February 20, 2012

Book Review: Swamplandia!

As part of the Apocolist (down there at the bottom), I'm trying to read at least 20 books this year.

1. Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton
2. The Sisters Brothers - Patrick DeWitt

#3. Swamplandia! - Karen Russell

(Slight spoilers ahead.)

I don't remember why I picked this book but I have a sneaking suspicion that it's because I enjoy sudden! exclamation! points! in my book titles. I mean who doesn't?

I didn't know what to expect with this. I kept hearing about how Karen Russell was a young writer and had been given pretty much every age-based writing award there is so I guess I was rooting for the home team. Also I just looked up her birthday and she's only four years older than me. I officially have until I'm 31 to do something with my life. Wait. No. 30, because this was published last year. Oh man I am so screwed.

ANYWAY. My crippling fear of amounting to nothing aside (haha! HA! omg), I jumped into the book but was at first held up by the prose and style. I like creative prose, but man, just call a car a car. Basically it's the difference between "I walked down the path" and "I walked down the stickway." I got into the flow of it eventually though and the story progressed it became seemingly less hindered by the words.

A family has a 'gator wrestling themed park in the Florida swamp. After the death of the mother, who was also the headlining act, things start to crumble. Rifts open between the surviving family members: Ava (the narrator and wrestling enthusiast), her father (The Chief), her sister (Osceola) and a brother (Kiwi).

Each member of the family embarks on a separate kind of mission after the mother's passing. Osceola is desperate to commune with the dead through a Ouija board. This brought back memories of my own teenage fascination with the occult and all of the drama and the games she plays in her head rang true. Kiwi desires a higher education and a life on the mainland. Ava wants to save the park, as does her father, but they go about it in very different ways.


The Bird Man is introduced in the rising action and I found myself misjudging him, almost in the same way that Ava does. This was a fascinating reaction in myself and one that I hope Russell intended. I got so entrenched in the romance of the mystery that I forgot what very real dangers could lurk at the edges. I yearned for an adventure, as Ava did, and ignored all caution along with her. Perhaps it's that I'm just as naive as she is. In any case, I was surprised and angered by what he brought into her life.


I liked it. The setting is unique and intriguing and the story is well paced - I found myself reading faster to find out what happened in the end. It's not life changing, but it's entertaining and emotional: I felt foggy and then suddenly, extremely clear, like I'd been dreaming all along and should have known it. A reaction in myself as dynamic as that deserves at least 3 stars.

February 17, 2012

Better Than a Mirror

While shopping with Esther in a second hand shop, I was flipping quickly through dresses like they were pages in a magazine. I paused to consider a black shift. The overall simplicity of it was striking and allowed the careful details to shine.

"I love this," I said, calling Esther's attention to the dress. "See," I said, motioning to the slight draping at the neckline, "This detail is so interesting in contrast to the otherwise sharp lines." Flipping the dress over to look at the back, I gasped. "The tailoring is great!" I oozed. "And the darting on the back here is so thoughtful!" Esther nodded pensively.

We moved on to other areas of the store (it was not a dress I could afford) and I eventually settled on a purse (mustard yellow, Fossil) and a cream cowl neck batwing sleeve sweater (LOFT). As we were checking out, the cashier commented on the handbag. "That purse is great!" she said.

"Yeah! I love the hardware. It's subtle, you know?"

"The color is so awesome, too."

Esther fiddled with the purse on the counter and flipped it over to examine the back. "Yes," she said approvingly, "and the darting on the back is so thoughtful!" She flashed a smile at me.

We all have things that we like to talk about - things that we spend time and brain power considering, examining, and analyzing. We want to be able to sing in appreciation of our passions and make people love them as we do.

Every once in a while, though, it takes a friend who is close enough to hold up a mirror for you and allow you to see the shape of things. Sometimes you see that they're so ridiculous, these words we dress our lives in, and you can't help but laugh.

I pushed Esther playfully as we left the store and walked out into the cold Boston night. Here was the beautiful thing: this simple friendship adorned with subtle details. That other? That was just a dress.

February 05, 2012

Book Review: The Sisters Brothers

As part of the Apocolist, I'm trying to read at least 20 books this year. Bear and I walked up to the library and I finally got myself one of them cards that gets you free books. I know, terrible. Should have had one long ago. NO JUDGING.

The first book was Jurassic Park and was obviously awesome. I hope to write a little bit about each of the books I get through.

At the moment I'm basically getting all of my current book suggestions from The Morning News' list of books that have made it into the shortlist of nominees for their 2012 Tournament of Books. This means all of the books on my to-read list were published in 2011. Send me suggestions for other things! Because I will be devouring these. I have been too long off the reading wagon.

#2. The Sisters Brothers - Patrick deWitt

Some review I read said this would be funny so I jumped at it. The last few book clubs I've been in have drowned me in sad stories of love and loss, oppression and fear. Which, you know, fine. I can appreciate some sad-sack! I love bleak stuff. 90% of the time I'll choose a vacation in the Scottish moors over a beach in Cabo. That being said, do you know how grey New England is in the winter? I could use a little light-hearted literature.

The story is of two brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, who are killers for hire in the mid 1800s. It takes place in the Old West but I appreciated that deWitt doesn't beat you over the head with it. I once read a book that toook place in Massachusetts where every other line was something like, "She dug her hands into the rocky soil, a soil typical of New England" or "The sun was the yellow of a Gloucester fisherman's hat." Ugh, I get it. No, this was much more subtle. The tone of the narrator and the settings through which the story passes do not seem overly constructed. There is room left for the story to unfold without a rootin' tootin' hootin' hollerin' spurred and chapped cowboy in a saloon every few paragraphs.

The brothers are hunting a prospector and must travel a long way to reach him which helps the story move along nicely. As they move from town to camp to town, Eli (the narrator) starts to question what he does and who he does it for, as well as examine the relationship this lifestyle has created between himself and his brother.

There are moments of violence, as there should be in any honest tale of the expanding nation, and they can get graphic. The tone of violence, however, is well tempered by the tone of the narrator and the general humor of the brothers. I laughed out loud at many of the lines. I am a lady who appreciates sarcasm and this novel is rife with it. The brothers are witty and poetic in their humor. They are also irreverent and self deprecating which are qualities that are hard to portray without feeling heavy handed. Though they are killers, I found myself feeling sympathy for them. Eli and Charlie are very human, flawed and strange, which helps get you through the parts where they're shooting everyone around them.

I got through this book in a day. It's not particularly heavy reading, but there are moments that make you pause and ponder the possible symbolism - a weeping man, a sash from a woman worn as a favor under the brother's coat, a dying horse - like quick flashes of light that leave a ghost image on your retina, the brilliance stay with you for a moment before you move on to the next gripping part of the story.

I enjoyed it, is what I'm saying. Four out of five stars!

February 04, 2012

Apocolist No. 98: Try 100 New Foods

Cheese counts as food!

1. Cabot & Jasper Hill: Clothbound Cheddar - Greensboro, VT

Tom and I almost ate all of it before I could take a picture. Nutty and yummy English style cheddar made in Vermont. Perfect with crusty bread and a game of gin.

2. Chase Hill Farm: Farmstead Cheese - Warwick, MA

Again, we had almost eaten the whole thing. This was a dense, chewy, delicious cheese. Very buttery and somewhat salty with a nice creamy aftertaste. Mmmmmmm raw cow's milk.

Both were bought at City Feed and Supply in Jamaica Plain, MA. I strongly suggest buying your cheese there if you're in the area. You can sample anything they have on offer and they'll cut pieces for you based on how much you want to spend. I was fortunate enough to attend a tasting with their cheesemonger recently and was super impressed with his depth of knowledge.

Two down, ninety-eight to go! What other things will I shove in my face? WHO KNOWS. An adventure awaits!

February 02, 2012

NOT OK: Adventures in Online Dating

I am not a person you should ask for advice about online dating. I have tried it a few times and it was almost always a nightmare. And I know I'm not the only one! There are sites dedicated to this stuff.

I gained a lot of life knowledge, though. I also gained a stalker. That's a story for another time. I haven't decided how flippant I can be about it yet.

You may have met your husband online, and if you did, HOLY CRAP good for you. Because do you know how many awful humans there are in the world? How many people you would never want to date? I can laugh now, but only because I sobbed my way through therapy.

In this episode: The Man who Hates Maps. And directions.

We agreed to meet up some time, but I was uncomfortable getting picked up at my house so I let Martin Bundercrunch* know that I'd rather meet him at a coffee shop and gave him the address.

"I don't know how to get there," he said via okCupid chat, and I laughed because, uh, aren't you on the internet too? I mean I'm not just chatting alone, am I?

I responded, "Google maps it. What time do you want to meet?"

"I don't like maps," he said, "but I know the area pretty well. Just tell me how to get there."

"Uh," I replied, bemused. "Sure. If you go to 195 and take exit 2 and take a left on Wickenden you can find it."

"I DON'T KNOW STREETS" he replied, in all caps. "JUST TELL ME HOW TO GET THERE."

I was dumbstruck. Did he want me to be more philosophical about it? "Follow your heart" wouldn't get me my coffee date. "Dude," I replied (I type how I speak), "I don't know what to say. I don't know how to tell you how to get here without using street names."


Well now that you mention it...

"You know what," I typed, "I don't think I'm ready to meet up with anyone. I'm still skittish from my last relationship."

"Why are ALL of you BITCHES so CRAZY?!?!?!" he typed emphatically. "You think EVERYONE is GOING TO RAPE YOU."

Here I got indignant. I decided to try to reason with this ex-marine (discharged! I KNOW. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, though). "Well for one thing," I typed, "I don't want to date someone who can't respect my need for safety."


You're right, man. I must be nuts.

*Name changed to protect the fact that I don't remember his name. Blocked them all out! La la la! Thanks, therapy!