Saturday, 17 August 2013

Review: Tampa by Alissa Nutting



Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.com


"Celeste Price is an eighth-grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. She's undeniably attractive. She drives a red Corvette with tinted windows. Her husband, Ford, is rich, square-jawed, and devoted to her.But Celeste's devotion lies elsewhere. She has a singular sexual obsession—fourteen-year-old boys. Celeste pursues her craving with sociopathic meticulousness and forethought; her sole purpose in becoming a teacher is to fulfill her passion and provide her access to her compulsion. As the novel opens, fall semester at Jefferson Jr. High is beginning."


Oh dear. Before you think I gave this one star because I'm a "prude", I actually gave it one star because I simply did not like it. The writing itself was lyrical and I think Nutting has some talent, but this book to me was the equivalent of painting the Mona Lisa with excrement. The main character is just so extremely ugly as a person; she is self-absorbed to the nth degree, obsessed with her genitals (which she describes relentlessly as if she couldn't possibly have a thought at all that wasn't first filtered through her sexual parts.) I found the constant stream of female reproductive organ descriptions tedious and boring. The story revolved around not a person and their psyche, but a walking black hole of sexual need. The language just droned on and on without end -- I almost feel qualified to be either a sex therapist or gynecologist and I'm only 80% finished with the book. 

The subject matter could have been handled so differently; I like that Nutting tackled it and I have read interviews with her in which she explains the inspiration for the novel, but what she said in those articles really didn't prepare me for the complete sex zombie that is Celeste Price. She's devoid of any emotion or thought that exists apart from her lust. Every action she takes is to satisfy that lust or get closer to satisfying it. She becomes a teacher to get close to her favorite prey, 14 year old boys. The boy she ends up choosing as her main victim is hardly fleshed out as a person at all. I felt that Nutting focused so much on Celeste that she missed out on giving the supporting cast their due. The initial encounter with Jack in the classroom also seemed odd; I couldn't picture him or any 14 yr old boy reacting like he did. Something about it felt off, and I wondered just how many teenaged boys Nutting interviewed for her research (or if she had asked men to recall their feelings as teens). Again, everything filtered through the weird Celeste-World glasses. And the view was just plain disgusting, honestly. 



Why do I use the word, "disgusting"? It could be that while Celeste is devoid of any care of what she's doing to Jack (and other boys), she is also unable to care about anything she does to ANYONE. I felt that Jack might have been the focus victim of the story, but everyone who came near Celeste ended up losing something. Everyone could be contaminated with her complete squickiness. It's almost like Nutting took How To Squick Your Audience in college and didn't stop with 101 but went for a full Master's Degree instead. 

I've read erotica; this isn't erotic. This isn't even pornographic (because that's supposed to be designed to be arousing; honestly, Nutting did it right when she made it completely UNsexy because we really shouldn't be enjoying what this woman does.) This is just GROSS. This is like watching someone lick vomit off a floor kind of gross. Or watching a dog eat poop kind of gross. Or reading about a woman whose head is crammed so far up her vagina that she's talking out her belly button kind of gross.

I would have liked to see a story where the main character suffered some kind of conflict in her heart and soul about her attraction to young boys; perhaps she could be torn about it, struggling to fight and overcome it and unable to do so. Some spark of humanity would be interesting. We don't watch Walking Dead for the zombies' personal story ("I'm a zombie and I want to eat people. That's all I want, really. Let me tell you about this desire that fuels my being for the next 300 pages..."), we watch Walking Dead for the story of Rick, Andrea, Glenn, Herschel, Daryl, Maggie, Carol et al. We are with them on a journey of struggle to survive, suffering, loss, fear, humanity and the loss of humanity.

The thing with Celeste is, she never comes across as even human at all. There's no soul to lose. I'd rather have watched her inner conflict and outer conflict collide in an explosion of chaos than to simply be stuck in a pit with her having to listen to her talk about her cooch for 272 pages. 

ADDENDUM:

I finished the book and must say that from the beginning of the end (you will know where this point is when you read it and it has to do with the holding of a knife), the story really picked up as a story. There was a lot more action (that wasn't sex), the sex was finally finished (yay!), and we could get into what was going to happen to this woman. The reasoning going on in her head was still completely psycho, and it had some nicely shocking bits where you just shake your head and wonder how a person like this could actually exist. (You know she's a character but have sneaking suspicions that there may be a real-world example of her out there somewhere.) Even fictitiously she pushes the boundaries of believability.

I gave the book one more star just because I DID like the last section of the book. I wish the whole book could have been more like that and not so absolutely stuck on the genital lust descriptions and actions. I do wish the author had explored more of Jack's point of view about what happened (I think at that point I was desperate to hear from anyone BUT Celeste because being in her head for so long was maddening.) I wanted a different perspective, period. 

One great paragraph near the end eloquently describes how a grown man in a position of authority who knows what Celeste has done still looks like he "wants her" and she observes that he can't help himself "despite what that says about him" (I'm paraphrasing here as I don't want to drag the book out for a quote.) 

I feel that while this review may seem unfavorable to the author, the author has a writing talent and that shouldn't be confused with my criticism of the content of the book, though it's hard sometimes to differentiate between those two things. I can see the talent and believe that Nutting can write a way better book; I just don't like the direction she took with this story. The idea behind it was to show more about predatorial females who seem to get away with it all for simply being female. The dynamic between the older male and younger female is easy to criticize and Nutting seems to want to show how unfair it is to treat female predators so differently. I get that, I really get that. But the WAY she showed it was just so one track minded and her main character wasn't the best vehicle to showcase her point of view on society and the justice system. I feel that pretty much no time was spent exploring those factors at all, and that's what was really missing here. It came over as a weird, vapid attempt at porn rather than a scathing social commentary and it would have worked so much better as the latter. 

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Review: The Fault In Our Stars

This review contains spoilers.

Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads:

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

I wish I could have liked this book more. I love the title. I liked Augustus and I really liked Isaac. The overall voice of the novel was one that pulled me in right away, though all the metaphoric talk was a bit tiring and got boring after a while. It felt like the author was trying too hard and got lost in it all. I also felt Hazel sometimes said quite mean things and I guess that's part of what's important about her or something, but it bothered me and came over like she was just being a snot for being a snot's sake. She would not let the girl at the Support Group apologize and explain herself, she just walked off. At least the girl tried, but Hazel was just in my opinion being selfish and snotty. And her thing about how Augustus was going to die and never be what he'd wanted, never leave a mark etc. -- that was rude. She seemed to like beating home the point that oh well we're all dying and it's an ugly business so don't try to make it into anything more. She didn't sympathize or empathize with Augustus as I think she should have; she seemed to just want to be blunt and to the point without caring if it hurt, and if it did hurt then oh well, life can be painful so accept it.

The romance aspect was I think more natural as these days we have so many novels with "twue wove" in them and everyone just falls for everyone else at first sight. My favorite part was when Augustus told Hazel that he loved her the first time. That was done in such a sweet way, and it made sense. It wasn't rushed, it wasn't arbitrary.
“I'm in love with you," he said quietly.

"Augustus," I said.

"I am," he said. He was staring at me, and I could see the corners of his eyes crinkling. "I'm in love with you, and I'm not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I'm in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we're all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we'll ever have, and I am in love with you.” 
The author even explains why Augustus stared at Hazel when they first met (I was so relieved to have a reason for it when so many characters just stare at each other for no reason and fall into InstaLove.) I also liked when he called her "Hazel Grace"; it was cute.

It took me about 4 or 5 hours to read this and I started it last night and finished it this morning. Any book that I read that quickly I usually deem a "good book" because I will not last through a book I don't like at all. When it came to choosing a rating on Goodreads though, I wavered between whether I liked it (3 stars) or it was just ok (two stars). I had to choose it was ok because that's honestly how I felt about it. I did cry a couple of times, and I was trying hard NOT to because I thought, "come on, everyone can't possibly be crying over this book!" But then I did. Not like big weepy sobs, but those quiet tears that sneak out as much as you try to hold them back.



It's a bit over the top with the "sage cancer victim spouting philosophy textbook garbola" and that's my main problem with the whole thing and I consider that one of presentation. I feel the author could have conveyed this story a bit better using more accessible language. (I went to college but man, not everyone wants to read this kind of writing outside of a textbook.)

The book that Hazel is obsessed with is garbage to me. I couldn't understand just what was so great about this book. Also, she didn't seem to be affected much by Augustus's gift to her -- his Wish. He basically gave away his Wish so she could find out what happened to a fictional hamster. O_o Then at the end she decides that she doesn't care, anyway. I think the entire Peter van Husen thing was a mess. I don't think he even came across as a grieving father, either. And I don't understand who would have ever published his novel.

The "okay" thing felt very pretentious and manufactured. Isaac has his "always" thing, so they start just using "okay" as if it now Means Something. Now we will have memes all over the net with "okay? okay" on them. *sigh*







I will end the review with a lovely quote from the book, which sums up how one can feel after reading and loving a novel:

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books like An Imperial Affliction, which you can't tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like betrayal” 
Sadly, this was not that kind of book for me.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Review: Hemlock Grove

This isn't an extremely in-depth review as it probably should be, but I will bring up the basics of what I liked and didn't like about Hemlock Grove so far. That said, I have only watched up to episode 7 and am still in the middle of binge-viewing.

So my preliminary opinion on the series is that it feels a lot like American Horror Story mixed with a dash of something akin to Twilight (pick your favorite vampire/werewolf show and fill in the blank) mixed with a bit of Twin Peaks.

The advertisements and teasers all honed in on the mystery of a girl being murdered in Hemlock Grove, possibly by some kind of supernatural beast. That girl is quickly forgotten as the story moves into other territory; turns out she was nothing more than a pawn in the game rather than a major player. The first few scenes even gave a little hope of showing insight into this girl as a person but nope, still just fodder for the plot.



I was put off in how Roman was introduced; not just that I had to be subjected yet again to female nudity, but that I couldn't figure out who he was or what was going on. The woman he was having sex with in the car -- was that a high school student or a prostitute/call girl? Are there a lot of women who just have sex with any guy in any car in any place, who don't scream for help when said guy starts playing around with BLOOD and who nonchalantly walks off and doesn't seem to care at all about how WEIRD this guy is?





Was this an ongoing relationship? (We may have a hint of this later when we see a similar looking young woman in Roman's classroom wearing a similarly colored dress. Too bad we aren't given the benefit of a name or even a face to see if that was the same person. Also, these two encounters were the only ones and I didn't feel it sufficiently set them up as "friends with benefits" or even "client/customer." What high school girl whores herself out in the women's bathroom at said school? Please tell me women have a little more self respect than that.)

Interestingly enough, I also disapproved of Peter's semi-introduction through his meeting with Christina. She just shows up out of nowhere and the whole exchange is awkward. I'm not even sure what the point of her character is. Red shirt perhaps?

All of that said, there are two things that really bother me about the show:

The Vomit
The Nudity

First, the vomit. Lots of vomiting. Vomiting isn't scary (unless you're Craig T. Nelson in Poltergeist II), it's just nauseating. Making me feel sick to my stomach and making me feel scared aren't the same thing. Vomiting is NOT horror (previous exception noted). Neither is eating creamy, bulging worms who have just feasted on a dead person's intestines.

The Nudity is extremely unbalanced between the genders. There's way too much female nudity and not enough male. As usual. kind of reminds me of Dexter, where we were treated to Trinity's naked butt not once, not twice but three times while being shown countless female breasts. FFS!

As Depeche Mode once labeled an album, "get the balance right."

The good things about the show: Lily Taylor, who isn't used nearly enough; Dr. Chausseur (Dr Shoe, lol) who is just beautiful and kicks ass; the hotness of the two male leads; Shelley who is pretty frickin awesome all around and the most intriguing of all the characters (sort of like Adelaide in American Horror Story season 1); the "Romani" culture which is shrouded in mystery.

A few other things that don't quite work: Olivia and her fake accent. Boring. Letha. Boring. And her name sounds like a lisp of "Lisa". "You're tearing me apart, Letha!"

I have taken a break in my binge-viewing of Hemlock Grove and will return with further insight into the second half of the first season.

EDIT: No, I probably won't. I lost interest in the show and never finished watching it. Oh well. I noticed that it has taken forever for Netflix to produce a second season, anyway. You snooze, you lose.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Zach Braff Wants You To Pay For His Movie

I have never been a Zach Braff fan. I do not watch Scrubs. I saw an episode of Punk'd with him in it and he cursed out a child when he thought the kid had damaged Zach's precious car. Since that moment, I have been anti-Zach Braff. Now Zach, who is worth $22 million dollars, would like to make a sequel to the crap film Garden State. It's basically a vanity project (read: it stars Zach and is written by him of course) and he has decided that though he can secure funding in a traditional manner, he doesn't want to fund it within the limitations that the backers have placed on him.

Why would the backers not let Zach have complete creative control? Perhaps it's because Zach has not earned that privilege and the trust of the backers. Makes sense, right? Because Zach WANTS final edit and control over casting, he has turned to Kickstarter to beg for money from average joes and janes on the street to fund his vanity project.



Let me repeat this: Zach Braff can not secure creative control from traditional backers but because he's got a toddler mentality and WANTS IT WANTS IT WANTS IT, he is now asking the public to find what will be a film allowing him to indulge himself in his own narcissism. Because nothing smacks of conceit like insisting that even though your industry DOES NOT TRUST YOU and you have not proven yourself worthy, you will beg for money anyway because you WANT IT.

He is apparently spending some of his own money on the project but has curiously declined to specify a dollar amount.

Those who back the project are not investors, they're donors. They get the paltry "gifts" that Braff has promised. For a few really pathetic folks, they will get to be in the film.

Let's look into this for a second:

An actor who really isn't even THAT famous and who's been in nothing really spectacular and who has a track record that doesn't allow financial backers to give him final cut and casting control is saying that because he doesn't want "some rich guy" (Pot. Kettle. Black.) having control and because he's all creative and artsy fartsy and it's all about the creativeness and the artiness of it all and it's for the integrity of the movie -- is going to allow just any schmuck with $2,500 to be IN the movie.

Clearly Zach does not know the meaning of "integrity." Kind of like if he had any, he would not be begging for money when he has more than enough.

So this moves into the land I like to call "Responsibility." We have all seen folks go after those on welfare, saying how they're lazy and need to stop having kids and to get a job etc. We bemoan those folks for getting a few hundred bucks a month and some food stamps. Stealing from the taxpayer they are, right? Not giving anything back, right? And we don't want to donate any money to them because well, they're not all celebrity-like and shiny like Zach Braff. We judge those people very harshly but we look at Zach and say well, if he wants to beg for money, more power to him!

How about we take the burden of responsibility off the welfare receipient and stick it on the not-so-humble celebrity for a moment? What would it look like if we said to Zach: "If you can't pay for your own movie, you don't get to make your own movie. That's how it works when people live within their means and take care of themselves without begging others for help."

What's worse is that people on Welfare for the most part actually NEED the money they get. They're NOT living in big homes and have fancy cars and they're not out there hobnobbing with celebrities and looking at a bank statement that looks sort of like $22 million. They don't have access to the rich and famous, nor are they rich and famous themselves. But we will ridicule the person paying for a bag of chips ($3) with food stamps because dammit, that's taxpayer money and we don't want our money being WASTED like that. If we wanted to waste money on chips, we'd buy and eat them ourselves! (And we do. All the time.)

Zach Braff does not NEED anyone's money. He has more than enough for himself to fund his vanity movie.

Let's say it together: Zach Braff has enough money to make his movie all by himself.

Now the question is really, why should he spend his own money when there are "fans" out there who will pay for it for him? Why should he HAVE TO spend his own money on a project he came up with, that he wrote, that he will star in and that he will reap all the benefits of? Why on earth should the great Zach Braff have to do things the same way just anybody would?

Zach Braff made $350,000 an episode for Scrubs. Now people will say that's fair, he's doing the work and getting paid and he can spend his $22 million on whatever he wants. Problem is, he's not spending his $22 million, he just wants someone else to spend their money on his project.

If I have $500 in the bank and I want to go to a $300 a night hotel for an evening, should I be asking people on the street to pay for my stay? Just because I want to go to an expensive hotel but don't want to spend my own money on it?

There's a sucker born every minute, P.T. Barnum once said. Zach Braff's "fans" are definitely a bunch of suckers.

I was going to use a picture of Zach for this article but he's just so disgusting I didn't want to even look at him.

Zach Braff:




Saturday, 18 May 2013

Fangirling: What it is; Fandom Wank

Which came first, fangirl or fanboy (fanboi)? I have only ever been involved in fangirling, and this dating back to the beginning of the Harry Potter films (though I was a fandom of one for many others, the HP Fandom was where I walked the walk and talked the talk with like-minded women.) Fangirling is, in a word, fun.


It's been a long time since my teen years, but who doesn't want to relive some of the silliness and the innocence and curiosity of that time? Fangirling to me, is like that. It's innocent and simple fun, promoting characters you love in a setting that's comfortable and where you're not as likely to be judged harshly (except by those outside the fandom and there's always a risk of "fandom wank" rearing its ugly head, but these aren't the norms.)

I was also in the Lord of the Rings fandom and had a very nice time there among folks who truly adored Tolkien (some were in their 40's or older and it was cool because in fandom, we're all equals), some who just adored the movies, some who adored Elijah Wood and others who adored Legolas (me!). I wrote fanfiction (yes, I wrote a couple of horrible Mary Sues for LOTR that haven't seen the light of day since 2003 at least), I even met up with a local group who dressed the part and joined them at the movie premieres. I entered a contest sponsored by TheOneRing.net and won a boxed set of LOTR illustrated by Alan Lee. Life was good.

Over in the HP fandom, I'd written many more fanfics under a pen name stolen from a character I'd created some years before. The fangirls in HP could be very wanky if you weren't careful, and there were a few BNF's (Big Name Fans) who "earned" that title on word of mouth for their stories. One of them who shall remain nameless had created one set of scribblings for LOTR which I very much enjoyed, and another trilogy of stories for HP which I found disappointing and which were rife with plagiarized quotes from pop culture  movies, and TV shows. How she became a BNF is one of those things called "herd mentality." When you enter the fandom, her stuff is rec'd and you sort of have to like it because everyone else does. If you don't like it, you're accused of being jealous or what have you. Anyway, instead of the fandom railing against this woman (though some tried to), she toddled off and insisted that lifting multitudes of direct quotes from other sources without citing them was not plagiarism, and then she plagiarized her own works and sold them to a big name publisher and is now on the best sellers list. I guess the herd mentality is just unstoppable. No one even cares if she's done something legally and morally wrong, but you know, I knew a very nice girl who wanted to "succeed" in the HP fandom so badly that she lifted a couple of paragraphs from some romance novel and added it to her fanfic. She was lambasted and left the fandom in disgrace, never to be heard from again. Seriously, I never heard from her again, and we usually chatted together regularly.

That this kind of thing can happen and the parties involved be treated so completely differently is a riddle. Why is it that one woman can rip off dozens of sources and not only get away with it but be defended by the multitudes (and a lawyer to boot) and given a book deal and now have one of her shitty books made into a movie, and the other woman was vilified and had to slink away into a corner?

Herd mentality. Lemmings. Sycophants.

Fangirling on its own is quite nice if you're not doing it expressly for an audience (as I feel the formerly unnamed BNF was.) If you're writing fanfic just because you love a book or movie or TV show and just don't want it to end, or want to see things happen that you know just WON'T (like you know, Harry and Draco kissing or something of that nature), then fangirling is a fun outlet for creativity.

What does fangirling entail, anyway? It's not just about writing fanfic, because not all fangirls like writing or want to write. Some might be artists, some writers, some observers and readers, some might make fanvids and mashups. Some just want to revel in the world that's been created to enjoy, a place for fans to come together and create friendships based on stuff they share.



I have friends I met in the HP fandom and we're still talking, writing, and sharing letters today. We are on LiveJournal, on Facebook, on Twitter, and so on. Sometimes we're in email. Sometimes we're in snail mail. And sometimes we've met face to face. We send Christmas presents, birthday presents. We're there for each other. None of us are BNF's in our fandom, but who cares? It's not about fame, anyway. At least not for most of us.



Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Blog Envy

There are a few blogs I read regularly and over the months or years I have always asked myself, "Why don't YOU make a blog, too?" The answer comes down to "I just don't have the energy" and "I don't know what to write about."

I've written a lot in my Live Journal (I've been on that site somehow or another since 2000), I've written in actual paper journals, I've written articles and even had some published. I have been working on a couple of novels for a while now and completed one some years ago. It's not like I don't like to write, it's that I just feel so awkward when speaking to (what I hope is) an audience. 

The idea that no one is reading your blog is pretty sad, but at the same time I feel like I better say something snappy right now or no one ever WILL read my blog. I have to be entertaining, but genuine. How do I do that? 

I thought about the design: it should pop, it should say "me", it should be this and that, and I looked up tons of blog themes and styles and templates and dressings and I just couldn't find anything that really looked right so I ended up with this. This sort of green, boring looking blog that no one will stick around and read. I just know it. I'm a failure at blogging and this is only my second post.

Well dear reader (if I'm not just talking to myself), stick it out with me a little, won't you? Let me grow and evolve and become better and give me some pointers if you like (as long as they don't include how to make my "manhood" grow larger or to win a ton at Texas Hold'em (what IS that, anyway?). My "manhood" is non-existent since I am a Lady [sic], and I don't want to win money at whatever Texas Hold'em is. And I absolutely don't want any escorts or to get a cheap diploma or to watch live stream sports. I hate sports almost as much as I hate cheap diplomas and escorts. Wait no, I hate sports even MORE than both of those combined. So don't spam me, mmkay?

I've read some pretty amazing blogs and I have often thought, "I could do that. I think those things...all I have to do is write them down!" So yeah, blog envy here for those who took the time to actually convert their thoughts to words. And the theme of my blog has made its first appearance in an actual post (yayness!).

That's all I really wanted to say for now. 

What is "Ataraxia"?

Ataraxia. It sounds kinda weird, like a disease. Actually, it's the opposite. Allow me to copy and paste from Wikipedia:

Ataraxia is a Greek term used by Pyrrho and Epicurus for a lucid state of robust tranquility, characterized by ongoing freedom from distress and worry.

Lovely, isn't it?