The Girl Is Mine

I’ve never been an enormous fan of Reese Witherspoon; I think she has talent and she had really shone in some things I’ve seen her in (Legally Blonde, Election, Cruel Intentions) but there was always just something about her, though, that set my teeth a little on edge; nothing I can explain, but she just always struck me as the “I need to speak to your manager” type. But her television work has turned me into a fan, and not just because she’s been killing it in shows like Big Little Lies, The Morning Show, and Little Fires Everywhere…she’s been terrific in all of these shows, but the bigger picture is these shows have introduced me to two writers with whose work I’ve become enamored; Liliane Moriarity and Celeste Ng. Moriarity has more of a backlist than Ng, who only has published two novels; I’m working my way through Moriarty as of yet, and loving her work, but Celeste Ng is a whole other story.

Little Fires Everywhere was a terrific novel, and I was holding off on reading her debut, Everything I Never Told You, primarily because I didn’t want to run out of work by Celeste Ng to read (one of my weird predilections; I never want to run out of books by writers I love). But during the aftermath of Ida and with no power, I picked it up, started reading, and didn’t put it down until hours later, when I’d finished.

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast. As always, next to her cereal bowl, her mother has placed a sharpened pencil and Lydia’s Physics homework, six problems flagged with small ticks. Driving to work, Lydia’s father nudges the dial toward WXKP, Northwest Ohio’s Best News Source, vexed by the crackle of static. On the stairs, Lydia’s brother yawns, still twined in the tail end of his dream. And in her chair in the corner of the kitchen, Lydia’s sister hunches moon-eyed over her cornflakes sucking them to pieces one by one, waiting for Lydia to appear. It’s she who says, at last, “Lydia’s taking a long time today.”

Upstairs, Marilyn opens her daughter’s door and sees the bed unslept in: neat hospital corners still pleated beneath the comforter, pillow still fluffed and convex. Nothing seems out of place. Mustard-colored corduroys tangled on the floor, a single rainbow-striped sock. A row of science fair ribbons on the wall, a postcard of Einstein. Lydia’s duffel bag crumpled on the floor of her closet. Lydia’s green bookbag slouched against her desk. Lydia’s bottle of Baby Soft atop the dresser, a sweet, powdery, loved-baby scent still in the air. But no Lydia.

One of the things that strikes me as curious about Ng’s work is that it’s set in the past; Little Fires Everywhere was set in the 90’s, and this, her debut, is set in 1977. Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with writing stories set in the past, mind you, it’s just an observation. But the two books have very strong themes and look at the roles of women in the society in which they were born; that entire thing about “having it all” (which is mythology, of course; no one is superhuman enough to “have it all”) and the bitter reality that a woman cannot, ever, no matter how hard she works and no matter how much effort she puts into it, achieve this mysteriously, vaguely defined “all” she is theoretically able to have. It’s still a problem for women in our current time; the inability for gender roles to be completely redefined, for one, despite the fact that society and culture have dramatically changed and shifted over the last few decades (four or five of them, at the very least).

Anyway, I digress.

The Lee family, who live in a small college town near Dayton in Ohio, are a typical American family. Dad teaches at the university, Mom is a housewife and mom, and their two eldest children are academic stars at the local high school. The youngest child is a mere afterthought, an asterisk, to whom no one really pays much attention. Both parents are completely wrapped up in Lydia, their second child; much to the detriment of the oldest, Nathan (Nath). Lydia is soon found when they drag the nearby lake; whether she committed suicide, it was an accident, or foul play is pretty much up in the air–although they did find her things in a small rowboat floating out in the middle of the water, so accident or suicide is most likely, but Mom Marilyn refuses to believe her child could or would do such a thing and therefore it must be murder!

This is, of course, a classic set-up for a crime novel or a novel about families; the twist here is that James, the husband/father, is Chinese-American (his parents were immigrants) and Marilyn the mom, is white and from Virginia.; therefore their children are bi-racial, and this was still kind of a “thing” in the 1970’s (not that it isn’t still, of course; progress has been made but it’s also been rather on the slow side, really). When James and Marilyn marry, miscegenation laws are still on the books; Marilyn’s own mother is such a racist bitch she says horrible things to Marilyn on her wedding day–which is the last time Marilyn sees or speaks to her mother. They are the only Asians in their little college town, which also impacts the kids and how they see, not only their parents, but the world. Marilyn is also a frustrated feminist; she wanted to be a doctor, took Science classes against the advise of teachers and advisors, and only gives up on her dreams when she becomes pregnant and marries James, becomes a wife and mother….and channels all her frustrated hopes and dreams onto her daughter, Lydia–who has a lot of trouble, as we see over the course of the book, living up to those hopes and dreams. There are no villains or heroes in this book; just complicated human beings doing their best to get through their lives–and how the things unsaid to each other, for whatever reason…and as we get to know each character and their own foibles and flaws and dreams, they become fully realized, and the reader cannot help but love and empathize with them. The story structure, after the present day opening with Lydia dead, flashes back and forth between the present and the past, as we learn the story of the Lees and their broken hopes and dreams; watch them deal with the horrific and completely inexcusable casual racism of their white neighbors and classmates; as Marilyn meets women who followed their dreams and envies them, wonders how they managed to do it; and there’s also a queer subtext/plot thread that is handled delicately and beautifully–if perhaps not realistically for small town Ohio in the 1970’s; whatever issues I may have with the realism of the story in the time in which it is said can easily be set aside because of how beautifully Ng does it as an author.

Everything I Never Told You is an absolute gem of a novel, and I can highly recommend it.

Come Back…Be Here

And now it’s Thursday, and we’re sliding into the weekend slowly but surely. I’m just keeping my head down and doing what I need to get through what’s left of my life, frankly. I’m actually, as I near sixty, really grateful for being a gay American, particularly this week–because it means I am used to being disappointed in, and by, my fellow Americans.

I’ve always believed that more Americans than not would be perfectly happy if all queers were put in camps–and would be okay with people of color joining us there. I started writing a book about that very thing back in the early 1990’s–There Comes a Tide was what I called it, which is a great title I should repurpose, as I doubt I will ever write the book–which led me to study the rise of Nazism in Germany, which I knew about but not in any kind of depth. It was really a strange experience–but one I would recommend…because it put me into a mindset of looking around at my friends and family and co-workers and wondering, if they came for the queers, who would avert their eyes? Who would pretend it wasn’t happening? And who would do and/or say something? Who could I count on to hide me?

It was, quite frankly, a horrible exercise in cynicism, human nature and brutal honesty…and I also began, at the same time, to understand why the movie Cabaret was actually so fucking brilliant, and that Bob Fosse was, after all, a genius–something I recognize more and more every time I watch the film again. (Maybe it’s time for yet another rewatch, and it definitely would fit into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival…hmmm. Definitely worth a second thought for sure.) I also want to watch more of Fosse’s films–I don’t think I’ve ever seen All That Jazz all the way through, and there’s also Lenny and Star 80….hmmm some more.

I did make it to the gym last evening after work and it was quite marvelous. I was definitely too cranky, wound up and tired to go Tuesday–and while I did worry that not going was the first step onto that slippery slope of “blow it off once, you’re much more likely to blow it off twice”, I did manage to not only go after work last night, I actually enjoyed it, felt tremendous after I went, and I kind of liked the walk through the neighborhood in the dark. It was a lovely cool evening, and when I walked past Coliseum Square a “piano truck” had parked there along Race Street, and while I did leave my headphones in, I thought it was kind of charming that a freelance pianist was set up in the park. I am still amazed at how much better I feel now that I am working out again–it eases my stress, releases tension in my back and other muscles, and the stretching is simply marvelous. I’m still getting used to my new gym–seeing new people, using new machines that are slightly different from any I’ve used before, and everyone there seems really nice–but it still doesn’t feel like my gym yet; but then we belonged to St. Charles Athletic Club for seventeen years, which is an incredibly long time to belong to a gym. But then again, when you’re pushing sixty, there are any number of things you’ve been doing routinely for a very long time.

I did work on “Condos, for Sale or Rent” for a hot minute last night as well before repairing to the easy chair–I’ve become addicted to a series of Youtube videos called Lost in Adaptation, where the narrator (Dom, a British guy) compares novels to the film adaptations, including “what they kept” and “what they changed.” (My personal favorite with the David Lynch Dune vs. the novel; suffice it to say Dom found the film as ludicrous and silly an adaptation as I did. He also did good ones for Rebecca, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, The Bad Seed, and The Shining.)

I slept deeply and well last night and feel very rested this morning, which is great. While the election still isn’t quite yet over, I’ve reached a kind of zen-like state about the entire thing, and I find that, once again, I was carrying a lot of electoral stress in my subconscious and in my back. I feel a lot more like myself now–indeed, yesterday and today both–like I’ve finally found myself again. There are still some things that I need to handle, but I am feeling better about them–and like I can get everything done that I need to get done, which is an absolutely lovely feeling, quite frankly. This has seriously been quite the year–and that is the definition of understatement, I think. Yeesh, Carnival certainly seems like it was a million years or so ago, doesn’t it? Granted, it was also the “Carnival of Death,” with two major parades ending early after floats killed people (!), which kind of should have let us all know that it was going to be a shit-show of a year; when Carnival sucks and isn’t fun….that should be the indicator that we all need to keep our heads down and try not to attract much attention and just try to endure it all. Granted, there’s still two nearly full months of 2020 to go, of course, and there’s still plenty of time left for sucker punches and cheap shots and low blows from this annus horribilis.

A most unpleasant but highly likely possibility.

Today is a work at home day for me, and I am debating what to watch during the condom packing part of my day. I’m going to check to see if Coppola’s 1974 film The Conversation (over-shadowed completely by being released in the same year as The Godfather Part II) is available to stream anywhere–I think it may be on Amazon Prime–and I also have to get my checking account straightened out at some point today; but I also don’t have to leave the house today if I don’t choose–and I am thinking I do not choose. I have stuff to make for dinner, and I can hold off groceries until Saturday, methinks. I really feel this morning that not going outside the house–other than to take out the trash and/or get the mail and/or go to the gym–until Saturday is optimal. I’m just really not in the mood for people, to be honest, and I like this rested feeling I am experiencing this morning.

And now to tackle the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, everyone.