REVIEW: Nightb*tch

The synopsis for Rachel Yoder’s debut novel, Nightbitch is as follows:

One day, the mother was a mother but then, one night, she was quite suddenly something else…

At home full-time with her two-year-old son, an artist finds she is struggling. She is lonely and exhausted. She had imagined – what was it she had imagined? Her husband, always travelling for his work, calls her from faraway hotel rooms. One more toddler bedtime, and she fears she might lose her mind.

Instead, quite suddenly, she starts gaining things, surprising things that happen one night when her child will not sleep. Sharper canines. Strange new patches of hair. New appetites, new instincts. And from deep within herself, a new voice…

Despite what you make think based on this alone, I promise you that this is not at all what you will expect. Despite the marketing pitching this book more towards “dark literary fiction” but that definitely leads away from the mind-numbing, reality-bending rollercoaster of a story it contains. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, myself, as I got ready to crack the cover. Was it going to be a contemporary thriller with hints of the surreal? Was it leaning more towards horror? If it was horror, what subgenre? Even after finishing the book, I still don’t think I know the answer to any of these questions, but I decided to approach it from the horror standpoint since that is where I personally felt the story best sat.

As our mostly nameless protagonist (the mother, later known as Nightbitch) slowly sinks into her reality the story becomes both unsettling and uplifting at the same time. Yoder really blew me away with her ability to make me feel so much rage at useless spouses while feeling reminded and validated in being able to demand what you need in life. The way the hopelessness of the women of this story is portrayed, showing both sides of the “stay at home mother”, was so well written and so important for all genders to see. Just because a parent – but especially cis-female mothers – stays home, it does not mean that they have an easy life. Childcare is no joke. Managing the household is no joke. In the context of this book, these women have given up their very successful careers and dreams of the future of those careers to care for their children. They struggle with this sense of resentment towards their children, their husbands, towards themselves for giving in. It’s a side of womanhood that I don’t think enough people, in general, consider when passing judgement.

Reading this book as a transman has been complicated. I have related a lot to how Nightbitch feels, wanting to go absolutely feral over truly unfair situations and seeing people I know in the depiction of her husband. I’ve seen my own single mother in these pages and seen fears I had as a child coming from a single-parent household. I felt a weird sense of validation emotionally from this book while also feeling uncomfortable at the idea of motherhood in relation to myself.

The un-reality of this book was also incredibly trippy. Was Nightbitch really becoming a dog? Was her husband really on board with everything? Was her son? I love a good “what’s real” story and I’m still unsure of several moments and what they meant. But that isn’t at all a bad thing. This book is amazing but I am also unsure of if I liked it if that makes sense. Regardless though, this is not a book soon forgotten and I’m definitely going to be reading it again in the future.

The other thing I want to say as a bit of an afterthought though is in regards to the book being optioned for a film adaption:

According to Deadline, Amy Adams is set to star in this film and I think that’s a horrible decision. I already sense that the film is going to be marketed to the world as “ooh spooky thriller for stereotypical homebound mommy” and that is not what this book needs at all. As a huge fan of psychological horror that seeks to intentionally make viewers uncomfortable, I feel like that’s the route this adaptation should be heading towards. An adaptation that would end up on some list-article of “Top Movies That Made People Collapse At Cannes”. If this book came out ten years ago, I would give anything to see Lars Von Trier as the head of the adaptation starring the likes of Charlotte Gainsbourg. It screams of the aesthetic of AntiChrist and deserves a proper horrifying, ban-worthy film adaptation.

If I haven’t scared you off with this review, do just be aware of some potential trigger warnings including animal abuse/mutilation, mild body horror, fixation on appearance, hypochondriac behaviour.

REVIEW: Territory of Light

I’m going to start this review right off the bat by saying that I picked this book up for the sole reason that Tsushima Yuuko is the daughter of Dazai Osamu, my favourite Japanese author in history. Had it not been for that connection I honestly doubt I would have picked it up at all.

Territory of Light is a short novella made up of serialized vignettes that look into the life of the nameless narrator as she does her best to raise her two-year-old daughter in the midsts of a separation. Dreamlike in the way these peaks into a life on the edge of losing it all, this novella drifts in and out of time as it deals with loss, longing, depression, and the hardships a young single mother faces.

From the beginning, my own childhood definitely resulted in this book inflicting a few gut punches, but then it began to shift in a way I’m not sure I can explain and instead of seeing myself in the place of the narrator’s daughter, I imagined the author and her mother overlapping within the characters. Tsushima was only a year old when Dazai was discovered dead, having drowned in a canal with his lover, Yamazaki Tomie. I can’t begin to imagine the trauma that caused for Tsushima, let alone her mother who had clearly been abandoned due to Dazai’s self destructive whims and ever changing moods. When the narrator discusses the death of her father within the story, and the way it affected the character of her mother, it read to me as an accusation – but not necessarily a negative one – directed at Dazai for not being there, for leaving them not only for another woman, but in death as well.

Knowing what I know about Dazai absolutely coloured my reading this book and I found something cathartic in reading it as well as greatly appreciating the different perspective – even if it’s a fictionalized one – regarding a man I greatly admire. I definitely plan on seeing out more of Tsushima’s work available in English and hope to one day be able to read her stories in the original Japanese. It would be curious to see if her style is similar to that of her father’s. Especially considering both were cursed with only placing second for the Akutagawa prize.

REVIEW: You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked.

In his debut novel, Sheung-King weaves a story of a dying relationship through a combination of first and second person POV. The layers created by folktales and references to classic literature make for a bubble of reality that feels like being stuck in a dream. 

As “you” and the narrator twist their way through the world, the style of the writing was reminiscent of the surrealness Murakami Haruki is most known for while reminding me specifically of the odd “real but slightly-to-the-left” unease of Murakami Ryu’s work – but without the violence, of course. This is a very arty story and I don’t know who I would ever really recommend it to while also being a book I would absolutely recommend simply for the beauty in Sheung-King’s metaphors. Similarly to the complicated comparrisons Lars von Trier makes in his film Nymph( )maniac (such as fly-fishing to nymphomania or cake forks to femininity in wealthy men), Sheung-King manages to grasp a similar method using a man who walks pigs as an antonym of corporation and national pride as a lie made by dictators and white colonizers. Even cucumber sandwiches. I live for this kind of poetry in writing, and it doesn’t hurt to mention Yozo’s antonym game from No Longer Human in order to win me over.

(If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll be more than aware of my deep-seated adoration for Dazai Osamu)

But what’s ended up leaving a true mark on me after devouring this novel in a few hours, was the section discussing anti-Asian racism. Sheung-King draws specifically at one moment on the Hollywood example of Lost in Translation. As a white person, my problems with that film have always been the age gap between Scarlet Johansson and Bill Murray, not truly looking at the racism issues within the film until far more recently. The gist of the film is two lonely white people are lonely and white in Japan until they meet and bond over their mutual isolation in a country they are unfamiliar with. It reinforced that “others” are always meant to conform to white people needs – even in their own countries. In North America, immigrants and tourists alike are expected to adapt and conform to white society or else risk facing harassment and/or violence. Meanwhile, white tourists are constantly expecting to be catered to no matter where they go. It made me wonder if Lost in Translation would still be critically acclaimed and “profound” if it was about people of colour attempting to navigate the US or even Canada.

This section also made me sad as the narrator “apologizes” for growing angry and upset about the strange kind of racism he specifically faces. I cannot know this pain, I will never truly understand it, but it hurts to think of anyone feeling they need to apologize for being angry in regards to the racism they face. No one should be made to feel like that.

You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked. is a book to think about in regards to have to simply live, to simply love. I absolutely adored how it unfolded like a collection of stories from Akutagawa Ryunosuke I read recently, layered as it was in varying formats. I loved reading the descriptions of Toronto as it really feels instead of how it’s more often discussed as if it’s the only big city in Ontario.

I may have gotten a little ramble-y with this review so I’ll end it here by saying that I will certainly be keeping an eye out for what Sheung-King comes out with next.

Back to Back with THE MOSQUITO COAST

One of the things I’m lucky to be able to do during lockdown is still being able to spend Friday nights having dinner and watching a movie with my mom. This past Friday we sat down to watch Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, but of course once I heard it was a book, I needed to read it first.

The Book

Mosquito Coast follows the Fox family as the father, Allie Fox, decides he has had enough with the filth, corruption, and violence of the United States and moves his family to the depths of Honduras to begin anew. As the heat and the realities of living off the grid begin to settle in and Allie’s lofty ambitions grow more and more chaotic, the Fox family is pushed to their very limits in order to survive.

Told in first-person narration from the perspective of the eldest son, 13-year-old Charlie Fox, Paul Theroux’s novel is some of the most beautiful first-person writing I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading in my life. As Charlie watches his world – his father – falling apart around him, you truly feel like you know this young man who was forced to grow up in the blink of an eye simply because his father told him to. This book is clearly a classic you may never have heard of and Theroux just captures this young boy’s life in such a way that the depths are endless. It’s an adventure story, a family drama, and a question of how far you are willing to trust someone when that trust can get you killed just as much as walking away could.

It’s also an incredibly complex story. While everyone is very sympathetic, the Fox family is complicated. Charlie and his siblings are children so their choices cannot be judged too harshly by the readers, but when it comes to the mother – only referred to as Ma, Mom, or Mother – her dedication to Allie as he falls deeper and deeper into his own head is questionable at the very least. She’s someone I desperately want to understand but her loyalty reached a point where it could only be compared to a woman in a heavily abusive relationship that has been convinced she has nothing else but the man in her life. Allie as well. He is a lunatic who’s rantings and ravings are like that of a drunk throwing a temper tantrum or pleading for something that’s already there, but he cares about people. He wants to give better lives to those around him, whether it’s helping the immigrant workers in the states who live in squalor as if they were slaves or if it’s showing indigenous people of Honduras how to be self-sufficient without living in rags and huts that blow away with every storm.

I enjoyed how complicated of a character study this book is and how it forces you to make decisions about the world and about people as Charlie is making them. While I will say the language of this book is extremely dated, and is therefore uncomfortable at times for that reason, the points made about child labour and sweatshops as well as capitalism killing society as a whole are still incredibly relevant to today.

The Movie

Starring Harrison Ford alongside Helen Mirren, and with a young River Phoenix as Charlie, the film has a heavy hitting lead cast for the time it was released.

That being said, I felt that as solid the movie is, it misses out on a lot of Allie’s build up to complete insanity by leaving out the key moments that show just how manic he already was. Scenes where he pushes Charlie and manipulates Charlie’s faith in him we’re missing and while I know how difficult some of them would have been to film in the late 80s, I wish they had been kept.

Nitpicking aside, the cast is amazing. All of the people – actors or not – as the people of Honduras were fantastic and the children were all wonderful as well. Seeing a young Helen Mirren was neat as I’m only familiar with her more recent work, but this film makes it clear she’s always been a heavy hitter of an actress. Her love for Allie is so evident while her fears of what he’s capable of comes across even when her dialogue is limited. What I enjoyed best though was seeing Harrison Ford in a role that is entirely different from what he’s most famous for. Everyone knows smart-ass Han Solo. Everyone knows smart-ass Indiana Jones. But was anyone aware he can also be a villain? He is capable of playing a role full of manipulation and control and rage and passion and madness? Looks wise, I knew right away that Harrison Ford was the obvious choice for the role at the time, but seeing him pull it off was amazing. It was like seeing Tom Cruise in Interview with a Vampire and craving to see more of that evil from such an “all American action hero”.

While watching though, I found myself curious about how River Phoenix felt during filming. Not to turn this into a true crime op-ed or anything, but considering River Phoenix grew up in and was traumatized by the pedophilic cult known as The Children of God, I wonder what went through his mind playing a role of a helpless boy in the middle of nowhere, frightened by his commanding, controlling father. I can’t imagine that was easy for him.

All in all, the movie was worth watching but definitely read the book. Before, after, it doesn’t matter but it’s a phenomenal piece of writing and a fantastic piece of cinema.

ARC REVIEW: In The Wild Light

Thank you to Penguin Teen Canada for providing me with the eARC.

If you know me, you know how excited I was for this book. If you’re new here, let me tell you about just how wonderful Jeff Zenter’s books are. The Serpent King changed my life in ways I never thought a book could and Rayne & Delilah reminded me there is validity in anger while peace in move on. Goodbye Days is a story to help grieve. Jeff’s books will shape and change you for the better. So, yes, being able to review this book months in advance means the world to me.

Note: trigger warnings for drug abuse, drug-related death, and attempted assault

In The Wild Light follows Cash as he is rushed into a difficult choice to follow his best friend to an intimidatingly prestigious private school miles away from home, or stay with his terminally ill grandfather and therefore rob his friend of her chance to become the world-changing scientist she is sure to be with the help of this academy. When both of their lives have been ravaged by parental drug abuse, it’s not easy for Cash to accept what he considers a “hand-out” from his genius friend, Delaney.

Since this book doesn’t come out until August (can you say, “Happy birthday to Lucien”?!), I won’t go into too many details about the contents of this book, but I will say it will break you just as much as Jeff’s other books have (or will if you’re yet to read them). As I usually do with books that make me cry, please allow for a vulnerable moment here. 2020 was rough with pandemic life, and 2021 is proving to still be tough on many of us. One thing that In The Wild Light really struck a chord with me on was Cash’s feelings of “leaving his grandpa behind”. Pep has cancer and while Cash is given the chance of a lifetime to really become someone, that means leaving the only father he’s ever known mostly on his own.

So what does that have to do with pandemic life?

My 98-year-old grandmother means the world to me. She’s a cheery, church going Welsh woman who doesn’t have a bone in her body not full to the brim with love. Pep reminded me of her a lot with his wit and his compassion for others of all sorts even being in the deep south. I haven’t seen my grandmother in almost a full year and I used to see her three times a week growing up, and even as an adult, I’d have dinner with her at least once or twice a month. I miss her a lot even when we can talk on the phone, so Cash’s feelings hit home for sure.

In a funny way, I think this is the perfect book for these times, even with the tinges of loss. People are losing their loved ones right now, but as long as we express our love towards those people we’re missing, it’s better than nothing. Right? This is a book about doing what’s best for yourself, pushing past the impostor syndrome and the fear of failure and allowing the room for growth to breathe.

I miss my friends right now. I miss my family. But if I just keep moving forward and doing my best, I’ll get to see them again. In The Wild Light reminded me of that.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve made myself cry once again.

You’re the worst best, Jeff Zentner.

Mrs. Dalloway Double Feature

With wanting to go back to school this fall, something I decided to do over my two-month leave from my day job for quarantine was to try and read at least a handful of books listed on the English course reading lists I was looking at. With my mother being an English Major, she decided to join in and we read Mrs. Dalloway together with the intention of watching the film The Hours (dir. Stephen Daldry, 2003) when we finished it.

Mrs. Dalloway was a tough read for me. It’s a really dense story that follows several characters over the course of a single day with flashbacks to various points in time throughout. As someone who has never really had to do a close reading before, I found it difficult looking for things that I don’t even think were there to begin with (like a point), and it made for a very long time spent pushing through the dense prose. While Virigina Woolf has some seriously great quotes in the book, and an interesting look at female independence in that time period, I found the number of characters and the muddled paragraphs very difficult to follow. I get that it’s “stream of consciousness” writing, but I found myself re-reading things several times and – at moments – entirely giving up and just continuing on with the book whether or not I understood what I was reading. When I finally finished the book I was more annoyed than anything else because I seriously felt like I missed something.

While waiting for my mom to finish reading, I learned that The Hours film is based on the book of the same name by Michael Cunningham. Having read one of Cunningham’s books in the past and enjoying it, I jumped on trying to read The Hours.

In three days, I finished reading one of the most beautiful books I’ve come across this year. The Hours follows three women over a single day: Virginia Woolf as she plans on writing Mrs. Dalloway, Laura Brown as she fights depression while planning her husband’s birthday, and Clarissa Vaughan as she plans a celebratory party for her friend that has won a significant literary award. The storyline that I loved best was Clarissa’s as the involvement of the AIDs pandemic fallout of the 90s and the harsh reality of the suffering AIDs patients went through… It’s heartbreaking and raw and beautiful. With so many context cues to the source material that is Mrs. Dalloway, adding AIDs on top of the tragedy of the adaptation of Septimus’s life makes so a heartbreaking and layered reason for the horrible end.

I definitely enjoyed The Hours and I feel like I picked up on a lot more nuances having read Mrs. Dalloway first. Of course, the film was a different story (for a different day but… how do you ruin a movie that stars Meryl freaking Streep?!) and I honestly hated it, but I’m so pleased to have picked up Michael Cunningham’s novel. It was an interesting exercise reading both of these books with my mom as well and really reminded me how much I enjoy talking about books with people.

REVIEW: The Dreamers

Originally published as The Holy Innocents, Gilbert Adair’s novel was re-released as an updated edition after he had the chance to write the screenplay for the 2003 film, The Dreamers based on his work. I was so happy to get my hands on a copy of the re-released The Dreamers novel and was not disappointed.

This book came on my radar while I was revisiting the history of people running through the Louvre. I was familiar with the film (though I have not seen it save for the running scene) because of my love for actor Michael Pitt, but once I found out it was a book I was determined to get my hands on a copy. The day my copy of The Dreamers arrived, I was over the moon. And then proceeded to read the entire book in a day.

The novel follows twins Isabelle and Theo as they welcome American student Matthew into their tight little circle of obsessive French cinema worship. As their friendship grows, Matthew learns of the debauched relationship between the twins and is welcomed into their way of life. As the three are left to their own devices, secluded alone in the twins’ apartment, they lose all sense of the world around them and the only world that exists is the one inside the flat. Meanwhile, the riots of May ’68 are grasping the nation, creating a huge contrast between the two ways of life.

While I know this book is problematic by the standards of many, it was exactly what I was hoping it would be and was absolutely magical in the way Adair manages to create such an intense relationship and make the isolation of the trio feel natural. The style and flow of the writing was so beautiful and hypnotizing, I absolutely adored it from cover to cover. The Dreamers was exactly what I had hoped it was going to be and it was such a breath of fresh air after struggling through the book I had finished prior to starting this one.

In all honestly, the only part that grated on me was whenever French New Wave director, Jean-Luc Godard, was mentioned. As a film grad, I had to watch Breathless (1960) every damn semester and I hate it so much. Considering this isn’t even an issue with the book (and me mentioning it is literally a joke to any of my fellow grads who feel my pain about that stupid movie), I couldn’t have asked for anything more from this book.

Adair’s books seem to be mostly out of print these days, but I look forward to tracking down his other novels because I am obsessed with his style of writing.

REVIEW: A Little Life [ part one* ]

This month I decided to tackle one of the bigger books on my shelves. At 800-ish pages, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life seemed like what I wanted. Contemporary, set in New York, I heard it was gay and came highly recommended by someone I was close to.

But then I got 400-ish pages in and was in such a horrible mental state because of it, it’s not even funny. This is not a fun book. If anything, it’s a horrible book. So to start off this review, let’s get to the list of trigger/content warnings, shall we?

This book contains:

  • child abuse
  • sexual assault of a child
  • child abandonment (a baby literally in a dumpster)
  • child death
  • sexual assault
  • domestic abuse (that has the potential to lead to a possible murder)
  • gross dismissal of chronic pain
  • gaslighting
  • manipulation
  • graphic depictions of self-harm
  • suicidal ideation with mild intent
  • drug abuse

And that’s just the part of the book that I managed to get through.

As someone who is constantly battled chronic depression, this book actively made me want to jump in front of a train. Things only get worse and worse as the story progresses, even when you think things might turn around, the punch in the stomach is only a few paragraphs down the page.

The story itself follows four friends – JB, Jude, Willem, and Malcolm – in New York as they navigate their lives as artists, actors, lawyers, architects. Moving from post-college life into the real world is a struggle as they all fight for dream jobs with terrible pay and discover routes to where they feel their purpose is. Bouncing around in time, the narrative goes over the histories of each of them, talking about their privileged to not-so-privileged to terrible lives before they met each other.

The sad thing about this book is that all of the friends are incredibly likeable, even when they’re making asses of themselves (cough, JB, cough cough). Their histories really make you want to keep reading and find out what happened to them just as much as wanting to know where they’re all headed. It’s so beautifully prose-y and I absolutely adore the way with words that Yanagihara has, but I just couldn’t continue after the half-way mark of this book.

But this book very quickly reached torture porn levels of terrible as one of the characters gets sucked into a beyond incredibly abusive relationship. The character in question doesn’t believe he deserves a truly rewarding relationship and allows the most gruesome things to happen to him. After something of a “cliffhanger” of a chapter at what I hope was the climax of the abuse, I had to stop reading. I couldn’t take it anymore. A Little Life is literally like walking down stairs coated in broken glass barefoot into the vast depths of hell with no end or light or hope in sight.

This is not a book to read if you have any kind of major depressive issues.

I would not recommend this book to a single human being.

Ever.


* I’ve marked this as “part one” in case I do decide to go back to this book at a later date in order to try and finish it

 

MANGA MONDAY: Full Moon「complete series review」

This February, I’m planning on exclusively romance manga for my #MangaMonday posts and I thought, what better way to start off this theme than to post about the series that started my obsession.

Full Moon by Tanemura Arina was the first every manga I read start to finish. I was 12 when I first borrowed it from a friend at summer camp and the weeb days began. The series follows Mitsuki, a young girl with a tumour in her throat that keeps her from her dreams of being a pop star. When two shinigami (gods of death) named Meroko and Takuto come to her and let her know she only has one year left, she convinces them to let her live her dream and transform her into a healthy 17-year-old singer so she has the chance.

Image result for takuto kira
Takuto and Mitsuki are legit the cutest ever.

Full Moon is a beautiful story about love and passion and the things we are willing to do to make the world a happier place. Mitsuki is a sweet, innocent, caring little girl who only wants love and happiness but is willing to really work for it. And let’s be real, Takuto was the cutest manga boy I’d ever seen in my life at the time when I was reading and re-reading this series over and over again.

The elements of loss are also vital to this series and Tanemura captures the pain and the grief so beautifully as Mitsuki struggles with her own looming death on the horizon of her success as a pop star. Throw some of the most gorgeous, original artwork I’ve ever seen in my life, and there is nothing more to say about Full Moon.

The series originally ran from 2005 to 2006 and got a really lame anime adaptation (I, personally, love it, but I’m being honest when I say it is not good) so technically it’s an old classic at this point. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was out of print these days but if you’re able to and want a sappy love story that will have you sobbing for the entirety of the last volume, I implore you to find it and read it and then email me immediately to yell about it.

REVIEW: No Longer Human

#MangaMonday has been shifted to Wednesday, because the title for this week is actually an adaptation of the amazing, semi-autobiographical novel No Longer Human by Dazai Osamu.

I also would like to mention trigger warnings for this novel include suicide and sexual assault (both implied and actual).


No Longer Human is the story of the narrator finding lost journals from a man named Oda Yozo, and following him through his struggles at simply existing around human beings. Yozo has never felt he fit in with the world, let alone just the space he occupied. He was easily taken advantage of and quickly found himself in barely escapable failures.

The novel is a complicated one, at first reading like little more than a depressing tragedy of a time where mental health care didn’t exist at all, resulting in the sad existence of Yozo. I actually had to read this a few times for the words to sink in, and upon re-reading, feel that the true meaning of the story is to be more aware of the people around us. It’s a story about loneliness and how that feeling is exacerbated when you can’t understand the social cues that berate you every waking moment. The lines about depression, about what it means to long for non-existence as opposed to outright death (which is the way I personally read it – suicidal ideation over suicidal intention). Yet our protagonist is so overwhelmed and sad that his ideations actually become failed truths again and again and again.

In a weird way, I find this novel surprisingly comforting in that it gives voice to some very real feelings that I’ve had to deal with myself. While I was reading a translation, I feel that Donald Keene did an incredible job of capturing Dazai’s essence and his emotion in the words and one day I really do hope that my Japanese reaches the point where I can read the original.

While I wouldn’t recommend this book to a single person I know, it is just so touching and important to me.