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.

The Patriots

On a Sunday in August, a boy and a one-armed man appeared on the platform of the Saratov train station.

The Patriots, Sana Krasikov, Penguin Random Books 2017

Russia and the Soviet continue to endlessly fascinate me. With almost 600 pages and jumping through time to get different angles, The Patriots provides.

That also means that sometimes you have to invest a little bit to follow along. A lot of names and not always a clear sign of which era you’re in keeps you on your toes, I guess.

An American woman moves to the Soviet because the revolution doesn’t happen quickly enough in the USA, in her opinion. We probably all know enough history to know that from a welcome foreigner, she turns into a unwelcome visitor and suffers along with the rest of locals just as easily. Even if you know, reading about it once more just shows that there’s no limit to (unpleasant) surprise.

Generations follow, the Soviet stays the same. It continues to baffle me how recently this all played out, but I will gladly take more stories about it.

Prince of Egypt

99 min.

A shorter animation, also to be found on Netflix, and possibly with an ever better soundtrack than that of my previous watched film, but it would be a close call.

I watched Prince of Egypt before, possibly even in the cinema. I can remember it being an Event and through the years it’s always (online) been a classic or at least the favourite of a generation. To watch it with older eyes is a risk, but I did it.

It still works. The animation is more beautiful than the C+P of today’s productions, the soundtrack is intense, the story is – even for heathens like me – appealing. I honestly don’t understand why the Vatican didn’t finance studios to do many biblical stories like this; I wonder if people turned to Christianity after watching Prince of Egypt.

Anyway, just telling you it won’t disappoint. I’m sure you still know the lines of When You Believe.

The Witch’s Heart

Long ago, when the gods were young and Asgard was new, there came a witch from the edge of the worlds.

The Witch’s Heart, Genevieve Gornichec, Penguin Random House 2021

I love a good retelling. Mythological, it is. Madeleine Miller did it with Greeks, Genevieve Gornichec goes way up North with Loki’s story from one of his wives’ point of view.

Angrboda is much more than Loki’s wife: she’s a powerful witch, a threat to the Norse gods (mostly in their eyes, she just wants to be left alone), and a calm soul. She wants to live her little life, but mythologies aren’t build on that. So there’s an unfamiliar feeling (love) for an unreliable person (Loki), pregnancies, children and terrifying visions about (growing) threats. As it goes.

Gornichec doesn’t attempt an old-timey tone that will assure you this is a myth: she tells it like one. There’s a clear chronology, little side steps, lovely visuals. A novel like a comfortable sweater — if you manage to ignore the several deaths, abuse and apocalypse. It’s still a myth, after all.

A Long Petal of the Sea

The young soldier was part of the “Baby Bottle Conscription,” they boys called up when there were no more men, young or old, to fight the war.

A Long Petal of the Sea, Isabel Allende, Bloomsbury Publishing 2020

Author Isabel Allende warns that “this is a story of sorrow, displacement and hope” and that’s even a considerate description of it. The characters are fictional, what they go through isn’t and isn’t ancient history either.

It’s humans that live through Franco’s fight(/destruction) for power in Spain, only to go through a very similar thing in Chile (under Pinochet). Twice it’s shown how there is a large divide between class, political sides and ignorance and how this can lead to absolute massacre and destruction. The reader mainly follows Victor and Roser – middle class surviving, but also gets glimpses at the bourgeoisie, fans of waiting every development out so they can continue living as they have always have.

Yet this isn’t a horror story, nor a pamphlet for human monstrosities or a history lesson. Allende puts the people first, showing how life still goes on and can even be beautiful. Descriptions of people, thoughts and countries add such a layer that the story becomes three-dimensional. It makes for an appealing story – while getting your serving of (lesser-)known history.

White Ivy

Ivy Lin was a thief but you would never knew it to look at her.

White Ivy, Susie Yang, Simon & Schuster 2020

White Ivy is all over the place. As the summary and blurbs say it’s coming of age, a (second generation) migrant story, but Ivy manages to elevate (and worsen) all of it.

Because Ivy doesn’t fit into any mold. Maybe she doesn’t even have one. It’s maddening how she sabotages and destroys, but looking at her experiences and upbringing… maybe not that strange. Because how do you handle being left in a country only to meet your parents again after several years? Being the only Asian-Canadian in white surroundings? Having a violent tiger-mother and (mentally-)absent father? Lesser people would have gotten some trauma from that.

Again, sometimes you’re talking to Ivy to just unclench for once, give herself something, let go of all she’s carrying. Please, to give the reader some air to breathe as well.

I won’t share if she does, but it’s been a while since I’ve so rooted for and so disliked one and the same fictional character.

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.

Fighting With My Family

108 min.

Can you call a story clichéd if it’s based on a true story? Because Fighting With My Family goes through several well-used tropes (unlikely hero, successful comeback after a lowest moment), but uh – guess it all really happened, so do you judge a story on it?

The family mentioned is a boxing family from Greenwich. All four are in the ring (the fifth is in jail), but the children aim for the gold: becoming a part of WWE. The family expects the son to get it (at least), but it’s the daughter. This causes a rift.

One that will be mended through True Familial Love, after some solo hardships and end with a successful comeback. It’s marketed as a comedy, but I’d say “slice of life”/”coming of age” with both siblings learning what they want and can expect from life. With some laughs, that’s true.

Minding the Gap + Betty

Minding the Gap is a 93 minute documentary

Betty is a two season TV-show, 12 episodes of 30 minutes

And both of them involve skating, why I combined the two. Minding the Gap is a sober documentary about life in a small town with an even smaller amount of possibilities to get out of the rut your ancestors created for you. The documentary maker returns after a time and goes looking for all his (skater) friends. Not all of them got out – mentally and physically.

This might all sound terribly depressing and it’s definitely not a fun, cool watch, but director Bing Liu manages to make you feel for these strangers like it’s your own set of friends.

Betty keeps things (most of the time) a lot more lighthearted. It’s based in reality with the skateboarders having been plucked from the street and allowed input to stories (according to the credits), but HBO puts a very cool, glamorous, quick-living sheen over it. It’s a group of diverse female teens in New York that skate. There are a few (teen-related) problems, but mostly it’s just cruising: little goes permanently wrong.

That also turns it into brightly coloured wallpaper pretty quickly. Or maybe I’m just too old and not cool enough.

Either way, I still want to get a skateboard and try my hardest to master it now.