A Story I Can’t Stop Thinking About

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I’d heard people talking about the 2017 film Call Me By Your Name, obviously, but I didn’t get around to seeing it until, funnily enough, flying home from San Francisco yesterday.

Did it live up to the hype?

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The Sisters Who Travel Together

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Continuing with my travel essays series, this week I bring you: how a week in the tower room of a French chateau with my sister taught me the secret to family harmony.

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Book Review: The Infernal Devices

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“Heroes endure because we need them. Not for their own sakes.”

I finished The Mortal Instruments series a couple of months ago, and while I most certainly enjoyed it, it definitely had its highs and lows, a mix of 3, 4, and 5-star moments. I put off reading The Infernal Devices because I thought my experience would be the same.

I was wrong.

“You and I, we’re alike. We live and breathe words. It was books that kept me from taking my own life after I thought I could never love anyone, never be loved by anyone again. It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone.”

I loved these books.

They were more well-written, more well-plotted, the setting more richly-imagined, with the characters more finely-drawn. They surprised me, had me looking forward to waking up each day so I could start reading, had me fighting sleep every night so I could keep reading.

“It is the only way any of this can ever mean anything. Otherwise it is only—”
“Pointless, needless suffering and pain? I don’t suppose it would help if I told you that is the way life is. The good suffer, the evil flourish, and all that is mortal passes away.”

The Infernal Devices is a prequel trilogy to the Mortal Instruments. It takes place in Victorian London, and tells of the demon-hunting ancestors of characters I’d already come to know, with a few (immortal) characters actually appearing in both sets of books. The basic plot set-up is similar: girl with no knowledge of the supernatural world is suddenly thrown into danger, she learns of her mysterious heritage while helping to fight demons, and along the way meets a cute boy.

Or two.

“And I came to see that I could not bring someone home when they were already there.”

The real draw to this series, of course, is the thing all my favorite books have in common: well-written characters.

“You cannot buy or drug or dream your way out of pain.”

The secondary characters were all fine and good, but Will, Tessa, and Jem absolutely captured my heart. Their relationships were so perfectly constructed. I will always, always, prefer relationships that start as friendships, the long and drawn out sexual tension, to be culminated in some beautifully-written scenes where … but I don’t want to spoil them for you.

Spoilers after the jump…

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What (I Think) Really Happened in Tana French’s In the Woods

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THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS AFTER THE JUMP

This is the second best book I’ve ever read. (The first best is Tana French’s follow-up novel, the Likeness–I’ll get around putting my love for that beautiful novel into words at some point I review that here).

The fact that this book has anything less than five stars on Goodreads and Amazon is one of the main reasons I tend to disregard reviews from people whose tastes I don’t know when deciding what to read next. This book is perfect: the characters, the beautiful sentences, the plot, the themes. Perfect, I tell you.

The premise is chilling and engrossing: In 1984, three children disappear into the woods outside a suburb of Dublin. Hours later, only one little boy is found, with blood on his shoes and slashes on his back and no memory of the previous hours. The other two children are never found. Twenty years later, Rob Ryan, the found boy, is a detective, investigating the murder of another child in those same woods. And though the mysteries are well-spun yarns, it’s the characters that get to me in this novel, espeically how beautifully drawn Rob and his partner Cassie are. That, and the beautiful sentences.

Reasons to read this book:

1. The aforementioned beautiful sentences:

Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small-town 1950s. This is none of Ireland’s subtle seasons mixed for a connoisseur’s palette, watercolor nuances within a pinch-sized range of cloud and soft rain; this is summer full-throated and extravagant in a hot pure silkscreen blue.

2. The voice of your narrator, Rob Ryan:

The truth is the most desirable woman in the world and we are the most jealous lovers, reflexively denying anyone else the slightest glimpse of her. We betray her routinely, spending hours and days stupor-deep in lies, and then turn back to her holding out the lover’s ultimate Mobius strip: But I only did it because I love you so much.

3. The relationship between Rob and his partner, Cassie:

The girls I dream of are the gentle ones, wistful by high windows or singing sweet old songs at a piano, long hair drifting, tender as apple blossom. But a girl who goes into battle beside you and keeps your back is a different thing, a thing to make you shiver. Think of the first time you slept with someone, or the first time you fell in love: that blinding explosion that left you crackling to the fingertips with electricity, initiated and transformed. I tell you that was nothing, nothing at all, beside the power of putting your lives, simply and daily, into each other’s hands.

4. Its ability to maintain its sense of humor through its devastating, sometimes gruesome story:

I recently found a diary entry from college in which I described my classmates as “a herd of mouth-breathing fucktard yokels who wade around in a miasma of cliché so thick you can practically smell the bacon and cabbage and cow shit and alter candles.” Even assuming I was having a bad day, I think this shows a certain lack of respect for cultural differences.

5. The sheer truth of its sentences:

We think about mortality so little these days, except to flail hysterically at it with trendy forms of exercise and high-fiber cereals and nicotine patches. I thought of the stern Victorian determination to keep death in mind, the uncompromising tombstones: Remember, pilgrim, as you pass by, As you are now so once was I; As I am now so will you be…. Now death is uncool, old-fashioned. To my mind the defining characteristic of our era is spin, everything tailored to vanishing point by market research, brands and bands manufactured to precise specifications; we are so used to things transmuting into whatever we would like them to be that it comes as a profound outrage to encounter death, stubbornly unspinnable, only and immutably itself.

6. The incredible themes, and I think this is what a lot of people who posted negative reviews missed. They’re somewhat subtle, but so finely spun once you find them. I can’t get into them without getting spoilery, so SPOILERS after the jump.

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The Accidental Writer

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 Tana French (whom I LOVE) on accidentally becoming a writer (from this interview):

“She didn’t quite know how, though, as she hadn’t ever tried writing in the past. ‘I thought I could never write a proper book, I’d never done it before. But I thought I could write a sequence. Then I had a chapter. The next thing I knew I was turning acting down,’ she says. ‘I wanted to find out what happened. I don’t outline or anything, I don’t know whodunit … I really wanted to know what on earth happened to this guy, and the only way to find out was to write it.’ She tentatively sent the finished manuscript to an editor friend, to find out if she should ‘shove it under the bed or keep going’, and shortly afterwards ended up with a two-book deal. Then came the awards, the sales and the critical acclaim.”

As I go through the querying process, I’m reminded that every brilliant writer had to get their start somewhere. I’m nowhere near Tana French levels of genius–I imagine if she had had to query, the first agent to read a sentence of her writer would have jumped on it–but like her, I’m just going to keep going.