The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help

download (4)

“Amanda Palmer…the one from TED Talks?”

I really didn’t know what to make of Amanda Palmer other than being this eccentric creature submersed in her artwork. Neither had I listened to any of her music prior to reading her memoir nor did I stay religiously up to date on her revolutionary upheaval of the music industry. Amanda Palmer’s memoir The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help replaces the unknown I previously had about her, capturing Amanda Palmer both as an artist and a person. Famous for successfully using Kickstarter as a means of crowdsourcing to release an album and continuing this way of practice in promoting and selling her later work, she confesses her insecurities in this memoir: from asking her fans for donations to her fear of being seen as a narcissist, self-serving poser.

To encapsulate, Amanda Palmer is a musician whose art is best described as eclectic; she uses different instruments and incorporates unique, experimental styles to form these raw and tonal sounds. Plus, she plays the ukulele. The Art of Asking is the unabridged version of her 2012 Ted Talk as well as her band’s war against her record label. The memoir delves into her relationship with famous author Neal Gaiman and her lifelong mentor and friend Anthony, who was living with cancer during the book’s conception. Most of the book, however, is a descriptive catalog of astonishing—but not always—instances where Palmer asks her fans for help and not just in the form of currency (housing, food, venues, etc.) Palmer leaves herself incredibly susceptible to the generosity of others. Although Palmer has witnessed the capacity of human kindness through her art and openness in accepting whatever the fans are willing to offer, she has to contend with being heavily criticized and occasionally painted as a shameful beggar in mainstream media. After reading her memoir though, she’s anything but a beggar and more of an entrepreneur.

Palmer explains that much of what she learned came from her years as a performance artist, her days as a living statue. While she originally did it to be her own boss and still be able to do art, remarking on the conundrum of having a liberal arts degree but not having an itinerary in pursuing a career in the arts, she engaged with her audience on an personal level through mostly an unspoken language and penetrating eye contact, conveying that she had truly seen them versus only looking at them. Palmer realized that finding that connection, even a tiny exposure of intimacy, is what most anyone needs, and she is ready to give it.

Is the Art of Asking a smooth and tired joyride of one person getting exactly what she wants?

No.

Make that a hard no.

Palmer struggled with finances along with her own pride; her memoir illustrates this in the case of her husband. After Palmer assembled a new band and wanted to go on tour, she tried to figure out how she would come up with the money to pay everyone. Her husband offered to loan her the money (though he didn’t expect her to pay him back) but this made her extremely uncomfortable. She had already accepted money from complete strangers, however, accepting money from her husband felt like it would be violating her feminist principles. Only when she sets her pride aside does she recognize the hypocrisy. Then there are times when Palmer doesn’t receive any help even after asking. After Palmer hurt her ankle while running, the three people she asked for help didn’t offer any assistance other than to call an ambulance, ergo, treating her like someone else’s problem. Living a life where you put your faith in others has also landed her in unfavorable sometimes disconcerting situations. One of her fans stole her favorite ukulele at one of her shows. It’s eventually returned but not after Palmer mourned over its loss for two weeks. At another show, a fan shoved a hand between Palmer’s legs while she’s crowd surfacing–and in a not so accidental way. Despite this, Palmer treats each mishap and break in trust as an isolated incident instead of empirically; she doesn’t apply one instance as a universal reason to mistrust everyone nor does she ever seem to hold a grudge.

Palmer’s lifestyle, willing to ask people for help for anything, is an extreme case, but it reveals what most of us are reluctant to do, even when we find ourselves in trouble, even when it’s irrational not to. Most of us are resistant to the idea of putting ourselves in someone else’s care because of its implications. That they are weak, incompetent. A failure. Or when we want something, such as asking for a raise or help changing a flat tire, we synonymously treat ‘asking’ like ‘begging,’ which Palmer is quick to clarify the difference: begging happens out of fear and desperation whereas asking occurs out of need and compassion. Palmer’s memoir captures the general goodness of people if you open yourself to them—but she’s not insisting everyone do this. She’s been lucky, and she knows it.

What we find is something remarkably rare and beautiful in this memoir, leading us to believe that maybe opening ourselves to others isn’t as scary or deadly as we feel it is. Then again, as Palmer puts it, if it were so easy, then everyone would be doing it.

 

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–and How to Make the Most of them Now

The defining decade

My dad asked, “you actually read books that talk about that stuff?”

I nodded. “Of course…”

We were referring to Meg Jay’s book The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter—and How to Make the Most of Them Now, a book that obviously falls into the genre of Self-Help and Personal Development. I wanted something I could read during my business trip to Virginia with some much needed guidance because

  • I had never flown solo before.
  • I had never done a week long interview for any kind of job before.

To say the least, I was stressed. The Defining Decade kept things in perspective for me, helped remind me that the overwhelming thing I was doing wasn’t crazy but actually good for me, my mind, and career.

The introduction put me at ease. It wasn’t a guide of how you should be living, which, admittedly, is a problem a lot of us feel in our twenties, that we’re expected to reach something at a certain point. We see our friends with successful careers or they’re getting married and going on to visit the baby factory. And Facebook doesn’t make this any easier, subjecting us to Instagram photos of our friends’ ostensible perfect lives, forgetting that said friend is probably sleep deprived from spending all night with a crying baby, unbalanced between career and family life, or struggling with their self-worth because the last time they probably had a true minute alone was before the mom turned into a human incubator (don’t worry, I’m not planning on having children.)

What really grabbed my attention was Jay’s emphasis on young adults putting their lives on hold with the lag causing long-term consequences. It’s one of the things my own dad tried to instill in me when I was in my earlier twenties, advice I ignored partially because of Depression (because, really, who thinks about a 401K when you’re suicidal?) and the other thinking that the future wasn’t a real thing. The future was just something you thought about but never could engage with since it felt like a galaxy, far, far away. You could only live in the present, which I interchangeably treated as ‘living in the moment.’ The funny part? I was not that person in college.

I was always working towards something with the end goal feeling abstract but shiny and full of lots of potential. I felt secure when I was working towards my degree. No matter how terrible my commencement speech was (he might as well have been a loan shark), everything made sense and felt like things were falling into place. When I received my diploma, I blithely walked down the stairs, not a thought in my head of the future.

We end up becoming desensitized to the word future, printed on every career brochure and banner, crammed into commencement speeches and counseling talks, using the term at least a 100 times; the familiarity of the word, its constant presence on campus, and the very idea that since you’re in college you’re already working towards your future, makes us immune to the depths of its meaning, Then college ends and the nice, contained space where you knew where you were going is gone and you feel like you’re navigating with a broken compass.

Being stuck in limbo, whether it’s your career or love life, is lethargically miserable; it just StuckCatis. Conveying it to family and friends who seem to have their lives all figured out is worse because you can’t really talk to them without spilling out every thought in your head and leaving them to pick through the rubble of all your what-if future ambitions. If you don’t have a plan within a certain time frame, then comes the advice. Even if it’s coming from a place of good intentions, it’s still frustrating and often comes off as condescending. Of course you’ve updated your resume, checked out that firm, talked to that guy, volunteered at that sheltered, contacted that old boss of yours for a recommendation letter, etc.  Chances are that whatever they think you should do is probably something you’ve already tried before, the impulse to yell or rip their hair from their roots suddenly not sounding so crazy.

Jay’s book recounts her sessions with twenty-somethings trying to find what they want out of life. The pieces will generally resonate with most twenty-somethings who feel lost or don’t feel like they’re living up to their potential, but the content is not formulaic. She’s not telling everyone that getting married and having children equates to instant gratification. Having goals toward the future tends to feel more self-satisfying and enables you to pursue other things in life.

She discounts the myth that our twenties are throw away years, the idea that, because we’re young, we have all the time in the world to do things that have no effect on the future (if you’re about to board a flight to Europe—just ignore this and do your thing.) The problem occurs that after leaving college that twenty-somethings treat the present as dislocated time, the impression that things now are temporary  and they’ll magically change.

They don’t.

Jay doesn’t lecture with ‘get a job’ but supports with evidence and statistics of people leading more satisfied lives when their working towards goals. Much of the book contains individualized stories involving twenties who are indecisive, incredibly afraid of choosing the wrong path, avoiding making families because of their own damaged lives, not networking enough because their safe in their small groups, lacking discipline to stay in a job that will lead to other opportunities (been there,) working a job they hate, and just not engaging with the consequences of delaying plans for a later date (waiting till your forties to have a child for instance.) This book primarily discusses issues about pursuing goals and adjusting to adulthood, which I know many of us tend to see as a graveyard of dreams but it’s not.

With all that said, the book tends to overlook circumstantial issues influenced by ethnicity, economics, and sexual orientation. She points out, however, that those issues can fill a book by itself, which I sincerely hope she gets around to writing. The book also has the problem of not covering other life alternatives such as choosing not to marry or never having children.

The book is written for twenty-somethings, not to the parents trying to get their twenty-somethings to move out of their house. It maturely speaks to twenty-somethings despondent or lost in their lives, but provides the needed incentive to go out and change things.

You don’t have to feel like you’re a kid stuck on the high board at the pool with everyone’s eyes trained on you, waiting for you to make a choice (based off a true story.) It gets better.

.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright PlacesJennifer Niven’s novel All the Bright Places will be the novel I recommend to anyone desperately in need of the feels. Its subject is not without its controversy and emotionally hard to process, but Places is beautiful and finds the extraordinary in everyday places (and being a Midwestern native who knows our hills are more like lumps—I should know.) It makes us reexamine our current criteria of living, if we’re really ‘awake’ or just going through the motions. Violet and Finch meet on the ledge of a bell tower for similar reasons with different purposes. The novel examines two young adults both caught up in their own struggles. While Finch is obsessed with death, Violet is just looking for a way out. Although this sounds like the worst pairing, both of them rediscover passion and excitement, but even love is not enough to keep someone going. Places is a reminder that amid loss and death, people somehow solider on.

Before I continue, this post contains content on mental illness and suicide. Be advised. Also: SPOILERS.

Theodore Finch spots Violet Markey on the ledge of a bell tower the same day he’s tempting to jump off of it himself. He ends up talking himself out of jumping and keeps Violet from doing the same. From there, everyone believes Violet is a hero for saving Freaky Finch: mercurial, manic, a new guy every week. Former cheerleader Violet is the opposite of him or at least she was before the accident that killed her older sister. Violet has been left stranded in what she calls ‘extenuating circumstances,’ and just wants to get the hell out of Indiana. During a class assignment about discovering new places in Indiana, Finch volunteers to be Violet’s partner, giving the chance for them to grow closer and fall in love. Behind Finch’s tenacity is more than just persistence but an ominous, pervasive feeling tearing Finch down. Finch is quickly unraveling and despite everyone knowing about it, no one intervenes, and it’s too late.

Places  delivers a straightforward story about a girl and boy meeting and quickly falling in love. The opening passage quickly sets up the story within the first several passages by introducing Theodore Finch and his disturbing, dry sense of humor on suicide, exemplified by his conveyance of the pros and cons of death via jumping off a building. The narration switches over to Violet Markey, who’s sensible and less enthusiastic about flinging herself off a building than her counterpart; however, she anchors the story whereas Theodore adds comedic relief to a bleak storyline, thus, creating this complimenting effect. The changing narrations help the boy/girl plot, but, admittedly, still contains several tropes from the Teen Romance genre, which explains why it’s so often compared to The Fault in Our Stars (yes) and Eleanor and Park (just no.)  An eccentric boy appears in a girl’s life and changes her complete outlook on things, but in the case of Places, it’s not as one-sided. Each of these characters imprints something on the other, bestowing us with beautiful metaphors and nuggets of wisdom perfect for young adult.

The characterization in this novel sharply imagines teens dealing with real, complex problems and doesn’t exploit characters with mental illness. The crazy, flirtatious banter between Finch and Violet is irresistible, especially in part because of Finch’s compulsive behavior to deviate from the mundane and lighten the mood. Finch’s story is very much about trying to find something to complete him than it is about finding the perfect way to die, though this might just be one of the many caveats of the story. He’s surprisingly hyper sensitive of what people think of him while being incredibly resilient to his peers’ castigation. When the manic episodes dominant his waking hours, his character begins shriveling. The reduction of this larger-than-life character painfully illustrates Finch losing his agency and the underbelly of mental illness, showing us how he departs gradually, boxing himself into smaller spaces until he’s gone. Niven carefully describes Finch and his descent. She distinguishes the two by showing off the intrepid Finch and when he’s lost control. The distinction reminds us of how mental illness is just a condition and doesn’t subsume a person’s identity.

Violet, although is burdened by her previous life and does everything to break away from the past, is characterized as a normal girl. With a character like Finch, it’s easy to overlook Violet. Her story appears minor but contains its own interesting problems. Like Finch, she’s in the public eye but with everyone’s attention trained on her. She is loved, so everyone panders to her circumstances because they know she’s still grieving. She even has supportive parents who are also grieving. She has so many people trying to be there for her but no one that’s capable of helping her transition. Her people are all super sensitive around her and trying to push her back to a place before the accident, but Violet starts to recognize that death isn’t the end but a trigger for change. When she suffers two devastating losses, the theme of the story is punctuated. She survives but is left behind and for someone to have to lose two people she loved in such a short amount of time, this leaves her with survivor’s guilt. Niven also thematically concentrates on the aftermath of loss and shows Violet piecing her life together and trying to make sense of Finch’s death. With Violet, her story isn’t about wanting to find an end but how to restart.

Places never lets go of the challenges of existing in the presence and valuing our lives. Finch, despite his fast-track spiral, was about the liveliest person because he lived each day like it was his last. And Violet wanted to save him—just like he did on top of that bell tower for her. Places does good work in breaking our hearts but doesn’t leave us broken. It reassembles all our parts leaving us with an important message: be there as much as you can. Love the people closest to you. Don’t live according to everyone else’s idea or for your family’s convenience. We’re born and then we die. Not to have lived even one moment is a waste.

Afterword:

Yes. I’m going to do the thing where I tell you things that you have heard on a bunch of public service announcements. If you feel suicidal, contact someone. I know. You don’t want to. You feel like a bother. No one can handle you. You’re too much. If you talk about it, then someone knows just how crazy you are. You’re worried what they’ll think afterwards or what they’ll do with you. Some might worry that person will take you home. Others might try and send you to a psychiatric facility. How do I know this? Three times I’ve tried (and obviously it didn’t stick) but there was someone to intervene—by sheer luck. I got lucky. Eventually I found out that I didn’t want to be lucky. I wanted to feel less lucky. I wanted to be in control.

There are resources available to you, and I get it: the last thing you want to do when you’re in this state is sparse through research or have to wonder about the cost of treatment, which is why reaching out before you reach critical is good. Talk. Cry. Talk. Ramble. I’m sure my SO would tell me my episodes were nonsensical and incoherent, but I felt better afterwards, and I’m very grateful that there’s a person in my life for that.

Tid Bit: Don’t wait fucking ten years to seek help like I did. We are complex creatures who need to converse awkwardly, sometimes in between sobs or through clenched teeth to find our doughy parts again. It’s better than feeling mean and hard.

So. There’s my public service announcement.

Mental Health Hiatus: Winter IS the Worst

06834a22df917090f8576c4a9274bc4b

Greetings Everyone,

I’m not a fan of winter. It’s cold. It’s terrible driving weather. And while snow is charming, in its pure white form, when it melts, it’s ugly, and then you have mud and rocks and leftover ice that looks like broken teeth. Winter and I only get along when I’m indoors buried under a mountain of blankets and wrapped snuggly on top of my bed binge watching for the 10th time Gilmore Girls, which isn’t the smartest counter measure or strategy when suffering a Low.

As I’ve mentioned before in my previous posts, I suffer from Clinical Depression. For the last month or so, during this fine winter we’re having, I’ve been hit with some major Lows so strong it’s completely thrown off my emotional circuitry, i.e., I’ve been struggling to feel anything. I’ve felt like an eyeball most days. While I mentioned lying in bed, I happen to be one of those “well-functioning” Depressed people, who can still pay their bills, clean their house, and cook their meals—but working out, reading books, and even writing are obstacles for me at the moment. Whenever I try to write anything, it feels forced or someone else’s voice is hijacking my words. This has made writing reviews difficult and, yes, reading.

Here’s some good news: I am still reading at a walking pace. I am writing, evident from this short piece.

And here’s the bad news: I have no book review or book related topic for you guys today. Besides my limited emotional capacity that I just described, All The Bright Places was way, way, way, WAY, too close to home for me and brought up all these bags of feelings stuffed with tears, guilt, stupidity, remorse, and regret; yet, I feel awake again and feel closer to my old self.

To make a long story short, I’m taking some time for my mental health this week. I didn’t want to post nothing like I did two week ago. I will be back next week with a review hopefully on Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, which, despite my emotional response to it, is really a book I think everyone should read at least once (but I’m biased.)

Stay frosty and thank you guys for your patience!

Bests,

Your Local Resident Book Hermit

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

20820994I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson is a beautiful, coming-of-age story about finding yourself when everything feels shared, less, or not your own. The death of their mother significantly changes Noah and Jude, fraternal twins struggling to feel a sense of belonging. Sun is narrated by the shifting perspectives of Noah and Jude, from the year before their mother’s death to three years later. Even before the life-changing event, Noah and Jude were opposites in every way, competitive for their parents’ attention and a yearning for acceptance, but once things change, they flip personas. Sun creates a vacuum only for self-discovery with everything and everyone being conveniently pulled to one place. It’s about breaking free of encumbering labels, self-perpetuating guilt and shame, and rediscovering the magic.

Before Noah’s mother died, Noah was passionately consumed with art. Whenever he was emotionally entangled or brainstorming, he conceptualized paintings in his mind. His sister Jude was a surfer girl with latent, artistic talents but more interested in boys and parties than trying to get into a prestigious, art school, which was all Noah wanted. Flash forward three years later: Noah is sports guy and taking stupid risks by jumping off steep cliffs and not doing art anymore while Jude is attending the prestigious art school that Noah didn’t get into. She’s not surfing or going to parties anymore. Instead she’s creating misshaped clay sculptures (divine repercussions,) chatting with her Grandma (a figment of her imagination or possibly divine intervention,) and relying on her Grandma’s bible of superstition, quoting verses that are so unfounded but funny (like putting an onion in your pocket will bring you good luck.) She has already come apart at this point. After the death of their mother, Noah and Jude both put their lives on pause and just exist now. Then Jude’s teacher sends her over to be mentored by the “Rock Star of the Sculpture World” Guillermo Garcia, who’s a typical austere, tortured artist archetype. Beforehand, while waiting in a church, Jude meets the charismatic, chatterbox Oscar Ralph and everything changes.

What works best in Sun is its two, young adult protagonist. Noah and Jude engage us with witty commentary and playful banter containing symbols and metaphors. Noah and Jude play this game where they offer parts of the world off to each other. When Jude sees one of Noah’s drawings, she must have it and offers the sun to him as well as most everything else, except the flowers because Noah lets her have those. As twins, they already share most things with having both of them feel like they’re compromising or bargaining for things, which extends to how they feel about their parents and their friends. The mother, while wanting both of them to attend art school, spends most of her time with Noah on museum trips. When Noah’s crush Brian meets Jude for the first time, Noah wants to shut her out. After Noah and Brian join Jude’s posse of friends, Jude feels she’s snuffed out of the group. Sun constantly feels like it’s having these characters go back and forth with each never feeling there’s a place for them. Noah and Jude are ostensibly opposites but it feels more like a response to the other. Jude’s art only really surfaces when Noah decides to quit art. Jude stops surfing only for Noah to take on sports, creating this constant see-saw effect between the two characters. Nelson maps out a story that’s peppered with ambiguous lessons, stripping the black and white world to one full of colors. It’s not one way or the other.

Sun delicately weaves two different kinds of love stories but never goes excessively into the romance department. The twin’s experiences with love start with someone noticing them apart from being twins. Their love interests don’t know Noah and Jude as “NoahandJude.”  Even while the characters are falling in love, Sun is far from being another love story and emphasizes the kind of people Noah and Jude are intimately.  Noah’s story is painful, confusing, yet beautiful because of his narration of when the world, although doesn’t ostracize him (everyone kind of knew he was gay before he did,) makes him feels less of man when already he prefers arts over sports and doesn’t live up to his dad’s definition of masculinity. Noah’s conflicted about his identity, his sexual orientation, and belonging anywhere when it feels to him like so much of what he loves has to be kept reserved and he’s forced to live a lie. Jude struggles with breaking from that image of being “that girl,” which her mother often called her. When she loses her virginity to some guy in a car, the other guys determine she’s easy and brand her a slut. Afterwards she’s insecure and aimless trying to find her mom in her artwork, which she claims keeps breaking because her mom is angry with her. She’s trying to find forgiveness and a chance to start over. Love ends up being more transformative than a means of escape for each of the characters. There’s romance but it never replaces the twin’s personal stories.

But on the other hand, Sun is surprisingly a small world. Each character is connected in some way with some kind of purpose. While I love stories like this, cynics will toss their eyes at the many, MANY coincidences that arise at the end and at how smoothly everything comes together. Sun borders on being too miraculous but wins out by having almost all its characters happy and together, briefly suspending our disbelief and making us believe in the notions of prophecies. There’s a kind of invisible force in Sun that takes your broken spirit and turns it into your best self.

 

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and FuriesMy thoughts on marriage are what you call ‘a glass-half empty,’ the scope of marriage like a cone, open and wide at the start but narrowing as time passes, which, subsequently, outlines the majority of novels about marriages. Rarely do I read books from this sub-genre in Adult Fiction because these novels, more often than not, transfigure married couples into conjoined twins, making them a unit instead of two, separate beings. Sure, they may care deeply for the other—definitions varying—but the affection or adoration end up substituting for a spouse lacking identity or agency (aka, codependency.) What a relief it was to read Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, a hard yet unique take that analyzes more than a marriage but who these people were before they collided, a meeting that feels destined in many ways but, alas, isn’t. Fates and Furies deploys not tricks but filters, letting us watch a rosy-colored landscape transform into a storm. Fates and Furies is way more interested in unraveling the effects of past circumstances, fortunate or traumatic, and in handling life in motion, when changing practically goes against everything learned, our experiences as teachers. Maybe there is no change, no transformation at all. Even in love, do we change or do we escape?

The narrative of Fates and Furies is divided into two sections in the form of the characters’ perspectives, Lancelot (Lotto) and Mathilde, that it invents a kind of dichotomy between fantasy and reality. Named after the Arthurian knight, Lotto is immediately treated as the golden child who will achieve greatness. He’s the son of a billionaire in Florida, loved by an uncomfortably, doting, religious mother, and afforded every kind of opportunity available. Already Groff tosses out any kind of standards of normalcy; Lotto’s life far exceeds that of the average person, but it’s not without its hardships. The sudden death of his father pivots the story to shift from its sunny outlook to Lancelot’s turbulent teenage years in falling in with the wrong crowd, being shipped off to Boarding school, and having been sexually molested by his teacher for two seconds to eventually going off to college, partying, man-whoring himself to all the women on campus, achieving success in his college’s theater, and meeting his future wife, Mathilde. Lotto’s story escalates, from a lost soul to—what everyone saw at the start—greatness, a playwright, becoming a visionary overnight without ever written a story in his life. Lotto is someone you rarely meet and know because he’s hardly ever exposed to the underbelly of poverty, hate, and rejection. He was raised with an endless supply of love, adoring affection, and is virtually clean of faults, besides his level of ignorance, but making his story, his comprehension of people and relationships, hard to stomach. He’s someone everyone loves, but is incredibly daft and self-absorbed. His narration is irascible to read, even hard when he starts to mansplain at a conference after a commenter asks him about domesticating women in favor of supporting men’s ambition (even though it’s the most pointed, out-of-place moment in the novel.) Groff’s characterization of Lotto is perhaps exaggerated, but hard to read when we’re unfeeling of his circumstances and fortunes, that the first half the novel is too surreal to believe, with Mathilde aiding in creating this illusion.

Stated in Fates and Furies, Mathilde is truly the “interesting one”. Lotto’s narcissism lends to building a mystic around Mathilde, who does everything to maintain the status quo and supports his career, but any attentive reader will recognize that beyond her cold veneer is something more loose and shrewd. Mathilde’s story starts early like Lotto’s but is unsettled with tragedy from the moment she ostensibly lets her baby, brother fall down the steps, thus, breaking his neck. From there, Mathilde’s parents send her away believing she’s innately, emotionally disturbed. After living with her grandma and then with her uncle and never having friends, she is employed by a man named Ariel, with singular, sexual preferences, and remains in his services for the next four years to pay for her college tuition (yes, like that novel.) Upon learning of Lotto, Mathilde is quick to orchestrate events for their ‘destined’ meeting. They marry two weeks later. Mathilde is more than a housewife but a person trying to efface the events from her past but, meanwhile, is self-assured and a resilient female character, demonstrating an aptitude in several skills, even in ‘editing’ her husband’s works. We can’t tell though if Mathilde feels ashamed of her history, but we can glean from her twenty-year (ish) marriage, that she didn’t see it as relevant, or at the very least, knew that disclosing this information to Lotto would ruin the image he cultivated of her (suggesting more fear than shame.)  By choice, she’s supportive, honestly believing in her husband’s aspirations, and, I believe, truly loves him, but none of that changes what happened to her or who she is. Scorned and abused, Mathilde isn’t one to forgive until she’s dished out some payback, thus, revealing the title of Fury. She’s a character that attempts to rebound from everything that’s done to her, tantamount to the pain inflicted on her (parents abandonment of her = cutting ties with them entirely, for example.) Groff’s portrayal of anger doesn’t demonizes her unlike Amy from Gone Girl, arguably complex but now a case study of sociopathic personality disorder. Mathilde nurtures her appearance, letting Lotto believe what he wants to believe, and she omits the macabre events from her past because, let’s face it, Lotto couldn’t handle it anyway. And how incredibly easy it was for her to do so, especially when her golden-child husband never bothers asking her.

Fates and Furies is zealous with rich images and metaphors found in Lotto’s parentage (Lotto a nickname of Lancelot, Lotto’s father Gawain, and the description of Lotto’s mother as a mermaid [who becomes a whale]), their Shiba Inu named God (we all worship our pets,) and with the parenthetical commentary inserted into the prose like a play to parallel some of the Greek tragedy themes. So much happens beyond the plain of the story-telling that bolsters the story’s subtext and appeal—but there are certainly problems with the prose that make it awkward and difficult to adjust to. Fragmented sentences make up most of the prose with sometimes incomplete thoughts complicating the mostly linear narrative style; hence, creating these passages of incoherency. With plenty of imagery and illustrative prose, the added, brusque prose causes problems and isn’t something for everyone.

Novels on marriages can be repetitive in its plots, from secrets destroying a marriage to a spouse trying to murder the other, and while Fates and Furies falls into the former of these categories, it’s not without intrigue and contrasts with its contemporaries driven by racing, scandalous plots. Fates and Furies takes the time (a lot of time) to probe the lives of Lotto and Mathilde, and implores us all to refrain from making judgements about people’s marriages, but, instead, see the people for who they really are.

French Milk by Lucy Knisley

French MilkIn the graphic novel French Milk, Lucy chronicles her month long visit with her mother in the enchanting city of Paris giving us plenty of illustrations on the city’s food and fashion, apparently the only things to have imprinted on her. A Goodreads’ summary describes French Milk as “grappling with the onslaught of adulthood” with both Lucy and her mother struggling “with their shifting relationship,” but the only noticeable struggle found is in the weather, long lines, and Lucy’s menstrual cramps. French Milk intrigues us with the notion of a 20-something woman’s exploration of the alluring, majestic city but leaves us wanting more observation and retrospect. Coming to terms with financial responsibility and intimacy as an adult is apparently a cakewalk.

Milk is more or less an illustrative diary. It’s compiled of dates, summaries, and illustrations cataloging her day. What we see is a transparent interpretation of her experience: what you see is what you get. Lucy offers little to no substance besides what she ate and wore. Lacking is a feeling of vulnerability and absorption of her surroundings. Lucy and her mother sightsee but don’t immerse themselves in the culture. We only read about the tourism aspect of the novel.

The narrator, twenty-two year old Lucy, delivers a mild interesting look at Paris that’s mostly juvenile. An art undergraduate student, Lucy finds things like Oscar Wilde, Hemingway, artwork, and the 2006 film of Marie Antoinette interesting, but Paris, a city she mentions she’s already been to, is nothing more than a hotspot for shopping. Some of the novel’s idiosyncratic moments are humorous, such as Lucy’s book-ending hangover or her mother’s early morning habit, but other than these funny moments, what we have is a narrator struggling to find and apply meaning from her current experience to her circumstances. We hardly learn about this alleged struggle between Lucy and her mother or Lucy’s young-adult problems. The narrator provides us a prosaic point of view that illustrates the widely, frustrating notion that 20-something can’t conceive anything profound and serious.

Lucy’s illustrations are fun and easy and quickly comb through her experiences. There’s no great effort shown but it’s this leisure-like quality that bolsters the tone of the story. Lucy animatedly depicts her shopping and culinary experiences but does so in the simplest of drawings. Unfortunately with the lackluster content and prose, the illustrations remain stagnant and never depart from literal depictions.

Milk should be recommended to anyone about to leave for a trip for Paris in the near future. Its story is tailored to meet the provincial desires of an American tourist (without a budget) and point him or her  in the right direction of Paris’s attractions (why she visited the Eiffel Tower three times I will never know…) It can act as a companion to anyone without any prior knowledge of Paris. For others, they’ll want something more substantial than a croissant.