Let Me Write That Down

Thoughts of an Author in Training

April Books

Happy Mutant Baby Pills

baby pillsJerry Stahl

I couldn’t resist checking out this book from the library simply because of the title and I wasn’t disappointed. This book was a rollercoaster of writing and unconscious word vomiting- a literary shit-show of character emotions and tragic life styles. At first I had to double check and reassure my eyes that I wasn’t reading some sort of abandoned porn novel, but the beauty and phenomenal talent of Stahl is that he clearly hands the book full over to his characters and their screwed up lives.

The absurd and obnoxious stream of conscious is deliberately the thoughts of a neglected, sexually frustrated, drug addict, who breaks the fourth wall to set up his story and then works backwards to truly suck you in. Our protagonist, Lloyd has a carrier interestingly enough in writing, who found his morbid calling in writing the medical side effects in commercials and labels, challenged with glorifying terms like anal leakage.

With the realistic and lively theme of this story it wouldn’t be complete without a hopeless love connection. The type where two outsiders meet and they battle the cruel and judgmental world together. This tale followed that preliminary set up, sort of. Lloyd falls head-over-heroine-heels in love with a psychotic, masochistic, politically driven girl named Nora. She eventually manipulates the modern day underdog story in to a homicidal rampage for human affection and paranoia.

Nora thinks there are people out to get her. She’s caught up in an abusive escort situation with a high-ranking political figure and finds herself pregnant and thrown out on the street with nothing but her depressing and bitter greeting cards. Nora’s journey to destroy the man’s life that destroyed hers begins with Llyod. But the ultimate revenge is growing in her uterus as she wants to ensure that it’s a monster when it’s born. She wants to critique the world that so quickly poisons it’s self only to charge humanity for the cure. She ingests every chemical that has been deemed safe by the FDA in an excessive amount. She sprays pesticides up her vagina and fuses heroine in her veins. Every moment of chemical intoxication means a point to proving how fucked up the world has become.

Her insatiable fantasies in creating a super human mutant baby become obsessive as she plans to broadcast the pregnancy and make a grand statement to the world. But the beauty of this book is that the ending we desire is the one we get. Nora gives birth to a perfectly healthy baby girl. All her plans crumble to the ground as she tries to explain to the doctors the injustice of the situation while she’s high on heroine.

The author builds up this hopeless quest for fulfilling basic human expectations of affection and success. The delusions of the American dream seem to surface in this book as well. Longing to fit in, to feel wanted and of course chasing the chance to create a strong identity in society. Llyod chases the creative undertow of writing as Nora chases the resolution of political injustice, but both fall subject to the deception of drugs and abandon one another at the conviction of failure.

The Interestings

the interestingsMeg Wolitzer

I was attracted to the book based on the title and the cover. There was just something inviting and nostalgic about the colors. I’d seen art in Europe that resembled much of the same theme of colors and stripes like the cover which meant I just had to pick this one up and give it a good read.
The premise involves a friendship of six New Yorkers that meet one amazing summer at a camp for the creative arts. Naturally each individual has their own cliché part in the circle of friends, much like a Breakfast Club of camp kids- a bad boy, an outcast, a talented nerd, a pretty girl, a musical washout, and an over sexual ballerina make up the Interestings. But Wolitzer doesn’t let the story fall to the grimace hands of a cliché story about overcoming differences and becoming perfect friends forever.

It in truth becomes beautifully tragic how the relationships of all these creative kids manipulate when pressured by the stress of growing up, as they all become somewhat less exciting versions of their biggest dreams. Through money, politics, fame, and family, each character travels a time line of inevitable transformation in to adulthood.

The details of this book, I believe are what give it the most life and kept it squarely in my hands for days. Six characters webbed in to one another is a tedious thing to keep track of, but it’s done well in this story and merely because the detail goes back far in to early stages of a story board. I understand as a writer how in creating a good and relatable character you want to know every detail about them in order to make a story that is believable, but the level of time and skill it must have taken to develop six separate character lines blows my mind. That’s dedication and it shows, even down to the point of allergies and song lyrics.

I seem to be uncovering a trend in liking books with realistic endings- this book falls right in to that category. It doesn’t mess around with some gung-ho ending where they all go back to camp when they’re grown up and live happily ever after, but instead shows the true struggles in coming to terms with growing up and growing out of what we held on to so dearly when we were young. Not to say that the dreams we have when we’re young can’t come true, but there is a difficult balance in honoring what you used to value and living in reality that you have to generate money to survive, possibly abandoning dreams of becoming an astronaut or professional dancer.

I really enjoyed this author’s ability to take risks in the little details as well as not following a linear time line that spans more than forty years. Her attention to details of human emotion and erotic affection made for a very adequate adult book that I really enjoyed reading. The relationships were playful and retrospective, giving the book a prestigious realism to a grungy reality of getting older.

I can’t wait to read what else Meg Wolitzer has in store for her novels. I believe I will investigate what the Ten Year Nap is all about.

Brave New World

brave new worldAldous Huxley

Brave New World was recommended by a few different people following my interests in Dystopian novels, I would almost dare to say it’s the foundation. Huxley is the foundation of breaking down the foundation.

This book is an admirable and brave project for the 30s, as the author questions methods of science and religion, challenging Utopian ideals of nature vs. nurture. Huxley’s ability in forcing society to look upon itself through the intensification of his critical lens is something to be admired and was a great inspiration for my favorite author George Orwell.

I was fascinated by Huxley’s focus on the enforcement of sexual play and obsession with the acts of sex, but without the attachment of emotion or love. Originally I giggled thinking that this was just an over idealized male fantasy- everyman getting laid and monthly meetings that consisted of taking happy pills and participating in an orgy. But the ideas are balancing the line of animalistic primitive sex and the sensational acts of sex that we know as humans. He minimizes the essential human characteristics and replaces them with robotic yet primal habits.

His categorizations of humans based on what they’re constructive purpose was, perfectly critiqued an ideal communist society, but the further differentiation between human and savage was critically fascinating. He created a “civilized” society that would ironically be seen by contemporary readers as savage- devaluing literature and art, drugging a whole society, criticizing love and marriage, and lots of sex with multiple partners. This civilization then fawns over the fascination of the savage people, who live by what we would see as modern day morals and rights to get married, have a family, chose our own carriers, and feel emotions.

The savage, which consequently became his name even in the narration, secludes himself in the outlands away from both society and where the savages live. He rejects science and technology in order to pursue extreme religious devotion. He retreats as an outcast to the lighthouse after a standup against sex being meaningless, and his alienation is replaced by his instance on God accepting him as neither society ever did.

The ending was one of the creepiest I’ve read. It left me with chills and I was reading it to everyone who would listen to me, even if they didn’t see how I thought it was so good. The Savage can’t handle being exploited by either society for his differentness. They either want to abandon him or feature him as freak show and science project because he expresses human emotion- something they’ve avoided by taking their happy pills every day. Eventually he must end his loneliness and suffering.

“Slowly, very slowly, like two unhurried compass needles, the feet turned towards the right; north, north-east, east, south-east, south-south-west; then paused, and after a few seconds, turned as unhurriedly back towards the left. South-south-west, south, south-east, east…”

What a mind-melt, right? It’s a truly grueling ending with great attention to detail and a perfect way to describe an event such as that. Huxley addresses the greatest question of all, that still nearly a century later we can’t answer- what comes after death? He uses two very different points to get at the driving force that we are all doomed to meet. Through science or religion, it’s human nature in wanting to know about matters of life after death. The more we know about the physical human form the less we know about the moral state of being, what is human nature?

The book offers a good ethical mind tease and is astounding when you think of the progressive and bold statements that Huxley was making during a very vulnerable and critical time in American history. He was offering a very scary satirical projection of the future. Without grand thoughts from authors such as Huxley and Orwell I fear for what we would be blindsided with as ordinary citizens.

Speaking From Among the Bones

speakingAlan Bradley

This book was speaking to me from among the table bones, of which I like to call the clearance rack at my local bookstore. It always makes me sad to see a book at nearly half off as they all deserve their due, but it also means more books for my shelf.

“Blood dripped from the neck of the severed head and fell in a drizzle of red raindrops, clotting into a ruby pool upon the black and white tiles. The face wore a grimace of surprise, as if the man had died in the middle of a scream. His teeth, each clearly divided from its neighbor by a black line, were bared in a horrible, silent scream,” is the first paragraph of the book. It’s catchy, right? But after purchasing this book and reading the remaining 374 pages, I didn’t really come away with a good liking of this novel. I was disappointed quite frankly.

I must clarify that Bradley is a great writer and this book has won several awards, all of which are centered around the crime genre, which I now confess isn’t my favorite. I wanted to read this book even though I don’t gravitate toward murder mysteries because I want to see literature from all sides, but I really had to endure through this book.

I struggled with the time line and premise of the story. This is probably because I’m not familiar with the religious ceremonies of unveiling the tomb of your churches patron saints and my chemistry knowledge is a little rough. Luckily the chemistry bits were explained steadily and technically so I could follow along with how our protagonist Flavia solved the mystery of Mr. Collicutt’s death. She is, by the way, merely a child but has the scientific knowledge of a certified chemist, the extensive recognition of the entire bible, and the detective skills of a regular Sherlock. All of these qualities are admirable traits in a human, and in fiction anything can happen. But the continually acknowledgement from several characters, including Flavia herself, that she is only a child seemed forced. The persistence of her age on paper felt like the author was trying to highlight how magnificent it was that a child could do all these things. I unfortunately wasn’t sold on the idea.

Like Ender’s Game, the benevolence of the story is creating a world in which adult responsibilities are acted out by children and we watch them succeed, feeling adequately satisfied that the small can defeat the big. For some reason I just still can’t feel empowered by the plot of Bradley’s novel.

I think what drove me crazy in the end was that this book focused on deconstructing the inabilities of children, but in the end the plot falls to a classic case of female stereotypes. Flavia solves the mystery and upon revealing how she came to her conclusion is rewarded with a shopping spree with the detective’s wife. Throughout the book I enjoyed that Flavia was down to get dirty and ride her bicycle, climb in to graves, performed chemical experiments, taking on classified more masculine roles and even emasculating the detectives that couldn’t solve the mysteries for themselves, but in the end she’s content with a completely materialistic and lame reward for her incredibly hard work. For some reason this stuck out boldly among all the detail and plot.

I wish I could have found more pleasure in this read. I perhaps should have read his other Flavia de Luce novels rather than jumping in to the middle, but I can’t see myself picking up another Flavia novel. I do enjoy Bradley’s writing and I did value much of his dialogue. I think his quote about history is what I will remember most- he’s on to something here.

“History is like the kitchen sink,” Adam answered. “Everything goes round and round until eventually, sooner or later, most of it goes down the waste pipe. Things are forgotten. Things are mislaid. Things are covered up. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of neglect.”

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5 comments on “April Books

  1. thefourteenthofapril
    May 6, 2014

    How did you like the first Flavia book?

    • authorintraining5280
      May 6, 2014

      I unfortunately jumped in to what appears to be the fifth book of the series! Have you read the Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie?

      • thefourteenthofapril
        May 7, 2014

        It’s on my To-Read list, that’s why I asked how you liked it because I assumed you read it 😛 Now that you’ve read one of the instalments, will you be picking the first one up?

      • authorintraining5280
        May 8, 2014

        To be honest I will not. I don’t seem to like Bradley’s murder mystery style. But if you do give it a shot let me know what you think- maybe give me some encouragement to try it again.

      • thefourteenthofapril
        May 8, 2014

        I’ll try it and definitely let you know! xo

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