Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado

It’s not often (or ever) that I come across a new writer I love this much.

This collection of short (and not so short) stories wowed me at every turn, and overwhelmed me with the uniqueness and fresh beauty of the prose.  Her use of language is so creative and lovely, I couldn’t put it down and found myself highlighting sections constantly in my Kindle.

The stories vary in tone and content, but all feature lesbian or bi women as protagonists, and are poignantly powerful at showing the world from a woman’s POV. But even if you’re not particularly interested in feminist writing, the stories are amazing in their own right. AMAZING. One of them, you can (and should) read right here. This story is a list of Law and Order: SVU episode titles, and their descriptions. Yes, you read that right. It is a story told through short episode descriptions that slowly coalesce into a story featuring Benson and Stabler. It is dark, surreal, sad, strange and I couldn’t stop reading it.

That one in particular stuck with me because I’d never considered writing a story in that format. It’s not quite fan fiction, but uses the oppressively violent world of SVU as a backdrop. You get the feeling as episode after episode is listed, that human cruelty is so endless, that they could keep making SVU episodes forever, and never repeat themselves. And you feel the gross, evil of it, and identify with the helplessness as the characters are overwhelmed, and driven mad by their own city.

The other seven stories are just as evocative and memorable, each in their own unique way. I really can’t recommend this collection enough.

I don’t know the last time I’ve been this struck by a new writer. I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

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I, Claudius by Robert Graves

This was an interesting and entertaining, though not always very engaging read. Told from the point of view of  Claudius, a stuttering, limping, nephew of the emperor Tiberius.

I have no idea how much of this is historically accurate beyond the births and deaths of these people, but it painted a disgusting picture of the political world in Rome at this time. The book at many points read as a list of murdered people. Anyone who had even a slight bit of integrity or likability was murdered to help Tiberius (and eventually Caligula) stay in power. I feel like Game of Thrones may have been influenced by this kind of history.

In many ways, the greed and paranoia of those in power reminded me of our own political world today. Those in power seem evil in a pathetic, rather than impressive way.

On the down side this is a very historical novel, in that it is more a list of events than a story. The narrator, Claudius, hardly takes any actions himself and is more documenting all the things that happen around him. This makes the story hard to get into at some times.

 

Chekhov, no twist!

I’ve been reading a collection of short stories by Anton Chekhov, and am enjoying it immensely. His characters are so bright and clear and amped-up that you can’t help but love or hate them. But more than any of that, I absolutely love the lack of twist endings in his stories.

Anton Chekhov, if you’re not familiar, wrote in the 1880’s and 1890’s, and is considered by many to be the ‘father’ of the short story. And I have to say, I prefer him to most of his offspring. It is hard to describe how refreshing it is to read a story that doesn’t try to rip the rug out from under me in the last sentence every. single. time. A story that says what it’s trying to say, and then ends, without having to manufacture a shock that turns everything you just read on its head, or somehow reverses the meaning of something important. Instead, I get to the end, and it’s over. His stories are not all preamble to some endorphin-triggering key word. They are not just a fuse leading to an explosion. They are enjoyable for themselves.

After reading Chekhov’s stories, I became very aware that today’s short stories, at least in the non-literary genres, are basically distilled twist. If there is not some shock or surprising reveal or reversal at the end, then what is the point of writing it? I fear, is what people think. Well the point, like any writing, is to make someone feel or think or identify or understand something. And there are plenty of things other than surprise that a story can make you feel.

I am learning a lot from these stories, and this is definitely going to affect my own writing in the future. I heavily recommend reading Chekhov to anyone who wants to write short stories!

Read Iapetus Shift free

Hi friends. I’ve begun publishing my first sci fi novella for free on Wattpad, the first 2 chapters are up and you can read them here:

https://www.wattpad.com/user/TheJonasDavid

All the chapters will eventually be posted for free, over the next weeks.

I’d appreciate likes and follows on that site, as I’m fairly new to it. And check out my other stories I’ve been posting there too 🙂

Thanks!

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Besides being a great story with amazingly developed characters that are intriguing to watch change over the course of the novel (well… most of them change…), this novel pointed out the giant blind spots I have about the world beyond my door step, and has encouraged me to seek out books that feature other cultures and times in history that I know nothing about, which is most of them….

I really loved how distinct the character’s voices were in this. Each chapter is written in first person from the perspective of one of five characters. Sometimes, when resuming in the middle of a chapter, I’d forget who’s chapter it was. I’d only have to listen for a few seconds before I knew, based on the way the characters observed the world around them.

Heartbreaking, entertaining, educational…

Sharp Objects blunted by twist ending

This post contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen HBO’s Sharp Objects, you’re in for a treat, go watch it. Then come back and read.

 

Sharp Objects is a show you have to pay attention to. It’s smart, and subtle, and you can miss entire plot points if you look away for even a few seconds. What I loved so much about Sharp Objects wasn’t the story as much as how it was told. That is, the story was shown, rather than told. You pick up clues, make inferences, put together implications and build for yourself the picture of what’s going on. It is supremely satisfying to be treated like an intelligent, observant, perceptive viewer.

And that’s why the ‘twist’ ending was such a shock to me. Not because the the actual revelation that Amma was a killer was a shock, there was enough hints and cues and clues throughout this very thoughtful and subtle show to put it together–if we’d been given the chance. The shock was that a show this subtle and evocative felt the need for something as trite as a twist ending at all. I expected a show like Sharp objects to leave me thinking, puzzling, wondering, with as many questions as answers.

Instead Sharp Objects ended like a teen slasher movie with the best buddy who you think has been helping the whole time suddenly baring fangs or pulling out a knife. Oh no, what a twist. Amma may as well have stepped into frame covered in blood and holding a handful of teeth.

At the very least if they’d cut it with Camille finding the tooth in the dollhouse (which had the nice out of focus shot of the doll sitting limp in the window to remind you of the original murder scene), you’d have a moment to think about it for yourself. You might think: ‘why would Amma have teeth… did she take them from her mother… or…’ then your mind rolls back over the show, you make connections, you get that ‘oh, god…’ moment. It’s satisfying to be shown instead of told the answer.

But we get it rubbed in our face by Amma showing up like a ghost who lost their jump scare violins ‘Don’t tell mama!’ And if that wasn’t enough, we have the post-credit scene to really hammer it home for any dummies in the audience who didn’t catch on. It left a disappointing taste in my mouth after such a monumentally impressive show.

All this leaves aside the question of why we need twist endings anyway. I know Sharp Objects was based on a novel, so to leave out the twist would have been a disservice to the author and fans. But why does a good show or movie need a twist at all? Why do so many authors and directors feel obligated to include one? Wasn’t it surprising enough that Camille’s own mother was the killer without having to flip everything on its head in the last seconds of the entire show?

Sharp Objects was about so much more than just who killed those girls. In fact, while watching it I was hardly ever concerned with that question. I wanted to know about Camille’s history, her family, her past and future. And I got to learn all that and more. That is what got me excited while watching Sharp Objects. Ending on a goofy twist that puts all the focus on the ‘who dunnit’ aspect seems like a major disservice.

Anyone who stuck with this show to the end is not going to be afraid of subtlety and ambiguity. Those aspects were the hallmarks of this exceedingly sharp show. It’s a shame it had to end in such a blunt way.

Satantango, by László Krasznahorkai

This one was alternatingly intense, uneasy, claustrophobic and funny.

The story takes place in a small Hungarian town where the collective farm has collapsed and the people have no way to make money. They are all looking for a way out, and have placed their faith in a mysterious and charismatic character who may or may not be scamming them. There is also constant rain that has washed out the roads leaving them all trapped.

I loved the way this was written. The long, cramped pages full of texts and long sentences added to the feeling of inevitability and claustrophobia the characters were feeling. There is another layer added at the end, which also makes sense with the style of writing.