Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: The Bone People

The Bone PeopleThe Bone People by Keri Hulme

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A deeply impressionistic novel about three outcasts in New Zealand who find each other & slowly grow into a family.

From now on, if anyone asks me for stuff similar to Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake, Bone People will be my first recommendation. There are some basic plot similarities, such as the intersections between European & Maori, urban & rural/Aboriginal lifestyles. There is also a child in danger & a community around it that knows about the trouble but has convinced itself to look the other way. But where Lake gestures to the metaphysical, People fully incorporates mystical influence into its story, making the story seem more like another iteration of a folk tale or mythological story. Echoes abound in Bone People, especially around the character Simon, & creates plenty of tension & wariness simply by hinting at or distorting what is or isn’t said. (I spent a good portion of the book suspecting Joseph of even worse actions than what is portrayed.)

To sum up, a language-heavy book that excels more at atmosphere than plot. Kerewin never totally overcomes her perfect persona tendencies & Joseph’s redemption is a little too pat, but the author’s artistry is still compelling.

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Lessons Learned From 90s Sitcoms

  1. Don’t lie ever, not even sins of omission or to protect someone.  It will blow up in your face like all get out when the writers need drama.
  2. If you break rule #1 & feel really really badly about it & make an effort to talk it out, the universe will reward you.  Like giving you an orphan baby to raise, or reuniting you with your true love, or granting you the motivation to start a new venture.
  3. Because whenever things go wrong, enough time & talk will set things right.  Talking means you’re trying & that the writers really want to flex those drama skills that aren’t working so well in that unpublished novel they’re working on.
  4. Be bold.  Go for the big gestures–buy your love interest an engagement ring; rent a Ferris wheel to say ‘I love you’; create the perfect senior prom for your girl or guy.
  5. Parents: argyle makes you a moral authority.  Unless you’re having a bad day or there’s a need for conflict–then it makes you self-righteous.
  6. If anything shady is going on but you can’t bring yourself to voice your suspicions or confront the other person, say you “feel off.”
  7. If you “feel off” for too long though, you’d better go to the doctor pretty quickly.  Those negative vibes might have just turned themselves into cancer or some other terminal illness.  You could die at the most inopportune moment, like say, days after your baby daughter is born to your schizophrenic wife or right when your adult son has encountered some money troubles.
  8. Also, are you sure you’re pregnant?  That might be cancer too.
  9. Abortion, drug use, casual sex, and questions about religion are not good.  However, civil respectful debate is fantastic!
  10. Also, if things get too heavy plot-wise, just rip off It’s a Wonderful Life for your holiday special.  I mean, at this point if you don’t do it, you’re just gonna look like a weirdo.
  11. Ponies are excellent bar/bat mitvah/birthday/starting your new business gifts.  Also, you should totally give your long-term crush a chuppah as a wedding gift/statement that you are the better match.
  12. Protip: totally ok to go through someone’s mail or house even if there are cookies or engagement rings involved.
  13. You can be in love with two people at once.  But you actually just love one of them more than the other.  And when said rejected love interest irrevocably leaves town when you breakup, they will join all other rejected love interests in their quiet coastal town where they don’t hold ritual group pinings & don’t think of what could have been, even though you tore out their hearts, Lorelai, I mean, Jesus, I moved cross-country to forget you!
  14. It is a bad idea to date your daughter’s high school English teacher.  Not only does this complicate your home-life, but having a character who is empathetic, can quote vast amounts of literature at romantic times, wants to help raise your family, sends you 1000 yellow daises as part of a proposal, & is stupid hot–yeah, they’re not sticking around past this season.
  15. Which reminds me, writers: Have your characters gratuitously quote Shakespeare or make other high literary comparisons in everyday speech.  Everyone here is an artist, dammit!  And that MFA degree isn’t gonna show off itself!
  16. You can’t hide from the hard knocks of life in a small Connecticut/Colorado/California town.  But if you leave. . . let’s just say buy some good insurance.
  17. It’s uncool to joke about your suicide attempt in a bowling alley.
  18. But life sounds worse on paper than when you lived through it.
  19. Although it is pretty cruel to name your least intelligent character Bright.
  20. And the whole point to this list, the main takeaway that allows me to get away with this silliness?  Being a sarcastic dick can get you plenty of attention & really help you get places.
Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Bimbos of the Death Sun

Bimbos of the Death Sun (Jay Omega, #1)Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dr. James Mega has a problem: he’s been invited to a sci-fi con to promote his new book Bimbos of the Death Sun. The problem is that other than his own story, he doesn’t really know a lot about the genre, or the publishing business, or about the types of people who show up to cons or what they do for entertainment. He just wants to sell a few more copies of his book before his students & co-workers find out his secret pen name. Unfortunately, Mega finds himself plunged into the heart of the con world when popular author & embittered object of fandom Appin Dungannon turns up murdered & the fen lose their collective minds.

Originally lent to me by someone in my writing group, I enjoyed laying around on my couch & just absorbing the story. First, it was curiously pleasing to read about an event that was still very regional & struggling to figure out how to get through an entire weekend of programming. In 2016, many cons (Comic-con, DragonCon, the PAXs) have become mainstream, huge-ticket, hype machines that attract insane crowds. It was nice for once to read about a con tucked away in the mountains of my home state with people coming from Annandale, Reston, & Richmond. And while certain specific technological elements have not aged well, McCrumb’s book tries to place much of the focus on the characters & their specific hierarchies & rituals. Having attended a con myself, there was still a lot that rang true about people whose status as Big Name Fans are almost jobs unto themselves, filksingers (equal to general geek-culture musicians nowadays), & room parties. There were also a number of moments that made me curious about what McCrumb thinks of the current con scene & other related niche activities. At one point, Mega’s girlfriend (& dueteragonist) Marion laments that the time, effort, & needlework that goes into some of the costumes that are only worn for a few times. (Compared to today, where many cosplay artists are venerated for their work & where patterns & fabrics can be bought just as easily at the fabric store.) At another point, Marion comforts a girl traumatized during a D&D session because her character in-game was deceived into marrying someone wearing the guise of her true love even though she-the-player knew what was going on. (Um, avatar rape anyone?) As for filksinging, come on–I think you can draw a pretty direct line from there to Jonathan Coulton & chiptune.

That’s not to say that Bimbos is a perfect package. There are some really mean depictions of the fen & I can see that perhaps the author is making the point that even unpopular groups have their jerks & undesirables. But, Marion, who sometimes seems to be a stand-in for the author herself, gives a conflicted perspective. Sometimes she navigates the groups like a pro & corrects any accidental cruelty on James’s part; other times she bites her tongue from telling the other con-goers, “Oh grow up. Really children. . .” And, yes, all of the technology mentioned in the novel is old, outdated, & seemingly silly but since I was already enjoying the story more than being frustrated by it, I was willing to do a mental search-and-replace while reading, substituting an obstinate hard drive with a locked smartphone. (The replacement actually works, especially considering the main police investigator is an older cranky man who curses the vagaries of electronics.)

Overall, a fun read & still somewhat relevant for explaining the intense societies of geeky subcultures. Recommended for those who like to laugh at their own adopted scene.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: LOCAS: The Maggie and Hopey Stories

LocasLocas by Jaime Hernández

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first volume of a thorough retrospective collecting Jaime Hernández’s Maggie & Hopey stories. Starting as a series of sci-fi shaggy dog stories, Locas slowly develops into more realistic anecdotes about the relationship between the two punk Chicanas as well as stories about their friends, their neighborhood, & ultimately about what life they seek out as they each grow up.

Having read Amor y Cohetes previously was a definite boost and gave me something to refer back to when I struggled through some of the slower story moments. There was the added bonus of actually knowing some of the visual references beforehand as well–when Jaime draws a scene with a crowd or a party, many of the fill-in characters are people from other comics by himself or his brothers. With that said, new readers do not need to worry that this first collection is too dense or self-referential. I quickly learned that if someone or something new appeared on the page, it would be explained sooner rather than later.

The driving force of the whole collection, of course, is the ever-changing relationship between the beguiling Hopey & the open-hearted Maggie. Their dynamic as they argue, support each other, cause trouble, separate & reunite was what kept me reading. And the people that surround them are equally compelling–it wasn’t long before I was just as wrapped up in Penny Century’s desperate attempts to find satisfaction or Izzy Ortiz’s vague, haunted perspective. I did a happy dance when Rocky from Amor y Cohetes showed up briefly & I fell in lust with Joey Glass despite my better judgement.

And the art! Did I mention the expressive way that Hernández draws faces or how everyday people with nearly every body type appear in each story. Or how I can’t stop taking pictures of certain panels? The cover of Locas itself is the best advertisement since it is made up of panels that work as mini-works of art.

Overall, I recommend Locas to readers who have lots of time to spare & are very curious about the Love & Rockets series. A book this size is a commitment & really won’t draw you in if it pick it up casually. This book especially works for completest readers who want to know everything from the very beginning, but be advised that there is another waiting for you when you finish.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me

Not the Israel My Parents Promised MeNot the Israel My Parents Promised Me by Harvey Pekar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting overview of Jewish history & the creation of the Israeli state intertwined with Harvey Pekar’s own view of Jewish nationalism. JT Waldman’s art compliments the shifts in time with era-specific illustrations & graphics.

Definitely for American Splendor intermediaries. The book was completed after Pekar died & does feel a little incomplete. Pekar discusses the evolution of his ideas about Israel going from his parents’ influence to his own disillusionment. But I was left wondering if Harvey’s parents ever experienced the same change of heart or how the changing policies of the Jewish home-state ever affected them as they aged. Readers do get some satisfaction with Joyce Brabner’s epilogue, but I was still left with an unsatisfied feeling. Overall a quick but engaging read that serves as a quiet closing chapter to a lifetime of thoughtful work by Pekar.

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