Here’s part 2 of my fall/winter 2012 post of short, feminist book reviews. For part 1, which has the non-fiction books and books that don’t quite fit into either category, click here.
The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
H.P. Lovecraft horror stories are like candy. They’re cheaper and arguably as effective as therapy. They’re the type of thing you’d want to read if you were having a rough day in a time before you could just go on YouTube and watch cat videos to get over it. My absolute favourite in this collection was “Herbert West — Reanimator”. though I also liked “The Whisperer in Darkness”. I enjoyed how Lovecraft uses unreliable narrators in a way that makes you question the incredible stories being told while at the same time wanting to believe them.
I would recommend though that readers take a look at some of the discussion around Lovecraft’s racism, which definitely concerned me. I particularly recommend Nicole Cushing’s response to the defense that Lovecraft’s racism(as exemplified in the way he characterizes several heathen groups as “negroid” or coming out of the “South Sea Islanders”, as well as the depiction of the black boxer in “Herbert West — Reanimator”) can be explained away by saying he was a “man of his time”. At minimum, I’d like to see the stories generally presented with more critical, historical context in introductions as well as when the stories are taught in schools.
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
There is plenty of beauty and plenty of horror in Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss. The book is set in the 1980s in Kalimpong, a town on the Indian side of the Himalayas, where the characters (an orphan girl named Sai, her grandfather the judge, their cook, Sai’s Nepali tutor Gyan, and – in a parallel storyline – the cook’s son Biju trying to live and work in America) live out lives set in motion by Western colonization and continuing to be shaped by global corporate and political forces:
“Sai realized that her own delivery to Kalimpong in such a manner was merely part of the monotony, not the original. The repetition had willed her, anticipated her, cursed her, and certain moves made long ago had produced all of them.”
Desai raises many big and important questions (“But the child shouldn’t be blamed for a father’s crime…but should the child therefore also enjoy the father’s illicit gain?” Sai muses at one point upon reading a British book on India) and depicts a range of issues (bride-burning, domestic violence, the rise of nationalist militias, poverty, immigrant labour exploitation and police brutality) as part of the legacy of colonialism.
At one point in the book Desai writes: “There was no system to soothe the unfairness of things: justice was without scope; it might snag the stealer of chickens but great evasive crimes would have to be dismissed because, if identified and netted, they would bring down the entire structure of so-called civilization.”
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
I didn’t love Ender’s Game. Maybe if I’d read it when I was growing up, it would have resonated with me more. Even better if that had been during the Cold War.
Even though the whole concept of Ender’s Game and the conflicts Ender experiences internally and externally were really interesting, I couldn’t get past a couple key points. First, the almost total lack of women characters. Ender’s sister, Valentine, is obviously important but she and Petra fall into a shadow next to Ender and the posse of boy characters in the book: Peter, Bonzo, Alai, Bean, Stilson, Dink to name just a few. Ender’s Game the movie is coming out this year and I’ll be interested to see if swapping Major Anderson’s gender to add another woman character does anything for it.
But what annoyed me even more was the dialogue. None of the characters seemed to have a unique way of speaking. It didn’t feel to me like the author took time thinking about how the characters would talk and what kind of language they’d use. Graff and Andersons’ arguments are so full of unnatural rhetoric that they feel clunky, and even though the kids are supposed to be super-smart, their language still doesn’t always seem age-appropriate.
The Gallows Bird by Camilla Lackberg
This is another winner from Swedish mystery writer Camilla Lackberg’s series about crime writer Erica Falck and detective Patrik Hedstrom. In this book 4 in the series Falck doesn’t play as big of a role, which is a bit of a disappointment. But yet again the mystery is full of compelling characters (this time, a group of participants in a Swedish reality TV show) and there’s a genuine twist at the end. The book’s positive relationships are also infused with Lackberg’s usual egalitarian streak. For example, at one point Hedstrom notes another male police officer’s unhesitant support of his wife, who works above him in the department, and says this increases his (Hedstrom’s) respect for the man. There’s also a moving portrayal of the first victim’s lesbian partner and daughter grappling with their loss.
Our Story is a series of pivotal moments in First Nations history depicted through the telling of fictional stories. Some of the stories, like Lee Maracle’s reflection on Chief Khatsalano and Tomson Highways’ story of a boy’s feelings when First Nations people were finally granted the vote in 1960, are semi-autobiographical. Some are more fantastical, mixing in figures and events from legend. It’s an interesting and powerful read that breaks open the perspective of the colonial history writings most of us read in school.