Tag Archives: American Author

The First Bad Man by Miranda July (My love letter to Miranda July)

201501-omag-mirandajuly-2-949x1356The First Bad Man by Miranda July
276 pages | Purchase @ Barnes & Noble

It’s been a long time since it’s been physically uncomfortable to finish a book. By physically uncomfortable, I really mean that my emotions are so all over the place that they’re manifesting themselves as thought I’m experiencing some slight anxiety and a fair amount of sadness. And joy. Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised that this is the state that I am in at the end of this novel as I always feel this way at the ending of anything Miranda July creates.

Some people may not WANT to feel this way, but, honestly, I welcome it. I value this feeling as a sign that I was truly touched by the characters and the journey that I shared with them. Not only did I get to crawl inside of them to feel what they’re feeling, both the good and the bad, but I was also able to sit fully outside of them as a spectator to the events comprising their daily lives.

One aspect of Miranda July’s art (whether it be her novels, film, or performances) that I adore so much is that she captures life so perfectly. The beauty of life isn’t in one single type of experience or a perfect, flawless moment, but it is a culmination of our awkward interactions, happiness, love, pain, loss, the mundane, the disgusting, connecting with other people, connecting with ourselves, and everything in between. She doesn’t shy away from this and, even in a scene of loss and sadness, the beauty shines through.

The First Bad Man is narrated by Cheryl, a woman in her 40s who lives alone and exists within her own eccentric world. She once felt a connection with the soul (Kubelko Bondy) of a young baby and periodically reconnects with Kubelko Bondy, but only ever in passing. Cheryl’s entire world is changed by a brief cohabitation with a young woman named Clee. Together, they explore their boundaries and bring us along with them through the hilarity, the (sometimes) uncomfortable fantasies, life, and loss. Through this experience, Cheryl’s life is completely changed; she finds a strength that we don’t get to see her embody at the beginning of the novel.

A few additional quotes from the story that I am particularly fond of:

A bag of blood was rushed in; it was from San Diego. I’d been to the zoo there once. I imagined the blood being pulled out of a muscled zebra. This was good – humans were always withering away from heartbreak and pneumonia, animal blood would be much tougher, live, live, live.”

“Every night my plan was to make it to dawn and then feel out the options. But that was just it – there were no options. There had been options, before the baby, but none of them had been pursued. I had not flown to Japan by myself to see what it was like there. I had not gone to nightclubs and said ‘Tell me everything about yourself’ to strangers. I had not even gone to the movies by myself. I had been quiet when there was no reason to be quit and consistent when consistency didn’t matter.”

“These exotic revelations bubbled up involuntarily and I began to understand that the sleeplessness and vigilance and constant feedings were a form of brainwashing, a process by which my old self was being molded, slowly but with a steady force, into a new shape: a mother. It hurt. I tried to be conscious while it happened, like watching my own surgery. I hoped to retain a tiny corner of the old me, just enough to warn other women with.”

The ending of this novel feels like the loss of a loved one. I want to crawl back into the pages (or, in this case, my Nook app) and hang out with Cheryl for a little bit longer. She made me laugh. Her story, at times, made me want to cry. From beginning to end, I wanted to give her a hug. I am now in one of those rare circumstances where I want to continue reading and starting in on another novel, but my heart is going to need a few days to get over this one.

My subject mentioned something about a love letter for Miranda July — basically, if Miranda July were to ever stumble across this page, or my face on the street, I would, ultimately, want to adequately convey that her art speaks directly to my heart. I hope that she writes many more novels, short stories, films, and whatever else she desires to create.

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Driftless by David Rhodes

driftlessTitle:  Driftless
Author:  David Rhodes
Genre:  Fiction

The only reason that I stumbled across Driftless was because that this was a featured title on Barnes & Noble’s “Free eBook Fridays” a few weeks back.  I love me some free books and have been desperately missing the free classics that I used to download for my Kindle; it appears as though B&N does not go below $1.99 for the classics.  Anyway.  I jumped at the opportunity to check this title out when I discovered that there was a free eBook that WASN’T a Romance.

I was in the middle of forcing my way through Madame Bovary, which was slow going for me, so there was about a week between the download and the beginning of reading.  I scoped out some of the reviews that were floating around and prepared myself to be a changed woman.  By reading any number of responses to this novel, one would be silly not to prepare themselves to stare God in the face before jumping into Rhodes’ pages.

Needless to say, I was a little excited to get going with it.  I was even revving myself up to perhaps “meet” a new favorite author.

Unfortunately, however, I wasn’t as blown away as I wanted to be.  I’m not going to write that this is a bad read, by any means, but I found myself skimming a lot.  I don’t really like to skim.  I read a little on the slow side, but I enjoy savoring passages and losing myself in the characters’ conversations, the landscape, my own thoughts…  I struggled in doing so for the majority of this book.

Some positives (for me) – each chapter is told through the POV of a different character.  All 400-something pages focus on the same core set of characters, but you get to hop around from chapter to chapter, story to story.  I feel as though this was the main factor that kept me from calling it quits.  Each of the characters is interesting and unique and I honestly can’t say that there was a single one of them that I disliked.

The other positive (again, for me) is that the spiritual exploration seemed to be a melding of Christianity and Buddhism.  I am a fan of not keeping religion or spirituality completely black and white.  Mixing principles, teachings, and philosophies wins big points in my book.

The biggest negative, however, again – for me, was the ending.  No spoilers here, but it felt incomplete.  It felt as though it ended in the middle of a conversation and there still should have been 20 pages or so to wrap everything up.

 

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Filed under 2013, American Author, Fiction

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Title:  No Country for Old Men
Author:  Cormac McCarthy
Length:  320 pages
HIGHLY RECOMMEND

Another library book!  I’m on a roll with utilizing my local library.  I watched No Country for Old Men about a year ago.  I loved it.  I watched it immediately after reading and watching The Road by the same author.  I had a fever for McCarthy novels.

I won’t lie to you, however – I tried reading Blood Meridian and couldn’t get past the first chapter.  I really need to amp my brain up before I dive into that novel – and the reasons for my difficulty getting into that novel are the same as my reasons for being so totally in love with The Road and No Country for Old Men.

But, first, a synopsis of No Country for Old Men:

Set in our own time along the bloody frontier between Texas and Mexico, this is Cormac McCarthy’s first novel since Cities of the Plain completed his acclaimed, best-selling Border Trilogy.

Llewelyn Moss, hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, instead finds men shot dead, a load of heroin, and more than $2 million in cash. Packing the money out, he knows, will change everything. But only after two more men are murdered does a victim’s burning car lead Sheriff Bell to the carnage out in the desert, and he soon realizes how desperately Moss and his young wife need protection. One party in the failed transaction hires an ex–Special Forces officer to defend his interests against a mesmerizing freelancer, while on either side are men accustomed to spectacular violence and mayhem. The pursuit stretches up and down and across the border, each participant seemingly determined to answer what one asks another: how does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?

A harrowing story of a war that society is waging on itself, and an enduring meditation on the ties of love and blood and duty that inform lives and shape destinies, No Country for Old Men is a novel of extraordinary resonance and power.

I can attest that the book is as gritty, dark, and powerful as the above description leads one to believe.  It’s probably a good policy to not pick up any of McCarthy’s novels when you’re in search of something light, love-y, or something that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy in your heart.  If you do, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

The narrative hops around between the characters – the good guys, the bad guys, and the “??” guys.  McCarthy, as always, sticks true to the vernacular of the characters, which is both refreshing and a challenge.  On more than one occasion, I had to re-read a paragraph two or three times or take a step back at the beginning of a chapter to figure out who the pronouns referred back to.  There are cuts, shifts in narrative, and please leave your love of quotation marks at the door…  this is truly a unique and challenging read.  And I love, love, love McCarthy for it.

The reader doesn’t have a front row seat to all of the action, but we’re made aware of what happens.  Even if it isn’t exactly what we expect (or want) to happen.  The chaos that plays out in the lives of the characters in the book serve as a nice parallel for the chaos that ensues in the world around us, every single day, start to finish.  I won’t lie – the character of Sheriff Bell voices some of my own thoughts, concerns, and fears about society on more than one occasion.

So, in parting:

I read in the papers here a while back some teachers came across a survey that was sent out back in the thirties to a number of schools around the country. Had this questionnaire about what was the problems with teachin in the schools. And they come across these forms, they’d been filled out and sent in from around the country answerin these questions. And the biggest problems they could name was things like talkin in class and runnin in the hallways. Chewin gum. Copyin homework. Things of that nature. So they got one of them forms that was blank and printed up a bunch of em and sent em back out to the same schools. Forty years later. Well, here come the answers back. Rape, arson, murder. Drugs. Suicide. So think about that. Because a lot of the time when I say anything about how the world is goin to hell in a handbasket people will just sort of smile and tell me I’m gettin old. That it’s one of the symptoms. But my feelin about that is that anybody that cant tell the difference between rapin and murderin people and chewin gum has got a whole lot bigger of a problem than what I’ve got. Forty years is not a long time neither. Maybe the next forty of it will bring some of em out from under the ether. If it aint too late.

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Filed under American Author, Cormac McCarthy, Fiction