The Field Guide to Evil is a crowd-funded horror anthology, and in my recent viewing at the Nightlight we went with some other horror fans who had decidedly mixed opinions about it.
- Being crowd-funded made some of the choices make sense, and it’s sort of hard to imagine a horror film these days that doesn’t use green screens or other types of digital effects. The old-fashioned types of trick camera work and stunts that they used were really cool and an homage of sorts to the films of the 60s and 70s that didn’t have access to digital camera effects.
- Each focused on a folklorish approach, but they treated all kinds of texts as ones worthy of producing folklore, including texts that are more recent. In particular, I liked one that the rest of the group found hoky – a story about big-headed children in the forests of California, children who are actually the product of a mad scientist (as we find out). The mix of genres felt like a particularly useful way to look at the ways that we create folklore.
- I think my favorite was one of the first ones, featuring a tinker who went from village to village and who was told by an evil spirit that if he ate the heart of corpses he would be all-powerful. He ends up in a jail cell, but the vignette finishes with him listening to the sound of troops marching off to war, as the emperor has obviously taken on the powers by doing the crimes that he has committed.
I’ve found few fantasy series worthy of a re-read, but Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen is one, and after finishing The Crippled God, I’m now done.
- Erikson (and Esslemont) take several non-fantasy-conventional approaches in this series, and the use of the undead is just one. I’m still trying to puzzle out what it means, but the undead in this series are not mindless zombies intent on eating human brains or ghosts incapable of affecting the real world or even super-ninja warriors spurred on by the Night King – they have agency of a sort, and have agendas in the real world, ones sort of based on their previous lives.
- They also can cross the border of the land of the dead, not all the time or without consequence, but they can, and the rules by which they do so seem to be ones that they can bend or even create.
- There’s much more talk about Burn and the idea that this world might all be just a dream in this novel, or at least I recognized it in this one. That’s not a dodge on Erikson’s part, I think, but a look at where dreams and conscious lives being and end, and an attempt to think about fantasy in the context of other cultures where the dream world is not a wholly separate land, one to be analyzed for what it says about the conscious world rather than a realm all of its own.
- As is apparent, I’m fascinated by how the idea of borders work, in all sorts of texts and not just this one, and border crossings are a key element of the MBOTF world. In some ways this novel lives in liminal spaces, ones that are mostly uninhabitable – the Glass Desert, Raraku the Holy Desert, and all the warrens and holds are just some examples.
- These landscapes have in most cases been destroyed by conflicts among sentient races, devastating ecosystems that used to be balanced, and although this series does not preach about the evils of climate change and global ecosystem destruction it shows the consequences of such.
- The central conflict – if the Otataral dragon regains her place in the world then magic will be gone forever – strikes me as a look at fantasy as a genre, especially its assumptions. One of the joys of fantasy is in the way that brilliant wizards can outfight legions of warriors with the power of their minds alone – even in a series like A Wizard of Earthsea that features almost no battles one of the best things about Ged is his ability to use the intellectual powers he can call upon.
- The MBOTF has powerful wizards, of course, but the fact that magic may no longer exist and that that lack is not necessarily a bad thing is a fundamental rewrite of a central premise of fantasy – LET THERE BE MAGIC.
- It’s also a premise that ASOIAF takes on, in a bit different format, and if I re-read The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant I’m guessing I will see some of the same aims.
- This makes me think that I need to look at generic anxieties in the same way I look at cultural anxieties…
A Brief History of Seven Killings is the first Marlon James novel I’ve read, and it won’t be the last. It features multiple points of view as it wends its way through the attempt to kill Bob Marley (because he was thought to favor the socialist-leaning PNP in the upcoming election) in 1976 and then revisits the story of the subsequent rise of Jamaican drug lords in the crack days of New York in the 1980s.
- In the “Acknowledgements” section James identifies both Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Marguerite Duras’s The North China Lover as models for what he essentially thought was a huge mess of “anecdotes” and other “source materials.” I haven’t read Duras, but the multiple viewpoints of As I Lay Dying (as well as the invocation of different dialects) felt like the perfect starting point for ABHOSK.
- The viewpoint that seems closest to James is Nina Burgess, a Jamaican women who works her way to the States in as honest a fashion as she can. She has multiple names throughout the novel as she assumes identities, and she gets to finish the novel by getting a call from someone who I think is her mom (although I’m not sure of that by any means).
- She’s closest, I’m guessing, because she works multiple jobs after becoming the lover of a white American mechanical engineer who worked in Jamaica for a company mining bauxite. She ends up as a nurse, and I’m guessing that James is honoring that work in a fashion.
- She also has a tremendously complicated relationship with her home country, one which at the end has her being chastised by a young Jamaican woman sitting with her husband (who is in a coma after a gang war), imbibing the food and culture of Jamaica in a restaurant close to her home in Queens, throwing up that food after hearing of Josey Wales’s horrible death, ending with that mysterious phone call.
- I’m guessing James feels similarly.
- The folks who run Jamaica politically are rarely seen – instead, James presents the viewpoint of those who run sections of the various ghettos. One man, Papa-Lo, gets killed as he tries to bring peace; another man, Josie Wales, gets killed after his attempts to bring order fall apart when he murders everyone in a crack house. Both, I think, had gotten tired of the constant ways that their efforts failed.
- There is a lot more to talk about here, of course – a couple of white folks show up, a couple of characters are gay, the weirdness of Lester Bangs and all those Rolling Stone writers also appears as they become entranced by reggae and then find out that the scene that produces it is a brutal one.
- And the Singer (Marley, in the only way he’s referenced in the novel), gets lionized and idealized in a way that, as the Rolling Stone writer says as he’s being “corrected” about the story he’s publishing in The New Yorker, makes me “think even more highly of the fucker.”
- As we piece together our sense of American identity through the vast, often nearly indecipherable melange of immigrant voices – and their reasons for coming here – novels like this one will help us better understand the promise and perils of moving to the United States and trying to make connections here.
- Although the dialect may be off-putting, this was an amazing read, one that I am guessing will live in my mind for a while.
I’m from north-central Ohio, and now live within spitting distance of Akron, so Ohio felt frighteningly close at times. Having just read it after a re-read of The Corrections, it also felt like a much different take on the midwest. Further thoughts below:
- Football culture is a thing – even today I still love the game even though I know what it does the people who play it, and how it warps our senses of justice and manliness. Markley’s depiction of just how much football dominates Ohio high schools is spot-on.
- He also I think captures the effects of what feels like a misplaced legacy (and anger). Ohio went solidly for Trump in 2016 despite the firewall provided by minorities, and in 2018 it was one of the few states to not participate in the blue wave. Even the lone Democrat to win a state-wide race, Sherrod Brown, did so because he taps into blue-collar anger and distrust.
- The fact that that anger and distrust is directed at minorities, immigrants, and liberal politicians says as much about race as it does about the ability of the companies that moved the jobs out of the country in order to make their stockholders happy to dodge responsibility.
- That said, Markley is not necessarily writing a social realist novel (as I expected after the first chapter, and I think the reason I put the novel down the first time I picked it up). The characters who potentially have something to offer the world leave the fictional town of New Canaan, with one exception, and their returns are short, alcohol-soaked, and generally destructive either to themselves or to the town.
- The generational divide is clear, especially since none of the characters we follow are older than 28. Markley took a chance and tried different perspectives, including a rape victim who gets revenge and an adjunct professor who claims her own sexuality (and who discovered it in high school without of course being able to come out). These differences in perspective don’t necessarily make the novel less realistic, but the way that this town seems to fling its best and brightest far outside the confines of their school district borders feels like a far different kind of realism.
- And warning – this novel gets dark by the end…very very dark…not that there’s anything wrong with that.
I read this in reverse order, as I should have read Tales from the Loop first, but oh well…
- I assumed upon reading about it that this text fit as a dystopia, but it’s more a nostalgic alternative history. It takes place in the 90s, after the Loop from the earlier book has been shutdown, and a mysterious flood has made the island on which all this takes place even swampier.
- The machines are intersecting with the environment in ways that are not so much sentient as they are organic. The chemicals the Swedish and Russian military-industrial complex has used to make and maintain them has interacted with living elements in odd ways, and the results are sort of ickky and sort of amazing.
- The narrator is a young boy who is growing up on the island and who participates with his fellow islanders in what feels like a a grand observation of what is happening to them.
- It’s also set in the past, so we as readers see this through the lens of nostalgia. Unlike Stranger Things, this is nostalgia experienced directly by the narrator, as he reminiscences about his first kiss, some of the friends who come and go, and his own new-found popularity due to growing up and becoming one of the ones who instead of being frightened is interested by the flood.
I became sort of familiar with Moretti’s theories about distant reading and the Literary Lab he co-founded while trying to wrap my mind around how narrative works in video games. His work seems particularly appropriate to understanding how the changes that occur in our emotional responses to narratives in games (in contrast to films and literature) happen, and the unapologetic digital humanist in me thinks that Moretti is onto something, even though that something will necessarily be a bit long in coming…and, if we do it right, will never be completely concretized.
Distant Reading itself is a collection of essays that he has published as he tries to understand how literary forms change as they move across cultural lines. He eschews close reading for what he calls distant reading, mostly because he’s trying to find a way to understand cultural forms as organisms that are affected by the environment in which they find themselves. My synopsis does not do his thinking justice, and I’d urge you to engage with his theories on your own, but the tl;dr version is that he’s wrestling with some huge problems for analysis here, and I think that he’s not trying to fit literary scholarship into a methodological paradigm so much as he’s trying to determine what methodology best helps us understand literary narrative, style, and affect (among other attributes) .
Thoughts on Moretti:
- I was pleasantly surprised when I saw him citing Stephen Jay Gould in the first essay. His look at literature from the perspective of cultural evolution and world system theory fits neatly with my own world view, although I can understand why some folks would find it off-putting.
- Close reading is still important, and I think he does some of that with his analysis of titles in the last essay. I get his frustration though – I feel the same when talking about games, as I know that (with apologies to Jean Genet) every time I choose one game to look at I’m ignoring a dozen others.
- He makes some really interesting observations while doing this form of analysis, observations that imply more of an interest in close reading than I think he sometimes gets credit for. His look at the use of subordinate clauses in the construction of narrative, for instance, allows him to argue the ways in ways in which narratives move forward and backward in time. Subordinate clauses ask us to prioritize action, and writers can use them to get us to look at the action ahead.
- Others have discussed this as well, but the particular lens through which he looks – large chunks of stories that have adopted another cultural’s form – makes this look especially useful, I think, from a literary critic standpoint.
We saw this movie at the Nightlight in Akron, and wow.
- It’s hard to think of it with conventional themes, although it becomes sort of conventional by the end.
- If I did I would argue that one theme is trust/betrayal, something that works on a meta-level as well. Madeline doesn’t trust her birth mom completely, nor her theater mom.
- Plus, the director makes us question how much we trust the camera, with shaky perspective and lots of incredibly tight close-ups…
- Helena Howard is pretty amazing as Madeline…
- The idea of physical theater, communicating intensively through visceral connections with our emotions, expressing bodily what we’re feeling, is intriguing and seems to go against the use of language (with all its instability and ineffectiveness). Clearly, physical communication of this sort isn’t easy either, and my guess is that Decker (the director) is gently mocking herself a bit with the failure of the vision that the theater company director has…
- I’m sure more on this later…