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2017-02-09 03:42 pm

Recent Reading

The Friends of Eddie Coyle, by George V. Higgins. Low-level and mid-level criminals play hot potato with the threat of jail-time, seeking to either rat each other out or stay true to an ideal they only fleetingly believe in, while all the while the cops pursue their own workaday duties and people get screwed over by accident as much as by destiny. Deservedly a classic, and I'm sure I've pretended to have read this before despite having only read it just now. It has a terrific combination of wit and grime, like Elmore Leonard writing for The Wire. It's very downbeat, which means that for all my admiration I don't actually like it--I love my tragedies but can largely take a pass on existentialism--and I wouldn't want a steady diet of it, but it really is very brilliant.

Black Water Rising, by Attica Locke. The sort of book I want to buy for other people and force upon them somehow. It's set in the eighties in Houston and focused on Jay Porter, a weary and struggling lawyer--in college, he was one of the major young voices for civil rights, but an arrest and a betrayal left him cautious and mostly void of idealism. When the book opens, his best hope of providing a cushion for the coming birth of his child is a whiplash case, but soon enough, he's the uncomfortable witness to the cover-up for a murder, and everything spirals out from there. It has a terrific sense of place and of its era, gorgeous prose, and complex characterization.

Avid Reader, by Robert Gottlieb. There were so few ways this could go wrong! Normally, I read books about reading books to tatters: as soon as I've finished them the first time around, they immediately become comfort reading, to be dipped in and out of, to be picked off the shelf when I'm in the mood for nothing else. Gottlieb served as the editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster, Knopf, and The New Yorker; he edited John le Carré and Toni Morrison. Unfortunately, he cannot stick to his working life, and way too much of this memoir is composed of snide put-downs about the subjects of his various vendettas, self-aggrandizing name-dropping of his famous chums, and irritating humblebrags. He would make a fascinating subject of a biography so long as he wasn't the one writing it.
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2017-02-07 10:22 am

A Little Life and Fantasies of Depression

[I wrote this a bit ago, and thankfully the circumstances in it no longer apply.  I put up an earlier version of it on Tumblr and I've also rambled on about A Little Life anonymously elsewhere.]

I’ve been in a mild depression lately and most of the writing I’ve done over the last two weeks has been disorganized and incomplete: snippets rather than stories.  None of it is for anyone else and none of it even 
could be for anyone else, because it’s all disgustingly well-tailored to my own sloppy emotional needs and, even beyond that, thoroughly rooted in intensely designed AUs of canon that are vivid to me and undoubtedly ridiculous and unrecognizable to anyone else.  Even my wife thinks they’re self-indulgent.  But what they all are, when you come right down to it, is a very particular brand of hurt/comfort.

I’m especially brutal to my favorite characters when I’m depressed, because, dammit, I just want to read about well-deserved comfort, and I don’t have the time or even the emotional complexity in these periods to work out how to do this in any kind of subtle, plausible way that would actually be consistent with good, emotionally nuanced writing.  This isn’t the time for that.  This is the time for “the characters have inexplicably been kidnapped by torturers with some random and likely unmentioned motivation.”  It’s the time for impractical kidnappings, for (at least feigned) betrayal, for public humiliation, for strange magical harms done to people in decidedly non-magical canons.  I find this soothing.

Read more... )
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2017-01-24 08:47 pm

"Anyway, It's All Over Now": Laura's Wolf, by Lia Silver

I had good reason to be reminded of the Werewolf Marines series recently, and soon after that reread Laura's Wolf for two reasons.  One: there is no series title more perfectly designed to appeal to my id than "Werewolf Marines," because I love stories of loyalty and stories of pack-bonding.  Two: Laura's Wolf is great comfort reading with which to usher in a year in which we'll all be in sore need of comfort reading.

"Comfort reading" can sound like a promise that a book will be nothing but coziness, but Laura's Wolf isn't that, and in fact that's never been what I look for in comfort reading.  Rather than being a novel where nothing bad ever happens and no shadows ever fall across the face of perfect, blissed-out happiness, this is a novel where trauma lingers, happiness is a matter of day-by-day work and little victories, and there is damage that can't be fully repaired.  But it's a fundamentally hopeful and warm book, not despite those qualities but because of them.  It doesn't assume that things are easy or effortless--and those "things" can include getting over guilt, adjusting to a radically different kind of life, working out a relationship, and defeating an abusive alpha werewolf--but it extends empathy towards its characters and has faith in their ability to work towards recovery.

Also, and I think I mentioned this, it has werewolves.  In the perennial "are you a vampire person or a werewolf person?" survey that all humanity is required to answer, I am, always and forever, a werewolf person.  Werewolves run hot, they're emotional and messy; werewolves are all about community, friendship, and family dynamics; werewolves are, alternately, puppy piles and ripped-out throats.  I'm always looking for that particular combination of openness and complex interpersonal loyalty, and Laura's Wolf is my favorite way to scratch that itch.  It doesn't just have the strong central romance between Laura and Roy (though their romance is adorable and convincing, especially as they realize their mutual need for adrenaline rushes and heroism, and as they're able to take care of each other and, gradually, their acquired pack), it also has, well, everything.  There's Roy's friendship with DJ and his new connection to DJ's extended (and wolfish) family, and how that links him not only to the Marine but also to a thriving werewolf culture with its own mores (scent names!); there's Laura's loving but distant connection to her dad and the heartbreaking story of the "con" she ran on family she would have loved to have connected with honestly; there's the pack Laura and Roy eventually wrest out of a terrible situation, with their own dynamics and their own traumas.  There is pack sense and there are scent names and people all get together to have breakfast.

Laura's Wolf is a very fannish novel that is very conducive to fannishness, and if the universe were a better and more just place, it would at least be a miniseries, because it really does build a situation in which any number of stories could be told--and that's even before you get to the excellent "werewolf PI" set-up.  Both Laura and Roy have strong drives--they're both the kind of people who create plot by going out and doing things--and they inhabit a coherent and tantalizing world.  It's the pattern of trauma and recovery that gives it all a simple but elegant structure--and a very appealingly hurt/comforty one--but you can also see how new plots could be put in place for new kinds of stories to be told.  (And of course, it's the first book in a series, so new stories do get told.)  That's also part of what makes it comfort reading for me--there's a lovely openness to it, and plenty of room for my imagination.

But what I come back to, repeatedly, is the sense that I drew the post title quote from: the guarantee (that we know is false) that things aren't over.  That the pain isn't over, so comfort and work are still needed; that hope isn't over, so you have something to hold onto; and that your life isn't over, so your actions and choices still matter.  That's the kind of comfort I think we all need right now.  And also werewolves.