If there’s one thing I’ll never forgive Stephanie Meyer for (besides general misogynistic grossness), it’s ruining the Brontës for me.
Let me tell you a little story, in belated honor of Valentine’s Day. I did not read Jane Eyre until my sophomore year of college. I read it because I was required to read it for a course, and if I hadn’t been forced to read it then, it probably would have been years before I got around to it. I had read (and adored) Wuthering Heights, but the things I liked about Wuthering Heights were not things I expected to find in Jane Eyre. I thought at the time that I only enjoyed love stories with a twist. Star-crossed love, obsessive love, unrequited love—they all fascinate me; what I didn’t like (and still, for the most part, don’t like) in a story is happily-ever-ever love. I knew Jane Eyre was more or less a happily-ever-after kind of romance, and as a 19 year old with pretensions of academic seriousness, I didn’t expect to like it. Continue reading
Please Note: The following contains spoilers for much of the first season of Penny Dreadful, because I just don’t care.
Every so often, I start to feel vaguely and irrationally guilty about my inability to stay on top of all the TV shows that sound promising. Guilt quickly progresses to something like anxiety, and I feel an absurd but pressing need to play catch-up right away. So I really ought to have known better than to follow a link to an article entitled “The 17 Best New Shows of 2014”—the only thing that could come of that was stress.
I also should probably know better than to take life advice from Buzzfeed. But since I apparently don’t, I have to admit that I was intrigued by their synopsis of Penny Dreadful, which they describe as “an existential thriller that is far more cerebral than it appears from the outside, posing philosophical questions about the nature of life and death, transgression and absolution, power and responsibility.” I guess I was still riding the high of finally discovering why everyone raves about Sarah Waters, because I was all set for Penny Dreadful to be a truly ingenious riff on classic Victorian literature. Continue reading
Writers like to write about the writing process, and critics like to read novels that reflect on literature itself—that much is clear. All too often, of course, this metafictional bent devolves into (at best) a kind of neurotic navel-gazing and (at worst) self-important proselytizing on the transcendent, transformative nature of art. The messianic overtones of the latter in particular can quickly become grating, even to the staunchest proponents of literature’s intrinsic value, which is perhaps why Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman comes as such a breath of fresh air. “I bet you believe in the redemptive power of art,” writes Aaliya Sohbi, the novel’s wearied, aging, but delightfully quick-witted narrator, “I’m sure you do. I did. Such a romantic notion. Art will rescue the world, lift humanity above the horrible quagmire it’s stuck in. Art will save you.” Continue reading
A few years ago, once I had more or less resigned myself to the fact that taking the time to get a doctorate in the humanities is impracticable in today’s academic job market, I decided that I would get an MA and then teach English at the high school level. I can’t say I was ever thrilled by the idea of teaching teenagers, but since finding full-time work at a community college is increasingly difficult (as it is at any kind of college or university), I concluded that it was the only financially viable option, assuming I wanted to teach English at all. So, after failing to land a position at a private school immediately after finishing graduate school, I decided to become certified in order to improve my odds. And in the course of the certification process, I applied to work as a substitute teacher—partly for the experience, partly to complete the requisite number of “field hours” my state requires.
I should say at the outset that as a substitute, and as someone new to teaching, I expected to have classroom management problems. What I did not expect was to be sexually harassed by the students. Continue reading
You—the debut novel by writer Caroline Kepnes—begins like a keyed-up Billy Joel fantasy. Joe Goldberg—charming, perceptive, and acutely aware of his service-sector lot in life—is working in a New York bookstore when MFA candidate Guinevere Beck walks in. Beck is pretty, perky, and slightly pampered, and the couple’s first, bantering encounter (straight out of a romantic comedy) carries with it the promise of both future misunderstandings and ultimate reconciliation. Of course, the novel’s blood-drenched cover promises something else entirely, as do Joe’s obsessive ruminations on Beck and his ominously evasive references to a prior failed relationship. It soon becomes clear that the novel’s cross-class romance is less “Uptown Girl” than it is Collector, with Joe going to extreme and amoral lengths to secure Beck’s affections. Continue reading
I have a confession: I’m a feminist, and I love Dickens.
Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure which part of that sentence is supposed to constitute the real admission, since God knows people hate the word “feminist.” That said, I’ve met several women who are quick to write off Dickens’ entire oeuvre as patriarchal nonsense, and it pains me a little. Because while I don’t especially want to linger on Dickens’ private life—frankly, it’s not pretty—I think he often gets a bad rap where his novels themselves are concerned.
The much-discussed relationship between sex and music isn’t as recent a phenomenon as you might think. However refined and proper the music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries seems to today’s listeners, there is much anecdotal evidence suggesting responses at the time were anything but sedate; women who attended Franz Liszt’s concerts reportedly threw items of clothing onto the stage and tucked his cigar butts into their cleavage.
In Sedition, Katharine Grant takes the music-sex link and runs with it, with results that are alternately hilarious and unsettling. Set in Georgian London, Sedition is the story of five girls of marriageable age and the plot that their fathers—a sordid cabal of wealthy but lowborn merchants—concoct in order to see them wed to titled men. Continue reading
Note: The following review contains massive spoilers for both the novel and movie, because a) I’m going to assume a lot of people have already read Gone Girl anyway, and b) it’s simply impossible to dig into the movie in any meaningful way without giving away important plot points.
Let me begin by saying what I love about Gone Girl as a novel (apart from a truly gripping plot). Mostly what I love is its uncanny ability to identify and then amplify the tensions that underwrite many a romantic relationship. Its melodrama is always rooted in reality and, as such, it systematically exposes how very dysfunctional the underpinnings of these apparently functional relationships truly are. Continue reading
Clarissa Bourne is surely the first person to ever welcome jury duty with open arms. In The Book of You, though, the seven-week criminal trial—itself a gruesome play-by-play of a combined kidnapping/gang rape—comes as a strange relief to Clarissa, whose own life has devolved into a series of moves and countermoves as she attempts to evade the increasingly obsessive attentions of her coworker, Rafe Solmes. She even takes tentative steps towards striking up a relationship with fellow juror Robert—no small achievement, given both her background with Rafe and the messy breakdown of her last relationship. Unfortunately, Robert’s presence in Clarissa’s life threatens to send Rafe into new and more dangerous fits of jealousy, and as his actions become more alarming, Clarissa begins to compile a record of his behavior to take to the police.
If you’re at all interested in film studies, gender studies, or both, I highly recommend taking a glance at Jack Halberstam’s article on The Silence of the Lambs. In the meantime, though, I’ll do my best to cut through the critical language and offer a (no doubt oversimplified) synopsis. “Skinflick” was written in part as a rebuttal to accusations of transphobia in The Silence of the Lambs’s depiction of Buffalo Bill. Halberstam argues that Buffalo Bill should not be read as transgendered, but rather as a kind of critique of the very notion of gender (or identity) as stable, internal, and unified:
Buffalo Bill kills for his clothes and emblematizes the ways in which gender is always posthuman, always a sewing job that stitches identity into a body bag. Skin, in this film, is identity itself rather than the surface of an interior identity. Buffalo Bill, in other words, is a limit case for gender, for identity, for humanness. He does not understand gender as inherent, innate; he reads it only as a surface effect, a representation, an external attribute engineered into identity (176)