Haiku movie reviews, October 2015

American Sniper (2014)
Why show so much death
Dealt by this U.S. soldier,
But not his killing?

Book review: After Birth by Elisa Albert

I love this book. Get it. Read it. Now.

“After Birth” by Elisa Albert tells the story of three months in one woman’s life around a year after giving birth who befriends a former “almost” rock star/poet who is about to give birth. The narrator says of the poet: “I’m a little obsessed with her, by which I mean a lot, which I guess is what obsessed means.”

In that sentence, Albert achieves the creation of a distinctive character in her narrator: a sharp sense of humor, somewhat confessional, somewhat striving for clarity, while also somewhat muddled. Ari, the narrator, may not always be a sympathetic character (one of the first things she does is call the upstate city she lives – a fictional town called Utrecht, but an easily readable blend of Albany, Troy, Schenectady — a “shitbox”), but her language is so seductive that it can charm the reader, even in her most negative moments.

After all, Ari seems to be suffering from a kind of post-partum depression, a severe disorientation in which she feels betrayed by a world that didn’t prepare her for life after having a child, she’s lost interest in completing her doctorate in women’s studies, she feels isolated in the aforementioned “shitbox” town, and all of it has been exacerbated by having undergone a c-section operation.

If that weren’t enough, there is also that special kind of existential dread a parent faces by bringing a new life into the world: “I’m not going to pretend my kid is special, like other kids who starve and freeze and get raped and beaten and have to work in factories and get cancer from the fumes, too bad, so sad, but my kid is going to be warm and organic and toxin-free and safe and have everything he wants when he wants it and go to a good college and all is right with the world! Fuck that myopic bullshit. He’s going to suffer. He’s going to get mauled by some force I can’t pretend I can predict. We all live in the same fucked-up world.”
Continue reading “Book review: After Birth by Elisa Albert”

Haiku movie reviews, February 2015

Frances Ha
Frances Ha

I didn’t see as many movies as I’d like this past month. Just two:

The Interview (2014)
Randall Park steals it,
Though it isn’t that funny.
— Too much James Franco


Frances Ha (2012)

A Gen-Y woman
In New York and then Paris
Grows up — a little

Read January’s haiku movie reviews here.

Audio book review: ‘Prophecies, Libels and Dreams’ by Ysabeau S. Wilce


This was a fun listen: “Prophecies, Libels and Dreams” by Ysabeau S. Wilce, which I got in a giveaway from Small Beer Press (Thank you, Small Beer Press!).

I didn’t know what to expect, and so this was my introduction to the fictional world of Califa that Wilce has written about in previous books, where there’s magic, magic boots, thieves, soldiers, deceptions, betrayals, and arranged marriages.

The best part of these interconnected stories is Wilce’s exuberant facility with language. Here’s a long example from the story “Quartermaster Returns”:

He died a hero’s death, Lieutenant Rucker did, trying to save, not another comrade, but rather the hog ranch’s entire supply of beer. The story is short and tragic: the freight train dropped fifteen cases of beer at the hog ranch, before proceeding on to Rancho Kuchamonga; an inexperienced drover off-loaded the beer in the arroyo below the hog ranch; when the storm came up, Pow organized his fellow whist players into a bottle brigade and supervised the shifting of fourteen cases to higher ground; the water was already foaming when Pow went back for the last case—refusing to allow the others to join him in harm’s way; Pow heroically managed to shove that case up the bank, just as a wall of water twenty feet high came roaring down the ravine.

This minitale is a great example of the kind of tall tales that dominate the seven stories in this collection. And these stories are offset by short “corrections” in the guise of an academic critique, often decrying the inexactitude of the previous tale. It’s a nice movement to add this layer to deepen a sense of place and time.

An unfortunate aspect of this audiobook is that the first story, which may be the whimsical, elicits from the reader some of the most forced interpreations that make him sound actorly in a too-forced storybook way. The audiobook does get better though.

Book review: Yasushi Inoue’s ‘Life of a Counterfeiter and Other Stories’

counterfeiterOne of the dominant characteristics of Yasushi Inoue’s rhetorical style in “Life of a Counterfeiter and Other Stories” (Pushkin Press; 144 pages; $18) in is his use of “hedging” phrases, such as “for some reason,” “I’ll never know” and “I may simply be reading too much into things.”

These phrases could be interpreted as creating a narrator who is so fraught with uncertainty that he can only suggest things with modesty rather than declare them with authority.

These stories — written after World War 2 in the early 1950s, but often looking back through the haze of memory at events that took place long before and during the war — can then be seen as a reaction against the kind of narrative certainty about Japan’s prominence in the world that led the nation into its disastrous overreach in China, Korea, and South East Asia. In that sense, his narrative hedging can be seen as an attempt to be precise about the meaning of things that can’t be known.
Continue reading “Book review: Yasushi Inoue’s ‘Life of a Counterfeiter and Other Stories’”