Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts

4.3.18

Book Review: Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne

Absolute Brightness is a young adult novel.  
Absolute Brightness
by James Lecesne


Paperback, 352 pages

Published May 31st, 2016 by Feiwel & Friend
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I am reviewing the gay YA novel, Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne.

The Amazing Life of Leonard Pelkey
In the late 90s, James Lecesne raised awareness about gay teen suicide. He wrote a novella that was adapted into a short film about a precocious boy who feels rejected by his family and attempts suicide - only to be rattled back to his senses by a cute candy striper at the hospital. This was back in 1998. Trevor lives. Almost as a counterpoint, in Absolute Brightness (2016),* James Lecesne tells the story of a teenager, Leonard Pelkey, who is murdered in Neptune, New Jersey. 

Leonard is characterized as a nice, talkative fourteen-year-old boy. When he first arrives at his aunt's house - to move in - he is met with derision by his cousin, Phoebe, who is also the narrator of the story. Leonard seems oblivious to the fact that Phoebe does not take to lightly to his fashion decisions - pink and lime-green capri pants and a "too small T-shirt." However, for Phoebe, Leonard was "way too different." And it is this aversion to difference that Lecesne grapples with in this book.


Leonard has all the Packaging of a Gay Stereotype
While he is never outright labeled as gay, Leonard carries all the packaging of the gay male effeminate stereotype. He is characterized, in the novel, like Dorothy - "more the type to be heading toward a place like Oz, as in The Wizard of." He never gets there. And the novel turns directions.

9.8.11

On the Wizard Merlin and Celibacy in Mary Stewart's Novel The Crystal Cave



Merlin, celibacy, and power in Mary Stewart’s novel The Crystal Cave is a topic I wrote about back in 2007, and I found it whilst cleaning files on my laptop. Enjoy! It was written for a class on Arthurian Legend. The text starts here: 

    What I mean by power is a tension in society between those who have privileged knowledge and those who don’t.  Power is not a stable constant.  It is contingent upon shifts in knowledge within society itself.  The avenues by which celibate roles gain an upper hand, depends in part where the non-celibates have control and vice-versa.  These roles cross over and get distributed.  There are significant shifts in the power knowledge divide, which Foucault calls “epistemic shifts.”  This is the basic struggle or tension between power and knowledge that can be traced out through history through an archaeology — a search for origins.  To see how celibacy has held sway in history, especially among those like Merlin, who represent powerful celibate men, is to dig out the origins of this power and name the origins.  

12.7.11

Book Review: A Thief, A Girl, A Moral


Something Missing
Book Review:
Something Missing: A Novel
by Matthew Dicks
Broadway Books © 2009
304 pages

    Matthew Dicks’s first novel begins with the careful machinations of a professional thief cataloging the contents of a person’s refrigerator: “A gallon of milk, long since expired, cold cuts, opened jars of jam, tomato sauce, a carton of eggs, and, in the door, what Martin had predicted: salad dressing.” After the first hundred pages, I felt like I was reliving the book The Boy Who Could Not Stop Washing. We quickly learn that the protagonist, Martin Railback, is an anti-social, neurotic sophisticated thief. He thinks nothing of taking a person's liquid plumber but agonizes over a dropped toothbrush in a toilet. Crazy guy that Martin Railback.
     Martin has a cleanly strategic work week that includes breaking into the homes of at least a dozen homes a week stealing stuff. He stakes out the homes of upper middle class home dwellers in Connecticut who would make for good unsuspecting victims of his kleptomania. No single people. No children. No people with roomies. Only married couple without children. He systematically absconds objects people will least likely notice to go missing. Martin is no ordinary thief. For example, he has been stealing Liquid Plumber and Parmesan Peppercorn salad dressing from the Pearls for a decade, along with the occasional pearl necklace or bowl hidden in a dusty corner of the house. Martin goes through great pains to determine whether an item will go missing or not. I don't want to adumbrate his meticulous steps he undergoes to determine whether an item is steal-able or not. It is ammusingly exhausting and Dicks does a fine job of bringing us into Martin's world.
       The odd thing about Martin is that he not only steals from people; he is a first class creeper. He notices his clients’ (the name he gives his victims) idiosyncrasies, the kinds of toothbrushes they use, whether or not they lift the toilet seat when they go to the bathroom, even the contents of their journals, e-mails, and grocery lists. Martin is the ultimate voyeur, which makes him creepy in most people’s estimation. Dicks attempts to make him likable, even adorable at times. I found myself hoping he would not get caught as a thief when in one scene he is trapped inside a client’s home when they arrive before he can make an exit.
    The novel reads at a quick pace. The first quarter of the book introduces you to Martin’s burglar lifestyle and gives background to how he became the kind of person he is. We quickly learn his anti-social habits. He has a crush on the waitress at the diner he frequents for breakfast but he never asks her out on a date. He has one true friend, Jeff, who does not know of his daily break-ins into people’s homes. He lives in his deceased mother’s house where he stores the objects he steals behind refrigerator panels and inside sofas. He doubles on Ebay as a chic Northeastern woman who has a penchant for handbags. In one of the novel’s funnier moments, we learn how Martin uses Ebay to sell off his client’s unmissable stuff.
    Right away we are led to believe that Martin is not an ordinary thief. I did not find myself hating him for his thievery simply because he seemed to steal only out of a sense of odd moral principles. He never stole items from his clients that they would miss. In this regard the novel seems to be a criticism of middle class America. Martin’s clients are people who work many hours a week, have amassed a large amount of cash, buy plenty of things, but do not have the time to enjoy what they buy. The Steinway piano that sits in the living room unplayed without an open music book, or the wood burning stove that no one uses, or the extra set of diamond ear rings that go unnoticed. The novel appears to be saying that Martin steals out of a high moral standard. As if his thievery suggests the hypocrisy of a middle class that buys stuff that could be used to support others (and they would not notice the loss). But Dicks never brings the novel to moral indictment of the upper middle class. We only know that Martin does not care for dogs, the very rich (because they do notice when their stuff goes missing), and general disarray. In fact instead of moral disdain, Martin acquires a bizarre intimacy with his clients even though he has never met them.
    The novel encourages us to root Martin on in his search for intimacy and love. Not finding the love of his life with the diner gal, Martin seems destined to find love with a client, or at least we are led to think so. I won't spoil the plot but suffice it to say this book enters boy meets girl territory. Why begin a novel that promises to be a critical rapprochement with American middle class values with the formula of a brazen romance. I wanted more class struggle and less amour between burglaries.
    the best scenes are the voyeur moments Martin has with his clients. He seems more at ease with the migh-have been moments in his life than real in your face person-to-person encounters. Dicks wants his Martin Railback to be both a quriky neurotic and a lovable boy next door. I don't completely buy it. In perhaps the most moving passage from the novel, Martin overhears a client speak of the sadness she feels of never having received a single rose from her husband. Martin crafts an anonymous letter to the husband suggesting he buy his wife a rose tomorrow. At this point the novel shifts in timbre from film noir espionage to the reverse of Gyges’s Ring. Instead of doing the immoral act when no one is looking. Martin turns out to be the hero who does the good despite the fact that he breaks the law for his day job. I thought the novel presented the character of Martin as too glib and neatly OCD. It never seemed to me that Martin ever questioned the rightness or wrongness of things in a searching, palpable way. His neuroticisms easily aroused him to make a quick buck from his svelte thieving as well as create delusions about his relationship to his clients.
     The novel kept me in its quasi-ethical grip until about three quarters through. By the last hundred or so pages I felt the author had become too self-aggrandizing and his character appeared to don hero wings without sufficiently revealing what made him tick. The book ends too neatly on the premise of another book to follow.
 B-

7.3.07

Book Review: The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist

In The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist by Emile Habiby, a Palestinian illegally gains re-entry into Israel after the deportation of Palestinian refugees in 1948. Saeed eventually gains an advantage, working for the Israelis and living in Israel; He falls in love with Yuaad, whose name means “it shall be repeated.” He loses her; apparently, she dies after been deported by the Israelis. Saeed’s life is one of inconsequence and random opportunism. As a contradistinct Candide, Saeed calls himself and his family pessoptimists. It’s his family’s way of thinking about the world, a little bit of optimism mixed with a touch of pessimism. Not quite as optimistic as Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide, “the best of all possible worlds” nor is it as gloomy as Schopenhauer’s philosophical pessimism. “Pessoptimism” is like Saeed’s mother’s declaration that her son who died in a crane accident, his body smashed on rocks at Haifa’s coast, tell her daughter-in-law, “It’s best it happened like this and not some other way!” Maybe a pessimist would have said, “What do you expect? I’ve always known he would die a horrible death!” Or an optimist: “Well at least we know he’s at peace!” As is obvious, Habiby’s novel is like Voltaire’s Candide. Both books set about poking fun at a certain world-view — in Voltaire’s case it is pathological optimism that states that the death of thousands of people in an earthquake in Lisbon is justified as God’s will. Voltaire makes fun of this absurd optimism by drawing it to its extremes. In a similar way, Habiby is taking this conglomerate philosophy of optimism/pessimism called pessoptimism and drawing it out to its extremes. Doing this, Habiby draws attention to the absurdity of the Palestinian/Israeli problem. Throughout the narrative, there are incidences of pessoptimism that make satirize the ambiguity between who claims a right of return and who doesn’t, who is a Palestinian citizen and who is Israeli and who is secretly working for the opposite side. Saeed’s family is from a long line of pessoptimists. “The Pessoptimist family is truly noble and long established in our land” (8). Saeed’s family had been scattered abroad, even before the Palestinian deportation, to Lebanon and Syria. His father even worked for the Iraqi government after the establishment of Israel; not because of allegiance to Israeli nationalism but rather because of the pessoptimist notion that it wasn’t as bad as having nothing. When Saeed’s father is killed on the road (I imagine, by stray bullets during the fighting of ‘48). Saeed marries Baqiyaa, whose name means, “she who has remained,” even though her village was destroyed by Israeli tankers. They bear a son, Walaa. Walaa is not a principal character in the novel, but I think his character typifies young, Palestinian masculinity — or any situation where a young man grows up in an environment where the definition of home is unstable one and where children are taught to whisper, not even to sing in the shower, lest they be heard and arrested.