BOOK REVIEW: Slipping, by Lauren Beukes

BOOK REVIEW: Slipping, by Lauren BeukesTitle: Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing by Lauren Beukes
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: November 29th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

 You might think of a city as a map, all knotted up in the bondage of grid lines by town planners. But really, it’s a language—alive, untidy, ungrammatical. The meaning of things rearranges, so the scramble of the docks turns hipster cool while the faded glamor of the inner city gives way to tenement blocks rotting from the inside. It develops its own accent, its own slang. And sometimes it drops a sentence. Sometimes the sentence finds you. And won’t shut up. – from “Ghost Girl”

I’ve had Beukes’s The Shining Girls on my shelf forever. It was on a lot of lists the year it was released, and I found a paperback of that book in a used bookstore, I bought it… and haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. Story of my life. Anyhow, when given the opportunity to read Beukes’s short works, I jumped at the chance. I love short story collections because I feel that short story collections allow the reader to see the wide range of an author’s talent.

Beukes’s writing is acerbic, sharp, and intuitive, and I was drawn in immediately to many of her stories. Slipping is a collection of stories written over about ten years for various other publications, and I would have really liked to have some background information before or after the stories to know when and why each of these stories were written.

My favorite stories were “Princess,” “Exhibitionist,” “Ghost Girl,” and “Dial Tone.” Each of these stories made me whisper what after I finished reading them. Beukes’s writing is at the same time subtle and straightforward. She does not shy away from difficult or terrifying imagery, and she makes you think about why she uses that imagery to explore some weird aspect of human life. Many of her stories cross the genre line between fiction and science fiction, and while a lot of it seems weird at times, it’s also so eerily recognizable. Beukes’s writing asks us why we consider “commonplace” and “everyday” as commonplace and ordinary, because isn’t life weird?

Thank you to Netgalley and Tachyon Publications for a review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: The Mortifications, by Derek Palacio

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BOOK REVIEW: The Mortifications, by Derek PalacioTitle: The Mortifications by Derek Palacio
Published by Tim Duggan Books
Published: October 4th 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Blogging for Books
Goodreads

 The sin is in the knowing. The sin Christ confronts in the desert is the knowledge that his body is useless and, dangerously, how easily he can dismiss it. He will see how tiny a thing he is doing. He will know how small he is as a human being, how little he can change the world as a lump of flesh. The moment he knows, he can and will and should let it all fall away. He will enact the right of a God on Earth; he will make food from stone. He will shake water from the clouds. He will walk into a city and take it.

Derek Palacio’s debut novel The Mortifications follows a Cuban family in the 1980s. Soledad Encarnación and her two children, twins Ulises and Isabel, leave behind a husband and father to escape the revolutions of Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Like many novels of families, this one has its share of interesting characters who all represent some aspect of humanity. Soledad is a mother trying to do the best thing for her children, Isabel finds solace and meaning in religion, Ulises finds himself through the classics and agriculture, and Henri becomes the stand-in father figure.

While I found the first half of the book incredibly engaging, I found the last half stretching for believability and substance. Palacio is a talented writer. However, I found some of the metaphors and similes and symbolism reaching a little too far at times. When I see a character named Ulises, I almost expect a Cuban expression of something resembling Homer’s The Odyssey. At first, the novel did feel like it would go in that direction, and it did, a little bit, with Ulises becoming fascinated by classics during a recovery period. I almost wonder, as I’ve seen similar things before in post-MBA debut novels, if this is a rite of passage, a stuffing of everything you’ve learned into one novel whether or not it actually works. I felt that there were also too many characters for how short this is. I think following one or two of the characters and their immigration experience (and even their return home) would have made for a richer novel.

However, I did enjoy reading this, and I will recommend it to people interested in immigrant experiences and Cuban-American experiences.

Thank you to Crown Publishing/Blogging for Books for providing me with a copy in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

FIRST CHAPTER, FIRST PARAGRAPH: The Gentleman, by Forrest Leo

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First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday is hosted by Bibliophile By the Sea!

I received Forrest Leo’s The Gentleman in a Muse Monthly box a few months ago, and I still haven’t gotten around to reading it. Oops. The Gentleman is Leo’s debut novel, and is about a Lionel Savage, a popular poet in Victorian London, who has discovered he has no money, marries a woman for her money, and realizes he does not love his wife because his muse has left him. The description on the inside cover says that Lionel believes he meets the dark lord/devil at a party, and once Lionel’s wife disappears he believes he accidentally sold her to the devil himself. After his wife’s disappearance, Lionel, with some help along the way, plans a rescue mission to Hell to rescue her.

One: In Which I Find Myself Destitute & Rectify Matters in a Drastic Way

My name is Lionel Savage, I am twenty-two years old, I am a poet, and I do not love my wife. I loved her once, not without cause – but I do not anymore. She is a vapid, timid, querulous creature, and I find after six months of married life that my position has become quite intolerable and I am resolved upon killing myself.

After flipping through several pages after the introduction, this looks like a very well-paced, humorous novel, and I’m excited to start it after I finish up a few of my current reads.

BOOK REVIEW: Lolly Willowes, by Sylvia Townsend Warner

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BOOK REVIEW: Lolly Willowes, by Sylvia Townsend WarnerTitle: Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner, Alison Lurie
Published by New York Review Books Classics
Published: January 1st 1970
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 222
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

 “One doesn’t become a witch to run around being harmful, or to run around being helpful either, a district visitor on a broomstick. It’s to escape all that – to have a life of one’s own, not an existence doled out to by others.”

I don’t remember how I came across this book. I probably came across it in one of my Goodreads TBR adding phases when I look through lists and recommendations and add things. Published by the NYRB, Lolly Willowes follows the story of a young unmarried woman’s life before the Great War until she is older. She’s a spinster who never really wants for more because for so much of her young life she harbors a duty to her father even after his death. It isn’t until many years later that she even attempts to overcome this duty to her father and duty to what she should be like as an unmarried woman in that upper class British society, and even when she does attempt to be herself, she’s still held back for the longest time because in some way, she finds that failing in her sense of duty is somehow failing herself.  She finds freedom, eventually, in a small country town in which she becomes a witch and is befriended by a black cat.

Lolly thinks, late in her life, how important it is to have a room of one’s own in which to be oneself, an idea that comes several years before Virginia Woolf’s famous book. In Lolly Willowes, the idea of witches and paganism are not only a dive into the supernatural but a rebelling against the white, heterosexual, Christian British aristocracy. It was a way in which Lolly could figure herself out without the caging shackles of her old life (as it’s seen when family of Lolly’s come to visit and she’s feeling cagey, even in her old age and even after being free for many years). Lolly’s exploration into witchcraft and the varying levels of it goes against the status quo.

Lolly’s singleness and the singleness of many other women after the Great Wars is due to the fact that there was a shortage of men after World War I. It’s a gruesome thought to realize that so many young, able-bodied men died in a catastrophic war and were a rare sight afterwards. What was society to do with such a surplus of eligible women? Many of these women simply had no place to neatly fit into society because jobs were limited for single women, and not many families could afford to keep those surplus women in their households. So what could one do? Lolly organized her own life, fought for the remainder of her inheritance that her uncle recklessly invested without consent, and sought out a new life for herself among other surplus people (including the elderly, the insinuated homosexual men and women, widows, widowers, and other single people).

lolly willowes - sylvia townsend warner (ph: fairy.bookmother @ instagram)

The novel spoke to me so deeply because I identified so much with Lolly in her growing up years, and the novel has become a reminder to me that I’m not the only one who’s felt this way and that I’ve got it in me to be myself. I’m thankful for an education and supportive people to help me realize that my sense of duty is only to myself (because no one else is responsible for me but me) much earlier than Lolly realizes. We’re sort of raised to believe that women should be wives and mothers and have no other higher aspirations because that “should be” the highest aspiration, but the women who do otherwise are thought of differently.

It’s not to say that there is anything wrong with a sense of duty. A sense of duty is what drives most of us to do what we do, no matter what it is. It is, however, a good idea to examine every now and then where that sense of duty comes from and what it means in conjunction with your own happiness. Lolly Willowes made me think about it more, and I hope, if you’re interested in feminist literature, it might do the same for you.

BOOK REVIEW: Dust and Shadow, by Lyndsay Faye

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BOOK REVIEW: Dust and Shadow, by Lyndsay FayeTitle: Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye
Published by Simon & Schuster
Published: April 2nd 2015
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Retellings
Pages: 336
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

 As he passed a hand over his eyes, I recalled the he could not have slept more than twenty hours in the last seven days. For the first time since I had known him, Sherlock Holmes appeared to be exhausted by work rather than inaction.

“Because if I am right,” he murmured, “I haven’t the first idea what to do.”

Lyndsay Faye’s debut novel Dust and Shadow imagines what it might be like if Sherlock Holmes and John Watson investigated and solved the Jack the Ripper murders. While she tackles some of the more sensitive issues regarding women and people who are not well-off white men, Faye brings to life that Holmesian Victorian London as if Doyle himself might have imagined. The details of day-to-day life are so vivid and believable that there were times while I was reading this that I forgot it was a pastiche.

This novel is a bit slow at first and really takes about a third of the novel to get to the really interesting bits, but once you’ve hit that mark, the story sweeps you away. Holmes is our cynical, cold, cerebral detective, and Watson is our devoted and daring narrator. Faye’s Watson illuminates the humanity of every character in the novel and develops them well. The addition of Mary Ann Monk, a prostitute who proves herself to Holmes and Watson to be “a woman of extraordinary fortitude. Compared to Doyle’s historically sexist and racist writing, Faye’s Victorian England and the characters intertwined are presented in a more modern and humanist light that I found refreshing, daring, and forward.

While I have read many historical documents and fictional narratives surrounding the Jack the Ripper murders, I found Faye’s (and Holmes’s and Watson’s) deductions and conclusions regarding the murderer to be enlightening, engaging, and well-researched.

As usual, we readers are seeing the story unfold through Watson’s eyes and Watson’s pen, so there are times when we should question Watson and his presentation. Did things happen so neatly as Watson writes them out to be? Watson, when writing these narratives, already knows the end and the resolution, so are any of the details exaggerated or changed to fit a narrative? And there are times when Watson and ourselves as readers have no clue what Holmes is about to do, and that’s what I think really drives this story (and any good Sherlock Holmes story).  Holmes already knows the answers, but we need to know them, even if “on occasion his dictatorial glibness grated upon [our] nerves.” But that’s what keeps us reading until the very end.

If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes in any form, find Jack the Ripper fascinating, or just like a good murder mystery, pick Faye’s novel up immediately.

Faye has a collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories coming out in early 2017, so I’m looking forward to reading more of her Holmesian mysteries.