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The Most Fragile Demon

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Title: Ayiti

Pagecount: 121

Author: Roxane Gay (A)

Published: 2011

You know that moment when you first hear a dirty joke, and you don’t get it, and you really want someone to explain it to you, but no one does? You have to find a stealthy way to make sense of it all. Often enough, you wound up giving up and just asking your mother or father, who were then horrified that you knew such things and found a way around telling you what they really meant. Nowadays, we use the internet.

That was how I felt reading the very first story in Roxane Gay’s Ayiti, a short story collection that came out last year. The piece in question is titled Motherfucker, and the thing I didn’t understand was the character’s enforced school nickname, HBO. Of course I got it after a fashion, without consulting friends or the internet. When I reached the conclusion, I felt a sort of sickening sinking feeling in my stomach, the kind that means this is going to be both awesome and painful.

Ayiti- the way a native Haitian pronounces the name of their country- is a study not just of Haiti and its conflicted, structureless state, but also the stories that simmer there. Haiti, in Ayiti, is more than just a place or a state of mind. It is almost a shadow, a dragging poltergeist that doesn’t throw glasses or lift chairs but rather sucks at the weakest spots until those who love and hate the country are dried out, filled with emotions that they can’t name.

I found the structure, style, and wording of Ayiti to be engaging and minimal. The stories rarely exceed seven pages, with the story In The Manner Of Water Or Light being the longest. Unlike other short story collections Ayiti isn’t broken up into parts- all fifteen stories are presented in in a row, their titles taking up a page by themselves. I found that to be a clever design choice. It breaks the reader out of the last story and neatly slides them into the next, like climbing a set of stairs.You don’t question the placement of the story or why it might precede or follow the ones on either side. That contemplation is for a later date. Rather, you understand that the piece you are working on right then is solitary. You need to read it as such. That’s important.

There are moments in Ayiti which will make you (assuming I’ve yet to amass an overseas audience, let’s pretend you’re all US citizens) raise your eyebrows, grind your teeth, suck your bottom lip in frustration. A simple example is the story There Is No E in “Zombi” Which Means There Can Be No You Or We. It is a primer. First, it identifies what Americans do not know about Zombis. Next, it speaks of how to pronounce the word. Finally, it gives step by step instructions on how to create one. It’s easy to get hung up on a single word in this book. Can you guess what that word is?

If you guessed American, give yourself a solid gold cupie doll.

The author of Ayiti is Haitian American, born in the US. The characters of Ayiti, while some are immigrants to the US, are all born Haitians. There is a lot of hate for America in Ayiti. There is also a lot of love.

That’s the beauty of Ayiti, I think. You read it and are tempted to get angry, depending on your age, your patrotism, your political views, none of which should theoretically come into play when reading a work of fiction, but which always do.

“what the fuck is this,” you want to say when you reach the piece The Harder They Come, “who told you we were all like this, don’t compare me to those assholes on cruise ships.”

The word ‘American’ doesn’t mean you.

The word ‘Haitian’ doesn’t mean Gabrielle, or Gerard, or Micheline. These are labels we give ourselves, identifiers, placeholders. And the word Haiti sticks like tar. People will love and hate themselves, regardless of where they live. People will feel arrogant, superior, clinging to what they have left of their pride in both a lawless country lost to itself and this grand beautiful mess we call the United States.

You won’t put Ayiti down. At first it will be curiosity; you won’t be able to help yourself from connecting book to place, and you only ever hear about the terrible things that happen in countries like that. The more you read the more you realize you are taking a walk down a path into a place that you wouldn’t normally go if Gay wasn’t holding your hand tight. You won’t be comfortable. You will want to stop. You won’t, because you know that at the end there must be something, some spark, some important thing until you reach the final story and realize that they all were the important thing.

If it’s not about Haiti, then what is Ayiti about? It’s about ‘Haiti’- the long shadow that culture casts, even across oceans. These stories are the stories of people, of struggle and sacrifice and love that eats you up and love that spits you out and of reaching or not reaching and being saved. They are human stories. What other kind is there, really?

There will be a great temptation to match the artist with the art. Is it ironic that a Haitian-American author published her first book about Haiti? No, why should it be? Consider America, the country of Immigrants. We are the sum of our parts. Our parts, in case you’ve forgotten, are from all corners of the globe. Light shines on everything, even on Haiti, which we are trained to believe is nothing more than a lawless heap. We always look back on where we’ve been, so we know where we are going.

Trying to understand, to sympathize, is at its best annoying and at its worst just plain infuriating. I don’t pretend to understand the plights of Haiti or her people. I wouldn’t expect a Haitian to sympathize with frozen pipes in the winter or many feet of snow. I don’t know how it feels to be so hungry my belly is distended, or scared to walk down the street because I am a woman, to try and make it to Miami and dodge our sometimes well meaning but never well trained immigration agents. To act as though I do is an insult to those who still feel Haiti in their bones, where it will live, unexorcised, the most fragile and stubborn demon.

I do, however, read Ayiti and hope to feel something more than just what I’ve been told is true. Ayiti presents you with the truth, neatly packaged with a bow on top. It’s up to you to open it up and put the pieces together. Nothing like truth comes easy. If it did, writing would be a pointless endeavor.

Flour Makes A Great Cocaine Substitute

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Title: Imperial Bedrooms

Pagecount: 169 (haha?)

Author: Bret Easton Ellis (A, and innocent until proven guilty.)

Published:  2010

When I was working on my undergrad, there was a gentleman of my acquaintance who, besides being a funny bastard, greatly enjoyed several authors, one of which was Bret Easton Ellis. He loved Ellis so much, in fact, that during a school function wherein readers were encouraged to dress up like the author they were portraying, he chose Ellis specifically so that he ‘could smear my face in flour to show all the cocaine’.

He did it. Visiting parents were not amused. The rest of us were but that’s another story.

Following in my vein/habit of not knowing anything about an author widely considered controversial or well debated before reading their books, I picked up Imperial Bedrooms in the Borders Collapse. I did this simply because I recalled Ellis as someone on that hazy ‘list of authors you should read if you want to write’- and also because I couldn’t find a copy of American Psycho, which another peer called the most fucked up book he’d ever read. You’ve never met Daniel but I assure you- it’s quite the recommendation.

Imperial Bedrooms is apparently the ‘sequel’ of Less than Zero, the first book Ellis wrote, published in 1985. I put quotes around sequel because though this book shares characters, I don’t sense that it is meant to insinuate a continuation of Less Than Zero’s story. judging from the detached manner in which the protagonist of Imperial Bedrooms walks through his life, I would suspect that it’s more like a stepping stone further on the pathway to hell. Not a highway, no- highway insinuates a grand exit, going out with a bang, riding with the devil. Ellis’s characters do not ride with the devil. They go gently into that good night.

A synopsis is in order, of course. Our protagonist is casting for a movie. There is a girl he winds up sleeping with who wants to be in the movie. Said girl is in love with a friend of his, but is also the boyfriend of another friend, who may or may not have ties to drug cartels. The rest is history.

I’m surprised by how much I loved the writing style of Imperial Bedrooms. There aren’t so much chapters as there are short sections separated by paragraph breaks, which made it easier for me to keep up while reading in the back room at my dayjob. I also found myself fascinated by the detachment, which reminded me of Camus’s The Stranger.

I can’t speak much to the recurring themes of Imperial Bedrooms since, as mentioned, I haven’t read anything else by Ellis. Whether or not it’s a good idea to start at what one could call the end and work backwards- I suppose I’ll find out. What little I’ve read about Ellis himself creates the image of a man I find fascinating, and I rarely find other writers fascinating. Interesting, maybe. Fascinating, never.

Somewhere on the internet I read that Ellis’s work has a very voyeuristic feel to it, that the reader can’t help but be uncomfortable because things are happening and he or she can’t do a thing to stop them. I did find the voyeur part to be true. I can’t report feeling uncomfortable, perhaps because of my consistent view that ‘what’s done has been done’. There is a sense of immediacy in Imperial Bedrooms, because the book is written in the present tense. I don’t feel required to stop the events occurring. I just watch them play out.

It’s easy to slap the satire label on Imperial Bedrooms, possibly because it is semi-biographical in the case of Ellis’s work on the movie The Informers and also because it so clearly shows off the suspected underbelly of LA. I hesitate to say that it is meant as any kind of red flag or ‘whoop there it is’ representation of the culture of Hollywood. Is that present? Oh without a friggin’ doubt, but Imperial Bedrooms goes beyond that first layer of veneer- the lies we all know about but no one really talks about out loud, because talking about it would make it real- and delves right into the secondary layer of absolutes.

What I find the most interesting about the protagonist is how much of an utter bastard he is. He’s selfish, absorbed, clueless about everything hovering just outside his little world and yet you can’t help but hope he makes it through. Over the course of the book you want to ask him ‘why are you doing this? what the fuck do you think you’re up to? hello?’ but you don’t. One can sense that even if he were sitting across the table and you were holding up cue cards, he still wouldn’t get it. He’s one of those men who is destined to never get it. The difference is that when he doesn’t get it, people get hurt. That doesn’t matter to him, that people get hurt. What matters is that he stays in balance. Balance is key, because he doesn’t like anyone and is afraid of people.

If  you look at Imperial Bedrooms as a sort of psuedo autobiography all sorts of things could be pulled from it, which would without a doubt ‘prove’ that Bret Easton Ellis is a man who needs serious help. In argument I turn you to something Completely Different, episode 40 of As Told By Ginger, And Then She Was Gone. Why Ginger? Well, for one thing, it’s an awesome show far superior to the crap they air today. For another, it neatly explains in less than an hour what I’m trying to tell you.  A writer will inevitably puts parts of his or herself into work, that’s true- but a writer isn’t always their writing, either. If we wanted to start that debate I’d need a whole other blog.

To wrap it up, Imperial Bedrooms was a good introduction to the somewhat manic world of Bret Easton Ellis. If you’re emotional enough to feel responsible for the acts of the characters you are following, maybe you’d better skip this one. If you’ve been avoiding this novel because ‘it can’t possibly be as good as American Psycho’ then it’s your loss. If you think the themes are overplayed, well, it is a sequel. I liked it. I’ll be seeking out more of Mr. Ellis, when I have the time, the inclination, and the knowledge that I won’t be stopped trying to get on a plane while carrying a copy of one of his books.

Tune in next time for the precise moment when Lord Of The Flies finally catches up to me.

And Then Captain Nemo Got Out The Vibrator

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Title:Busy Monsters

Pagecount: 282

Author: William Giraldi (A)

Published: 2011

It’s not hard to spot a love story nowadays, is it?

I mean there’s always the classical romance. Guy meets girl, girl and guy fall in love, something terrible happens and they break up, only to eventually come back together. That Asshole Nicholas Sparks ™ makes a ton of money off of people by writing that exact scenario over and over, though he has this nasty habit of throwing in ‘big concepts’ like wars or Alzheimer’s. It’s what we as human beings love to read about. Love in books, though it is intended to be just as mind bending and mud sloggingly difficult as a real relationship, still retains some kind of purity. I think we prefer it that way. If the two star crossed lovers wind up together in the end- in death or taxes- then something important has been restored. We can’t help but cheer for Mr. Darcy. That’s what makes chick lit so readable, isn’t it? Love. It’s a stupid word. It exists to describe the one thing that cannot in any language be truly explained.

Busy Monsters is, at its heart, a love story.Of course, you could have predicted that without me telling you; it’s right there in the description on the dust jacket. The difference between this love story and other love stories is that I wasn’t sure who I was rooting for, and miracle of miracles, if I wanted love to  last happily ever after.

A synopsis: Charles Homar, a column memoirist of no little infamy, is deeply in love with Gillian Lee. Gillian leaves Charles to pursue her dream of capturing a giant squid, scant months before their wedding. Charles-as most men in romantic narratives are wont to do- proceeds to think of everything he can to get his girl back.

Simple. Fish and cut bait. The man, the woman, the crazy ex wife/insurmountable economic difference/staunch southern pride/giant squid that tears them apart. Textbook, you’d think.

I’d have to disagree. Despite their fatal flaws there is something about romantic heroes that draws women in. They have a moxie, a hutzpah, a something. We  can forgive them their faults because we know in some way they will come through. Mr. Darcy, Mr. Rochester, Mellors- they smoulder, in a fashion that makes the panties moist.

Charles Homar does not smoulder.

He barely even sputters.

I didn’t like Charles for a long time. I’m a sexist at heart, is the problem.  I find most of the male species mildly irksome at best and the eternal doom of our society at worst. Darcy I raise my eyebrows at, to Rochester I shake my head; but I really, truly, madly, deeply, wanted to strangle Charles Homar after ten or so pages.

The way Charles talks about Gillian in his first few chapters rubbed me in a fashion I would only lightly describe as ‘wrong’. It smacked to me of obsessive love, which is the hallmark of the Surrealists, whom I would very much like to have dropkicked out a fourth story window for all the good they did. What kind of man drives to another state with the intention of murdering his girlfriend’s ex lover? The answer is generally a deluded and possessive one. Women are not possessions to be fought over. Was Charles even going to try and explain himself? In a way that didn’t put him deeper into the hole he started digging when he first mentioned said hare-brained plan to murder ex lover?

He did, eventually. A friend convinced me to give the novel a second chance. I’m not overwhelmingly happy I did so, but I am satisfied. I hate to leave a book unread, and besides- I wanted to know how exactly he planned on winning back the girl of his dreams. Whom he had just tried to impress by shooting the boat she was on full of holes.  I began to feel pity for Charles, or at least something remarkably like it. whether or not his love for Gillian was healthy, it definitely existed. That’s reason enough for a romantic hero to begin his crusade.

The problem with this crusade, however, is that neither Charles nor Gillian are the heroes. It is far less a romantic epic a la Victorian goth literature, and more a  drug-fuelled sexapalooza involving Moby Dick and the Odyssey. Who is Penelope, who is Odysseus? Charles makes the comparison himself several times and flip flops between them depending on his situation. Fair enough, I suppose, to introduce to the love story what most other authors gloss over and that is time. Gillian is gone for months. Charles himself spends days almost unnumbered in the wilds of various states, trying to find something, anything, that will bring her back to him. There are examples throughout the book as to whether or not love can withstand the test of time. The conclusion Charles comes to, subconsciously, is that it can. That’s good for him. Because by the time the book ends he has to think about how to capture another giant squid.

You recall I said I didn’t know who to root for? The confusion begins once Gillian leaves on her quest. It is communicated to Charles that she wanted to live her dream before she was tied down to marriage and family, that he didn’t truly understand her ambitions or her affection for the giant squid. Though I couldn’t love Charles, I could still wince at a sucker punch. He really didn’t see it coming, and for that I felt pity. I almost wanted to call Gillian an unfeeling whore, because what kind of woman doesn’t at least mention to her boyfriend that she’s considering getting on a ship and touring the oceans for a few months in search of the kraken? When Charles began contemplating ways to get her back, I almost wanted to tell him to forget her. Clearly, she wasn’t worth it.

To Charles, however, she was, and this is the driving force of his journey. Gillian Lee is worthy of the cause because, though he understands nothing about humans around him and in point of fact could very well be lying through his teeth about everything he does, the single truth remains: he loves Gillian. Romantic? I suppose. Stupid? Certainly, but earnest in a way few people nowadays are.

Charles makes it very hard for you to put your trust in him. As the first person narrator of the book he has complete control over what it is that we understand. Of course since he is a memoirist the artistic liberties can only stretch so far, but stretch they do, from bigfoot to aliens to butch lesbian boxing matches. Did it all happen? Does it matter? What matters is that in the end, Gillian and Charles are a single unit again, a pair. True love, such as it were, conquers all.

The style of Busy Monsters has been compared to Vonnegut. That might explain why I found it hard to take at first. Kurt and I don’t get along. However, once you realize that every once in a while you might need a dictionary, Charles makes for an entertaining narrator, if a not entirely honest one. The characters he meets range from the mighty african voodoo warrior to the mousy little ufo specialist to the Navy Seal best friend. I have a habit of taking facts like this at face value. If the narrator says to me, “my best friend is a navy seal and spends a lot of time overseas shooting at Arabs.” I will believe him, even though this might not be the case. It makes me essentially useless for the truth vs. Truth debate, which one could easily get into with this book.

Leaving out the various subplots and possible aesthetic and scholarly debates that accompany a book so chock full as Busy Monsters, I’d say give it a read. It’s an impressive first novel and, assuming you don’t have the sexist hangups I do, a fun romp in the woods.

I just made a funny.

but you’ll have to read the book to find out how.

The Stranger- no one gets out alive

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Title: The Stranger

Pagecount: 123

Author: Albert Camus (D)

Translator: Matthew Ward (D)

Published: 1946 (Translated 1989; 2011 jacket)

I like to think my most endearing quality as a book reviewer (besides my ego, which is roughly proportionate to the entire Andromeda galaxy) is that I know jack shit about anything besides what I read.

No, really. I never read the introductions until I’m done with the book and I purposefully don’t read anything about the author when in the process of reading a novel. It is ignorance by design, and though I can’t say it gives me an unbiased view, I feel it helps me express my feelings about the books I read without muddying them up via the author’s possible meanings or this scholar’s not so brief introduction. Any information I offer is usually researched after the fact. Therefore, a statement: I know nothing about Albert Camus, other than he’s dead, he wrote well enough to win several awards, and he was probably a heavy smoker.

Moving on to the book. I picked up The Stranger because it was cheap, it was on the ‘summer reading’ table at the local bookstore, and I wanted to know what the kiddies were going to spend the year griping about. I question the inclusion of The Stranger on any summer reading list, if only because my dismal opinion of the literary abilities of youth nowadays directs me to believe they would barely know how to pronounce the name Camus, much less enjoy reading a book that didn’t include references to illicit sex parties, copious amounts of firearms, or sticking it to ‘the man’. Regardless of my own dismal outlook, I salute the teachers who decided their little pupils should be subject to something with actual meat. Extra points for fooling them into thinking that the nice short book would be an easy A. You go, subversive educators of America. You go.

Translation of works from one language into another always sparks debate and opinions are vast- for example, my Girl With The Dragon Tattoo review. Since this is my first reading of Camus, I can’t speak to the accuracy of the translation, though Matthew Ward is noted for having provided a more American English translation than those prior, which had been more British in leaning. A few lines certainly jumped out at me, most notably this one, on page sixty four: “On my way out I was even going to shake his hand, but just in time, I remembered that I had killed a man.” Ward was criticized by some by changing the traditionally read ‘mother’ (as in the book’s first line, ‘Mother died today’) with the more childish ‘Maman’, which Ward felt better represented the way Meursault saw his mother. I tend to agree, since the idea of a mother as something that eventually becomes passe and used is a large part of our first glimpses into Meursault’s personality. Mom denotes a matronly and solid presence in one’s life; Maman is an old cherished teddy bear, finally left behind after its button eye pops off for the fourth or fifth time.

I enjoyed The Stranger. I found its pace to be well measured and its ideas of the inevitability of life to be far less complicated than one would believe. It read a little bit like Earnest Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises in the short sentences, the statements of action, the eternally static way emotional events are portrayed. I like Meursault as a protagonist and I found that surprising. I have always had a thing against male protagonists who spend a lot of time watching and observing and never doing anything to change their surroundings. When I had to read Tropic of Cancer in college I spent most of it frothing in abject fury at the fact that nothing ever changed, due almost entirely to Miller’s own laziness. Meursault could be accused of this same stagnation, but he differs from Jake Barnes and the slightly fictional Henry Miller in that he doesn’t shy away from change, whether it be from laziness or a lack of acceptance; he just lets it happen.

What interests me the most about the book isn’t the actual events but rather how Meursault seems to exist outside of them. He is just pulled along by a series of intertwined events not by his own design but rather because other people make the choices for him, and he goes along with it. Even at the moment he is sentenced to die, he doesn’t seem to mind, believing it to be another inevitable step in a life made up of accidental living. Of course, he has his moments- notably his explosion at the chaplain in the final scene. This is where I feel Things Get Hinky.

The separation of ‘story’ and ‘what I am trying to tell you’ was always a bit of a hard pill to swallow for some writers. A perfect and well known example is Ulysses by James Joyce, where you spend a lot of time following the characters of Bloom and Stephen around Dublin, while James Joyce in turn follows you with a hammer and occasionally whacks you about the head with it to point out how brilliant he is. Meursault shattered in those final pages; in his shell was Albert Camus, and he was yelling at the top of his lungs.

Despite that character break, I feel peaceful when I think about The Stranger. I’ve decided that perhaps it’s because we as the human race have a better grasp on what Camus was saying now. Meursault did not react to many things happening around him because they were absurd, a puppet play of living. Friends getting into fights, women thinking about marriage, shooting an Arab and being killed for shooting him- what can be more absurd than life, which is never so linear as the Bible or the Commandments or the lies your parents told you make it out to be? Meursault was just an observer. Of course he made decisions, but none of those things- going to the beach, shooting the Arab- change the absurdity. They just make it even more absurd.

Do I think Camus was saying something about the inevitability of life, and what doesn’t come after it? Yes, yes I believe he was. I think that the stranger the book is named for could quite possibly be death- not Death the personification, with the scythe and the pale horse, but rather death the inevitable ending to an absurd play. I haven’t decided yet whether or not to seek out more of Camus’s work- A Happy Death comes immediately to mind- but if I do, maybe this review will change just a tad.

To sum up The Stranger for the internet: Don’t take life so seriously. No one gets out alive.

Born Confused-join the club.

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I have a friend who is Jewish.

For the sake of argument, let us call her Rebecca. Rebecca and I met in college. The how I’m a little fuzzy on; it probably had something to do with a mutual class or maybe one of those icebreaker activities I love to hate. Fancifully, I’ll say we met at a rave, because, well, if I were the kind of person to go to a rave, then Rebecca would be the kind of person to utilize my manatee physique as a safety net from the more vibrant personalities.

Rebecca is, of course, not only Jewish. She loves Disney World, is attending grad school for a degree in Children’s Writing, and can probably list all of the current and former installations in the Haunted Mansion ride. She grows her pinky nail long, has hair that can’t decide if it is red or brown, and when she talks, you want to listen, if only because any story she tells is a funny one, even if it is tragic.

Rebecca being Jewish was and is something I joke about. I once called her from a phone with bad service in the middle of Downtown Crossing in Boston just to share with her the important fact that I was looking at a bagel shop, a bank, and a law firm all in a row. Of course, this wasn’t a one way street- as a recovering Mormon it was highly insinuated that I had, perhaps, fifteen husbands, all of whom had me on alternating weekends.

Only recently has Rebecca begun to go to Synagogue again. She’s been thinking about children, a ‘nice Jewish boy’. Basically, she’s rediscovering who she is, in accordance with where her people have been-combining the old with the new. It’s been a tumultuous process. And she’s in her twenties.

Born Confused is a book that deals with the melding of cultures, in this case those of Indian and American. You think that’s a twisted path, then throw in a seventeen year old narrator whose name is..wait for it..Dimple Lala.

Written by Tanuja Desai Hidier, the story follows Dimple through the summer between her junior and senior years of high school, touching on all the old classics- a fracturing friendship, boy troubles, drug and alcohol experimentation. It also takes a goosey gander at cultural identity in this melting pot we call America.

I had trouble seeing Born Confused in a realistic light. Dimple waxes poetic quite often for a seventeen year old who believes her parents don’t understand her. Since the book is a first person narrative, all the reader gets is a Dimple’s eye view-a view which betrays the writer’s roots in music, since paragraphs read more like epic lyrics than a scene setting. Of course it’s good when what a first person character thinks is different than how they speak- how many of us say what we’re really thinking, or explain to anyone what it is we really see? Even then, however, there is a thin thread which connects the two separate images. This thread doesn’t exist with Dimple. Her descriptions and thoughts are so far away from what she says and how she acts that it is like you are reading the explanations of two different people. Distracting isn’t even the word for it.

Is it bad that I think Dimple’s narrations are not in keeping with her personality? Normally, I would. In this case, however, the endless song that makes up the book is important to the feel of the story, and while I don’t consider it a sign of good craft, it does make for a good read. Often enough, you’ll find that these things are close enough to be twins.

Dimple’s problem is one I will say most of us have. What is Indian, what is American, and how does she balance them out? Her parents set up meetings between her and a suitable young man, yet in the same breath they extol the virtues of the internet. The cousin she remembers as being so properly Indian back home in India attends film school and is now a lesbian. Her best friend- a very white girl- begins appropriating the Indian culture in order to attract a boy, and does this by demanding it from Dimple. Dimple’s eyes are opening up and they aren’t really sure what they see.

I am going to say something now that a lot of people would argue with. This is that everyone in America, regardless of their race, has this battle with themselves. Yes, that includes white people like me. Do you know how many different cultures are ‘white’, and how different all of them are? In America there is and has always been a movement to understand where we have come from. In that way, Born Confused does a good job hooking the mess of being an Indian in an American world.

The more chicklit moments in the book- falling in love with a boy, the falling out with the best friend- all pale in comparison to the psuedo bollywood feel of the book. They seem almost contrived. Born Confused hasn’t decided if it is dealing with the problem of ethnicity or the problem of being a teenager. It isn’t fair that books make more sense one way or another, but the truth of the matter is that often enough, we don’t want to wrap our heads around two such concepts at the same time. Dimple’s struggling attempts at photography, her passive-aggressive feelings towards Gwyn, her crush on Karsh, each of these things just..gets in her way.

Of course, if you’re a fan of bollywood musicals, you know how Born Confused ends. In one fell swoop, the protagonist has an epic shift in paradigm and all is, if not well, then on its way to well. The only thing the book is missing is the dance sequence and rolling credits. I have to approve of the wrap up, if only because of how the book played out; it was a bollywood story, and needed that bollywood ending. In real life, friendships broken by romance are not so easily fixed, and acceptance of a polytheistic religion you thought a hundred pages ago was hokey doesn’t come while you’re sitting quietly in temple. Of course, I could be wrong- would the party who has experienced something even remotely like this please stand up?

Despite the hot mess that Born Confused does eventually turn out to be, I would suggest it. Why? It’s a beautiful read. You see, you smell, you taste and you hear. These visceral experiences are gems to be loved and cherished, especially when most young adult books nowadays consist of the words ‘vampire’, ‘sparkles’, and ‘love’.

My Kingdom For An Apostrophe

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You’ve noticed.

I know you have.

Maybe it was just a slip one time. You didn’t feel like scrolling up or down on your android to get to the symbols section. The person recieving the text will know what you meant. No harm done. So you hit ‘send’.

Then it happens again, only this time, instead of writing out late, it’s l8. Then you becomes u. Your makes the transition to ur. Pretty soon ur just trying 2 get the txt snt ASAP.

SHAME ON YOU.

For the love of God, my fellow men, are we not privileged to have language? That these twenty six symbols, coming together, form a communication that works to aid in our understanding (or increasing confusion) of one another? If you have the room, why would you shorten them? Why would you wreck hundreds of thousands of years of development? To save time? No. it’s sheer laziness and it has to stop.

This I say unto you: the day a paper at school is passed in with every you a u and every skate a sk8 will signal the beginning of the end, and has probably already happened. We have among us the endless possibility of growth, development. We continuously waste it on stupid shit like Ipads, the next MP3 player, dumbing down our words and our thoughts to better fit in with the populace.

We are the populace. It is time for proper grammar to return to the confines of one hundred and sixty characters. Maybe it is a pointless endeavor, so mired are we in our culture of the stupid and our hatred of the educated. Perhaps it is too late to hope that the damage done by music videos, improper parenting, well-marketed commercials and laziness can yet be undone.

But by God, I will spell words out the way they were meant to be spelled, and I will not regret a single moment of it. You shouldn’t, either. Vive la spell check. Dictionaries for everyone.

Wild Animus, or, being a leech and taking acid will bring you closer to God.

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Title: Wild Animus

Author: Rich Shapero (A. And also wealthy.)

Pagecount: 315

Published: 2004

(NOTE: purely by coincidence a peer of mine, intrepid explorer/writer Eric Notaro, read Wild Animus at around the same time period I did. For comparison purposes, or maybe if you’re more interested in the technicals, bebop on over to his little slice of the internet- it’ll be a good time.)

The first thing you should know is that I didn’t pay for this book. In fact, I’m going to hazard a guess and say if you have a copy of Wild Animus, you didn’t pay for it either. That’s because, in the seven years since it was first published by Outside Reading, Wild Animus has practically been given away. It is a book meant to be accompanied by three music CDs, none of which I listened to, because any book that has written on its back express instructions on how it is to be read deserves to be read however I damn well please.

Normally, I would entertain you with a lengthy diatribe on the stupidity of self publishing. However, that debate is for another time and place. Instead I sum up my feelings on this novel: it sucked ramcock.

I’m surprised that physical action didn’t happen within the confines of the book, all things considered.

As usual, a synopsis: A disillusioned University student named Sam Altman falls in love with a girl named Lindy and in a series of randomized events, winds up having her write her number on a hunting magazine that happens to have a picture of a dall ram on the front of it. He becomes obsessed with the animal and spends the rest of his short life attempting to attain a godlike state with it. I say short because, predictably, he dies on top of a mountain in Alaska while drugged out of his mind after abandoning his girlfriend for an ongoing acid trip.

It isn’t immediately simple to place the time period Animus is meant to be happening in. If you aren’t versed in the history of college riots, you have to do a little research.  Due to the extreme amount of drug use being represented, a stab at the nineteen sixties isn’t hard.  The Berkley student riots- where Sam and Lindy meet for the first time via running for their lives from teargas, how romantic- were a large part of the free speech movement and would have been a more useful setting for the book than Alaska. But let’s not tell Rich that.

The book is set up in two trading parts. The first part is the third person narrative of Sam and Lindy. The second is Ransom-formerly-known-as-Sam’s first person narrations of his time as a dall ram being pursued by a pack of wolves. The deeper Ransom and Lindy get into Alaska and its apparently awesome effect on acid trips, the longer the Ram’s sections get and the shorter and more angry the narratives become.

It is the words of the Ram that are meant to hold your attention as the story progresses. Unfortunately, they don’t. The sections are blocky and overly descriptive. The dreamlike feel that the author was presumably going for is lost in the constant repetition of ‘padding’ and ‘flanks’. If you squint or get really bored, it sort of sounds like you’re reading an awful porn novel. Eventually in my reading I got to a point where I skipped the Ram’s sections altogether; they dragged on me like tar and made me want to put the book down.

Characters in the story make sense only as they relate to Sam’s desired version of reality. I find this interesting, since it is rare we get inside Sam’s head when he isn’t completely fucked up. I can see no other explanation, however, for a group of experienced mountain climbers to allow a hippie to convince them that he’s looking for God and that they should abandon their original course for the summit of a difficult climb to go to some crater in the wilderness. It is completely unrealistic. In fact, the dialogue, the interactions, none of them have any base in actual development. This lack of real characterization leads me to Lindy.

Oh, Lindy.

Lindy is either the stupidest bitch on the planet or she’s..well, the stupidest bitch on the planet. When your boyfriend wants to find God on a mountaintop while blitzed and dressed up like a ram, guess who pays for it? The answer is ‘not him’. Lindy acts as financial support for the entire book. When she mentions to Ransom that she wants to settle down and have a family, he berates her for giving up on ‘their’ dream. She pays for the mountain climbs, she pays for him to go to Alaska, she pays for him to get high and she pays the price for falling in love with a druggie who really likes rams. Ransom believes that Lindy is his pack of wolves, driving him towards Animus; really, he’s doing nothing but driving her away. Like a good girl, she always goes back again, and again, and again.

There is an obvious misogynistic argument here, and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. Even if Ransom had been dating a man, I would feel the same about the presentation of a completely parasitic relationship. Call it being human, but if what Shapero wants to say is that you have to step on the backs of people you love to find God, then I think the bastard can wait.

If there was a point to Wild Animus besides one man being a dick because he couldn’t handle reality, I have yet to see it. There is nothing about Ransom Altman that I can relate to and nothing I find admirable or heroic about his story. He’s a man who, mistakenly believing that ‘artistry’ is the same as ‘godhood’, decides he will exist on a whole new plane of existence. To do this, he utilizes the acid. This completely invalidates him. Steven King put it best when he said that it didn’t matter what brilliance a writer or artist created when they were high or drunk, a loser is still a loser. If you feel that you need some kind of substance to help you create your art, then you aren’t an artist, you’re an addict.

If there had been one moment- one- where Ransom encountered Animus while not under the influence of drugs, then Wild Animus would have perhaps had a glimmer of hope for its story. That doesn’t happen. He dies alone and mistaken on top of a mountain. Good riddance.

“But Eusapia,” I hear you say, “though drugs are illegal haven’t they been a driving force behind artistic movements? We’re all grownups here. A fictional character can find God on acid.”

Yes. Yes they have, and yes he can, but my point is that without proof of the god Animus existing outside the realm of an acid trip, Ransom’s entire existance is petty. He’s looking for Atlantis, for El Dorado, for God. None of these things are easily found, less so when the intrepid explorer is not using all of his mind. Drug use could have been a good funnel point for the book. Instead it just alienates a more tight laced audience  and leads to the inevitable.

I feel like I should note here that Rich Shapero seemed to be under the mistaken assumption that what he did with Wild Animus is somehow ‘new’ and ‘edgy’. Apparently, someone forgot to inform him that setting a story to music was around centuries before he was born. Oops. You’d think for a guy who set up his own publishing company to get his work out there, he’d have stopped to think about things like how to make the story not suck.

I should mention that in my reading of reviews and blog posts for Wild Animus I stumbled across someone mentioning that Shapero has said the idea is more important than the story. 

Okay.

Back the fuck up.

what?

If the idea is more important than the story, why tell it in novel form? Even The Unbearable Lightness of Being had a plot, and that was Milan Kundera, master of the philosophy thinly disguised as something like a story. The whole point of stories like this- the Grimm Fairy Tales, Grendel, The Iliad- are not just to impart wisdom but also to make that wisdom stick. If you take away the story then all you have is a series of morals or rhetoric. In case you haven’t noticed, my friends, not a lot of people spend time in the philosophy section of the bookstore nowadays.

Wild Animus would have been better as a performance piece, including raging bonfire, deep bass drum, full ram and wolf ensembles. Then again, it might have been better never seeing the light of day. Rich Shapero spent an obscene amount of money hoping to become famous through a book that is too big for its idea, on the basis that someone out there- probably someone who does more drugs than me- would find it ground-breaking. He was terribly mistaken.

As a parting gift, I share with you this information. Any interview that Shapero did for Wild Animus is no longer linked on the internet. They all, mysteriously, seem to have vanished.

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