Pretty Fly for an Antiquated Gay Stereotype

the-talented-mr-ripley

 

A couple of points to start off with:

1. I never saw the 1999 film with Matt Damon and Jude Law

2. We’re going to ignore the “homosexual villain” trope used in this book. It was an unfortunate thing in the 1950s and 1960s but Tom Ripley is a fascinating character beyond that.

Tom Ripley is a small time con-artist and forger eking (and gay man, even though it’s not said explicitly) out a living in New York City when the father of Dickie Greenleaf hires him to go to a small town and Italy and convince his ne’er-do-well son Dickie to come home and take over the family business. Though Tom obtains this job based on a lie, he seems to intent on accomplishing this task in the beginning, two things become abundantly clear: 1. Dickie has no intention of coming home and 2. Tom has no intention of going back to his meager existence in the U.S. Naturally things take a dark turn from there. We see things through Tom’s eyes as he kills, impersonates, lies and forges his way across Southern Europe.

I won’t spoil the plot too much but despite clearly being a bad person, it’s hard not to root for Tom. When he was in a tight spot, my stomach was in knots. When he was at peace, enjoying an Italian cafe, I could almost smell the espresso. Clearly the character of Tom Ripley could not exist in modern literature. But he remains one of the great villains of mid-century fiction.

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We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes

furiously-happy

 

Furiously Happy is hilarious, fast paced, sad and sometimes exhausting to read. Often you are feeling one more of these emotions at once. I suspect this is sometimes what it’s like to be Jenny Lawson, a well known blogger who has written frankly about her struggles with mental illness. The title is inspired by a blog post Ms. Lawson made when she was in the depths of depression in which she vowed to be “furiously happy” during the times her brain wasn’t trying to kill her.

I have never battled severe mental or physical illness. I’ve lucked into relatively good health despite some stunningly bad life choices. Still, I found Furiously Happy eminently relatable. All of us have been tripped up by our own brain before. All of us have dark places we go in our own head sometimes. And all of us sometimes feel as if we’re just faking being adults and will be discovered and called out for the imposter that we are at any moment. (Right…guys?)

I have not read Jenny Lawson’s first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. In fact, that book was actually on my To Be Read list when this one showed up on Kindle for $1.99. Let’s Pretend is now being moved up in priority. So…I may get it read some time in the next year.

You be the Captain, and I’ll be no one.

the-girls

 

The plot of The Girls is propelled forward by a fictionalized version of the Manson Family murders of Sharon Tate and her house guests in 1969. However, if you’re looking for details and insight into the murders and The Family, I can recommend two or three other books that would be much more helpful. The Girls is more of an exploration of first love and the lengths we go to be near that person and our willingness to ignore their flaws as they become more and more apparent.

Our protagonist, Evie Boyd is 14 in the summer of 1969. She is becoming disenchanted with her suburban teenage existence and even more so with her newly divorced parents. It is at this time that she first sees Suzanne and her friends. They are grubby and frayed at the edges, but seem to move through the crowd like displaced royalty. It is Suzanne that draws Evie to this crowd, not Russell who is our literary stand-in for Charles Manson. The story is juxtaposed by Evie as an adult who seems to be living a somewhat unmoored existence. Evie is largely unaware of the more sinister undercurrents flowing at the ranch as she spends more and more time there. It’s only before the bloody and violent conclusion that she even begins to sense that something is very wrong with this group of people.

Emma Cline’s prose is lovely. She is able to capture so many aspects of girlhood and first love in ways that are sometimes uncomfortably accurate. Most women can recall abandoning themselves completely for a first love. But if that first love was one of the most notorious murderers of the 20th century? What would you do to stay in that person’s orbit?

Get Mad, Then Get Involved

give-me-liberty

I try to space out my political reading, especially during an election year. I often find it equal parts enraging and frustrating and I wind up in a funk for several days after reading. What’s great about Naomi Wolf’s book is that it doesn’t just make you mad, it tells you how and where to channel that anger into something constructive. Give Me Liberty is exactly what its title suggests it is. But it is also a guide for us as citizens to re-involve ourselves in the political process.

Ms. Wolf starts by dissecting the Declaration of Independence. She parses the most quoted and misinterpreted passage regarding “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and then moves on the the rest of document which states that it is our duty as citizens to be active, involved and constantly vigilant for governmental abuse. She then goes on to tell about how citizens were encouraged to be involved in government until very recently. They were even given a citizens handbook that explained to them their rights and responsibilities. This all changed with the political unrest of the 1960s when politicians became what she described as a “priestly caste” who cloaked their procedures in legalese that is unintelligible to the average citizen. After that the book explains the ways in which government has slowly eroded our rights over the decades and what we have the right to do in response. The final chapters I skimmed somewhat. They detail all the ways in which you can take action and become involved; everything from starting a petition to running for office.

I’d highly recommend this book for anyone frustrated with the current political landscape. Even if you are not a dyed-in-the-wool liberal like Naomi Wolf. Everyone should get involved in the political process; conservatives, liberals and everything in between. It’s our duty as Americans to be an informed and involved electorate.

 

 

Pants Waits for Next Book in Series

girl-waits-with-gun

 

I’m fairly picky about which mystery series I follow. They are formulaic by design so if there aren’t engaging characters and interesting stories, I tend to lose interest pretty quickly. The story of Constance Kopp and her sisters: Norma and Fleurette caught my interest immediately and is that start of what I hope will be a fun, somewhat historically factual mystery series.

The story takes place in 1914 New Jersey. On a rare outing into town, the somewhat reclusive sisters’ buggy is run down by a reckless silk factory owner in his automobile. Constance attempts to get the man to make restitution and she and her sisters are quickly subject to threats, intimidation and harassment in the form of bullets and bricks aimed at their farm house. Constance, whose height and ambivalence toward romance and domesticity set her apart from the average woman in 1914, takes it upon herself to resolve the situation. There’s tension, family secrets and a picture of domestic life in the early 20th century.

There are a lot of things I appreciated about this book. First of all, Constance and her sisters, the silk factory owner and the dispute over the buggy are all real people and events that happened. Though Ms. Stewart obviously fills in the blanks that the public record leaves. The relationship between the sisters whose personalities are distinct and dynamic. Though Constance herself has no interest in the typical trappings of 1910s domestic life, she in no way scorns it and has a great friendship with her sister-in-law who is practically a model 1914 housewife. Also, the imagery of the three German sisters living a rural life in the early 1900s made me nostalgic for my grandmother, who came from a similar background (though I’m reasonably sure Grandma Schneider never shot a revolver at anyone). The second novel in the series was released today. I’ll refrain from giving the title as at does give a bit of a spoiler about Constance’s fate.