Nonfiction End of Year Review, Award Eligibility

AWARDS

A while ago some nice people suggested Boucher, Backbone and Blake – the legacy of Blakes 7 might be Hugo-eligible under a few categories. There’s Best Related Work, there’s Best Fan Writer, etc. THIS IS VERY KIND. THANK YOU.

HOWEVER:

I really feel Best Related Work needs to go to the report, editorial and companion essays by Brian J. White, Tobias Buckell, Justina Ireland, Mikki Kendall, Nisi Shawl, Troy Wiggins, Cecily Kane and N.K. Jemisin that together comprise “#BlackSpecFic: A Fireside Fiction Company special report”.

This collaborative project calls attention to a foundational issue in SFFnal publishing, representing the best traditions of critical, self-reflective and progressive work this award exists to recognise. Academically and practically, it is a necessary investigative report. The very model of its presentation is exciting and polyvocal, and it’d be great to see the award recognise this digital mixed-media format. Several great writers and thinkers made substantive contributions to the project. Others offered valuable reactions after the fact. The report and associated documents attracted international media attention, gave rise to editorial shifts on major SFF publications’ boards, and hopefully will spur further inclusive developments.

We should not let the memory of this work fade or its sharp, timely conclusions be overlooked. The report needs acted on, in a continuous praxis, and I believe it should also be recognised. This would show that we all feel the horrible inequalities it frankly delineates are a blight on the field, and that we are collectively serious about redressing them in the interests of both fairness and richer art. It would not definitively do so: only continuous work to dismantle systemic racism will accomplish this. But recognising the report as the most important piece of genre-related writing/the Best Related Work this year seems to me simply a just acknowledgement of a fait accompli.

As for me, I’d be happy to be considered for fan writer (though really I also think it’s past time for Abigail Nussbaum and/or Maureen K Speller to be acknowledged in that or some other capacity, but frogtea.gif).

END OF YEAR WRITING REVIEW:

STRANGE HORIZONS:

2016 In Review Part One  (my part: 270)
Yonderland (2276)

Age of Adeline (in the publishing queue, 2236)

***

OTHER PUBLICATIONS:

“Control the Computer, Control the Ship”, B7 and tech SFRA paper (promised to Foundation) (4kish atm)
“From ‘Shalom Aleichem’ to ‘Live Long and Prosper’: Engaging with Post-War American Jewish Identity via Star Trek: The Original Series“: forthcoming in “Set Phasers to Teach” (6666 with all notes)
Piece on P&P&Z (still homeless, 2980)
Piece on Love&Friendship (still homeless, 4315)

***

BLOG

FILM:

LITERATURE:

King John (2866)
Funny Girl (1426)

Sasha Regan’s All Male HMS Pinafore (1143)

NONFIC TOTAL: 84,265

***

FICTION:

Rereading (4,600, out with an anthology, waiting to hear back)

***

FANFIC:

281965 words, broken down in the end of year fic meme on my lj

***

Personal story planning, correspondence, essays and private-lj blogging:
endless

TOTAL (minus the substantial last category): 370,830 words this year, ‘published’ in one form or another

Bit less fiction than last year, and I really suspect less nonfic, but then moving was hideous and drawn out, mental health’s been bad and this year was draining all-’round.

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Notes on Great Expectations at Wimbledon Library (2016)

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* YOU ONLY HAVE UNTIL DECEMBER 18TH TO SEE THIS, and I really recommend you do!

* This production has found Trevor Nunn’s epic Nicholas Nickleby like some people find Jesus, and it’s working pretty well. I love that production, and thus another in that tradition, which has not been built upon as it ought to have been, works great for me. I think both Nunn’s Nickleby and this Great Expectations demonstrate a way of adapting Dickens that’s too often passed over. What we mostly see, in the endless bad adaptations that waste Gillian Anderson et al’s talent and time, is a totalising, slavishly naturalistic ‘period piece’ gaze. This renders not only the texts in question internally homogenous (turning the lovely and varying textures of Dickens into a smooth, unappetising thin paste, like an English person’s inevitably tragic attempt to make soup), but every Dickens book (all of which have their own distinct tones and moods) essentially the same. Worse still, such a gaze renders every ‘period’ piece from Dickens to Downton equally samey. The Hollow Crown is shot like Bleak House is shot like Parade’s End, essentially.

Naturalism is of course far from the only way to represent life, so it’s nice to see this theatrical production making good use of the magic of its particular mode both to achieve a greater sympathy with the hyper-reality of the source text and to produce something much richer than I’m used to getting from filmed adaptations.

* The blending of dialogue and prose from the original allows the text room, refuses to relinquish Dickens’ power and multifaceted appeal.

* The library venue was fun.

* I haven’t actually read this one! I did see a puppet version once, performed with the original Victorian toy theatre from Pollock’s. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a tiny puppet Miss Havisham die in a horrible conflagration: you are not living now.

* The stripped down lighting and blend of (I believe?) recorded and live-voice sound effects was very effective. The physicality and work with small props really show what a company can do with a small space and a limited budget. If I saw this at the Fringe it would probably rank as one of the strongest offerings (and that’s a highly competitive context!). But this staging also relies on the company to be on beat in order to generate its effects, and I felt they could have been a bit stricter about that. Without the huge cast Nunn relied on to create his London (which this show strongly draws on, especially for Pip’s big initial entrance), for example, they people on stage need to be Rockette-disciplined in order for the simultaneous and/or handed-over vocal and physical effects not to look shoddy. Nothing is seriously harmed by the cast’s moments of imprecision, but there were times where they were all supposed to say a word in unison (‘Pip’, for example), and it was a little sloppy. Y’all ain’t singin’ a round here.

Not to denigrate a largely well-executed effect! I like that entry to London, that way of making the city a theatrical character. The waterside scene before the fateful boat trip was particularly well-done.

* I know it’s a pain to stage fight calls, but this show needs to be bolder on physical violence, especially where Pip’s sister is concerned. She always seemed as though she might be half-joking, in this production. If we don’t feel Pip’s distress and lowness, we can’t fully dramatically engage with the poisoned chalice of his elevation. It Pip’s sister isn’t truly awful, we can’t have the huge Dickensian catharsis and forgiveness. This is always a vital element of his work, but it seems especially so at Christmas, given that Dickens’ Christmas stories in Household Words and All The Year Round always stressed redemption and forgiveness. These were key elements of the civic religiosity Dickens painstaking constructed around Christmas from the publication of the Carol up into the very end of his life.

* There’s a lot of quick-change doubling in this production, singled by actors’ bearing, voice and small alterations of costume. This, interestingly, reminds me of the monopolylogues which Dickens absolutely lived for as a young legal clerk, which Simon Callow (in his theatrically-focused Dickens biography) convincingly argues influenced both Dickens’ character-writing and his later readings. The term ‘readings’ makes one think of a sort of thin experience, but Dickens threw himself into the embodiment of his characters in a way that was, by all contemporary accounts, riveting. Someone called him a man possessed, and he sold out American and British theatres on the strength of his performance as much as his literary celebrity.

We had a good Pip (who was never tasked with playing anyone else that I recall) and, via these changes, a great Herbert Pocket and a powerful Jaggers/Magwitch. I wanted Estella to come off fiercer, though, eviscerating in her pride and contempt, and for Havisham to be towering. These are titanic roles, and I feel actresses can be too afraid of taking up the requisite space sufficiently definitively. For all we talk about femininity as a performance and spectacle, I think actresses have to work harder than actors to demand attention—that they risk and do more in giving that to a role and an audience, and that the audience is not necessarily fair to them when they do. Still, this is a piece in part about power, gender and social appearances, and given that thematic content I think it’s especially incumbent on actresses in these roles to screw their courage to the sticking place and go huge. This isn’t Merchant Ivory territory.

* I didn’t notice until now that Pip in GE and David in DC both use almost the same language for Estella ( “Do you admire her?” Everybody must who sees her, Miss Havisham.”) and Agnes (“She has great admiration for Miss Agnes. And I’m sure you have too, Master Copperfield.” “Everybody must have,” I replied.” / “you said one day that everybody must admire her”). I suppose Dickens did re-read DC directly before writing GE, in order to make sure they weren’t too similar (Sidenote: he cried re-reading DC, which. What a wet sock, bless.), so he might have accidentally picked up his own phrasing. Still, such different women to say the same thing of! And to Miss Havisham and Uriah Heep, both of whom are the protagonists’ hidden enemies, and both of whom ask a leading question to provoke the response. Though nominally, Heep is trying to warn David off and Havisham to lead him on…

* The big conflict scenes (Magwitch’s first appearance, the fire, and the boat-non-escape) could all be crisper and clearer in their action.

* The interval comes when Pip arrives in London, and I felt the second half was superior to the first—the play picked up energy here.

* The arc of this adaptation is neatly curtailed.

* Joe was well-acted, and was the most effective emotional nexus in the piece. At times I thought the source text rather than this play generated and bore the emotion of the work, and I wanted the play to make itself felt more. I’m not sure how I wanted that to happen, but it was like the emotion was in the background, and I wanted it to move to this layer, to the foreground: for the play to own the narrative, at this moment, more than it was doing, to really nail its good intentions.

* The show had good costuming (in a historically vague way, but that wasn’t really the point) except for adult Estella—I liked her cape, but in general the silhouette didn’t work for me. Estella’s costuming is particularly difficult, though, as her outfit is tasked with embodying and helping convey the living display of power Havisham has made her into.

* I really feel they ought to have gone with the iconic ‘no shadow of a second parting’ closer. The current ending feels a little ‘…oh’, and that line is so classic, even if it wasn’t Dickens’ first choice—he was wrong, like Shaw was wrong about “Pygmalion”. It happens. It happens to Dickens kind of a lot.

Book of Mormon (West End Production)

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Book of Mormon is not bad, but it is nothing like good enough to justify its hype. Granted, hype is an amorphous construction that sits somewhat outside an artwork, and a given piece isn’t quite legitimately answerable to its reception. Nevertheless, it’s very difficult to go into this musical unaware of the kind of commercial enterprise it is.

Even inside the venue, the degree and nature of Mormon’s success are impossible to escape. The building was crowded with unusually over-dressed people wearing giant shoes, like they’d come to a club or their proms, tottering about slowly. The show started late, in part because people didn’t have access to shared knowledge about how to move in a space like this and in part because they didn’t take final calls seriously. The tourist-heavy, US-weighted (American accent-peppered) crowd displayed different audience behaviours than what you’d see from the attendees of a shorter-running production selling largely to a theatrically-experienced British public. My partner and I had wanted to see Mormon primarily because it was such a big-ticket item, and so raved about. Having seen it, I feel it’s big with people who do not Theatre much, and that that’s actually part of the mechanic of its appeal.

This competent but not exceptional performance got a standing ovation. I used to watch bullfights in Seville. That is a tough crowd. It’s a major arena, one of the big three, and the Sevillanos do not, as a rule, award trophies. Then one day I went to this tiny town with a podunk ring for some novilladas—so novice fights. And these rural spectators could not stop giving out trophies. That is what crowds for Tourist Musicals are like: a collection of bb David Copperfields who act as though every play is the BEST PLAY, by virtue of existing on a stage. (I’m talking about the really sweet bit where David thinks a production of Julius Caesar is the best thing to ever have happened to humans and Steerforth is like oh honey, it seriously blew, but bless your little face.)

Several factors go into making up this sort of house. It has to do with a play’s buzz, its run-length, its subject matter, the amount of Pagentry involved, the venue (that venue’s size) and the (exorbitant, Luxury-marketed) ticket price. I would almost avoid big shows or good (expensive) Friday-night seats at something like Les Miz because the stalls will be: fucking full of out-of-towners.

Yes, I’m being a giant snob about this, and yes you can go and enjoy theatre if you don’t go often or live somewhere with a lot of theatre, etc. I’m from rural (well, it was at the time, now the town’s really grown up) Missouri, so like, I had a learning curve myself, and it’s also to naïve to suggest Londoners can’t be awful (we can) or that there is a Singular Right Way to Theatre (there isn’t, and public behaviour arguments are often dispatched to truly gross ends, like policing black enthusiasm in theatrical spaces). But let’s not pretend the atmosphere of a house doesn’t affect your reception of a performance, and that entire character of theatre for tourists isn’t a different enterprise from something like Curious Incident, which can attract tourists but is not built expressly to do so.

A friend wondered why Americans would go see Book of Mormon in London. I think Americans from an area without a big theatre community often like to get in that combo-vacation: the attractions of another country blend with the attractions of any large urban area (‘oh, we can go to Ikea while we’re there!!’ is, for example, a real thing I have said to real relatives). Plus the West End can have better availability than Broadway, and the prices vary from ‘cheaper than Broadway’ to ‘ridiculously cheaper than Broadway’. If you’re going with a group—flying from say, St. Louis, then coming to London for a show—even with plane fare, you might find going to London cheaper than trying to see a blockbuster show in New York. For example I guarantee you US people will come see Hamilton here, especially with Lin Manuel Miranda transferring. (Resold, a Hamilton ticket is currently running $800, apparently.)

With all that throat-clearing out of the way, and with me having exposed myself as an awful snob who doesn’t want to see Thriller Live with your Auntie Leslie from Versailles, MO (pron. Ver-sails) on any account, let’s talk about the musical.

A small note: I initially suspected the set-painter to have been a rogue Canadian, because a Tim Hortons was depicted in Salt Lake City. But now I learn those snow-encrusted bastards are making inroads south, to the tune of 650 US restaurants in the last years! I have never before suspected this threat, and now see that we must act to prevent the White Menace from consuming our sweet native franchises.

The story follows two young American Mormon men going out on their two-year mission journey. They’re rather surprised to learn they’re being dispatched to Uganda, a country about which they know nothing. An awkward geek, Arnold, is paired with Kevin, the flower of Mormon youth. Kevin is an entertainingly self-obsessed boy whose messianic conviction of his own virtue and importance has always chimed perfectly with his community and its faith.

The characterization and music alike both have some Moments, but aren’t great. I had some laughs, but not as many as I might have expected, and now, with a few days’ distance, I can remember almost nothing I found particularly great? Essentially this is, as you might expect from the creators, South Park humour and plotting: that level of liberal thinking, that scatological quality, that irreverence that actually doesn’t challenge much, that ‘or did I just blow your mind’ fauxfundity. The acting was very good, but the parts didn’t necessarily ask the world of the performers. The staging was expensive, but I’m not sure it was particularly good as such. Mormon felt—like a super-glossy version of a random Fringe musical. That level of writing skill, etc. Which is fine, but the production doesn’t really scream to be brought to the West End and have tons of cash heaped on it.

Obviously, this musical’s racist as hell. Like, it pushes through that so you think it’s not and then enters back into it, leaving none of the fundamental underlying assumptions unchallenged. Yes, the show does think it’s dumb that white Americans have simplistic, entertainment-based narratives about Africa and want to make sweeping changes there with little idea of the factors involved in the continent’s issues (or even much idea of the size and diversity of said continent, and thus the diversity of its issues). The song “We Are Africa” is kind of great for evoking and mocking these assumptions.

But the musical, about missionaries introducing faith to a beleaguered village, never says a word about the role white people and missionary drives, and colonialism more generally, have played in creating this current depressing state of affairs. So when belief, in an admittedly rather sophisticated manoeuvre, is presented as a possible social good in and of itself at the musical’s conclusion, that feels amnesiac. Belief caused this: belief is going to fix it as well? Mormon never once asks about the faith, or lack thereof, of the inhabitants—we’re shown folk beliefs born of desperation, but never the religion Mormonism is supposed to displace. The village is a tabula rasa.

Mormon is fundamentally the story of its white characters, with the black cast used as backdrop. And it’s funny when done consciously in “We Are Africa”, which features awkwardly smiling Africans on the periphery, silent, and white men making tits of themselves centre stage. But it’s less funny when the entire plot mechanic is reliant on this effect. A warlord shoots a villager, and we zero in on how worried this makes Kevin, and then forget even that trauma quickly. No one in the village grieves their friend, who ultimately exists to be a comic bloodstain on Kevin’s shirt (and then to be forgotten when the tempo picks up and Kevin changes).

Yes the black characters deservedly mock the Americans’ prissiness, earnestness and cluelessness, but it’s all a bit Heart of Darkness, isn’t it? This is never their story. Mormon’s not quite minstrelsy, but there are times I felt uncomfortably conscious of that vibe. Are we laughing with the characters who have real problems these newcomers blithely think they can solve with bible study, or are we laughing at this stupid girl who doesn’t understand what ‘texting’ is? Can Nabulungi’s dimness be just her own, in a context where we’re told so little about her social situation? Can the dim white character/her love interest’s comedic inability to say her name right and disinterest in learning how to do so ever not be racist? Is the fundamental naïveté of these Africans okay because this is just a musical comedy, or a kind of creepy reflection of the degree to which the creators and appreciative audiences understand people in very different situations to their own to be thinking beings? And what does mocking American monolithic ideas of Africa actually do, when what we see in this musical is exactly that Elephant Graveyard out of Lion King (complete with the massive skeleton from Julie Taymor’s production’s set design) in village form and a floating, contextless clit-hating warlord?

In the end, via a transformation of the faith they’re peddling (largely Arnold’s limp, unfunny, nerd pop-culture reimagining, rather than the Ugandans’ making Mormonism something that works for them), the work of the missionaries is fundamentally successful. (To be honest, it felt like the warlord could and even logically should have gunned this village down in the climactic scene. Why did no one bother to clinch this climax?) So you don’t have to ask questions about Western complicity in this village being in this position in the first place or continuing Western involvement in Africa. You don’t even have to ask too many questions about Mormonism’s pros and cons. The mechanic of this show’s plot is, at its core, complacent. This is a production that aims to generate publicity-making Daily Mail outrage, and nothing more. It’s Urinetown’s failed ending, all over again.

I’m so sick of media that bungles its message via bad editing. It’s such a salvageable situation, if the problem’s thoroughly addressed early on. I think a musical shaped like this could have sold like this has, even if it had a more challenging core, and that that’s the difference between something that sells well in the moment and a long-sighted project that endures as a cultural artefact (and thus may ultimately make you more money—why does no one think about this when thinking about quality? Why are capitalists so bad at capitalism?).

Overall, (and I’ve not seen it since it came out, so could be misremembering) I thought South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut had better jokes, more of a sense of its form and more heart. I’m not mad I saw this musical, though I am deeply uncomfortable with its thoughtless, white as hell delivery of what I suspect are well-intentioned politics. I would be mad if I hadn’t gotten in via lottery and thus gotten cheap seats.

Funny Girl (film) Review

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After reviewing the West End production, have now watched the film Funny Girl. It will surprise no one to learn that Barbara Streisand was amazing. The part where Nicky asks Fanny to watch a poker game with no expression and she’s such a glorious failure! Fanny just dropping when she passes the curtain coming off stage, because she’s a talented performer but also a woman very worried about her marriage, is so good. Brice’s handling of the reporters after Nicky turns himself in is AMAZING. 100x more characters like this, please. Great singing, great comic presence, and great character acting on Barbara’s part. I am never surprised by her being a fucking pro.

What I am surprised by is how much better Nicky Arnstein works in this. Omar Sharif is always a deeply appealing performer (why Lawrence of Arabia didn’t retroactively become a problematic but fascinating major slash fandom, I cannot say, except for that fandom doesn’t work that way, more’s the pity). He plays the macho notes of Arnstein’s role with half a laugh, and seems to have altogether more personality than the stage version. In part Sharif works so well because he, like Fanny, is something of an outsider in this production. He’s a smooth, rich gentleman who also happens to be brown. There’s a story there, there are attendant intersectional privileges and disprivileges. It gives Nicky’s desire to maintain his power in this world in and of himself a kind of poignancy, a degree of comprehensibility. Nicky is, at present, an exotic foreign Somebody, but take away his cultivated air of prestige and he’s the Egyptian husband of a born-poor Jewish girl whose luck could turn (easily: this film ends in the inter-war period). With his personal vulnerability, situational positioning and good humor, Sharif makes this story a real romance between two well-drawn individuals, so that it can be a real tragedy when it falls apart.

The film is generally successful. I get more of a sense of Fanny as a performer here, too, and I’m glad her friend’s her friend now instead of pining for her. I really appreciate that Fanny’s mother no longer assigns her the blame for Nicky’s behaviour, and instead advises her not to throw money at the problem, but to talk it out, to support him as his wife via helping him figure out what he ought to do. Fanny’s failure to do this is a bit inexplicable in the film, but overall the logic of the cuts and additions manages the difficult feat of making a musical or play work like a film. If some of that comes at the expense of it feeling like a musical—oh well?

A movie very worth watching, and very worth working with and building off of if you intend to stage the musical.

Over the Garden Wall

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I’m unlikely to nail a discussion of Over the Garden Wall—almost no one has. Often, when I’m reviewing something, I read over others’ opinions to make sure that I’m adding something to the conversation, that I’m not stupidly wrong about or oblivious to something germane. When I decided I wanted to talk about Over the Garden Wall, I looked to see what others had said before me, and I was surprised by how poorly the bulk of the extant criticism dealt with the program. Something about the series apparently makes it difficult to analyse. The best articles on the show largely deflect attention from it. Sonia Saraiya at Salon, for example, gives us an interesting perspective on Cartoon Network and Adult Swim in terms of viral television, rather than an in-depth treatment of the series per se. Without essentially releasing a diss track (. . . though that would be an amazing contribution to SFF reviewing/reviewing generally, let’s be real), I’d like to excavate Over the Garden Wall by reviewing the reviews: examining how and why they glance off the work, and what this can tell us about the program.

Full review here.

 

Invader Zim, Issue 1, by Jhonen Vasquez

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Jhonen Vasquez has found a large phone with which to phone in an Invader Zim comic years on. He hasn’t even done the art in any capacity. I kind of love his transparent loathing for the whole process. The way he can’t even be bothered to be viciously caustic about his fandom in the introductory section, even though he’s taking the time to swipe at it. I’d say ‘Vasquez hates his old work now’, and that’s especially true of the beleaguered Invader Zim project, the cult popularity of which haunts him, but it’s also a bit pointless: I am 95% sure Jhonen Vasquez hates everything he has ever done, with an option on also hating everything everyone else has ever done as well. That is the gnostic genius that powers him, like a hate-hamster burning up a loathing wheel. (Some of the art choices feel a bit fatphobic, but I pretty much understand this as part of Vasquez’s gnostic loathing of all bodies: it’s not you, it’s the unbearable hideousness of material existence.)

The plot (Zim goes into hiding for Some Time, Dib slips into ruin without him to fight) is a reversal of an episode that got written and story-boarded, but never finished, in which Dib gave up paranormal investigation for real science and Zim went to pot. It’s–all right? It’s not a bad comic, but it doesn’t feel quite like Invader Zim. The world’s less dirty, less nastily funny, Professor Membrane is less obviously a terrible terrible parent. Vasquez still has his back for unexpected, weird, curt little moments of humor. “Aw, that’s interesting, tell me more!” “Nope.” I sort of wonder who the comic is aimed at–people my age with fond memories of the show, or a younger audience that might match the original intended audience demographic. It isn’t that clear. The comic lacks the… ‘maturity’ is the wrong, wrong, word, but–maturity of the JtHM books.

I’m surprised by how well I remember this voice acting, and how well the writing evokes it, though. A lot of people suck at producing anything like ‘fanfiction’ of their own work (and returning to a long-abandoned universe is more like writing fanfiction than it is taking up where you left off, I suspect–no one is the person they were ten years ago). The art’s not very intricate–too clean, for a start, and too full of perky, flat color. It lacks the H.R. Giger twistyness of Vasquez and the Zim team in flow, the inventiveness, the techno-fetishism. And we miss out on the programme’s great music with the medium change, obviously–ah, well.

I’d read the others (two more issues are out now), but I’m not RUNNING to do it. It does remind me how residually fond I am of this show, though, and make me wonder what the loving fuck Vasquez has been doing with himself since.

(Oh and that stupid mini-moose is back. The fucking latecomer Scrappy Doo of this canon. I never LOVED Gir/thought he was a major source of the show’s humor. The last thing I needed was a second, crapper Gir.)

Wild Robert, Diana Wynne Jones

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Wild Robert is quick and sweet. DWJ draws characters so quickly and so well–I kind of hate her. She has this sense for mannerism and personal history and attitude that feels almost like what good fanfic writers can do, but without a source text, and even for secondary characters, and instantly. That’s sort of Dickensian as well.

As usual the ending is like, ‘what’. You read DWJ and come away angry. Where is the rest of this book. I mean I can GUESS what happens and maybe DWJ feels that’s as good as writing the ending. I was thinking today about how there’s something tragic about too neat and definitive an ending–the way it forecloses the possibility of story, the sort of tragic structure of ends, the way things must now go one way you can have no imaginative part in, that allows for no branchings-off. Gili Bar-Hillel* said something about the logic of DWJ’s endings at the Seven Stories conference, about their tactical refusal of neatness (I was EXHAUSTED so I don’t perfectly remember her argument), and now I sort of agree with her more than I did at the time, even while I still think–DWJ’s endings could be edited to something ‘satisfying’ and maybe should have been? They’re like little wounds at the ends of the texts. And sometimes DWJ tries TOO hard and ends up with this sort of over-determined, superfluous ending that somehow still has these problems–like a cliff hanging over the sea, where the base has been eaten out by waves.

There’s an interesting portion of Wild Robert where some rowdy teens are transmuted into pastoral nymphs and fauns and set to run riot in the woods. Both the heroine, Heather, and I were discomforted by this–I’m a bit worried about er, sexuality and consent, and I don’t think the book means to allay my fears there. It’s for younger readers, sure–but also I don’t think the book necessarily shies from the possibility that this will go badly, that these teens will do things in these forms that their waking selves will half-remember with fear or regret. Robert–might not understand the modern ethical reading of what he’s done. I guess what the book crystalizes there is the uneasy relationship that always exists between magic and consent.

I think the ending of the book sort of postulates a romantic future for Heather and Robert. Heather’s come to understand him and learned how to curb him. Robert’s immediately likable and charming. He needs her. He possibly likes her as herself–he certainly wants to trust and love someone. But I don’t necessarily know quite enough about Heather–I know her reactions to things, but not much about her in an overall sense. I don’t know what Robert has to offer her, and Jones conflates Heather’s maternal, older-sisterly care taking with romantic love, which seems a bit… fuckboi man child? Which Robert is, but he’s also lovely.

Anyway this was a good book and it took me an hourish and I will struggle to focus and NOT binge-read all the DWJ I haven’t had access to while I’m house sitting what is essentially the library of my dreams. …but not that hard.

* [The house I’m sitting at the moment has Hebrew versions of some DWJ books, shelved not together, but with the books I assume they’re translations of. I think Bar-Hillel must have given them to the owner, because I think she translated them and I know the two women know each other. There’s a small, strange pleasure in putting together how something could have happened, that maybe I’m especially live to right now because I’m in the middle of writing a mystery story. Actually, though, I hate clues and am a bad reader of mysteries. I only care who and why and never how. It’s often pretty obvious whodunit because–that’s the shape of the story/the dramatic necessity. Or: it’s not obvious and it’s boring, because there’s no feeling of necessity, and I’m just there for the characters, world, and detective gaze. This doesn’t mean I’m good at clues–the opposite. I find them difficult to focus on and follow. I don’t take much pleasure in ‘solving’ a mystery, and when I do it, I’ve solved the plot rather than followed the clues.]