Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book review: Carthage, easily confused as Carnage

Intentional? It's Joyce Carol Oates, so you must consider there may be some forethought. I have an on again/off again relationship with JCO. First of all, it's unacceptable that she teaches at Princeton, I am in Princeton often, and yet I have never seen her. I imagine that in person she is even frailer and more praying mantis like than one imagines. I feel like she would wear a brown overcoat and a plum colored hat, for some reason. I imagine that she might often cover up her hair because (I am also imagining this) she doesn't like how frizzy and unmanageable it is. I only think this because her characters often have frizzy hair, especially the ones you're meant to dislike somewhat. I think she has an arresting look, but it's the kind of attractiveness that maybe was never appreciated?

Sometimes, I like her writing a lot, and sometimes, I feel like it's a parody of Southern Gothic writing, as she usually has sentences that read something like, "Daddy didn't like his little girl anymore with her ponderous breasts and frizzy dishwater hair and flabby, un-kissable lips, did Daddy?" She writes about the grotesque, and her stories are often about people on the fringe, the poor, the abused, the murdered. I recently read one story told from the point of view of a little girl who has to stay awake to make sure her crazy mother doesn't kill her infant sister (I believe she ultimately failed). It was compelling, but also sickening. I feel like her stories always have someone slowly drowning in the mud, or being raped by a mentally handicapped uncle, or some other horrible, can't-look-away car crash quality that makes you feel slightly guilty for having even read it, as if by reading it, you're admitting that you love stories about rape, incest, and child murder.

I am curious to know if she considers herself a feminist writer.  In Carthage, there's a scene about a group of people visiting a maximum security prison, and she vividly describes the incarcerated men lunging at the bars of their cells as the women walk by, as if, given the chance, they would rape and kill the women.

The story is about a missing girl and the man accused of killing her--a man who also happens to be an Iraq veteran. He doesn't remember hurting her exactly, but then again, his memory is screwy because of what he saw in the war and PTSD and brain injuries, etc. Halfway through, the book switches to a different scenario and becomes about this weird girl with a stolen identity who is an intern for a professor. I guess we are supposed to suspect that she's actually the missing girl. If not, it's one hell of a red herring.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

When I Write

I've been more social than usual lately (which means I interact with new-ish people like once a month instead of once every three months) and so have been recently answering the question about what I do in my job and in my life. I can answer the job question easily, but then I sometimes expand on that to make my life sound more interesting by adding that I also write fiction. And then the person asks me what I write about and I have no ready answer. I usually say, "Dysfunctional women who can't connect with others and always say the wrong things and reveal too much information to casual questions." Maybe what I need to do is come up with a different answer every time, like "I write about pig farming during the turn of the century in Afghanistan." Or "My stories revolve around transsexuals who are hiding their identities." Or  "I'm into tales about registered sex offenders who are really very nice people at heart."

But overall, I feel like a hypocrite, because I haven't been writing fiction at all in the last couple of months, and before that, I was mostly just half-hardheartedly revising existing stories to finish my thesis.  The only times I think seriously about writing are when I can't actually do it. For example, I have great ideas and inspiration when I'm driving in the car. Or stuck in the shower. Or under water. A whole novel idea will come to me, and then I'll imagine suddenly feeling inspired to write it when I get to my destination. Except, when I have the chance to write, when I have free time, when I'm not confined in a car or the shower or operating heavy machinery and can actually write, I play Computer Solitaire instead.

There was a scene on the show Louie last night that came back to me this morning. Louie's upset because his friend is succeeding and he's not.  The friend's just gotten a pilot approved, and Louie realizes that he's jealous and bitter about this guys' success. His other friend goes, "Go get your own TV show then."  He laughs, but she's like, "No, just do it. You're just a guy, and he's just a guy. There's nothing special about your or him, just some people work harder for what they want." I'm paraphrasing, but the gist of it is that you have to at least do the work to get what you want. It's not going to just happen because you feel like you deserve it or you're a better writer than Lisa Scottoline or whomever. Maybe I should just set a personal goal, like to write a book in 6 months and sell it. Maybe I should just decide to be on the best seller list because I want more money to buy a house. Okay, I'll start as soon as I get out of this car. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Mime This (Add Obscene Hand Gesture)

Chris wears a turtleneck to France, because, hey, that's what the French do, I guess. For her own part, Andi wears a super short skirt made out of a Hefty garbage bag. Someone is stoked to have one on one time with Andi--I guess it's the pro ball player? Here's a new thing where they force The Bachelorette to do a hair commercial and she illustrates how she will never be an actress.

I missed some of the story because we were frosting cupcakes for Luke's class tomorrow. That's a first for me. Dan tried to hide the extra frosting from me, but guess what, I went ahead and dug it out of the garbage, because I have no pride.

Tension at the house as Andrew called the black guy a black guy. I feel like I missed something  significant. He's saying how much it sucks to be seen as the token black guy, and to be judged not by who he is as a total person, but as a person of color. First time ever The Bachelorette has directly confronted any racial tension on the show.

First One on One

Josh M. has shaved for his date with Andi at this palace that I should probably recognize as a key landmark of France. The Louvre? If it's not the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower, I have no idea what it is. That's how
colloquial and ignorant I am. Andi hopes to have a deep conversation with Josh under the watchful eyes of 100 naked marble statues. Or wait, are they sitting in a studio? I'm not listening to her blather. Josh is trying to explain how he too is discriminated against for being a ball player and how people think white male athletes are players despite all the evidence to the contrary. And then he grabs his crotch and spits onto the face of a statue, which does not help his case. His story about his girlfriend kissing another guy really does seem to equal out to the black guy feeling judged and assessed because of the color of his skin for the rest of his life. They kiss, loudly.  She gives his a rose and they dance to this supposedly famous guitarist who I've never heard of before.

Group Date

They are walking through the streets of France, on their way to another stereotype, the French mime. Marseilles Marceau, if you will. So dumb. I'm sure that miming is an art, but it's not really an art that I think anyone should learn. They have to make total fools out of themselves in public by wearing stripped shirts, berets, suspenders, and following a guy with a whistle. Oh, dear. Why does every show involve a stupid public performance? Like, what does that teach her about them at all. Cody again looks like a Kewpie doll, except for now, he is a Kewpie dolls dressed as a mime.

Nick is pouting because he's not really into the group date thing and trying to get Andi's attention. Later, they all gang up on Nick because Andi likes him the best. This is all fake, by the way. Andi wears another tiny skirt, this one is a tiny sparkly postage stamp. They have done her hair into a Brigette Bardot ponytail. Cody has just snorted some Coke and is acting crazy toward Nick. Veins are popping out on every surface of his face and thick neck. Andi again sounds like she has pneumonia. GOD, get rid of Cody. Omigod, if she is a jerk to him, I will stop watching this show. I like him, probably because he seems like a sensitive writer guy. Oh, wait, he just read something he wrote, and I am wrong. At least it didn't rhyme. Man, I have to start writing again. I can't be wasting my time watching this crap.  All the guys make their pitches for her attention, mostly by stroking her long, horsey-like hair.

Marquel confronts that guy who doesn't shave for calling him a black guy and the guy denies it. I don't know who to believe anymore. Andrew tells Andi that Marquel said something to him, and Andi seems irritated that he isn't more into her. She just really does not know what to do with the rose.  She gives it to the very wide-shouldered JJ who has a wispy clump of forelock, also like a horse.

One on One Date, Part II

The coach gets cheated on his date by being forced to take part in a product placement for a French movie, perhaps the price the country demanded for allowing them to film there. Next, they go to the market to pick out ingredients such as sea urchins which they are forced to eat live. Bryan vomits into his sleeve, and then they next go to kill some frogs for their legs. Yawn. Bryan doesn't know how to cook, and Andi finds him to be stand offish. Little does Andi know that he's been poisoned by a bad urchin. Not a sea urchin, but a street urchin wearing a little fez.  I don't really know what it is that she wants from him, but the dinner is a major fail, and so they go out to dinner. He's like a deer in headlights as she waits for him to figure out how to be aggressive. Does she want him to sweep the dishes off the table and try to have sex with her on the street. He leans over to kiss her, while also making sure the kisses are loud enough to be heard from the street. He's sort of cute and normal, but maybe they are just not attracted to one another, despite the loud kisses. Can they ever get any time alone with no cameras. He gets the rose, and decides to break a window and steal her a diamond frog necklace. Or rather, he sneaks into this kitchen and makes out with her using the hands all over the face technique that we've all come to expect.

Cocktail Party Cancelled in Hopes of Making Something Interesting Happen

We've been prepped by 16 previews to expect that Andi is going to go ahead and send ten guys home just for the hell of it. Fingers crossed that one of them is Cody. Chris Harrison says that Andi has decided to go ahead and cut only three of them. Cody feels like tonight was going to be a big night for him, as he was going to show her how much he can bench press. Come on, get to it. Patrick, you're going home.

More product placement as the new dumbest audience participation show is premiered. People who vote get to see their faces on the screen, and so far, it  looks like about 50 percent of the voters are Mom's living in Montana. I will not be live blogging Bachelor in Paradise, don't worry.

Okay, let's get to it. Who is going home, for God's sake. I also like Chris the farmer, even though I don't believe for a second that he's a farmer. All the guys with bow ties are safe tonight.

Andi arrives with her hair done like a brunette Marie Antoinette. Roses go to Marcus, Nick, Chris, the farmer, Dylan who needs a haircut, and................................................................................................................CODY. She is high. The ellipses, by the way, represent how long the show paused before she made this dumb decision. He must have to stick around to beat someone up on the next episode.

Going home:

Andrew, who was on the receiving end of male aggression, he says. I agree, actually.

Patrick, because he wears his hair like Clark Kent. He doesn't cry, because he is made of steel and she is not Kryptonite. Good for him.

Marquel, the black guy. He says not getting chosen wasn't in God's plan. I would argue that it was not in Andi's plan, ever, as much as she wanted to pretend that she was open to it. I like him, and it's a shame that he had to be the guy who was required to represent his entire race, even though they have never once had a black person make it to even the final six.

Previews for next week that I will not detail for you, because it features stupid Cody. Dressed as an Italian Kewpie doll.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Bittersweet: A Novel Where Nothing Happens for the first 987 pages

Buying this book is a direct consequence of taking a recommendation from People magazine, perhaps not the most exemplary literary mag. As I recall, the review mentioned that it was a compelling mystery, great summer reading, an adventurous tale, etc. I'm halfway through the book and, at around page 200, here's what's happened so far: the narrator, Mabel, a nerdy college student with a dysfunctional family, has been invited to the summer home of her very rich, bitchy, and moody roommate, Ev. She has been there for like three weeks, and there have been a few parties and really too many extended family members to keep track of. Per the request of one of the weird aunts, Mabel has begun to explore the attic of one of the homes in search of more information about a family secret. That's it. That probably could've been covered in chapter one (the book also has chapter titles. "The Apology," and "The Secret" are two that spring to mind). The writing isn't bad, it's just that the plot is molasses slow and, at its heart, not that interesting. Who cares about a bunch of badly-behaved rich white people? Also, the secrets so far aren't that difficult to guess.  I'll give you an example.

The main spoiled girl, Ev, has a boyfriend who works on the estate, but she wants to keep their relationship a secret from her parents. Of course, the parents find out and they are enraged because (pick as many reasons as you think might apply):

1. They don't want their daughter to date someone who is of a lower social status.
2. They are worried that she will get in over her head and ruin her life.
3. The boy in question is, unbeknownst to either her or the guy, actually her illegitimate brother, making the relationship an incestuous one.

It's some combination of all of the above. I could see the brother/sister connection from a mile away; it was either that or he's really the true heir to the estate, which is probably also the case.

Here's what I think my main problem is--I should be writing books. I get mad when a book that seems pretty run of the mill gets praised and noticed. I get jealous because I want to write a book filled with twins and hidden passages and nuns living in the attic--a modern day gothic story. Maybe then, I'd feel less judgmental of books where the plot moves in slow motion and the surprises are cliched.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Goodbye, Shiva

You will be missed (somewhat). Shiva is Dan's sister's dog--a mix of a mutt who was part Dalmatian, part Afghan, part fatty. Jodi and Stan have had her for a very long time, and she was the kind of dog who, as long as I knew her, seemed worried, pretty much constantly. Her main goal in life, as far as I could see, was to get to drink out of the toilet bowl. She also spent much of her time around the house with her nose to the floor, sucking up food droppings like a furry vacuum cleaner. Many times, she served as a pillow and playmate for Juliette, who I'm sure is very sad now.

One of the hardest parts about losing a pet is after years of companionship is that you also lose that link to your past--the person you were when you first got the animal. And it reminds you of your own mortality, or at least reminds you that a significant part of your past is now gone.

I've had two pet cats die--Gretel and Henri. Gretel was my connection to Florida State and college, so when she died, I was like, Okay, now I've lived an entire animal's life since college. Henri belonged to my days as a twenty-something in Chicago. When he died, I could no longer pretend that my days of shopping for $2 skirts at the Brown Elephant were just around the corner. When I lose Ernesto and Emma Carol, I suppose I will be nostalgic for my first few years in Philadelphia. .

In any case, I'll miss Shiva. She was a good girl.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Journey so FAR?

It's only been like four episodes. I am sorry, but I don't think I want to watch an hour of recaps and re-runs of a show that already is based 40% on recaps and previews. And fake Southern accents. And little tiny doll teeth. We've seen it all already. This is the cheapest, worst trick I've ever seen on a show that I didn't think could go much lower. Okay, let me guess, it will be ten minutes of the replay of meeting the guys again (even the ones who have already been kicked off) and then it'll be the most embarrassing moments, like the guy who jumped into the pool, and then it will be all the kisses thus far. And then there will be some scenes of the guys stripping and taking their shirts off, and then the soccer or basketball game or whatever they played. The narrator is not even Chris Harrison, it's some other guy who sounds like is other job is the movie previews, like, "Coming this summer..."

Here's how Andi looks on the night she meets the guys:

Here's how she looked when she was trying to be all down home and Southern:

And this is her face when that drunk guy in the white sneakers jumped into the pool:

Here's Cody in every scene:

And finally, here is my face as I change the channel, mirroring the faces of the guys when they lost the nonsense basketball game:

Friday, June 6, 2014

Adventures in bicycling

I am not sure if I mentioned that Dan got my a bicycle for my birthday in May. It's a sixteen speed Schwinn that he bought in Kopp's Bicycle Shop. We've taken it out a few times, because we have a long trail behind our house that leads all the way into Plainsboro. One of the first times we took it out, we were riding on the sidewalk and came up against a dad with his baby in a stroller. I was in the lead, and the other times this had happened on the ride, Dan went into the grass to avoid the people, so I did the same. Of course, I choose the section of grass that was actually a deep hole. The wheel stuck in the hole, and I flew headfirst over the handlebars and landed on my face in the spongy grass. No injuries, except that I felt stupid and also, I swallowed some grass.

The next day, we went on another ride and I managed to not avoid a giant branch jutting over the sidewalk and so scrapped it with my arm, which caused a giant gash and a dark bruise that I showed to whomever would tolerate it, hinting that Dan was getting violent.

You will be proud to know that since that time, I have continued to ride my bike, though with a different idea about the danger level and a huge reluctance to ride in the grass.

 Maybe this is how Stephen King gets his ideas for stories, from day to day minor traumas and I should start a novel about a possessed Schwinn, ala Christine.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Plainsboro Library Beats Princeton Library

I have found one thing about Plainsboro that trumps Princeton and that is the library books sales. Granted, the Plainsboro Li-berry only holds a books sale once a month versus P-town, which has it all the time. However, they carry a wide array of books on all subjects and in good condition and they are very inexpensive. The stack of books you see below the sock monkey cost $7. Eleven books in total, ranging from the silly (the Pretty Good Joke Book which I bought for our trip) to the "I know I should read this" category (Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song)  to books that I bought for other people because I love them (Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies) to beach-y paperback thrillers (Deception) to an anime book for Luke (not pictured). So take that, Princeton. 12 books for $7.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Wherein Basketballs are Thrown

Cody wears too many bracelets, and works out for 15 hours a day.

The Pity Rose

I missed the beginning and so do not understand why Andi is having dinner in a caboose, though I suspect that I wouldn't understand it even if I had watched it from the start.  The accountant is spilling his guts. He has some kind of secret--oh, his sister overdosed which had something to do with him not having a dad. I don't know if she died, but then the other brother overdosed, and then the third brother fell off a train, so this caboose is really stirring up bad memories. Andi again feigns empathy. I wonder if the brain dead brother became an organ donor?  "Crazy!" is Andi's comment. Is it manipulative to bring up your biggest tragedies when you barely know the person? This is fifth date material, if ever. "I yam who I yam because of these overdoses," he says, taking a long swig of wine. Andi blows her nose into a napkin, not because she's sad, but because of the aforementioned perpetually stuffy nose. She keeps saying it's not a pity rose, even though it clearly is. Could she really be like, "Aw, that's so sad. Well, goodnight!"

Group Date: Basketball

You might think that the baseball player would be excited about the group date to play sports, but you'd be wrong. Oh, there is another guy who likes this focus--he's actually a basketball coach. And the shortest guy in the group, though people kindly don't point this out. Little do they know that they're going to be playing the WMBA players. All Star female basketball players. Are the producers trying to somehow have a feminist perspective in some way? Oh, wait, no, I wrote to soon. It quickly devolves into some weird sports competition between the two all male teams so that Andi can pick the most athletic guy to help her procreate. The losing team is practically crying in their sweaty gym clothes. Do they really give a shit? Or is it a competition thing, that they're depressed because they didn't win? The winning team is in the adjoining locker room, repeating, Rosebud, Rosebud, while spraying champagne everywhere.Here is where I resist making a comment about the weird visual this creates.

Group Date Asides: The Free Throw

The six winning guys get to go to Planet Hollywood with Andi to drink beer and sit awkwardly around a round table. Cutest guy is Marquel, the black dude. First aside is Eric, the one who dies. Andi feels that they are stalling. Eric feels the same way, he thinks, but he's not right. He thinks that he understands what she's saying, and launches into a story about his brothers and growing up Mormon. She is surprised by this, as am I. And I start to wonder, Why does he continue to wear the long underwear then? Brian, the short bb player, wants to show her how great he is at the free throw. He asks her to take off her heels. She does. He gives her one lesson and she makes a basket. He says that he loves scoring points, but more than that, he loves her in basketball shorts. Hubba-hubba. He made the half court shot, which I guess is a hard to do. He refuses to kiss her, even though she pretty much begs him to. Nick loves her the most. He's like this dorky cute guy who looks like he must play Death Cab covers on the weekends in a band with his college friends. The rose goes to shy basketball guy who is more comfortable high-fiving than kissing.

Single Date:Window Washing

Andi and some guy are being forced to rappel down a glass building and wash windows. I guess this is to bond the two of them while they are risking their lives. Suave--the guy manages to give her a compliment as they are going and scores a kiss for that while the other guys tap on the window from inside, trying to get them to fall to their deaths. Who comes up with this crap I can't tell who the guy is. Marcus someone. I feel like I've never seen him yet.  She gives him a rose, even though he's covered it up with a napkin. They are forced to awkwardly dance to a bad country music band and he keeps trying to talk over the music.

Cocktail Party

Andi is so amazed at how amazed she is by everyone and how she could marry like 90 percent of the guys if they asked her tomorrow. Someone must be about to get drunk and jump in the pool again. She gets a love note from a secret admirer with very nice slanted handwriting. The basketball player who reminds me of that guy from Mad TV decides that he must be assertive and kiss her and so he does. It's pretty anticlimatic.

Marquel cracks her up, she says.  I have yet to see him do anything funny. He decides to show her how to protect herself by forcing her to put him in a head lock. He puts a pillow on his lap as if he's afraid she will try to sit on his lap, which is not an impossibility. Eric now takes her aside because he woke up earlier feeling sick because he got the vibe that they were not hitting it off, basically because she told him so. He turns it around on her by saying that he feels like she's being a little bit like a TV actress. Way to call it, Eric! Finally. Someone calling someone else out for being phony on a totally fake TV show. She will likely not like this too much, but we have to wait until after the commercial to find out. We have returned, and she hates him. She is crying because she doesn't like being called a Poker Face. Does he not know how much she abhors Lady GAGA?! She tells him to get lost, not knowing that she is sending him to his death.Ya'll, this is so real to her. I wonder if she feels bad now, since maybe if she had kept him on a little longer...I am wondering now if maybe they should've bagged this whole show, knowing that this guy would not be alive for much longer? Any discussion about that? Oh, yes, Chris explains that Eric died shortly after he left the show. There will be no rose ceremony this time. That's medium redeemable. Chris asks Andi if she feels bad about telling Eric to go screw himself and then he died. She says, Uh, yeah.

Live to Tell

That's the title of a type of a 48 Hours type show we watched the other night with our mouths agape. The premise of the show is that some guy (in 90% of the stories, the would-be murderer is male) attempts to end the life of some woman (his wife, girlfriend, lady he dated once from Shop-Co), but miraculously, she survives against all odds, hence "live to tell."  The episode we watched was particularly interesting to me, because it took place in Clearwater, Florida, and I grew up one town over, in Dunedin. The story was about this very cute blond nursing student who couldn't quite break things off with this huge bear of a ginger-colored man, even though he called her names, tried to strangle her at one point and threatened to kill her and her mom if she ever left him. But, you know, he had  rough childhood. She broke up with him, but one night, he called her crying and begged her to come out and just give him one last hug. She said okay, went out in her p.j.s and bedroom slippers to give him a hug, and then he stabbed her 38 times in the face and neck and arms and left her to die. An important note: he used two knives to stab her and in his car, police later found a pick-ax, more knives, and a baseball bat---everything but a noose and arsenic. No gun though. This will become important later.

In any case, she miraculously survived, though she coded twice in the ER and has permanent damage to her face. He went to jail after pleading guilty.  The story was wrapping up nicely, as we discovered that she became a domestic violence speaker and then there was this other little side story where she ended up dating one of the fireman who was first on the scene. And then, suddenly, almost as an aside, there was this crazy shift in the narrative, where she goes, "And my new boyfriend and I share a love of shooting guns!" Cut to scene with her and her handgun, shooting at a gun range.  Dan and I were both just like, What just happened? This person who fought to live but managed to survive despite massive trauma from a knife, is a huge gun lover. There was no discussion on the show or acknowledgement of the weird dissonance of this--no one said, Hey, what do you think would have happened to you if your ex boyfriend had gotten hold of a handgun? Do you think you would've survived 38 gun shots? Or even one?

You can watch the episode here. It's not that I think citizens shouldn't  own handguns (though I do think that), it's that it was such a strange switch in the story--like, couldn't they have focused on her and her boyfriend's shared love of dogs? Or Hawaii? Or eating at the DQ? And that no one asked the obvious question: would she be alive if her ex had gotten a hold of her gun?