Girl One

April 24, 1972

Girl One, Sarah Flannery Murphy, Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2021

Standard detective with an element that’s supposed to make it cool and original but really doesn’t – instead turning the whole thing into a slog to get through.

Girl One is one of the girls that have been created without any male influence – aka no sperm. This tidbit is mostly mentioned through how society looked at them, not adding any cool scifi-ish bits until the last part of the book. Before that, Girl One (Josephine) is looking for her mum. They don’t have a great relationship, but there’s a deserted looking home and she ~feels~ like she has to.

With the meeting of the other girls created the same way her mother’s disappearance seems to turn into something bigger, but details are fed so slowly and unclear that it’s just.. why should I bother?

The story ends with a Life-Changing disappointment for the protagonist. I mentally signed out long before that.

Kramer VS Kramer

105 min.

I didn’t know this was based on a novel. Anyway, I feel like this is viewed as a bit of a Classic and I finally watched it for the first time. Everyone is still such a baby, which is always fun to experience — although Dustin Hoffman looks quite a bit older than Meryl Streep, but maybe that’s part of the story.

Yes, it’s not very neatly done – how Streep’s character disappears and leaves behind husband and son because she can’t handle it anymore. But I’m sure that it was received with a much better shock because of a woman leaving WHAT SHE WAS PUT ON EARTH FOR than because of a woman leaving because she had to pick herself to survive.

But – to me – it’s mostly about how every relationship falls apart in different ways. These two aren’t a good fit; not anymore. How to keep things together for their child, though?

In Hope Gap it’s the child that doesn’t necessary needs his parents to stay together; he just wants the break to be clean. He’s a grown up with his own life but is used as a communicator and manipulator between his leaving father and stunned mother. The three actors clearly have room to act their pants off, but that’s all this film is: a demonstration of acting (and Acting, sometimes). Of course, with every film you can wonder if it was necessary to be made, but with Hope Gap it’s a loud wondering. With it being based on a play, that somehow makes it feel even less essential.

Night Teeth

108 min.

Talking about lost potential.. here’s a prime example. We have snappy, chrome/neon looks, youths that can be considered attractive and vampires – a genre that never needs much to still deliver.

So to not do that could be called impressive. Almost everything that can go wrong, goes wrong. Bad acting? Could be saved with okay plot. Corny, cringe-worthy dialogue? Could be accepted with some smooth (action) scenes. But in the story of a cab-driver driving around vampires on a rampage it’s error on error. Bad decisions are made without any back up to make it slightly believable. Plot motivations are thin. Acting is bored or over-done. It’s vampires! Any kind of nonsense lore would have sold this film!

But no. It seems like they went for a music video with a bit of blood and fangs and forgot about the rest – ending with a whole lot of nothing.

Firedrake: the Silver Dragon

93 min.

After nixing some too-kiddy-looking animation from my Netflix list, it was Firedrake‘s chance to prove me wrong.

It ticks all the (recent) animated films boxes: intro in a different animation style (which is always prettier than the main one used), goofy, too rounded characters (literally, definitely not characteristically – was Antz really the last film that dared to use angles?), and a Life Lesson plot.

Sadly, that also mean it’s riddled with clichés. Overly angry female sidekick. Annoying male sidekick viewed as heroic and wise. Only other female character? Old. Although this at least saved me from a dragon with fake eyelashes. Just as with The Harder They Fall this plot could have been tightened up: the entirety of Ben drags things down just to add that Life Lesson.

Honestly, I’m still shocked by how ugly the animation is. You have dragons and turn them into boulders. Who will stop animated Hollywood?

The Harder They Fall

139 min.

I wouldn’t have watched this if it hadn’t been this cast; I don’t care for westerns They seem to be the original genre in the category Film’s Too Long.

That’s one of the issues here: dare make it a straight revenge film without the unnecessary straight romance. Don’t bother fleshing out side-characters if you’re only going to do it half-cocked (because it a western, get it?).

The OST manages to carry almost the entire film on its back, but in the end it’s the running time that cripples us all.

Mary, Mary

It was a Saturday night and Mary Ryan had a hot date with Mrs. Aucoin.

Mary, Mary, Lesley Crewe, Nimbush Publishing Limited 2016

Meestal houd ik de regel ‘gelezen in Engels = geschreven in Engels” aan, maar dit was zo’n vreemde verzameling van woorden dat het voelt alsof ik mijn verwarring hierover het beste in het Nederlands kan uitdrukken.

In Mary, Mary is de hoofdpersoon eens niet het zwarte schaap maar het witte schaap. Ze is te geduldig, te vriendelijk en haar moeder en grootmoeder maken daar misbruik van. Volgens de blurb ~gebeurt er iets~ waardoor dat allemaal verandert; en daar kijk je ook snel naar uit met die snertkarakters. Fijn zo’n twist, maak het maak naar en miserabel.

Alleen – dat gebeurt maar niet. Situaties veranderen, maar de grote HAPPENING komt maar niet. Het verhaal wordt meer absurd en de tweederangs karakters krijgen meer ruimte, terwijl ons dat helemaal niet boeit want die hebben allang bewezen dat ze dat niet verdienen.

In één ruk las ik de laatste 100 pagina’s: er moet vast iets zijn wat dit allemaal bij elkaar gaat brengen. Neen. Het wiebelt alle kanten op als een slordig geschreven telenovela. Geven we om Mary? Om haar familie die door omgeving en situatie gevormd zijn? Of moeten we het allemaal maar snel vergeten?

Enige zonde vind ik dat ik niet meer kan herinneren waarom dit op mijn TBR lijst stond. Hoe kwam ik er op?

The Hidden Palace

Of all the myriad races of thinking creatures in the world, the two that most delight in telling stories are the flesh-and-blood humans and the long-lived, fiery jinn.

The Hidden Palace, Helene Wecker, HarperCollins 2021

I don’t remember exactly why, but I remember absolutely loving in that swept-away-recommend-everyone way the prequel to this: The Golem and the Jinni. Maybe it’s a sophomore slump or the time between has dropped the rose colour from my glasses, but I didn’t love this one. Sadly.

My biggest complaint is how compartmentalized it felt: there’s never much room given to have the story flow, instead of continuously moving on to another character, another angle, another location. It’s like the notes for a story; not a story.

Of course, it’s still a wonderful look at a young New York city (although not that young anymore, with the first World War around the corner), a broad view at the mythology/-ies of golem and jinns. Some of the new characters add to the stories of the golem and the jinn, others take up too much space and sentimentally planned scenes (assuming, of course) don’t pull at the heart strings at all or only very little.

It’s all too one-dimensional, but there’s rumours there’ll be another book. Maybe the third time is the charm – again.

Wish Dragon

98 min.

Also known by Aladdin or any other story involving a genie and/or three wishes. Even ‘it’s not laugh, I just want her attention through wealth’ is used. It’s not a bad film, it’s just impressively mediocre.

This time the story is set in a contemporary Asian city and the princess is a young celebrity. She and Din grew up together before her father moved them to have a better chance at life. Meanwhile Din is struggling to get by and basically working to make enough money so he can meet Li Na on “her level”.

Even the genie, this time a wish dragon, paints by numbers. First he’s snotty, than confused, than finally learns that there’s more to life. He’s well-created and okay-ish voiced but – meh. A lot more of the myth(s) behind it would have elevated it to something more; now the entire film is nothing more than the uninspired decision for a rainy Sunday during which we have to slightly entertain the kids until dinner.

Homeland Elegies

I had a professor in college, Mary Moroni, who taught Melville and Emerson, and who the once famous Norman O. Brown – her mentor – called the finest mind of her generation; a diminutive, cherubic woman in her early thirties with a resemblance to a Raphaelesque putto that was not incidental (her parents had immigrated from Urbino); a scholar of staggering erudition who quotes as easily from the Eddas and Hannah Arendt as she did from Moby-Dick; a lesbian, which I only mention because she did, often; a lecturer whose turns of phrase were sharp as a German paring knife, could score the brain’s gray matter and carve out new grooves along which old thoughts would reroute, as on that February morning two weeks after Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, when, during a class on life under early American capitalism, Mary, clearly interrupted by her own tantalizing thought, looked up from the floor at which she usually gazed as she spoke – her left hand characteristically buried in the pocket of the loose-fitting slacks that were her mainstay – looked up and remarked almost offhandedly that America had begin as a colony and that a colony it remained, that is, a place still defined by its plunder, where enrichment was paramount and civil order always an afterthought.

Homeland Elegies, Ayad Akhtar, Little Brown and Company 2020

I should have seen it coming with such a first sentence. With some books you feel bad about not clicking with it; this has such positive reviews, it’s such an eye-opener etc. etc., so why am I not latching onto and never letting go?

Well, for starters the summary and the story don’t have a lot in common. There are so many descriptions of everything and everyone (the author seems to know that he does this, but still keeps doing it). And there’s much more descriptions of women’s vulvas than expected.

“Life as an American Muslim from 9/11 to Trump”. Sorta, but much more. And before as well, but not after. And very much, maybe all of it, about the author’s life. Even though there is a disclaimer about every character being fictional.

This offers insights about the (American) Muslim diaspora and ideas about the Islam which were new to me and explain some things, but there’s no clear line or plot wherever. Are these independent stories or a chronological build up? Trump might be mentioned on five of the three-hundred pages, was this a marketing decision? And why the sex diary?

But it’s “unputdownable” and by a Pulitzer-winning author, so I probably just don’t understand.

The Shape of Family

Karina sat outside the principal’s office, kicking her feet against the wooden bench.

The Shape of Family, Shilpi Somaya Gowda, Harper Collins 2019

This probably pulled me in with its promise of ~dark~ family problems, but it turns out that the problems are dark in the most sad and depressing way and as a reader you’re just the bystander of seeing trauma tear a family unit into half-drowning islands.

The thing is: it’s not unrealistic that people that have bad things happen to them continue to have bad things happen to them. Sometimes they just seem to be magnets. But it is written in such a focused way that it seems only to be about scoring sadness points. {this is were mild spoilers follow} From death to separation to self harm and relational abuse: a large part of the 300 pages is just heaping it on. What am I reading this for: to learn how bad things happen?

Besides that; if it would have been written wonderfully and mind-blowing: okay. There’s no original idea in the world left anyway. But this just felt like we were going through the motions in hope of attaining some emotional response. I honestly should start writing down where I get my recommendations from.