Archive for July, 2020

The City We Became

Saturday, July 25th, 2020

By N. K. Jemisin

The Short Take:

After reading Jemisin’s “The Broken Earth” science fiction trilogy (all Hugo Award winners) I could not resist starting her new one. This time the action takes place in New York City and the heroes are people of color (mainly women) who rise up to protect the city–and their respective boroughs– from destruction by another universe.

Why?

First of all–no worries–the story in this volume has a satisfactory conclusion followed by a simple set up for the premise of the second book. You don’t have to commit to all three books to enjoy this one fully. And it is enjoyable.

You can read the whole book as a metaphor for our times, or at least a wishful metaphor. People who don’t have natural trust in each other come together to fight a greater evil–a power that is trying to destroy their city. There’s a human avatar each for money-conscious, savvy Manhattan, gentrified Brooklyn, working-to-succeed Queens, and hard-nosed Bronx. There’s also a frightened avatar for Staten Island–a borough overlooked with unfortunate consequences.

The respective boroughs each provide strength and power to their chosen avatars, though the avatars have to figure this out for themselves. There is also an avatar for all of New York City but no one knows who or where. The enemy is just as anxious to find and kill this one as the others are to save and support.

Jemisin celebrates New York in all its diversity, creativity, and history. Her characters treasure that which provides character and color to their communities. It’s no accident that Starbucks “belongs” to the soulless enemy. Authenticity is key to a city’s soul, and chain operations offer none of that.

It’s a rich and rewarding book. One of my short reviews here doesn’t do it justice.

A Little Plot:

A attractive man of ambiguous ethnicity gets off the train in New York City to start a new life. However, he has visions of another city layered upon the one he is walking through. Then he realizes he has forgotten his name, his family. He is becoming something new, but does not know what, why, or how.

Soon he’ll meet another who can offer him some guidance, but not before he faces the enemy alone.

For more about Jemisin and her work, click here.

Death in Her Hands

Friday, July 17th, 2020

By Ottessa Moshfech

The Short Take:

The words I saw associate with this book were mystery, suspense, horror. The author has many awards to her credit. What I read was the unraveling of an elderly woman who had a tortured life and is wrapped in loneliness. Oh joy.

Why?

Obviously this book was not my cup of tea but it was certainly interesting. Vesta Gul finds a note in the woods: “Her name was Magda. No one will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.” But there is no body.

Living in a remote cabin with only her dog, Vesta has no personal relationships of any kind. Her imagination is unoccupied (she often refers to the state of her mindspace) so she fills it with her invented story about this Magda: her family situation, her friends, her possible murderer, everything. Vesta eventually determines to learn more facts about Magda, but a minor search effort on the library’s internet provides no information, only additional inspiration for her fantasies.

To call Vesta an unreliable narrator is a vast understatement. Over the course of the book you learn her marriage is not as she–at first–presents it. Eventually you begin to doubt things she experiences in the real world. Are they real? They certainly don’t make sense.

Maybe I would have liked this book a bit more if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, where everyone is suffering from increased loneliness. The writing is solid and it certainly gave me plenty to think about, but they are not thoughts I wanted to have.

A Little Plot:

I’ve pretty much done this above. So go back and read it again if you wish.

The Prince, The Showgirl and Me

Wednesday, July 8th, 2020

By Colin Clark

The Short Take:

Clark’s observations of his experiences on the set of the movie starring Lawrence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe are fascinating as well as bitingly funny. His diary entries cover six months in 1956 but he didn’t publish the work until 1996. It might be old but it still delights.

Why?

It’s always interesting to read unvarnished opinions about real events. What makes Clark’s diary particularly interesting is his ability to look at people and their behavior from different perspectives. His viewpoints are fluid, adapting to new information.

His eagerness to please, high ambition, and youth shape the content. However, it is his bright, gossipy writing style that makes this book so much fun to read. Clark knew how to dish, but not in a nasty way. His empathy is on clear display. He even writes at the end about where they all (the Brits) went wrong.

Of course, there’s a lot of information about the process of making a movie. While the technology has evolved dramatically that process is still largely the same. The behind-the-scenes look this diary provides will make you appreciate how hard an actor’s job is.

A Little Plot:

Olivier and Monroe are set to film The Prince and the Showgirl. Right before production begins she marries Arthur Miller, who comes along. She also brings a clingy drama coach and a reputation for being very difficult. Then she proceeds to live up to it.

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