Posts Tagged ‘love’

Monstress by Lysley Tenorio – review

August 3, 2012

as always, there is the chance for spoilers ahead. In this instance, it’s a certainty. So, if you haven’t read this collection, I’ll just say that, yes, it’s a really good read and worth the time.  the collection definitely follows a theme of people who are monsters in some way, from the obvious of an actress who always dons the monster suits in her husband’s movies to a little girl who reaps vengeance upon a sister to people physically disfigured by leprosy. Tenorio’s stories are about people either overcoming the monsters they live with, or how their lives are shaped (and occasionally destroyed) by them. Also, the monster theme isn’t just a one off in each story. You can often find monsters in various forms rearing their heads, giving you a variety to pick from.

In the title story, “Monstress,” there is the leading lady, Reva, who often plays the monster in her husband, Checker’s, movies. There’s also the monster of Hollywood and all of the allure of its lights and fame. Also, there is the monster of Checkers having never made it big as a director himself, even being pushed aside in Manilla because his films are not “Hollywood” enough.

We see the same thing in the story “Brothers.” One brother is seen as a monster because of his decision to become a woman. Throughout the story, Tenorio also shows the mother to be a bit of a monster with her initial treatment of her transgendered son, “friends” from their childhood have moments of monstrousness with how they react to the transgendered brother, and the central character, the other brother, has moments where he seems to be fighting his “inner monster.”

This could also be a collection centered around a meditation on love. All to often, the people who come across as the most monstrous have done something horrible for the sake of love. The love of a sister. The love of another man. The love of a son. Love is bent, corrupted to give its permission to a myriad unloving actions.  In this way it could be placed among many American stories, where love corrupts or is corrupted. For whatever reasons, Bastard out of Carolina comes to mind the quickest. Nearly everyone in the novel loves someone but also uses that love as an excuse to do something horrible. Perhaps this is the most natural direction to take love, at least in art. Love by itself is probably somewhat mundane, outside of the Hallmark Channel. Meanwhile, all of us probably remember doing something stupid for the sake of love, so the idea of a mother using an ace bandage to tightly wrap her son’s fake breasts flat to his chest because she loves him probably shouldn’t be a grimace inducing scene, though it is.  Maybe this is the true definition of monster, though. The corruption of love.
Alright, below this I have brief (very brief) rundowns of each story. They probably aren’t very helpful for you, but they helped me remember plenty. Since I wrote them down, I figure I should just leave them up. So, if you really don’t want any (more) spoilers, don’t keep reading. The rest of you have been warned.

1. Monstress – Manila husband/wfe [checkers/reva] make horror movies, brought to California, by Gaz to finish horror movie using Checker’s monsters. Checker ends up going home, Reva stays and makes a few more movies -all crap. Cutting room floor with Checkers reaching to help Reva up

2. The Brothers = two brothers, one is a transsexual. Dies of asthma attack. family has to come to grips with his life. brother ends up going to other TS’s house at the end, to mourn?
3.Felix Starro – family passes down job of being a faith healer, using Chicken livers/blood to sell their performance. Starro and grandson come to US, Felix makes small fortune that grandkid steals to buy fake documents to move to US.

4.The view from culion – Culion, a leper colony. An American girl is there, sent by her family, one day american GI shows up. He wants to escape, she wants companionship. He gets her to draw again. She tells Peace Corp that he is there against what her superiors tell her. PEace corp takes him away, and she sees that he has leprosy.

5. Superassasin – high school kid lives in dreamworld of being a super hero, enacts “vengeance” on people he feels has wronged him, such as concocting an aerosol spray to horribly burn someone who mistakes it for deoderant.

6. Help – boy and his cousins help their uncle willie attack the Beatles at an airport because they made a remark about Imelda Marcos. When the time comes, not everyone attacks, but then it begins awkwardly until Willie enters the fray. No one ends up getting hurt, Beatles remember it later and the kid feels a bit vindicated by it? proud of it?
7. Save the I Hotel – Fortunado and Vicente are old men living in the I Hotel. Both immigrants, Fortunado is gay and has always had a thing for Vicente. story is of their past, how thye came to live together and how Fortunado betrayed Vicente out of jealousy, getting him and his girlfriend fired (g/f flees back to WIsconsin?). Now, Vicente is kinda out of it, and Fortunado takes care of him and prepares him to be taken from the hotel because the city is tearing it down.

8. L’Amour – family moves to military base in California. One daughter uses younger sister for cover for running off with her boyfriend who knocks her up and then wants nothing to do iwth her. moves back home. family is fucked up. Her sister then starts bleeding, and the younger daughter locks her in and runs off. She gets a street away before turning and going back and seeming to start over.

The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu – Review

May 17, 2010

On the coldest day of the year a boy is born the unwanted child of a prostitute.  It’s so cold, his little heart does not want to work and to set it working properly, the woman who delivers the child, a woman of bizarre means and ways, graphs onto his heart a cuckoo clock to help the little heart find its rhythm, to help it beat in tune with time.

Of course, this premise has its own twist and turn to it, and it’s the journey to the playing out of this premise that makes this novel. While the love story between the main character, Jack, and a near blind singer, Miss Acacia, is the focus of the story,  a second and, ultimately, tragic love story quietly plays out beneath this, a love story of a different nature between Jack and the woman who had grafted the cuckoo-clock to his chest, Dr. Madeleine.

The romance between Miss Acacia and Jack have the usual obstacles, largely being Jack’s inferiority complex and the return of one of Miss Acacia’s former beaus, Joe, who was also Jack’s archenemy in public school. And, really, the love affair ends as you would fairly expect it to. But it is also this ending that brings about Jack’s knowledge of the truth of his heart and the ultimate destinies of every character in the novel.

There really isn’t a lot to mine from the story. Love is displayed in many forms throughout, but never really explored with any depth. There are Dr. Madeleine’s desperate motherly love for Jack, there’s Jack (and Joe’s) obsessive love for Miss Acacia, there’s Miss Acacia’s love which appears the truest but also one of the most abused, and Melies’s love for women in general and few women in particular. The book is chock-full of of love malformed, love unrequited and love abused. But it finds a way to still say very little about it.

Which is alright because it’s still a good little read for what it is. On a personal note, I was somewhat disappointed by the turn that befalls the main character. I thought it took something away from him, made him (and his story) pretty normal fare. I can’t help but think that the idea of a boy with a clock grafted to his heart, in some way tied to his physical being so that each is dependent on the other, could have been followed to richer spoils, but it’s not a total turnoff. Considering the novel stretches on for all of 171 pages, it’s fulfilling enough without being repetitive or boring while also offering no real illusions that it needs to be more than it is. So since it is something you can pick up on a Sunday afternoon and put away late Sunday evening, it’s not bad. I’ve seen that it is supposed to go with a music album by the band the author heads, but I have not heard this album or any other album by this group, nor do I think it is necessary to enjoy the story. It’s good for what it is which, unfortunately, turns out to be something without the heart that it thought it possessed.

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson – Review

April 23, 2010

Last night I watched an episode of Homicide: Life on the Streets where Bayliss and Pemberton are investigating a death related to erotic asphyxiation, Lewis and Crosetti have a case revolving around a man who shot another man over a pen at the library and where Munch is troubled by Bolander’s happiness while dating a woman half his age. In its own way, it is very similar to Winterson’s The Passion.

With The Passion we are given two lead characters around whom many other characters orbit, Henri and  Villanelle. Henri  is a young Frenchman who joins Napoleon’s army and becomes the personal server of Napoleon’s meals, always chicken. His friends are Domino and Patrick; Domino who believes only in the moment, the future and past holding no power or meaning. Patrick is a former priest with one normal eye and one eye that has the ability to see perfectly for miles. His other encounter of note is with the Cook who is a drunk and is essentially removed from the Grand Armee for not doing his job, something he holds a life long grudge against Henri for.

Villanelle is a boatman’s daughter, a definition that, despite her father being deceased and her mother re-married to a baker, has a continuing significance throughout the story. Her orbit includes a woman with whom she has an affair with and who steals Villanelle’s heart  as well as a husband who sells her to one of Napoleon’s generals and a man who wagers his life against a stranger’s and is sentenced to death by dismemberment, beginning with his hands which are delivered to the bar some time later, displayed in a box, and holding a roulette ball in severed hand and a domino in another.

Throughout the novel we are given different versions of differing passions that drive th existences of the varying characters. Napoleon seems to have this passion for indulgence. Beyond his attempting to take over the world and throwing his soldiers into meat grinders to win whatever battle he was facing he would also eat chickens whole and would attempt to re-shape whatever places he conquered to fit some image of his own design. It is what could be described as a very stereotypical male passion for dominance and control, a passion that ends in failure as Napoleon is ultimately defeated.

in a similar vein, though on a smaller scale, is the cook who we come to find has a similar passion for possession and control. And whoever challenges this passion finds themselves, as Henri does, to be on his eternal bad side. Though, like Napoleon, the cook ultimately meets with failure, also.

Henri’s friends, Domino and Patrick have very different, personal and less infringing passions. Domino’s is to simply live in the moment, regardless of what or where it is. His life motto can be summed up with a simple “Live for Now.” Patrick, meanwhile, seems to just want a drink, some eye candy and someone to tell his stories to. The lack of power or “fire” in either man makes it hard to label either as having passions, and it’s likely notable that both die in the novel before either of the central characters. But their lack of passion along with their relatively quick demises and, comparatively, painless lives could eventually be seen as a positive in relation to the pain of the passion misdirected of Henri.

Henri loves Napoleon the way a little boy loves an older brother or uncle who always seems to do the Big Amazingly Cool Thing That You Yourself Couldn’t Imagine Doing. Then he falls in love with Villanelle, a love that’s not returned in the same manner and which ultimately destroys Henri.

The only character who makes it through the novel relatively whole is Villanelle. She loses her heart for a moment, but she lives and gets it back. She ends the novel raising her child. It becomes clear that Winterson is saying something about the healthy and unhealthy embraces of passion in life, and it also appears to be saying something very anti-masculine. Napoleon’s passion brings him to ruin. The cook’s passion eventually kills him. the lack of passion in Henri’s friends lead to meaningless, un-connected lives. The man in the casino loses his hands (and, we assume, his life) because of a misdirected passion for a thrilling bet. And Henri finds himself committed and slipping into derangement because of a passion that isn’t reciprocated but which he can not let go of, despite repeated opportunities to do so.

Villanelle, meanwhile, lives a good life. Even in misery, she seems capable of finding a certain contentment and while she guards her passions, she also embraces them and allows them into her life. Her “healthiest” love affair happens to be with another woman who is left alone for long periods of time by her husband who is constantly searching for rare maps, books and whatever else and, last we are informed, has disappeared in search of The Holy Grail – what could be interpreted as a fool’s quest and destined to never be seen again or to also end in failure.  Villanelle’s mother is also a relatively happy, stable woman. She has a husband she loves, she has her passions yet she also displays the ability to work through life in a practical manner.

The only man in the entire novel who seems to be happy is Villanelle’s step father who is a baker. The man being a baker does not seem like a coincidence. While the term “chef” does carry certain connotations of a big fat guy in white slaving away at food over a hot stove (or fire, another masculine image having to do with power), a baker is different. It seems more feminine, having to do with sweet goods and breads and cakes and cookies. When someone mentions a bakery, you think of some women working in a shop churning out wedding cakes. And when a man is doing this job, you often hear him referred to as a pastry chef, not a baker. This connection to what could be considered a feminine profession, or at least field, almost has to have a connection with the stepfather’s happiness.

All of which brings me back to this episode of Homicide. The asphyxiation case is a passion uncontrolled. Someone is introduced to a situation that they are not accustomed to and, which we discover, can not handle. A woman dies. In a library, a mentally disturbed man wants a pen that another man doesn’t want to give him, so the mentally disturbed man shoots the guy and leaves but without the pen, because stealing the pen would be wrong. It’s a uncontrolled passion for pens similar to the passion Napoleon had for controlling the world, domination, feeding and fulfilling the passion at any cost. Then there is Bolander just looking for love and finding a woman who reciprocates and who, literally on a violin and a cello, make music together.  A passion that is both reciprocated and healthy. Like Villanelle. Like The stepfather and her mother.

Which makes me wonder if this idea that women are in some way more innately able to incorporate a healthy dose of passion into their lives than men is a greater concept of western culture. Has the symbol of a woman as “mother” or as “nurturer” become something we easily associate with passion. With love. While men are ugly and violent and need help in this area. It is something we see in the common refrain of “if only a woman was president” when someone is lamenting the state of society, usually in relation to some ongoing military conflict, as if the passion of power overwhelms a man and that a woman would be more able to direct this passion in a positive direction.

As a final note, thinking about the television series Homicide, they often dealt with passion misdirected or misapplied. A child is murdered, it was usually by someone having a sexual lust for the child, a perverted passion.  A gang member is killed, drugs are involved, it’s another passion misdirected towards an addiction or towards power or towards money, which is really the same thing as power. This is something I’m not sure any other cop show has truly looked at on television. Most are procedurals that supply a base motive and focus more on detectives moving from Point A to Point B where we cheer for the good guys and against the bad guys. The “bad guys” are almost universally depicted as clearly bad, there is no moral ambiguity, there is a clear lack of humanity while “the good guys” stand as the guardians of humanity, sorting out the impurities as they crop up. Homicide was more daring than that. Like Winterson’s The Passion, it looked at the world through a wider lens. While either may be just as biased in their questions, they are more complicated in their answers.