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.

Considering Trigger Warnings and Our Biggest Offense

trigger warnings

Even though it’s only been three years since I graduated from college, so much has changed. I read works like Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Cruse’s Stock Rubber Baby, and Keat’s “Leda and The Swan,” and engaged with my peers in heated discussions about these books with topics on rape, sexual exploitation, race, and bigotry. When we signed up for these courses, we were expected to read the works and participate in class discussions. Professors didn’t warn us of the content (okay, they may have offhandedly said that we’d be hating the world for a week) but they did provide a syllabus listing what we would be reading. If we wanted to know anything further, we’d research it. I went in blind on all my assigned readings, never knowing what I would have to talk about or how it would affect me until my eyes found the words lying on the page. No one challenged the material even if they didn’t agree with it, not in an academic setting anyway. So much as changed.

Trigger warnings, the term originating from the psychological term ‘trigger’ that dates as far back as World War I but found digitally in the back alleys of the internet on feminist forums, are devices warning of explicit sexual violence or graphic material contained in a piece of literature. Lately everyone’s jumped on the band wagon of inserting ‘TW’ before everything’s written, when in truth is excessive and thoughtless; yet in the academic setting, where students are taught critical theories and are exposed to unnerving content to prepare them for the ‘real world,’ using trigger warnings is tricky since professors never know what might trigger someone, but we’re now witnessing students opposing material that they deem offensive for whatever personal reason, thus, raising complicated questions about learning, cultural sensitivity, and censorship in colleges and universities.

The use of trigger warnings are exaggerated due to misinformed definitions and purposes. TW are devices that anyone can use but don’t necessarily apply to everyone. They’re intended to alert people who have undergone significant trauma and experience physical symptoms that hinder their daily activity. The confusion arises in people’s understanding of people who have suffered trauma; most, unless they’ve personally witnessed it, don’t believe someone could experience physical symptoms when the issue is mental. Although there are cases where someone will be unable to engage with the material due to the severity of the trauma, TW are implemented to better aid in a person’s recovery and shouldn’t be treated as a permanent evasive approach.  Gradual exposure to the content may help combat the physiological symptoms. Trigger warnings enable those to prepare themselves to partake in rational discussions versus having their own intense experience impair them.

While inserting ‘TW’ is mostly innocuous (but frustrating to see used incorrectly,) there are some people who abuse the intention behind them for their own reasons, creating a sheltered culture of intolerance and privilege. One recent example of this occurred at Duke University where some of the freshmen students objected to reading Alison Blechdel’s Fun Home as it compromised their Christian beliefs, but as Dianna Anderson wrote, “one is a physiological response; the other is a choice in the practice of religious belief.” The Atlantic released an article “The Coddling of the American Mind,” which has been circulating and igniting the contentious debate of cultural sensitivity demonstrated in how much we apply TWs in our everyday lives or at how often we hear of students’ protests over written material. Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt write on the ostensible “movement…arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense,” and applying the term microaggressions, defined as the verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or. unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their. Although a dubious and perhaps an exaggerated claim, the article does point to some less than romantic ideas about academia.

From an economic standpoint, universities and colleges are places of business that try to maintain a constant flow of revenue; they can’t run on lofty ideals alone. Governing education falls more upon administrators than the professors and one of the factors influencing administrations are the students, i.e. the customers. If enough students ban together to have material removed from the course, then the administration, even when the students’ protest are unfounded, will more than likely submit and have the professors pick another topic, with the professors, afraid they might lose their jobs, do little to pushback. What’s arguably needed now is some pushback. Classrooms provide the appropriate context to discuss diverse and complicated issues. The academics aren’t a hodgepodge of obstinacy but a place fostering worldly perception of challenging ideas and reinventing ideas of culture. Having your own beliefs is acceptable but obstructive when absorbing the material that could possibly enlighten us.

I imagine I will continue to see stories pop up of students banning together to have a novel removed from class because it offends them—but that action is offensive in itself.  None of these works like the ones above are easy to talk about, but I absorbed them with the kind of necessary discomfort that we hold in us, a kind of vague unknowing feeling that sounds like a reluctant ‘maybe’ and scares us  from ditching the life map and driving. Staying in our comfort zone is safe but self-restricting stunts intellectual growth and maturity. We shortchanged ourselves and others.

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.

Only Ever Yours, by Louise O’Neill

Only Ever YoursOnly a handful of books make me tremble and cringe and Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours is now one of them. Compared to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Only Ever Yours is a YA dystopian novel about the subjugation of women, their sexuality, and their identity. The women are toxic, undermining, manipulative, narcissistic, insecure, and superficial and that’s only because they were designed this way and are otherwise known as eves—capitalization omitted intentionally. They’re artificially designed women since women are no longer born naturally. Yours feels unending of depravity and acerbic dialogue, with danger and destruction festering like a tumor, but it’s praiseworthy, evocative literature about femininity and gender inequality, nonetheless

Yours begins with freida, an eve who’s about to graduate to become a companion, a concubine, or a chastity. Eves attend a Ceremony to determine if they’re wife material, if they’re suited to a life of physically pleasing men, or if they’re a better fit to teach other future eves. But freida is more concerned about isabel, the #1 eve in the school and her best friend. Isabel suddenly distances herself at the beginning of their 16th year; she drastically falls in the rankings. To survive, freida latches onto the other top ten eves. Aimless and scared, freida herself becomes unraveled, losing weight, sleep, and her mind. Only when she meets Darwin, the #1 male in his class, that freida thinks she has a shot at a good life.

Yours is a subverted version of fairytales. There cannot be a happy ending because that would suggest that there was something right about this world when it’s already incredibly flawed. The politics and ideology of this absolute patriarchal world are long established and indoctrinated into the new generations. The damage to the eves’ psyche is extensive; they’re warped beyond repair. Unlike other YA dystopian novels where the protagonist saves the day or society revolts against the Totalitarian government, this YA dystopian is a bleak, unfavorable outcome to all women. Women aren’t permitted self-discovering or a moment of vulnerability because it may ruin their chances at happiness, which they’ve been fed (by men) to believe it’s in servicing men. They’ve been taught that the previous world, where men and women were allegedly treated as equals, was wrong. O’Neill’s resists the temptation to ostensibly write a favorable ending to preserve the notion that finding Mr. Right is still conforming to a patriarchal system denying women’s rights.

O’Neill captures with prose like butter on warm toast the significance of language and its correlation with gender roles and identity. Language is one of the most revealing trademarks in any culture especially when applied to gender roles. The one I like to bring up the most is how women are often referred to as ‘girls,’ when they are fully grown; however, referring to an adult man as a ‘boy’ is considered insulting or belittling. Yours reflects the derogatory language applied to eves that’s relevant in our culture. For example, the term ‘Feminist’ is seen as offensive in Yours. Too often this word in our culture is misinterpreted as a woman who hates men and is associated with stereotypes of domineering and bra-burning women; it means on a fundamental level a person that believes in gender equality. Yours represents the degradation of women’s value in how they omit capitalization from women’s names, not even considered proper nouns. Permissible to say, however, are ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ and even using the phrase ‘Fat Bitch’ is encouraged to keep an eve’s weight down. Negative reinforcement and shame are instruments used against eves to control them. Everything is tied to the language and circulated to maintain the patriarchy.

As for the characters, a few stand out in the bunch such as freida, isabel, megan, while the others blend together making it hard to differentiate between them, which obviously touches on another point. Personality—beside the chemically manic and barely tolerable vapid eves—is just another thing stripped from them, supplemented by the need to only please men. Freida is no different. Contained in her characterization is a powerful concern and want to appease everyone, the fear of disapproval puppeteering her body and severely influencing her choices. Dictating her choices from the start is her isolation from isabel, from her pack with the group, and from Darwin. She desperately seeks companionship, which in actuality is her need to wash out her latent insecurities and self-hate. So much of Yours, narrated by freida, laments the already troubling negative self-body notions we perpetuate and harsh criticism we throw at anyone’s body we deem flawed. Freida painfully reminds us of our own shortcomings as people and the damaging effects of the beauty industries exploiting this weakness, heavily suggested in Yours mantra, “there’s always room for improvement.” Freida’s counterparts, isabel and megan, exemplify the men’s ideals and embody their purpose. Although most of the novel conceals isabel’s story, megan is affront and mostly manipulative, and she knows it. She simply can’t help it. She was designed this way. All these women are victims of a world that deprives women of choice.

Another aspect of O’Neill’s novel resides in its gender discourse and criticism. Although Yours exists in a fictional world, several of what’s mentioned is all too familiar and upholds in our culture. Most of the eves are mindless caricatures, versions of stereotypes preconceived by men of what they believed was the ideal woman. Yours illustrates this by emphasizing a woman’s appearance as her only value compared to intellect, which the men prefer eves didn’t have. Eves essentially serve only three purposes, which Yours demonstrates in its Ceremony classifications. Everything boils down to a woman’s fertility or sexual performance. A chastity, a women not serving Man, is virtually useless. And while certainly many of these things may appear nonexistent, thinking we’ve evolved passed this, influences of patriarchy remain pervasive in our culture. Women (me) still don’t have complete medical authority over their bodies. Women (me) are still made to feel like pariahs when they abstain from having children. Walking down the street, women (me, again) are catcalled, and when they (me) argue at how uncomfortable it makes them, they’re (us) told their being ‘too sensitive,’ much like Yours does when one of the eves feels hurt. And when a woman is sexually assaulted, we still hear things like, ‘she was asking for it,’ see media circulating stories that make the rapist sympathetic, and the court rules in the rapist’s favor. Yes, Yours is an uncomfortable discussion on the treatment of women, but it’s one that’s necessary and worth having, not just for men but women. Identified in Yours is also the habit of women comparing themselves to others, making undercutting, snide remarks to mar each other’s self-esteem. Yours emphasizes disunity among women, even in Feminism with its tendency to overlook marginalized groups, referenced in the eves practically painting their face in white and a narrator who tries constantly to mask her brown skin. Of course, this is just more social commentary O’Neill adds about the beauty/modeling industry lacking diversity within their models and also the products they market.

I recommend Yours to anyone. If you’ve been shying away from books described as ‘Feministy,’ this is your chance to take the plunge. Although a disturbing, dark, unflinching horrific story, Yours pries our eyes open to discussions otherwise left unsaid, unnoticed, or not even known. Ignorance is not bliss; it’s a costly mistake.

New Year Resolution: My Five Writing Goals

Instead of writing on the innocuous or potential damage trigger warnings cause, I’ve opted to write on one of my favorite times of the year: New Years. This won’t be a post on the ‘Best Books of 2015’ or ‘My Top Ten Favorite Books of 2015’ because that has been done to death and so many amazing books were released this year that, even if I tried, I couldn’t appropriately rank them but what I can offer is something I’m equally if not more passionate about: writing.

In reading Marina Keegan’s The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Short Stories, I’ve found several things to aspire towards next year in terms of my writing. If you have not read this book, I highly recommend it. Published posthumously after Keegan was killed in a car accident five days after graduating from Yale, the book contains a collection of Keegan’s essays and fiction/non-fictional pieces. She was so young and wrote witty, profound, generational pieces. The introduction, written by one of her Yale professors, disclosed Keegan’s ambitions and work ethic during Keegan’s undergrad days and also provided a list of what Keegan herself was hoping to improve on in her writing. And as a I writer, I asked, ‘have I ever made one of those list?” And the answer was immediately obvious. I’ve been editing my novel for over a year. I’ve rewritten most of it, feeling like some days, I’m reinventing the infrastructure of it. Subconsciously I’m well aware of what to look at. Cutting that needlessly long sentence (because I’m secretly trying to telepathically suffocate my readers?) Too many paragraphs that I should condense into one (because one critic told me to ‘take it easy on the readers’ eyes’ like half-a-page paragraph will cause a seizure or something.) Or my trying to be cryptic in the last line of a paragraph (because if I’m confused, you’re lost.) I know so many things about my writing but I rarely reflect on some of these major issues and articulating them may help to improve upon them.

I decided that in the year of 2016 to work on five things to improve on in my writing. I’ve compiled a list below stating each one and their significance.

Awkward syntax

By far, this area in my writing is the most challenging for me. Often when I read one of my awkwardly written sentences, the meaning and sound is virtually transparent to me. A professor advised that I read this aloud, and for the most part, it helps, but there are times that I simply don’t see the funky, grammatical formation impeding on my sentences. Partially responsible for this is my own awkwardness and the way I talk. Several people have argued that this is not true, however.

Nonetheless, it’s something I need to improve.

Ambiguity Doesn’t Mean Deep

This isn’t a grammatical problem; it’s a content problem. Sometimes when I’m deep in writing a metaphor/simile, I overreach. Like, I try way too hard to achieve some level of profundity that no one except me will understand. That’s not being clever. That’s obnoxious and will cause your reader to just stare at the page annoyed. You two will get into an argument because you’ll try to say that it has ‘so much meaning’ and your friend will tell you to shut up and move on from your pretentiousness. Has this happened? Yes.

I mostly find this wedged in the most mundane areas or at the end of paragraphs. I struggle with this more times than not, and I’ve found that if I have to debate it, it’s going into my dump folder.

Excessively  Long Sentences (though impressive)

The phrase, ‘keep it simple, stupid’ could not apply more.

I’m someone who can write a ridiculously long sentence and actually make it work—sometimes. The problem that I run into is too many of these impressively long sentences that weigh the writing down and cause all sorts of confusing syntax and contextual meanings. Just because I can do it, I probably shouldn’t, or at least, use them sparingly. I can get so lost in thought, especially while having a Low (btw, my writing, if bogged down by an army of these sentences usually means I’m having one) that the meaning of the sentence is lost. Again, we need to keep our readers with us.

It. What is ‘It’?

The pronoun essentially used to describe or evade anything in any work. Sometimes, we  don’t even know we’re doing this, but in writing, it’s very obvious, especially in mine. Seen often in the first draft of most of my works, I tend to skirt around and not directly say who or what is feeling or doing something keeping us under the umbrella of ambiguity once again (see a pattern? I do!)

For example:

‘It was a good day.’

Okay. What is ‘it’ referring to? Maybe the day? You? Me? Just say, ‘I had a good day,’ then! Don’t need to leave us wondering who actually had the good day, which I hope you’re having.

Verb-tense Consistency

Because I’m not always writing things in the present tense, my work suffers. There’s a plethora of debates out there on writing literature in present versus past tense. Some find present tense awkward and some see past tense as a slow-paced form of writing. Whatever you prefer is fine. I actually write in both tenses. Oddly my short stories are usually in past tense while my vehement novel is present tense—for the most part. I sometimes slip and it’s not something detrimental to my writing, but  it is something that I need to keep in mind during the editing stages.

 

Perhaps in the new year, I will post an excerpt of my novel. I keep referring to it but haven’t provided any explicit details about it. I know many writers are eager to share their works, but I’m usually hesitant. Then again, since this is a book blog, it might be appropriate since I hope one day to have said novel published.

To everyone, thank you for following. We’ve had a good year together, and I appreciate all your comments! If you have any recommendations of books you think I should read or are an author looking to get his or her book reviewed, send me an email at myhermitsanctum@gmail.com. Don’t forget to review my Book Recommendation page first.

See you in the New Year!

 

 

My Week with Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part 7 (The Finale!)

harry potter and the deathly hallows

Of course there will be spoilers contained in my last post of “Harry Potter”, but, still, I will say it once more: Spoiler Alert: Do not read if you haven’t read any one of the “Harry Potter” novels.

Back in high school when everyone was reading the last Harry Potter book, my SIL, best friend at the time, had offhandedly redubbed it as Harry Potter and the Prolonged Camping Trip. I had no idea what she meant until now. She’s bloody right. Pages are dedicated to Harry, Hermione, and Ron camping in the woods while on the run. They’re busier sorting out their own problems than finding Horcruxes.  Some, like Ron—too preoccupied with his own bruised ego—just do nothing to advance the story along.

The Deathly Hallows is an accumulation of unsaid conversations finally surfacing. Harry’s unwavering loyalty to Dumbledore. Ron’s inferiority complex of his best friend. Hermione’s feelings for Ron. And to be brutally honest, the latter of the two are just exhausting, a banal romantic entanglement to remind us that Harry and Hermione are never ever going to happen.

The last book recounts our heroes’ aimless search for the Horcruxes, their misgivings towards each other, and the strength they find to persevere and overcome impossible odds. It’s also famously known as one of the most tragic books from the Harry Potter series with more beloved characters killed off than in a Joss Whedon series. Deathly Hallows is the series’ apogee, an emotional cutting, candescent piece that while struggles with pacing, is what the story deserves instead of what it needs.

Death Is Coming For You

Harry Potter is quite merciless at killing off some of its most intricate characters. I wasn’t harboring any delusions of everyone being safe from Rowling’s pen. Moreover, I expected a few deaths. Hedwig’s death, the first death in Deathly Hallows, signals the novel’s ruthlessness… and also the beginning of my own bawling. What can I say? I cry  at reading and watching people’s pets die. But more importantly, Hedwig’s death thematically represents a loss of innocence. She was one of the first gifts and a friend bestowed to Harry. Killing her was symbolic of Harry leaving behind his childhood (or, depending on your interpretation, thrusted into adulthood.) This is a reoccurring theme in all the Harry Potter novels, being that this is an epic, coming-of-age story.

Some of the other deaths were some of the best, well-written pieces I’ve read in a while. The death of Dobbie and Fred were so eloquent that they gave me chills. But others did disappoint me, such is the case with the deaths of Remus and Tonks. While it was apparent that Remus was destined to die—his friends gone, his career in the gutter, and an unstable condition—I did wonder if perhaps he would survive after marrying Tonks and fathering a child. Still, every time we saw him in rags, blanch and thinning, he looked like he was wilting before us, similar to what happened to Sirius Black. At this point, I wanted the same fate for Remus, to go out in a blaze of glory, but unlike Sirius, the glory is a hollow death. He loses his life alongside his young wife Tonks, leaving behind a child he will never know.

But, thankfully, Harry was appointed Godparent…so… Harry will raise the boy…right? Right?? Seriously, if anyone knows, please tell me, because the ending didn’t seem to suggest that!

Hunting Horcruxes

Famous heirlooms. Voldemort’s hubris… How was this hard?

And reading through Ron’s inferiority complex caused a really loud sound that I couldn’t shut off. Oh, wait. That was my screaming at him.

Ron, the bane of my existence (and apparently Hermione, but she ends up marrying him so…)

The Bittersweet End of Severus Snape

The Deathly Hallows reveals the most about Severus Snape. Argued as the ultimate anti-hero, Snape, as I already knew, loved Lily Evans/Potter. They met when they were children right as Lily was discovering that she was a Witch. Even after being sorted into the four Hogwarts houses (eleven is really too young…), they continue as friends, but like any cliché, Snape falls into a bad crowd of future Death Eaters. When Snape regrettably calls Lily a Mudblood, their friendship dissolves. Lily starts dating James, and Snape joins the Death Eaters.

Several parts of this story are curious and most revealing about the character Snape. Despite loving Lily and being deeply ashamed at how he treated her, he remains in love with her while doing horrible deeds in the name of the Dark Lord. He only begins to repent when he discovers the prophecy and how Lily will lose her life protecting her child, thus, taking on the role as a double agent and later as Harry Potter’s secret protector. The real question that I always find myself asking though is this: why did he continue down a destructive path after what happened with Lily?

Snape demonstrates that he’s capable of feeling remorse (although it may only apply to Lily, Dumbledore, and Harry.) He recognizes when he’s made a mistake, but this isn’t enough to change him. More often, it’s usually not for anyone. It ends up being a life-changing event that reforms Snape into a person that still does horrible things but for the greater good—which is exactly what he wanted whether he knew it or not.

I used to think the life of Severus Snape was a tragic one, and it still is in retrospect. He wasn’t offered the chance to come clean or openly make amends with anyone, even with Harry, who Snape treated the worst; however, Snape’s last line tells us so much about who he was.

“Look…at…me…” he says in his dying breath. It’s quite the contrast to the movie’s version that attempts to redeem him and make him more sympathetic, but the book’s version succinctly summarizes who the character Severus Snape is. He’s tormented and destructive because he doesn’t see himself as anything else. He doesn’t forgive himself. Not ever. Snape isn’t spending his last breaths trying to confide in Harry or apologizing. That’s not his version of atonement. Snape doesn’t want to feel better. He interprets his mistakes too great to ever be forgiven, so he must suffer as much as he loved Lily.

He’s committed, that’s for sure.

Dumbledore’s Biography

I did say I wanted a biography…I just didn’t expect one to be published in the Harry Potter universe.

Dumbledore didn’t adopt his altruistic beliefs until later on after making a handful of mistakes. He was a know-it-all, genius wizard who couldn’t care less about his family. Awards, achievement, and the revolution of the wizarding world were the only things occupying his mind, that is, until the death of his sister, Ariana, who Dumbledore may have inadvertently killed during his altercation with his brother and friend, Grindelwald. Dumbledore never forgave himself, so much so he never pursued a position of high- ranking power. For him, his sister’s death sobered him. It taught him he couldn’t wield tremendous power. He lacked the mental discipline and humility, even though we’re lead to believe he’s the most humble professor considering the glut of power at his disposal. Even so, Rowling has removed most of the mystique surrounding the powerful wizard Dumbledore and greatly humanized him, something which I loved.

19 years later. . .and All Is Well.

If you’re not up to date on your Shakespearian references, the last three words will mean nothing to you, but if you are, then it should tickle your brain. It did for me anyway.

The only reason I actually know this reference is subsequently from studying and writing on Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, noted as one of Shakespeare’s problem plays but also considered a Comedy. Why it’s viewed as a problem play stems from its implicit content that doesn’t comply with the conventions of Shakespeare’s Comedy; it essentially deviates from the tropes of the genre. All’s Well That Ends Well contains several issues that many argue don’t fit the category of Comedy, shoehorning the two romantic partners together and carrying in its subtext egregious gender politics. To sum it up, it’s not a happy ending for all. In this play, the quote “All is well that ends well” tries to remedy the loose ends and fates of the other supporting characters almost like a comedic shrug; however, the phrase is harsher than we know. What happens, happens or That’s life. Sound familiar, right?

Besides the staggering death toll, several characters’ fates aren’t expounded upon in The Deathly Hallows, with the fate of some not necessarily happy. For instance, the ending of Remus’ son is problematic since he grew up more or less an orphan. Bill Weasley is permanently disfigured. Percy will forever carry with him the psychological trauma of Fred’s death. George lost his twin, who was like his other half. Draco Malfoy, considered an antagonist throughout the Harry Potter series is apparently redeemed despite almost killing a girl and Ron in the Half-Blood Prince. All things considered, there’s no room for celebration. So how does one go about ending a series that, for many, has been a source of happiness and comfort without euphorically washing out the story’s maturity and complexities?

The ending quote, “All is Well,” doesn’t gloss over any of the problems or somber moments. It pointedly and realistically addresses loss and grief and how time can temper these things but not expunge them from our emotional circuitry. It also identifies that not everything is perfect. Fair to say, if leaving Harry Potter with the feeling that everything is as it should be or believe it’s a happy ending, then we’ve blithely misread and overlooked the nuances of the last chapter.

As Harry, Ron, and Hermione send their kids off to Hogwarts, we know as well as they do that this moment is contributed from an amalgam of sacrifices, losses, and victories. There are things they’ll never be able to forget. Certainly things aren’t perfect and were not supposed to think they are, but we can say, that it’s better than the alternative.

The Harry Potter Blues and Final Thoughts

I’ve heard about this condition where people go into a catatonic book slump after reading Harry Potter, a void that just cannot be filled. While I am experiencing some reading lag, let me reaffirm that this has more to do with the holidays and a temporarily closed library than Harry Potter.

It’s been interesting reading the series. I’ve met and talked with some cool people and gleaned from our conversations that Harry Potter holds a special place in their hearts. It’s a token from their childhood and/or adolescent years. I get that. It just isn’t for me. I’m older, arguably more mature, but more so, I’m the kind of person who doesn’t carry keepsakes from her childhood. I couldn’t tell you what my favorite Barbie doll was. I had over a hundred drawing hung on the fridge, which have all been discarded. Awards and trophies are kept in closets or stuffed in draws. A sign of avoidance and/or repression? Possibly.

Harry Potter is special in the sense that it can touch so many people differently. I think of it like watching an eclipse: you have to use a pinhole to see it right and have to be in the right place and time. Maybe I didn’t see the eclipse right or maybe I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Who’s to say?

I read and enjoyed the series. I picked up several new things that I wouldn’t ordinarily find in other books because I don’t spend a lot of time reading series in general. Rowling created seven books that read cohesively while adapting to the aging characters, a huge undertaking and not often appreciated.

It’s hard to believe it’s been seven months since I first picked up the first book. And I would definitely be up to rereading the series after I’ve spent some time reading other books, writing about them, and continuing to write my own story. Then someday, I can revisit Hogwarts.

Thanks everyone for following, or for others, humoring this reading escapade.

If you missed Parts 1-6, I’ve included links below.

Hope you survive enjoy your holidays!

My Week with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stone, Part 1

My Week with Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, Part 2

My Week with Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, Part 3

My Week with Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, Part 4

My Week with Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, Part 5

My Week with Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, Part 6