Book Series Edition: The Unwind Series, Part 2


I’m ambivalent about the Unwind series. It contains an interesting dystopia concept and plenty of political and medical criticism, but it’s far from being a perfect book. Actually, several parts felt like hiccups, so acutely off rhythm that you can’t help but notice them. Unwind struggles with character development and maintaining a propelling plot. While the series is interesting, the peculiar plot choices and the passivity of the female characters makes me reluctant in fully recommending this series, even though books one and four are definitely worth a read.

Unlike part one, the following comments below contain spoilers:

That Creepy, Creeeeeeeepy Scene:

What happens when someone is unwind? Many theories get tossed around about this one with everyone choosing to believe that a person is sedated and then put to sleep. If only.

Patients are awake during the unwinding operation! While the patients are sedated, they simply watch as every part of them is harvested, like Hannibal Lector eating your brain while you’re awake. How is this kind of operation possible? Well, science—I guess.

Unlike others, I wasn’t at all prepared for this passage. After reading it, I had to put the book down to process. Unwind isn’t known for its writing, but this particular passage illustrating a teenager’s unwinding is truly one of the most disturbing things I’ve read in a while.

Like, OMG! Girls Chasing Boys! Like. OMG. Girls Chasing Boys?

Risa Ward is smart. She knows fighting is a last resort. Connor quickly picks this up too, allowing him to become the leader of the Graveyard and later represent the ideas of the unwinding resistance movement. Connor matures, as he should, but instead of Connor adopting Risa’s resourcefulness, which would add to their dynamic duo, Connor subsumes her role as the team’s strategist while being leader, but Risa is sidelined as the helpless, stuck in yet another love triangle, girlfriend; her being belongs to everyone but her own.

Unwind robs not only Risa of potential badassery, but many of the other female characters, most who remain in supportive and/or love interest roles:

  • Miracolina; Lev’s love interest.

Although she has all the workings to be this tenacious force in the series (she’s arguably far more committed to her own convictions than Risa), she doesn’t stay in the rotating cast of character for very long. She’s actually the only third-person narrator to drop out of the series. We see her at the end just in time for her to start a long-distance relationship with Lev–because this is what every girl wants after pining for a guy for supposedly two years.

  • Bam (Bambi): She’s in love with Starkey.

Unlike the other girls in the story, Bam’s happy ending doesn’t involve ending up with anyone. She’s Starkey’s second in command and also secretly in love with Starkey. Only when Bam discovers Starkey’s secret harem does she decide to stage a mutiny against Starkey—but she has to have help. Hayden is the brains of the operation and orchestrates the entire kidnapping (and dumping) of Starkey. She’s been Starkey’s second in command for months and a leader in her own right, but she had to go to Hayden for a plan, which wasn’t even a complicated one: drug everyone including Starkey, drop him in the middle of nowhere, and relocate the Stork troops while Starkey’s out cold. She apparently had to go to him.

Every girl has a romantic partner. Even Una, who tragically lost her fiancé, ends up finding love in a guy that has her deceased fiancé’s  hand—and I wish I were kidding

Unwind ascribes stagnant roles to women that only draw emphasis to the male characters. Every significant step forward is made by a man. Connor takes down the flying harvest factory. Lev sacrifices himself on national television, waking people up to the issues of unwinding. Let’s not forget that Risa also was on television two years earlier, outing the corruption of Proactive Citizenry, but no one paid attention to this apparently.

This is a story about people being treated as just a bunch of parts, which subsequently is how the story treats its female characters. The Unwind series represents only a singular, if not poor, interpretation of women.

Change Takes Time

Unwind’s ending delivers promise to a better world. Because of Lev’s stunt—faking a terrorist-clapper bombing so people would shoot him dead—makes the world reexamine the moral consequences of unwinding teenagers.

When Connor, having been rewound, shows up in Washington ready to diplomatically fight the problem, it shows just the beginning of the solution. Rebuilding. Reconstruction. Proper Representation. Laws.  These are things that were introduced and make the ending somewhat satisfying.

Overall, Unwind had its entertaining moments, and made sure everyone in the end got what they ‘deserved,’ but it falls to pieces in its plot and character departments. Although not a well-known series, Unwind does belong on someone’s shelf of dark dystopia, but it is, perhaps, too ‘morbid’for some too read.

Blogger Note:

So sorry for the infrequent posting. To say the least, a number of issues have marred me in the last couple months: Lows, online class, sickness, and horrrrrible reading dry spells. The good news? Online class shall soon end, the sickness is going away, and OMG, I’ve got my reading groove back! Yay! I should be back to posting regularly soon.

Book Series Edition: Unwind Series; Part 1


By now, you’re so done with YA Dystopia books, set in familiar worlds and navigated by unruly, heroic/vigilante/anarchist protagonist characters. And, if it’s YA, there’s definitely a plot to overthrow the tyrannical government or upend a scientific experiment attempting to ostensibly improve humanity. I was done too until I heard about Neal Shusterman’s Unwind series, four books (plus some short stories) that are unnerving: young people made into organ donors—while they’re still alive. To put it mildly, Unwind isn’t for the faint of heart.

In the four-part book series, we mainly follow the characters Connor, Risa, and Levi in a world highly invested in Unwinding: a scientific breakthrough that makes every organ and tissue viable for harvesting and accessible to anyone. People aren’t using the organs from recently deceased people, however. Unwinding uses fresh ingredients from living, young adults between the ages of 13-18. No one’s being hunted, of course. This is all conducted appropriately. The parents give the order to Unwind their child. Some children, called Tithes, are even bred for it. Who would do that? Tired parents. Selfish parents. Uneducated parents. Gullible parents. Basically humans.

Connor is one of the many whose parents have decided to sign the Unwind order and have his organs harvested, except Connor doesn’t go willingly. He escapes from the Juvie cops (special task force that locates Unwind AWOLS), takes a Tithe called Levi hostage, subdues a Juvie cop (which later bites Connor in the ass), and meets the street-smart, orphaned Risa Ward, who’s also sentenced to be Unwind. When things settle, the three meet Sonia, a member of the resistance group against Unwinding. From there, the three of them are on the run. Connor wants to destroy the system of Unwinding. Risa wants to just survive and protect the ones she loves. And Levi wants to find purpose with his life.

The Unwind series omits the distant-future pretense found in other YA Dystopias and is set in our current world, paralleling our science and technology along with our culture (to clarify: the United States.) To make this apparent, Shusterman incorporates articles from real life—which are all legit—about the black market harvesting organs, babies being abandoned, and abortion clinics being closed. Although it can feel like padding at times, the articles remind us of one of our more pressing social issues. In the Unwind universe, a war broke out between the factions of Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. Right now, especially with the presidential campaign, the topic of abortion is more than heated (especially when you have a red-beaten hog insisting women be punished if they have an abortion). There’s certainly a verbal war that’s been happening for years, but it’s not only just talk. We see countless political agendas manifesting in laws, hospital-building regulations, and insurances policies to restrict and deprive women in having the choice to abort fetuses. This wouldn’t be the first time the United States went to war over human rights. What’s to say that won’t happen over women’s choice to terminate pregnancies? Unwind provides us with a terrifying alternative by subjecting young adults to cruel ends. This might seem impossible to imagine, but it’s probably more real than you think.

The Unwinding process and order isn’t necessarily the problem but actually how beneficial it is.  No matter how inhumane it seems (it is), there’s a lot of good that happens when there’s a replete of body parts at our disposal. We’re talking about kids who are paralyzed that could receive new spines and walk again. New pair of eyes for the blind. Amputee veterans who don’t have to use prosthetic limbs. Genetic diseases that could be avoided just by replacing the isolated, affected area (maybe? Still on the fence with this one). These are truly wonderful benefits of Unwinding. It’s also a system that preys on people’s body insecurities and vanity. Plastic surgery becomes obsolete when you can just pick what nose you want on your face. Exercising is beneath anyone who can afford to purchase toned abs (even though I think the science behind this is a bit flakey). The system easily morphs into a corrupt industry perpetuated by profits and people’s egos.

Similar to how I reviewed the Harry Potter series, I’ve included some of my commentary below. Unwind wasn’t a series I consistently enjoyed. There are parts that I didn’t agree with or I thought weren’t executed well. Books one and four had a gripping story and descent characterization; however, books two and three (mainly three) liken to white noise. I will discuss more of the series in Part 2.

The Heartland Wars: Pro-Life and Pro-Choice

I implied earlier that Unwinding was the solution to abortion between the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice factions during the United States’ second civil war named The Heartland Wars. Unwinding actually helped put an end to the war and was invented by a scientist that simply wanted to help people (usually the case). Unwinding prevents overpopulation which the world will need because, after The Heartland Wars, abortions are illegal, thereby, more babies. A woman doesn’t have to keep the child, however. This is what is known as Storking, a law passed that rarely makes anyone’s life happy.

Storking is when a woman leaves her baby at someone’s home and that home is required by law to take custody of the child. The only stipulation that would require the woman to keep the child is if she’s discovered in the act of dropping the baby off. As you can imagine, several families have at least five to ten children per a household, leading to higher stress, not to mention, the financial costs in raising those children. Because abortion is banned, families are forced to adopt children they don’t want.  Kids end up being resented and isolated from the family. In most cases, Storks are given up to be Unwind. Storks are dropped into these circumstances with no rights in a system that is rigged against them.

Unwind points out the problems in having children if we’re only going to expose them to a miserable life and treat them as burdens. I don’t have children and probably never will, but, to me, that type of treatment is damaging to kids and isn’t something they’ll just grow out of. We’re looking at adult-kids feeling ashamed and unwanted, parents feigning affection, and people forced to become parents who may not be parent material (maternal instincts don’t come with the uterus, folks.)

The series discusses just what happens when women do not have any say in their medical choices. Everyone makes different choices—but it’s fairly lousy to have kids suffer that kind of abuse because you were forced to have them instead of wanting them.

Excessive Narration: Filling In Every Gap and Beating Me With a Hammer

When the character Starkey was added, Shusterman created this interesting dichotomy between Starkey and the lead protagonist Connor.  Starkey wasn’t about preserving the peace. In the second book, he’s running from a Juvie Cop, but unlike Connor who knocks out the Juvie cop in book one, Starkey kills the cop. From then on, we study the characterization of these two in terms of hero versus icon. Shushterman employs this similar character contrast with Lev, a fallen Christian, and Miracolina, a devout Christian. These are things I wish were employed more frequently in the series and does reflect Shusterman’s penchant in developing characters.

But then the narration takes a sharp turn and becomes extraneous. The narration broadcasts everything from the viewpoint of a gardener witnessing an attack on a a harvest camp, a girl hiding in the corner before blowing herself up, to, and, I kid you not, an old military plane. I just don’t need that much information.

Creating additional characters to narrate these moments feels like lazy editing in the sense that you haven’t presented enough information and clues to the reader to fill in the gaps. The prose is excessive and encumbers much of the story. It’s by far what makes book three so hard to read. Make use of the characters you already have and expect that they’re not going to know everything. Not everything needs to be said. Let my brain do some of the detective work.

To be continued in Part 2.





Chick Lit and Gender Disparity

Gender-Disparity-Chick lit needs to go away.

Whenever I read the term Chick lit, I instinctively recoil. I bristle when people come to its defense; my brain can only register it like an undermining compliment. It sounds nice but you just know something is wrong with it.

I don’t actually have a problem with the content in Chick lit. Bring on all the tropes about single ladies contending with their overbearing bosses and agonizing, 30th birthdays! At first the term ‘Chick lit’ appears innocuous until we analyze the connotations of the name and its implications. Identifying a genre by its audience is problematic in itself (ergo Grip Lit), but the interchangeable treatment of women’s stories as lighter or fluffier is egregious and is another kind of sexism that’s nuanced but, nonetheless, damaging.

Chick lit is defined as a subgenre of Fiction, not Romance, created exclusively to encompass female authors’ works usually involving a young, modern, single-female protagonist who’s struggling romantically or with her career. Chick lit, however, reveals a systemic problem in how women and their works are categorized. If there’s a female protagonist (in love usually), several women occupy the story (dealing with love troubles), or female problems (menstruation and pregnancy for example), then it falls automatically under Chick lit, but women’s stories are not always light despite what the name Chick lit implies. The name nearly blankets all female-oriented subjects and leaves a misleading impression about women’s issues being less than other folks, which translates as half the world’s population being less significant. Not only does the subgenre’s name misconstrue female stories but pairing the words Chick and lit boxes these stories into a niche that can end up excluding people from reading them.

By segregating the works of men and women, we’re presupposing a distinction that fosters gender disparity in how we perceive and recognize women’s literary works. Part of the reason so many harbor this myth is that they believe men and women are innately different. There are differences (especially under the belt) but this is where the problem occurs. It’s not that men and women are different but that women’s works are somehow secondary or less to their male counterparts. As DJ Donnell writes on the subject of Chick lit “whatever lit is, it is certainly not literature. It is much lower on the food chain, something light and unimportant.” Even when men write on virtually the same subject except with a male protagonist, there’s no subgenre made called Dude lit. Men’s stories are treated as a default; they’re automatically put into the genre of Fiction, thus, revealing a double standard in the publishing industry. Separating the works of men and women doesn’t bring emphasis but is polarizing and actually encumbers women receiving equality in terms of how their work is received and regarded. Women’s works are not being assessed by the same criteria that are applied to men’s works, a criteria that causes many women to pander to a set of standards established predominantly by a history of white, male authors (another whole bag of problems). Enforcing these distinctions can only harm our understanding of masculinity and femininity by perpetuating stereotypes of gender. This can discourage male readers from reading these works but can also misinform young women (I know it did with me.)

As I said before, Chick lit needs to go away. It’s the one area of my life—my reading and writing life—that I get to escape to and not be reminded how prevalent sexism is. I’m sure we’ll move passed it, when everyone recognizes the problem, and there is definitely a problem.

Women and Light are not synonymous.


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.

Reading Canon: A Little About Me

tumblr_static_vyvzcr2yn6swcg0g4g44s0gk_640_v2In the cavernous halls of my childhood home, books lined our shelves and took up space in our armoires, toy chests, and on top of our nightstands, but I’m sad to say, not many of them were actually read. It might come as a surprise, but I didn’t grow up in a book loving family or one that encouraged reading. This is not to say my parents disapproved of us reading, but I would say they didn’t nurture a zeal for it, which makes sense; they weren’t big readers themselves. I didn’t start voraciously reading until later in life. While listening to other people talk about their reading lives, or what I like to call their reading canon, I quickly learned that my experience with books was very different.

I’m what you call a late-reading bloomer and not by choice. I had a hearing impairment that made learning to read and write virtually impossible, which caused me to fall behind in my classes; hence, I was less inclined to pick up a book. Each word I pronounced and mumbled through painfully reminded me of my disability making me feel like a colossal failure, and I was only six! I was about to learn brail until I had surgery, which fixed my ears (or more medically accurate, my eardrums.) It was like magic. The hearing, not the reading and writing part. I still had to learn the basics, but I was already severely behind. My doctors and teachers were doubtful about my odds of me ever catching up.

Well, I showed them.

Despite my parent’s apathy in reading, my parents had an affinity for collecting books from anywhere. New, used, falling-apart books crowded our shelves. It was easy enough to distinguish the adult books from the kid ones by whether or not they were hardcover or paperback. It was a good thing my dad did this because I didn’t treat anything I owned with ANY kind of care or respect.

The Children books were designated to a specific bookshelf. It was ugly and made of a cheap metal. The parts that weren’t rusting were sprayed in an olive green paint and chipping; nonetheless, it served its purpose. The books on this shelf were thin and flimsy, too short and felt tacky whenever I picked them up. Then one day, hardcover dinosaur books were placed on this shelf. I don’t know if it was Mom or Dad who started amassing these books, but to me, who was fascinated with anything buried or hidden, did not ask why.

These books along with several other books I read at a young age inspired a number of wild, career choices:

Paleontologist – 2 Years

Until. . . My brother informed me of the niche market and job insecurity. Even then, I had some concept of money and poverty.

Ballerina – 1 Year

Until. . . I tried to spin 360 degrees on my ankle and sprained it in the process. Apparently I had no concept of the human anatomy.

Erotic Dancer – Three Months

Until. . . I learned that I would have to take off my clothes more than once in a crowd sober. . .

Lawyer – 2 Years

Until . . . I learned that there’s more to being a lawyer than pointing and parading heroic speeches to juries. 

Private Detective – 1 ½ Years

Until. . .a year and half went by and I couldn’t figure out who took my fifty cents. My dad later confessed he had put it in his chain jug.

Veterinarian – 6 months

Until . . . I realized I wouldn’t have a facility to save all the animals that I would refuse to put down.

Doctor – Back-up Plan

Until . . .there’s no longer science involved and we’re taken care of by autonomous devices.

Books remained a valuable source of information and influence, but I wasn’t reading a lot of Fiction. After my parents divorced, my dad (along with my grandpa) continued to bestow my brother and I with something practical, something we could use later on in life, thus, the carnival of Non-Fiction and Historical books had begun!

I read books about historically famous people like Cleopatra, Augustus Caesar, William Penn, Andy Warhol, and Mozart. My brother was a lot more receptive though and fancied these books more than I did. When we received a WWII book overtaking us in size, he beamed with interest while I played with my crayons and markers. I ended up being on a book hiatus for the next five years. It would be the library that revived my interest in books.

My hometown’s library is actually big (compared to the cluster of small towns around it) and more modern, with a glass wall at the entrance, a hidden descending staircase, and four computers—which I can’t stress enough was a lot in comparison with what the other libraries had in the area.

To say that I suddenly started reading every book in sight would be a lie. I was particular, which is the nice way of saying I was stubborn and picky. Subjected to years of reading Non-Fiction and Zoology magazines, I wanted my first book at the library to be amazing and memorable, and it was. A book from the Dear America series called I Walk in Dread attracted me for its journal writings, and I was able to relate to the female protagonist. I liked that these women were strong, intelligent, and independent. I’d end reading more books with these types of women that would inspire me and morph me into the woman I am today. They’d also be the kind of women I like to write about, but when middle school ended, I would end up rerouting my passions and interests into something different.

High school was a boiling pot of my love for writing and painting; reading fell to the wayside. I’d sometimes pick up books like Speak and Dreamland when I needed something to console me, but whenever I was having a Low, feeling extremely anxious or about to lose my shit, I took out the colored pencils and sketched. I’d eventually try and channel this into a viable career. Of course, I eventually learned that I wasn’t too keen on commission work. I was losing sleep on projects that didn’t stir anything inside me. The commercial world of art just wasn’t for me.

When I finally had enough of the Fine Arts program at the university, I transferred over to English Studies. The feeling that buoyed inside me left me able to breath, to think clearly. I felt less tangled inside.

At last, I thought.

I was exposed to a myriad of Classics, which opened the floodgate to more contemporary post-modern books. This is the part when I started to read every book I could. This is when my writing started to evolve into something beyond an inchoate style.

I know my reading canon doesn’t follow the average book-lover narrative. It’s the one topic I skirt around with other readers who maybe have that one book they used to fall asleep to or that they read every year. And I get it. That book is nostalgic for them. It’s just something I can’t relate to entirely. I have fond memories, but they’re more than likely more recent. I don’t have a lot of books from my childhood that I can really talk about since I started out reading late, but that doesn’t mean I love reading any less. It’s just a different story.

What’s your reading life canon?

Norwegian Wood

11297Norwegian Wood meanders through a gregarious story that keeps us wanting and asking for more. Haruki Murakami’s novel, originally titled as Noruwei no Mori, was published in 1987 and would later be translated and released in the United States by 2000. What makes Murakami’s novel so powerful, so rich and infatuating, comes from a studious eye observant of people, culture, and political activism. He’s an author who writes until he gets it right; he doesn’t miss the mark.

In 1960 Tokyo, students are protesting against governmental institutions and order, aka, “the man,” which is the time period our story occurs. Toru Watanabe recounts his days in college, looking back with a sense of nostalgia and acrimonious feelings. In high school, Toru befriended Kizuki and Naoko, two people that had been together since childhood and were romantically involved. Then one day, Kizuki takes his own life. Toru carries this death with him as does Naoko. Then by strange coincidence, Toru and Naoko find each other again and begin to date. Kizuki’s death still troubles Naoko to where she titters when she laughs and struggles to speak her mind. When the subject of Kizuki is brought up, she’s virtually mute. When Toru and Naoko sleep together, Naoko breaks down and disappears, leaving Toru ambivalent and alone. He later meets the charming and outgoing Midori Kobayashi, a significant contrast to the brooding, laconic Naoko. Feelings start to bud between them. Then Toru learns where Naoko is and what the implications of her mental condition could mean for him.

The formulaic-love-triangle plot gravitates around Toru, Naoko, and Midori. The love-triangle story is one of my least favorite plot devices in literature. I generally try to avoid these types of stories usually because the tropes and conventions are banal and the story is typically filled with a swash bucket of cut-out cardboard characters. The love-triangle plot can also be destructive too. Our media culture has a tendency to sensationalize love-triangles, creating teams and objectifying the two people involved in the entanglement. What is worse is the women who allow themselves to be paraded and exploited, who compete to win a man’s affection and undercut the other woman to do so. They succumb to the the circus, are pitted against each other, and resort to mean-spirited tactics. This only encourages unhealthy, competitive behavior for women. Furthermore the culture perpetuates derogatory labels toward women that are damaging. The other woman. Mistress. Homewrecker. So no, I do not like love-triangles; however, Wood is an exception.

Although it’s technically a love-triangle story, it’s also in many ways not. It’s not easy to define what Wood is since it’s an amalgam of different issues. While the love-triangle aspect is interesting and fundamentally traditional, Murakami does not tell it like we’d expect. Murakami bypasses the tabloid circus. There’s no winning. The relationships are not sensationalized. The women do not pick each other a part like eating chicken off the bone. Not only do the women never meet, Toru doesn’t even talk about one to the other.

The love-triangle is treated obscurely. There are no spoken commitments, just innocuous, no-string-attached equivocal terms. Beyond the love-triangle plot is the real agent devising the novel’s substance. Alienation, sexual burgeoning, isolation, and cultural identity are pertinent and consistent themes found through the scope of the novel. Toru, although interacts and ostensibly loves the young women, he ambles through his college years withdrawn and pensive, astutely aware of the people in his life, even of the random pedestrians. It’s his introversion, complacency, and attentiveness that lends to Wood’s social commentary of Japanese culture, which remain applicable in post-modern Japan.

Although the love triangle isn’t pivotal to the plot, it is significant when discussing these characters. For all that’s good about Toru, there are certain aspects of his character that make it hard to explain his sexual/romantic appeal, the mystical hormone he’s emitting that’s attracting so many women and getting him laid. I’m reminded of K. from Franz Kafka’s The Trial, who also effortlessly had women falling for him. We are to believe that Toru is a catch, an irresistible man, to say the least. Most of his encounters, made mostly up of women no less, lead to some intimate and/or sexual mingling, but we never fully understand what has these women spell-bounded to the allusively attractive Toru Watanabe. I’m not saying Toru is a bad guy; his treatment of women is amicable. Nothing about Toru’s character stands out though. Part of what helps Wood fervently tell this story is having a protagonist that is relatively ordinary and somewhat impassive. Toru’s happenings with these women are fantastical, construed by the way he’s remembering them. It’s not as though Toru is smudging the details because, as we can infer from the mass of sensory details, he’s greatly concerned with remembering it right or capturing what he felt that day. But we suspect that there are exaggerations in these encounters. Toru’s recollection is dreamlike, almost the ideal wet dream for a heterosexual man.

Then there are the women caught in the love triangle: Naoko and Midori. They are respectively the other’s polar opposite, cosmetically and emotionally. While it’s easy to compare the two, there are independent of each other and do not need the other to distinguish themselves. Naoko is emotionally troubled, further than we originally think. Her grief and inexplicable, tumultuous feelings are appreciable; they remind us of the fragility of being human. Naoko’s presence is ghostly at times. When we start to see her, she fades out. Even when she is not present, she haunts Toru in a tantalizing, unnerving way. Midori’s upbeat persona galvanizes the story, providing some levity to the story’s somber tone, which is needed. But she also comes with her own baggage, which she tells remarkably in full-disclosure without being unhinged. In many ways, we can contrast these women; we can study how each one handles their emotional problems, but Murakami writes them so intricately that it’s not really necessary to do so. They’re palpable.

What do I need to say about Murakami’s writing that has not already been said? Writing about what you’re remembering adds to the appeal of the novel. Murakami notes the discrepancies, the lingering effects of the degradation of memory and how it can renew our perception, which plays well with the narration. Wood is a multifaceted piece that turns cracks in a wall into hieroglyphics.

When Wood wraps up, it’s disorientating like we are waking from a dream. The bittersweet and relief we feel is haunting. We think there will be more. We believe Murakami has left us with finality; we even believe he’s being generous when he’s resolved the issues of the love triangle. Instead he ends it, Toru unsure of where he’s at all. A perplexing ending, Wood suggests Toru finds closure in the death of Kizuki, but he’s immediately met by a new loss and emotional turmoil. Toru convinces us that loss is constant, that it teaches us on how we can’t prepare for it or even to handle it. It’s what we have to wake up to.

Rating: 4.4 out of 5