Over the course of my moderately awkward youth, I attended a lot of summer camps. Day camps and sleep-away camps, camps predicated on sailing or crafting or “adventures” or spirituality, or some progressive combination thereof. Camps for all girls, where the evening’s recreations included confessions about our limited experiences with kissing; or camps for both genders, which are themselves little more than earnest and overly scheduled pretexts to kissing.
While I never made lifelong friends at camp, I appreciate having been able to spend a few summer weeks away from home, a precursor of sorts to those first days of college, after the parents leave and your universe is suddenly a dorm full of strangers and the byproducts of a thousand Bed Bath & Beyond shopping sprees. A camper, like a freshman, is abruptly forced to contend with themself as an independent person, and given the chance to decide which heretofore defining personal traits are worth hanging onto, and which might be cast off like snakeskin at the first opportunity. Camp has the capacity to let you reinvent yourself in an afternoon, or to become better acquainted with who you were in the first place.
On Sunday night, HBO will continue a long legacy of book-to-it’s-not-TV-it’s-HBO adaptations that includes Sex and the City, True Blood, and [kinda] The Wire. The Leftovers, premiering after enough hype to kill an elephant, is centered on a Rapture-like event that causes roughly two percent of the world’s population to suddenly disappear—one second you’re sitting next to your best friend, the next second she’s gone, without so much as a bang or a zap or even a courtesy puff of colored smoke.
The Rapture/Not Rapture (depending on who you talk to) prompts Reactions—emotional, political, religious—and it’s those reactions that form the core of The Leftovers, insomuch as they affect residents of Mapleton, an unassuming suburban town that serves as a microcosm of the global post-Rapture malaise. Three years after the event, Mayor Kevin Garvey is trying to rally the wary townspeople into a sense of normalcy, even as his estranged son gets involved with a dubious evangelist, his daughter goes through a head-shaving rebellious phase, and his wife leaves him for the Guilty Remnant, a cult of sorts whose members don’t speak, dress all in white, travel in pairs and constantly smoke cigarettes ( ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ), all ostensibly to remind people of October 14th, and to prove themselves worthy for, you know, “next time.”
“One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me.”
It’s a fine way to start a book. From its first pages, The Days of Abandonment—a slim 2005 novel translated from Italian—is a compelling exploration of frankness, unpredictability and unpredictable frankness. It is the same blithe detachment with which Olga’s husband announces his departure that Olga herself relates to us, the reader, the spiral of grief into which she descends, a spiral so severe as to approach madness.
Once past the suddenness of his announcement, Olga’s husband Mario proves himself to be an otherwise stereotypical soon-to-be-ex spouse: He has abandoned her for a younger woman, proves minimally sympathetic to the injustice of his decision, and becomes almost willfully detached not only from Olga but from their two children, who are old enough to understand their mother’s biting remarks about her defecting husband. Likewise, Olga’s tour through the emotions of the dumped is familiar to anyone who’s suffered through the sudden dissolution of a long-term relationship. Shock and anger give way to obsession and anxiety; depression sets in; small tasks prove monumentally overwhelming. Continue reading
It’s been two decades since Richard Price’s Clockers first hit bookshelves (kids, those are the things grown-ups had before tablets to hold their bound volumes of printed paper product). A lot has happened in those 22 years: America got its first black president, the Red Sox broke their 86-year curse, Justin Bieber was born. And yet, to read Clockers in 2014 doesn’t feel much like an exercise in time travel, or historical fiction. For all the emphasis the United States has put on in its wars on Drugs and Poverty, respectively, Clockers might as well have been written last year
Set in a fictional New Jersey town, Clockers follows the ins and outs of a group of housing projects—home to a complex network of drug dealers—as well as the cops and detectives whose business it is to prevent the success of said drug trade. The novel is primarily concerned with Strike, an up-and-coming pusher struggling to balance his financial ambition against his disillusionment with hustling; and Rocco, a homicide detective charged with investigating a murder that may be connected to Strike’s crew. Split between the perspectives of its two main characters, Clockers is immediately reminiscent of the McNulty/Avon dynamic in the first season of The Wire. Which makes sense: author Richard Price was a writer on the show. Continue reading
After a brief and mildly unintentional two-week break, I am back in action, and ready to talk about sleep.
My first tour with Karen Russell wasn’t that long ago; I read Swamplandia! (exclamation point included, like Yahoo!), her debut novel, back in September, and enjoyed its eerie blend of oddball setting and vaguely supernatural plot (bonus fact: the book was shortlisted for the Pulitzer in 2012). I also loved the concept: a struggling family-run alligator-themed amusement park in the Florida Everglades—whose chief attraction is a one-woman “I swim with gators!” show—comes upon hard times that try its quirky owners. Like a Geek Love/Big Fish/Heart of Darkness mash-up (jungles! ghosts! competing theme parks!), Swamplandia! had a lot to offer, and Russell’s ability to turn a phrase is impressive, even when some of the novel’s more fantastical moments failed to enthrall me. Continue reading
From the perspective of the weight-gainer, there’s something socially bizarre about getting fat. About facing, day in and day out, acquaintances for whom fat is a culturally endorsed obsession and yet still a conversational taboo. Next to sex, size might be the thing we think about the most in general and talk about the least in mixed company. Which makes gaining weight, for the gainer, sort of like dyeing an inch of your hair pink each month, both hoping and resenting that no one will mention it. That is, if pink hair could be mitigated by Spanx.
Big Brother is excellently concerned with this and other facets of the American obesity epidemic. The novel is centered on Pandora Halfdanarson, a married stepmother of two who has spent the last few years running a successful business while also settling into the trivial stalemates of a stable marriage (she’s gained weight; her husband Fletcher has become a fitness fanatic). Strapped for cash and in between jazz gigs, Pandora’s older brother Edison comes to stay with her, but when he arrives at the airport, Pandora doesn’t recognize him. Since they last saw each other, Edison has grown from a longstanding 160 pounds to nearly 400; the flight attendants insist on rolling him out in a wheelchair. Continue reading
As highly functional and exceedingly authoritarian societies go, bees are legit. One need only skim some of the mass bee death headlines of the last few years to understand that for animals so small, seemingly innocuous and unwelcome at picnics, bees basically run the world. Or keep the world running.
Given their propensity for hierarchy, bees also seem an apropos topic for the ever-growing canon of dystopian fiction. After all, they’re an all-natural example of the kind of social order foisted on humans in books like 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale and Brave New World. Bees have a ruler, a class system, and a directive (however innate) to stick with the program lest the whole hive suffer for an individual’s absence of industry. Needles to say, I could never be a bee, or any other animal whose entire existence is synonymous with hard work and constant activity. (Given the choice, I’d be a house cat; their lives are 70% sleeping, 10% eating and 20% knocking things off tables.)