Saturday, February 27, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente

Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente
ISBN: 978-0-553-38576-2


Between life and death, dreaming and waking, at the train stop beyond the end of the world is the city of Palimpsest. To get there is a miracle, a mystery, a gift, and a curse – a voyage permitted only to those who’ve always believed there’s another world than the one that meets the eye. Those fated to make the passage are marked forever by a map of that wondrous city tattooed on their flesh after a single orgasmic night.

To this kingdom of ghost trains, lion-priests, living kanji, and cream-filled canals come four travelers: Oleg, a New York locksmith; the beekeeper November; Ludovico, a binder of rare books; and a young Japanese woman named Sei. They’ve each lost something important – a wife, a lover, a sister, a direction in life – and what they will find in Palimpsest is more than they could ever imagine.


My Thoughts:

This is a very complex, sophisticated book and some of the best urban fantasy I’ve read (although perhaps I haven’t read that much urban fantasy). I would almost say that this borders on magical realism in some respects, but remains very much in the urban fantasy genre.

Sidebar: What is magic(al) realism, you ask? Well, it's a literary movement that originated in Latin America that presents and alternate vision of reality in which things we consider "magical" or "miraculous" are part of every day life. This literary movement has spread to other parts of the world as well. Some authors who write in this style are Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Haruki Murakami and Salman Rushdie, but there are many more (I supply these examples because I have read books written by these three).

Before I discuss the actual novel, let me just say that its elevated style makes me think of magic realism, but that the definition doesn't quite fit, hence, it falls into the category of urban fantasy. The fantastic is not portrayed as part of ordinary life overall, although it certainly has an air of ordinariness for the main characters. I think if one were so inclined, one could try to make a fairly strong argument either way, but I don't feel it's necessary to do so - the book is what it is and that is beautiful.

Now, for a discussion of the actual story! I have a lot of really good things to say – but as usual, I will start with the negatives, or rather negative.

There are 4 characters and 8 different locations and the world of Palimpsest is very strange, so sometimes it was difficult to stay oriented within the novel. Every chapter switches between at least locations, but often the switch is between characters and location and that was a little bit disruptive to the flow of the novel for me. There were just so many jumps between points of view. I can appreciate what the author was trying to do and I think she’s largely successful, but I think that the setting of Palimpsest could have been a little more developed if there had been fewer transitions between characters and locations. I just never felt comfortable within the narrative; because whenever I settled down into a point of view it would change in the next chapter.

That said – oh my goth (tee hee), this novel was beautifully written. The vocabulary was challenging and the sentences...Well...let me put it this way: I would put this book down just to savor the way certain sections flowed. The prose is just…amazing; I almost don’t have words for it. I like to write down passages that I think are meaningful or beautiful, but I found that I couldn’t do that, because I’d have to copy down pages upon pages. I tried to pick an example for this review and realized I would write out entire paragraphs. I’m just in awe of the way Valente uses language and creates images.

Also – the concept feels fairly original to me, though I’m willing to be corrected on that point. I certainly haven’t read anything remotely like it before. And the world of Palimpsest was wonderfully imaginative in the way of fairy-tale places that we normally only reach in dreams. The mystery and wonder, the addiction and horror that a place can evoke was beautifully portrayed and made me wish that I could feel that kind of awe about traveling anywhere.

Something fairly minor that appealed to me is the font used in the chapters set in Palimpsest. I wish I knew what it was so that I could use it for things. If someone wanted to tell me I’d be rather grateful.

I feel like I’m just gushing now and not saying much of substance anymore. If you’re into urban fantasy and gritty, sexual stories (yes, there is quite a bit of sex, but it’s not obscene or pornographic, it’s not even erotic, it just happens as part of the story) I think you should pick this novel up and try it on for size. Yes, you might be disoriented at times with the frequent shifts in point of view and location, but believe me, it’s worth it at the end, because this story is simply heartwrenchingly terrifyingly beautiful.

Okay, I can’t resist. I have to include a quote. I’ll try to keep it short.

“‘Living alone,’ November whispers, ‘is a skill, like running long distance or programming old computers. You have to know parameters, protocols. You have to learn them so well that they become like a language: to have music always so that the silence doesn’t overwhelm you, to perform your work exquisitely well so that your time is filled. You have to allow yourself to open up until you are exactly the size of the place you live, no more, or else you get restless. Not less, or else you drown. There are rules, there are ways of being and not being. This sort of thing,’ she gestured imprecisely at the room, the bed, him, ‘is forbidden. It expands or contract me, I’m not sure which, beyond the…set limits. I’m not good at that, either. Expanding, contracting.’” Pg. 117, Palimpsest, Catherynne M. Valente

Isn’t that amazing? Beautiful? Meaningful? Profound? I think so. I’m just going to go swoon for a while now.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Weeks Too Late: The Wolfman

The Wolfman (2010). Directed by Joe Johnston, Written by Andrew Kevin Walker & David Self.

Preconceptions: To say I was excited for this movie would be an understatement. I love horror movies in general (though this wasn't precisely a horror) but monster movies in particular. My love of werewolves (or whor-wilfs if you prefer) has reached the fetishistic point. The idea of a high budget, kinda classy werewolf movie was a big deal. I'm hardly alone in my wolfman love. Doomwench, my lovely co-writer, traveled some 70 miles from her Island Paradise to join us.

General Review: Sadly, despite what the Guess Who say I can't really clap for the Wolfman. Okay, not entirely true, but I'm too weak to pass up the line. I'm afraid it was another pretty movie with passable acting and not much else. I know they were going for a sort of simple classic plot. But instead of being stark and clean it was just a bit boring and predictable. And I don't know HOW you can make a movie about a giant monster tearing apart screaming humans into something a bit dull...but they managed it.

If I may, I'd like to break from form here and talk about specifics. If you haven't seen the movie and are desperate not to have a few completely telegraphed plot points ruined for you, don't read this section: (Spoilers, Spoilers Spoilers)

The love interest was uninspired and there was no chemistry between the two leads. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Wren, you don't like ANY love interests in movies, do you?" Well...given the last few reviews you certainly have reason to ask. And while I'm hardly a romantic, I do get into the occasional love story (Hitchcock, Whedon and Jane Austen all come to mind. They and other contemporary and classic creators have tricked me into sighing like a 12 year old over love stories). Just not this one. And it is vital to the plot that we buy the romance.

I think one of the main reasons the movie didn't work for me was I needed to be convinced of an enduring love that would stand up to the strain of the boyfriend BEING A BLOODTHIRSTY WEREWOLF. We are expected to buy that Emily Blunt's character falls madly for Benicio weeks after her husband's brutal murder. If I'm going to go with that I need a bit of passion, not just a scene about skipping rocks across a pond. And y'know I don't think badly of either Emily Blunt or Benicio Del Toro usually, but neither they nor the writers seemed to be up to the task.

Here endth the spoilers and irrational ranting (well...spoilers anyways).

Despite what you may have garnered from my wailing and gnashing about the lameness of the romance, the Wolfman was not all bad. The human to werewolf transformation was very cool and it's damned difficult to make that look good. Ditto with the monster design. They stayed true to the classic look but it didn't look cheesy. Hell, overall the movie was pretty. I love the Victorian setting, the visual of a werewolf running through and over London streets (and gutting people out in quiet forests).

Wolfman delivered on the gore and the monster but not so much on the story.

Random Thoughts: Benicio looked right good in the wolfman make up. Less good in the, lets not kid ourselves, the whiteface make up.

And I always enjoy a bit of Hugo Weaving. His performances tend to be fun even when I'm let down by the rest of the movie.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite

Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite
ISBN: 0-440-21492-0


In the house on Violin Road he found the bodies of his brother, his mother, and the man who killed them both – his father. From the house on Violin Road, in Missing Mile, North Carolina, Trevor McGee ran for his sanity and his soul, after his famous cartoonist father had exploded inexplicably into murder and suicide. Now Trevor is back.

In the company of a New Orleans computer hacker on the run from the law, Trevor has returned to face the ghosts that still live on Violin Road, to find the demons that drove his father to murder his family – and worse, to spare one of his sons…But as Trevor begins to draw his own cartoon strip, as he loses himself in a haze of lines and art and thoughts of the past, the haunting begins. Trevor and his lover plunge into a cyber-maze of cartoons, ghosts and terror that will lead either to understanding – true understanding – or to a blood-raining repetition of the past…


My Thoughts:

I first read this book many years ago and it’s been eyeing me from its place on the shelf for a little while now, so I finally gave in and re-read it. I have to say that I’m glad I took the time to do that. My first read-through was long enough ago that I had extremely vague memories of this book, so in a way it was like reading it anew. But enough of that, let me talk about the actual story.

There are two reasons why you may want to avoid this book depending on your personal preferences. The first is that it is very graphic in its depiction of violence and the bloody aftermath of violence. So if gore is not your thing, keep away, especially beautifully described gore. The second is that it’s a book that is also very graphic in its depiction of sex, specifically homosexual sex. If that isn’t your cup of tea, go read something else.

There is a third reason as well, that is a little more...serious than the first two: it discusses abuse throughout so it may act as a trigger if you're an abuse survivor. I would hate to recommend this book and have it cause someone psychological pain. Now that these warnings are out of the way, let me tell you what I think of this lovely little novel.

The prose is a luxurious sensuous alive … thing. Brite has a way of describing even the most horrific, gore-ridden scenes with a style that leaves you almost breathless with terror and a strange sensual languor. Some people might find the detailed descriptions a little overbearing, or overwhelming, but I lost myself in them in the best sort of way.

There are some truly creepy parts as well, but for me the true horror wasn’t necessarily the ghost story, which I must admit, had me put down the book late at night so that I could sleep without getting scared, but rather the memories of terror and abuse that both of the main characters are attempting to come to grips with now that they are adults.

Ultimately, it’s a story about love and healing, a painfully graphic story about love and healing and I think that this “message” is an important one in a book that is so very, very brutal. All of the characters suffer and are hurt - damaged, really - but at the end, because they allow themselves to touch another person they manage to move on with their lives, past all of the wretched things that happened to them.

It’s also a tale about art and the things that artists think they have to do in order to be able to create; the fictions they tell themselves to be able to write or draw or make music. Art can lead to something as brutal as the murders committed by Trevor's father, the comic book artist who had lost his muse, or it can be a way to overcome trauma. And, it’s a book about how sometimes love goes terribly awfully wrong. Really, considering that it’s a horror novel it deals with a lot of things, a lot of issues.

Lastly, I have to say that this is a more mature work than Brite's other popular novel Lost Souls, which I also read years ago and found to be a little too juvenile. If I had been 16 when I read it, I am sure I would have loved it, but it didn't age as well as Drawing Blood. And Exquisite Corpse, while beautifully written didn't really capture my interest either. You may make of these thoughts what you will.

Now, let me leave you with a quote from the book that I think demonstrates some of the points I've made:

“Still…if you loved someone, really loved them, wouldn’t you want to take them with you when you died? Trevor tried to imagine actually holding someone down and killing them, just breaking them apart, watching as the love in their face turned to agony or rage or confusion, feeling their bones crack and their blood flow over your hands, under your nails, greasing into your palms. There was no one with whom he would want such intimacy.” Poppy Z. Brite Drawing Blood pg. 110-111.

Postscript: A quick poll announcement - I will be reading Octavia E. Butler's Fledgling for the poll that concluded at midnight once I finish off Cherie Priest's Fathom. So, look for the Fledgling review in the coming weeks. Thank you to everyone who voted!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Youth in Revolt

Youth in Revolt. Directed by Miguel Arteta & Written by Gustin Nash.

: Lets not make any bones about this. I don't like Romantic Comedies. I also don't like their raunchy older cousin from college the Sex Comedy. While this looked a little less run of the mill than Getting Back Some Girl at Christmas or Having Sex with Some Guy at University I wasn't really that excited about it. But since I dragged everyone to Avatar, it was only fair that one of my other buddies got to pick a movie.

I like Michael Cera, I do. I like him even though I know that, one of these days, I'm going to write something about how tired I am of his awkward kid shtick. I'm not there yet but I was worried that this movie would be the one that tipped the scales. I really, really hope that he stops taking whatever it is that's keeping him from becoming a real boy and does something different soon.

General Review: Well. I can't say I hated it with the fiery passion I usually reserve for sentimental tripe (particularly nostalgic for your youth sentimental tripe). I could feel the writer/director trying to make the movie captivating, quirky and a bit different than everything I'd seen before. And they succeeded in some minor ways that kept me from wanting to gouge out the eyes of everyone around me until the movie finished (well how do you entertain yourself?).

There were a couple of very neat animated sequences that were used as transitions and the obligatory drug use scene. Michael Cera DID stretch himself a bit by playing the imaginary alter ego (Fight Club lite). It was nice to see him doing something a bit different even if it wasn't for much of the movie. I was also pleased that his love interest (played by Portia Doubleday-really? That's the name of a person?) didn't initially promise to wait for him forever when he moved away. It's genuinely unusual to see a girl saying that life is too short to try and keep up a long distance teenage romance.

Despite obvious effort Youth in Revolt did have a lot of the same tired cliches. Sex hungry teens go on a road trip (check); love interest has a classically handsome douche after her affections (check); love interest forgives the main character stalk-y behaviour (check); and then...I...zzzzz....What? What am I doing here? Right. Talking about some movie. Right. Ahem.

Anyways, there were funny bits that didn't just resort to the same exhausted sex, gender and drug jokes (though those were in there). If I had to see a romantic comedy movie I'm glad it was this one. It had redeeming qualities and I didn't resort to irritating (or maiming the people) around me. If you must go to a romantic or sex comedy keep in mind that Youth in Revolt didn't feel like being beaten over the head with an erection...joke for an hour and a half.

Random Thoughts
: The guy who plays the Mac in the Mac vs PC commercials is in this. No funny thoughts, it just threw me.

Let me digress for a moment and talk about one of the theaters that we go to. This theater doesn't permit boogieing:

Now, some of you might think that this is an anti-skateboarding or anti-stick standing sign.
Nothing could be further from the truth. This is skateboarding:

This is boogieing:

I and my friends were almost immediately asked to leave the parking lot.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Reader's Choice Poll #2

New “What Should Doomwench Read Next?” Poll Candidates

In order to assist you in voting I thought I’d write a little bit about each of the books I’ve put up as candidates this time around. Please take the time to vote! Tell me what to do – it doesn’t happen often that people get the option to do so. The poll will be open until midnight on Friday, February 19th.

Mauve Desert – Nicole Brossard:

This book is the “re-read” for this poll. I first read it in a class about feminist writing a few years ago and was really smitten with the story and the writing, sort of a new-age Romanticism. It’s one of those “story within a story” books, with multiple layers of narrative that I like so much.

We – Eugene Zamiatin

We is my “fiction and literature” selection. It’s been on my to-be-read pile for some time, dating back toa period when I read a lot of utopian / dystopian fiction. This particular novel is “recognized as the inspiration for George Orwell’s famous 1984” according to the back cover. It was also never published in the Soviet Union due to political censorship.

Fledgling – Octavia E. Butler

Something I picked up because the name Octavia E. Butler kept popping up in my meanderings around the internet. It’s a vampire novel, so right up my alley. And, as stated in the “About the Author” section at the back of the book she “was the first black woman to come to international prominence as a science fiction writer.” Sadly, she passed away in February 2006, but it seems like an appropriate month to include her work on this little poll of ours.

Girl on Book Action: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

ISBN: 0-307-29084-0


The story of Hester Prynne – found out in adultery, pilloried by her Puritan community, and abandoned, in different ways, by both her partner in sin and her vengeance-seeking husband – possesses a reality heightened by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s pure human sympathy and his unmixed devotion to his supposedly fallen but fundamentally innocent heroine. Exploring themes such as community and isolation, innocence and guilt, and secrecy and exposure, Hawthorne brings readers into a world where public and private life are inextricably linked – a reality that heavily influences the actions of the novel’s characters. In its moral force and the beauty of its conciliations, The Scarlet Letter rightly deserves its stature as the first great novel written by an American, the novel that established American literature equal to any in the world.


Aside: As most of you remember, this book was the winner of the first reader’s choice poll some weeks ago. I know you’ve all been eagerly awaiting my thoughts on it.

My Thoughts:

Indeed, what did I think of this little book? I have to admit, I was often quite bored while reading the long, largely superfluous descriptions. I mean, the man has skills with words, but perhaps it’s my TV-addled modern-ADD brain, but I kept wanting to skip ahead to when something was happening, because when things were happening I was mostly interested in what it was – although, not much actually happens either. This is no Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre (why am I only thinking of novels written by women as comparisons?). The story is touching in a lot of ways, but also very far removed from our modern sensibilities. I think most of us have no understanding of why adultery is such a big deal in this Puritan community, which is just as well, if you ask me.

I would have to say that the 40+ page introductory section about the Customs House felt overdone and was blatantly boring. I understand that he was attempting to establish the basis for the novel, but it could have been done in fewer pages – the descriptions of the decrepit old men who work in the Customs House did not add anything to my understanding of the book as a whole, and if I’m honest, mostly just helped me go to sleep at night.

I thought Hester was an interesting character, even if she serves as one of those terrible examples of what women think they have to endure for some strange notion of honor or virtue or penance for being female. Even so far removed from that culture I understood her motivations and didn’t judge her harshly for the way she chose to behave in any given situation. In some ways, I also think the argument could be made that we still choose to suffer through similar bouts of conscience and guilt for things that we should not feel guilt. As much as we think of ourselves as liberated from the trappings of the ‘feminine’ and all its bizarre ideals, we (I speak here primarily of women) still seem to think we need to live up to some kind of unwritten standard for behaviour and in turn we expect men to react a certain way to our manipulation of these standards. Feminism still has a long way to go, but at least we don’t have wear a scarlet letter for doing things men have always done without blame.

In conclusion, I should stay that I’m glad that I read this at times dreadfully boring story, but I don’t think that I’ll be revisiting it any time in the next ten years at least, unless I get desperate for a soporific bedtime story, in which case I’ll just read the Customs House over and over again.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Let the Right One In

Let the Right One In. Directed by Tomas Alfredson & Written by John Ajvide Lindqvist.

Aside (lets just chit chat): In an effort to be clever dicks Doomwench and I have decided to review the movie and book form of the same thing. We thought this little experiment turned out pretty well, so we talked at length about doing something similar every once in a while. As it turns out, the only movie/book combos we could come up with that we could both stomach were vampire based. What a strange thing to have in common.

(why must you make me hit you, vampire movies?): After the disappointment that was
Daybreakers I wasn't certain I was ready to waste another two hours on the overexposed vampire movie sub-genre. However, Doomwench is a noted expert on the subject, so at her recommendation I rented it. Despite her glowing review, I was a closed door to this movie and it needed to be something pretty special to stop me from writing another snippy vampire movie review.

General Review
(I was wrong again, is it really a surprise at this point): This was a strong movie. Easily the best vamp movie I've seen since Shadow of Vampire (though not such a laugh riot). There is something about bleak winter settings that makes me believe in vampires more than in cityscape. Blood and undead feet in the snow really do it for me (think there is a fetish for that? Bloody, snowy, reanimated feet?).

I most often saw the movie described as a horror. There were certainly horrific elements in it, lots of blood, suspense and ultra violence. But really, it's more of a coming of age story. Wait, no, don't run, it
isn't Lost Boys you have my word. It certainly isn't the first movie to use elements of horror to highlight the thrilling, confusing and terrifying experience of growing up. It is one of the first vampire movies I've seen that genuinely highlights the inevitable grief that comes from dating a vampire. I'm not talking about the "oh he's so dangerous and romantic, but he must be bad for me, swoon" type of grief, either. This is the pathetic inevitability that comes from dating an immortal creature.

I rarely get to read or see stories that make much of the old
OCD myths about vamps. Let the Right One In made particularly good use of the idea by making the vampire character attracted to puzzles. In fact, I'd like to take a moment to mention I liked how and what they did with vampire mythology stuff in general. The effect to show what will happen to a vampire if they come in without being invited is very neat and something I've never seen done before.

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of children in general and children in movies in particular. Why would I want to use the escapism of film to be around something I'm usually escaping from? But I quite liked Lina Leandersson (who played Eli). I couldn't see her looking at her stage mom cheering her on from the sidelines and she handled a complicated role well.

I dug a lot of things about this movie, the acting, the setting and the staging but something that really stuck with me visually was the make up. A lot of the time to make vampires monstrous they're given bumpy foreheads, giant teeth or (my personal favourite) the big old bat ears. The make up in this was extremely subtle. You knew when someone was otherworldly or when they were a vamp getting hungry. But you weren't bashed over the head with it. The fact that the vampires managed to be monsters without serious prosthetics work was a big accomplishment of the actors, director and make up artists.

Random Thoughts (where I lose some cred): If I may be a bit less of a film snob for a moment, I'm often irritated with subtitles. Not because I have to read them and pay attention to the movie (I learned that trick in high school when I got into anime) and not because I'd rather the movie be dubbed (in dubbing the translation can really put my teeth on edge.) My major issue is being unable to read them in certain sets. If they choose yellow subs, then inevitably we'll be in a yellow room or on sand where I can't see what people are saying. A big non-film related positive note from the movie: having the white subtitles with black outlining the words makes them a lot easier to read. They aren't lost in the snowy ground or dark rooms.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Linqvist

Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
ISBN: 978-0-312-35529-6


It is autumn 1981 when the inconceivable comes to Blackeberg, a suburb in Sweden. The body of a teenage boy is found, emptied of blood, the murder rumored to be part of a ritual killing. Twelve-year-old Oskar is personally hoping that revenge has come at long last---revenge for the bullying he endures at school, day after day.

But the murder is not the most important thing on his mind. A new girl has moved in next door---a girl who has never seen a Rubik’s Cube before, but who can solve it at once. There is something wrong with her, though, something odd. And she only comes out at night. . . .

Aside: This week at Girl on Book Action we're doing something a little bit different. I am reviewing Let The Right One In for you today, and on Tuesday, Wren will be providing a companion review of the movie adaptation. Look for us to do this again in the future, although it appears that we'll only ever be able to do it with vampire-related book / movie combinations. We hope you enjoy this venture! Now on to the review!

My Thoughts:

A lot of people have talked about how amazing this book is (at least quite a number have told me so in response to my studies in vampirology) and I’m not sure I agree with the hype. Although, I do have to say that the issues that I have with the book are mostly stylistic problems, which may also just be a result of translation. I guess ultimately I have problems enjoying a good story if it’s not in similarly good packaging of well-constructed sentences that don’t use jarring colloquialisms in the midst of flowing prose.

Something else that bugged me about the style of the novel was the constant shifts in point of view. I think that there were not too many shifts, but too many different points of views. For instance, one sub-section of a chapter was written from the point of view of a squirrel…yes, you read that right, a squirrel. I think that there were several valid points of view that added to the depth of the novel, but in some parts the shifts got a little ridiculous. Not every side-character needs to have his own section of the novel to show a different perspective, nor does every random forest creature. Actually, no forest creature should have its own section, unless you’re writing a novel about the lives of forest creatures.

You know, so far, it doesn’t sound like I enjoyed this book, even though ultimately I did.

Now that that’s over and done with – child vampires are creepy, so very, very creepy. I don’t even want to get into how creepy child vampires are to me. Although, I will say that it’s a rather lovely metaphor for the parasitic nature of children. The vampires and vampirism in the book are portrayed well and the monsters are really monsters, but they’re also painfully human. It’s been a while since someone has written vampires that are both gruesome and pretty scary as well as human. Hakkan is a terrifying character (much more so in the book than in the movie which I saw back in December) and his subplot was uncomfortable. Some scenes were written so well that I was genuinely scared, claustrophobic scenes in pitch-black rooms locked in there with a monster. Yeah, scary.

I also think it speaks to a certain realism in the portrayal of the characters that I found it hard to like most of them – they were all flawed and in a lot of ways ugly characters. No one was idealized or portrayed as heroic or angelic. In so many books the people are unreal with the way they act and interact, but in this book there was kindness, but there was also ugliness, ruthlessness, and hopelessness and if it isn’t meant as some sort of social commentary on the suburbs then it does a hell of a good job regardless of intention.

My last words on this book: read it and try to ignore the irritating stylistic elements. The story makes up for some of the jarring sentences. After you read it, go watch the movie – with subtitles.

And once again the picture is an alternate cover, or I should say, it is the cover from the UK edition.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Nevermore

Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe. Written & Directed by Jonathan Christenson.

Aside (where I am off point): In order to class up the joint a bit (and because movie night was play night last week) I'm going to talk about Nevermore, a musical about Edgar Allan Poe. I know, I know, unless you live in Canada you can't rush out to see this just yet, but it's doing right well and I expect it'll make the rounds any time now.

Double Aside (to Canadians only): Run out, see it and tell all your American friends how great it was, even if you don't like it. How often do we get things first?

Preconceptions (hoopskirts and dark eye makeup, what was a girl to think?): I grew up as an overly cheerful little goth girl and while I've had to trade a lot of my fishnet for work appropriate sweaters, I'm still a Tim Burton fan in my bones. Needless to say hearing about this play and seeing promo pictures that looked like this: left me pretty excited. The Catalyst Theater company has put on some neat plays and I hoped this wouldn't be an exception.

General Review (could I really spoil the life story of well known, highly biographied, long dead man?): While I know I shouldn't talk about how pretty the costumes were before I talk about the songs, acting or the writing....well, then they shouldn't have made the costumes so pretty (and I shouldn't have been made so shallow). It had all the bustiers, strappy boots, stripes and giant hats I could hope for. And more to the point, the costumes made it very clear which characters where which even when the actors were playing multiple characters.

But on to more substantive thoughts (Oh pretty, so pretty!). The Granville Art Club Theater is a small venue. Some of the shows I've seen there have really felt the lack of the big stage and giant sets. They've looked under-produced and unfin
ished, more like a half hearted dress rehersal than a play. This was not the case with Nevermore. One of it's most noticeable charms was its simple set and small cast. While it could certainly be dressed up to fill a larger space it was perfectly at home in our little theater (and if you get a chance to come here, do. It's a great theater and because it's a bit small there really aren't any bad seats. Even crammed down in the bottom corner, which was all our poor selves could afford). This is a show that could fit anywhere.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the voices and presence of the actors. Nevermor
e only had seven cast members. But the cast managed to make it feel like there was a full chorus. And while there weren't any giant dance number (this isn't a musical about tap dancing, after all) the little awkward clockwork dances were charming. I particularly want to mention Scott Shpeley who played Edgar. The majority of his role was silent except for an occasionally singing with the chorus or a line here and there. He managed to be engaging and expressive (without coming off like a silent street performer). Unfortunately, it wasn't all stop motion dancing and hair sculptures. When you're writing a musical about a famous poet awkward phrasing and painful rhymes are something to be avoided. There was a lot that I liked about this show and a handful of the songs were quite powerful. However, more than a handful of them were not. A lot of unnessary reptition and Yoda-like lines to make the rhymes work.

The full first quarter of the show made me wonder if
I was seeing a pantomime dressed up for a fetish night (there was even a horrifying panto-horse!). Fortunately, as Poe matured in the story, so did some of the songs. Believe me when I tell you, you'll know when you hit the turning point: gruesome cruelty.

Despite having some failings and weak first 25 minutes (excluding the opening number, which was carnvale barker catchy) it was still a good play, not great, but good. Also, credit for being one of the first good musicals I've seen in ages that isn't nearly as old as I am.

There isn't a soundtrack to this show yet, but Catalys
t has put up a couple of videos so that you can have a taste. You can find their main song here, their YouTube playlist here and you can find out about future shows here.

Random Thoughts
: It had quite a bit less men dancing with men than I expected (which was all, all dancing with men).

Well, maybe not all my fishnet and lace:

Photos of the show unscrupulously borrowed from the Catalyst website, all credit to Bretta Gerecke. I wanted to show off how the play looked and somehow, I don't think they'd have appreciated my flash photography in the middle of the show.