

The Ninth Rain plays out in a pretty much post-apocalyptic world. There’s the memory of darkness and despair, but some are living through it more than others. There’s an ancient race that should have been the heroes but fell, there’s humans that – like humans do – just toil on. And then there’s a threat of things that might just come again.

Yes, there’s the burly male, the scared little young woman with more power than she can control and the eccentric bringing them all together, but they don’t fit their clichés exactly. Combine that with a luscious world building and it matters very little that this plot has been done before. You get that comforting ‘Down the fantastic rabbit hole’-feeling in return.

The Ninth Rain, Jen Williams, Headline 2017