What I've Been Reading: March Edition
I Might Be Mistaken by Barbara Duffey

I dug through yards of disintegrating

feces around the ruins of the temple's

outbuilding, all decked out in goat shit dust. ("Hircine")


Barbara is more of a narrative poet than I am, by which I mean she tells stories. Her images and revelations startle because they are so apt and, often, shockingly personal or, simply, shocking in the audacity of what's said (and how what's said is never expected). She'll dice up a story into bite-sized chunks, then twist them around so even though the story's still coming through straight at you, you receive a series of aftershocks rather than an earthquake (the latter likely coming at the end).


Say, This is the Yellowstone Park of her body, doctor;

welcome, and enjoy your stay, but Can I confess

what I haven't done, might not have done, am waiting for


the results of? ("To My Various Bodily Fluids, While Being Tested")


The Weapon Makers by A. E. van Vogt


We have talked about The Weapon Makers. It's that book where medical science has given up on women, but time travel is possible. See here.


Carry On by Rainbow Rowell


Rainbow Rowell wrote a book called Fangirl which is awesome and you all should go out and buy it and read it right away. The main character in that book writes extremely popular fanfiction for a Harry Potter-like mega-franchise, and throughout that book we get snippets of her writing, though the book itself isn't about the fanfiction really but Cath's experience of going to college finding how she fits in there. Those snippets, though, were amazing.


In Carry On those snippets are expanded into a book. And the resulting novel is delicious and sad and real and terrifying. Admittedly, I love all of the the Rowell books I've read, and what I love most about her books are her characters, but still the world she creates here is really interesting, and also impressive for how she condenses the essence of a seven-book series into a single, complete work.


The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos


This is a book about a stone heart broken in half, and how that heart leads a girl on a quest to find her missing father.


From that summary, you might think the book is fantasy of some kind, but it is solidly in the mystery/detective vein. The fantasy comes through only in flashbacks of stories that the father told the daughter, and those magical realist moments are amazing and beautiful and stunning and unsettling.


Podos' book (the actual plotline) is also those things, just firmly in the real world. She creates flawed characters, and doesn't let them unflaw, but makes us care deeply about them anyway (all of them).


Shadow Man by Gabriel Blackwell


As far as I can tell, Blackwell has a penchant for writing novels that interact and grow from other novels/works of art. The first book of his I read was The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting-Improvised-Men: The Last Letter of H.P. Lovecraft and he has a third book, a collection of stories, which announces in its name his intention to riff off of other people's writings (it's called Critique of Pure Reason).


This book takes a character from The Maltese Falcon and meshes him with the lives of real noir detective-fiction writers, stirring them all up into a single noir fantasy centered around personhood and deception. It's a dizzying read. I prefer The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting-Improvised-Men, though I'm not sure if that's because he improved as a writer between his first and second novels, or if the latter's subject matter is simply more interesting to me. Still, in many ways, if a work of art confuses me or resists interpretation then I'm likely to enjoy it.


This has been enjoyed.


Teleny and Camille by Jon Macy


M picked this up at a convention she went to recently. It's a graphic novel retelling/distilling a novel written by Oscar Wilde and his friends which describes a love affair between Teleny and Camille, two gay men living in London when homosexuality was punishable by imprisonment. It's basically a sex fantasy, though the sex in the original novel (according to Macy) was mostly evoked through fanciful language rather than graphic description.


Macy does not avoid graphic description (or graphic drawings). There is a particularly frightening poodle with an erect penis that resurfaces several times. One man uses a bottle as a dildo and it breaks inside him. This is not a book for the weak of heart.


However, the book also disturbed me on other levels, most notably its view of women as basically evil/unpleasant. I imagine this is something conveyed in the original novel, but there's no questioning of it in Macy's book.


Artificial Absolutes by Mary Fan


What most intrigued me about Fan's book (outside of the well-realized characters and intricate, fascinating plot) is the way she used point of view. Most of the novel is a pretty close POV alternating between the perspective of two siblings, Jane and Devin Colt. In those switches, we see how each doesn't quite understand the world of the other, and how those misunderstandings influence their actions.


Now, my tendency as a writer is to always stay with the main character's POV. I want to be locked into this tiny slice of the world, and to have his/her view color the world I'm creating through my words. But in Fan's book there are a number of times she switches to a character who hasn't played any part in the novel yet and probably won't in the future. She does this in order to create mystery, and push forward the plot in a way that she wouldn't be able to if she stuck with the main characters. In many ways, it's obvious manipulation of the reader. Ha! You thought you were going to see what happens personally. Well tough luck! But the manipulation works, and it's something I want to try on my own now, especially for those novel ideas that involve more mystery, where secrets are key.

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