We Are Totally Normal

The music in the car was so loud that my teeth vibrated.

We Are Totally Normal, Naomi Kanakia, Harper Collins 2020

God, I hope not. I picked this YA novel because it was on a queer reading list; I did not expect this showcase of casual alcoholism in teens with absent parents and severe cases of word-vomit (and also regular ones).

Main dude Nandan (I assume he’s a teen?) is lost in life and in the societal hierarchy of things, while pondering if he’s confused about his sexual identity or just wants to use it to become popular (yes).

Maybe it’s a clear sign that I’m too old but I really hope that teenagers going from hangover to hangover, performing oral sex at a first meetup and walking home alone at night is a normal thing. Nandan may be confused about what he wants (until he very suddenly isn’t anymore), he manages to showcase that in an entirely unappealing way.

This is what I get for trusting library recommendations?

Winter Counts

I leaned back in the seat of my old Ford Pinto, listening to the sounds coming from the Depot, the reservation’s only tavern.

Winter Counts, David L. Weiden, Ecco 2020

Do you want a Lone Vigilante story, but with a Native American protagonist and surroundings? Here you go!

The Books of Jacob

Once swallowed, the piece of paper lodges in her esophagus, near her heart.

The Books of Jacob, or: A Fantastic Journey Across Seven Borders, Five Languages, and Three Major Religions, Not Counting the Minor Sects. Told by the Dead, Supplemented by the Author, Drawing from a Range of Books, and Aided by Imagination, the Which Being the Greatest Natural Gift of Any Person. That the Wise Might Have It for a Record, That My Compatriots Reflect, Laypersons Gain Some Understanding, and Melancholy Souls Obtain Some Slight Enjoyment, Olga Tokarczuk, Riverhead Books 2022

Loved The Silmarillion? House of Leaves? And 17th century mid-European history? This 900 page novel might just be the thing for you!

You don’t? Avoid this.

Lessons in Chemistry

Back in 1961, when women wore shirtwaist dresses and joined garden clubs and drove legions of children around in seatbeltless cars without giving it a second thought; back before anyone knew there’d even be a sixties movement, much less one that its participants would spend the next sixty years chronicling; back when the big war were over and the secret wars had just begin and people were starting to think fresh and believer everything was possible, the thirty-year-old mother of Madeline Zott rose before dawn every morning and felt certain of just one thing: her life was over.

Lessons in Chemistry, Bonnie Garmus, Doubleday Canada 2022

Oh, I had fun with this one! It’s history and a commentary on society’s sexism (in the sixties), there’s a bit of romance but more importantly female friendships and why one should invest in it and oi – there’s chemistry.

Literally.

Elizabeth Zott, our protagonist, is a scientist, a single mother and an opinionated voice on telly. Neither of those are approved of by a lot of people.

Author Bonnie Garmus throws a lot at her, but she manages to do so that it doesn’t turn into a melodrama, but someone’s life story (which happens, there are very tough breaks). Also essential is the speed and style of the story; nothing feels frilly or extra.

I flew through the 300+ pages in a day.

Breasts and Eggs

If you want to know how poor somebody was growing up, ask them how many windows they had.

Breasts and Eggs, Mieko Kawakami, Europa Editions 2019

Why didn’t I read the blurbs: Haruki Murakami loved it, and it used to be a short novella. I think that shows very clearly: the second ‘book’ is more coherent and easy to read, although mostly in comparison with the first book – not others.

Once again this is an “I feel like I should like this more”-story, but there’s something that just left me lukewarm. Yes, interesting views on motherhood and surrogacy in Japan, but did it have to be put down like this? Hard to chew on, tough to invest in.

Ben is Back

103 min.

For a Hollywood film they are surprisingly realistic about addition. Ben is back for the holidays, but not every family member is supportive of this development.

Probably the nicest is that the few Life Lessons aren’t supported by a swelling soundtrack and slow-motion close ups: they just slip past.

That makes this film frustrating, nerve-wrecking and probably more genuine than many other stories about an addicted family member asking for an umpteenth chance and having to deal with being mistrusted.

Infinite Country

It was her idea to tie up the nun.

Infinite Country, Patricia Engel, Simon & Schuster 2021

Less than 160 pages and I still walk around with it a couple days after finishing it. I don’t know if I consciously gravitate towards migrant stories and the generations after, but once again it doesn’t disappoint.

What Infinite Country adds is the clear question of “What’s so great about the USA anyway?”. It’s not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for anyone involved, and the place the family comes from (Colombia) isn’t viewed as a crap shoot essential to escape from.

Combine this with a family literally ripped apart based on their place of birth and there’s something fresh and uncanny about this short story.

Lightyear

105 min.

That after less than thirty minutes gone I felt like this film was rounding things up probably was a sign that I wasn’t going to particularly enjoy this film.

This film was much too long. I don’t know if the length is for the adults watching, but with it starting uptempo only to crash into a subplot to introduce the villain.. no child will manage to continue. Source: me in the theater surrounded by children running in all directions after forty minutes.

You don’t notice how long a film is if it’s good, but Lightyear is dull. The Life Lessons are laid on thick, the laughs are few. Who is this for, and what is it about?

Even though I didn’t pay for the ticket, it still feels like a waste of money.

Harlem Shuffle

His cousin Freddie brought him on the heist one hot night in early June.

Harlem Shuffle, Colson Whitehead, Bond Street Books 2021

I like Colson Whitehead’s work, previously read novels were quick reads I could appreciate for what they were. I don’t know why Harlem Shuffle didn’t click in the same way.

Maybe it’s because protagonist Carney doesn’t seem to be connected to anything or anyone, even though he has a family he risks because of his illegal actions. Maybe it’s because of the time jumps, or the lack of distress. Carney does only legal things – o, he does illegal things now as well. Okay.

Whitehead’s writing still delivers, it just took me a very long time to focus on following the plot.

Accidentally Engaged

For most urban dwellers, Sundays were a day of rest and relaxation.

Accidentally Engaged, Farah Heron, Hachette Book Group 2021

First of all: where was the editor? Within two pages letters missing, names being spelled differently? Oof.

Anyway, the best part these days about romantic novels is the build-up and characterisation. After the two get together, especially when it’s a heterosexual couple – my interest fades.

In this case it’s (surprise) food. Reena stress-bakes and cooks, and the descriptions are good albeit overly detailed after a certain amount of pages. Faking an engagement is a fun trope as well, but because we’re only told what Reena isn’t, there’s very little investment or even emotion when things implode (because of course they do).

Maybe I should just stop trying reading romance with the aim of being satisfied.