Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Fates and Furies

           Lauren Groff: Do less. Her third novel, Fates and Furies*, a National Book Award for Fiction finalist, is hype, hype city.

            Here comes a very minor spoiler—honestly, I’m doing you a favor: the main character is floundering career-wise. He gets hammered at a party and instead of passing out like he usually does, he stays up and tries writing for the first time. He wakes up to an ecstatic wife who discovered he miraculously wrote a brilliant play overnight. He doesn’t remember. He has drunkenly stumbled into a lucrative career path like most people stumble into a 24-hour diner.

            Full stop. This is lazy, unrealistic writing. This is The Art of Fielding all over again.

            Unfortunately, the book thinks very highly of itself. She builds tension but the payoff isn’t worth it. The whole thing reads like there’s some giant reveal, but the surprises are improbable or uninteresting. Fates and Furies has Gone Girl vibes with less of an outright, singular twist. It follows two people who get married in spite of their secrets and complex backgrounds. Love knows no bounds blah blah blah.

            So, I don’t like the plot, but I do like aspects of the writing. Groff does some cool things with brackets and, as an omniscient third-person narrator, she paints a full picture and has some creative leeway with the disclosure of information (what we know vs. what various characters know). However, I quickly grew weary of the characters and came to the conclusion that I don’t care who knows what.

            Another redeeming factor (and perhaps the most surprising feature of the novel): it’s borderline erotica!
Okurrr, don’t hate it. But seriously, she doesn’t shy from the juicy bits. Fates and Furies levels out at 2 out of 5 camel humps.

*Groff, Lauren. Fates and Furies. New York: Riverhead Books, 2015. Print.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Go Set a Watchman

            Oh my, how the tables have turned. OR rather

        Yall want some hot book publishing goss? Let me lay it on you.

            Go Set a Watchman* was originally thought to be To Kill a Mockingbird's sequel. Wrong. Harper Lee finished writing Watchman in the mid-1950s; her publisher rejected the manuscript as it was and encouraged her to hone in on Scout’s childhood instead. She complied, wrote and published Mockingbird, and seemingly forgot about Watchman. Fast-forward over 50 years. Harper Lee was 89 years old and her health was failing her. Her sister and primary caregiver died. Harper’s lawyer and trustee of her estate, Tonja Carter, took over and conveniently found the Watchman manuscript, which she published. Eight days before Harper Lee’s death, her will was redone to transfer the bulk of Lee’s assets to Carter’s control as executor.

            Some of Lee’s friends claim that she was sufficiently healthy and aware when Go Set a Watchman landed in HarperCollins’ fingertips. Others fervently assert the exact opposite. One thing is for sure: home girl had been vocally adamant over the years that To Kill a Mockingbird was her one and only novel.

            So, was the manuscript published against her will? It’s a sad sitch either way. Either she was fully on board; in which case Tonja Carter is unnecessarily demonized for helping a woman she cared about deeply. Or she was taken advantage of; in which case her legacy is tainted. Because the thing is—it’s a bad book. It’s a first draft and it reads like one.

            The novel is written in third person (as opposed to the first person account in To Kill a Mockingbird—part of the novel’s appeal IMO).  It follows the disillusionment of Scout in her mid-twenties as she realizes that Atticus’ racial beliefs are more complicated (read: more racist) than she once thought. Since Atticus is considered a “watchman” of her hometown, his beliefs don’t bode well for Maycomb, Alabama, and Scout is morally horrified.

            Having a racist character in your book doesn’t automatically make the book racist. I think that Harper Lee started somewhere (with this manuscript) and listened to her editors (rightfully so) to make a more fully fleshed out novel of complex empathy and racial tension (To Kill a Mockingbird). Reading this honestly does a disservice to the author’s vulnerable writing process, and I don’t recommend picking it up unless you really want to thoroughly study the progression of a renowned literary figure (and feel uncomfortable that you’re maybe contributing monetarily to the exploitation of an undeserving elderly woman). Go Set a Watchman receives 1 out of 5 camel humps.

*Lee, Harper. Go Set a Watchman. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. Print.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018


            Vonnegut’s books just make me feel so good. He’s entertaining; his stories are full of interesting characters, fun facts, and weird plot lines that thrive on coincidences. He’s intelligent; I learn something historical, something philosophical, and something about myself based on the degree to which I do or do not identify with his characters’ outlooks on life. He’s wise; there are always a few well-crafted sentences that perfectly encapsulate a feeling that rings true but is difficult to communicate.

            He is unequivocally my favorite author. If you come to my blog for book recommendations, I hope you go away with a nagging thirst to read something of his. What the hell are you waiting for?

            Bluebeard*, Vonnegut’s 12th novel, centers on abstract expressionism, an art form that I was uninterested in prior to reading and remain uninterested in now. One time I went to an art gallery that featured a short silent film of puppets making out. Art is weird and amusing and probably not worth so much money. Hot take!

            I do like this art-related meme:

            Back to Bluebeard. It’s not really about art; it’s about an artist who can’t self-identify as such until a wacky woman comes into his life and encourages him (*forces him) to write an autobiography. All the self-reflection leads him to the conclusion that his life is worth something of value. It’s actually quite heartwarming and not cheesy. You should read it because of the aforementioned God-like qualities I ascribe to Vonnegut’s writings--- BUT start elsewhere, if you can. My favorite Vonnegut changes depending on my mood, but certainly my top three are: Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five, and Breakfast of Champions. Honorable mention to his short story collection, Welcome to the Monkey House. Bluebeard receives 4 out of 5 camel humps.

*Vonnegut, Kurt. Bluebeard. New York: Dell Publishing, 1987. Print.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Bible According to Spike Milligan

            I’ve been experimenting like a book scientist. I want to revise historical texts to have a comedic effect. Rather than outright mocking, I think it’s more difficult, but also funnier, to imitate someone’s original style/voice/plot trajectory. I’m familiar with the Bible (it's called literature, sweetie, look it up), so I rewrote two famous stories; I turned The Prodigal Son into The Phi Psi Son and The Last Supper into The Last Supper Before Burning Man.

            I sent both pieces to a friend who always appreciates a good sacrilegious belly laugh. He got me a copy of The Bible According to Spike Milligan*. An eye for an eye, a biblical parody for a biblical parody.

            Spike cleverly teases out jokes from the Old Testament that are there for the taking. He starts with the creation story and adds some flavor. When Adam and Eve first sin and become aware of their bodies, he says, “And the eyes of them were both opened and they knew they were both naked, and Adam said to her, ‘Stand back, I don’t know how big this is going to get’” (Milligan, 5). When God promises Abraham a long lineage, he goes to brag about it to his wife, Sarah. Spike writes, “Abraham went into Sarah and said, ‘The Lord wants me to start a nation.’ And Sarah laughed and said, ‘You couldn’t start a bus’” (Milligan, 11). Stuff like that!

            Spike Milligan is British-Irish, and I don’t always understand British humour, like the uncultured wanker I am. So, I imagine I missed out on some juicy references. If you’ve never read the Bible, you’ll also miss out on some inside-baseball jokes, but you’ll get the gist, you’re not a total idiot. You’ve heard about Noah and the flood. You know about the Commandments. Spike has a way of making you laugh even if you don’t fully understand the punch line. But some jokes hit apply-all, like when he takes a jab at God for having wacko names for the males and normal names for the females. John Mulaney makes a similar joke in his new special, Kid Gorgeous, which is incredible. Stop reading this and go watch that right now.

            If you’re still here, shame on you (but thanks, you loyal). I think The Bible According to Spike Milligan is smart, funny, and worthy of your time. I do, however, think it is too long. The style becomes redundant as a consequence of the material it’s imitating. The Old Testament has many strong stories, but between them is a lot of mumbo jumbo about king succession and who begat who. I wish Spike had used the best stories of both the Old and New Testaments rather than going in order. As a result, The Bible According to Spike Milligan receives 3 out of 5 camel humps.

*Milligan, Spike. The Bible According to Spike Milligan. New York: Penguin Books, 1994. Print.