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.

Strangers with the Same Dream

When Ida arrived in the new place and saw the hot sun broken over the mountain’s crust and the sky above it an impossible ravaged blue, she felt that she had been dead up until that moment.

Strangers with the Same Dream, Alison Pick, Alfred A. Knopf 2017

I guess I needed some more naive world-improvers in my life. This time it’s Jews (secular and otherwise) that are sure that they will create a safe, wonderful, prolific place for them. Somewhere already some people live, but hey – they were promised and it’s just shacks, anyway.

Yep. We know what’s going on here.

Alison Pick gives us the point of view from three people involved: Ida, David and Hannah. The first is a stranger, the second two a couple, but ‘strangers’ definitely fits all of them. Unfitting ideas about each other and the good of the community, terrible communication and all the time that build up to something bad happening.

The one downside to this book is that the POV overlap A LOT. Just a small shift in time would have shown us more about everyone’s history and the development of the land of community. Now parts turn into a he-said/she-said what sabotages that delightful build up.

Let’s try some lighter reading next.

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.

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.

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.

Crip Camp

100 min.

First documentary of the month. An uncomfortable one because really; did anything change in how society handles disabled people in the past fifty years?

Crip Camp is about Camp Jened, but so much more. About the American government lacking in viewing disableds as citizens instead of their disability. They fight (for) laws, but first and foremost for the right of a multi-dimensional life.

The documentary is completely American focused, connecting to civil rights, racism and sexism. That also makes it easy to pretend it’s a local thing, but of course we know better.

That leaves Crip Camp as a reminder of how much change still has to happen to give disabled citizens the room in society they deserve.

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.

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.