I got in a bicycle accident early in May and broke my wrist, so was unable to type for about a week and a half. This took a bite out of my work schedule, which I filled with, yes, more TV, but also more reading.
- I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura – An enjoyable graphic novel that was similar in many ways to Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls. A creature out of myth intercedes in the life of a child who is trying and failing to deal with the serious illness of her mother. In this case the monster is a titan rather than the Green Man, and the relationship is for the most part adversarial rather than didactic, but thematically the two books have a great deal of overlap. I’m glad I read A Monster Calls first, as it’s the more emotionally complex work, doing deep explorations of things about survivor guilt that I Kill Giants only superficially touches. But it’s possible that whichever of these two one reads second will suffer due to familiarity with the shared narrative beats.
- Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel – This graphic novel, meanwhile, isn’t superficial about anything. In many ways a sequel to Fun Home, this purports to be about Alison Bechdel’s relationship with her mother, but more about using the concept of maternal relationships as a lens to look at memoir and neurosis. It struck me as a less focused book than Fun Home, but a trip through Bechdel’s expansive, unflinching intellect is so inherently interesting that the experience doesn’t much suffer for being less structured. It did make me want to go back and read Fun Home again, though.
- The Color of Money by Walter Tevis – This was the last Tevis novel I’d not yet read. (There should be a word for the bittersweet feeling of finishing the last unread book by a favorite, deceased author.) It’s a decades-later sequel to his first novel, The Hustler, and while it’s not my favorite of his novels, I found Tevis’s writing as gripping as ever. My main complaint about this book is that too much of it seemed to recapitulate emotional gestures from The Hustler and plot gestures from The Queens Gambit, both of which I’d judge to be superior works. But there was a moment I found really touching, one that only this book could do. There’s an important scene early in The Hustler where Fast Eddie’s opponent, Minnesota Fats, disappears into a bathroom and then emerges, composed, having washed his hands and face. Though Tevis never points at the callback, there’s a moment near the end of The Color of Money where Fast Eddie does this same thing, and for readers who’ve read both books the parallelism is profound.
- Two Girls, Fat and Thin by Mary Gaitskill – Gaitskill has sort of snuck up on me, slowly and quietly becoming one of my favorite authors. She’s one of the least sentimental writers I’ve encountered, but she creates emotional landscapes that are as solid as her physical settings. I first came to her work years ago after seeing the movie “Secretary,” and wanting to read it’s presumably pro-BDSM source material. What I found was much darker, more complicated, and personal than the movie had led me to expect. In Gaitskill’s writing I run into aching blends of disappointment and desire that are deeply recognizable, supported by sentences I never would have written. Her work captures facets of my lived emotional experience using a technology of images I don’t yet understand. This book, though it didn’t grab me as much as her second novel Veronica, wasn’t an exception. It’s about two women, Dorothy Never and Justine Shade, of different age, class, body shape, and worldview, but similarly traumatized by early life experience. They meet when Justine interviews Dorothy about her involvement with a thinly veiled Ayn Rand and Objectivist movement. It’s got some structural formality as well, with Dorothy’s sections in first person and Justine’s in third. This formality was a little bit of a stumbling block for me initially, for no reason than it made the book easier to put down at chapter transitions. But by the end the POVs are switching so fast and with such narrative momentum that I was hooked, and consumed the third section of the book in a compulsive gulp.
- The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks – I’ve read nearly all of Banks’s science fiction, but this was my first of his realist novels. (I’m sticking with the “Iain M. Banks” tag since it’s the same person, even though he left off the middle initial for these books.) Calling it “realist” seems only barely appropriate. Though nothing in this novel is impossible, it’s improbable as all hell. The viewpoint character is a sociopathic young man, a former murderer and practitioner of sympathetic magic, in what turns out to be a whole family of mentally damaged individuals. In some ways it struck me, especially in the beginning, as a sort of adolescent version of We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The POV is interesting enough and the macabre violence colorful enough that I was pulled enjoyably through the book, but–and here’s where the SPOILERS start–the final twist seemed like something of a pointless gotcha. The openly misogynist main character who believes himself to have lost his genitalia in a childhood accident turns out to actually be a biological female whose father has been secretly dosing with testosterone since childhood. This is revealed only a few pages from the end, and never narratively problematized. It’s a fireworks show of imaginative voice and depravity, but didn’t in the end seem to mean very much.
- The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman – I met Stephanie at ICFA this year, where she was awarded the Crawford award for this novel. Now that I’ve read it, I think the win well deserved. It’s an intrusive urban fantasy story grounded in Jewish mysticism and structured like a mystery novel. Marjorie, who at the start of the book isn’t even aware of her Jewish heritage, discovers after her grandfather dies that all the fairy tales he told her as a child were true. She has to find lost documents and rediscover ancient knowledge to try to save her sister’s newborn son, sometimes opposed by her ultra-orthodox brother-in-law. My favorite parts of the book though are the four long, beautiful passages written with cadence of folklore. Also, as I have a somewhat uneasy relationship with my own Judaism, this narrative was embedded in a point of view that I found, tonally, very recognizable.
- Collected Fiction by Hannu Rajaniemi – I loved his debut novel The Quantum Thief so much that, barring a major disappointment, I’ll give anything he publishes a read. This is a somewhat disjoint short story collection, mixing near future SF, posthuman SF, ghost stories, folkloric fantasy, and some stranger things. My favorite pieces were “The Jugaad Cathedral,” the SF piece in this book that most successfully combined his typical technological fireworks with human interest, “Fisher of Men,” a fun outsmart-the-mythical-creature fantasy story, and “Skywalker of Earth,” which is a string theory pulp pastiche that is tonally unlike anything else I’ve read. The closest is probably some parts of Alan Moore’s Tom Strong, but that lacks the hard science space operatics. Great fun. (Also, it seems that Rajaniemi’s third novel, The Causal Angel, came out while my life was topsy-turvy last year and I managed to miss it. Need to pick that up.)