Tuesday, August 23, 2016

You Will Know Me

Megan Abbott is steadily establishing herself as the voice of authority re: teenage girls in contemporary literature.  She burst on to my scene in 2012 with Dare Me, about a group of cheerleaders and their coach, then The Fever, about a town where the girls are overcome by these mysterious seizures.  In the early aughts, she wrote hardboiled feminist pulpy noir that looks pretty interesting (let me know if you've read them and have a suggestion on where to start!)  

You Will Know Me is about another athlete, a 15 year-old gymnast and Olympic hopeful.  Like her other recent books, it's a bit of a mystery, although these three books defy traditional sorting into genres.  It's told from the perspective of Katie, the gymnast's mother, who tries hard to rise about the other mothers' "sports mom" coterie.  "The other parents always tried to do this. To drag her into their little circle, their gym drama, their coven rubbing their hands over their water bottles, fire burn and cauldron bubble." Katie and her husband have been devoting themselves to Devon's career since she was four years old - they're in debt and they have no free time because they're always driving her to either her expensive lessons or to meets across the country.

Reading this while the Rio Olympics were happening gave me a little extra insight into one of the themes of Abbott's book - the body of the devoted gymnast.  "Less than five feet tall, a hard, smooth shell of a body. Hipless, breastless still, but the way she's transformed her body in the last two years, thighs like trunks, shoulders and biceps straining her tank-top straps, staggered Katie."  I found myself so amazed to see how unusual Olympic athletes body's look - the triangles of swimmers' torsos, the dramatic profiles of the gymnasts: flat fronts, perky tushes, those legs...!  Their bodies are like objects of consumption over the course of the Olympics, all of us staring, staggered ourselves.

Like The Fever and Dare Me, You Will Know Me is a quick read and usually devoured in a sitting or two.  Abbott's recall of the pain of teenager-ness is spot-on. Her obsessive girls are so perfectly captured it carries me right back to my own tortured teenage years with embarrassing clarity.  I'm excited to see what she'll write next!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

According to the internets, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is The Greatest Spy Novel of All Time. Having gotten a bug in my bonnet to read my first (surely not, but I think so?) spy novel, I succumbed.  If it is the greatest spy novel of all time, all other spy novels are beyond terrible.  For one thing, there's hardly any spy stuff in it.  This dude just pretends to get himself fired from his British intelligence job so the Russians will pick him up and make him an informant.

It was written in 1963 so it's obviously a little dated. John le CarrĂ©  also wrote that horrible, incomprehensible Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so I probably should have known better.  Apparently the book had some cultural impact back in the sixties re: idealism and perceived moral values of Western espionage.  I suppose people coming off the high of moral superiority post-WWII must have met with some surprise that the shady actions of our government weren't born in the purest intentions.

Do you know there are hardly any spy books by ladies?  I ordered one by Stella Remington - At Risk - haven't started yet.  If anyone has any good recommendations, please let me know!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Somehow I did not quite understand that JK Rowling did not actually write Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but merely "collaborated" with Jack Thorne.  That was disappointing, I'll admit.  Even though the new book/play is touted as "The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later" what we have is officially sanctioned fan fiction.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Plenty of literary critics love crowing about what a terrible author J.K. Rowling is - she was described as "artless" in a recent New Yorker, for example - I whole-heartedly disagree, I'm quite fond of Rowling's style and storytelling, and I'm a big fan of her work under the nom de plume Robert Gilbraith. While Thorne does an excellent job capturing the voice of beloved characters, I thought his stage direction was absurd ("And with that, time moves ever onwards - ALBUS's eyes become darker, his face grows more sallow. He's still an attractive boy, but he's trying not to admit it."), but then again, I am an utter classicist when it comes to stage direction.  His story is clumsy and way too long (for a play) and I honestly couldn't recommend reading it.  However, there were a few things I found very interesting:

Firstly, I really love that a play is doing this well - the book sold 2 million copies in 2 days, surely the first time that's ever happened for a play.  I love reading plays, but they do take some adjusting to, and I think it's great that children are embracing the medium.  Said my 10 year old friend, "At first I thought it would be really hard, but then I didn't even notice!" and then I said, "Shut your adorable face! No spoilers!"  What I found interesting as a reader was that all kinds of crazy stunts are going on on-stage - spells, people flying, multiple UNDERWATER scenes, all of which you can read on two levels:  1. I'm just reading a book and stuff happens. 2. I'm reading a play and I'm trying to imagine how this will be carried out on stage.

Secondly, plays are meant to be performed, and reading a play is always secondary to watching a play.  This play looks like it would be pretty amazing to see, assuming they pull off half the effects.  Apparently it is selling out in its current West-End production at the Palace Theatre in London, and GET THIS:  You buy a ticket for two shows - Part 1 starts at 2pm and is 2 hrs and 40 mins long.  Then you leave, then you come back for Part II, a 7:30 show, which is 2 hrs and 35 mins long!  I am agog.  I mean, that is some Philip-Glass-marathon asses-in-seats shit there and I did not know the contemporary theater-goer had it in him, much less, presumably: Children?  I'm not sure I have it in me, and I love both theatre and Harry Potter.  BTW, prices are between 30-140 pounds. That's $38-180USD.  Actually, the dollar doing very well against the pound right now thanks to Brexit and worldwide financial collapse so... book your tickets?