Sarah Monette, The Virtu
The second book about Melusine. Check it—spoilers!
I’m going to be at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving, which means that the Internet is…primitive, and chances for posting will be minimal. Ergo, I’m reposting the entry I made last year, back when I was still a vegetarian and savaged Tofurkey while the rest of my family savaged the real thing. Enjoy!
For those of you not in the know, I’m a cracker. Seriously, when I was in the fifth grade this little kid informed me that he was a “black-eyed pea,” and that I was a “cracker.” Which I was totally okay with, because at that stage in life I didn’t have much experience with beans, but I knew what a fucking Ritz was. And I also knew that they were delicious.
For the record, I have never learned to enjoy black-eyed peas, but I love black, kidney, and pinto beans with all my heart. Just so’s you don’t think I’m racist, here.
But anyway, I’m a whitey McWhiterson from Whitesville, North Carolina, and while I feel that my Italian-ness somewhat mitigates all that Wonderbread and mayonnaise whiteness, every once in awhile I just have to face the fact that I? Am a motherfucking honky. And nothing makes me face that fact faster than a visit home with my family for a major federal holiday.
Because nothing makes you realize how white trash you are like having your parents try to force you to look at a dead animal.
Now, my parents have four cats—which would normally elevate them to crazy cat-lady status, except for the fact that one of my neighbors totally has a whole fucking colony. Who live primarily in the storm drain directly in front of his house. Anyway. My parents have four cats, two of whom are indoor-outdoor, and both of whom have done some killin’ in their time. Sonic is old as shit and more senile than…a really senile person, but in her day she traumatized the crap out of a preadolescent moi by leaping four feet into the air and bringing down a mockingbird in mid-flight. Feathers went everywhere, man. Sonic doesn’t get much murdering in nowadays, seeing as she spends most of her time snuggling with people who don’t really want to touch her disgusting, scabby butt; no, the killer du jour is Sophie, who is eight years old and not letting middle age slow down her relentless quest to kill everything in the neighborhood that’s smaller than she is.
Sophie is, in the words of my mother, a “stone killer.” Or, as my sister would say, “one crazy bitch.” She’s got claws like a raptor and the willingness to use them against things that are little and wriggly. At any given time, there’s at least one of her “offerings” at the head of the driveway; a few days before I came home for Thanksgiving, there were allegedly about four. Apparently, though, the influx of holiday visitors made her anxious to provide more meat for her humans. “Jesus shit,” her little cat brain went. “There are TONS of people here. What the hell are they all going to eat? Gotta go kill something bigger.” So on Friday morning, my momma stepped outside and found a dead bird.
Now, it’s not that momma wasn’t saddened by this development; I’m sure she was. Unfortunately, she was also really curious about what kind of bird her cat had killed, because she lives in a very small, very boring town and there was nothing good playing at the theater. So she looked it up in one of her innumerable bird books, but she wasn’t sure she had the exact right species. “Deborah, come outside and look at this bird with me,” she asked (politely enough). “I need a second opinion.”
Now, I’m a tree-hugging vegetarian hippie who cried and hyperventilated when I had to dissect a fetal pig sophomore year of high school, so…“Uh…no mom,” I said. She was disappointed.
“The answer is still no.”
And then, my father said the line that will live on in white trash infamy, the line that will haunt my dreams for years to come, that will crush my middle-class pretensions for all time. “Deborah!” he roared, “You GET outside, and you LOOK AT THAT DEAD BIRD WITH YOUR MOTHER!”
Happy white trash Thanksgiving, y’all.
Kathleen Duey, Skin Hunger
I bought this because I’d seen a lot of fangirling and squee about it from numerous sources; I wouldn’t say that I regret that decision, but for me, this was a thoroughly decent book. It wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I do not really understand going into convulsions about it.
I really need to stop buying books that other people are so insanely devoted to. I never like them as much as everyone else does. Because apparently, I’m an asshole and a killjoy.
Anyway, Sadima’s mother dies after a magician cheats her father out of a doctor’s fee and then steals the family valuables. Seriously, the magician goes into the birthing room, comes out mysteriously clanking, and then tells Sadima’s father that mother and baby are “resting” and should not be disturbed. Which means that Sadima’s mother’s corpse goes undiscovered for hours, and Sadima herself nearly dies from exposure.
That’s harsh, man.
Speaking of harsh, our other lead, Hahp, is considered a failure by his stern, abusive dad, and is packed off to wizarding school because dad can’t think of anything else to do with him. Oh, and it turns out that the wizards don’t actually feed the students: the kids must learn to conjure food, or they will starve to death. And then a bunch of tertiary characters actually do starve to death, and Hahp is left to hate himself for being too frightened of the wizards to help his classmates.
That’s wicked harsh.
It gets worse. Sadima lives with her father and brother, who both overprotect the crap out of her because of what happened to her mother. Her father’s protection, however, becomes outright abuse: he won’t let Sadima have friends, he barely lets her leave the farm, and on at least one occasion in the narrative, he hits her. Her brother’s behavior is more benign, but no less smothering—and although Sadima can communicate with animals, her brother steadfastly refuses to believe that she’s anything out of the ordinary. Which is why when Sadima’s father finally dies, she makes a break for the big city, without her brother.
Once in the city, Sadima hooks up with Franklin, a young man she met once a few years before. Because she loves Franklin, she stays with him and his menacing “friend,” Somiss. The two men are trying to bring magic back into the world—but the longer Sadima stays with them, the more she grows to hate and fear Somiss. Meanwhile, back at the wizarding school, Hahp is busy being starved and brutalized. In his spare time, he fantasizes about killing his father.
Sadima and Hahp aren’t in two separate countries; they’re in the same place several hundred years apart. The ways that their lives begin to overlap is pretty interesting, and I will be checking out the sequel (like everyone else in YA these days, Duey’s planned a trilogy). But somehow, this all just seemed…flat to me. Disturbing, but flat. And I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to anyone under twelve—and even then, be prepared to discuss the book pretty extensively, because damn. It’s a lot to handle.
Recommended for: Misanthropes, child-haters.
In brief: a movie based upon the first novel in Stephenie Meyer’s inexplicably popular vampire series. Bella Swann, our heroine, moves from Phoenix to Washington State because her mom has just married a minor-league baseball player and wants to go gallivanting with him. Bella, ever the martyr, selflessly allows her mother to go on the road by moving to rainy, rainy, rainy, rainy—have we mentioned that it’s rainy?—Washington to live with her taciturn police chief dad, Charlie. When she goes to school, everyone is incredibly interested in her, even though she is frankly a pretty boring person and never wants to talk to anyone. And yes, I know she is meant to be “deep” or whatever, but hey–I’m a big reader too, and if a bunch of cute, funny boys wanted to hang out with me, I’d take out my earbuds and put down Jane Eyre, okay? Anyway, Bella is boring and kind of sullen, but there’s this boy in her biology class named Edward who behaves like an unmedicated bipolar drug addict, and she finds that dreamy. So then a lot of stuff happens, and it turns out that he’s a vampire. And he can never go out in direct sunlight because if he does, he’ll…sparkle.
Confidential to Stephenie Meyer: he’s a vampire, not a goddamned unicorn. What’s next, extending the franchise to My Little Ponies?
Some parts of Twilight were tolerable: the acting was uniformly good, there were plenty of hot, shirtless men, and there were a couple of pretty good jokes. Also, the scenery was absolutely gorgeous and made me want to visit wherever it was that they filmed (Oregon, I believe). But what interests me about Twilight is less the movie itself, and more the fact that the last time I went to see a film that had been so hard-core marketed to a very specific segment of the population, it was the summer of 2007 and I was watching shit blow up good in Transformers. The similarities between the two viewing experiences were quite striking. In both cases, I went to a movie theater that was filled almost completely with members of the alleged “target audience.” In both cases, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why a member of the opposite sex would ever want to mate with the lead character. In both cases, there was a completely gratuitous misuse of an ethnic population to forward the plot. In both cases, there were extremely attractive young men standing around for pretty much no reason. In both cases, the movie ended with a whiny Linkin Park single playing over the credits. In both cases, there was a lot of gratuitous violence. Of course, in Transformers, the lead character manages to outwit a creature infinitely stronger and (allegedly) craftier than he is; in Twilight, Bella falls for a stupid and obvious ploy and gets her leg juicily and graphically broken by a creature infinitely stronger and (definitely) craftier than she is. Oh, and then her boyfriend and his family have to save her as she writhes in agony from a vampire bite.
Huh. Guess that second X chromosome really does make all the difference when you’re a lead character.
In short, I came out of that movie feeling sad about the lessons we’re imparting to teenage girls. I mean, boys get to be capable against all odds, but girls have to suffer horribly and then hope that their manic depressive hookups will come through for them? Guys can end a movie by having an admittedly creepy but light-hearted makeout sesh on top of a living car (that would be the creepy part), but girls have to end it in a hospital bed, swearing undying love to some random they met not three weeks ago? What the hell, people? What the fucking hell? Are you trying to create a whole generation of girls who think that they’re powerless and that their sense of self-worth should be completely dependent on some dude?
Recommended for: NOT THE TARGET AUDIENCE. FOR SERIOUS.
So I was reading this blog, and I was really getting into it because it was smart and funny and—as the kids like to say—“hip,” and then I hit a wee bit of a snag. See, the authoress in question was talking about some issue, and she brought up the “I’m not a feminist, but” line. Only in this case, it was the bastard child of “I’m not a feminist, but”: “I have a hard time embracing feminism, because I think women cause more problems for other women than men do.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of smart women who reject the label “feminist” because they don’t like the baggage that goes with it. Because they’re tired of putting up with the racist and classist shit that has unfortunately plagued the movement ever since Susan B. Anthony threw black women under the bus in an attempt to woo Southern white women. Because they’re sick of having to fight to be seen as equals within the very movement that is supposed to be about equality. I get that. It saddens me because I feel like feminism is losing out on a lot of cool people that way, but that’s feminism’s own fucking fault, frankly. That’s a failure within the movement itself, and I can’t say I blame people for rejecting the label “feminist” when they’re expected to do all the same work and get none of the same benefits. So I can’t say that I’m a “Yes, you are” feminist, because although I get where that author is coming from, I think it’s unfair to insist that every pro-woman progressive identify as a feminist when feminism hasn’t done enough to embrace everyone who has a “right” to wear the label.
All that being said? Women who rail against women’s inhumanity to women really test my patience.
Women can, of course, do a lot of rotten things to other women. I don’t believe in universal sisterhood, and anyone who does after having spent some time in a middle school classroom is frankly deluded. I got teased and hazed the same as everyone else, and I haven’t assumed that all girls are my friends since I was about ten or so. But that’s not what feminism is about. Feminism isn’t about thinking that every woman’s got your back, or that women never do wrong to other women. It is not about the girl who pulled your hair in the second grade or even about the guy who called you cunt in the tenth grade. It is about the word “cunt,” and the fact that it’s a synonym for “vagina,” and the fact that calling someone a “Cunt” is such a very bad thing. It’s about the cultural weight we put behind that word, a weight that words like “Dick” and “prick” simply do not have.
Call someone a prick, and they might be mad—or they might laugh. Call someone a “cunt,” though, and unless you are very close friends, you’d better start running.
Feminism is not about individuals. It’s not. Feminism isn’t about individual people who have done other individuals wrong. Feminism is about systems of power, and guess what? Those systems of power rarely ultimately benefit women as a group. Saying that women are cruel to other women is just the tip of the fucking iceberg, people. It’s like saying that your breast augmentation was “merely” an individual choice. Sure, it was—but do you really, honestly think that you would have wanted to have bags of silicone inserted into your body if your culture didn’t A.) consider large breasts attractive; and also B.) tell women that if they aren’t attractive, then they aren’t anything? Somehow, I doubt it.
So yes. If other ladies are mean to you, then I’m sorry–but I also invite you to ponder the ways in which they are cruel. Calling you a whore? Throwing you under the bus if it looks like they have an opportunity for advancement? Ask yourself why they are doing what they are doing, and if all you can come up with is, “Women are just cruel to other women,” then I can pretty much guarantee that you’re not thinking hard enough, or looking deep enough. You are seeing the symptoms, not the disease itself.
Simon Holt, The Devouring
The older I get, the more of a wuss I become. I’ve never liked horror movies, since my parents were BAD PARENTS and let me “accidentally” catch scenes from Aliens when I was three. Gee, thanks DAD. But despite my life-long aversion to horror movies, as a teenager I could chomp down a horror novel with zero problems. I read The Shining and Carrie and a bunch of other Stephen King classics with nary an eye-twitch, because here’s the truth: I have very little visual imagination. If someone says “So then the alien swamp monster ripped our hero’s guts out and ate them like candy,” I’m all, “Oooh, candy!” But if someone shows me the same scene? Holy god, I hope you brought your earplugs, cause my scream is going to be LOUD and GIRLY.
At least, that’s the way it used to be. I used to be able to read all sorts of awful things with nary a twinge, but I seem to have grown an extra vagina or something in my old age. Suddenly, the mere act of reading this stuff is enough to disturb me—which is an unfortunate thing to realize when it’s late at night and you’re reading a book called The Devouring.
Shit, y’all. Just shit.
Anyway, The Devouring is about a girl whose little brother’s soul is carried off by a creepy monster called a Vour; the Vour then takes over his body and begins acting like a pre-teen sociopath. Lots of disturbing crap ensues, including the brutal murder of an innocent hamster.
DAMMIT, NOT THE HAMSTER!!!!
As an aside, authors? Screenwriters? It’s gotten to the point that whenever someone introduces a loveable pet in any movie or book that purports to be dramatic, I immediately know that SOMEONE IS GOING TO KILL IT. Can we stop with that, please? Y’all are breaking my heart, here, and not in a good way.
Ahem. Back to the review. To say that this book really wasn’t my thing would be vastly understating the case. It’s more like this book REALLY. WASN’T. MY. THING. I only bought it because my sister recommended it, and although she has led me astray on many occasions, she’s never led me right into blood and guts before. And I only kept reading it after I’d realized her heinous betrayal because I paid sixteen bucks for that bitch, and I will not be cheated, dammit!
So yes. Not my kind of thing, but even beyond the fact that The Devouring is part of a genre I do not enjoy, the prose was lackluster and the characters were completely cardboard. It also had that male-writer-writing-a-female-main-character vibe to it, which I abhor. To whit: author dudes? Try running your girly scenarios by an actual girl before you publish them. Actually, try two or three girls, on the off chance that the first one you ask is a kook-bear. That way, you’ll avoid embarrassing yourself the way Holt did, which was by claiming that the protagonist gets her hair trimmed weekly by her mother and that it’s this huge bonding ritual for the two of them. First off, ladies need to get their hair trimmed once every 4-8 weeks, not days. Second, if her hair is supposedly your heroine’s “best feature,” as Holt claims, then let me lay some knowledge on you: no way does that bitch not have layers. Ergo, no way is she letting mommy cut her hair straight across so that it hangs in one undifferentiated lump. Finally, and least shallowly—have you ever had your hair cut by a non-professional? It’s not a bonding moment, it is a TENSE TIME wherein you’re both fully prepared to get VERY ANGRY WITH ONE ANOTHER. One slip of the scissors, and it is WAR, let me tell you.
In short, the whole concept of weekly hair cuts with mom as fun times? Totes ridiculous, and any gaggle of girls would have been able to tell you that. Trufax.
Recommended for: Dude, I read Fear Street and Anne Rice novels and loved them as a teen, so I can’t pretend like cardboard characters and clunky prose are always deal-breakers for that demographic. Have at it, teenagers!
Kids, if you don’t know what Juno is, then clearly you did nothing but sleepwalk through early 2008. So I ain’t gonna summarize, I’m just gonna react. And my laziness in this matter has NOTHING TO DO with the fact that I’m so tired I can’t quite see straight. NOTHING.
She’s waaaaatching you…
And, let’s face it, thinking about the next bird she’s going to disembowel. That’s my girl!
Anyway, yeah. I’m an insomniac whose prescription sleepaid has failed, and there’s all kinds of other crazy things going on that prevent me from telling you about Sarah Monette’s gay wizard and his incestuous love for his half-brother. HOYAY. I’ll get back to you next week, but until then–hey, my cat, she is pretty. And mean. And pretty mean.
Love you, most sincerely,
Talulah Fake-ass Name Mankiller Guido Carmine Italia, the third.
I feel obligated to tell you that I went to work today with a giant hickey on my neck, quite flagrantly uncovered. And also that my hair is kind of greasy and keeps falling out its ponytail, I am still covered in paint from painting my boyfriend’s basement yesterday afternoon, and my pants are all linty. Basically, I am a shambling mess of a human being, and there is NO REASON why you should take anything I say seriously.
And so, my criticism:
Louise Rennison, Startled by His Furry Shorts and Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging
These are (respectively) the seventh and first books in Rennison’s long-running Georgia Nichols series. Georgia is a vapid British teenager whose life is devoted to lipstick, boys, and acting up in class. When I was an actual teenager, I think I would have completely hated her–I was a little too earnest for my own good, frankly. As an adult, though, I find her rotten behavior completely hilarious. Georgia is ignorant, mangles every language she has even a passing knowledge of, and is mean to her friends, her family, her boyfriends, and the occasional passerby. It is brilliant. The only complaint I have is that by the seventh book, it’s all wearing a bit thin. In Angus, Georgia still has a basic grasp of the English language; by Furry Shorts, she’s long since just started making shit up. Rennison never met a word she didn’t want to add “-osity” to, and while it’s funny, it can also just make Georgia look like a giant moron. I mean, I think we’re all guilty of inventing words when none quite captures the feeling we’re going for (or when we’ve had too much to drink). Georgia, however, creates words when there’s simply no reason to. Instead of saying, “I have some dignity,” for example, she says things like, “I have pridenosity.”
…yeeeeeeeeeeah. Hilarrible. The thing that I find most offensive as a reader, though, is that Georgia could speak basic English for the first few books; it wasn’t until the third or fourth one that Rennison started pulling this shite. Which leads me to believe that this “quirk” is either the product of a failing imagination, or that or Rennison thinks this generation of girls is dumber than the girls she started off writing for. Either way, not cool.
Still, they are funny. Check ‘em out, if you’ve got time.
Recommended for: Anyone who wants to get in touch with their inner bitchy smart-aleck slutbag.
As y’all probably know, “Mankiller” is not my real last name. Although if it were, wouldn’t that be fucking awesome? Like, “Hello, you have reached the Mankiller residence. We aren’t home right now, but leave your name and number and we’ll be sure to OH GOD MY EYE!”
Made. Of. Win.
But no, not my real last name. Without getting into specifics, my real last name? It’s Italian, and people tend to have a problem with it because while my father’s family sorta anglicized the pronunciation, they didn’t anglicize it all the way. Also, in a total dick move, they kept the original spelling. It was like, “We’re going to throw whitey a bone and make this a hard ‘g,’ but we’re going to still insist that ‘i-l-e’ be pronounced as ‘elly,’ JUST TO FUCK WITH PEOPLE.”
Consistency? What? For WHY?
So yeah, I have this last name, and it’s pretty much a doozy. Certainly I have met people with more complicated last names, names with z’s or no vowels, names that are simply not pronounceable for native English speakers. But in the Weird and Off-putting Last Names Olympics, I know my name is and always will be a contender, for the following reasons:
My parents, in order to make my life that much more miserable, decided to cap off my bizarre last name by spelling my relatively conventional first and middle names oddly. I won’t go into specifics, but all you really need to know is that my parents? My parents CLEARLY HATE ME. But you know, that seems to be a dynastic problem. My father has to deal with the painful knowledge that his parents didn’t love him enough to even bother giving him a middle name. And my mother has to deal with the fact that her parents didn’t love her enough to keep from giving her the middle name “Ardys.” Oh, and her first name’s a dude’s name. And since her first name’s a dude’s name and my dad doesn’t have a middle name, junk mailers are always getting confused and sending stuff addressed to my father that fuses their two names together. That, or they turn my mother’s name into a feminized version of itself, and it’s just like, THANKS FOR RUBBING IN THE FACT THAT I HAVE A MAN’S NAME, GUYS. STAY CLASSY.
Whatever. My maternal grandfather’s middle name was “Lavelle.” We were always doomed.