Internment

I strain to listen for boots on the pavement.

Looking back after having finished this novel I realise how naive and privileged it is of me to have thought “well sometimes she’s exaggerating a bit”. Something about how we are doomed to repeat history if we don’t learn from it, etc.

In this case the lesson is ‘Do not imprison innocent people for the sole reason that their religion, skin colour and/or ancestral background is different from yours’. Shown in the Second World War, the States did it with Japanese Americans, and Samira Ahmed does it a few decades later with American Muslims. Because in Internment a president – very alike of the one the USA has right now – comes in power, and he’s much more effective in getting his racist ideas turned into actions. American Muslims are put into camps on American soil.

And just like before, there are plenty euphemisms going around. None can cover up that the camp is surrounded by barb wire, that every guard has a weapon and that any sign or sound of protest is violently taken down. Here comes my conclusion from the first paragraph in: isn’t this put down all a bit too extremely? I should know better. We all should.

It’s good that the novel is less than 300 pages, because there’s no escaping the terror the characters are put through. Not just the mental and physical torture; also the shock of seeing how fast people get used to it. Again, as we should know.

All this makes for a bitter pill that as many as possible of us should swallow.

Internment, Samira Ahmed, Little, Brown & Company 2019

The Woo-Woo

“Miss Wong, you’re seriously ill,” the neurologist in a midtown office said, preparing to offer me a sympathy tissue.

Has it been more since a month since my last use of ‘truth is stranger than fiction’? Because Lindsay Wong’s truth is far stranger than fiction. A Chinese-Canadian woman that grows up in a family that is rife with mental illnesses and superstition, but completely refuses to acknowledge the first one and follows the second one in (self)destructive ways.

It’s always interesting to have a look behind someone else’s door, and I always try to learn more about contemporary Asians (immigrant or not). In this case, I felt like I was just gaping a lot at the page, because is this how it goes? Or is this solely the impact of the denial about mental illnesses? And is it bad that I laughed (in disbelief) so often?

Because there’s drug dealing neighbours that pay their neighbour’s children to hang out with theirs, disgusting-sounding meals, insults viewed as different level of endearments and barely a plain, ordinary family member with an ordinary, healthy life around. Lindsay isn’t easy to love either, but gosh darn it, no-one should grow up in such an environment. And I don’t ask for it often, but: I’d definitely read a sequel.

The Woo-Woo, Lindsay Wong, Arsenal Pulp 2018

Once & Future

Ari was hiding out in the Middle Ages.

This is a retelling of the King Arthur myth, but a lot more queer for everyone involved. It’s also a Young Adult novel, and Arthur in this case is a teenage girl (and this isn’t the only thing that’s flipped). Just in case you thought you couldn’t be surprised by that myth any more.

Capetta and McCarthy keep up the tempo, until they suddenly don’t. The evil overlords, dubious witch and wizard, the romances and family-relationships are so abruptly put on hold that I almost felt like I shouldn’t bother with the rest of the short novel. But before all that you get an entertainment park-like novel with a lot of roller-coasters and themed exhibitions.

This combined with the gender-flip, the amount of queer characters without it being turned into a fuss and/or characterisation, makes Once & Future appealing to both the fantasy/sci-fi crowd as those that will vacuum up everything related to the King Arthur myth.

Once & Future, Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy, Little, Brown, and Company 2019

The Lonely Hearts Hotel

On that day in 1914, a young girl banged on the door of the Hôpital de la Miséricorde in Montreal.

Boy, does this author love her metaphors like a dog likes a bone. Don’t use them as a drinking game, you will end up in the hospital. Even though it’s becoming quite noticeable after a while, I have to admit that they add to the fairy-tale like feeling this story already has. The development and rise of orphans in Great Depression North America, involving clowns and mobsters, maybe they deserve a metaphor every other sentence.

Main characters are Pierrot and Rose and share the chapters whenever they are together or apart. They’ve got very different views on life and what they want from it; making the fairy-tale like feeling disappear before it can give a (happy) end.

Besides that, there’s the surroundings this plays out in. Montreal with its alive snow, New York with the buildings full of possibilities and risks. It’s all written very visually, which neatly distracts from the small plot holes or just hiccups it provides. This story is pretty and enticing; everything else is subordinate to it.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O’Neill, Riverhead Books 2018

The Talented Ribkins

He only came back because Melvin said he would kill him if he didn’t pay off his debt by the end of the week.

Now how to talk about this one. There’s a fantastical element in this story (several, if you consider all the individuals involved), but I definitely wouldn’t call it a story from the fantasy genre. Maybe more magic realistic? Anyway, these talents can come in quite handy, but brought ruin to almost every owner – every member of the Ribkins family.

The Ribkins are a black family, with one generation starting out as activists (during the Civil Rights Movement) but seeming to have ended up in crime. Each of their stories rub against historical facts, which makes the people with extraordinary powers trope so much more realistic, and keeps the focus on those people, instead of what they do with their powers.

This is combined with a playground (Florida) that somehow manages to make all of it more surreal and real at the same time. Of course the main character needs to dig up money he hid around the state, of course their last name has a wonderful background. Ladee Hubbard bakes all of it together, and it tastes strange, but good.

The Talented Ribkins, Ladee Hubbard, Melville House 2017

Normal People

Marianne answers the door when Connell rings the bell.

I should have known that an impatient wait would only lead to disappointment, but I guess such repetitious mistakes make you human. This novel got plenty of accolades, but the summary didn’t particularly appeal me. After one review – one I didn’t even recognise the previous summaries read in – I changed my mind. Blow me away, Rooney.

There was no blowing away, only dragging down and wrestling through (negative) emotions. These two people, the main characters Connell and Marianne, are just …incomplete(?) and manage to simultaneously make it worse and better in the other. So much low self-esteem, depression, (mental) self-harm and words that should be said to improve things, but never are.

I finished this an hour ago and still feel that kind of daze of finishing a story that doesn’t let you come up for air. Of course, no story has to be completely happy, or even have happy moments, but every other word is doubted and dissected. The story involves only a few months, making me wish for these poor people involved for it to be decades because surely everyone deserves to have a mental breather.

And underneath all of it, I couldn’t find anything the author wanted to do with this story. Share suffering? Show us that there is no such thing as normal people? Or that no matter what kind of train wreck, people just can’t look away?

Normal People, Sally Rooney, Alfred A. Knopf 2018

A Beautiful Work in Progress

I sat on the king bed at the Best Western Mountain View in East Ellijay, Georgia, the night before the Double Tap 50K race at Fort Mountain State Park in the Cohutta Mountains.

I expected much more pages being about running, training, exercise and the judgment people reserve for fat people doing sports. Which is kind of sloppy of me, because it says right there in the title: a memoir. And no person came out of the womb with running shoes on.

So, after my initial lack of excitement about learning about this woman I’ve never heard before and didn’t know why I should have, I kind of got over it. I’m interested in what she had to say about her (long distance) runs, we’ll take the rest as it comes.

With Mirna Valerio being a fat collection of minorities in contemporary USA, there’s so much more to her stories about running and exercising than the regular blood, sweet, and tears (although they do show up). This might make you a bit impatient about the next story about a trial run, but it also shows you that nothing happens in a vacuum; not even exercising and sports.

So, for that, you could read this memoir. And, honestly, there’s definitely different kinds of motivation in it. You just have to work a bit harder for it. If not – there’s plenty of ‘regular’ running stories to be found.

A Beautiful Work in Progress; A Memoir, Mirna Valerio, Grand Harbor Press 2017