Archive for July 2nd, 2017

July 2, 2017

June Reading

Looking increasingly wild-eyed, I assure you that when this thesis is over I will read some serious important books again. For now, this is what I read in June.

 

Sandhya Menon, When Dimple Met Rishi: This has been getting some positive buzz in the US as a romcom about arranged marriage, and friends and I have been rather side-eyeing it–not because we’re set against the concept per se (some of our best friends and family etc) but because this particular iteration of it seems to involve a) teenagers and b) manipulation by family (and c) being very clearly aimed at a not-Indian audience ["idli cakes"]). Having read it, I don’t think the book ever manages to deal with or explain away the parts of the story that feel inherently unpleasant; which might be fine in some circumstances (a lot of romance fiction does this, and it can be cathartic or have other uses for the reader) but I don’t get the impression that this book is positioning itself that way.  None of this, however, was as hazardous to my experience of the book as my dislike of its male protagonist, who you just know will be posting sanghi memes on facebook about three years into this relationship.

 

Thomas Burnett Swann, The Forest of Forever, The Day of the Minotaur: I went through a period, lasting several years, when I’d forget both author and title but suddenly feel a yearning for a particular story in a particular anthology and have to hunt it down. (It was Swann’s “The Sudden Wings”, in the Tom Shippey-edited Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories.) More recently, I’ve been promising myself that I’d read some of Swann’s work beyond that one story. I did enjoy these two books, but I suspect that was more to do with the novelty of reading a book entirely unconnected to either my thesis or to any current literary conversation. The Day of the Minotaur (which was published first) begins with some of the things that I liked about “The Sudden Wings” (our history, but with ancient remnants of a world of gods and monsters, sexy Other mythological creatures, siblings, generally charged interactions) and peters into something rather more domestic and less exciting, whereas The Forest of Forever, a prequel to the earlier book, doesn’t really add much except the revelation that the Minotaur was previously in love with his eventual girlfriend’s mother, and to make the sexy tree nymph character of the earlier book seen pathetic. I’ve seen commentary on Swann that describes these books as sexually charged, and while there are moments where that is true, the thing that I’m most struck by in these books is how profoundly uncomfortable they are with sex, even as they seem unable to move away from the idea of it. In “The Sudden Wings” these impossible impulses turned into something sharp and lovely; here they just … dwindle into not very much.

 

Victor LaValle, Dietrich Smith, Joana Lafuente, Destroyer #1-2: I’ve been planning for ages to read Victor LaValle, particularly since this great review of The Ballad of Black Tom (full disclosure: I edited the review, so am biased in the matter of its greatness. I’m still right though). I have read Frankenstein, over and over; I love it for its richness, and how much it offers a reader to play with. LaValle’s take on it, planned as a six issue series, is set in the present; the creature comes back among humans just as a (black, woman) scientist has begun to reanimate her child, killed in circumstances the reader hasn’t yet been explicitly shown. It’s probably a reductive way to look at LaValle’s career (he’s written a few novels and a short story collection) to focus on one novella and one comics series, but I get the impression that the two would bounce off one another really well–both repurposing classic works of horror to centre a grief and anger that are specific to an African American context. Thus far, Destroyer is upsetting and uncomfortable in all the best ways, and I’m looking forward to the next installment.

 

Kiran Millwood Hargrave, The Island at the End of Everything: I was underwhelmed by Millwood Hargrave’s first book, though I seem to have been in a minority in this opinion (it has won several prizes since I read it). Even at the time though, I thought there were things it did well–domestic details and (initially) sense of place, some startlingly good turns of phrase. It just didn’t cohere into one thing, or (this feels more important, because coherence is overrated) make me particularly care about it. It’s at times like this that one notices things like flaws in worldbuilding. This new book is set in our own world, or a version of it, and has a much clearer sense to me of what it wants to be–this version of the Philippines is not miles away from the “real” one, and the tone is fabulist rather than fantastical. Its concerns (families split apart, people waiting to die, found family, stigma) feel contemporary without being allegorical, and there’s a lot about it I like. Still not entirely to my taste–there’s a lot of capitals floating around in phrases like “the Places Outside” and the lyricism of the prose is a bit hit and miss–but that’s me, not it.

 

(I also managed to watch some movies this month. My thoughts on The Mummy are here; and I’m still trying to write about the sort of thesis-relevant Arthur: Legend of the Sword. I doubt I’ll be writing about Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, which seems a pity since it’s the most interesting of the three by some distance.)