Fiction

Stephen King's Carrie, an Exercise in Anger Management

Author’s note: Written Aug 3, 2016

A few months ago, I decided that, despite never having had any interest in Stephen King's material, he was an author whose work I should at least be marginally familiar with. Because I had no idea where to start (after all, the man is prolific), I turned to Facebook and asked my friends for "essential" reads, or his "best" work. I was overwhelmingly suggested his Dark Tower series, but I wasn't about to invest that much time or energy. Carrie it was.

I will say that within five pages, I was turned off in a very major way. I will say that by sixty pages in, I was already mad. And I am. It is a story of child abuse compounded by the emotional abuse of shitty peers, and it has made this girl spiteful, even hateful, and I cannot condemn her for it, because I understand it. Nonetheless, it makes my heart ache, and it makes a part of me absolutely fume.

This is, obviously, the point.

The story itself is cut through with journalistic exposition, some of it in the form of news stories, some in the form of 'witness' interviews, and some in scientific journalese. The idea is to circle this situation from a present, developing view, and a said-and-done retrospection from significantly outside the situation.

I read the bulk of this book on the plane returning to Boston from my brief vacation home, across the aisle from a preacher reading his Bible, which I found... amusingly ironic? Coincidental, really, but nonetheless. The truth is that I already knew the gist of the book's climax because there've been two movies and knowing was inescapable, but even so I was just numb to it. I was numb to the entire rest of the book.

Frankly, I didn't enjoy Carrie. I don't know if I ever could have enjoyed Carrie. Even at my most vindictive when I was younger and the brutality of my own social trauma was fresher in my mind, I couldn't have enjoyed any part of this. I'm still not convinced that the novel is designed to be "enjoyed" at all, but I'm left hoping nobody does. It is worth reading, I think, because it is innovative in its approach, and King's prose here is interesting and fluid. It is worth reading because it thrusts upon you the result of a life of seemingly small abuses, even if it is in a science-fictiony kind of way. Even so, I have no idea how to quantify a rating for the title in the terms of stars. Three seems insufficient, but four or five imply something I'm not convinced I want to imply.

So here's what I think:

  • I think that King's method of storytelling is at once fluid and disruptive. I think that it is well-structured and intriguing, and I appreciated the way that he wove thoughts into the structure by interrupting sentences with parenthetical phrases all in lower-case.

  • I simultaneously think that the semi random, and increasingly common over time, inclusion of journalistic material, interviews, etc. is really disruptive and can make it moderately difficult to keep track of what's actively going on. Furthermore, the perpetual flipping of perspective can make it difficult to keep track of characters if one comes in unprepared.

  • The book reads like King was expecting a movie deal out of it. He obviously got it, but what I mean is that, especially with the inclusion of all the exterior material—the article pieces, excerpts from books written by others, the Q&A's from court proceedings, etc—placed as it is, and the perspective swapping, and the fact that the entire book remains relatively "surface" (that is to say, not at any point overly analytical or introspective in a way that would be impossible to capture on a screen), it reads like it's prepped for transition into a screenplay. This isn't necessarily a negative, but I'm not willing to call it a positive, either.

As it stands, I'm uncomfortable about this book and I can't take up any really firm positions about it. I respect it, but I don't know that I "like" it. Nevertheless, I will maintain that it was worth my time and effort, and I would recommend reading it, if only for the cultural relevance of it.

Slaughterhouse-Five, A Gloriously Mundane Work of Art

Author’s note: Originally published July 27, 2016

This is a book that I read because I determined it was my duty to have done so. Having now completed it, I am glad to have consumed it, although I'll be perfectly honest with you: It took me awhile—even after its conclusion—to decide how I felt about it.

Vonnegut's prose here is at once smooth and inelegant, cut up by so many "So it goes"es that one almost wants to scream after awhile. This is, of course, half of the point of the novel, in some fashion or another. It took completing the novel and digesting the final lines for me to come to fully appreciate its nature, and I am not embarrassed in the least about this. I don't know what I was expecting, but what I got was not in the range of potentiality.

The brilliance of Slaughterhouse-Five is in its absolute mundanity, purely because of its subject matter. It is the carpet-bombing of Dresden and the rendered-insane man named Billy Pilgrim's life in and around it. The beauty of its frustrations are in that its great details are in the bits that seem not to matter, given the context.

Vonnegut shaves away at the focus of a scene until we are left with a very small detail, or conversation, or comment, and that in itself has equal chance of embodying a piece of the overarching trauma or being completely otherwise irrelevant. Vonnegut is a master of covering too-large topics by focusing down: you do not discuss the bombing; you instead illustrate the poor abused horses you rode back in on. You do not let on until the very end of the book that all of Billy Pilgrim's hallucinations about time and space travel and the aliens who abducted him were taken directly out of novels written by somebody else—and this you only mention quietly in passing, as if it were unimportant. Because, of course, it is.

Perhaps my favorite moment of Slaughterhouse-Five is the closing of the novel, which is so utterly anti-climactic that it has become the most perfect ending that I think I have ever read: The schoolteacher is executed. The soldiers are held in a stable. The doors are open because the war is over. Billy Pilgrim wanders out into a completely silent street with trees leafing out, not a vehicle in sight, save for an abandoned wagon drawn by two horses. And a bird said to Billy Pilgrim, "Poo-tee-weet?"

My excitement about this is difficult to quantify, but it is as I've said before: it is the pinnacle of the universe's indifference to humanity's struggles and conflict on both grand and individual scales. It is the universe throwing up its middle finger and saying "I really don't give a shit" about the end of a war, the cataclysmic events which have just happened to these people. It is the most beautiful, infuriating, perfect illustration of the way that life around us carries on, despite our own inability to do so.

Frankly, I am impressed by this novel. Even now, it feels weird to say I "liked" it when I was so constantly frustrated by it, but I definitely appreciate it. I appreciate the work that it does, the impact that it has had. I appreciate its layout and its very unapologetic plot and point. Mostly, I appreciate that it manages to do all of these things in such a truly mundane manner, which is all at once infuriating, hilarious, and moving. I appreciate that it covers trauma in this way because it speaks to my experience with trauma. If that means liking it, well, then I suppose I rather liked it a great deal.

Vision in Silver: Anne Bishop (The Others, book 3)

Author’s note: Written in 2015

Vision in Silver is, as the title mentions, the third book in Anne Bishop's series The Others.

When we began this journey, we joined Meg and her new arrival into the Lakeside Courtyard, where the terra indigene hire her as their new Human Liaison for their post office. Suddenly, everything begins to change, including the way that the Others view humans and the way that they all interact. But Meg's Controllers from the compound where she'd been held, designated by a number, were searching for her, and getting altogether too close for comfort.

Thanks to the Courtyard's unprecedented attachment to Meg, the threat is neutralized and the world begins to change. The Humans First and Last movement, often shortened to HFL, has come over from Cel-Romano and begun to take hold of Thaisia, and they are beginning to create havoc. Drugs called Gone Over Wolf and Feel Good are being manufactured from the blood of the Cassandra Sangue, girls like Meg who see prophesy when they cut their precious skin. These drugs are being used as weapons not only against the terra indigene—but also against each other.

Vision in Silver comes in with the wild expansion of the HFL across Thaisia, with nebulous threats of upcoming food shortages that make no sense under the conditions. There is a group of other Cassandra Sangue the terra indigene are trying to help, but most of them self-destruct, except for a few. One draws instead of making cuts because the Controllers aren't there to bind her fingers—and her drawings are eerily expressive—and she eventually calls herself Hope. Lieutenant Montgomery's daughter suddenly arrives on a train by herself with a stuffed bear in tow, but no mother—and now there are people coming in search of the secrets she brought along. HFL attacks the terra indigene at the marketplace where the Human pack took the Crows for a field trip—and the Elders (those terra indigene much older than any others, those who inhabit the wild country and are unseen and unknown to the humans in Thaisia) have declared a breach of trust: the Lakeside Courtyard has a brief amount of time to determine what of humanity may stay, but the rest will be eliminated.

Throughout Vision in Silver, the same kinds of philosophical questions posed in Murder of Crows appear: Are you more sympathetic toward the humans or the terra indigene? What does it mean to support one over the other? But more than that, and this is the key point seen in this novel particularly: Who do we trust when we sabotage our own people? Where do you turn when the people who are supposed to be on your side have chosen some other side that is both against the supposed danger-force (terra indigene, in this case) but also against any human who isn't against the Earth natives? To the forces that distrust you and your kind, consider you "clever meat", disposable, threatening? What if that's your only option?

What if, at the end of the day, the most dangerous force in your life is actually your neighbor, and not nature?

Simon Wolfgard is working very hard to preserve some of humanity because Meg's presence in the Courtyard has changed everything: it allowed interaction with the Lakeside human police force, it precipitated the creation of a human pack inside the Courtyard where before there had been none. By the end of the novel, the question on humanity has turned into something a little different. How much 'human' will the terra indigene be able to absorb while still maintaining their core selves? And, furthermore, if they allow themselves to absorb more of humanity, will they change the kind of terra indigene that they are now?

Vision in Silver moved very slowly until about 75% of the way through, and then all of a sudden everything happened all at once. Up until I reached that point, I was a little disappointed in it, even though I could tell it was leading up to something particularly virulent (and I was right); I just wanted more. I'm moved to say that I was less impressed by this book than by the previous two, but I enjoyed it anyway. I'm very excited to see where book 4 takes us, and I eagerly await the culmination of Simon's and Meg's tiptoeing around letting each other know they care more than just casually. That isn't a spoiler; it's been obviously coming since they met. It's somewhat subtle and there are much bigger things going on in the world than their relationship, but it is kind of a really infuriating will-they-won't-they dance that I've found I really don't have time for anymore. For both Meg and Simon, life is complicated and difficult and there isn't enough time.

I really want to know what the Elders are going to do now, and I really can't wait for this son of a bitch Nicholas Scratch to get his comeuppance. Seriously, though.

So that's what I've got. I gave it a solid 4 stars on Goodreads just because of the disappointment mentioned above, but I'd have given it 4.5 if it were an option. Because it probably wasn't worth a full star. C'est la vie.

 

Changeless: Gail Carriger (The Parasol Protectorate, Book 2)

Author’s note: Written in 2015

Alexia Tarabotti is back! Now married to Conall Maccon, Alpha of the Woolsey pack, and promoted to Muh Jah on the Shadow Council for the Queen of England, life is busier than ever. All of the military regiments overseas have returned to England—and there's at least one setting up camp on her front lawn—and there's a rather peculiar force turning all members of the supernatural set human, at least in a particular area. When that space begins to move northward toward Scotland, following her husband, Alexia decides to follow him via dirigible. Forced into traveling with escorts, Alexia is joined by her French maid Angelique, her husband's claviger Tunstell (who is entirely in love with her friend Ivy Hisselpenny), her antagonistic half-sister Felicity—who is particularly angsty as the youngest sister is in the throes of planning her marriage, and—not to be outdone—her close friend Ivy Hisselpenny, who is newly engaged to one Captain Featherstonehaugh (but kind of irrevocably in love with Tunstell).

Before she leaves, however, she meets one particularly interesting French woman by the name of Madame Lefoux, who daylights as a hatmaker, but is a brilliant inventor behind closed doors, and was commissioned by Conall to make her one helluva parasol... that does everything but function as a parasol.

What's most interesting about Madame Lefoux is that she dresses in men's clothing, tailored to fit and accentuate her female body. She wears pants and waistcoats and cravats and the whole bit. It's glorious, if a bit scandalous. There are also some indications that she may be bisexual, as there is an interesting sexual/romantic tension between her and Alexia, and this all makes a very interesting commentary on sexuality and power in [modified] Victorian society. Whether that says anything about Alexia is kind of unspecified, although her "discomfort" might lend some clue.

On the dirigible, it becomes apparent that somebody is trying rather hard to rid England of Alexia, first by poisoning her food (which unfortunately affects Tunstell instead) and then by pushing her off the edge of the deck and apparently wrestling with Madame Lefoux. Alexia saves herself on the side of the beast, however, and makes it back to safety no worse for wear.

Once in Scotland, the group meets up with her husband and travels to Kingair Castle, where they are met with a surly, unattractive woman who is introduced as Conall's great-great-granddaughter. Alexia doesn't take too kindly to the sudden realization that her husband had been married once before and he never told her. Frankly, I can't blame her.

While in Kingair, at least as many issues arise as are solved. The source of the humanizing agent turns out to be a mummy brought back from Egypt. The individual ransacking Alexia's room and trying to kill her is her French maid, who had at some point in her past—surprise!—been romantically involved with Madame Lefoux.

But the real kicker to this book is the ending. And I'm telling you, I got so mad I fumed. I almost threw my book.

Alexia is pregnant. Surprise of the ages, since, theoretically, supernaturals are incapable of producing offspring. But despite the fact that Alexia couldn't possibly have slept with anyone else and certainly wouldn't lie about it, her bloody husband flips out and starts swearing at her in front of everybody until she and Madame Lefoux leave for London.

Now. Believe me. I understand that it looks bad. And Conall is emotional (at best). But this was simply uncalled for. He married a preternatural, which had never been done before, so I don't know why he couldn't believe that the union would be capable of producing something no one ever had before: a baby.

Soulless: Gail Carriger (The Parasol Protectorate, Book 1)

Author’s note: Written in 2014, this writing style is no longer indicative of my modus operandi, but I stand by the gist of my points herein.

CONTAINS SPOILERS. BE ON YOUR GUARD.

Soulless is the first novel in a series of 5 by Gail Carriger, a writer who is both hilarious and brilliant, and unquestionably has my loyalty after just this one novel.

I read it in the span of about a day and a half, just purely because I was so into it. And I was putting off my homework. As per usual. So sue me. (Don't, please, I beg you.)

Although the common mythology is that vampires and werewolves lack souls because they're "undead" if you will, Carriger has flipped this concept around, instead claiming that they have an excess of soul, which is what allows them to be supernatural in the first place. Alexia Tarabotti, our heroine, is what they refer to as a preternatural, or an otherwise normal human being who has been born without a soul. What this means is that she counteracts all supernatural-ness; coming into contact with a supe causes an immediate reversion to humanity for the werewolf/vampire/ghost in question, which is particularly interesting and, at times, sort of dangerous. This soullessness is, in fact, hereditary, and she got the trait from her Italian father, a heritage she and her family are most embarrassed about because they are, after all, British in the nineteenth century. (From my studies, I've gathered that this disdain of foreigners was a pretty solid thing for these people; whether or not it still holds is up in the air.)

Because supernaturals are "public," if you will, there had to be some manipulation of history in order to account for it all. It's actually quite genius, the way that things are perfectly accounted for and addressed. I wasn't even expecting such interesting developments. Also, there is an overseeing organization called BUR--an acronym I've unfortunately forgotten at the moment, and my novel is across the room, and I'm naked and in bed, so I'm not getting it to tell you. Suck it--headed by one Lord Maccon, the 20-years new Alpha of the Woolsey pack.

Alexia is particularly bold and educated in the sciences, etc. Her father is dead and has been for quite awhile, and her mother remarried a proper Brit and had two more daughters--and I'll be the first to tell you that Alexia's entire immediate family is a group of bloody twits.

Anyway. The plot of this novel is that roves (independent vampires not connected to a Hive--as opposed to a coven) are going missing, and new, uneducated vampires are randomly showing up. Not only that, but Alexia's being targeted and followed and such. Drama and hilarity ensue, and untoward romance sparks between Alexia--considered a spinster at age 26--and Lord Maccon, which is also bloody hilarious, I should mention.

The remainder of the plot and such is certainly worth discussion, but I'm not going to thrill you with it because it simply won't do to elaborate on the entire plot, now, will it? What would be the point in ruining it? Regardless, it's definitely worth a read.