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review 2017-07-17 18:35
Reservation Blues, by Sherman Alexie
Reservation Blues - Sherman Alexie

This is my first Alexie and not my last. I'm struggling with what to say about it and how because somehow this not-huge novel feels like it's packed in everything about Indian (as they refer to themselves) culture with its focus on a particular reservation and a rock band's steep rise and fall. It does so with deadpan humor and a mix of the fantastic and real that calls to mind magical realism but is distinctive. It's necessarily sad yet not depressing--there's the humor, and there's wonder and hope. There's not an insignificant or uncharismatic character in the book. I feel like I've taken a long, strange trip with them and wish them well.

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review 2017-07-12 15:02
The Book of Dahlia, by Elisa Albert
The Book of Dahlia - Elisa Albert

Dahlia Finger is kind of an asshole. She's 29 and spends her days sprawled out on her couch, smoking weed and watching movies, funded by her well-off father. One night she has a seizure and learns that she has a brain tumor. Though no one will actually say it, she doesn't have long to live.

 

This is not one of those novels of illness where there's redemption ahead or that's supposed to make you hopeful and grateful for life (beyond not having a brain tumor). For that reason, I appreciated and responded to it. Unlike all the books on cancer Dahlia and her parents buy in bulk that say "you can beat this thing" if only you have the right attitude, in effect making you responsible (and to blame) for your own illness, The Book of Dahlia illustrates how we as a culture fail to deal with mortality. Though it's not addressed specifically in the novel, I personally wonder how much that American idea of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is at play, which easily translates into victim-blaming when one can't.

 

One of the platitudes often given regarding illness and healing is that a sufferer must let go of old resentments and anger, that these can make or keep one sick. As Dahlia considers and recounts her past, it's clear she has almost nothing but resentments, from a mother who essentially abandoned her family to the older brother, once close, who took out his own pain on her in the cruelest ways. Throughout her life she's plainly asked for help and been ignored. Maybe it says something about me that I couldn't blame her for her stubbornness in forgiving and forgetting. It feels like the only way she's able to have any agency during her illness.

 

If this sounds grim, it's not, or not only! Dahlia's voice is often funny, enough to make me laugh out loud while reading. Her humor may be bitter, but that suits me fine. At the end of the book there was a reading group guide that asked more than one question about whether one is able to sympathize with her; I absolutely could. I often like female characters in popular culture that others find abrasive, though I often wonder how much it's about gender.

 

The toughest and most affecting aspect of this book was the relationship between Dahlia and her older brother. As a younger sister myself, I'm always interested in and more sensitive to depictions of that dynamic. It broke my heart to read about the turn their relationship takes, how long Dahlia holds out and has faith in him, even insulting herself to get ahead of his insulting her. I both wanted and did not want Dahlia to forgive him. It made me want to call my own brother and thank him for not being a dick!

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review 2017-02-05 17:54
American Housewife, by Helen Ellis
American Housewife: Stories - Helen Ellis

My first thoroughly enjoyable read of the year. Despite never having been a housewife (or wife, period) myself, I felt like this short story collection's ideal audience. There are plenty of films and books that cover similar ground--the details, drudgery, absurdity, and even darkness of being a housewife--but Ellis manages to make the content fresh through voice and form.

 

All the stories made me laugh out loud or grin sardonically, from the first, brief portrait of a modern housewife, to the email exchange between two passive aggressive--and then just aggressive--ladies occupying the same building (my favorite), to the Dumpster Diving with the Stars reality show. Some stories, like the first, are flash fiction and read like prose poems to me. Others are fuller, like the ending story about contemporary novel writing in the age of sponsorship and social media. In that story and others, the horror of aspects of our culture becomes real.

 

Satisfying and sharp-tongued (without looking down on its characters), this collection completely won me over from the start.

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review 2016-12-08 20:40
Kill the Boy Band, Goldy Moldavsky
Kill the Boy Band - Goldy Moldavsky

What an absolute riot this book was--when it wasn't breaking my heart.

 

If you've ever been a fan of anything (especially a teen girl fan) and participated in fandom, you will recognize these characters and some of their behavior. The lingo, the friendships borne of obsessing over the same band/show/books/whatever, the fanfic, the love-hate relationship between you and the object of your fannish devotion--Moldavsky captures it all in prose that made me laugh hard at least once a page.

 

The book is comic but blackly so. The protagonist (who goes unnamed, though she tells those who ask a variety of names from 80s movies) and her three fellow fans, including her pretty and popular best friend, "accidentally" kidnap the least popular member of fictional British boy band The Ruperts (all named, you guessed it, Rupert). Things quickly spiral out of control, and the protagonist, who's "the sensible one," struggles to get a grip on the situation and defy her friends, about whom she realizes some unsettling things. That's where the heartbreak comes in. She has recently lost her father, and her Ruperts obsession has clearly become her lifeline. By the end of the book she's doubting her own sanity.

 

The author represents fandom lovingly and fairly, including its downsides: using fandom as a crutch, feeding on fame as a fan rather than the object of your devotion, fandom's temporality--some day you won't care or will be embarrassed. As a fan myself, I can't say I was ever offended; I enjoyed the accurate portrayal and the nuances of fan interactions and feelings that the author captures so well. I love that she doesn't define every bit of fannish jargon (e.g. "stans/stanning"), though it's always clear from context. I love that each girl has her favorite Rupert and role as a fan in a group of fannish friends (the leader, the one with connections, the one with money and access), and that The Ruperts feel like a fully realized band and fandom, complete with a secretly gay member who's dating a girl as a beard. Social media plays a central role, but it's not overdone.

 

This book is fun and demented and worth a read even if you don't think of yourself as particularly fannish. Best of all, it doesn't put the girls down for being fans.

 

If nothing else, you will laugh hysterically at what's in Apple's suitcase...

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review 2016-09-05 23:44
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy Schumer
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo - Amy Schumer

If you are familiar with Amy Schumer and her comedy, you likely think either the sun shines out of her ass or she's awful. I'm in the former camp. I enjoy her sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer, and her stand-up, as well as her movie, Trainwreck (though I admit I have not been crazy about her handling of the Kurt Metzger fiasco, which occurred just as this book was released). If you like Schumer, I can't imagine you wouldn't like The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

 

Written as a series of essays and lists, plus excerpts from her old diaries (with footnotes), accompanied by often hilarious photos, the book is unsurprisingly candid and funny. What did surprise me were the serious bits--still told with humor, except for the chapter on the shooting at a screening of her movie--her relationship with an abusive guy, her non-consensual loss of virginity, her introversion. I hadn't previously read or heard many interviews with her, so these details of her personal life were news to me. She's survived much more than being a woman in the world of comedy and entertainment.

 

My only worry beginning this book was that it would contain too many jokes from her stand-up; that fear is definitely unwarranted. The tone is familiar--and I might just have to listen to the audio book--but the content is fresh. I laughed out loud at least once most chapters, often suddenly from an offhand-feeling quip. I appreciated her vulnerability, but let's be real; if this book weren't funny, I'd be disappointed.

 

Although early on she states that it's not a self-help book, there are still plenty of moments when Schumer writes directly to the reader or otherwise points to the lessons she's learned, or, more accurately, how she gets on with things and lives her life. Most aren't a surprise, at least to me, but she doesn't become preachy and those bits are borne of personal experience.

 

I hope she writes the theoretical future books she mentions. Especially Juggling Dicks. ;)

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