A Review of “Hunger” by Roxane Gay

Dear Tatiana and Mike

Hunger is probably one of the most heart-wrenching and powerful memoirs I have ever read. Written by Roxane Gay, the author of Difficult Women, Hunger is a personal and harrowing tale that details her struggle with weight and how it has impacted her childhood, teens, and twenties. In the beginning, she opens up with the struggle of dealing with her “wildly undisciplined” body and how she claims she is “trapped in in a cage” (Gay 17) because of the rape she suffered when she was twelve years old. So, she turned to food as a comfort, gaining more and more weight because “[If] I [Gay] felt undesirable, then I could keep more hurt away” (Gay 15).  I felt a strong sense of understanding with this topic. I don’t know about you guys, but while I’ve never struggled with my weight, I know first hand about what trauma can do and how it can decimate a person until they are nothing. You feel like nothing, so you treat yourself like you are nothing because that’s what you feel what you deserve.

I liked how straight-forward and honest she was about the content of her memoir, stating that “This is not a weight-loss memoir. There will be no picture of a thin version of me, my slender body emblazoned across this book’s cover…Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story” (Gay 4). I find myself admiring her cutthroat approach of warning the reader that not every book will have happy endings. Life is full of hardships; most things will inevitably get worse before they gets better, until you reach a place in your life to balance out the bad and the semi-good things that come across your life.

I look forward to hearing from the both of you soon,

Tiara

Dear Tiara and Mike,

I also found Hunger to be a very well written and powerful memoir. This novel really helped me to understand Gay’s struggles in ways I never would have imagined. Gay’s trauma plays a very large role in her struggle with her body, and in a way this memoir puts you into her body and makes you feel all of her imperfections. Like Tiara I also felt as if I could better understand her point of view when Gay went into detail about her trauma. She looks at her body as a constant physical reminder of the trauma she endured: “The past is written on my [Gay’s] body. I carry it every single day,” (Gay 41). Through all of this, she also struggles to fully tell her story for the next 25 years and had chosen to keep this trauma a secret from everyone. However, now that she is in the state of mind to be able to write this memoir she is also able to begin to unravel how she felt, and how this trauma has shaped her mind. “Those boys treated me [Gay] like nothing so I became nothing,” (Gay 45). This analogy works really well in that it paints a picture of what’s wrong with anti-feminist thinking. Girls’ bodies are viewed as objects that are only in existence to serve men. So, when you ingrain this into a twelve-year old girl’s brain that her assault is a result of her having a nice body, then it only makes sense that she would, in turn, choose to destroy it to avoid having to face that trauma again. However, it wasn’t until high school that she learned that “being raped wasn’t my [Gay’s] fault,” (Gay 71). Yet, even with this new possibility of healing we see that Gay doesn’t see herself being able to truly heal.

Gay’s trauma being a key factor for her weight gain is very in tune with current social issues. I think that is what made this novel so successful: it’s urgency with a topic so prevalent. She cites many examples of how she is discriminated in the American culture because she is overweight. We see the importance of understanding mental illness in today’s society. Without understanding Gay’s mental struggles over most of her life we wouldn’t really be able to see how that has shaped who she is. Without this back story all we see is a woman who became medically overweight, but once we have the trauma we understand that she is a woman who is a victim of rape culture. Eating was Gay’s coping mechanism and not a result of being lazy. In a world where girls are told to dress more conservatively to avoid harassment from boys, Gay’s adolescent self took that one step further and changed her body to protect herself.

One thing I noticed that was very prominent in this section was that Gay tip-toed around the subject of her trauma before diving in with details. This left me feeling somewhat confused because for a while I didn’t think she was ready to acknowledge that part of her life. With this being such a sore subject, I began to wonder if the trauma was too painful for her to write about. However, then she dove in and that part felt somewhat abrupt to me. The writing leading up to the story didn’t seem to flow very well into it. Once she had actually gotten into the story I feel that the writing became more comfortable and all of her ideas began to reconnect.

I look forward to your thoughts,

Tatiana

Dear Mike and Tatiana,

Following up with Tatiana’s statements, Gay elaborates how, while she is the cause for her weight gain, she does not agree with the extreme health and beauty standards that America has adopted. Obesity is not only looked down upon in America, but in several different cultures as well. Gay is Haitian-American and in her heritage and household, being overweight becomes a huge concern. She states, “when you are overweight in a Haitian family, your body is a family concern” (Gay 55), mostly, as she also explains, is the fact that they associate being overweight with being gluttonous. As some of you may know, Haiti is (sadly) mostly known for being underdeveloped and poverty stricken. Though this is just a common stereotype, people only have an outside point of view. However, because of the psychological trauma she suffered as a result of her rape, she is never successful in keeping the weight off for long. Both cultures have a very negative outlook on individuals who are overweight, and while not all people think that way, the media portrays it as such. 

This is very disheartening because not every person that is considered “skinny” is not always considered healthy, and not every person who is considered “fat” is not always unhealthy. I have a family member who is constantly struggling with her weight because of her battles with depression and bipolar disorder. Because of this, she has adopted unhealthy eating habits, finding comfort in the one thing that continues to impact her negatively until this date. She also suffers from a number of different health complications like diabetes and sleep apnea. It can be frustrating to see how unhappy she is because of the way she looks. I don’t know about you guys, but it’s hurtful to watch the ones you love destroy themselves from the inside-out. It can be frustrating to see how unhappy they are because of the way they look. As I got older, I realized that the way you see yourself is all about perception and the cultural values which can impact those that do not fit within the norms. The terms “skinny” and “fat” have both become so skewed by society that many people grow up not ever being fully comfortable with themselves because the definitions of the terms change so frequently, even though the human body cannot.

Let’s talk about this some more in our next correspondence,

Tiara

Dear Tatiana and Tiara,

I hope you both appreciate that I actually had to get out of bed to make coffee in order to write this and have it make sense. I was not coherent about 10 minutes ago.

You two have raise quite a few points about the struggles that this young woman faces with her introduction into American society. The literature is insightful into a very real situation that exists, especially in America. People who visit from foreign countries may be taken off guard with the harsh body standards that are present here. This is not to say that Haitians don’t like to eat, but they have a different societal expectation. In fact, “Haitians love the food from our island, but they judge gluttony” (Gay 55). In America, gluttony is not such a publicly shameful thing, but being raised with different values has effects on people. Gay is one such example where her perception of body image was thrown off with the negative outlook she started to have about herself when she learned how the terms “fat” and “skinny” were used so extremely. Though she suffered with these standards, she also gained insight into how Americans differ from other countries’ populations and how people view themselves.

The fact that we mention that the author appears to tip toe around the recollection of past events in her life is an interesting prospect. One would beg the question as to why this might be the case. A few suggestions came to mind after reminding me what I had read. Gay could be nervous about remembering what had occurred in her life, not wanting to have to recall the traumatic experiences and the feelings associated with them. Another possibility is that she aimed to entice the reader to keep reading the work and to gain more interest as time goes on. It could be as simple as a marketing ploy, but most would tend not to think this way. There are multiple interpretations that one could develop by journeying through this memoir. Perhaps one of you could offer some insight into her struggle with her body.

Best,

Mike 

Dear Tiara and Mike,

To further dive into what Mike was working through on Gay’s struggle, I feel that Gay makes a point to say that the struggle she faces with her body is even more complicated by the shame she feels. Fat-shaming becomes an ever-present problem for her in her daily life, which we see when she says, “When I am walking down the street, men lean out their car windows and shout vulgar things at me about my body, how they see it, and how it upsets them that I am not catering to their gaze,” (Gay 188). She explains that this creates a conflicting environment for her (Gay 199). There is shame in the fact that she would have an eating disorder as a fat girl. She tells us that people are more likely to support correcting an eating disorder.

I think Gay hits the mark with another major social issue within this section, which I think only strengthens her writing. The last few years have been dedicated to focusing on body positivity. We see actors and singers like Demi Lovato who suffered with eating disorders as well as bipolar disorder. We also see actors like Jennifer Lawrence who worked to be a strong female lead that looks healthy instead of too skinny. We’ve even seen some countries like France ban the use of models that look too underweight from modeling as well as an increase in the amount of “plus-size” modeling included in magazines. The world is trying to move to a place that eradicates shame for being bigger. However, we still tend to really only focus on eating disorders where the person is only becoming too skinny. If they’re already fat, we don’t really see it as an issue, but rather as a solution. This is what Gay made a point of when explaining her own struggle with eating disorders. She suffered from bulimia, but she never got to the point where she was skin and bones. Her body remained “imperfect.” Using this point of view on eating disorders helps us to see why Gay struggled so much in truly being able to come to terms and accept that she had an actual eating disorder that needed medical attention. She let it go on because she knew society didn’t see it as that big of an issue.

Warm regards,

Tatiana

Dear Tiara and Tatiana:

As I eat my incredibly unhealthy fast food, I am writing about eating disorder, which is ironic to say the least. I have a McChicken and some fries to be exact.

Eating disorders are another major concern that many people have sensitivity to. It would be best that we stride carefully when referring to these concerns. It looks like we are doing just fine at this point, which is great. The eating disorder that Gay faces in this book is a detail that could stand for a little more detail. That being said, I would propose the question of when Gay originally became aware of the eating disorder. The issues could stem from the manner in which she was raised and the values that she was raised by. She may not have been considered to have an eating disorder until certain people came across her and decided as such. Gay’s journey back through her younger years is as much of a recollection as it is a way for her to see how much outsiders influenced how she felt about herself.

Body positivity is another movement that we can appreciate throughout this book. People are typically supported when they decide to change their eating habits, but in a healthy manner. This memoir shows this by sharing how she “became vegetarian because [she] needed a way of ordering [her] eating that was less harmful” (Gay 199). Gay went through her situation at a time before the body positivity movement was blown up as it is today. However, one could note that body image problems have always been present among woman and men, and especially focused in America. Only recently has it grown enough to sincerely be supportive. This is a good theme from the book: addressing body image concerns.

From the warmth of my bed,

Mike

***

Afterword from the Writers

Roxane Gay’s Hunger focuses on immediate social issues of body image. The book was written as a memoir to her body and she does something out of the box by using her body as a vessel to truly represent these issues. She brings to light issues such as stereotyping, mental health, eating disorders, and fat shaming all by using her own experiences. In these experiences we see firsthand that these issues are very real and in turn can have a depreciating effect on the human body.


61jizcrzvxl-_ux250_About the Author: Roxane Gay’s writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, the nationally bestselling Difficult Women and the New York Times bestselling Hunger. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel. She has several books forthcoming and is also at work on television and film projects.


About the Authors of this Post: Tiara Hawkins is a junior majoring in English with a writing emphasis. She enjoys reading and sleeping when she is not working or going to school. She works as a reader and operates the Facebook and Tumblr page for 30 N.

Michael Larrea, on his last term at North Central College, is majoring in Information Technology. His knowledge of how to make equipment work really helps with events that 30 North has wanted to host this year. He is forward thinking and expressive with his ideas.

Tatiana Guerrero is a senior at North Central College pursuing an English writing degree. She loves curling up on the couch with a good thriller novel and a hot cup of coffee. After graduation she hopes to pursue a career in publishing.

Review of “Patience” by Daniel Clowes

Daniel Clowes is considered one of the most notable comic artists of our era and has had a couple of his works made into feature length films. An example of this would be his book “Ghost World,” about two girls and their journey after replying to a man’s newspaper ad for a date, which was turned into a film starring Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch. He tends to feature lonely, self-loathing men who want to feel connected, but push away those that try to get close; the male ego is a constant in his works. In “Ghost World,” the man from the newspaper ad exemplifies these traits. In “Patience,” Clowes has made subtle changes of this theme, while also still remaining true to his tendencies.

As the story begins, it’s 2012 and Jack Barlow learns that Patience, his wife, is pregnant. As they are discussing their financial worries and how they will make it work, Patience reflects on her early years:

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Page 4

 

Clowes overloads the reader with tons of information in the beginning of the novel. He is purposefully using this tactic to leave the readers confused; it can be difficult to follow what is happening during the first time reading through, so it helps to read a second or even third time to truly capture all of the little intricacies. When Jack goes back to 2012, the readers will also learn more about why things played out the way that they did.

In the scene after the one shown above, Patience starts to talk about her old life, but Jack doesn’t want to talk about it and quickly diverts the subject back to the baby. Everything seems to go well afterwards, but if you’ve read any of Clowes’ other books, you know not to be fooled by this.

One day, Jack comes home to find Patience has been murdered. Clowes takes on the cliche of a woman dying early on in a story to provide momentum for the rest of the story, also known as being “fridged.” There are other occasions in his works where he has used cliches to call attention to them and even parody them to reflect the current state of our culture. While they can at times be subtle jabs at the cliches, Clowes makes his purpose clear by overly drawing on the use of the cliche of Patience being “fridged” and makes it over-the-top. He does this with his use of dramatic language, especially when Jack finds Patience’s body, and his colorful palette.

After being framed for the murder of his wife and unborn child, Jack was sent to prison for 18 months. He was released after evidence appeared that proved him innocent, further giving him fuel for his quest for revenge. It’s suddenly 2029, and Clowes paints a picture of what he envisions the future to be like: inappropriately sexual public displays, monitors projecting a dictator’s speeches on loop, and people dressed in crazy outfits. A lot of this can be considered stereotypical of what people visualize when they think of the future. Clowes has been know to have depicted the future in a similar fashion in previous works of his.

Jack learns of the existence of a time-traveling device, and his hopes of seeing Patience again are hurtled into the forefront of his mind. This is when the “cosmic timewarp deathtrip” part of the tagline comes into play. The novel follows Jack as he is flung around time and space, trying to save Patience. As I mentioned earlier on, Clowes has a type. His protagonists are lonely, self-loathing creatures who have an ego. Jack is no different, and it becomes unclear at times what his true motives are in continuing on with his journey. There is a point in Jack’s journey where he contemplates why he is even doing this anymore. He doesn’t know if he’s even doing it for his wife and unborn child, or gone beyond all of that to a point of pure revenge:

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Page 88

 

The line becomes more and more blurred as Jack keeps leaping through time, being yanked about time and space by the time-traveling device. Jack experiences these strange visions, and his body begins breaking down and reforming. Throughout the graphic novel, Clowes includes these wild, colorful images, and during the evolution of Jack reforming, he really takes advantage of that. He uses a much broader color palette in “Patience” as compared to some of his other works, such as “Ghost World” with its black, white, and green palette and other of his works that have stuck with the more basic black and white template. The vivid colors are very impactful in the scene where Jack’s body is being ravaged by the process of time-travel, his interior organs becoming visible through his exterior flesh.

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Pages 79-80

 

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While “Patience” has a similar thematic style to Daniel Clowes’ other works, there are some interesting differences. His male protagonist, while still a loner with self-deprecating tendencies, goes to great lengths to exact vengeance for his wife’s murder. Fans of his oeuvre may be conflicted about their feelings for this piece. There are several cliches that occur throughout the novel that can give readers pause, but by the end they should be able to see the way that he is using them in a parodic manner. His art style was amped up for this piece as well, so die-hard fans may have a hard time liking the immense color palette that Clowes uses.

“Patience” is a story of love, murder, and self-discovery. Clowes paints a vivid picture of love lost and a man doing whatever it takes to find his wife’s killer while struggling with the morality of changing fate. The visuals are so beautifully executed that Clowes’ storytelling is amplified by their use.

*Images consist of photos taken by Kayla Etherton and images found on Google


Screen Shot 2017-06-25 at 6.14.09 PMAbout the Author: Daniel Clowes was born in Chicago, Illinois, and completed his BFA at the Pratt Institute in New York. He started publishing professionally in 1985, when he debuted his first comic-book series “Lloyd Llewellyn.” He has been the recipient of multiple awards for his seminal comic-book series, “Eightball.” Since the completion of “Eightball” in 2004, Clowes’ comics, graphic novel, and anthologies have been the subject of various international exhibitions. Clowes currently lives in Oakland, California with his wife and son, and their beagle.


About the Author of this Post: Kayla Etherton is a recent graduate of North Central College majoring in Graphic Design with a minor in Marketing. She enjoys reading all kinds of sci-fi/fantasy literature, but has recently been reading mostly graphic novels. She is also an alum of the NCC Women’s Track and Field Team.

Review of “Find Me” by Laura van den Berg

Laura van den Berg’s Find Me explores the mind of Joy, an orphaned cough syrup addict, as she experiences life after the potential end of American civilization.  The novel opens during Joy’s stay (or imprisonment) in a hospital searching for the cure to a disease that wipes the memories of its victims before taking their lives. Eventually, Joy escapes and wanders in search of her biological mother in a dystopian landscape. Although the novel seeks to be a more distinctive narrative in a sea of dystopian novels, Find Me maintains a sub-par impression upon the reader. Ultimately, van den Berg confuses and continually loses touch with her readers through spoon-feeding themes, disclosing unnecessary information, frequently using clichés, and distracting the reader with a jumbled organizational structure.

Throughout the novel, van den Berg spoon-feeds her audience with overstated messages of profundity. Rather than allowing the reader to dissect the possible meanings of the work, such as the importance of belonging and being found, one is bombarded by statements such as, “To be looked for is to matter” (223). The theme of the novel is not open to interpretation and discussion. Thus, the narrative feels simple and interest diminishes.

Along with overstating themes, van den Berg frequently reveals information that neither affects its plot nor its message. In the second half of the novel, a character is hinted to possess psychic or predictive abilities (176). One would believe that such a profound disclosure would affect the premise of the plot, but it did not affect any element of the novel. It was not relevant at the time of its revelation, and it continued to stay irrelevant. If the author’s intention was to add depth to the character, or to garner interest, it did not appear as such. Sequentially, the disclosure of irrelevant information invoked feelings of disappointment and confusion.

Peppered throughout Find Me, clichés particularly common to young-adult dystopian novels frustrate the reader. Towards the beginning of the novel, as Joy is reliving a memory where she watches reruns of “The X-Files,” she states, “I’ve never liked the things girls my age are supposed to” (34). This overused statement not only turns off the reader, but feels mildly condescending. What are 19-year-old girls supposed to like? Why must Joy declare how she’s “not like other girls”? One cannot help but interpret Joy’s declaration of difference as a method of implying superiority to stereotypically feminine women. Furthermore, as the novel continues, Joy engages in sexual activity with her roommate in the hospital and does not shower for days to hold fast to his scent. Her desperate hold on her moments with him has a poetic appeal, but feels empty; reactions to physical love such as this have been overused in romance novels and films. As a result, the many clichés of Find Me contribute to its lack of distinction in the dystopian/post-apocalyptic genre.

Along with relaying random information and overusing clichés, van den Berg distracts readers with the confusing structure of the novel. Although it is predictable, with one chapter relating the present and the next revealing the past, it distracts from the plot. The reader can easily get lost along the way by forgetting the most recent events and constantly attempting to retain information about the past. Some of the chapters reveal disturbing qualities of Joy’s past that add emotional depth to her narrative, but others feel random and unnecessary. For example, the larger portion of chapter 18 is dedicated to stating facts about Norway and the origin of the disease that has ravaged America. While the disease has arguably caused the events of Find Me, and Norway is the home to a minor character, the information given about the two falls flat, thus unnecessarily interrupting the progression of the plot. Further assisting in the disruption of the novel’s flow was van den Berg’s consistent use of three-dot breaks. For example, within the span of the five pages of chapter 40, three-dot breaks appear 10 times. The excited thoughts that Joy experiences could easily have been encapsulated in paragraph form. The information instead reads as overexaggerated and encourages the reader to rapidly skim through it in anticipation of the last page. The chapter, along with the many others that exude the same love of scene breaks, resultantly reads as choppy, scattered, and lacking in cohesiveness. Laura van den Berg’s writing style ultimately detracts from the reader’s consumption of her work.

Although Find Me loses touch with its readers, it still has some charm. Van den Berg’s use of imagery was imaginative. When Joy experiments with an unknown drug, she states, “my brain is a blue jellyfish that has crawled out through my ear and is hovering somewhere along the roof of the tunnel, happy to finally be free of the body” (225). An experience with drugs may prove difficult to convincingly describe, but van den Berg has accomplished it without seeming stereotypical or overdramatic. Additionally, the language was well-written; the tone felt conversational, yet still possessed gravity and poetic qualities in the right places. The positive elements of the overall work do not cover for its flaws, but they are still present and worth considering.

Fundamentally, explicitly stated themes, excess information, the overwhelming use of clichés, and a distracting writing style effectively contribute to the lackluster impression of Find Me. If the novel had better confronted its themes without overstating them, readers would be able to fully appreciate the novel. However, its audience instead becomes disinterested and lost in a book about the act of finding.


Laura van den BergAbout the Author: Laura van den Berg was raised in Florida and earned her MFA at Emerson College. Find Me is her first novel, which was selected as a “Best Book of 2015” by NPR, Time Out New York, Buzzfeed, and others.

 


About the Author of this Post: Ashley Suslowicz is a freshman at North Central College majoring in English and minoring in Sociology. After finishing her undergraduate studies, she plans to attend law school near Chicago. She loves Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and coffee.

Review of “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders

With Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders tells the melancholy tale of President Abraham Lincoln’s struggle to balance grieving his recently deceased son Willie with holding together a nation that’s trying its hardest to tear itself apart. Simultaneously, Saunders tells the journey of Willie Lincoln’s soul as it travels through a sort of limbo state between life and death – the bardo, as the Tibetan people would call it. It’s a story that’s as bizarre and fantastic as the President’s is sad and humbling. And Saunders writes it all in brilliant technicolor prose that burns itself into the brain.

At first, the style will throw many readers off: Saunders notes the speaker of the paragraph at the end of it, and chapters are quite short with some only lasting a few lines, like a kind of rapid-fire epistolary novel. Quotation marks are almost entirely absent, and tangible strings of conversation are hard to track down. At times it seems like the characters address the reader more than anyone else on the page. Yet the reader can quickly distinguish between the characters’ voices, and eventually quotation tags seem unnecessary, like the human appendix. Once the style feels familiar, the rest is nothing but pleasure.

The novel breaks down into two main parts: Willie’s (more accurately, his soul’s) story and Abraham’s. Willie’s soul’s story is told by several deceased fictional characters that are also spending time in limbo. These characters include the printing press professional Hans Vollman, the homosexual romantic Roger Bevins III, and the Reverend Everly Thomas. Vollman and Bevins have the most interesting relationship; their petty bickering and stubbornness is funny, but also carries a deep-seated sadness with it, like Vladimir and Estragon in “Waiting for Godot.”

Several other characters pop in and out, but they don’t do a whole lot to move the main events forward. They don’t take anything away, either. Each character, even if they appear for no more than a few paragraphs, contributes some little detail that adds to the constellation of beauty that is Lincoln in the Bardo. Saunders gives us the death story of nearly (if not) all the souls we encounter in limbo: everything from a razor blade to the wrists, to a drunken carriage-trampling, to a nose-smashingly high fall from a window. The means of death often reveals more about that character than any details pertaining to their previous life, a clever narrative trick that spices up exposition and makes the introduction of new characters a treat and not a task. Many of the souls in limbo have bizarrely distorted persons, reflecting some aspect of their character. Roger Bevins III grows multiple sets of arms, ears, noses, eyes, etc. when reminiscing about the pleasant sensations of nature. Hans Vollman’s penis is perpetually swollen (for reasons you’ll have to read to find out) and sometimes grows so large that he has to hold it with both arms so he doesn’t trip over it!

These bizarre features of the bardo may read as excess to some, but they work. Especially when put up against the incredibly somber delivery of the President’s story, told through excerpts of dozens of historical documents and primary accounts. Saunders pulls short passages and sentences from these various texts and combines them to make a parallel narrative to Willie’s posthumous journey. I never would have thought a method as ambitious as this could produce poignant and cohesive prose, but somehow it does! The historical-collage chapters read so effortlessly that, if I didn’t know any better, I would be convinced it was just Saunders executing his normal prose.

These chapters offer crucial details, such as impressions of Willie before he died, descriptions of the emotionally broken President visiting his son’s grave, hints of Mary Todd’s mental fracturing, political critiques of the President’s wartime moves, and grisly accounts of the carnage on the battlefield the day after battle. Even though these chapters have been arranged to create a new narrative, they still have an air of historical accuracy. And it’s this idea, the sense that this really happened, that grounds the wackiness of the bardo sections and makes the whole novel a deeply moving and utterly human affair.

To anyone looking for a novel written in vivid prose that doesn’t let up for one second, look no further. In Lincoln in the Bardo you’re sure to find a wildly original story told in a wildly original way that somehow, against all odds, seems faintly familiar at heart. It’s the most human novel about dead men with giant penises wandering a Tibetan purgatory you’ll ever read.


Author George SaundersAbout the Author: George Saunders was born in Amarillo, Texas, but grew up in Chicago. He completed a degree in exploration geophysics from the Colorado School of Mines. He later completed his MFA from Syracuse, where he also met his future wife, Paula Redick. Saunders has had various works published in The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine.

Review of “South and West: From a Notebook” by Joan Didion

Joan Didion’s South and West: From a Notebook confounded me on so many levels. The piece began as a notebook the author kept when she spent a month in “the South” – as though it were a specific place instead of a region in 1970. As a twenty-one year-old who was born in 1995 and grew up in Chicagoland area, I might as well have been reading about someone’s trip to China for all I could relate to its 1970’s pop culture references and vanished cultural phenomena (apparently, people back then used to pump your gas for you).

Yet despite the blatant racism, horrible poverty, and ridiculously cheap prices of the era, there was something about the book still that I found strangely intriguing. The foreword, written by Nathaniel Rich, implies that the book is supposed to lead readers to some sort of deeper understanding of present-day (2016) America. I can see it to a certain extent, as the actions and rhetoric of President Trump shares the same discriminatory, stubborn slant to it as many people Didion encounters over the course of her trip. I, however, couldn’t help but focus upon how much has changed since the work was first penned:

A tribute to coverage during Hurricane Camille… After that crisis ‘celebrities from all over the U.S. came down, Bob Hope, the Golddiggers, Bobby Goldsboro. Bob Hope coming down, that really made people see that the country cared.’ Mrs. McGrath from Jackson leaning close to tell me Jackson State was a setup (Didion 39).

Passages like these date the notebook more than if you were to slap a “Made in 1970” label on the front cover. Part of me wonders how different the places she went would be today. There were a few things I recognized, such as the prevalence of the Confederate flag (although that, too, is changing in many places).

Though the timeframe provides an unfamiliar setting, contributing more to the sense of confusion that pervades the work is its unabashedly fragmented quality. There is no real plot, no conflict, no definitive ending – it is as though it is one of those works that are released unfinished because the author is dead. The only uniting thread throughout this series of vignettes is that they look at the South and its people through Didion’s eyes.

I don’t know whether it is due to the fact she is from California or the fact that she is a woman in the 1970s, but throughout the piece, people are constantly trying to tell Didion how it is in the South. But Didion can see this for herself. What she finds is a region steeped in history and living in the past, largely resistant to the change that has been all but forced upon it, but is nevertheless slowly being dragged along by it. While I did not particularly enjoy the book due to its draft-like nature and unfamiliar allusions, I would offer a tentative recommendation to anyone interested in observing the tides of change, politics of race, and the intriguing conundrum of the human being.


Joan-DidionAbout the Author: Joan Didion is the author of five novels and nine books of nonfiction. Her collected nonfiction, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, was published by Everyman’s Library in 2006. Born in Sacramento, California, Didion now lives in New York City.

Review of “Trigger Warning” by Neil Gaiman

With Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning: Short Stories and Disturbances, the author has given us an assorted collection of short stories with a dabble of poetry. In this collection of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, you can learn about a mysterious American traveler who visits a quaint English town with dark secrets, solve a peculiar mystery with Sherlock Holmes, meet an odd man who claims to have uninvented the jetpack, and even defeat aliens with the eleventh Doctor.

Neil Gaiman is a New York Times #1 bestselling author who has written wide range of books for children and for adults. This collection of short stories is the third published by Gaiman, following Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illustrations (1998) and Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders (2006). Considering how well these past collections were received and how well I believe this one did, Trigger Warning very likely won’t be the last of them.

Gaiman starts off the book with a lengthy preface giving details as to why he choose the title and the meaning and origin behind each story. The use of the phrase “trigger warning” is not quite of traditional usage. Normally this term is used to warn against potentially disturbing context of a writing or a video for people that have experience related trauma. As Gaiman explains, “trigger warning” in this case refers to “images or words or ideas that…[throw] us out of our safe, sane world.” That was one of his goals with putting together this collection, to bring us readers out of our comfort zones and into the deep and dark world of his wonderful, yet twisted imagination. The trigger warning isn’t meant for specified people, it’s meant for all of us because we all have a trigger. After explaining the title meaning, Gaiman goes on to describe in either brief or extended detail as to why each of these stories and poems exist. For example, “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” was written as a ninetieth birthday present for none other than Ray Bradbury, a writer who Gaiman admires. “The Thing about Cassandra” was inspired by fourteen-year-old Gaiman’s imaginary girlfriend who he gave life by simply writing her name on various notebooks, much like his character Stuart did. He wrote “Adventure Story” for a radio show This American Life, though the producers ended up not being huge fans of it, and because he’d been “thinking a lot about death” and how when people die they “take their stories with them.”

While I enjoyed getting to know further detail about each story than is normally given, I’m not sure the preface was the best placement of them. I felt obligated to go through and read about each story before starting them which took away, only slightly, from the magic of blindly discovering excellent short stories within a collection. I found myself turning back to the beginning to read some of the explanations again once finishing the stories.

Gaiman plays with format in many of his stories, the most noticeable being “Orange.” Under the title of the story there is a note which states “(Third Subject’s Responses to Investigator’s Written Questionnaire.) EYES ONLY.” The story is written as a numbered list of answers without the questions that prompted them and yet, it is still easy for the readers to completely grasp the story because where there are vague answers such as “several times a day” there are more descriptive answers such as the description of where the narrator found “an empty jam jar” under her sister Nerys’ window. This story with the odd format ended up being one of my personal favorites in the collection due to the amazing and interesting way it was told through only a long list. The best part was that the narrator almost seemed bored as she was answering the questions about her sister turning into an entity known as “Her Immanence.” Another story that was interesting format was “A Calendar of Tales” which combined 12 short stories into one, each story representing a month of the year. Every small story within this larger one was written expertly, however each of them ended on a cliffhanger that left me gripping to the last sentence hoping the next story would expand upon the previous one. They never did.

Gaiman did a wonderful job of creating twenty-four (well, actually thirty-five considering “A Calendar of Tales”) different worlds with spectacular imagery which assists the readers in truly experiencing the stories. In “Down to a Sunless Sea,” Gaiman introduces a woman who “does not appear to care about the rain” by writing the story in second person telling us that we “want to pull [a bone necklace] from her neck, to toss it into the river for the mudlarks to find or to lose.” Some of the other worlds presented to the readers were familiar, at least in my case, as I got to visit London and India with the famous Sherlock Holmes in “A Case of Death and Honey,” a story which reimagined the reason he has been a character who has been revived many times since his original death by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1893. I also got to travel to the year 1984 with the eleventh Doctor and his companion Amy, and being a huge Doctor Who fan myself, I enjoyed getting to be with those characters again on a new adventure. I also got to visit worlds that were familiar, but not quite the ones I knew. In “The Sleeper and the Spindle,” we learn about a different version of sleeping beauty with another fairytale princess, now queen, being the fierce heroine of the story.

Being that Neil Gaiman is a spectacular writer, all of his stories and poems, at least in this collection, are written to represent that. While not all of these stories may immediately seem enchanting, they are well worth the read. The fun thing about short story collections is that there is no necessity to read each story in the order that they are printed. You can read the stories front to back, back to front, or in any order that pleases you. You can even go back and reread your favorites, as I did. If you’re looking for creative intelligence that fuels a random assortment of fun, creepy, and interesting stories, this is the book for you.


neil-gaiman-3-smAbout the Author: Neil Gaiman was born in Hampshire, UK, and now lives in the United States near Minneapolis. As a child he discovered his love of books, reading, and stories, devouring the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, James Branch Cabell, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Moorcock, Ursula K. LeGuin, Gene Wolfe, and G.K. Chesterton. A self-described “feral child who was raised in libraries,” Gaiman credits librarians with fostering a life-long love of reading: “I wouldn’t be who I am without libraries. I was the sort of kid who devoured books, and my happiest times as a boy were when I persuaded my parents to drop me off in the local library on their way to work, and I spent the day there. I discovered that librarians actually want to help you: they taught me about interlibrary loans.”


About the Author of this Post: Kate Haley is a sophomore at North Central College where she studies English Writing and Organizational Communication. When she is not spouting off random facts about anything and everything, she fills her time with reading copious amounts of books and writing novels that will hopefully become best-sellers (or at the best, sellers).

Review of “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You is a tale of a Chinese-American family in a time when diversity was constantly frowned upon. Set in the 1970’s, the Lees, a family of five, struggle to understand each other. They also struggled to fit into a world that didn’t understand them. The father, James, is of Chinese heritage, while his wife, Marilyn, is white. Their three children stand out as Chinese-Americans in an all white school. They kept one too many secrets from each other and in the end it cost their middle child, Lydia, her life. Ng uses this novel to explore the pressures with which parents weigh their children down, not even knowing they are doing so. Ng writes, “How had it begun? Like everything: with mothers and fathers. Because of Lydia’s mother and father, because of her mother’s and father’s mothers and fathers” (Ng 25). This novel beautifully captured the terrors secrets can keep and just what happens when the web of lies begins to unravel; slipping like water through your fingers so quickly you never even understood how you could possibly have held it all in.

Through a stunning display of multiple point of views, Ng smoothly navigates from one character to the next, letting each story play out until all the secrets the family tried so desperately to keep are brought to light. By switching points of view, the reader can hear the distinctive voice of the mother, the father, Nath, Hannah, and Lydia herself as the reader learns what they never told each other, making the title of the book a clever one.

Normally, a common fault with some novels is not holding the reader’s attention. Ng does not make this mistake. The novel captured my attention right from the start and kept me guessing all the way up until the final word had been read. The text itself has a dazzling introductory line when Ng writes, “Lydia is dead. But they do not know this yet” (Ng 1). The mystery of Lydia’s death had me guessing the entire time. How did this happen? Why did this happen?  One thing I really enjoyed in this novel was how each character was guilty, because at some point they all lied. One example of Nath’s lies is when he said, “All Nath would know, for sure, was this: he pushed Lydia into the water” (Ng 154). It really captured through the characters and family dynamic how many secrets we keep and how many lies we tell to ourselves.

This is a great read for those who have suffered similar pressures of the family dynamic and who want a read that will keep you captured from beginning to end. It was thoroughly enjoyable and will hold its readers captive from the first to last sentence. If you are looking for a quick and enjoyable read that runs your emotions all over like a rollercoaster, then crack open this book and find out just what really happened to Lydia.


celeste-ngAbout the Author: Celeste Ng is a writer in Cambridge, Massachusetts (It’s pronounced “-ing.”) Her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, has won multiple awards and was a New York Times bestseller, Amazon’s #1 Best Book of 2014, and on the Best Book of the Year lists of over a dozen outletsHer second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, will be published in Fall 2017.

Review of “H is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald

H is for Hawk is a memoir which confronts themes of depression, obsession, and loneliness; all of which Macdonald artfully highlights in her first scene describing the tumultuous “landscape [she’s] come to love very much indeed.” This English landscape is reminiscent of all the grey-scape dreariness that postmodern authors like Thomas Pynchon evoked when describing industrialized Britain; a land of “twisted pine trees, burned-out cars, shotgun-peppered road signs and US Air Force bases.” Macdonald’s self-proclaimed love of the desolate is explored throughout the memoir, with the motif of a lost and desolate world as a common thread.

In the beginning of the memoir, Macdonald’s father passes away from a sudden accident. Macdonald’s emotional foundations are sundered and she is left longing for “that world already gone, [where she] was going for dinner with Christina . . . who’d been there all along, sitting on the sofa when the phone rang.” The death of her father silently kills the world which she lived in.

Macdonald’s isolation and depression also play out in her own attempts to dampen the natural ferocity of her goshawk, a process which is juxtaposed with the futile attempts of the literary giant T. H. White to train his own hawk. Macdonald digs into the life of White and discovers a past of abuse and despair which played out into White’s search to regain that childhood which he felt he has lost. In Macdonald’s desire to relive that time of innocence in which her father was alive, a feeling of deep empathy is established between the two authors.

In one of the most gripping scenes of Helen Macdonald’s memoir, T. H. White wanders a darkened barn after having spent two sleepless nights attempting to break the will of Gos, his temperamental Goshawk. In a manic fervor, White “had refused the humanity in favour of hawks, but he could not escape himself . . . He found himself in a strange, locked battle with a bird that was all the things he longed for, but had always fought against.” It is a jarring scene, as those who are familiar with White know him as the author of The Once and Future King, the man who forged the modern mythos of King Arthur and inspired the countless medieval dreams of children. In this scene, White’s red-rimmed eyes are facing the deep schism that separates his amiable public self and the insecure child buried in his soul.

Macdonald turns towards her relationship with White’s work, specifically the pseudo-autobiographical novel The Goshawk, to confront her own world split in two by grief. She utilizes her pedigree as a research scholar from the University of Cambridge to present a well-detailed and factual historical analysis of the art of falconry and T. H. White’s literary impact, enriching the memoir with a scholarly depth that pairs well with her evocation of raw emotion. The breadth of topics which Macdonald effortlessly blends together is astounding; she proves to be a true artist who understands both complex philosophy and the potential of memoir. Macdonald deconstructs the invisible wall dividing history from present in her deeply personal analysis of White’s literature. However, it is her emotional vulnerability that will draw most readers in; Macdonald’s candid style paints a beautiful picture of the paradoxical mania which brooding depression can cause. Macdonald’s soaring prose combines with an intoxicating topic that allows H is for Hawk’s to sink its talons into readers of any background.


helen-macdonald

About the Author: Helen Macdonald is a writer, poet, illustrator, historian and affiliate at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. Her books include Falcon (2006) and Shaler’s Fish (2001)

 


About the Author of this Post: Nathan Leatherman is a junior at North Central College majoring in English with a literature focus. He spends his days reading books, braiding his hair, and relaxing next to bubbling brooks. His goal in life is to own a private library/dog hotel.

Review of “The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguro

I have a childish sweet tooth for medieval tales, of castles besotted with knights and magical creatures, so it comes as no surprise I would pick up the post-Arthurian story The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro. The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro’s seventh novel, leads the reader on the journey of protagonist couple, elderly Axl and Beatrice, as they travel, searching for their son, through the mist, which saps almost all past memory that blankets the land of England. Axl and Beatrice encounter conflicts, both literal and figurative, along the trail: the Saxon warrior Wistan and his foil, nephew to King Arthur, Sir Gawain; a pious sect of monks rumored to know the secret behind the mist; a dragon that is coveted and hunted by many and finally, a tension between Saxons and Britons for reasons buried behind the misty veil.

Ishiguro’s writing style intrigues me; he speaks across the pages in simplistic fashion, “For warmth and protection, the villagers lived in shelters,” and it is this manner that makes his story easy to follow by even a child, however, it does not stop at the level of narration. What reader of fantasy is not drawn to the clash of arms between warrior valor and despised monster or the long-awaited triumph of love over all obstacles? Ishiguro sends all these desired elements to the background. Why does he take the succinct morsels of any fantasy and render them as mundane as greens on a dinner plate? Perhaps Ishiguro is drawing our attention away from that cliché, like a chef offering a new dish instead of the old with a twist. As it is, for a new attempt to be flawless is a rare occurrence. Ishiguro struggles with his ingredients. For much of the novel, Ishiguro conceals the identity of the narrator, “I have no wish to give the impression that this was all there was to the Britain of those days,” and within different portions of the story Ishiguro switches between third and first person, here taking the role of Sir Gawain or a humble boatman, a choice that left me confused at times. His plot also suffers a crisis part way into the novel. Similar to Axl and Beatrice forgetting “how talk of this journey had started, or what it had ever meant to them,” Ishiguro has forgotten where his adventure started out only to end up deep into the woods fighting mythical creatures, escaping a monastery of monks and following an old, senile knight all while trying to find the path forward.

Ishiguro might not be the King Arthur of the kitchen, but I still found his novel The Buried Giant fun to read. Following Axl and Beatrice brought back memories of times spent with my own grandparents; moments when Beatrice’s chides Axl, ““Stop that, Axl” Beatrice whispered. “They won’t thank you for singing lullabies to them,”” or hearing Axl, with grandfatherly pride, exclaim, “No one’s ever said I’m slow in my work, princess.” Ishiguro’s other characters give me a nostalgic memory of past movies and stories within the comedic moments of Sir Gawain, “I’m a knight and a Briton too. Armed, it’s true, but come closer and you’ll see I’m just a whiskery old fool,” or the image of Axl and Beatrice floating downstream in a pair of wicker baskets. I chose to simply savor the dish Ishiguro served for the new form he offered in lieu of repeated plots.

If by chance you find yourself holding a copy of The Buried Giant, I prompt you to give it a read. Ishiguro attempts to strike a different flavor of fantasy storytelling and while not the five-star entrée, it has its own je ne sais quoi. Perhaps you too will discover a precious memory shrouded within the mists.


ishiguroAbout the Author: Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1954 and came to Britain at the age of five. He is the author of six novels: A Pale View of Hills (1982, Winifred Holtby Prize), An Artist of the Floating World (1986, Whitbread Book of the Year Award, Premio Scanno, shortlisted for the Booker Prize), The Remains of the Day (1989, winner of the Booker Prize), The Unconsoled (1995, winner of the Cheltenham Prize), When We Were Orphans (2000, shortlisted for the Booker Prize) and Never Let Me Go (2005, Corine Internationaler Buchpreis, Serono Literary Prize, Casino de Santiago European Novel Award, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize). Nocturnes (2009), a collection of stories, was awarded the Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa International Literary Prize.


About the Author of this Post: Mark Edwards is a transfer student to North Central College in his junior year pursuing a degree in English Studies. Prior studies at Waubonsee Community College were in theatre, which fueled his passion for film and acting. Mark, born and raised in Illinois, spent his summer of 2015 living in Los Angeles and plans to return after graduation at NCC in hopes of getting far, far away from winter.

Review of “A Guide to Being Born” by Ramona Ausubel

In this new collection of short stories, A Guide To Being Born, Ramona Ausubel tells eye-opening tales of life with strangely fictitious compelling twists. The eleven stories are divided into four periods: Birth, Gestation, Conception, and Love.

These stories face some of the most difficult aspects of life that most people choose to shy away from, from teenage pregnancy, to death, to growing old, and the concept of what happens next. Ausubel’s short stories capture your attention and leave you questioning: how you move on after each life changing experience? How do you continue to live after everything you are forced to bear that is unbearable? Each story has a unique flair that brings light to each of the real life topics in a whirlwind of tales spun with fascinating imagery. Each story brings in a variety of terrible truths that the reader can’t help but want to read on to find out what happens next.

In “Safe Passage,” from the Birth, section the reader follows the story of a grandmother named Alice who finds herself on a freighter with other grandmothers heading towards an unknown island. In this story, the reader is forced to face the concept of life after death and what happens not only to yourself, but also to the people you leave behind. Ausubel writes “The day she will not attend is laid out before her, the newspaper she will not read lands at her doorstep. The phone, the refrigerator, the cat. She holds her own hands” (18). Here Ausubel compels the reader to really question the notion of the people and life left behind when someone dies. Instead of looking at it from the point of view of family and friends who were left behind when someone they love dies, she takes us on a ride with the grandmother who has passed on effectively making the reader question what they will think back on as they move on. Reading this story, I found myself mournful at the idea that the world will continue to move on once I myself am gone and the pain of leaving behind the ones I love who will have to learn to live without me.

In “Atria,” from the Gestation section, the reader is tugged along on a young teen’s journey as she thinks of what her mother means when she says to grow up. Hazel finds herself pregnant after having sex with a random boy behind a 7-11 and then being raped behind a church of all places and refuses to see her baby as anything but a real life animal. Because Hazel has had something terrible happen to her, she sees the baby as nothing but a monster, an animal born of terrible circumstances and irreversible mistakes. Ausubel writes, “ ‘If it has four legs, I guess we can just get another pair,’ she said quietly. ‘It’s not twins – would have seen it in the pictures.’ ‘I never said it was twins’ ” (66). Here we can see how she portrays Hazel as fully believing her baby will be anything but human. This is a terrible twist that truly shows the horror of rape and mistakes made and what it can do to a person, opening the reader’s eyes to one of the many horrors of life. The reader and feels helpless as each scene plays out, knowing that there is nothing they can do to help her.

In “Catch and Release,” in the Conception section, we get the story of Buck and how she meets a war general ghost from the past who helps her to learn a little more about herself. Ausubel uses this short story to really look at the history of a name, telling us that it does and doesn’t define who we are. Our story is ours alone to write and make of it what we will, writing, “ ‘The story of Buck is just getting going’ he whispered” (121). This line really stood out to me because this is something more people need to point out. That we are the authors of our own story and no matter what has happened to us that there is always a future a new beginning just waiting for us to grab hold of it.

Finally in “Tributaries,” from the Love section, the reader is pulled into a world where if you truly love someone you will grow another arm, a love-arm. This is common in the society Ausubel creates and is used by her to allow readers to question just what she is trying to symbolize. One of my favorite lines from this story is, “ ‘My love is bigger than any limb,’ he tells her. ‘What is mine then?’ ” (190). This opens the reader’s eyes to the idea of what would happen if true love was proved by a love-arm growing. This sentence refers to a man whose love-arm is not real, but his wife’s is. This shows just how one person may love someone who thinks they love them back, but may never really know. While I did enjoy this short story it was also a little confusing. Ausubel creates this concept but never really makes sense of how it works. For example, one of the teachers has many loves so she has grown hands all over her body, but never grows a full love-arm. This poses questions of why no one else has grown hands that show their love of their family as well as a love-arm for their “soul mate” so to speak. This story makes the reader truly question just what Ausubel is trying to get at with this over all story of love-arms. By doing this she allows the reader to find a multitude of meanings behind each short story she wrote.

Ausubel continues to create moving and reality shattering themes throughout the rest of her short stories. In a truly new and compelling way she pulls the reader into a world of reality and fantasy that will have you wondering just what happens next. Where will she go from here and how will each story end. If you truly enjoy a bit of reality mixed with fantasy on some of the darker topics of life, I would recommend sitting down and reading this book for the day. You might just find you have a new outlook on life when you finish the final page.


ramona-ausubelAbout the Author: Ramona Ausubel grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of a new novel, Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, forthcoming in June, 2016 from Riverhead Books as well as the novel No One is Here Except All of Us (2012), and a collection of short stories A Guide to Being Born (2013). Winner of the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Fiction and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, she has also been a finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, and long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Story Award and the International Impac Dublin Literary Award. She holds an MFA from the University of California, Irvine where she won the Glenn Schaeffer Award in Fiction and served as editor of Faultline Journal of Art & Literature.