Sunday, January 28, 2018

Gone Girl

I've been recommended Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn severally, and heard praise of it, so I took it off my reading queue and actually read it over winter break. This book is a thriller, and a departure from my usual reading in tone and subject matter. The voice, however, is perfect: unreliable narrators, all the way down, like nesting Russian dolls.

The book is an incredible feat of writing, tightly-plotted, intricately-woven, a virtuosic demonstration of writerly skill in manipulating the readers' attention, curiosity, and mental state. I read it in two sittings, and the one break I took was when one chapter ended in too-dramatic of a cliffhanger; this let me put down the book in disgust at such blatant attention-pandering. (A few hours later I picked it up and finished it.)

That said, I didn't like this book.

It made me feel bad.

First it lured me in, with multiple first-person unreliable narrators and lots of interesting setups for the central mystery (a missing woman). The unreliable narrators are awesomely well-written --- it feels like a true glimpse into another mind, recognizably like my own. The book had several points where characters voiced those little internal thoughts that never rise to enough significance to be mentioned in conversation, but keep cycling back and become normal internal mental refrains. I always wonder how authors manage to figure out such things to add to their writing, and to do it so smoothly that it deeply resonates with me. (Maybe they're trying all the time, and I don't register the notes that fail to resonate?)

Then, it gradually revealed that every. single. character. is a sociopath. Creepily, deviously, ingeniously. (And here I refer to both the characters and to the manner of reveal.) This was haunting, and unsettling, and --- I suppose, to give the genre its due --- thrilling. But horrible. I don't want to have such characters in my imagination, much less in the actual world I inhabit. I was actually upset about choices that these imaginary people were making in order to hurt each other, because I don't want to have such choices happen in the world around me. I don't want people to be evil, I don't want people to be hurt, I don't want people to hate each other. And this book is utterly, cleverly, unerringly twisted; the characters even acknowledge as much to each other:
"You two are the most fucked-up people I have ever met, and I specialize in fucked-up people." (page 415)
The book is a masterpiece of writing, but not the kind of recreational fiction that I ever want to experience. I don't like being frightened or disgusted for fun; I like a challenge, a puzzle, an unreliable narrator, and I don't mind philosophical or ethical quandaries, but I want people to learn and grow and improve. This book doesn't do that; it's purely down, a descent into vicious, bitter, resentful psychosis.

I do not recommend, unless you already know you like the "thriller" genre.

This post's theme word is dysphemism, "a detrimental phrase used deliberately in place of a nicer one." The opposite of euphemism. It's a novel, but I refer to it as "an odious sequence of insidious, brain-infecting, evil words."

Thursday, January 18, 2018

everyone's a aliebn when ur a aliebn too

everyone's a aliebn when ur a aliebn too is a graphic novel by Jonathan Sun. It details the expedition of the main character, an alien sent to Earth to document the habits and peculiarities of humans. The titular alien is unusual, a bit of an outcast even among aliens, and so its expedition to Earth is full of self-doubt and self-reflection.

The book is cute and a very quick read (most pages contain only one or two sentences, with illustrations). It feels calm, simple, and reassuring, and has a strong undercurrent that gives me the sense it is aimed at adults who think about mental health and self-care a lot. It touches on issues of identity, loneliness, death, love, belonging, purpose, and friendship. Also there is one bouncy castle.

I wasn't in the right mood for it, but I'd recommend it anyway. (I was in turn recommended it by Tracy Clayton of the podcast Another Round.)

This post's theme word is verklempt (n), "overcome with emotion; choked up." The aliebn [sic] made many friends and made the reader verklempt throughout its wanderings and musings.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Stunningly efficacious

I have no particular, publicly-declarable goals to commemorate the incrementing of our calendar year, except that --- as always --- I want to hone myself into the startlingly effective, time-efficient, prosperous, merry, well-balanced person that other people (hopefully) think I already am.

I like circuitous sentences and superfluous verbiage, and I refuse to change either of those personal attributes in 2018. Come back and try again in 2019, haters.

Day 1 is marked by a high turnaround of holiday letters and emails, paying bills, updating all my yearly-in-January donations, and staring in awe at the truly prodigious list of half-written draft posts for this blog.

(Sorry about that.)

You, my diligent readers, whether my parents or my overcurious students or internet strangers looking to post advertisements as comments (don't, I delete them and it wastes everyone's time), will simply have to put up with me as I am, striving yet again, always, in a continual manner. I want to write more, and more cleverly, and because this platform is free and quick (except when stuck in draft limbo), it will likely be the recipient of this output.

Although frankly, a lot of it goes to /dev/null right now anyway, and that might be for the best.

My year-end phrase-stuck-in-my-head is "flamboyantly intelligent", which is a descriptor of the kind of people I'd like to surround myself with. Maybe there's a subreddit? I'm on a (mild) quest, in any case; if you find any such people, please send them my way. I am a diligent and snarky correspondent, and I have been told I am secretly kind and caring, but that was 2017 and I am looking to turn over a new leaf, so...

This post's theme word is palilalia (n), "a speech disorder characterized by involuntary repetition of words, phrases, or sentences." I am trying to remember the word for "having a phrase stuck in your head", but all I can come up with is palilalia, which is not-quite-it-but-close-enough-to-blot-it-from-recoverable-memory, plus: contains "lila" as a substring!