Wednesday, June 24, 2015

It gets better. Promise.

A little Shatner in the sun ^ for Lady Chardonnay, who is stuck in the maize.

I'm crossing my fingers, not really trusting that things will get better in the future--though I am praying that South Carolina and the Supreme Court will do the right thing (ban guns? as if). Having spent the past week reading post-apocalyptic stories, proofreading a book about Ebola, and researching garbage, I feel the future doesn't look too good.  


Post-apocalyptic literature is usually pretty dark about the future, of course, but it can cast a cheering glow on the present.
Look at all the goodies we've got!
Running water! Ibuprofen! 
And, as Emily St. John Mandel mentions more than once in in her novel Station Eleven,  light switches that light up a room!

Station Eleven (2014) itself did not light up my life. 

When I belatedly heard about it a few weeks ago, I had such high hopes for it I went to the bookstore to buy a copy, but it wasn't out in paperback yet (it is now), so I sat in the bookstore, read the first couple chapters, and realized I could wait for a library copy. 

It's OK, but it's low-wattage-- a little sloppily put together, to begin with. 
The awesomeness of light switches is not the only needlessly repeated point--it's as if the author expects the reader to put the book down for a long time and then to need reminders when s/he picks it up again. Maybe she expects us to read it in 140-word increments?

Then, the author's tone feels like a mix of chastisement ("you'll be sorry when you don't have FB to kick around anymore") and preemptive nostalgia ("didn't we all feel less alone when we posted selfies?").

Well, maybe so.
But this appreciation of our present  is more effective if the author doesn't literally list the things we'll miss, as Mandel does. 

It's not particularly original either.  There's a snow globe, for instance, to represent lost innocence, like in Citizen Kane

Or was it a glass paperweight? 
I forget, even though it turns up repeatedly, tying the characters together in a too-easy way, like, isn't it nifty? We're all connected, even when 99 percent of us are dead!

How the characters know that 99 percent of humanity is dead when there's no one left to analyze demographics is one of the oversights that makes this book soft-centered. 
Another one: how do you heat an airport after the grid goes down?
There are plenty more. (Would you get a tattoo after you saw someone die of blood poisoning from a scratch?)

Oh well. It's not a bad book---it'd be fun beach reading. 

Maybe jealousy tainted my reading, because Mandel uses a frame I'd thought of years ago: a post-apocalyptic theater group.

I was disappointed in what she does with the idea though: the troupe performs Shakespeare in the original (the virus that killed people left scripts intact), even though twenty years after the apocalypse they're performing to small groups of survivors in which everyone under thirty would not have had the benefit of high school English classes.

Sorry, I find open-air Shakespeare hard enough to understand when I already know the play.

My troupe was going to perform Star Trek episodes recreated from memory and morphed to suit the times.

But here's where Emily St. John Mandel has it all over me: 
Did I write my idea into a story? 
I did not. 

I was not disappointed with the graphic memoir Bread & Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York by Samuel R. Delany, Jr. drawn by Mia Wolff (1999, reissued 2013).

You know what they say: truth is stranger than fiction, and this straightforward retelling of how Delany, "Chip", falls in love with Dennis Rickett, is wonderfully strange, in the way real life can be.

Delany, as you may know, is an established author of sci-fi and memoir, and a gay, African American man. He meets Rickett, a white man who lives on the streets of New York City, and intends to buy one of the books Dennis sells from a blanket.
Chip doesn't have his wallet, though, and Dennis lets him take the book on credit.

If that's not a good reason to fall in love, I don't know what is.

It happened to me once, at a little Persian deli and bakery. I'd already ordered, then realized I didn't have money. The lovely woman at the counter gave me my pastry anyway, and said to pay next time. I'd been there before, but didn't actually know this woman. 
Such trust offered by stranger was more shocking--and more heartening-- than anything in Station Eleven.

Bread & Wine is full of such bits of the weirdnesses of real life. Getting to see Dennis, who has not taken his shoes off in months, clean up is one of them--kind of a thrilling invitation to consensual voyeurism (without the odor of putrid socks). 

The sex the book illustrates in full never feels less than friendly and natural--like gardening. Really satisfying gardening. Maybe it's all the dirt Dennis washes off.  

Chip and Dennis have been happy together for twenty-some years since then. So, maybe sometimes the future does get better. 


Zhoen said...

Golden ages usually weren't. Ask any historian how depressing studying history is. I know, I live with one.

If only I could plot, I really should get that novel in my post-apocalyptic world written. It's not a hell, but a sparsely populated paradise, but I repeat myself.

Fresca said...

There is no golden age; there're always hangnails and head colds.

I'm terrible at fiction, but I've thought I might try writing my idea up as something super short. More than 140 words, but short.

Lady Chardonnay said...

Shatner in the sun!!!! I'm beginning to see the light. thank you!!

bink said...

One of my tai chi regulars was wondering this morning how the ancient Greeks paid for all their libraries and public works/buildings. We decided their were economic upsides to being colonialists...though moral downsides.

But despite all the nice buildings, Greece fell. And now acid rain eats away at the marble.

The more things change...

Fresca said...

LADY C: We could probably use that margarine as suntan lotion...

BINK: We are the post-apocalypse to many previous worlds, eh?

skivvy said...

I came for the Chip Delany review (via Google search) but stayed for your thoughts on Station Eleven. Enjoyed both.

Frex said...

Frex = Fresca

Hi, Skivvy--thanks for commenting:
I'm glad to hear you enjoyed this post.