Luster

The first time we have sex, we are both fully clothed, at our desks during working hours, bathed in blue computer light.

Luster: A Novel, Raven Leilani, Bond Street Books 2020

I don’t know if this is going to be a review about Luster or a confession.

Luster works hard, while simultaneously not doing shit to get the reader to feel something about its protagonist. Do we pity her, get angry at her, are grossed out by her? Can we blame her decisions or outlook on life when you see what she’s been dealt and the society she lives in?

It’s the kind of book I can’t get any grip on, an endless frustration that I can’t steer in any direction. I want a conclusion, no matter how unhappy. I want a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s a coming train. What I don’t want to be is infected by the manic, the passivity, the ugliness of it all.

This isn’t about bad relational decisions or how rudderless my generation is, it’s how Raven Leilani puts her hand on your neck and keeps forcing you to watch and think and experience.
Is that not something I enjoy? Am I a cookie-cutter reader?

Or is it simply that the confrontation is too big, the despair too overwhelming, and the possible life line too brittle?

I’m angry at this novel. I’m frustrated by the impact I allowed it to have on me and how I feel I have to defend myself. A happy ever after wouldn’t even have satisfied me at the end, I want to put this growth to bed so I can calm down again.

A confession it is, then.

Today Will Be Different

Today will be different.

Today Will Be Different, Maria Semple, Little, Brown & Company 2016

Maria Semple did it before: the frazzle, the alien character in a grand, wealthy world. This time it’s not a side-character, but the main. And that gets a bit exhausting after a while.

Because what’s happening, really? Our protagonist tries to be better, for at least one day. It doesn’t work the way she wants to, but only part of that is because of reasons outside of her control.

Unlike with Bernadette (I’m just going to continue comparing here) – there is no direction here, no pay-off, not even a crooked compass. It’s Ducks with better punctuation, but with even less consideration for the person we have to feel something more than annoyance for. There are crumbs of motivation behind her behaviour, but never enough to create even a biscotti from. Instead, you just don’t care about any of the people involved.

Maybe this is Semple’s thing. Maybe I’m not finely-enough-tuned to a traumatised person’s inner-workings, maybe it was the wrong book at the wrong time.

And just like the author of Today Will Be Different I’ll let the reader decide.

Educated

I’m standing on the red railway car that sits abandoned next to the barn.

Educated, Tara Westover, HarperCollins 2018

“Holy shit” might simultaneously be very fitting and entirely inappropriate for these memoirs from a woman that grows in Mormon surroundings with a family that seems to be a magnet for mental and physical disaster.

Tara’s father is sure that the End of Days is near, Iluminati are real and that the government is out to get you and brainwash you. The children are home-schooled and are expected to devote their entire lives to the family. Some of them do so easier than others, and not everyone has the mental health to do so.

Straighter put: there’s several not-diagnosed issues walking around and as everything is God’s will or a government-threat, there’s no room to change things. Even in cases of life or death.

Through a combination of circumstances and clear decisions; Tara starts to see things differently, starts to develop differently. Educated is the story of where it started, how it went and where it (for now) ended. It’s also a pamphlet for education, mental health care and a supportive society.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter

Only idiots aren’t afraid of flying.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, Scaachi Koul, Doubleday 2017

I didn’t know about this woman’s existence before reading this collection of articles/slices of life. Possibly it was the title that caught my attention, and I always consciously try to read more by women of colour. Another thing I appreciated was how her view of India juxtaposed with the one mentioned in The Far Field. As someone who wants to visit India one day, it was nice to hear that it’s not an unsafe for white people pile of trash after all.

But I deter; this is about Scaachi Koul, not me. A Canadian woman with Indian parents and the body, hangups and cultural differences that come with it. She discusses these in a dry tone and also explains why: women have little room – women of colour even less to have any kind of emotion that isn’t desired.

In under 200 pages she shows both her life as that of an immigrant daughter, a brown woman in Canada, just another person growing up.

Some articles are very recognisable, some might make you cringe. As far as insights go: consider me further insighted.

Never Have I Ever

The game was Roux’s idea

Never Have I Ever, Joshilyn Jackson, P.S. 2019

This was a snack novel that turned out to be one of the better snacks you can get. Like – you were aiming for something sweet, but suddenly there was flavour as well, you know? Like that.

I’ve mentioned before how I’m a sucker for Rich Community Problems and that’s what sucked me into Never Have I Ever as well. Our main character has a lovely life in a perfect community but Oh no! a disruptive presence appears. Her lovely life is based on not-so-lovely things. Mama Bear has to come out! Etc., you know how it goes.

Which made me write a post about it (there’s books I don’t write blogs about – plenty) is that there’s a surprise. And Jackson pulls it off well. Thing about surprises is that you need little to kill them, so I’ll end with this: for a fun ride with this trope, try this novel.

Lady MacBeth

90 min.

This is a bit like The Favourite, except it’s simultaneously milder and meaner. Less laughs, whimsy and absurdity than that film; more cold-blooded actions.

I don’t think that the character of Lady MacBeth desires any kind of introduction: she leaves a path of destruction as one does. This time, the lady is just a brat with little background and motivation, and absolutely no remorse.

That’s a relief, to be honest. She wants to, she does so, and we move on. The missing background isn’t bothersome, the motivation is clear as nothing more than ‘because I want to’. It also makes the film solely about her: other characters are almost extras, and it provided a watching experience that’s different.

Will it stay with me? Maybe. Was it something new I needed? Yes. I immediately checked which other films A71 Entertainment provides, which I’d definitely call a compliment.

The Farm

The emergency room is an assault.

The Farm, Joanne Ramos, Doubleday 2019

I expected this to be sharper. Almost halfway in I commented that I was hoping that the author would deliver on what she was promising. She didn’t. This is a clear example of a novel that would have blown the mind of someone less well-read and well-informed. I know that sounds snobbish, but it’s the truth in this case: the ideas used in this novel are quite Body Sovereignty 101 and What Are The Limits of Capitalism 101. You might be curious about learning more, but for those that already did, it leaves you feeling a bit without direction.

The Farm is a very luxurious place where (implied illegal) immigrant women are surrogates for very rich families. For nine months they are pampered, kept from their usual lives and financially rewarded for several reasons. They’re also not allowed to have too many emotions, share too much personal information and contact anyone outside. They’re endlessly (physically) checked out and basically just viewed and handled as walking wombs.

Jane comes from the Philippines, is a young mother and tries to better her life for her daughter. She starts out as a nanny, but something happens which cuts off that line of work.

Sharing more would spoil some of the plot lines that are nicely knitted together, but simply miss spark. Do I need to be angry? Horrified? Was this all just a pamphlet?

I guess I’m still in the market for something that teaches me more about surrogacy and/or rich people that need to be stopped.

Bumblebee

114 min.

I wrote ‘Hailee Steinfeld surprised me again’ in a review, fully believing that I had already reviewed this film and therefore could connect to it. Reader, I didn’t. Maybe because I was too surprised about liking a Transformers-film? I can hear my brothers sneering that “robots aren’t so dumb after all, eh?”. Anyway, this is a review for the film Bumblebee.

I can still remember the director of this mentioning how this would be an origins-film with heart, similar to The Iron Giant. I can remember because I scoffed at that, loudly. After Michael Bay’s nonsense with endless fight scenes, explosions and jokes about primary and secondary sexual body parts, the bar was below the floor. Try not to have your Transformer sound like a black rapper-cliché first before saying such things, director (they’re two different people, Michael wasn’t involved in this one). Not pestered by nostalgia, I was ready to watch this film with half an eye and still complain the entire way (I’m sure sometimes we pick films/series that can be followed with just half of our interest).

Except for the first couple of minutes, there’s very few robots in this, and because of certain reasons the main one can’t even talk. That’s one point in their favour. Next is – I will absolutely admit it – the fact that Bumblebee is quite adorable and main character Charlie (Steinfeld) really plays well off him. There’s so many charming moments that this could be called a “boy and his dog”-film, instead of it being Actiony Adventure (capitals essential). Bumblebee (not his first name, by the way) is on the run, Charlie is feeling alone and misunderstood, of course they find each other.

Another plus in my book is that there’s room for development of their relationship. Not just a five minute montage to quickly move on to fighting robots and exploding buildings – we get a glimpse at Charlie’s motivations and what’s going on with Bumblebee. Wow.

The run length completes my compliment-trifecta (not going to read back to see if I have three compliments): yes, it’s almost two hours, but you don’t notice because aforementioned room for development. I would have zoned out by number three of six action scenes in a row, but now I didn’t even want to pause for a bathroom break. This film had me.

And yes, just like The Iron Giant, it also made me cry at the end.

Trust Exercise

Neither can drive.

Trust Exercise, Susan Choi, Henry Holt and Company 2019

What an utter load of twatwaffle no doubt disguised as High Literature because there is a load of teens fucking in it, it described in all kind of visuals and all this done by a female author.

What a disappointment. This is one of those titles that drew my eye, lost my attention because of the summary, only to regain it because of a solid review – I think (I can’t even remember). This isn’t just a love story between different worlds, there is A Twist and boy – hold onto your panties for that one! When does the twist happen? In the last forty pages out of the 250. Is it satisfying and/or satisfyingly explained? No. Are there any explanations for the behaviour of these Cool Guys and Girls? Barely. Is all this written in such a way that you understand that this is DEEP? Sadly, yes.

Boo, I hate such a severe disappointment. The twist could have done something, but I was browbeaten into absolutely passive not-caring long before that. Yes, I’m going to make a bad pun to finish this off: this trust exercise failed massively.

The Cat Returns

75 min.

This might be my favourite Studio Ghibli. It’s less breath-taking in how it looks and how diversely weird the characters are, but I guess that it also makes it more accessible. Or that could be because it’s ‘just’ 75 minutes instead of the studio’s habit to go for two hours and over.

Is this a children’s film? I wouldn’t know, aren’t all of them? The style is of pastels and little chuckles, but with enough barbs for the viewer to scratch their head. Possibly.

Studio Ghibli

Sweet girl Haru risks her own life to save a cat. Turns out that that cat is a prince, and his father decides that Haru deserves eternal gratitude. Oh, and his son’s hand in marriage, because why not.

Haru is – understandably – a tad confused and rather doesn’t marry a cat. Good thing she gets help from an unlikely angle, and the catty balance is evened out.

The Cat Returns feels more traditionally like a fairy tale than other Studio Ghibli creations, and there’s less gruesome looks and characters. Maybe you should view it as an introduction to the studio. It will also help with preventing you from feeling slight frustration about every main female character from the studio looking the same, but maybe it’s already too late for that.