Fiction: “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle

wrinkle in timeGood evening! I’m drunk. Trivia was earlier tonight, and I decided to go with gins and tonic as opposed to Pub Style brew, and … yeah. Good night. We lost, be tee dubs. We got trounced. So next week, I’m definitely going back to beer, because while the quinine in the tonic water may have settled my stomach (which has kind of been upset for an entire week), it did nothing for my intelligence. And my partner-in-trivia will be the first to admit that of the two of us, I’m the brains of the operation (he gets most of the sports stuff. Except for tonight, when we were off on the baseball strike by one year. BUT STILL), and when I’m not operating at 100% … it’s not pretty.  Great Odin’s Raven was not great tonight. We were Mediocre Odin’s Raven at best.

Anyhoodle. I decided, “hey, let me go home and bang out another review, because I’m so fucking behind, and why don’t I pour myself another gin and tonic while I’m at it because why the fuck not?”

… When did I add ABBA’s “S.O.S.” to my iTunes? the fuck?

SO I READ THIS BACK IN SEPTEMBER. I had just read the news about the movie adaptation, directed by Ava DuVernay, the director of Selma, and the amazing casting choices: Meg Murry played by Storm Reid! Gugu Mbatha-Raw (HOLY SHIT I SPELLED THAT RIGHT ON THE FIRST TRY WHILE DRUNK YESI’MAWESOME) as Mrs. Murry! Chris Pine as the missing Mr. Murry! I mean, the Casting Gods really came through on this one.

But that news was in September. And I was staring down the barrel of a flight and then an overnight train back to Maine so I could attend My Dear Friend Sarah’s bridal shower in D.C. (P.S.: Dear Friend Sarah: I want to apologize for my poor time management on that weekend – in retrospect, I should have just traded in both train tickets for JetBlue, but … hindsight. I won’t be making that mistake again. But I also want to thank you for your hospitality.) Anyway, I thought the weekend trip would be a great opportunity to revisit A Wrinkle in Time.

Because I had read this back when I was a kid, and now, all I could remember from it was “tesseract” — mainly because I’d joke that characters on TV shows would tesseract all over the place (see: Alias especially. No wonder I have problems with the space-time continuum!).

A Wrinkle In Time is the first book of a quintet starring Meg Murry, the elder daughter of scientists Mr. and Mrs. Murry. Her younger brother is Charles Wallace, quite precocious at age 5. Mr. Murry has been missing for some time, and Meg is feeling out of place in her family. Meg learns that Charles Wallace has befriended a strange old woman in their neighborhood, Mrs. Whatsit. Mrs. Whatsit informs Mrs. Murry that there is such a thing as a tesseract, which causes a reaction.

Meg becomes closer with high school student Calvin, who is sweet and feels like an outsider despite his popular status. One afternoon, Meg and Calvin follow Charles Wallace to Mrs. Whatsit’s house, where they meet Mrs. Whatsit’s housemate, Mrs. Who. Their other companion, Mrs. Which, who is pretty much incorporeal, tells Meg and Charles Wallace that the women will help the Murrys find their father.

The strange women help the children tesseract – essentially, jump through a wormhole, or, if you will, a wrinkle in time – to the planet Camazotz, which looks what I imagine North Korea to look like. The inhabitants of Camazotz are regimented in everything: all houses look the same, everyone acts the same, has the same schedule. The planet is run by a disembodied brain, called IT, which can control people through telepathy.

In his escapade, Charles Wallace becomes controlled by IT, and it takes all of Meg’s strength to overpower IT to rescue both her brother and her father. By being an outcast and, most importantly, by being capable of love – something IT does not have – she is able to rescue Charlies Wallace from IT. The reunited family – Meg, Charles Wallace, Mr. Murry, and Calvin, the newest member – return to Earth and reconnect with Mrs. Murry and the twins. (Meg is the oldest, then there are the twins, and then Charles Wallace. I did forget to mention that up higher, thank you. But — gin.)

Having reconnected with the book, I felt … underwhelmed. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a cozy memory associated with A Wrinkle in Time. Not that I had bad memories – I just had no memories. Growing up, I read Madeleine L’Engle’s other series, about the Austen family. The series included the titles A Ring of Endless Light and The Arm of the Starfish. While I don’t remember anything about the first time I ever read A Wrinkle of Time, I distinctly remember having a nosebleed all over the Curtis Memorial Library’s copy of The Arm of the Starfish, and I’ll bet you ten American dollars that I can go into that library, find that same copy of the book, and find my faded blood still in it. (I wiped it up as best I could.)

My Dear Friend Sarah, however, stated that A Wrinkle in Time was one of her favorite books growing up. So while I still enjoyed my re-read of this book (Amtrak disasters bedamned) and while I’m quite looking forward to the upcoming film adaptation, I’m not sure I’m going to go forward with the series. I might.

I also feel bad that I’m not doing this book as great a service as I could. First of all, I read it seven months ago; and secondofly, while I’m no longer shithoused, or even really buzzed — no, I’m still slightly buzzed. And while I was drunk enough at the beginning of this review to think that drunk!reviewing would be a great idea!, and maybe that’s what’s been keeping my backlog from getting better, in … what’s the opposite of retrospect? In reflection, maybe I should have waited to write this when I was more sober.

But that may have been so far in the future that I may have had to read the book again, and I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for that.

Grade for A Wrinkle in Time: 3.5 stars

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Fiction: “A Poisoned Season” by Tasha Alexander

Poisoned SeasonOh boy, WordPress updated their posting screen again. Let’s all cross our fingers and hope that this will work with Sydney the Ancient Laptop’s processors!

(For those not in the know, Sydney the Ancient Laptop is my Dell Inspiron 6400 that I bought in 2007. She still runs Windows XP and iTunes 10. She will eventually be upgraded, but I also don’t want to upgrade, because Sydney is still going … well, not “strong” anymore, but “crawling with a leg wound like Christophe Waltz’s character at the end of Spectre.” Determined to keep going, y’know?)

(Also-also, if anyone reading this wants to talk about Spectre, please reach out to me! I have many thoughts about it that I want to talk to people about!)

A Poisoned Season is the second book in the Lady Emily series, and I continue to love her and her mysteries. The first book was And Only to Deceive, wherein Lady Emily Ashton mourns the death of her husband and becomes friendly with Colin Hargreaves while solving the mystery of her husband’s murder. In A Poisoned Season, Lady Emily fully comes out of her mourning period, and the way that Society reacts to some of her habits and independent tendencies is horrifying to me, a modern reader.

For instance: now that Lady Emily has safely “mourned” her husband for a year, it might be time for her to start looking for another husband. As we learned in And Only to Deceive, Emily admired her husband but didn’t love him while they were married; she only came to love him after she discovered details about his affections towards her and his scholarly pursuits. She engages in friendly banter and the occasional kiss with Colin, but she’s not ready to marry again because she enjoys being her own woman.

Oh, WordPress’s New Posting Thingy: I am not liking you. Getting rid of the “post as thumbnail” option on pictures? Having to manually scroll the posting window down as I type more? I’m not sure I’m going to like this…

So anyway – Society wants Lady Emily to get married again, and even Colin wants to marry her, but she’s just too independent to want to get hitched again. Until she begins to realize that her house isn’t technically her house – it belongs to her husband, and when the heir to the dukedom or whatever it is comes of age, Emily’s going to be out on her ear.

In the midst of all of this soul-searching, there’s this dude who claims to be the missing heir of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette sneaking around throughout Society, trying to get people to believe him long enough to allow him to add to his Marie Antoinette tchotchke collection. Oh, and also, somebody died.

I feel like I’m giving this short shrift, and that’s not my intent. Maybe it’s because I finished reading this book like TWO FREAKING MONTHS AGO and can’t remember more of the details of the plot, or maybe it’s because it’s almost ten o’clock on a Sunday night and I have yet to take my shower and I may have gotten sucked into catching up on The Grinder, which oh my god, I did not know I could love Rob Lowe more after Sam Seaborne and Chris Traeger, but guess what guys? I DO.

ANYWAY, you don’t need to know about my night showering or newfound appreciation for Rob Lowe. I really like this series – Lady Emily is very smart and independent, she has a gentleman caller who loves her enough that even if she doesn’t agree to marry him later, she will still get his entire library, and much like I would be in this situation, the idea of receiving a personal library – look, there’s a reason my favorite Disney movie growing up was Beauty and the Beast, and it wasn’t because of the catchy showtunes. It was because the Beast gave Belle a FRICKIN’ LIBRARY. Find me a girl who grew up at the same time as me who liked to read that DIDN’T develop “getting a library as a gift” into a romantic ideal, and I will show you a cold-hearted bitch.

I think I got off track. And I’m also getting a headache. And I should really go to bed. But I’m on my last episode of The Grinder, and Jason Alexander is playing a director with a bigger Indiana Jones-fetish than me, so I’m going to wrap this up:

If you like strong women, Victorian Society dramas, and intelligent mysteries that also has a fun, romantic element, you should definitely start reading this series. I apologize that I couldn’t do this justice, but let’s look at it this way: I have a backlog of eight freaking books, and I kind of want to get caught up before the end of the year. It would be a novelty! And let’s be real: I’ll be rereading this series in a couple of years, probably, and then I’ll be able to do this review justice.

(Just like the Grinder.)

(Have I mentioned that Natalie Morales is in The Grinder? And that I love her because she played Wendy on The Middleman, which is an excellent show that everyone should watch?)

(Hey look, I got through an entire review without mentioning Hannibal — aw, shit.)

Grade for A Poisoned Season: 3.5 stars

Fiction: “Farewell, My Lovely” by Raymond Chandler

farewell my lovelyAfter The Cocktail Waitress, I decided to continue on my journey through some of the masters of pulp fiction. While I wouldn’t exactly call Raymond Chandler a “pulp” author – his stories are, generally speaking, regarded to aspire to a higher, more “literary,” echelon – – holy shit, Alaina, can you be more of an adjunct literary professor seeking tenure? Christ, I realize it’s 10:30 and you just took a cocktail of melatonin, Aleve, and Claritin, but come on, those aren’t supposed to interact in a way to make you sound like a fuckin’ snob.

Or like you grew up in Southie. Which you fucking didn’t.

Uh, ANYWAY. Basically, Raymond Chandler and his works occasionally get grouped into the “detective novel” genre and not necessarily “pulp” – pulp implies a more lurid tone, more explicit; more sex and violence. Philip Marlowe tends to be on the more restrained side of the equation.

You’ll hopefully remember that my first foray into the world of pulp fiction was a brilliant film by one of the best directors of our generation. I’m referring to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, written and directed by Shane Black. (Oh, did you think — no, that would be incorrect. I haven’t seen that movie yet.) If you haven’t had a chance to watch this masterpiece, please set some time aside in the near future to do so. I promise: you will not be disappointed. It takes place at Christmas, even – you can kick off the season with a bang!

DISCLAIMER: As the calendar has not even approached Halloween as of this writing, PLEASE DO NOT START CHRISTMAS EARLY.

What does this movie – starring Robert Downey Jr., in case I forgot to lead with that – have to do with Raymond Chandler and the beginnings of pulp fiction? The plot of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang follows Harry Lockhart (RDJ), a two-bit thief who gets mixed up in a seedy Hollywood murder mystery, as well as a missing persons case. Strung throughout the plot of the movie is the fact that the femme fatale, Harmony, had a childhood obsession with a pulp series starring detective Johnny Gossamer. The dialogue is very hard-boiled, there’s a slight Chinatown element to one aspect of the plot (think Faye Dunaway’s character), and as Harry is fond of telling his private detective mentor, Perry: the detective always starts out with two cases, but by the end of the book, boom — it’s the same fucking case.

Another relationship that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has with Farewell, My Lovely? All the act breaks in the movie are titled, and they’re all titled after Raymond Chandler novels. I believe Farewell, My Lovely may be Day 2, but I wouldn’t swear to it in a court of law. It’s been a while since I’ve watched the movie.

Okay, the melatonin just kicked in. Let’s kick this into high gear.

Philip Marlowe is the private detective that stars in Raymond Chandler’s world. He inhabits Los Angeles in the late 1930s, early 1940s, and if you’re picturing Humphrey Bogart in the role, you would be correct, because Humphrey Bogart played Marlowe in the adaptation of The Big Sleep. Ooh, which I have on DVD now! YES. ANYWAY. Marlowe begins Farewell, My Lovely by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time, he gets (almost literally) dragged into a bar fight by a paroled convict named Moose Malloy. Moose is looking for his lost love, Little Velma, who used to be a singer at the bar where he and Marlowe run into each other. Only the gin joint where she used to warble dried up, and she didn’t leave any crumbs behind her.

(I’d say I was sorry for that last sentence, but y’all know that I really enjoyed that.)

When no one knows what happened to Velma, Moose starts shooting up the place, then runs off in the kerfuffle, leaving Marlowe to explain what happened and why he was connected to the whole thing when the cops show up. Nulty, a cop who isn’t lucky enough to be only two days away from retirement (based on his attitude), practically shanghais Marlowe into doing his footwork for him. While Marlowe is searching for leads in the middle of nothing, he gets a call to be a bodyguard for a fellow who needs to run out of town and drop a ransom in exchange for a very valuable necklace, belonging to his (the fellow’s) lady-friend. And in this instance I actually mean friend, because the fellow happens to be gay. Marlowe agrees because Nulty’s not actually paying him squat for trying to find a lead on Moose, and everything would have gone okay except for the fact that the whole drop was a setup, Marlowe gets beaned on the head and the fellow gets dead.

As the two cases intersect and become the same fucking case, Marlowe meets two women – one becomes almost his Girl Friday, someone he almost sees himself getting serious over. The other is a classic femme fatale, full of sex and mysteries. Throughout the course of his case(s), Marlowe gets kidnapped, knocked unconscious, drugged, involved with a fake psychic, shot at, and almost drowns. But throughout everything he perseveres, because Marlowe belongs to that most rare of breeds of man: the honest kind. Keep in mind that Nulty’s not paying him, and that Marlowe hasn’t been paid for his bodyguarding work from the fellow, because the fellow is now most certainly dead. He doesn’t have any other reason to pursue either of these cases except for his curiosity and sense of justice. He may not always play the white knight (as evidenced by the deal he cuts with a shady mayor at the end of the book), but his intentions are always of the good.

It should be noted that, as the book was written in the 1940s, you will experience a fair amount of racist and derogatory terminology. So, spoiler alert, I guess.

Marlowe doesn’t have grand aspirations in his life; he’s not looking to make a name for himself, or to climb a political ladder. He’s just searching for truth and justice in a very dark and underhanded corner of our world, using the resources he had available to him while still hoping for an easier outcome:

I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room. [p. 238]

When the going gets tough, Marlowe puts his gun in his shoulder holster, his hat on his head, and his feet out the door. He does what needs to be done because in his town, no one else will.

Grade for Farewell, My Lovely: 3.5 stars

Fiction: “Hannibal” by Thomas Harris

hannibalSo, similar to my (latest) “review” of Red Dragon, this won’t be a review of the book I read, but more like … well, I’ve realized that while everyone I know is aware of my vast love for Hannibal, many of them seem to be stymied as to the reasons why I love it so much. So, this will be me trying to put those emotions into words.

There are some movies that I love that I remember seeing for the first time, quite vividly. I’ve talked about this in relation to books I’ve read, but the same can be said for films. An example: I had taped Sunset Blvd. off of AMC when I was in high school, but never got the chance to watch it until I went to college. So one night, I couldn’t sleep, and I popped the VHS into my tiny combo TV/VCR unit, and I watched it in the dark. And I mean, three-in-the-morning dark. I may have had my Christmas lights on that I had hung under my roommate’s top bunk for lighting, but I doubt it. To this day, I cannot watch Sunset Blvd. in anything but pitch blackness. I think Billy Wilder would agree with me in that it’s not a movie made for daylight.

So having said that, I do not have a vivid memory for the first time I ever watched The Silence of the Lambs. I had to have watched it for the first time when I was in high school, because I remember doing impersonations of the “fava beans and a nice Chianti” line in drama club, but other than that … no recollection.

I do remember seeing Hannibal when it came out because my best friend Kerri and I went to see it at the movie theater, and I still remember leaning over during the Pazzi murder scene and whispering, “They’re using the blue filter there because — ”  I can’t remember why; she and I and Amelia had been taking Film Studies as an elective, and at one point we knew what all of the different color filters signified. Not anymore!

I also know I watched Manhunter, the first film adaptation of Hannibal Lecter, itself an adaptation of Red Dragon, at least twice because William Petersen played Will Graham in that movie and I was addicted to CSI: Original Flavor for about three years when it was first on.

So by the time I was a sophomore in college, I’d read all three novels – Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal — and I’d watched three movies: Manhunter, The Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal. And … that’s it. I certainly don’t recall being obsessed with them or the characters by any means; I certainly don’t remember purchasing six posters for Silence of the Lambs and leaving them in my parents’ basement – it doesn’t seem like something I would have done! By the time 2003, 2004 rolled around, my latest obsession at that point was Arrested Development, so .. I still say a murder wizard planted those posters, Dad.

Fast-foward about ten years later, and almost without warning, Alaina gets sucked into and then becomes obsessed with this “reboot” of Hannibal. What, in God’s name, happened?

Well – storytelling happened.

See, [see?] before Hannibal premiered in 2013, here’s what anyone could say about the life of Dr. Hannibal Lecter:

  • When we meet him in Red Dragon, he has been behind bars for at least three years.
  • We know he was nicknamed “Hannibal the Cannibal” in the press for gruesome murders and cannibalizing.
  • We know that Will Graham was responsible for his capture.
  • We know that Hannibal nearly killed Will during said capture.
  • We know that Hannibal was a psychiatrist at one point, and because he still writes for medical journals and has insight into the sociopathic brain, Will goes to see Dr. Lecter in trying to capture the Red Dragon serial killer.
  • There is tension between Will and Dr. Lecter; the reader is left to assume it’s merely due to the fact that Will caught him.
  • Approximately seven years later (? – I might be wrong about that), Jack Crawford sends his new trainee Clarice Starling to ask Hannibal for help on the Buffalo Bill serial killings.
  • Hannibal helps her, but at the cost of Clarice telling Hannibal about her past and secret fears.
  • Hannibal escapes custody and moves to Italy.
  • In Hannibal, we learn about another one of Hannibal’s victims: Mason Verger, who has offered a reward for capturing Hannibal alive so he can kill him
  • Hannibal returns from Italy and, in a weird confluence and sequence of events, ends up kidnapping Clarice who has been suspended indefinitely from the FBI, and then brainwashes her into loving him, and they spend the rest of their lives happily ever after … ?

Even if people are only familiar with the Silence of the Lambs plot, we know that Hannibal is in jail and as far as we can tell, has always been in jail.

The TV show Hannibal? Shows him out of jail.

Shows him as a practicing psychiatrist. With actual patients.

Shows him as a chef. A cannibal chef.

everything is people

The show basically says “Look, we know Hannibal’s going to end up in jail; you know that Hannibal’s going to end up in jail. But how did he get there? What exactly did he do to end up in that hospital? How did Will find out? Why doesn’t Will really want to go ask Lecter for help with the Red Dragon case, because it feels like there should be more there?” and then the show gives those answers to us and they are glorious and more than we could have ever imagined

Look, dramatic irony is my favorite irony – that’s when we the audience know what is going to happen but the characters do not. We know how Romeo & Juliet is going to end, but Romeo & Juliet do not. As famous blogger Cleolinda Jones is fond of saying, “The people in ______ don’t know they’re in ______.”  This can be used for Dracula and for Hannibal.

We know that the protein scramble Hannibal makes for Will on their first date breakfast meeting contains human lung sausage, but Will doesn’t. So if we’re identifying with Will, we become horrified on his behalf. YOU’RE EATING PEOPLE, you yell at the TV.

And then, we become curious – when is Will going to figure all this out?? When does everyone realize not only that Hannibal is the Chesapeake Ripper, but that he’s serving the Ripper’s victims up literally on silver trays? What is Will’s face going to look like when he realizes that not only is Hannibal a cannibal, but that it fucking rhymes? Who copyrights the phrase “Hannibal the Cannibal”?

I mean, Chilton, obvi. He’s the only jackass with the inbred jackassery to go ahead and copyright the fucking phrase. Goddamit Chilton.

(also – the show made us sympathize with Dr. Frederick Chilton, which is an IMPOSSIBLE task. So, kudos, and keep fighting, Fred!)

Bryan Fuller et. al .are taking something so familiar and turning it on its ear. We know where the landmarkers are – Will catches Hannibal, Hannibal guts him with a linoleum knife, Hanni goes to jail, Will recuperates, fast-forward to the Red Dragon escapade – but we don’t know how we’re going to get there. It’s like, we know we’re going to Disney World, but we’re going to drive all across Canada and back first. Wait, that’s not the best analogy. Because what the writers also did was throw in actual quotes and concepts from the books waaay before they’re supposed to happen.

Ex: In the book Red Dragon, Hannibal sends a letter to Will, telling him he (Will) shouldn’t feel bad about killing Garrett Jacob Hobbs, as God kills people all the time. This letter arrives at Will’s fingertips years after the Hobbs case; in fact, in the book, the case has maybe all of three paragraphs given over to it. In the book, Hannibal is taunting Will, because that’s all Hannibal does to Will.

In the first season of Hannibal, the Garrett Jacob Hobbs case is the first one that Will and Hannibal are pulled into together. Because yes, Hannibal is helping Will and the FBI catch the Minnesota Shrike. Except Hannibal (again, quoting the brilliant Cleolinda Jones), is the WORST AT HELPING, and copycats Hobbs’s kills because he was curious as to what would happen. (It’s a long story.) But Will still shoots Hobbs dead in Hobbs’s kitchen, and in the show, it’s episode 2 where Will is in not-therapy with Dr. Lecter, and Dr. Lecter gives him this piece of wisdom in an effort to absolve Will of his guilt of killing Hobbs. Is Lecter still taunting Will? A bit, but under the guise of concerned therapist. He wants Will to trust him so he can turn him into an acolyte in the future.

So many moments I can point at to illustrate the concept of taking something old and making it new, or winking at the audience. Or just having fun with the whole thing – my favorite scene in the entire series, hands down, is when Hannibal is planning a dinner party, and he has a Rolodex of business cards, and a box of recipes. And he’ll pick a business card, kill that person, and take what he needs for his recipe. In between the killings (which we do not see), we flash back and forth between the FBI’s lab, wherein the lab techs are talking about how these six or seven victims are all missing certain organs, and we flash to Hannibal’s kitchen where he’s preparing and vacuum-sealing said organs.

“Intestines were the only organs missing from this body?”
“Yes, so we’re either looking for someone with short bowels, or the Ripper’s making sausage.”
CUT TO: Hannibal making sausage

You guys, I die every time I watch that scene. It’s priceless.

And if we’re talking about black humor, how about that time when there was a live bird inside a corpse which was stuck inside of a dead horse, and that bird when it came out was a freaking starling

Plus the show has beautiful cinematography and the actors are amazing. Bryan Fuller loves playing with gender and race, so in the show, Jack Crawford is now played by Laurence Fishburne. Dr. Alan Bloom becomes Dr. Alana Bloom, who has feelings for both Will and Hannibal. Freddie Lounds is now short for Fredericka Lounds, and she is AMAZING. Bryan’s said in interviews that if he had been able to get the rights to the Silence of the Lambs characters, he wanted to cast a person of color as Clarice, to see how that upbringing would affect the characterization.

It’s so smart, and wonderful, and what I really enjoyed doing re-reading Red Dragon and Hannibal this summer was to see where the writers were able to take scenes or dialogue or narration from the source material and honor it in a completely new way. Plus, this was probably the first TV show where I’ve actually been intrigued by the idea of being scared.

I mean, look, I don’t watch horror movies. I hate them. And while I’ve watched sci-fi horroresque shows, the highest on those lists are going to be The X-Files and Buffy in terms of grossness and being scared for characters. But I came into both of those shows late – I started watching The X-Files in season 5, practically, and the only episode of Buffy I watched when it aired for the first time was “Chosen.” (That’s the series finale; everything else I watched on DVD or FX reruns.) But with Hannibal, it was clear that things weren’t always going to be what they seemed, so I never knew when or if someone was going to die.

In Red Dragon, Freddie Lounds dies. And he dies horrifically. In Hannibal the show, Freddie is now Ms. Lounds, and Bryan Fuller did not want to see that level of violence against a woman. (He’s been very adamant about that as well – not using sexual violence as plot devices. God bless you, Bryan.) So that entire episode, I was all, “WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN? WHO’S — IS — HOW –” and then WHEN THE VICTIM WAS ANNOUNCED I WAS SHOCKED BECAUSE I DID NOT SEE THAT CHOICE COMING AND IT WAS … AND THE PERSON’S NOT EVEN DEAD

*flails*

I am so glad I watched that episode at my house in the woods by myself, because if I had watched it with people near me, the cops would have been called expecting me to have been murdered.

Okay, two thousand words later, and I still don’t think I did my feelings justice. I was just so impressed with how someone can take such well-known stories and characters, elevate their surroundings and actions to such a wonderful level of art and taste, and yet remain true to the spirit of the source material. I mean, yes, it’s a show about a serial killer. Yes, it’s a show about a cannibal. Yes, people die in grisly ways that we actually get to see on network TV at times, to the utter amazement of me. (YOU CAN SHOW HIS LIPS GETTING BITTEN OFF BUT YOU BLUR A BUTTCRACK ON A RENAISSANCE PAINTING? COME ON, NBC)

But I didn’t watch it for the gore, or the blood, or the violence. I didn’t even watch it for the black humor – that was a wonderful bonus. I watched it because I was so amazed at how something so indelible on pop culture could be reinterpreted and re-imagined into something so breathtakingly new.

And I’m going to miss the fuck out of my crazy cannibal murder husbands show.

Grade for Hannibal, the book: 3.5 stars
Grade for Hannibal, the TV show: ∞ stars

(that symbol is infinity. infinity stars.)

Fiction: “Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn

sharp objectsThis is the last book I returned to the library over two months ago, so my memory’s going to be a bit weak on it. Apologies in advance?

Sharp Objects is Gillian Flynn’s debut novel. Gillian Flynn, of course, wrote Gone Girl, and, like when I read Gone Girl, my Harry Burns Tendencies reared their shaggy, bug-eyed head and yes, I read the end of the book first. Look, on the one hand, I feel it’s a testament to Ms. Flynn’s writing style that I become so intrigued with the plot and the suspense that I want to know the resolution so quickly that I am compelled to scan ahead for clues. On the other hand … I have got to stop doing that.

Before I even get into the plot, I do need to say this: this book? Is not a happy playtime of a book. The plot is well-written, and the resolution makes everything enjoyable, but dear Jesus – this is not a happy book.

This book contains the following triggers:
– Cutting
– Suicidal thoughts
– Münchausen syndrome by proxy (I don’t even care that that is a spoiler, y’all should be aware of that going in)

Firstly, the protagonist and our narrator, Camille Preaker, is a former cutter. She spent some time in an institution to overcome her addiction to cutting and depression, and she is still fighting those impulses when this story begins.

One of the things that not many people don’t know about me – mainly because it rarely comes up in conversation – is that I have a very active imagination. Meaning, when I read about something happening, I can sometimes even experience a phantom pain, almost. Or even watching a movie. One of my favorite movies is The Royal Tenenbaums. And the scene where Luke Wilson’s character shaves off his beard and then uses the same razor on his wrists – to this day, I cannot listen to “Needle in the Hay” without some phantom pain crawling around the inside of my own wrists. This paragraph I just wrote? I had to hold my wrists together a couple of times while I was writing it.

I can’t explain how or why this happens to me, but it does. So to hear detailed descriptions of how Camille would cut not just lines, but whole words onto her skin? Oh god — shivers, and not the good kind. There was one point where I had to put the book down and walk away, and then skip a couple of pages when I picked it up again.

I mean, kudos to Ms. Flynn for being able to create descriptions so visceral that they manifest themselves. But seriously, not a happy book.

Camille has flown to her home town of Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on the murders of two small girls in the town. Camille went to college and became a journalist in part to escape from her mother, Adora, who she felt never truly loved her. Part of that lack of love stemmed from the death of her younger sister, Marian, who died after a long illness. Camille doesn’t want to return to Wind Gap, but the idea of getting a jump on a national news story, as well as making her father-figure boss proud of her, compels her to make the drive.

It is just as awkward-awful as you’d think. Adora welcomes Camille into her house, but wants to know how long she’s staying. Camille spends every night drinking herself to sleep to stop the voices in her head. She cozies up to the police force and the special investigator sent by the Kansas City police force in an attempt to build her story; meanwhile, she keeps running into old high school friends who have all married and had children and resent their small-town life, whereas Camille resents the family they’ve been able to build.

Camille attempts to rebuild the relationship between herself and Adora and Amma, her preteen half-sister. Amma at first holds herself above and apart from Camille, but they bond eventually. Adora and Camille never really connect.

Aaaand I think that’s all I can say about this book without revealing some key points. (You can probably figure one out by one of the trigger warnings I posted above.)

Look, if you can get through this without wincing, good on you. While I appreciate that Gillian Flynn is an amazing writer – and admire her for being able to write in and on such dark subject matter – I don’t think I’ll reread this book. It was just too … not happy.

Grade for Sharp Objects: 3.5 stars

Fiction: “Blue Lonesome” by Bill Pronzini

blue lonesomeAnother rainy day, another day of database entry; another day of surreptitiously writing reviews longhand.

So Blue Lonesome — this is a weird book for me.  Well, not that the book is weird — the book itself is fairly straightforward. My relationship with the book is weird, and rich with Alaina-History.

I first borrowed Blue Lonesome from my hometown library when I was in high school. I don’t know exactly which year it was, but I know it was the year that the library was housed in the old high school while the library was being renovated and expanded. It was awesome, because the old high school was just around the corner from where I lived at the time and I was walking there like, every other day. That summer was the same summer wherein I first read And One to Die On by Jane Haddam and The Venus Throw by Steven Saylor, and a couple of authors that have made it into my rotation.

Do you guys ever experience that type of visceral memory? I mean, when it comes to memories of reading – entire scenes seared in my brain, almost like an out of body experience, where I can see myself either reading the book or first picking up the book – I am lucky enough to have a few. I can see myself in the library picking up The Venus Throw and And One to Die On – it was a sunny, summer afternoon. It was in the second row from the windows, because that’s where the “new and notable” recommendations were, and right in front of the windows were the computers that we had to use because it was the nineties and no one had computers except rich kids and libraries, and no one had EVER heard of Wi-Fi. I guess I haven’t mentioned my memory of reading The Pelican Brief for the first time, but I was in my eighth grade Maine Educational Assessment test and I had just finished the section on reading comprehension, I think? Anyway, I couldn’t leave because it was eighth grade and teachers are practically prison wardens in that age group, so I finished reading And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, put that into my backpack, and pulled out The Pelican Brief. I can still see myself sitting in my car in the drive-through at the Starbucks near my old apartment, nose-deep into The Beekeeper’s Apprentice for the first time. And at least three Harry Potter-related memories (but here’s one for the road).

Anyway. It amazes me that I can see myself so clearly on that summer day, *mumblemumble* years ago, checking Blue Lonesome out of the library for the first time, but I can never remember any of the details of the plot.

No, for reals. This is the third? fourth? at least the third time I’ve read this book, and every time I pick it up, I remember that the impetus for the mystery is a character nicknamed Ms. Lonesome, that the bulk of the story takes place in authentic-Western Nevada, and that the entire novel is fairly bleak. I don’t remember Ms. Lonesome’s real name, I don’t remember the name of the narrator, the town he goes to, I can’t remember whodunit — nothing. The entire book is a blank. I know I liked it, so I pick it up again. I’ve done so three times in the past ten years but never remember any details. But I still know every goddamned word to the theme song to Ducktales. Granted, the latter is set to (very catchy) music, so I’m sure that helps, BUT STILL.

Oh great. Now I’m going to have that stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

Okay, and before I get into actually discussing the book like I’m supposed to, please take note that the book could contain the following triggers: aftermath of sexual abuse / molestation; semi-graphic imagery of suicide; and snakes.


Blue Lonesome is both the story of Jim Messenger and his obsession with Ms. Lonesome, but also a meditation on the state of being lonesome. Jim is a CPA – a middleman in his firm in San Francisco, divorced in college and never remarried; his life has become rather routine and stagnant. Until one day, when he sees a woman in his diner who strikes him as being even more alone than he is. Jim feels … solitary, I guess; not lonely, but alone. He has friends – at work, and he dates a bit, but at the end of the day he goes back to his apartment and listens to his jazz albums and generally feels okay with his life; okay, but not necessarily content.

This woman at the diner, however – she gets to him. She eats the same meal night after night, never speaks to anyone but the waitress; doesn’t even look up from her plate. She not only exudes loneliness, but also physically and emotionally repels others away from her. And Jim becomes preoccupied with her – he sees her as a kindred spirit and wants to get to know her. But the only conversation is one-sided and slightly hostile.

And then one night, she stops coming to the diner. Jim tries to stop worrying about her, but finally gives into his curiosity. Having already followed her one night to find out where she lived (but not in a stalkery way, if that’s even possible?), he visits her landlord only to find out that his Ms. Lonesome had committed suicide the week before.

Still determined to learn more about this mystery woman, he pays the landlord $20 to view Ms. Lonesome’s personal belongings. Among them, he finds a book stamped as belonging to the Beulah, Nevada Library. He knows it’s a wild goose chase, but his compulsion makes him take his annual two-week vacation early and before he knows it, he’s driving into the town of Beulah.

Ms. Lonesome does not turn out to be the beloved missing person that Jim thought she’d be. Instead, she turns out to be – oh, shit. Jesus Christ, I only returned it to the library five weeks ago, how I have I forgotten that character’s name already?! GODDAMMIT. *Googles aggressively* ANYWAY. Ms. Lonesome turns out to be Anna Burgess Roebuck, the daughter-in-law of the town patriarch. Anna was run out of town after she was accused of murdering her husband and young daughter.

Yeah – she’s not so nice now, huh?

Jim gets involved in Anna’s sister, Dacy, and he tries to solve the mystery. He’s totally that One Guy who comes into town and Stirs Up Shit in the name of Clearing Someone’s Name, but it works here. Not just as a trope, but as a true way for Jim to overcome his own solitariness. By pushing himself so far out of his comfort zone in the name of clearing Anna’s name – because he is convinced that there is no way in hell that she would have murdered her daughter; her husband, maybe, he was kind of a shitheel, apparently, but her daughter? no way – he finds himself.

Also, Anna totally didn’t do it, because that’s how things roll.

There. Hopefully, the next time I pick it up from the library, I’ll remember what the book’s about. Or, at least, I’ll know I have a handy reference to remind me.

Grade for Blue Lonesome: 3.5 stars

Fiction: “Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins

mockingjayOh man – how the hell am I going to review this book without getting all spoilery? I mean, I managed to read the first two books without getting into too much detail (which, disclaimer: I did in fact reread both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire leading up to Mockingjay, but I chose not to re-review them because hi, it is December 30th and counting Mockingjay, I have four reviews to write, so let’s not rehash old history, ‘kay?). I also read them at the same time that their respective movies were coming out, and I didn’t want to really get into depth with the plot so the movies wouldn’t be ruined for people.

But Mockingjay … I mean, the end of the film saga doesn’t come out until next year, and while I feel comfortable discussing some of the bigger plot points, the ending is super-contentious — both in what happens, and the opinions about the ending (I’m talking about the epilogue here, specifically).

Okay, here’s how I’m going to do this: I’m going to talk about the plot as much as I feel comfortable doing; then I’m gonna discuss in vague terms how I felt about the ending, the epilogue, and the overall atmosphere in the series. And then, I’ll open the comments up for further discussion (not that they’re ever closed or anything, I’m not that person and also I don’t know how to do that). So all of my book-loving friends who have read this book and want to discuss the feels or lack thereof – comments will be open for business.

So Mockingjay picks up a couple of months after the events of Catching Fire. Oh, right: spoilers for Catching Fire. And by extension, The Hunger Games. Caveat lector.

Katniss’s arrow has shattered the arena and Plutarch Heavensbee and Haymitch are taking her, Finnick, Beetee, and the survivors of District 12 to District 13, who are in the midst of planning their rebellion against the Capitol. Because once Katniss blew the arena up, basically the Capitol bombed District 12 all to hell, and it’s only through Gale’s quick thinking that a few hundred inhabitants were able to be rescued. Peeta and Johanna Mason were captured by the Capitol in the aftermath of the destruction of the arena. And as if that weren’t enough, Katniss is dealing with some major PTSD.

District 13 is severely regimented, and she has a very hard time adjusting to her new surroundings. President Coin, the leader of District 13, wants Katniss to be the symbol of the revolution; the Mockingjay. It takes her a while to agree – a part of her just wants to fade into the background. But she manages to negotiate pardons for the remaining victors that were captured by the Capitol in exchange for her likeness as the Mockingjay. Coin and Plutarch try to film Katniss in some propaganda films, but she’s not a good actress.

Enter: Haymitch Abernathy, who has become my favorite character in this series, both movies and books. He takes control of the Mockingjay situation and reminds everyone that Katniss’s power comes from moments where she’s unscripted – volunteering to take Prim’s place in the first Games, singing for Rue, etc. So the team drops Katniss, Gale, and a camera crew in District 8 in an attempt to get raw footage. When the Capitol bombs a hospital, Katniss’s reaction is extremely powerful and the propo (their nickname for the propaganda films) they create captures everything the team had hoped.

Eventually, Haymitch tells Katniss that a small team of District 13 soldiers – including Gale, who has quickly risen through the ranks, clearly having an affinity for soldierdom – has invaded the Capitol in an attempt to rescue the captive victors. Good news! They are successful! Bad news! Peeta’s been “hijacked,” and now he has an uncontrollable urge to kill Katniss whenever he sees her.

This is obviously very disheartening and horrifying to Katniss – the idea that the Capitol has taken almost everything away from her makes her withdraw even more. Prim manages to figure out a way to try to reverse the hijacking, but it isn’t going to completely remove the conditioning. For the rest of his life, Peeta will need to get confirmation that an event was real or not real.

Aaaand I think that’s all the detail I can get into. These events are covered in the first Mockingjay film, so I’m okay talking about these parts in relative detail. Let me scan through the rest: battle battle battle, death, death, sad, deathso much sobbing, and then Panem manages to overthrow the Capitol and Katniss ends up with Peeta.

Now, about those deaths: one of them (and no, I’m not going to say who) was horrifying. A part of me really can’t understand why Ms. Collins decided to have that individual die, because it’s awful. (Obviously, it’s not Peeta.) On the other hand, the last half of the book takes place on a battlefield, These characters are at war, and if there’s one rule of war, it’s that there will always be needless civilian deaths. And needless soldier deaths. War is not easy, and it’s not clean, and not everyone gets out alive. This particular death proves that, but it doesn’t make it any less sad.

There’s a brief moment that I’d like to discuss. In the aftermath of the collapse of the Capitol, it is suggested that the new political power hold a final Hunger Games, this time starring the children of prominent Capitol inhabitants, including the grandchildren of President Snow. The final Games is put up to a vote for the remaining Victors, and if the Victors vote for it, it will go through. I was hoping that Katniss wouldn’t vote for the final Games, but she raises her hand. I’m not sure if it was because she was searching for revenge or some sort of justice, or if she had already decided to do what she ends up doing and was just biding her time, or what, but I had hoped that she wouldn’t vote ‘yes’ because by approving the final Games, it’s like she’s validating the old regime.

Although the more I think about it, the more I’m of the mind that she had already decided on her actions and was just biding her time to throw the new President off the scent.

Finally, I think that brings us to the love “triangle” and its resolution, but I know that there are some definite ~feels about this out there, and none of them are fluffy. *sigh* I had always liked Katniss and Peeta. I liked that Peeta loved Katniss for all of her flaws, and I liked how Peeta made Katniss happy, and a more demonstratively-caring individual — especially when she didn’t realize the power he had over her. And I liked how, as the series progressed, she begrudged him that power less and less.

But now Peeta is, for lack of a better term, broken. Hell, everyone’s broken, but Peeta isn’t even sure what’s real anymore. As for Gale, he had assumed that he and Katniss were endgame (made more complicated by the star-crossed lovers plot Haymitch cooked up during the first Games), and even when it looked like Peeta was out of the picture, I felt that Gale still resented Katniss for her (admittedly confused) feelings. And no one should be with someone who resents them for how they feel.

So yes, Katniss ends up with Peeta. And it’s far from perfect, but while I’m not exactly happy, I’m not exactly mad, either? And let’s face it, you’d know if I were mad.

Where does this leave us? Well – I really enjoyed the series – more than I thought I would, given the atmosphere and worldview of the books. I really enjoy the movies, as well, and feel that they hue closely to the books.

And while I still enjoy Katniss, I am Team Haymitch Abernathy 4-EVA.

Grade for Mockingjay3.5 stars