Shuggie Bain

The day was flat.

Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart Grove Atlantic 2020

Been a while since I read someone writing so vividly. This is an appealing story because of its style and imagery, and also severely depressing because of its images and stories.

The depictions of addiction, recovery and sabotage (intentionally and unknowing) is rough and tough, a trainwreck that just refuses to stop.

A Girl is a Body of Water

Until that night, Kirabo had not cared about her.

A Girl is a Body of Water, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, Tin House 2020

What stuck with me most is how well Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi communicated the surprise and shrugs Ugandans had/felt about European ideas like time and religion. Might sound silly and/or narrow-minded but yes: not everyone cuts days into twelve hours and decides that one way of going at it is the right way. It’s all been decided before somewhere, and doesn’t mean that elsewheres should go along.

A Girl is a Body of Water plays out in a different time – Uganda in the nineteen-seventies and -eighties – and in a different world. The plot is familiar: absent parent decides to bring first child into second family. But Kirabo has plenty of other things on her mind; Sio, the mother who refused her, familial issues between her grandmother and the village witch and adjusting to private school and the city after growing up in a rural village.

Makumbi makes it all feel a bit like a fairy tale; even when dire reality sets in (war, death), it seems like something our princess has to get through to get to her happy ending. This absence and style takes some getting used to, but after you’re all in: we want the Stories of Kirabo; and we get them.

Light Perpetual

The light is grey and sullen, a smoulder, a flare choking on the soot of its own burning, and leaking only a little of its power into the visible spectrum.

Light Perpetual, Francis Spufford, Faber 2021

Sounds pretty dystopian, doesn’t it?

What if four children – who died in a WW2 bombardment – didn’t? The children aren’t extraordinary, they’re simply ‘allowed to’ play out their lives. What follows are slices of life of post-war England.

The characters make the novel, especially when the writing lacks a bit. It’s a history novel as history should be looked at: through the eyes of regular humans.

Tick… Tick.. BOOM!

115 min.

To start things off, I didn’t expect there to be so many songs. I did know this was based on a theater-piece (right?), but not musical theater. Nor that the main character was based on someone who really exists. Yeah, this is what you get when you just follow the hype.

Add the run time of almost two hours on top of this and I was ready to be let down again (earlier I didn’t particularly care about Hand of God and Goodfellas was too long as well).

Yes, it took me a bit to get used to the amount of sudden singing. And Jon’s (the protagonist) anxiety is quite anxiety-inducing as well, and I’m not even 29-I-have-to-make-it-big-before-30 anymore. Still, Andrew Garfield sells it all and sells it well. He’s almost manic, can’t stop even though he knows he should if he wants to keep relationships healthy, friendships alive and the lights on.

This reminded me of Rocketman from time to time: also someone suffering because of talent and anxiety. Tick.. Tick swings less, but definitely touches you as well.

Fiebre Topical

Buenos dias, mi reina.

Fiebre Topical, Juliana Delgado Lopera, The Feminist Press 2020

Well, this wasn’t at all what I expected. I thought I was going to get a YA romance about discovering your queer identity while struggling through immigration, but.. I kind of got all that, minus the romance, plus depressed family members, a much more serious (and desperate tone) and a lot of Spanish. Without translation.

That took some time adjusting, and I still don’t know if I liked the novel. It was definitely an original experience, and I think the story told was genuine and heartfelt. The way it was told was sometimes hard to follow and frustrating.

Protagonist Francisca moves from Colombia to Miami, where she quickly loses half her family to a pretty extreme version of Christianity. She isn’t clear on what she wants, but she knows what she doesn’t and it is this; but how to fix it? And how to feel about the pastor’s daughter?

All this happening in a sweaty, oppressive Miami doesn’t make things easier. I felt like I had to step outside into the cold after having finished Fiebre Topical.

Crying in H Mart

Ever since my mom died, I cry in H Mart.

Crying in H Mart, Michelle Zauner, Borza 2021

Another memoir, and I didn’t even consciously make that decision. This title buzzed around online accompanied by sentiments like “so good. Cried so hard.” and who wouldn’t view that as a recommendation?

In Crying in H Mart, Michelle’s mother dies. Her mother being Korean, Michelle being Korean-American and their time together having been.. all over the emotional wheel add layers to that ordinary story.

Not to sound glib, of course. We all die. But Chongmi does so at a too young age and suffering terribly. How can you give yourself room to say goodbye when you’re just taking care(/attempting to) full time?

Yes, there’s crying. Zauner doesn’t have things dawn on her; they crash on her. Hope, delusion and fight: none work. As the reader you take every hit to prove you’re wrong: there is no escaping that first sentence.

But this book is more than a memorial. It’s the memoir of an American family with Korean roots, a love for Korean food (those descriptions, get me those meals!), and a very honest look at what family does to and for you.

All that, and more than 50% shorter than the previous memoir read.

It’s Not Like It’s a Secret

“Sana, chotto… hanashi ga arun-ya-kedo.”

It’s Not Like It’s a Secret, Misa Sugiura, Harper Collins 2017

It warms y heart to see YA that 1. doesn’t involve inappropriate relationships; 2. doesn’t have damaging ideas about body, romance and society; and 3. has queer protagonists. And it seems to happen more often!

Sana isn’t sure about her sexuality yet, and her life gives her plenty of reason to be distracted: a state-swapping move, her father possibly having an affair and her Japanese mother rejecting everything that would make both of their lives easier.

Her problems are not necessarily teen-related: it’s to Misa Sugiura’s merit that she doesn’t make them bigger or smaller because of the protagonist’s age. And yes, there are oh-my-god-teenagers moments, but the author sells those well as well. Honestly, this is a YA novel that deserves the blurbs and attention.

Leave the World Behind

Well, the sun was shining.

Leave the World Behind, Rumaan Alam, Bloomsbury 2020

I don’t scare easily, but am still a little bit rattled because of this one. While the blurb about this being on the level of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go made me not expect to: I’m not fond of or impressed by the man’s writing.

But Rumaan Alam, okay. Idyllic family holiday in the middle of nowhere that gets disturbed by two strangers and only gets much stranger to completely unwind from that point on. In the falling apart way, not the relaxing way.

With all that delicious build-up, surely it can only disappoint? Reader, not this time.

That also makes for a short post: I don’t want to tell you more and risk the pleasure of that unheimlich feeling of disaster happening. If you love that feeling: Leave the World Behind is right there for you.

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.