“This is the strangest novel you will read all year,” says the back blurb… and although it is only March, ya got that right.
Every so often, I come across a book that reaffirms my belief in a truly new story – an eerie and impregnable story – genius and vision in letters and lines. If you also search for books with these characteristics, please read They Is Us, by the astute wordsmith Tama Janowitz.
In turns, this “cautionary horror story” is hilarious, chilling, delightful, disturbing, tender, absurd, heartbreaking, squishy, re-readable, and… possible? Bowel movement, I hope not.
Picture New Jersey, at the end of the century, post-war (the U.S. lost, by the way – to Syria and Palestine). Pollution, hologramovision, and feathered bunnies abound. Family life exists, but not as we know it. Follow the lives of single-mother Murielle, her daughters, and other… living beings… as they try to make sense of what is going on around them, and to them. Whee! What fun!
Readers, the words fairly leaped off the page and into my eyes. I could see everything happening – at my feet, in the sky, 50 feet away, in my hands, at work, in the rain, in the dark, in the broiling hot sun, and everywhere else, too. (That includes my dreams, later, but not in a bad way.)
Slaves of New York (short stories) has been in my gigunda To Read pile since forever because I keep piling more books on top but this caught my eye at the library last week (Recent Fiction section, if you count 2008 as recent) and I have been unable to put it down. Oh! That’s another thing! It’s long enough! With enough words on the page! And exclamation marks! And ellipses…
There was nothing I didn’t like in this one, including the stock it was printed on. And character development was extensive. I felt like I really knew the characters and how they would react to doings in today’s world. But the scenarios presented were so… hmm, outlandish… that they always kept you guessing.
They is Us was meaty and satisfying, like a delicious meal… definitely not a snack. This is not just a book. It’s an experience. By the end, you will be entranced, wide-eyed and breathless. (And by the way, whoever edited this did so lovingly and with a great deal of patience… and I also congratulate them.) Thank you, Tama! Thank you, Tama’s editor!
Twinkie saved me from a disgusting nasty bug Sunday night! Brave little pussycat.
I had fed him, watered him, and changed the litter, yet he kept meowing and trying to catch my eye. As I was bending down to give him love, I saw it. A dark brown wiggly bug, almost two inches long, about 5 millimeters wide, with lots and lots of long legs, practically zooming (for a bug) across my living room carpet on its way to the kitchen! Why is it that as soon as I clean the whole house at once, a brazen bug emerges from somewhere? Sometimes I think I should just not bother cleaning, or at least space it out.
Well, I didn’t want to ruin the bottom of my sneakers or hear any crunches so after I shrieked I grabbed a paper towel, waited until the wiggler crawled on it, folded the towel, put the Swiffer on top and stamped on it several times. But it wasn’t completely dead, just part of it! I handled the mess, and then I shivered and quivered and had to put on a sweater because I was totally skeeved.
And then I gave Twinkie much love, as well as fish-shaped treats. My hero!
But enough of bad books. If you want a really good read, go for The Witch of Cologne by Tobsha Learner. I know I said way back in August that I would post about it, but I never did. Now this is a story! Here goes.
This densely written, intensely descriptive period piece tells the tale of Ruth bas Elazar Saul, the tenacious and exceptionally sharp daughter of the chief rabbi of Deutz, Cologne’s Jewish quarter (ok, ghetto) in the dark and deadly 1700’s – yes, during the Spanish Inquisition. She has bucked tradition and studied Kabbalah, the mystical lessons forbidden to women, through the books her mother bequeathed to her. To escape an arranged marriage she slips away to Amsterdam, where she chooses medical study. Upon return to her homeland and using her excellent skills, she serves as trusted midwife and delivers the babies of the affluent burghers of the city using unheard-of contemporary techniques… and maybe more.
Of course there’s a villain (the brutally cruel and sadistic wacko archbishop Carlos Vicente Solitario) who is out to get all Jews – but Ruth in particular, stemming from his unrequited attraction to Ruth’s mother, back in the day. She is arrested but due to her strength and intelligence (and yes, beauty) is befriended by the lusty Canon Detlef von Tennen, who is searching for meaning in his life. They fall in love and marry, despite the difference in religion. What else happens? Much, much more… and you have to read it to find out.
Even just thinking about this book and Learner’s storytelling ability gets me so happy that I’m kind of bouncing around in my chair. Spirituality and loss of belief, self-doubt and self-discovery, love lost and won, intrigue, obsession, sexual awakening (yes! really!) and murder are just a few of the themes in this gem. It’s plenty long, and oh so satisfying. All in all, I freakin’ love this book, and I loudly recommend it.
The title is what grabbed me, then the plot. Booker-prize-winning Dermot Nolan is delivered a frightening manuscript entitled “My Worst Nightmares – My Delicious Memoirs”… and instructed to publish it. The pages contain gruesome descriptions by the Dream Healer, who locates his victims via the Internet, then kills them according their own worst phobias.
Suffering from a case of writer’s block and having spent a million-dollar advance, Dermot makes the decision to publish it as his own work. But is the manuscript just a bloody bestseller, or a diary? From the point of view of a person who suffers from nightmares often, this sounded like a really good story!
Well, it disappoints, big time. Heavy-handed writing, wooden dialogue, unlikely names, a jerk protagonist with no common sense, an awkward plot, poor logistics, and lazy editing make this a less than mediocre choice. This could have been done so much better. It was not suspenseful, not chilling, not even original. I felt like I had come across some short stories I wrote in college and even junior high, only to discover that they still need quite a bit of work to be readable. It was simply not interesting enough. I only read on (ok, skimmed) to find out how Briant could possibly make everything come together. And I was not impressed.
Thank goodness I borrowed this from the library and didn’t buy it! Just the thought that I could have possibly spent money on this one makes me shiver much more than the story.
Clever Cat’s Conclusion: careless, cheesy crap. (I won’t even give it capitals! That’s how you know it’s really bad.) Dear Mr. Briant, I know this was your debut, but please don’t bother writing another book. Your publisher (Vanguard) should be embarrassed.
Based in an icy Boston in 1900, sickly Charlotte Heath discovers her husband with another woman. Having married into the most wealthy family around, Charlotte has been sheltered in their large and lovely home but does not want to return to him. Weak and without another place to go, she rides onward to a hotel where the Heath’s former cook has taken a new job at The Beechmont, a Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies. How gentle? Gentle enough for late-night male visitors to join the occupants.
Sounds hot, or at least fairly warm, right? (The book jacket blurb does mention “sexual awakening,” after all.) But no. The most interesting character in the book is not the protagonist, the storyline jumps around too much, and there is no sex! I didn’t glean any sexual seedlings, let alone an awakening. What a dirty trick.
Halfway through, I was going to give up, but I persevered. I wanted to know how it would end, but I wasn’t going to hold my breath to find out. When I did find out, it was the little side plots that interested me more than the main one.
All in all, this book was just ok. I won’t bother recommending it. Sorry, Ms. Cooney!
Today the VT sent me an email with this link. I like it very, very much -- and it's so crazy that I have never been there before. And btw, I love the "imagine if"... like a child, I still do it as often as possible. Like now! Here are some to ponder today:
There was only one color besides white and black
You had to pick an animal to transform into tomorrow
Everything went south and north and south again when I left work.
First I nearly get smashed by some moron who cut me off from the turning lane at the 114/125 N. Andover intersection, on the way to a 5:45 chiropractic appt in Haverhill. I want to get to the library there by 5:00 because it closes early on Wednesdays so I had called ahead for a few books (The Book Thief and a book of stories by Flannery O'Connor) that they were kindly holding for me. I get there at 2 minutes to 5 but with all the librarians getting into their cars. Dang! Oh well. To the chiro! Maybe she can take me early.
I get there only to find it's locked up. I call the office and it turns out she is out for a month for family stuff but I don't want a different doc to straighten me so I cancel. This means I can get to the meetup in Salem, NH earlier! YAY! (I had thought I wouldn't be there until 7:30, after the appointment and travel time.)
I stop at the market there for the frozen corn I need and some bread only to find that the only fresh Parisian loaf left is borderline squished. I buy it anyway because I really want it. Looking forward to making my special salsa and a cheese sandwich I drive home and pick up the mail to find a letter from my doc explaining the situation and a newsletter stating that I have a condo association meeting tonight! At 7:00. BOO. But I should really go, right, since I own it now... I tell myself. It is now 6:00.
Quick! I make the salsa, shove a piece of cheese down my gullet, doublecheck the meeting address (at the office) and hurry off back to Lawrence, getting cut off by yet another jerk on the highway (and I was going plenty fast, thankyyouverymuch). I arrive at the building and am met by the security guard who knows nothing about it. So we knock and NO ONE ANSWERS. Fuck! I hang around in the lot for ten minutes and the only other person who drives up is a woman who I ask if she is there for the condo meeting. No? Ok. Thank you.
By now I am really hungry but I can still get to the meetup, right? And why not? I can get something at the Dunkin' Donuts next to the shop. But I try to salvage the trip to Lawrence by stopping into a few (ghetto) stores (Rainbow Shops, AJ Wright) at the shopping center there and find nothing to make myself giggle. I do find an unusually soft organic cotton pair of lounge pants (Hanes brand) for four bucks so I try to buy it but as I approach the desk to purchase am cut off a THIRD time. Screw it. I lay the pants gently down atop the polyester things in front of me and exit. It is 8:00.
On the way home I am not cut off and I spy an absolutely gorgeous sliver moon with a ring around the full moon circle as I approach my exit. OMG! I have to have a picture. "Moon!" I ask. "Please give me five minutes to get home and I will take a picture of you. I must have you!" I pull into the garage and grab my camera to search the sky for the gorgeous girl. I see stars, but no slivers. Great. Just great. Now someone stole the moon!
Despite losing the moon I am in a much better mood so I triple-check the meeting address. Yup, I was in the right place. It's 8:25. I dump some salsa in a bowl and open my laptop, write all this, and realize. Shit. I meant to go to the meetup. It's 8:43. Not gonna happen. Sorry, folks. Breathe, CC. Just breathe.
The only good things tonight: the moon, the homemade salsa and my tax refund.
I guess it's a good thing that I really like giving presents, because my dad’s birthday is today. I wanted to find him cashmere socks, but they were absolutely nowhere to be found in the entire Mall at Rockingham Park. The entire mall. I know it was the entire mall because I walked it. In my knee-high, heeled boots. Ouch!
I ended up getting him six pairs of really luxurious moisture-wicking socks. Men’s socks are expensive! And by the way, they are much nicer than women’s socks. So I bought myself two pairs of thick, pretty socks (one ballet pink, one bright turquoise. What man wears socks this thick is beyond me. There is a slight chance that my dad might wear these crazy colors but never a thick pair like this) for two bucks apiece. Today I’m wearing the ballet pink ones with my cherry red Docs and they are sooo comfy. I might even go back and get more... anyone want a pair?
And speaking of birthdays, two weeks ago Nephew turned a very funny four! I bought him three small Lego sets.
I just love Lego too! And I'm so psyched we have that in common. Right now he’s into things with wheels, like trucks. My present arrived later than I would have preferred, but I think was more convenient for him after being bombarded with gifts. Plus, a present alone gets all the attention and I like that.
Anyway, when the Lego arrived, he was pleased. He was ok with the first set (mini-figures, benches, signs), kind of interested in the second (a car that looks similar to a SmartCar), and when he got to the third (off-road fire rescue) he was thrilled. "Just what I've always wanted!" he declared. He didn't believe it was from me at first -- apparently, he thinks his grandmother (my mom) is the sender of all things good! My sister had to show him the gift messages before he was convinced I was the one who had sent the gift. What a cutie patootie!
(Because I can’t go by without mentioning my birthday at all. And February 9th was a pretty good birthday.) I had to work that day which left me emotionally exhausted, but I enjoyed dinner out with my parents at a Mexican restaurant, and my dad was the featured poet at a local poetry reading. He read a few Spanish pieces as well as a few pieces of his own. It was really nice.
From my parents I received a simply gorgoise Etienne Aigner large apricot leather satchel-style handbag with just the right hardware. It’s perfect! My sister “surprised” me with the Wii Fit game update. From Niecey and Neph I received very sweet birthday cards with my name charmingly misspelled (Niecey) and a depiction of the housie I had built them, I think (Neph). Then I took the rest of the week off and tried to relax. I was unsuccessful as far as the relaxing went, but I did get a lot of thinking done. I also began the large chore of reorganizing my bedroom closet. It’s coming along.
The relaxing? I tried to just veg, but my head was so full that I ended up feeling tired anyway. But I did get enough sleep, which mitigated the small satchels under my eyes. (I prefer my new orange bag to the bags under my eyes any day…)
So my birthday rolled past without buying myself an iPod Touch. Boo hoo hoo. (I was going to buy one through Amazon for $269 instead of $299 by putting $75 worth of gift certificates toward it, but I had a surprise root canal at the end of the year that was not fully paid by insurance and I had to fork over $450 big ones during my birthday week. That hurt even more than the tooth work! Also, last week I had to get my taxes done -- and $264 later, they were. Sheesh.)
Actually, my birthday and Neph's birthday passed without my even posting about them. For shame! What has the world come to?
Well, I'll tell you. I have been so stressed out and have had so much on my mind for months (obviously) that I allowed it to get to me and hadn't bothered posting, writing articles, or really even making much of an effort to socialize. But let me not exaggerate. I have been hanging out with friends (what is life without them?), but have not done the dating thing since 2009 or really attemped much online dating, even. January and February pretty much involved me thinking about my health vs. quality of life vs. length of that life, and I have a big decision to make about my weight. "Big" decision, get it? Heh. I have to decide about whether or not to have weight loss surgery.
Smart idea one moment and frightening the next. Re: surgery, the Cat is perfectly perplexed.
Whatever the decision, it will be for me, not other people. And it will affect the rest of my life. So no comments about these type of surgeries in general, please – this time, it’s all about me. (Other comments are welcome, as usual.)
But I’m feeling much, much better – enough to get off my red sofa and organize my desk of my own accord. Enough to get up and do some Wii Fit (which yelled at me, natch). Enough to send a few emails on Match and JDate. And I have energy! Enough to wiggle my booty around to some salsa music. Enough to sing! Enough to take more articles at Demand Studios! And enough, of course, to post right here. These are great signs, and I am so thankful to have things back into perspective. I’m still deciding about the surgery, but it no longer seems insurmountable.
Anyway, back to the iPod Touch. I still want one. And maybe just maybe, when I receive my tax return (home ownership has its privileges – I haven’t gotten a check from the feds in years) I’ll put some money toward the iPod. And just putting it out there – I still use my little apple green Shuffle which always makes me smile. That reminds me… I should put some more juice in there. I’ll do it tonight, before I go play games at Myriad! Yay!
Well... the Clever Cat has found a meetup that she actually likes!
On Wednesday nights I have begun to gather with other board gamers at Myriad Games in Salem, NH. There are a bunch of really cool people there and I feel quite comfortable with them. I have always had relatively geeky tendencies and I have been embracing those tendencies for years now. The location itself is cute, clean, and close -- everything I want in a hangout.
Now all I have to do is convince them to leave out any game that involves math and I'll be all set... because even though I am somewhat geeky, I have never been, nor will I ever be, a math person. And I am not ashamed to say it. So there!