Tag Archives: social commentary

Landscape with Invisible Hand

Author: M. T. Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience (for language and dark themes, but mostly for language)

Young artist Adam Costello and his family remember a time when things were different. But it seems like a long time ago, now. Since the vuvv made first contact, bringing promises of new technology and wealth, well, everything has changed–and not for the better. Sure, the ultra-wealthy who live in close contact with the vuvv may have a pretty comfortable life. But for everyone else, the coming of the vuvv has meant nothing but hardship: economic collapse, no jobs, looting, costs of medicine going through the roof. Everyone is forced to make tough choices, and Adam chronicles it all in paint, watercolor, and VR rendering.

On the one hand, I’m not surprised that Landscape with Invisible Hand hasn’t made a big splash in the YA community or in the literary community as a whole. (I hadn’t even heard of it until I stumbled on it in the library, and the average Goodreads rating is only 3.59.) Because while this is a solid dystopian novel (novella, whatever), it’s hitting towards the end of that genre’s popularity storm and the type of dystopian is just enough off from the mainstream that it’s not going to fly so well. Plus, it’s not all mushy romance and fighting the invading hordes. It’s dark and depressing at times. . . . Which brings me to why, on the other hand, I’m shocked that this book hasn’t taken the literary world by storm. Other than the obvious–this is an M. T. Anderson book, people! Why is it not getting attention?! But back to my point: this book is one of the most intentionally, incredibly artistic books I have read in a long time. It delves into the darkness and reveals the underlying truths . . . and finds the spark of hope in it all. The topics it handles–while couched in terms of an alien invasion–are incredibly timely for readers today, at times painfully so. Not to mention that the writing itself, the actual choice and arrangement of the words, is remarkable. It’s all present tense, sparse, yet artistic, each word carefully chosen that–were it not for the obvious paragraph structure–I might almost have thought I was reading free-verse poetry; it has that sort of feel to it. Even the book design feeds into the whole artistic structure of the whole–the unusual proportions, the cover that looks like an oil painting on canvas, the way each chapter is outlined and titled by the picture Adam is working on at that time. I get that it’s not for everyone, but I would really recommend giving Landscape with Invisible Hand a try, even if the initial premise doesn’t sound so interesting. Because this reach of this story goes far beyond what it promises on the surface.

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The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Author: Jonas Jonasson/Translator: Rod Bradburythe-100-year-old-man-who-climbed-out-the-window-and-disappeared

My rating: 4 of 5

On his one-hundredth birthday, Allan Karlsson finds himself in a nursing home with a big party planned in his honor. If only they had deigned to ask what he wanted! Allan would much rather have a bottle of vodka to enjoy–something that is, in fact, forbidden in the home. In that case, it’s time to stop sitting around. Allan climbs out the window of his room and embarks on quite the adventure, one including murder and elephants and, of course, vodka. Not that it will be the first adventure of his long life.

I first discovered The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared through a review by Paul@The Galaxial Word (which you should check out; it’s excellent). It seems that this is a book which inspires rather polarized opinions in either direction. Personally, I enjoyed it, but I think you have to come at it with the right expectations. Because this book is, essentially, an extended tall tale, a larger than life story that’s meant to be fun and funny but that can’t be taken too seriously. The humor is rather dark, I must warn; there’s some violence (actually, quite a bit) scattered throughout the story as well. I found that, while I didn’t exactly like the characters, they were interesting and they all contributed to the story. As for the plot, it’s a fascinating blend. Half of the time, you get a present-day romp through contemporary Sweden with this old man and the people he picks up along the way sending the police and the papers on a merry chase. The other half, scattered between the present-day chapters, is a historical progression through Karlsson’s long and storied life. It shows his intimate involvement–brought about by his coincidental presence in most circumstances–in numerous high-profile situations throughout the years. Obviously, such involvement is highly improbable and historically unlikely (a common complaint that I’ve heard). Duh. It’s a tall tale; it’s meant to be improbable and unlikely. I did enjoy the close-up walkthrough of those historical events though. I guess what I’m getting at is that, while it’s not for everyone, I personally found The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared to be enjoyable, and I’m planning to check out others of the author’s books (which all seem to be just as ridiculously titled!).

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Popular Hits of the Showa Era

Author: Ryū Murakami/Translator: Ralph McCarthypopular-hits-of-the-showa-era

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE (21+)

A random act of violence ignites a war between two previously laconic and loosely organized groups of individuals.  On the one hand, a group of young men who gather together for no particular reason and whose highest aspirations are to peep on the neighbor through the window and sing karaoke on the beach. On the other, a collection  of somewhat older women–“aunties” if you will–united by nothing more than a common personal name. But as hatred of the other group sparks, both the young men and the aunties suddenly find themselves united against each other, motivated and inspired in ways they’ve never known before. And the heat of that fervor drives them to find more and more creative ways to rain destruction on the opposing party.

I initially found Popular Hits of the Showa Era through a review by Arria Cross@Fujinsei–which you should go read right away, because it’s excellent and informative and also fun. One of the things Arria mentions about this book is the dark humor of it, and I can totally see that it is written to appeal to a dark sense of humor. Personally, I didn’t find it funny (sorry), but I can very much appreciate that there are people to whom this book would be absolutely hilarious in a disturbing sort of way. But even though I didn’t find it humorous myself, I still found this book enjoyable in other senses. For one, it’s an intriguing commentary and satire on contemporary Japanese society, and just the flavor of the culture is interesting. Even more so, I found the psychological exploration of the book to be fascinating–the way in which the characters were just drifting through life and also the way in which this conflict affected them, making them feel alive and purposeful. I kind of think the author’s telling us something dangerous and terrifying but also important about humanity here. And I have to warn, this is NOT a book for everyone, and I would advise to approach it with caution. Because it is very, very violent. Bloody and gory and explicit and violent. There’s purpose for that in the story; it isn’t violent just for the sake of being violent. But it’s still there, very much in your face for the entirety of the story. Finally, I did want to comment on the title: Popular Hits of the Showa Era. Each chapter title  is the name of a song that was popular during the Showa Era, and that song flavors and flows throughout the chapter in one way or another–not that it has a huge effect on the story itself, but it’s a nice touch.

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Galavant (2015 TV Series)

ABC Studiosgalavant

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Once upon a time, our hero Knight Galavant had it all: fame, success, the love of the fair Madalena. That is, until King Richard kidnapped Madalena and she chose fame and fortune over true love. So, our hero did what any good hero would–lost himself in drink and self pity. Which is where the spunky Princess Isabella found him when she brought him a quest to save her family and win back Madalena’s love. But the road to true love and success is never as smooth as it first looks, especially for the music-loving Galavant.

I think that Galavant is the sort of show to be extremely polarizing–some will adore it while others will think it’s utter rubbish. And I should say at the outset that, if you don’t like musicals, you should avoid this show, for sure. I have to compare it to a Disney movie in that regard; at any given moment, the cast is liable to burst out in song. Plus, you know, Alan Menken is hugely involved in the writing of the music, so there’s a strong Disney feel to it there also. Also, the whole focus on true love and basically the whole story line follow that feel as well. But in a more adult way (well, at least with more innuendo and language) that is oddly combined with a middle-school boys’ locker room flavor (with all the bodily noises and awkward sexuality that goes with that). Actually, looking at the story objectively, it sounds kind of awful, but in the moment, it’s kind of enjoyable. There’s a lot of humor, some of it actually funny. Plus a great deal of fourth wall breaking and commentary on current events. And the cast is actually well-picked for their roles. Personally, my favorite is Timothy Omundson, whose character is kind of pathetic and despicable both at the beginning but who grows wonderfully over the course of the two seasons. Also, he’s just a great actor, and it’s fun to get to hear him sing. So yeah, Galavant is definitely not for everyone, but if you enjoy musicals and Disney–and are interested in a more adult-focused story in that style–it might be worth trying.

Created by Dan Fogelman/Executive Producers  Dan Fogelman, Alan Menken, Glenn Slater, Chris Koch, Kat Likkel, John Hoberg, &  John Fortenberry/Produced by Marshall Boone & Helen Flint/Music by Alan Menken, Christopher Lennertz, & Glenn Slater/Starring Joshua Sasse, Timothy Omundson, Vinnie Jones, Mallory Jansen, Karen David, & Luke Youngblood/Narrated by Ben Presley

Note: This series consists of 2 seasons with a total of 18 episodes.

 

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The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe

Author: Romain Puértolas/Translator: Sam Taylorextraordinary-journey-of-the-fakir-who-got-trapped-in-an-ikea-wardrobe

My rating: 3 of 5

This is the story of one Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod (pronounced any number of ways, depending on who you ask), a fakir or professional con artist by trade. For years, Ajatashatru has convinced his community–even those closest to him–that he is a holy man. Now he is in the midst of his greatest con yet, convincing his followers to send him to Paris to buy a bed of nails from the IKEA store there. Things begin to go astray from his plans though as Ajatashatru 1) cons the wrong taxi driver, 2) encounters an extraordinary woman who may just be the love of his life, and 3) gets himself locked in a wardrobe on the way to England while hiding away in the IKEA overnight (to avoid paying for a hotel room). And so, this fakir begins a journey that will take him immense distances, both globally and within himself.

I found The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe after enjoying The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (to be reviewed later). This book is similar, although I think I enjoyed Jonasson’s story a bit more. Puértolas’s story is a bit more openly satirical and just generally further from what I typically read, which made it harder for me to get into. Still, I found the story amusing and interesting. It’s an intriguing journey–both in the pinball-esque trip Ajatashatru takes across Europe, Asia, and Africa and in the internal transformative journey he takes. Probably the most interesting and enjoyable part of the book for me personally was the interactions of Ajatashatru with all sorts of people, including the variety of people he encounters and the influence they have on his perceptions of the world. The biggest negative (other than that this just isn’t so much what I typically read, which isn’t the author’s fault) is that sometimes the author seems to be trying too hard, which is partly just the book’s style, but still. For those who enjoy picaresque, satirical contemporary novels, I think The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe would be an amusing and enjoyable book to try.

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Ann Tenna

Author/Illustrator: Marisa Acocella MarchettoAnn Tenna

My rating: 3 of 5

Ann Tenna and her higher self “SuperAnn” are agreed (well, Ann’s mostly forced into agreement): she’s to be reborn on Earth once again, a final chance to get things right. But 39 years later, Ann has completely forgotten her higher self, her mission, everything but her present life. And what a life! She’s made herself something of an internet legend with her brutal hidden-camera show. Not exactly getting it right, but definitely making good . . . until SuperAnn gets involved and reminds her what she’s really there for.

So as you can see, Ann Tenna only got a 3-star rating from me (which is still not bad, I must say). Basically, it was an interesting story, but I also had issues with it. For what it’s worth, I finished the entire graphic novel in less than a whole day, so it clearly wasn’t wholly bad. The concept was interesting, and the pacing worked well, never getting stale or bogged down. I think the graphic novel format definitely helped with that. As for the art itself, if worked for the story, hovering somewhere on the border between classic comics and the more contemporary graphic novel style–although I think for me the style and coloring tended just a bit too much toward the comic-book end of the spectrum. On a positive note, you’ve got a successful upper-thirties woman who is going on a journey of self-awareness and change; I feel like you get that a lot with teenage coming-of-age sorts of stories, but in the context of a more mature woman, I haven’t seen those themes developed much (maybe that’s just because I read a lot of YA, but it was still nice). The negative side of that is that I really don’t like who Ann is as a person–the whole dog-eats-dog mindset is not only foreign but utterly abhorrent to me. And I guess just the whole society she lives in is one I can’t relate to at all, so the story kind of lost me a lot in that regard. Basically, I have really mixed opinions about this graphic novel; I can’t say I strongly recommend reading Ann Tenna, but neither do I discourage reading it. Up to you.

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After Alice

Author: Gregory MaguireAfter Alice

My rating: 5 of 5

Have you ever wondered what happened back in Oxford after Alice disappeared down the rabbit hole? Perhaps her best friend Ada was coming over to visit her and happened to fall into the same (or another nearly identical) hole into Wonderland. Perhaps her older sister Lydia thought she was just being Alice, off on a lark again–or maybe she was just too distracted with the complications of being caught in the gap between girlhood and womanhood to worry about her sister. Perhaps the visit of the notorious Mr. Darwin had the household in too much of a stir to properly look for a wandering child. Perhaps there were more interconnected stories relating to Alice’s adventures than we have ever before imagined. . . .

Gregory Maguire’s treatment of the tale Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in his book After Alice is absolutely brilliant. He takes the classic and focuses on people who were barely mentioned in passing in the original, people who were side characters, and others who were never even pictured at all. And in doing so, he creates a vivid picture, not only of Wonderland, but of 1860’s Oxford as well. The imagery of his phrases is elegant and subtle such that each sentence is a delight to read–this is one of those books that makes me aware afresh how much I love language, words themselves. Moreover, his characters are a delight–conflicted, changing, sometimes morally ambiguous, but always so very human. And the way in which Maguire captures Victorian mores and opinions through his characters is not only enjoyable but educational. I will say that I would recommend this for an adult audience, not really because there’s anything inappropriate (or rather, anything inappropriate is couched in such Victorian propriety that it would go right over a child’s head) but because the story is rather complex and meant to be thought-provoking to adults, so kids might get bored–although there are probably also children who would adore this. (Okay, I would have loved this book if I had read it as a child.) In any case, After Alice comes with high recommendations, especially for those who liked the Carroll or who enjoy retellings or Victorian era literature.

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