Monday, June 13, 2022

Book 326: Polite Society

 


"As Dimple waited for Fahim, she doubted Ania's wisdom for the first time. There was no convincing reason why Fahim would be attracted to a woman like her, obviously provincial, still at times cloddish, when he had the pick of those sophisticated gazelles at media parties. Ania had kept insisting that she could see the signs. but Dimple was worried about the dangers of being wrong. It had taken her months of discipline and training to calm the anxieties that assailed her—worries about her position as some kind of interloper—and now her equilibrium was again wrecked. Ania was too fearless and her friendship too effortless, spilling from her without consequence, leaving a trail of easy generosity and advice. For Dimple that same friendship offered elation and play, but also apprehension and uncertainty, a fear that it would all collapse and crumble to dust."

Dates read: July 9-12, 2019

Rating: 7/10

A few years before I started this blog, I started making a concerted effort to read the much-bemoaned classics. I wasn't an English major (Psychology for me!), so apart from the standard high school mandatories like Gatsby and Mockingbird, I had read actually quite few of them. And what a surprise it was! While some of them deserve their boring reputations, many others have survived the test of time because they're wonderful reading experiences. Turns out I love Jane Austen! Who knew?

When she wrote Emma, Austen famously described her as a heroine that she didn't think people would really like. A smart, pretty, rich girl isn't exactly the most sympathetic of heroines. Clueless proved that Emma could hold up well to adaptation, so when I read that Mahesh Rao had decided to transplant the book to modern-day India in Polite Society, I was curious. Instead of Emma Woodhouse, we have Ania Khurana, beloved daughter of wealthy businessman Dileep. Ania is bored with her socialite life in the most elite circles of Delhi, and when she successfully sets up her spinster aunt Renu, she decides her next project will be her new friend Dimple, who works in PR. Dimple grew up in the country, and though she met a nice guy, Ankit, when she first moved to the city, finds it hard to resist when Ania tries to steer her towards up-and-coming reporter Fahim.

While many aspects of the original are here, Rao puts his own, darker spin on some of the side characters: both the Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax types have very different storylines than Austen gave them, and Dileep is drawn dangerously into the thrall of a faith healer type called Mr. Nayak. The broad strokes of the story play out more or less as expected, though: Fahim does not fall for Dimple and marries impulsively shortly thereafter, Ania grows closer to her longtime family friend Dev (standing in for Mr. Knightly) even as she develops a flirtation with the Frank substitute, Dimple and Ankit come back to each other eventually. But while Austen wraps things up neatly and happily, it's much more unsettled at the end of Polite Society.

Taking a beloved story and adapting it is a tricky thing to do...too close to the original, and it barely seems worth the effort, but too far away and you risk enraging fans. I think Rao struck a good balance, adding plot twists that gave the story new complexity. I especially liked the addition of perspectives besides that of Ania, which had the effect of giving Dimple, Dileep, and even Fahim so much more richness and interest. I appreciated the generally edgier tone and the way it undercut a story that has a lot of romantic wish fulfillment and froth built into it. The story the book tells is compelling, and I think would work even without having read Emma (though the understanding that the heroine is supposed to be kind of annoying is definitely helpful to come in with).

While I enjoyed a lot of what this book did, it was not entirely successful. Rao's prose lacks the wit and verve that really mark Austen as a master of her craft, and is less charming as a result of the inevitable comparison. And while many of the side stories were a welcome addition, it felt like there were too many to give them all time to really develop. The generally lightweight tone of the book (even in the heavier way Rao rendered it) would be compromised by the addition of too many extra pages, but I think another 50 or so would have given it all a little more room to breathe. Overall, though, I found this book very good and would recommend it both to those who already love Emma and those who haven't experienced it yet!

One year ago, I was reading: The Death of Vivek Oji

Two years ago, I was reading: A Perfect Explanation

Three years ago, I was reading: The Coming Plague

Four years ago, I was reading: Love Medicine

Five years ago, I was reading: The Man Without A Face

Six years ago, I was reading: Zodiac

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Book 325: Washington Black

 


"How strange, I thought, looking upon his sad, kind face, that this man had once been my entire world, and yet we could come to no final understanding of one another. He was a man who’d done far more than most to end the suffering of a people whose toil was the very source of his power; he had risked his own good comfort, the love of his family, his name. He had saved my very flesh, taken me away from certain death. His harm, I thought, was in not understanding that he still had the ability to cause it."

Dates read: July 5-9, 2019

Rating: 6/10

It's been shown time and time again that dehumanization is a crucial aspect of the commission of atrocities. Calling other people animals, or insects, thinking of them that way, makes it easier to rationalize cruelties towards them. But we don't as often consider the other side of it. To be dehumanized has recognizable effects on the perpetrator, but what about the recipient? How do people come to absorb that conception of themselves?

What would it mean to be born into a system where your humanity wasn't recognized, to have no "before" to remember your full self existing in? Esi Edugyan's Washington Black explores the life of the titular character, called "Wash" for short, born into slavery on a sugar plantation in Barbados owned by a cruel man called Erasmus. His life changes forever when he's 11, when Erasmus's brother Christopher ("Titch") comes to visit, and Wash and his mother-figure, Big Kit, who work in the fields, are asked to help serve dinner in the house. Titch asks for the use of Wash while he's on the plantation, to assist him in his experiments, and this leads to the first time in his life that Wash is treated at all like a person. While Titch has tasks for him to perform, he's allowed to get regular sleep, to think about whether he likes the food in front of him, and a previously undiscovered talent for drawing is developed and acknowledged. But then there's a death, and Wash is blamed, and he and Titch are on the run.

Once they read the United States, Wash is given the opportunity to be transported to freedom in Canada through the Underground Railroad. But he sticks with Titch, and the two of them are pursued by a slave hunter while trying to uncover what really happened when Titch and Erasmus's father disappeared and reportedly died. Eventually, they are separated, and Wash is on his own for the first time in his life. He ends up in Nova Scotia, where he meets Tanna, the daughter of an oceanographer, and their growing bond, as well as Wash's gift for illustration, earns him an invite to travel with them to England, where Wash plunges deeper into a search for answers about his life.

The coverage I'd heard of this book before I picked it up made it sound like an adventure story, which I was not particularly excited about. And it partly is: the portion of the book where Titch and Wash are on the run, making up much but not all of the first half, is quick-paced and the atmosphere of suspense that Edugyan creates as they try to stay ahead of their tracker was engaging. But the back half of the novel becomes much more languid, turning inward as Wash begins to really examine himself and build a self-concept. This is usually the kind of thing I eat up, I love novels rooted in psychological realism! But I think the pacing of the book was damagingly uneven. After the brisk energy of the first half, the slow-down makes the book feel like it's dragging and it began to seem like a slog to get through.

Which is unfortunate, because Edugyan is a beautiful writer. Her prose is elegant and insightful, and she does wonderful character work with Wash, whose journey towards personal understanding is moving. I do wish she'd done more with the character of Tanna, who starts out dynamic and winds up in a role as Wash's emotional supporter that feels cliche and reductive. Once Titch leaves the narrative, though, so does much of the tension driving the plot forward, and to have that momentum built and then lost unfortunately undermines the strength of the work as a whole. It has brilliant moments, and I'd still say it was pretty good, but the pacing issues kept it from greatness. I'd look forward to reading more work from Edugyan in the future, and this book does have merit and is worth reading if you're interested in it, but it's too unbalanced to really affirmatively recommend.  

One year ago, I was reading: Throne of Glass

Two years ago, I was reading: The Moor's Account

Three years ago, I was reading: There There

Four years ago, I was reading: Motherless Brooklyn

Five years ago, I was reading: In The Skin Of A Lion

Six years ago, I was reading: The Name Of The Rose

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Book 324: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

 


"But even so, every now and then I would feel a violent stab of loneliness. The very water I drink, the very air I breathe, would feel like long, sharp needles. The pages of a book in my hands would take on the threatening metallic gleam of razor blades. I could hear the roots of loneliness creeping through me when the world was hushed at four o'clock in the morning." 

Dates read: June 27-July 5, 2019

Rating: 7/10

Lists/awards: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

Sometimes I feel like living in the era of technology has robbed the world of its magic. Anyone with an internet connection can have access to what once were locals-only "secret" places. A rational explanation for something odd is almost always just a google away. You can have access to scads of information about almost anyone you meet in minutes. There's so little room left for actual mystery.

I remember reading somewhere that Haruki Murakami's books are among the most-stolen from bookstores. I'm not sure why that is, but there's no denying that the Japanese author has very devoted fans. Reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was my first experience with him, and left me both sort of getting it and sort of not. It's a hard story to describe: there's a guy, Toru Okada, who lives outside of Tokyo with his wife, Kumiko, and their cat (which they've named Noboru Wataya, after her disliked brother) has gone missing. Toru has recently left his longtime job in a lawyer's office, but is unemployed while he tries to figure out what's next. Kumiko wants him to find the cat, and his searches for it lead him to strike up an acquaintance with a strange teenage girl, May, who lives down the block. That's when the phone calls start.

First, there's a woman who says she knows who he is and starts talking dirty to him. But then there's a psychic, a woman named Malta Kano, who explains that Kumiko has reached out to her to help with locating the cat. Kumiko and her family believe in things like psychics, having previously arranged for Kumiko and Toru to spend time with an old man called Mr. Honda, allegedly for spiritual consultations...but all that actually happens is that he repeatedly tells them about his experiences as a soldier in Manchuria during World War II. Toru meets with Malta Kano, and her sister, Cresta, but before long Kumiko herself disappears. She sends Toru a letter explaining that she's left him for a coworker with whom she's been having an affair, but he doesn't believe this and decides to try to find her, which brings him into contact with even more strange people, including a mother and son who he calls Nutmeg and Cinnamon. And appearing throughout is the sound of a bird, that sounds like something mechanical being wound.

This is a weird book, and I'm not sure I entirely understand it. It's one of those that you finish and almost want to flip right back to the beginning and start again, to see if it makes any more sense the second time through. I think there will be a second time through, though certainly not now. And there will definitely be more Murakami. If I had to chose a single word to describe it, it would be "dream-like". The way Murakami uses language and builds the world of the book create a feeling of constant loose connection, almost a structured free association, in which the concept that would tie everything together is just tantalizingly out of reach. It works well, and I found myself turning the pages and getting drawn further and further into it, though I suspected (correctly) that not everything was going to be tied up in a neat bow by the end.

Honestly, though, once I finished it, though I felt like I liked it, I have had a hard time articulating exactly why. It was obtuse, the female characters were largely underdeveloped (though I did love May), and it felt like some storylines were just dropped like hot potatoes. But despite its flaws, it's strangely compelling. There's something magical and mysterious about the world as Murakami creates it, and it did get me thinking about some of the deeper themes that were explored, like our obligations to each other as people and the nature of power in relationships. It's intellectually engaging despite the kind of haziness about it. If you're ready for something non-traditional, I would recommend this book.

One year ago, I was reading: Tooth and Claw

Two years ago, I was reading: Year of Wonders

Three years ago, I was reading: Delirium

Four years ago, I was reading: Boy, Snow, Bird

Five years ago, I was reading: Mrs. Dalloway

Six years ago, I was reading: Spinster

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Two Months In The Life: April and May 2022


I had such good intentions of getting back on a regular posting schedule! But life with a new baby is unpredictable so here we are again at the end of two months of radio silence, and this time I am not going to be dumb and promise anything about my posting schedule going forward! Things have been happening and I have done at least some reading though, so here's what's been going on.

In Books...

  • Bluebeard's Egg: I'm not a huge fan of short stories, but I AM a huge fan of Margaret Atwood, so I've acquired several of her collections. Like most short stories, I found these uneven, but her writing is so good that even the lesser stories are still very solid. 
  • Tuck Everlasting: Since my brain is still a little overwhelmed, I've been more inclined than usual towards less complex books. This is a childhood classic that I never actually read, and while I think middle school me would have found the question it raises about immortality to be powerful, adult me found the central romantic attraction between a 12 year-old and a 17 year-old to be kind of creepy. 
  • Everyone Wants To Be Me Or Do Me: I've long enjoyed Tom and Lorenzo's fashion blogging, so I was curious about their first book about celebrity culture, published nearly a decade ago. That it was pretty harsh, more so than is currently in vogue, wasn't surprising given the tone of their commentary at that point. What was surprising in a disappointing way was that it just...wasn't very funny. It was the same joke, essentially, throughout the entire book and it got old fast.
  • The DUFF: While there's definitely YA out there that has strong appeal across age lines, this is definitely one that will likely appeal most to actual teenagers. It's evident from the beginning where things will end up, and the drama feels silly in a way that's dumb even for high school.
  • The Princess Saves Herself In This One: I will freely admit that I am Bad At Poetry, but I really liked this collection, framing trauma through a fairy tale lens. It got a lot of flack for being more form than substance but I found it affecting.
  • Pointe: This is actually a great example of YA that's doing a bit more. In fact, my main criticism of the book is that it has a few too many layers. Theo is one of the very few students of color in her high school, the only Black ballerina at her studio, has a history of disordered eating, has a best friend who disappeared and suddenly returns, is coming to terms with the idea that the relationship she had with an older guy when she was 13 was not the consensual love affair she thought of it as, and is developing feelings for a classmate with a girlfriend. I wish it had been pitched as an adult novel, and given more room to breathe, because it's good even though it's a little underbaked in some respects.
  • The Virgin's Lover: I usually enjoy Philippa Gregory's Tudor books in a guilty pleasure kind of way, but this one was a miss. It dramatizes the love triangle of Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley, and his wife Amy Dudley. Amy was a doormat, Robert was smug, and Elizabeth was a wreck, none of which makes for a compelling character.

 


In Life...

  • We all got COVID: After two-plus years of pandemic and vaccines and a booster shot, we finally ran out of luck and the virus went through the house. The baby actually had the easiest time of all, a brief low fever and sniffles. I felt like I had a bad sinus infection. My husband felt like he had a bad flu. But we all recovered, and I'm hoping with continued precautions we don't have to go through this again.
  • I went back to work: I was actually supposed to end my maternity leave the week I got sick, so I had an extra week at home with C. It's been weird to be back, in both good and bad ways. I'm quite lucky in that my retired in-laws are taking care of the baby, so I know I'm leaving him with people who love him very much, but of course I miss him terribly...but also appreciate being able to talk to adults about things besides diapers.

One Thing:

I love magazines but am terrible at actually reading them so I had a million back issues of Vanity Fair piled up that I started working my way through during maternity leave and honestly it's my favorite magazine...especially once I gave myself permission to skip the articles about things I don't really care about. But it's hard, because even if I think I don't care the writers for VF are GOOD and sometimes I wind up caring after all!

Gratuitous Pug Picture:

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Two Months In The Life: February and March 2022


 

Well, that was an unexpected hiatus. I thought to myself surely that I'd still have the time to work on the blog once the baby was here since so much of my content is pre-written and OF COURSE I'd be able to steal a little bit of time here and there for the rest of it. Ha. Hahaha! My life is lived on whims that are not my own so posting is going to be realllll slow around here for a while.

In Books...

  • Founding Mothers: This account of the Revolutionary War era based on the lives of the women (wives and mothers, usually) of the Founding Fathers was interesting enough but never actually compelling. I did learn more about what a crap husband Ben Franklin was (extremely) and was introduced to Eliza Pinckney, who was genuinely fascinating, but the reality is that there are few enough documents by these women in their own words that the ones for whom the most exist, like Abigail Adams, dominate the narrative.
  • The Inheritance of Loss: I had high hopes for this one, as a Booker Prize winner written by an Indian author (a micro-category that has historically worked well for me!). But it turns out it is mostly one straightforward thesis (more or less that colonialism/imperialism are bad because they teach the oppressed to love their oppressors and hate themselves) turned into a nearly 400-page novel with thin, underdeveloped characters and little in the way of actual plot. There are occasional beautiful turns of phrase, but not enough to salvage it.
  • Luster: This was a book club pick that I missed the discussion for because I was in the hospital! I found it to be more interesting in theory than actuality, if that makes sense. The idea of a story about a young self-destructive and underemployed Black woman who ends up in the middle of a white couple's open marriage feels rich, and while the narrative occasionally lives up to its potential, it also seems to rely a lot on the reader filling in additional context and nuance.
  • Made-Up: I don't know what I was expecting from this book that bills itself as addressing beauty culture in our current era, but it wasn't a collection of very short essays that touch as much on Grimes and the first child she had with Elon Musk as they do on YouTube beauty gurus. The writing quality is high, but the essays are too short to ever really go anywhere and often feel repetitive. 
  • The Duke & I: I knew I wasn't going to have a lot of time for my preferred ponderous bummers, so before I had the baby I downloaded a couple collections of the books that are the basis for the Bridgerton series on Netflix, which I very much enjoyed last year. The first book was honestly much less interesting than the show, which had more nuanced and complex characters. I've heard the second one is much better so I'm going to keep reading the series because my brain needs fun stuff right now.
  • Fire On Ice: This was the autobiography Sasha Cohen, one of my all-time favorite skaters, "wrote" (it seems like probably mostly dictated to a ghostwriter) after her silver medal in Torino. Y'all, it's basically a book-length Wikipedia article. No tea is spilled, no secrets are shared. The most interesting thing in it is that Sasha loves ice cream. 
  • Small Spaces: I loved Katherine Arden's Winternight series, so was curious about her MG/YA series and her writing has lost none of its charm despite the obvious reduction in narrative complexity. It's a kind of horror-lite (like, Goosebumps-level scary) with strong emphasis on family bonds and unexpected friendships. Definitely a book I would recommend for the actual audience that adults can appreciate as well!

In Life...

  • I had a baby: Cal was born on February 15th and he is the cutest and most wonderful and also most time-consuming. He's six weeks old and we are exhausted but happy that he is here with us!
  • Home repair hell: We had an interesting time of it after we got home with Cal! First our dryer went out, and it turned out it was because the heat sensor got tripped because there was a tiny fire in the lint vent! Scary! And then after that, our water heater (which we knew was old but found out was from 1996!) went on the fritz and it took about a week for it to get replaced through our home warranty and do you know how much it turns out you need hot water for when you have a newborn? It turns out a LOT! 

One Thing:

Let's talk about post-partum mood disorders, y'all. I have a long history of depression, and that was a part of what I felt after Cal was born, but more punishing than that was the incredible anxiety I was going through. I was terrified that every decision I made was the wrong one, that I was going to put my baby in danger because I wasn't washing my hands often enough (I was washing them so often I gave myself broken and scaly patches), or wasn't sterilizing bottles after every wash, or wasn't watching him closely enough and he was going to slump wrong and suffocate. I talked to my OB and was put on medication and I don't feel 100% again, but I feel like a person who is anxious rather than a bundle of anxiety with legs. I am a better mom because I'm not crying all the time. If you've had a baby and feel like you're not in a good headspace, there's help. Talk to your OB or pediatrician, or reach out for support. It's hard, but it's the first step down the road to feeling better.

Gratuitous Baby Picture (don't worry, we'll be doing pug pictures again too):



Thursday, February 17, 2022

Book 323: Amsterdam

 

“As far as the welfare of every other living form on earth was concerned, the human project was not just a failure, it was a mistake from the very beginning.”

Dates read: June 25-27, 2019

Rating: 6/10

Lists: Booker Prize, The New York Times best-seller

Few things are more satisfying than boiling hot self-righteousness. If there's a drug that gives you that feeling of someone else being not just incorrect, but morally wrong, and being about to shove it in their face that you're a better person than they are, please no one tell me. I will become an addict. Of course, we all know that it is almost inevitably followed by realizing that you are not quite in fact as heroic as you felt, nor is the other person the literal spawn of Satan. But it's a heady rush while it lasts.

Even long-standing friendships aren't immune from misunderstanding and resentments. In Ian McEwan's Amsterdam, two old friends meet at the funeral of a woman they each had loved once. But it isn't the free-spirited Molly, now gone after a brief but terrible bout of dementia, that drives apart Vernon, the editor of a struggling London newspaper, and Clive, a respected composer. They've long since come to terms with that part of their lives. Neither of them can much understand what she ever saw in another one of her former lovers, who also attends the funeral: Julian, a conservative politician whose policy stances would seem to be anathema to Molly's guiding principles of love and acceptance. Nor can they understand why she married George, who seemed bent on controlling her and molding her into conventional respectability. Like many friends, Vernon and Clive have gone through cycles of being more or less close over the years, and the funeral pushes them back into each other's orbit. Spooked by the circumstances of Molly's death, each promises that if the other were to be in a similar state of decline, they would help the end come quicker.

Not long afterwards, both men find themselves in a position to have to make a moral choice. Vernon is given photographs that Molly took of Julian during their relationship...photos that his support base would find shocking. These photos would solidify Vernon's position at the paper by boosting circulation and catapult him into the spotlight after a lifetime of toiling away in relative obscurity. Clive has received a prestigious government commission to compose a piece to celebrate the millennium, and struggles for inspiration until, when taking a hike while out of town, he sees a man attack a woman on the trail. Finding himself suddenly able to see where he wants his symphony to go, he ignores the situation and doesn't report what he saw to the police. Clive is aghast that Vernon would even consider publishing the photos of someone else's private, intimate moments. Vernon is insistent that Clive report what he saw and face responsibility for his failure to intervene on behalf of the woman and keeping what he witnessed from law enforcement. The two are bitterly estranged.

This book is so short as to practically be a novella. That doesn't limit the impact of McEwan's satire, though. If you have ever known a pompous middle-aged man, Vernon and Clive are pitch-perfect. Both ruminate on the clarity of the situation facing the other, while running themselves ragged in the mental gymnastics required to justify their own choices. Each can only see the ways in which they themselves have been good, devoted friends, while the other has taken advantage of their generosity. But that's kind of one of the issues: character. While obviously something this brief and with this perspective isn't out for a deep character study, Vernon and Clive are basically the same person. And George, who shows up to create havoc throughout, seems more like a plot device than a human. I never found anyone compelling enough to really care about how it would end up.

How it ends up is a little too tidy and convenient, for that matter. And the pacing is odd...it drags and feels bloated (despite its brevity) in places, but the conclusion feels rushed. It's not without its clever moments and witty turns of phrase, but it really feels like an excellent short story concept that got padded into a decent-but-unspectacular short novel. It's worth a try (the upside of having such a low page count is that even if it doesn't work, it shouldn't take long to finish), but there are sharper, funnier satires out there. 

One year ago, I was reading: The Eyre Affair

Two years ago, I was reading: The Year of Reading Dangerously

Three years ago, I was reading: Daisy Jones & The Six

Four years ago, I was reading: My Name is Venus Black

Five years ago, I was reading: Nefertiti

Six years ago, I was reading: The Namesake

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Book 322: American Psycho

 

"There wasn’t a clear, identifiable emotion within me, except for greed and, possibly, total disgust. I had all the characteristics of a human being—flesh, blood, skin, hair—but my depersonalization was so intense, had gone so deep, that the normal ability to feel compassion had been eradicated, the victim of a slow, purposeful erasure. I was simply imitating reality, a rough resemblance of a human being, with only a dim corner of my mind functioning. Something horrible was happening and yet I couldn’t figure out why—I couldn’t put my finger on it." 

Dates read: June 21-25, 2019

Rating: 6/10

The trouble with having grown up prior to the YA boom is that when I was a teenager, once you ran out of the Lois Duncan, R.L Stine, and Sweet Valley High books, there wasn't a lot left. That's a bit of an oversimplification (the excellent Speak came out when I was in 9th grade, and obviously the Harry Potter series as well), but not too much. So I read a lot of adult literature. Some of which was just too complicated for me (I gave up about 60 pages into Anna Karenina), some of which went over my head, but a lot of which enriched my mind and expanded my boundaries! As a result of that experience, I've always been strongly opposed to any sort of censorship of teen reading...making sure you know what your kid is reading and talk to them about it, sure, but the reading is the important part.

I didn't think I would ever read anything that would make me think that an age restriction for a book could be realistically justified. And then I read Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho. Patrick Bateman (older brother of The Rules of Attraction's Sean Bateman) is a New York City banking bro in the 1980s. It would seem like he has a pretty great life: his job is prestigious and pays well, he has a pretty fiancee, he works out regularly and is in good shape, he has a nice apartment. But what Patrick also has going on is a gnawing emptiness at his center, and violent urges he's not quite able to control. He lashes out at first against the powerless: poor people, prostitutes. But his need to hurt people escalates farther and farther until he's committing actual atrocities against even people he knows, while somehow still trying to keep it together enough to go to work and live his life as normally as possible.

I'm not usually overly puritanical about depictions of sex and violence in books. Sex and violence are (fortunately and unfortunately, respectively) parts of life. And I'd seen the movie! I thought I had a handle on what was in store. But this book doesn't just flounce right over the line of being gratuitous, it goes into actively stomach-churning territory. There are things I read in this book that gave me pictures in my head I will never unsee and honestly gave me heaves. And part of it, I think, is deliberate...besides being just gross, the book is also a razor-sharp satire. A recurring motif are Bateman's much-stressed-about trips to the video store, where he rents violent pornography which desensitizes him both towards normal sex and violence against women. Living in a culture where depictions of outlandish acts of sex and violence are easy to access means that it requires yet more extreme examples to achieve the titillating/disturbing effect...examples, of course, that the text itself provides. It's clever, if also very off-putting.

I had a really hard time deciding how I felt about this book. As a cutting send-up of the consumer culture of the 1980s, particularly in the heart of the NYC finance scene, it was extremely effective and often entertaining. The agonies about getting a table at the latest bougie restaurant serving the most unappetizing-seeming "exotic" food combinations were dead on. The way the book played with identity, with Patrick both constantly mistaking people he sees for people he knows and being wrong, and himself being called by the incorrect name, because as seriously as he takes his outfits (most of which are described in detail), the end result is that he looks just like everyone else, was smart and insightful. I would be pulled in and admiring the craft of it...and then there would be a gruesome murder and I would pulled back out again.

Even just skimming much of the over-the-top portions of the book (it gets worse and worse as it goes along), it was a reading experience I found really difficult. This book has age restrictions for access in several countries, and I'm actually not mad about it. I might have found one of the few things I actually don't think a teenager should read without an adult having to be a part of the process. I don't know that I would affirmatively recommend that anyone read this book, it's that messed up. Which is a pity, because the parts of it that are satirical are incredibly well-executed (pun sort-of intended) and effective. But the rest of it is just too much. Yes, it's worse than the movie. Much, much worse. If your interest in still piqued and you have an iron stomach, there is merit here. But be prepared. 

One year ago, I was reading: The Leftovers

Two years ago, I was reading: The Lives of Tudor Women

Three years ago, I was reading: Forest Dark

Four years ago, I was reading: Wonder Boys

Five years ago, I was reading: Between the World and Me

Six years ago, I was reading: Ahab's Wife