My Sister, the Serial Killer

Ayoola summons me with these words — Korede, I killed him.

This is why I don’t read hyped up books. So much excitement and build up and no-one who mentioned the sheer disappointment of most of it but definitely the ending.

And that’s impressive for a story that’s only 200 pages and with a plot – see title – that could definitely provide a lot of thrills, philosophising and secondary story-lines.

Instead you get a repetitive, stagnant story filled with passive characters. There is very little motivation (why does she kill, why doesn’t she put a stop to it, why doesn’t she actively participate in her daughters’ lives), no-one seems to learn. Even the lack of different surroundings doesn’t provide anything to the story or even a sense of claustrophobia, only slightly more boredom.

The end – always a risky business – is sheer “Ma’am, I’m done with my assignment!” in hopes of being allowed to leave early.

And just like that it’s 200 pages of hoping for ‘so much more’ wasted.

My Sister, the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite, Doubleday 2017

Airplane Mode

95 min.

Heel even in het nieuws omdat meer mensen dan verwacht het keken. Brazilianen – daar komt de film vandaan – begrepen het niet zo, zo goed was het niet. Alsof dat mensen ooit heeft tegengehouden.

airplane mode filmNuffig hoofdpersoon is Ana, influencer en vrouwelijke tiener met een social mediaverslaving. Dingen Gaan Fout waardoor ze moet afkicken bij haar knorrige opa. Daar Leert ze Dingen en komt ze een leuke jongen tegen. Zoals dat gaat.

Voor kleurigheid en flauwigheid is dit heel redelijk weg te kijken, maar het acteerwerk is voor een doelgroep jonger dan mij. De film is voor hen misschien weer iets te lang, en door Portugees als voertaal zal er waarschijnlijk gelezen moeten worden.

De Brazilianen hadden dus gelijk. Het ‘fish out of water’-plot kun je op vele andere plekken in betere versies vinden. De wijze lessen voor onzekere, met het-uiterlijk-geobsedeerde tieners ook.

Airplane Mode, Netflix 2020

Girl Runner

This is not the love song of Aganetha Smart.

I can point out the different disappointments in this book clearly: the biggest one being the obvious twists to prevent explaining a plot line. This can happen maybe once or twice and should be done well – not something that basically amounts to ‘BUT FIRST’.

For starters, I’m not too fond of two story lines in different times, especially not when brought together through a seemingly random connection. Jump through time or let people age; it’s not that hard. In this case I accepted it because I was curious about the subject: first long distance female runner at the Olympics. Canadian history. Canadian writer. Bring it.

But it’s Aganetha young and very old, and a story line tacked on that isn’t explained – and just barely – until the last ten pages. With Aganetha not being the most charming protagonist, it doesn’t make caring easier. Give me more about the world she grew up in if you can’t or won’t sell me on your main character.

All this creates the feeling of “this could have been more”, which might be more frustrating than this entire novel is.

Girl Runner, Carrie Snyder, Harper 2015

Ducks, Newburyport

I can’t give you the first sentence of this book, because that sentence takes approximately 35 pages to finish. Does it even ever finish, or is it just paused by another story line that does use other punctuation than commas?

I didn’t finish this book either. I read a lot of the pages, I read the last few but I didn’t read the majority of the almost 1000 pages.

The majority of those 1000 pages are a stream of conscious about an American housewife that bakes pies. After about two-third of the book there are layers added, issues, maybe even traumas that can help you understand the endless circling of her thoughts, but by then I had long checked out. The blurb on the cover ‘Ulysses got nothing on this’ should have warned me; I thought it was just about the size of the book. No, it was about the run-on-sentence.

I appreciate how the author and the publisher (there’s a page in the back explaining things and how they want to support original stories) wanted to offer something different, and maybe I’m just too anxious and too much of a control freak to appreciate this.

So, if someone read it or will read it, I’d love to get a summary about what’s going on, because I gave up the fight.

Ducks, Newburyport, Lucy Ellman 2019

Lincoln in the Bardo

On our wedding day I was forty-six, she was eighteen.

Don’t judge a book by its title. Or maybe don’t expect to know what is going to happen by a book’s title. I thought Lincoln – like the American president. I thought Bardo – a kind of Buddhist limbo, add those and you get something eerie, cool, spooky about mourning, the afterlife and discussing religion.

Instead I got a collection of (fictional) citations and quotations about Abraham Lincoln, his dead son and a lot of people I’ve never heard of before.

It took some time to adjust.

Both Lincolns are very little part of this story. It is about the Bardo and how people of all walks of life experience it while avoiding the reality of having died. As mentioned before – this doesn’t happen in continuous prose, you seem to be paging through an encyclopedia of Americans that have died in the time before Abraham Lincoln. Why? Because some of them look out for Willie Lincoln, and are impressed that Abraham continues to visit his son and mourn him.

So it’s not a story about the American president, it’s a little bit about mourning, it’s a too little bit about what the Bardo is, how it works and what it looks like, and the rest of it is – I guess – about the skills of one George Saunders in bringing a lot of character sheets together and passing them off as novel.

2020 isn’t a great year for books, just yet.

Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders, Bloomsbury 2017

Albatross

“Would you mind if I measured your extremities?”

Never thought that I’d be disgruntled by a happy ever after, but here we are.

The nice things about this story: a love for fountain pens, writing, language and for the majority of the time a very grounded few of oneself of the protagonist. It starts out as a fun, coming-of-age story with a weird quirk. No, I don’t give a toss about golf, but thankfully the protagonist recognises that and doesn’t bother the reader too long with descriptions of the game. One of the side-characters is completely annoying and would never get the function he has in real life with such behaviour, but soit. Fiction.

The albatross of the story is Adam. His teacher takes his measurements and – by calculating them through a random study by annoying side-character – discovers that he is a golf talent. Golf success follows, even though Adam doesn’t care about the game at all. The money doesn’t hurt though, and that’s largely his motivation for making the decisions he makes.

At first Adam is baffled by all of it, but he all too soon and smoothly takes it all in, and from that part on – there’s just not much to the story. He gets everything he wants, life moves in the direction he wants, his love story finishes the way he wants to … it’s all quite dull.

And this is just partially coming from a place of jealousy.

Albatross, Terry Fallis, McClelland & Stewart 2019

Toni Erdmann

162 min.

162 minuten van mijn leven die ik nooit meer terug zal krijgen. Was het zo erg? Ach, niet helemaal, maar wel genoeg om er spijt van te hebben.

toni erdmann posterDe tijd moet vast gebruikt worden om vast te leggen dat de relatie tussen vader en dochter niet normaal zijn. Vader is een vreemde vogel met grappen die lang niet altijd grappig zijn, dochter is een zakenvrouw. Waarom ze echter een licht-sociaal-onhandige vrouw is – buiten zo’n vader om – wordt niet uitgelegd. Zij mag sowieso de motivatie en inspiratie zijn van vader, maar krijgt zelf niet veel verder de ruimte dan ‘denkt alleen aan werk’.

Oké, misschien is dat omdat het zijn film is, misschien zoek ik balans waar die niet is. Maar ook Winfried (de film legt het wel uit) laat weinig zien waardoor de kijker sympathie voor hem kan voelen, of op z’n minst begrijpen waarom hij op deze manier door het leven gaat. Nu is hij weinig meer dan de clown die hij uithangt, en clowns worden snel vervelend.

Ik hoop dat die arme Ines de controle over haar leven weer terug heeft gekregen.

Toni Erdmann, Missing Link Films 2016

 

I Am Mother

113 min.

When you first critique lands about ten minutes in, it’s hard to not view a film without bias. Why is everyone involved white, even the people in the ‘old-timey’ videos the main character views?

I Am Mother posterThen there’s the non-nuanced use of the soundtrack. A good soundtrack builds upon the scene, sharpens the emotions you are already feeling. In this case we got THINGS ARE SCARY pressed upon you while things weren’t all that scary. Or emotional. And lights flickering with no reason don’t mean that we’re worried either, just that we want an explanation about wiring suddenly being faulty when we’re looking for someone.

Is there anything nice to be said about this film? Not really – maybe that with small tweaks it could at least be a commentary on sovereign AI and its relationship with humanity, but that’s been done before – and better – as well. Even the explanation of the things happening is extremely unclear – did I nod off somewhere along the almost two hour ride?

So all in all, it’s just not much of anything. If someone’s mid-parting is the thing I’m irked about most, it doesn’t say any good about the plot. You can’t replace it with music bits either, nor flickering lights.

Good thing about all this is that at least it’s an utterly disbelieving dystopia: more sensible humans would have given up before any AI could get involved.

I Am Mother, Netflix 2019

 

Ons soort Amerika

Ik heb de verkeerde kinderwagen gekocht.

Pfwa, maar weer bewijs dat je niet altijd de recensies moet geloven. Aan de andere kant: props voor de recensie die dit boek zo aantrekkelijk maakte. Net alsof niet iedereen het kan (ij .red).

Nu is elke recensie persoonlijk, hoe professioneel dan ook. Misschien was het niet meeslepend voor mij omdat ik geen witte man en vader ben, en zelf ook onderdeel van het Amerikaans dagelijks leven ben geweest. Misschien heb ik over de delen heen gelezen die ik verwachtte (lekker Amerikaanse aapjes kijken) omdat ik op den duur een beetje ‘zoned out’ raakte door weer een hoofdstuk dat begon met hem achter de kinderwagen.

Aan het einde van het boek vraagt Anton zich niet af waarom hij niet meer heeft gedaan, en ik ook. Met twee jonge kinderen is er niet de vrijheid om á la Leaving Las Vegas los te gaan in de VS, maar deze man is niet verder gekomen dan de koffiezaak.

Ik vermoed dat de ‘ons’ uit de titel de witte bevolking van Cambridge is. Wat zij van Amerika vinden – op wat wegwerpzinnen na – is na 200 pagina’s niet bepaald uitgediept.

Ons soort Amerika, Anton Stolwijk, Prometheus 2018

Ask Again, Yes

Francis Gleeson, tall and thin in his powder blue policeman’s uniform, stepped out of the sun and into the shadow of the stocky stone building that was the station house of the Forty-First Precinct.

I enjoy family stories. I’m quite the sucker for generational stories that sometimes are big and grand enough to be called family epics. It’s character based, sometimes with time and surroundings being an extra character, but simply about all the people involved (or some of them).

Ask Again, Yes shouldn’t be called epic. Maybe not even a family story. It somehow feels like it has picked the least exciting characters to hang the story up on, and then seems to just shrug about how they can’t carry whatever plot (points) they pass. Why not more information about the previous generation, their immigration, the world they moved into? Instead the reader gets childish stubbornness that never really gives any reason to warm up to it.

So, if you want the story of a family, and all of it, go for The Woo-Woo, or Run, Hide, Repeat or The Locals. They’ll give you something more enticing.

Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane, Scribner 2019