Oct 17 2018

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

This book first came to my attention when work was doing coverage of the Edgars the year it was nominated for Best First Novel, but I deliberately chose another book on the slate because the blurb was equal parts attractive and repulsive to me. It sounded very much like rich white people problems, plus every book compared to Gone Girl proves to be disappointing. But still, there was something about it that I couldn’t quite shake, so when Reese Witherspoon announced that she’d bought the movie rights, I figured I ought to read it sooner rather than later.

And oh jeez, am I glad I did. It’s been so long since I’ve read a book where the protagonist was so palpably and justifiably furious, whose radiant anger touched many targets but was primarily turned inward, punishing herself while building an impregnable shell against anyone who might possibly hurt her again. It is a brutally honest rendering of a woman who isn’t “nice” (I fucking hate that word when used to describe women: it usually translates to “doormat”) but who will do whatever it takes to get what she feels she deserves. And you know what? TifAni FaNelli deserves whatever she wants. After an adolescence of appalling degradation, she claimed her own needs and desires and rewards, and it made me fiercely happy to see her do it. I lauded her courage and ferocity, I related to her dreams and ambitions. I absolutely loved her.

But after reading the book, I hated the blurb even more. It declares that TifAni is hiding a secret that could destroy her entire life, implying that she once did something terrible for which she should feel shame. This is blatantly false, and weirdly anathema to the book’s theme of not apologizing for who you are, of holding wrongdoers accountable even as you let go of your pain. It’s like, can we stop blaming the victim here? I did really, really appreciate how Jessica Knoll didn’t try to pretty up any of TifAni’s inner thoughts, tho, especially when she was an adolescent desperately eager to please.

As to the rest of the plot, it’s twist after twist with a perfect ending exchange between TifAni and Aaron that has me bracing myself for her future. I loved this character, I loved Mr Larson (despite Whitney) and I haaaaaaated Luke and, especially, TifAni’s parents (tho I should have known from the way they spelled her name that they would be perfectly awful people.) I did think that everything after the rehearsal dinner felt a wee bit rushed, and I didn’t feel that we needed such a blatant spelling out of adult TifAni’s psycho-social motivations… but then again, many complaints regarding this book have to do with how she’s “unlikeable” so perhaps Ms Knoll wasn’t explicit enough. After reading some of the bonus material included in my library copy of the book, I’ve decided that I, for one, like and want to support this author as much as I do TifAni (and no, I don’t care what that says about me,) so I’ve already put myself on the waitlist for her next novel. Which is my poor person’s way of saying I highly recommend this book.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/10/17/luckiest-girl-alive-by-jessica-knoll/

Oct 15 2018

The City & The City by China Miéville

Don’t read the second sentence of this post. Don’t read the sentence that comes before this one. In this world, we do not acknowledge italics. Italics are the only text there is. If you see something written in another way, avert your eyes, unsee and unread before it is too late. We have some leniency with foreigners, but really you should accustom yourself to seeing only one thing, to observing the boundary between our text and that of its neighbors. You must choose one line, one mode, one city.

If you struggled to navigate that paragraph, you’ve already got a handle on the conceit that drives China Miéville’s 2009 novel, The City & The City. The story takes place in an Eastern European city of Miéville’s own intricate invention, or really two cities: Besźel, marked by nationalist paranoia and economic decline, and Ul Qoma, flush with foreign investments and world-renowned archaeological sites. The cities physically intertwine, but do not psychically overlap; a Besź child whose ball accidentally veers into Ul Qoma cannot run to fetch it, nor can an Ul Qoman cut across their Besź neighbor’s lawn to reach their own car, parked on the Ul Qoman curb. The boundaries between the cities are enforced both by the psychological conditioning—whose product Miéville describes as the act of “unseeing”—which all inhabitants receive from early childhood onwards, and by the mysterious organization known as Breach. Citizens of both metropolises are subject to Breach’s implacable judgment, and anyone who commits the crime of perceiving or interacting with the opposite city vanishes into the clutches of its black-clad enforcers. Any legitimate contact between Beźel and Ul Qoma must take place through a series of bureaucratic intermediaries: embassies,  websites whose domains end in .bz or .uq, international telephone calls.

And it is within this twisting, Byzantine landscape that Inspector Tyador Borlú, of Beźel’s Extreme Crime Squad, finds himself tasked with investigating a murder that becomes far more complicated than it initially appears. The novel begins with Borlú’s arrival at the crime scene, where he commences his examination with the observation that “Nothing is still like the dead are still. The wind moves their hair, as it moved hers, and they don’t respond at all.” This moment encapsulates the strategy that Miéville will employ throughout the rest of The City & The City: we are tied to Borlú’s gaze and voice, permitted to see only what he sees (and, generally, only after we’ve already learned what he thinks about the situation at hand). It’s a smart move, particularly in the context of a novel that draws equally on the traditions of two disparate-seeming genres: fantasy and crime fiction. A narrator whose perspective and knowledge are necessarily limited, and who performs sometimes-unreliable interpretive work on the page, can at once provide the type of worldbuilding information that’s vital for readers navigating the realms of the unreal, and help construct the shadowy, paranoid atmosphere so essential to noir. In his role as de facto guide and host, Borlú can both feed us an aside about Beźel’s DöplirCaffés, Jewish-Muslim coffeehouses with a long history in the city’s former ghettos, and half-obscure the fact that he routinely commits small acts of Breach, mentioning that “I always wanted to live where I could watch foreign trains.”

I won’t say much about the investigation itself, other than that, as it progresses, Borlú must journey from Beźel to Ul Qoma, and reevaluate the assumptions and alliances he’s held for years. As the story progresses, this increasingly takes the form of Borlú hunting down stories about yet a third place, a city between the cities. Miéville calls this mythic third city Orciny (a name I couldn’t help but read as a phonetic nod to Ursula K. Le Guin’s own imaginary Eastern European country, Orsinia), and though we never see or visit it, its in-between nature comes to dominate the narrative. Sometimes Orciny is a menacing presence, one that stalks Borlú and his fellow-investigators with deadly precision, and sometimes it appears as a source of hope, a symbol of unification in a setting defined by its fractures. Ultimately, it embodies both.

It would be easy to read The City & The City as a political allegory, a fable about the ways in which many of us ignore those (refugees, homeless people, the visibly disabled and mentally ill) who don’t comfortably fit into the comfortable realms we forge for ourselves. But there are no easy binaries in this set of worlds, no one city that partakes entirely of the moral or the affluent; citizens of both Ul Qoma and Besźel grapple with racism, poverty, and addiction, and neither metropolitan government has a monopoly on corruption or red tape. (And, for what it’s worth, Miéville himself characterizes this reading as simplistic.) Rather, The City & The City enacts a threefold warning: our own worlds are endlessly complex; we ignore other modes of existence to our detriment and at our peril; the most interesting, productive, and dangerous psychological and physical places are those which bridge and breach. 

Yet this method of rejecting binarist thinking proves both a contradictory and an uncompromising vision; although those who inhabit the gaps between the cities find some level of community with one another, they are also utterly cut off from those who exist firmly in Besźel or Ul Qoma. And, in many cases, it is these people who end up violently enforcing the separation which they themselves have abandoned. It’s a far cry from Le Guin’s call, in The Left Hand of Darkness, for individual relationships that can shatter destructive binaries through their emotional intimacy, attaining a dynamic that moves beyond “We and They,” or “I and It,” to “I and Thou.” But it is very much in keeping with Miéville’s larger body of work—think of Isaac from Perdido Street Station, who’s full of iconoclastic swagger at the outset, but eventually flees the nightmare he’s helped create—and it speaks to the gaps that Le Guin’s I-Thou ideal occasionally skirts. Not all struggles can be resolved through intimacy and mutual understanding. Sometimes, the sinister, bureaucratic Powers that Be win out; often, this happens because revolutionaries decide that life as higher-ranking members of the system isn’t so bad, after all.  

In The City & The City, Miéville remains a puzzle-maker, a trickster, a consummate dungeon master. As such, his interest lies less in the isolated workings of each city—or each genre—that he’s working with, than in their interstices and sometimes-monstrous hybrids, and Borlú proves a fitting narrator for this exploration. You can trust me (or, if not, at least trust the people who run the World Fantasy, Arthur C. Clarke, and Hugo Awards, all of which The City & The City won) when I tell you that this one’s more than worth your time. 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/10/15/the-city-the-city-by-china-mieville/

Oct 15 2018

Words Are My Matter by Ursula K. Le Guin

Here is Ursula K. Le Guin on life in pre-Roe America:

My friends at NARAL asked me to tell you what it was like before Roe vs. Wade. They asked me to tell you what it was like to be twenty and pregnant in 1950 and when you tell your boyfriend you’re pregnant, he tells you about a friend of his in the army whose girl told him she was pregnant, so he got all his buddies to come and say, “We all fucked her, so who knows who the father is?” And he laughs at the good joke.
They asked me to tell you what it was like to be a pregnant girl — we weren’t women then — a pregnant college girl who, if her college found out she was pregnant, would expel her, there and then, without plea or recourse. What it was like, if you were planning to go to graduate school and get a degree and earn a living so you could support yourself and do the work you loved — what it was like to be a senior at Radcliffe and pregnant and if you bore this child, this child which the law demanded you bear and would then call “unlawful,” “illegitimate,” this child whose father denied it, this child which would take from you your capacity to support yourself and do the work you knew it was your gift and your responsibility to do: What was it like? (p. 7)

Here is Ursula K. Le Guin on writing and business:

Right now [November 2014], we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same as responsible book publishing or authorship.
Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers, in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an e-book six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa. And I see a lot of us, the producers, who write the books and make the books, accepting this — letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish, what to write.
Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable — but then, so did the divine right of kinds. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words. (pp. 113–14)

Not every essay in Words Are My Matter is as trenchant (nor, to be honest, is every one as good), but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and many of the parts are very good indeed. Le Guin divides the book into three sections. The first, from which the two excerpts above are drawn, is “Talks, Essays, and Occasional Pieces.” Many of them were written on commission, or for a specific event, but one of the best, “Living in a Work of Art,” was written to discover what she thought about a particular subject: her childhood home, which was built by Bernard Maybeck, a well-known architect of the first half of the 20th century. Discussing that essay in her introduction to the book, she discloses one thing she thinks about writing well. “When I can use prose as I do in writing stories as a direct means or form of thinking, not as a way of saying something I know or believe, not as a vehicle for a message, but as an exploration, a voyage of discovery resulting in something I dind’t know before I wrote it, then I feel that I am using it properly.” (p. iii)

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/10/15/words-are-my-matter-by-ursula-k-le-guin/

Oct 14 2018

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

You know what would be really scary? A novel written from the point of view of one of the women who believed wholeheartedly in the tenets of the Republic of Gilead, who rejoiced in the work they were doing, who revelled in her role as helpmeet, as implementer of God’s will on an earth that is fallen but that can, with hard work and stern discipline, come just a little bit closer to redemption. Because there would be such women. Scarier still would be the number of people who would take up the book and see the narrator as an upstanding example of Christian womanhood.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s 1984 novel, posits an America transformed into a repressive theocracy, rapidly remade into a new society by the combination of long preparation and a bloody precipitating incident. As she writes in her February 2017 introduction to the current edition, “Having been born in 1939 and come to consciousness during World War II, I knew that established orders could vanish overnight. Change could also be as fast as lightning. It can’t happen here could not be depended on: anything could happen anywhere, given the circumstances.” (IX) I’ve lived in a country that was invaded by a neighbor’s army. One afternoon we were watching our kids dance and sing at the school’s end-of-summer-term program, the next afternoon it was impossible to get to the western half of the country because the road and railroad bridges had been bombed and fallen into the river they spanned. Fourteen hours later, because we were very, very privileged, we evacuated across a peaceful border, having told our small children that we were going on vacation.

Gilead is a plausible American theocracy for another reason. “One of my rules was that I would not put any events into the book that had not already happened in what James Joyce called the ‘nightmare’ of history, nor any technology not already available.” (X) It owes a bit to Iran after the 1979 revolution, a bit to the Puritan polities of early America, and plenty to the expressed desires of 1980s conservative Christians.

Atwood tinkers with the background a little bit to produce the setting she wants to write about and the story she wants to tell. There are multiple wars, somewhere; she implies that at least some nuclear strikes have been involved. Gilead has Colonies, where dissidents and expendables can be sent, a sort of external gulag. The book’s characters never hear much about the Colonies, so they can retain the vagueness they need to work.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/10/14/the-handmaids-tale-by-margaret-atwood/

Oct 14 2018

We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

It often happens that the very best books are hardest to write about. I discovered TNC’s blog fairly early in his tenure at The Atlantic, and I made sure to keep coming back. Time zones — I lived in the South Caucasus at the time, even further from US schedules — meant that I missed much of the debate and discussion, especially because TNC would (wisely) close comments on contentious discussions during his nighttime hours. Occasionally conversation would stray to things that I knew reasonably well, the Cold War or Eastern and Central European history or post-communism in those areas, and I could make a contribution that he and the commenting community seemed to value. I tried to get a friend-of-a-friend at the US Embassy in Paris to invite him to France. I told them that they had a chance to bring over someone who was going to be huge, and they should do it early because not only was he brilliant, he loved France and would be perfect for outreach. Well.

I saw some of the essays in We Were Eight Years in Power as the ideas took shape in TNC’s blog writing, and I am fairly certain that I read each one when it initially appeared in the online pages of The Atlantic. The book is more than just a collection: “Before each of these essays there is a kind of extended blog post, one that attempts to capture why I was writing and where I was in my life at the time. Taken together they form a loose memoir, one that I hope enhances the main pieces. At the end of the book, there is an epilogue that attempts to assess the post-Obama age in which we now [October 2017] find ourselves.” (xv)

One of TNC’s great virtues as a writer and a thinker is his openness. He knows he’s brilliant, of course, but he also knows how big the world is, and he has the strength to go out and discover how much he doesn’t know. A whole category of his blog posts are called, “Talk to Me Like I’m Stupid.” He was never stupid; it’s just that some topics were new to him. But his willingness to learn in public was a great joy of the blog, and his restless, relentless, powerful intellect taking in new context and experiences is clear to see in We Were Eight Years in Power. “Each of the essays in this book takes up some aspect of an argument … They are me in motion, thinking matters through, a process that continues even as I write this introduction.” (xv)

“Relentless” and “unsparing” are two other words that come to mind to describe how TNC thinks and writes. He’s clear-eyed about himself as well:

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/10/14/we-were-eight-years-in-power-by-ta-nehisi-coates/

Oct 13 2018

The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

The Shepherd’s Crown is the end, and no way around it. The forty-first and last Discworld novel, after “The End” on page 328 there’s nothing more but what readers imagine might still happen on the Disc. Rob Wilkins, Pratchett’s chief assistant writes in an afterword that The Shepherd’s Crown was “not quite as finished as [Pratchett] would have liked when he died.” It shows; quite a bit of the joists are still visible. On the other hand, that Pratchett was able to write a book at all, let alone one with as many splendid scenes as this one, while suffering from advancing Alzheimer’s surely counts as an act of magic worthy of a top graduate of the Unseen University.

One of the most affecting scenes is the extended sequence surrounding Granny Weatherwax’s death. On the Disc, witches and wizards know well in advance when Death is coming for them, and they each prepare in their own way. Granny Weatherwax tidies up, takes leave from all of the creatures near her cottage, and sets things up so that her chosen successor will find everything just as it should be.

Nanny Ogg’s words at the wake might also apply to Pratchett:

“No long faces for Granny Weatherwax, please,” Nanny proclaimed. “She’s had a good death at home, just as anyone might wish for. Witches know that people die, and if they manages to die after a long time, leavin’ the world better than they went an’ found it, well then, that’s surely a reason to be happy. All the rest of it is just tidyin’ up.” (p. 82)

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/10/13/the-shepherds-crown-by-terry-pratchett/

Oct 13 2018

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Hunh. So, okay. This book is super rich in ideas and philosophy and science, and posits a logical extrapolation of capitalism to its vilest ends. The question of autonomy vs indentured servitude, and the heartbreaking necessity in this future of individual (en)franchisement, plus the stranglehold of corporate patents on technology, are all discussed and examined in ways that are persuasively cautionary. As to the characters, I really enjoyed getting to know Med and Threezed and even Krish. I didn’t really care for Jack, despite her being the ostensible heroine of the piece: for someone so passionate about freedom, so hurt by what Krish had done to their creation, she was awfully cavalier about determining Threezed’s future for him. I don’t expect my heroes to be perfect, but I certainly expect a little more growth then the belated realization that Krish hadn’t meant to hurt her all those years ago (also, three months in prison is a bit of a boo-fucking-hoo. Prison is no joke, and her cellmate was something else, but it’s hard to dredge up a lot of sympathy for that short a term.)

And then, hoo-boy, Eliasz and Paladin. Paladin’s journey is fascinating as she discards the identity given to her by her human makers in the course of finding love. The portraiture of Paladin as someone who doesn’t particularly care about her gender identification, and who worries about her autonomy and where her feelings come from, is an excellent deep dive into consciousness and what constitutes personhood vis robotics.

What I did not love was how Paladin shaped her identity primarily to please her homophobic boyfriend. It’s great that she didn’t care either way, but it was unhealthy that she just let him make assumptions about herself in order to fit with his bigoted world view. And that whole passage about transgender identity towards the end was just weird, crammed onto a situation that I, for one, didn’t think at all relevant. Paladin’s change of gender identity has nothing to do with her sense of self but something she assumes simply to put Eliasz at his ease. Equating that to transgender challenges made me deeply uncomfortable.

I also did not appreciate the significance of what had been done to Actin until way after what I thought was a vast overreaction on Paladin’s part. This is both a result of Annalee Newitz’s somewhat indifferent writing style and also, in my opinion, the very weird couching of Paladin and Eliasz as being a couple we should root for while they’re consciously and unquestioningly working for a body that pretty much represents everything evil in this dystopian future. I really feel like the fictionalization is a sort of grudgingly applied candy-coated shell to better transmit the intriguing philosophical concepts; as such, while the ideas are great, the plot is disappointingly flimsy and personal motivations are given short shrift in favor of Big Concepts. Autonomous is one of those books you should read for its intelligence but not, I’m sorry to say, for its odd lack of heart. Tho I wouldn’t be averse to reading more of Med and Threezed: a romantic relationship there would be genuinely interesting given the fact that Threezed isn’t a roaring asshole.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/10/13/autonomous-by-annalee-newitz/

Oct 12 2018

Precious and Grace by Alexander McCall Smith

Precious and Grace begins with Mma Ramotswe, founder and proprietor of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, reflecting on the people in her life: people who are late, others who are still with us; family, particularly her husband Mr J.L.B. Matekoni; friends and colleagues, from the formidable Mma Potokwani who runs the local orphanage to the capable but occasionally prickly Mma Makutsi, who has worked her way up from secretary to become co-director of the agency. These reflections remind returning reader of the novels’ cast, and serve as a way of bringing new readers into the setting, but they also set up some themes of the book: whether people can change, how to deal with people who are nasty or unkind to others, and the importance of tea in preventing conflict from coming too far out into the open among people who are permanently part of one another’s lives.

Four mysteries, or if not mysteries then questions, drive the events of Precious and Grace. Fanwell, the remaining journeyman mechanic in Mr J.L.B. Matekoni’s garage runs over a dog while out on an errand. The dog is not seriously injured, but Fanwell cannot find anyone to claim the dog, and it seems to be forming a powerful attachment to him. What is the responsible course of action? A client named Susan spent an important part of her childhood in Botswana before her parents’ jobs took the family back to Canada, ostensibly “home” but a place that Susan had no relation to until she was whisked to the cold prairie. She asks for the agency’s help in locating her childhood home, schoolfriends from thirty years previous, and if possible the nanny who looked after her. Mr Polopetsi, an underemployed chemist who sometimes helps Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi, has been telling people about a club for cattle investors that promises twenty-five percent returns. He has recruited a few investors, but it sounds too good to be true, and Mma Ramotswe’s insight into character both human and bovine tells her that the kind Mr Polopetsi may be in over his head. Finally, Violet Sephoto, who has been an antagonist at several points in the agency’s history, is one of two finalists to be Botswana’s Woman of the Year. Can anything be done to stop her? And what if she wins?

Most of the story concerns the search for Susan’s nanny. One possibility emerges as likeliest, but in the course of a conversation, both Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi become convinced that the woman in question could not be the nanny. They do not call her a liar directly — that would be an intolerable breach of etiquette even in fast-moving modern Botswana – but Mma Makutsi implies it so strongly that the lady asks them to let her out of Mma Ramotswe’s little white van immediately, even before they have returned from their destination. The incident prompts a reflection on truth, on why people claim to be things that they are not. Later the same evening, though, Mma Ramotswe comes to doubt her assessment, leading her to think further about the relationship that clients of a detective agency have with truth, and how much of it they are likely to share with detectives; indeed, how much they may be concealing even from themselves.

Precious and Grace has all of the virtues that have led me to treasure the series: human warmth, sharp observation of both foibles and virtues, people making sense of the ways of the world and reacting to it in their individual ways. I found two of the endings not up to McCall Smith’s usual standards. The resolution of Mr Polopetsi’s was more sketched than portrayed, and I thought that was a missed opportunity. The book’s main conclusions about grace and about dealing with difficult people are presented, literally, in a sermon. Even though there are some good observations about churchgoing, and about how people actually behave in the pews, the preaching felt heavy-handed. Other, more effective, scenes more than make up for these shortcomings, however.

There is Fanwell’s compassion with some new orphans who do not speak any of the local languages; his time outside of Botswana has given him a common language with these particular children, and McCall Smith shows how just a little efforts opens them up. He also shows their spirit when the older of the two says, “Water first, then talking.” There are moments when Mma Ramotswe and Mr J.L.B. Matekoni talk past each other slightly, as long-married couples sometimes do when their attention wanders. There is Mma Makutsi’s steadfastness in her opinions. Some of these moments are universal, some are particularly Botswana, some are unique to the individual characters. Each of them is a pleasure in the long-running story of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

The seventeenth book in the series may not be the best place to start, although the first chapter gives enough background to bring a new reader up to speed and events in Precious and Grace do not particularly depend on previous books. It is a lovely series, full of McCall Smith’s warmth for his characters, respect for the setting, and love for people of all sorts.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/10/12/precious-and-grace-by-alexander-mccall-smith/

Oct 05 2018

Steeplejack (Steeplejack #1) by A.J. Hartley

It took me three tries, but I finally found enough time to get past the first five percent of the book to dive into this excellently rendered fantasy world. Which isn’t to say that the first five percent was bad, just that it’s awfully dense with chimney-climbing stuff, and given my heavy reading load, it was a challenge to carve out enough time to really get into this novel. It probably helped that I read elsewhere that the setting is based on South Africa, which helped a lot, as before then my brain had been stubbornly trying to pattern the city of Bar-Selehm on parts further north and constantly running into incongruities that really took me out of my reading.

Anyway! Steeplejack is essentially a murder mystery with conspiracy elements, investigated by our heroine, Anglet Sutonga, an impoverished but extremely talented steeplejack (a.k.a building climber, primarily for the purpose of cleaning chimneys but also for repairing masonry) who is recruited by a politician to look into the murder of her new apprentice. Anglet is surprised that someone besides herself cares, but when Berrit’s murder looks like it could be linked to the disappearance of a valuable gem, she quickly realizes that her new boss, Willinghouse, was correct to worry that the seemingly small death is part of a much vaster plot that could destabilize the city’s fragile peace.

I really enjoyed so much of the plotting of this novel, from murder mystery to race relations to Ang’s struggles not only to solve the crime/foil the plot but also her family relations and interior life. I loved how she recruited Dahria to help, tho am less enamored of her attraction to Josiah. I’m #TeamMnenga all the way. I also didn’t really understand the collective fascination with Vestris. Am definitely looking forward to reading the rest of the series, tho have to persuade my libraries to pick them up first. Wish me luck!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/10/05/steeplejack-steeplejack-1-by-a-j-hartley/

Oct 01 2018

From Page To Screen: A Simple Favor

I likened reading Darcey Bell’s A Simple Favor to enjoying a bananas smoothie of noir tropes and modern mom issues, and will extend that simile to say that I wasn’t sure how much I liked the aftertaste, but was pleased to have read it ahead of seeing the movie starring Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively and (the Malaysian — I may never stop saying that, I’m so proud) Henry Golding. I’d heard that the movie differed significantly from the book, so was glad to go in prepared for what turned out to be a wickedly adorable suburban noir. Instead of a smoothie, Paul Feig and co have whipped up the most delectably bananas sundae, that I would venture does the source material one better in that it eliminated that weird aftertaste while still holding true to the murderous, treacherous noir precepts. Making the movie more overtly a black comedy than the novel really plays to the strengths of the actors, particularly the two female leads as well as the trio of suburban parents who serve as a sort of Greek chorus for the goings-on. The chemistry between Ms Kendrick and Ms Lively is off the charts, and they bring their frenemies to pitch perfect (ahem) life. I’m especially impressed that a lot of the stuff was ad libbed. I sincerely hope that the duo keep doing projects together, particularly if they’re as smart and stylish as this one.

Spoiler-free notes on other significant differences between the book and movie: I felt like the movie did a much better job of showing how good a mom Stephanie was, and acknowledging how exhausting that is even to watch. While the movie changed quite a bit about Emily’s background, I did like that it gave Blake Lively’s acting chops a chance to shine. I also think they translated Stephanie’s blog to a vlog really well. And did I mention the superior ending? Perhaps it’s conventional of me to prefer the movie’s denouement to the book’s, but I’d absolutely watch the movie again before rereading it’s source, which is less a slight against the book than a compliment for the film.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/10/01/from-page-to-screen-a-simple-favor/