Now that this book has officially been published, I can finally post about Mateo Askaripour’s Uh-Maze-Ing novel Black Buck (this book is difficult for me to discuss without spoilers). If you haven’t read it yet, run to your nearest indie bookstore, because it’s better for your health and the environment and the local economy, and nab a copy. This post can wait.
Now that you have read it, can we share a mutual squeal of delight over this thought-provoking novel featuring a black salesman who achieves fame & fortune, delivers great advice, and is imprisoned because his white racist adversary teams up with the grandson of a man he treated unfairly, and the latter has decided karma needed some help?
There is so much about this book that I loved. But the best thing about it is that my brain continued mulling it over long after I was technically done reading. How I realized subtleties in Askaripour’s book that could easily be missed amidst the bravado and dramatism that a novel full of salespeople and realistic American sentiment contains. Some people may think this novel is satire – I think this novel is, unfortunately, all too believable.
The part that sticks with me is how employees at Sumwun are so upset about the Happy Campers, which essentially provides the same advantages to people of color as the Duchess received from her father’s connections. It was okay for her to breeze through training and new hiring, because she was white and rich and thin. But the Happy Campers, who receive a similar “leg up” are absolutely not okay, because they are generally not white and not rich, so they’re “stealing jobs” whereas it is fine for Duchess to pretty much yawn her way through work, where she probably doesn’t need training at all, since her father’s contacts will buy from her without need of a sales pitch anyway.
This novel is sharp – I could tell it was going to be a good read from the opening sentence:
The day that changed my life was like every other day before it, except that it changed my life.
The wit is sharp and smart:
My teeth are status quo and powerful, also known as white and straight…
I truly cannot think of a better book to help you experience the anger, the outrage, the unfairness, as you read the ultimate underdog, what-the-fuck-is-work-life-balance, mentoring-is-not-bullshit-even-though-it-did-land-me-in-jail, story. This book is fiction, but don’t misjudge – the experiences in here are, unfortunately, not that far off what many people-of-color face every day. And it would be nice to think that this book is just making blatant what is underlying the microaggressions that are often experienced. But the truth is, a large portion of the country is just outright aggressive, and people-of-color are often their targets. Read this book, if you are blissfully unaware of what it is like to be considered less than because of attributes you cannot help, with which you were born. Read this book to get legitimate, useful business advice. Read this book because it is well-written. But read this book – and recommend to the other people in your life who could benefit from empathy, or who want to feel understood, or who are looking for an intelligent, eloquent read.
In Ann Arbor, there are two major healthcare providers – Michigan Medical and IHA/St. Joe’s. Michigan Medical is good, unless you’re a little squeamish about being the practice body for doctoral students in the University of Michigan medical school. IHA used to also be good, until the provider switched it’s third-party billing service, and is now punishment to all who require billing, regardless of whether they have been good or bad boys and girls.
Dealing with IHA billing is the 8th level of hell that Dante was too frustrated to write about. The third-party billing service IHA has switched to is Trinity Health Professional Billing Services, but don’t let that name fool you – unless the representatives you will be speaking with are training to deal out torture and frustration, there is nothing professional about the service you will receive. I have a family member who is literally abstaining from seeking professional treatment for an ear infection that has bothered him for approximately 1 week because Michigan medical cannot get him in to see a doctor and does not currently have an urgent care, which leaves him with… you guessed it, IHA. Just the thought of dealing with the billing errors that will inevitably result is more torturous than the pain he experiences from a burst eardrum and noticeable hearing loss. But having dealt with Trinity Health multiple times myself, I am unable to tell him that he is wrong, because, to be frank, this organization is the most inept business that I have ever encountered.
That’s right, folks. This medical billing service is worse than GameStop, which has a business model nearly as archaic as Blockbuster and people need to stop investing in it because it’s a shitty business model that preys on the stupid (sorry if you use Gamestop, but, like… you should stop). This medical billing service is worse than the Little Caesars I went to on a regular basis when I lived in the Bay Area, which had Yelp reviews along the lines of “This store gets a 1-star rating in comparison to other Little Caesars,” and which was often managed by a woman obviously strung out on crack who sometimes made people wait for hours at the counter. This medical billing service is worse than my brain was previously capable of even imagining. I think of myself as having a fairly active imagination, but I would never, in my wildest fantasies, have imagined that this degree of ineptitude would be tolerated by a medical organization that, as far as I know, does not want to go out of business (though you have to wonder…).
Now, if you have not been to IHA since this medical practice group switched billing service providers in early 2020, let’s walk through a hypothetical situation:\
You take your toddler to the IHA Arbor Park Pediatrics center on Clark Road in February 2020. While you walk up to the familiar door, you notice an 8 x 11 paper taped to it that states that IHA is in process of switching medical billing services. You open the door, espy the colorful handprints painted in the doorway, and walk through the second door to enter the waiting lobby. You check-in, including stating that there are no changes to insurance from what was provided when you first began bringing your child to IHA shortly after birth. Insurance for the family is through your work, and you are responsible for any charges exceeding what insurance will cover.
The check-up is normal; your child is fucking healthy as a horse.
You receive a bill in the mail, but it looks like the visit was not processed through insurance first. Since this check-up was a normal, required examination for a child in the first two years of life, you expect that insurance will cover most, if not all, of the cost. You look up IHA billing provider information on-line, and see that for visits made on or after January 24, 2020, you need to contact Trinity Health:
You call the number for Trinity Health Professional Billing Services, explain that you have a question about a bill you recently received, you have the date of the visit, the invoice number, etc., immediately in front of you, but the representative on the phone informs you that this bill does not appear to be in their system yet, and that you should call again in a month or so.
You move to a new residence, lose the bill you have questions about in the fracas, and are generally trying very hard to complete a move in the middle of COVID restrictions.
You call Trinity again a month or so later. They are still unable to locate your bill in their system, but update your address.
You receive a bill a month or so later, forwarded from your old address with the notice that the bill is overdue. The bill is exactly the same; i.e., there is no indication that this visit was sent to insurance. It is summer. You call Trinity, which requests the address on file, since the bill was processed in your spouse’s name and not yours. The address Trinity has on file is your old address. The representative states that the bill needs to be sent to your insurance to be processed, that she has written a note on the account to that effect, and that you should wait for the new bill that will come once insurance has processed the bill.
A month or two later, your spouse receives a notice from a collections agency that this bill has been sent to collections. Enraged, your spouse calls Trinity and berates them for not doing their job and sending the bill to collections when our understanding was that the bill was going to be processed by insurance, and the bill should be in your name, anyway, since insurance is through you. Trinity agrees to rescind the bill from your spouse’s collections. You call your insurance, which calls Trinity and does a 3-way call with you so that Trinity gets all of the information needed to process the claim with insurance.
A month or two later, you receive a notice from a collections agency that this bill has been sent to collections. The next day, you receive a bill, forwarded from your old address with the notice that the bill is overdue. The bill is exactly the same; i.e., there is no indication that this visit was sent to insurance. You call Trinity, upset that the business is not performing the duties promised to you verbally over a call. The representative you speak with claims there is nothing she can do to take it out of collections, that there is nothing documented on the account to show any previous calls over the bill. You get very angry, and the representative hangs up on you.
You call IHA to let them know you are having difficulty and that the customer service representative, whose entire job is to handle people who are probably not in the best mood, hung up on you. IHA says there is nothing they can do.
You call Trinity again, speak with a different representative, ask if you need to get your insurance to call them again to get resolved, and the representative assists.
Fall of 2020, you receive an updated bill that shows the majority of the visit has been paid by insurance, and there is a small amount remaining you need to pay. You promptly pay your bill.
Oh, also – all of this happened to me. In fact, what is stated above is a small portion of what I went through to try to pay for my children’s health and wellness visits.
So what do y’all think? Am I just exaggerating? Or does IHA seem to have made some weird Faustian deal, and been forced to use Trinity for billing as a result? Keep in mind that a casual perusal of Facebook will easily show a slew of other Ann Arborites who have suffered similar fates. It’s like IHA billing is a migraine in a bottle, and the bored “customer service” representatives at Trinity Health “professional” billing services are constantly rubbing your bottle, without your consent and against your predisposition. I can safely say that, if I have any say in the matter whatsoever, I will never use IHA personally again. I could be hit by a car right in front of St. Joe’s hospital, with a terrifying numbness where the feeling in my legs used to be, but if I have an ounce of strength left in my arms, will drag myself as far away from the inhospitable billing situation that will result as I am able.
The shrinking started slowly. She had heard of people’s hearts closing after a bad breakup, but for Mary, the entirety of her being began to grow smaller after Dave crushed her with his “I thought I loved you… But I don’t,” before he moved towards her with feigned niceness that was a feeble attempt to have goodbye sex and Mary grabbed her purse and left, even though they were in her apartment.
She went to the grocery store, but didn’t buy anything – there wasn’t enough ice cream in the world to make her feel better, and for the first time in her life, Mary wasn’t hungry. She returned to an empty apartment, Dave’s key glinting on the dining room table. She went to bed with puffy eyes and an empty stomach.
When she awoke the following morning, she felt shorter… and older, and withered, and fragile, and like an idiot. She felt cold, all the way down to her bones, even after she put on her thickest socks and wrapped herself in a warm fuzzy sweater. She took a mental health day, pulled on her coat, and walked for hours. Fittingly, it began to rain, and she returned home colder and wetter than she had left it. Her stomach growled at her, but nothing in her kitchen seemed appetizing. She settled on a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee, then settled on the couch with a thriller, but she couldn’t keep her eyes open long enough to finish more than a sentence.
The days, weeks, flew by in a daze, until one morning, Mary woke up and realized she needed a step stool to reach the bathroom faucet handle. Of course, she didn’t have a step stool, so she dragged her desk chair into the bathroom instead. Her chair had wheels and slid around beneath her as she applied and removed soap – her brain flashed through news stories of people who died or became seriously injured from slipping in the bathroom. Her teeth were a shade more yellow than Mary preferred, but she liked having all of them in her head, and she had used all of her sick days at work and couldn’t afford to recover from concussion. She went to her car, but no matter how straight she stretched her leg, or how much she pointed her toe, was unable to reach the pedal, and she was finally forced to give up and take the bus.
A girl with exactly half of her head, including her right eyebrow, shaved was gossiping with her reflection in the bus window. An older woman with a snake tattoo on her left arm was biting into a raw onion like it was an apple, the syn-Propanethial-S-oxide making Mary’s eyes water. A man with a pronounced limp kept getting out of his seat, slowly making his way up and down the aisle, knocking aside the unlucky few who were standing and holding onto a strap. Maybe she wasn’t really shrinking, Mary thought to herself. Maybe she was just losing grip on reality.
She had just logged on to her computer at work when Shannon stopped by, said the boss wanted to see her. Mary entered his office, excuses on the tip of her tongue about why she had been late, but Mr. Harrigan didn’t really care, since he had already been set to fire her.
“I’m fired?!” Mary asked, in shock.
“Honestly, the company can’t afford the liability having a shrinking person creates,” Mr. Harrigan responded. “It would be one thing if you were simply small, and had always been small. Even an inch or two, we could have overlooked. But you have lost several feet at this point, Mary, and we aren’t sure when it’s going to stop. We can’t accommodate your special needs, because they are unpredictable, and without accommodating your needs, the workplace is too dangerous.”
“I’ll be very careful, and if I get hurt, I promise, I won’t sue you!” Mary protested.
But Mr. Harrigan shook his head. The matter, he said, had been decided by individuals far above him in the company. Her exit interview was scheduled with HR at 2 that afternoon, at which point she needed to hand in her work laptop and would receive her final paycheck.
Mary walked back to her desk, then realized there was no point in putting forth effort working. She had been fired; she didn’t owe anything to this Company. She began submitting her resume to temp agencies, and scouring Craigslist for odd jobs that didn’t appear to have been posted by serial killers luring in the next victim.
She didn’t have much luck.
At two-fifteen in the afternoon, Mary was walking out into the sunshine, her last paycheck snugly tucked between her wallet and her cell. She wandered the entire parking lot twice before remembering that she had not driven, and reluctantly boarded the bus once more. Most seats were empty, and she plopped into one near the middle and behind the driver.
She was too numb inside to be bothered to go to the bank, or run the errands she needed to run. Mary tugged her shoes off of her weary feet, and burrowed into the warmth of her comforter. She couldn’t be sure how long she slept – it could have been an instant, it could have been a year – but when she awoke, her bed had become gargantuan. She tried to sit up, but the cotton filling of her bedspread had become ineffably heavy.
She took a deep breath, pulled her core in as tightly as she could, focused on shifting her body up from its’ prone position into a plank, using the muscles in her arms and shoulders to push her up.
She then thrust her hips up and back into the world’s most uncomfortable down dog.
Her arms and legs quickly began quivering, her body covered in a sheen of sweat, but Mary pulled her abs in tighter and began walking her hands back to her feet.
She then started slowly rolling up through her spine, the weight of the comforter continually pushing her back down, so that she was bouncing slightly up, back down, back up, slightly down, for what felt like (and maybe was) hours, until finally, she was standing as tall as her miniature frame would allow.
She began moving forwards, pushing against the cotton comforter with all of her might, until the bed gave way beneath her, and she was falling.
She grabbed at the comforter, able to slow down her descent and make it slightly more controlled so that her teeth only clattered against each other a bit, and then she lay down on her back and fell asleep once more.
She woke, and all she could experience was pain. It hurt to open her eyelids. Tiny muscles she hadn’t realized existed in her arms and abs were making themselves known. She didn’t want to move, but existing hurt too much, so she forced herself up into a sitting position.
She had no idea where she was.
She seemed to be outside. Currently, she was sitting on various large, sharp blades of grass. She moved to the right and sliced her left arm on one of them. Blood trickled from the wound, but she wasn’t capable of feeling more pain, and just watched the red escape down her arm.
She eventually grew bored enough to force herself to stand, take a few tentative steps.
She smelled something sweet, and realized she was hungry, for the first time since her break-up. In trying to locate the source of this deliciousness, she stumbled into a banner. Her brain made sense of the words on it – “Little by Little” right before she fell into it, and brought down the two wooden totem poles holding it up upon her person. She lost consciousness for the second time that day.
She awoke strapped to a bed, still in pain, and began to scream. She may not have been entirely sure what had happened to her, but being restricted from movement was never a good sign. A man rushed into the room, looked around, and said, “You’re awake! Would you like some hot chocolate?”
“Why should I trust you to give me a beverage? I’m assuming you’re the jerk who strapped me to this bed.”
His mouth quirked down. “Ah… yes. Sorry about that. It’s just – you seem to be having trouble moving, and I couldn’t bear the thought that you would ruin my art.” He gestured to the top of a nearby dresser, where small (even by her current standards) wooden figurines were covering every visible surface.
“You made all of those?” Mary asked.
“I did,” he responded, his chest puffing up like a bird warming itself or trying to find a mate.
“Ew,” Mary said involuntarily.
He didn’t seem to notice. “These,” he continued, “are my Littles.”
After a few seconds of silence, Mary asked him what he meant by that.
“My Littles! I am Little – that’s my name, I mean – these are mine, these are little – that is, tiny – and I am trying to sell the sons-of-bitches, but you pulled my banner down and ruined two of my larger art pieces, so I don’t know how anyone will know I am a purveyor of littles.”
“Sorry about that,” Mary said.
Little shrugged. “It’s fine. You can help me make a new banner when you’re feeling better.”
“How long have you been making littles?”
“Since I was a wee boy. Although, I used to be taller than this, when I was a wee boy. But you know how that is.”
“I mean, I guess. I also used to taller; I only began shrinking quite recently.”
“It’s nice, being small,” Little told her. “It’s easy to find enough food to fill you up, no one bothers you about stupid shit that doesn’t matter, you can kind of just do your own thing.”
“How many of us are there?” Mary asked.
Little shrugged. “Fuck if I know. I run across someone every now and again, but I mostly keep to myself.”
“I see – sorry to have barged in on you like this,” Mary said, wondering why she was apologizing to this man who had restrained her to the bed.
“Thanks. Sorry I had to tie you up,” Little returned, making Mary feel marginally better.
“Do you think you can un-tie me now?”
Little looked skeptical. “We can try. But try not to mess up my shit, please.” Mary chose not to verbally respond to this, smiling sweetly so this crazy man would let her go.
She was still starving, and decided to chance it that Little’s food and beverages were not poisoned. The hot chocolate was sweet and creamy, the warmth soothing as it went down her throat. Little also gave her bread and cheese, and a red grape he had cut into cubes of a more manageable size. Everything tasted amazing, and it had been so long since Mary had eaten and enjoyed it that she ate too much and too fast, her stomach protesting as she sank back into her chair and finished her hot chocolate.
“Feeling better?” Little asked, and Mary nodded, her mouth turned up at the corners, her limbs growing heavy with satiation. “Good, let’s fix that banner,” Little said, holding out a hand to haul Mary to her feet. He pulled so hard, her head snapped a bit, and Mary saw small brown and black squares dancing before her eyes for a few moments. “C’mon!” Little urged, striding away toward the front of his shoppe. Mary followed, and was soon surveying the damage with him.
One of the totem poles holding up the banner did not sustain any noticeable damage; the other had broken into 6 pieces. Little grew a little red in the face, but his voice was calm as he said he would need to make another one. The banner, made of sturdy paper, had been torn, and needed to be re-done. Little thrust some paper and a chunk of purple crayon broken off of a full-size crayon and whittled into a usable writing implement at her, and she set to work. Mary’s writing was not intricate, but it was neat and legible, and she made the letters large, and was done within an hour. She showed her work to Little, who nodded his head briefly, then said: “Thanks. You can go now.”
“Go… where?” Mary asked.
“Anywhere! The joy of being little is that you can pretty much do whatever you want. And I want to live on my own. So, you know, scram.” He turned back to his totem, where an owl was slowly taking shape.
“Can I have some food for the road?” she asked.
“Then yes, you may have figurative food. Here you go!” He held out his empty hands, cupped around nothing.
Mary carefully removed the non-existent food from Little’s hands, turned around, and walked away. She walked aimlessly until she was done feeling sorry for herself, looked up, and recognized exactly where she was. Approximately two feet away was the red door of Dave’s apartment. To the right of the door were Dave’s black-and-white checkered Vans, caked in a layer of mud, next to a pair of tall pink heels with pointed toes.
Mary trekked to the door, sneaking through the mail slot, and smelling the citrus-scented candles Dave lit when he was making love. Her eyes involuntarily trekked to the right, even though a very large part of her really didn’t want to see who her replacement was. Due to her size, however, all she could see was wall. She breathed a sigh of relief.
Dave walked right in front of her, and her heart began beating very fast and her cheeks reddened, but again, due to her size, Dave didn’t even notice her. He loped into the kitchen, where she heard the fridge open, running water, the clatter of counters and dishes, and he loped back before her and into the bedroom holding a tray with a bowl of strawberries and a canister of whipped cream.
Part of Mary burned with anger that Dave was already sharing a sweet aphrodisiac with someone else; part of Mary was somehow hungry again and craved strawberries herself. So she did what any woman in her position would do, and followed him. The woman luxuriating on Dave’s silk sheets was thin and tan, and when she sat up, her long blonde locks cascaded over her back and splayed on the pillows. Her visage was flushed, round red cheeks and lips plump from kissing. Her eyes glinted out from her face like two dark sapphires. She was perfection, to the extent that Mary’s mind couldn’t even draw a comparison between herself and this other woman – it was almost like Dave was dating a different species.
Mary heard a low giggle, and heard the blonde one ask: “You can’t possibly be ready to go again?”
Dave set the tray down on the bedside table, nuzzled his face into the nape of the blonde’s neck, and said: “Are you kidding? With you in my bed, I may never be flaccid again.”
The giggle again. “What an odd way of saying you find me attractive.”
Kissing sounds ensued, and Mary looked longingly at the ripe, red strawberries just lying, untouched, on the bedside table. It was far too high for Mary to easily reach it. She looked around, to see if there was anything to help her, and as luck would have it, there was a blanket that lay half on, half off of the bed, it’s length spilling down to the floor in an awkward tangle that looked difficult but possible for Mary to climb. She embarked on the climb/hike, slowly making her way up to the bed where her ex-boyfriend was engaged in sexual congress. She was exhilarated to reach the top, tumbling off of the blanket and into the blonde one’s foot.
A bloodcurdling scream resounded through the apartment.
Dave: “Lauren, what’s wrong.”
“Something just touched my foot.”
Mary had already retreated out of sight into the blanket.
Dave: “I don’t see anything.”
“Are you saying I’m crazy?! Something definitely touched my foot, I’m not making this up.”
“What did it feel like?”
“I only felt it for like a second, but it was big.”
Dave went to the end of the bed, smushed the blanket with Mary inside of it a little closer to the edge of the bed. “There’s nothing here.”
“Well, you’ve got mice or something. I’m too hot to deal with a guy who has barely any money and probably has mice in his place.”
“Lauren! I’ll – I’ll call the exterminator on Monday. But really – I keep my place clean, and I’ve never seen or heard a mouse in here.”
“Well, call me after your apartment’s been taken care of, if you want. I probably won’t see you again, though.” Mary heard the sharp rustling of clothes being pulled on with hurried, jerky movements.
She heard Lauren walk out of the apartment, then Dave quickly follow. The door slammed behind him, and Mary slowly exited the blanket. She made her way to the bedside table with quick, confident strides, pulled out the smallest strawberry slice she could find, and took the largest bite she was able. Red juice from the strawberry ran down her chin, her heart felt light, and Mary felt the vastness of opportunities proffered by her life as she ate and listened for the sound of Dave’s return.
So I read the Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas. This book was all over the place. [Fair warning: This post is full of spoilers.] It started off very strong. The opening two sentences are amazing:
This house was made for someone without a soul. So I guess it makes sense that my mother wanted it so badly.
Immediately set the tone. We have a strong, intelligent, very dramatic teenage protagonist. We discover quite quickly that Monica (which for some reason doesn’t sound like a real teenager’s name, in present day, to me) made some stupid decisions over the summer, got knocked up, and is physically reeling from the abortion she has instigated via pills.
So to take her mind off of her physical pain, she begins digging into the seemingly too-coincidental deaths of 5 cheerleaders that happened within a few months of each other 5 years ago. One of the rah-rahs was her sister. Oh, and maybe she made poor decisions over the summer to try to poke through the numb veneer that has covered her soul since her sister’s death. Or maybe she’s just a melodramatic fucking teenager who prefers to delve into a dark web of potential conspiracy rather than face the fact that her sister committed suicide.
Sounds pretty good so far, right?
Of course, the problem with an unintentional roller coaster is that although you clink to a great height up, there are dips that can take you just as far down ahead.
First, there is the fact that Monica is not very good at using her intelligence. She breaks into her stepfather’s locked desk drawer, and only afterward is like, “Oh, wait! He’s going to realize it used to be locked and now it’s… not.” How was that not something she considered as she peeled apart paper clips? Also, there’s the fact that her stepfather is a police officer. I just think someone would generally know how to be sneakier if she had a police officer for a stepfather.
Or there’s a whole section of the book where she makes a total leap in logic, assuming she knows who wrote certain notes and she knows what they mean, and I was rolling my eyes so hard, thinking I see this twist that is coming, Ms. Thomas. And then… it turns out Monica’s right. Which was even worse.
Then, there are the randomly disconcerting bits that seem like the book just didn’t have a very good editor. For example, on page 150, there is this little exchange:
‘That’s crap,’ she finally says.
It’s the first I’ve heard Ginny curse and it’s like a jolt to my brain, waking me up.
This section completely pulled me out of the story. Is there a high school student out there who considers “crap” cursing? Because, like… it’s not. We all know the curse equivalent is shit. And frankly, even that is not much of a curse-word. I would probably be more “jolted” to hear a high school girl using “excrement” instead of a curse-word. But “crap…?” Pretty lame. If you’re going to curse, fucking curse.
Or there’s this nugget of idiocy near the end of the novel. I literally had to read it like 10 times, wondering if I was just blind or just completely misremembering. But Monica says:
I read it again to make sure I have it right. Ginny said her father left on October 18, a full three days before this report says he was last seen.
The “report” (which is actually an e-mail written by a reporter of a National Enquirer-ish paper) says:
Anyway, the motion to have Phil declared dead states that the last time his wife saw him was the morning of October 27.
October 18th is 9 days from October 27, not 3. I checked my math with Excel and everything. Maybe it used to be 3? Or used to be 9? And the length was changed for added drama or something but only in one spot? It’s such an odd, glaring error to not be caught, though.
The worst, though, is definitely the ending. It’s a confrontation scene, where Monica has finally figured out what the reader has known for about half of the damn book, and decides to get the killer soliloquizing. First, though, she is interrupted by her younger brother, and she gets through to the killer by saying, he’s “not a kid killer.” Except that the whole thing is that he killed a 15-year-old, because she wanted to be his girlfriend and not just a warm, young receptacle for his sperm. And he claims he didn’t mean to do it, but he still killed her, and her friend. So this guy who is “not a kid killer” has, in fact, killed two girls. And Monica later taunts him by calling him a pedophile – which is accurate, but also supports the idea that he’s a kid killer…
In short, excellent beginning, murky middle, terrible ending, and mediocre editing. I… do not recommend.
As someone who considers herself a feminist and likes literature, I know embarrassingly little about famous female writers. So when Netgalley gave me the opportunity to read Why She Wrote: A Graphic History of the Lives, Inspiration, and Influence Behind the Pens of Classic Women Writers, I jumped at the chance. Slated to be released April 20, 2021, this very pink book is a light history of times in the lives of 18 women writers that the writers consider poignant:
This novel is a great introduction to the lives of women writers. If you have no idea where to start, this novel provides a glimpse into the lives of a diverse group of fiercely intelligent women who successfully published works in spite of difficulties, tragedies, and in the case of Emily Dickinson, disposition. Every woman mentioned in this book is amazing, and reading this made me curious to know more about these fascinating women.
The downside of this book, of course, is that while it does feature interesting women, by focusing primarily on one specific moment in their life, it can be frustrating if you actually want to be able to talk intelligently about the women, because there is so much that is not present. In addition, if you have even a glimmer of knowledge about these women, you will likely already know the information present in this book. I do not consider myself a scholar in the area of literary analysis, but I was well aware of pretty much everything in the volume concerning Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, and George Eliot.
However, as a brief overview, as well as inspiration for what can be achieved in spite of life’s difficulties (which we all face). As someone with personal literary aspirations, reading about what these women accomplished made me want to begin writing something of my own. Not that I think I am going to write the great American novel, but – I don’t really know what I am capable of if I don’t try.
I would recommend if you’re looking for a high-level glimpse into the lives of some famous female writers (seems like it could be a fun gift).
As someone currently living in America, I am increasingly disillusioned and disheartened by the depths of idiocy and pure hatred that streams through the bloodstreams of too many of my neighbors. It makes today even more poignant – in spite of the prejudice, the sometimes willful misunderstandings and callous disregard of other people, it is possible to hold your head high and refuse to be just another such person. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an amazing man – an excellent role model, an intelligent, empathetic, caring individual. He wanted to bridge understanding between people in America regardless of skin color – and unfortunately, not only did he die without seeing that bridge develop, but that bridge has never been completed. It’s a partially built construction, hanging over the water, and not safe for anyone to drive or walk across.
There is reason to hope. Things could get better. Let’s hold on to the dream that things will get better in America, and try to be decent people who do not hurt other people and do not stand by while others hurt other people, either. And if you haven’t yet, today, I strongly recommend that you listen to the words of Dr. King.
For anyone who has seen the movie Pretty Little Stalker, the title is a rhetorical question; obviously, the victim is us, the viewers. It sucked me in with it’s title that was obviously designed to draw the attention of Pretty Little Liars fans and ridiculous-sounding thriller premise. I continued watching it, because it was a dumpster fire – terrible and rotting, but sort of beautiful, in a nonsensical, this-needs-a-drinking-game way. So how is this movie terrible? Let me count the ways (and, like, don’t read the rest of this post if you actually have a desire to watch the movie and don’t like spoilers, because that is what the remainder of this post will be comprised):
In the beginning of the movie, a character named Maggie, who you will only ever see in this one scene questions the protagonist’s legitimacy as a mother because she’s in her second marriage. Which is… very illogical. It’s like someone likes to eat salad, and someone else being like, “But you don’t like chicken nuggets. How can we trust your legitimacy as a person who likes eating salad?” Like, shit, Maggie may “tell it like it is,” but she also seems like a crazy person and also, she’s literally only in this one scene, so this entire scene should have been left on the editing floor.
On a related note, this scene, which is a Lorna book signing, since the protagonist is a bestselling self-help author, ends with Lorna signing the book of whomever the next customer in line after Maggie was. You don’t know this person’s fucking name. This person doesn’t matter. But, like, I love how legible Lorna’s signature is. As anyone who has seen a doctor, or attended the book signing of a bestselling author knows, people who have to sign their names all the time have nearly illegible signatures. They have to, to avoid carpal tunnel and, you know, boredom.
So, this one’s a little random, but the dress Lorna wears in the third scene of the movie (modeling a dress in front of the mirror; immediately after the book signing scene) is one that I own. It’s a kerchief dress, with a solid black top with a keyhole, and a paisley-esque skirt. I’ve had this dress for, like, a decade now. Pretty sure I got it on sale at JCPenney’s. Also, weirdly, this is a dress her husband purchased for her, apparently on a whim, since he has to ask her if she likes it, and says he “wasn’t sure” she would. Like, why did you buy it then? Seems a bit misogynist…
Lorna’s supposedly normal high school son is introduced playing the handslap game with his girlfriend. You know, the one where you hold your hands above the other person’s, and you have to try to move them out of the way before they get randomly smacked? These kids are supposed to be in high school. High school students are smart enough to know how to try to seduce someone. This game is literally the weakest foreplay I’ve seen in my life – like, that boy’s never getting laid.
Side note: It’s pretty obvious that Ashley Rickards is the stalker. But wouldn’t this movie be so much better if the “girlfriend” character Bridget was actually the stalker, and was playing the long con to completely ruin Lorna’s life? Like, she gives Lorna’s son syphilis or something before sneaking into his mother’s bedroom and cutting her Achilles tendons so the self-help guru can never walk again. #justsaying
There are several scenes (okay, at least 2) where Lorna’s husband, named Harry, is exposing his hairy chest. In the first scene in which this occurs, he is investigating a noise that Lorna heard. It is very important that he be shirtless, guys. He can’t put a shirt on or even grab a weapon in case it’s robbers to investigate.
The “placate-the-wife” routine this misogynist is going through, since he obviously doesn’t expect it could be anything dangerous because he hasn’t grabbed a weapon is pretty played-out. Like, he deserves that golf club to the head. #TeamMallory
Do you think they changed the name of Lorna’s husband’s character after casting Mr. Hairy chest? Even better, I would love if he’s not actually hairy at all, and the costumer with the ancient discount closet carefully collected, like, her dog’s hair or something and glued it to Harry’s chest.
There’s this whole, weird virgin worship in this movie. Like, Mark’s supposed to feel ashamed that he finds Mallory attractive when he has a girlfriend. I mean – she’s a super hot chick who has an endless well of family drama, which we all know is often the best aphrodisiac. It’s okay for a high school boy to be interested in her. Just, like, don’t string your “girlfriend/slap-hands partner” along – let her know she’s really cute and all but you really want some hot, crazy sex, and maybe you’ll hit her up again when you’re done sowing your wild oats. #honesty
Hairy literally closes his wife’s laptop on her fingers when she says she’s not ready to go to bed. So controlling. Why can’t you just let your bestselling author wife sleep in? Damn, she bought you a freakin’ mansion. Let her do what she needs to do to keep making green! Those property taxes are not going to be cheap.
Because the screenwriter needed to make sure you didn’t find Mallory likeable, there’s this weird scene where she kills the couple who bought her previous home. This scene is amazing. Mallory literally strangles some random bitch named Monique while her husband is sleeping right next to them in the bed. Guess when the husband wakes up? Like, right after his wife was killed. Like, hey guys, just another shirtless misogynist. Nothing to see here. He totally deserves that bullet to the chest. #TeamMallory
The chick who plays Britney in Glee is Lorna’s agent. She loves the book that Lorna is writing based solely on interactions Lorna has had with her stalker. You would think Lorna would look more favorably on someone who was her fucking muse. It was at this point in the movie that I thought: “Dude Lorna, I don’t know what “Mallory” has planned for you, but you probably deserve it.” #TeamMallory
Lorna plans to postpone her son’s 18th birthday party… because she’s grounding him for dating a girl she doesn’t like. Are we supposed to think she’s a good parent? Like, I thought I was strict. Lorna just seems like an emotionally controlling monster.
It’s okay though, guys. She takes that back and gets her 18-year-old son balloons. Like, yeah, I’m so sure your 18-year-old son will appreciate those much more than inviting his girlfriend.
So… just to be clear:
Lorna, who doesn’t seem to have any education in therapy, psychology, etc., wrote what are probably bullshit self-help books that “helped” Mallory’s mother realize she wanted to divorce her husband and abandon her daughter, resulting in Mallory’s father killing Mallory’s mother and then himself.
So she destroyed Mallory’s family.
Yet it is okay for her to protect her own family when Mallory tries to help karma out a little bit by attempting to kill Mallory with a gun.
She couldn’t even have tried to draw Mallory out while she stealthily dialed 911, and gotten Mallory monologuing until the police arrived, since they are required to show up at to investigate if they’re not getting any feedback (or hear a mentally ill woman raving and threating to, you know, kill people). Or maybe she could have been like: “Mallory, you’re so smart! You have so much potential. Don’t throw that away by killing my lame nerd of a son. I was inspired by our conversation over dinner – I’ll give you a share of the royalties! Let us be partners. Huzzah!” Nope, she just nabs Mallory’s gun and shoots the poor girl.
Who’s the real victim here, I ask you?
Also, for some reason, they have Mark’s 18th bday party 6 months later. Which is just… odd.
There wasn’t even a twist at the end where Mallory, like, walks in front of their house or something. #missedopportunity
So, yeah – I was not a fan of Pretty Little Stalker. Though I will admit:
the chick who plays Lorna has amazing hair through the movie, so kudos to the hairstylist; and
Ashley Rickards does a good job with a batshit character whom it is unlikely would actually be out on the streets for so long considering how often she attacks people.
Have you seen the movie? If so, what were your thoughts? If not, I don’t recommend it – also, did I convince you to join Team Ashley?
2020 is over, which means that I can finally reflect over the literature I consumed.
In 2020, I read 67 books and 22,486 pages, or an average of 335 pages per book.
The shortest book, which is actually just a short story that I listened to the audiobook for, is 67 pages. The longest book, Plain Bad Heroines, is 623 pages, which I didn’t realize, since I read an e-book ARC on my phone.
The most popular novel I read was Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, which we all know is amazing, so if you’ve been putting off reading it, stop doing that. Read it now. You never know what’s going to happen, but P&P is legitimately good literature that you will not regret consuming. The least popular was How to Write like Tolstoy, which is a shame, because I really, really enjoyed this book. It’s a book about writing, but I think you will enjoy it also if you are an avid reader with no writing pretensions. So I would also highly recommend this one if you’re in the mood for a book about the writing craft. Particularly if you are in the mood for a book about the writing craft, and you like celebrity gossip. Richard Cohen has worked with so many amazing writers, and this book has a mix of literary history and personal anecdotes that is highly entertaining while also containing decent literary analysis/writing advice.
I know this rating looks exorbitantly high, but I think that I just got lucky and read a lot of good novels during this year.
Not sure if you can tell from the picture, but the highest rated book I read in 2020 is the Wayside Stories audiobook, in which author Louis Sachar reads all 3 of his Wayside collections. If you haven’t read Wayside in awhile, you should check it out. It’s available on the Libby app, and Sachar’s writing is so good. I giggle every time I listen – silly noises that I cannot prevent from escaping from my person. Do I look deranged while driving on the highway and listening to this audiobook? Probably. Is it worth it? Fuck. Yes. Seriously – worth a listen; I highly, highly recommend.
First review of the year was The Plain janes. I have a blog post about this book, but honestly, my Goodreads review sums it up pretty succinctly.
Last review of the year was Murder in the Mystery Suite, which I couldn’t even finish.
That’s my year! Pretty good, reading-wise. Having said that, I am so, so glad that 2020 is over. Here’s hoping that 2021 isn’t quite as much of a shitshow.
How was your reading year? Do you want to be my friend on Goodreads? Please let me know something fun about your 2020 reading in the comments!
Because I have children, one of whom is a toddler who likes all things that roar, I watch Monsters University on at least a weekly basis. For those who are not subject to the whims and tantrums of a two-year-old, Monsters University is a prequel to Monsters Inc. It was released in 2013, and despite being a prequel, is actually a pretty decent movie.
It includes 3 of the main characters from the original Inc movie:
These characters are voiced by the same actors, the very talented John Goodman, Billy Crystal, and Steve Buscemi. In addition, the movie nabbed other very talented actors, including Helen Mirren and Charlie Day.
The three characters we already know well from Monsters Inc are now younger – for the majority of the movie, they are freshmen in college, attending, as you have probably already guessed – Monsters University.
The music is catchy, the jokes are funny, and the storyline is a coming-of-age story that includes learning to believe in yourself and others, but also recognizing your strengths and coming to terms with not being able to achieve your dreams. The movie begins with a tiny, elementary-school age Mike Wasowski, who maintains his trademark positivity despite being ignored and overlooked by all of his peers, discovering that he wants to be a scarer. It is a dream he holds firm in his heart, and it is his plan to do whatever it takes to become one when he steps onto the campus of Monsters University, brimming with the naivete and optimism that often comes when you still have your entire adult life ahead of you. Nearly everyone he meets either overlooks him, or tells him he does not have what it takes to be a scarer – when he is not simply being dismissed or ignored, he is generally flat-out being told he is not scary. But he just puts his head down, and works harder. He doesn’t go to the college parties, preferring to study to make sure he can pass his final and remain in the scaring program. The one thing that does get under his skin is Sully – the innately talented monster who can likely graduate as a scaring major without even trying. Sully is automatically noticed and admired by other monsters, and is a legacy to boot, with a famous scarer father. Mike has to work so hard to even be noticed, and even then, although he knows the scaring information from textbooks back-to-front, and can pass a written test with flying colors, he’s still… not scary. So someone who is frightening without even trying really gets to him.
The thing is — everyone else, unfortunately, is right. Mike works the hardest, studies the right stuff, and has a can-do attitude throughout his brief time at university, but… it doesn’t matter. In spite of everything, he is not capable of being a scarer, because he is not capable of being scary. He improves his scaring stances, aces his tests, and even uses his knowledge to coach others into being more capable scarers, but he is still, and will always be, unable to achieve his dream. So a large part of Mike’s journey is actually coming to terms with who he is, and figuring out his new goal.
This lesson is actually fine. Most girls want to be a ballerina, for example, but most girls cannot actually become a professional ballerina. Most girls get breasts, or do not want to study dance with the focus required to become a professional, or get eating disorders that make their bones brittle and unable to actually perform, etc.
The thing is… Monsters University is not the only children’s film made around this time that deals with needing to understand yourself and come to terms with not being able to achieve your heart’s deepest desire. In fact, it’s not even the first film that came out around that time with this thesis. Disney came out with another movie in 2012 about a rough guy just doing his job, and hated for it, and hating being hated for it, who befriended a cheeky rascal in a land made out of dessert. Who found out that his job was necessary, and he should keep doing it, but having friends made it bearable. That’s right, folks, a mere year-ish before, Disney released Wreck-It Ralph. Or what about another movie released in 2012 – Disney’s Brave? It is about more than accepting your position, but although Merida decides to make her role as royalty her own, she does have to come to terms with the fact that she is royalty, and that birthed her into certain responsibilities. In fact, failing to come to terms with this in the beginning of the movie nearly causes her to lose her mother forever because the witch she sought help from seems to only know a single spell (and how to carve, I guess). Then, there’s the 2013 Disney release Frozen, in which one of the main characters, Elsa, has to learn how to be honest with herself and others, and not merely isolate herself like an odd, sexy hermit, because she has responsibilities as a sister and a queen that she cannot, and does not want to, shirk. 2012 and 2013 feel like the years someone at Disney decided to explain to children that you can’t always do anything you want, but you can figure out a way to be okay with your employment, whether it’s glamorous like Elsa and Merida, or blue-collar like Ralph and Mike. I’m not necessarily against it, it just feels a little weird that instead of saying, “Keep making good decisions” or “You can be anything you want, if you only believe/work hard enough,” Disney was like, “Life’s not perfect, but you can settle and be cool with that.”
What do you guys think – am I reading too much into what I interpret as a slew of similarly themed movies? Is Monsters University actually terrible? Or am I a smart, savvy chick who has a point? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!