The Outlaw Life

running, reading, blogging, loving

[25] “The Artificial Heart”

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It’s a strange thing to see a man kill something he loves with a blank face, beating the life out of another being.

Of all the stories in Birds of a Lesser Paradise, this one is hands down my absolute favorite. It’s the only story that takes place in the future (or, at least, that clearly identifies itself as taking place in the future) and the only one that’s got a kind of creepy, semi-dystopian bend to it – which, of course, I ate up with a giant metaphorical spoon. It’s 2050 and our narrator’s father has dementia. He’s recently begun seeing a woman with Alzheimer’s, Susan, and he wants to take her fishing. Desperately. Only, the ocean is dead and there is no longer anything to fish.

That alone should be enough to tell you everything you need to know about this story, and why its heartbreaking and beautiful and you should buy this collection just to own this story. But on the off chance you need more, lets continue – once they arrive at the ocean, our narrator’s father manages to catch a fish, and what happens then is both so sad and so enigmatic that I was left ugly crying:

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even harder than I was when I read Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, which this story seems to have A LOT in common with. A LOT.  In fact, the more I think on it, the more I wonder if there aren’t so many connections that this is what Megan Mayhew-Bergman meant to do? Who knows, but my gut feeling tells me probably.

I don’t know what it was that I loved more in this story: the father and his slipping mind, the idea that 40 years in the future we’ll be ranting about Beyonce, his coming and going between pop culture lucidity and nostalgic past; our narrator’s lover, Link, who is one of those men capable of all things a little bit, a man who feels genuinely guilty about being human when looking at an ocean that is dead, an ocean where a school of fish are a rumored mythical sight; or our narrator herself, torn between wanting to keep her father in reality, to have him accept and admit that things are no longer as they once were, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad, and wanting to protect him emotionally, keep him calm and happy and living in the past.

That was rambly. I apologize. If you’re still with me, I just want to say that this is a story that matters because its a story about all of us, about all of our future. It’s not just about the way we’re hurting the environment (oh! another thing I love about this story is that it’s the only one in the book that features nature by highlighting a distinct lack of nature, and its a conceit that works brilliantly!), its about the questions of quality of life, of what importance memory plays, of how we look at those we love and make decisions on their behalf but with ourselves still in mind. Please go read this story. I beg you. And then, you know, cut your pop can holders.

Rating: OMFGZ!

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[24] “Every Vein a Tooth”

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But when I lay in bed at night I saw the deep absesses on the chests of the sheep, dragging themselves to food and water across a rock-strewn lawn. The scared eyes of the feral cats underneath the sofa. I felt the warm bodies of the retrievers next to me, the kind of limitless love other people dreamed of and I had – all to myself.

I think it’s a good sign when a story collection gets more powerful as it continues. I don’t know if Birds of a Lesser Paradise really follows, like, a linear pattern of improvement (there are some down bits in the middle, and one of my favorite stories comes at the beginning) but I do know that my top two favorite stories within this collection come towards the very end. This is one of them, the other one I’ll talk about in a few days (which will be my last individual story review before I go over my thoughts of the collection as a whole).

To get the basics out of the way, we have yet another unnamed narrator and her lover, Gray. Our narrator works with an animal rights and rescue organization, and her home is filled with broken and unwanted animals – one dog missing a leg, one with epilepsy, feral cats, a sick raccoon… Her lover, Gray, is a hunter who values and collects perfect and undamaged tree leaves. During the story, our narrator brings home two sheep taken from squalid conditions, and one of her dogs eats Gray’s leaf collection – Gray leaves, and our narrator must decided if she will go after Gray or continue to live the life she has – with her animals. An underlying storyline involves our narrator and her mother and her mother’s collection of Victorian Christmas villages, to which the narrator feels almost constantly compared.

Needless to say, Megan’s language in this story is absolutely stunning. What makes this story my favorite, even though it shares so many common thematic qualities with the other stories, is that Megan has managed to capture, with her language, the same feeling that comes over me when I catch my dog’s eyes right before I leave the house – confusion and hurt, but stemming from love and loyalty. And then, because Megan is a master, three pages later she evokes the same sense of joy I feel when I come home to see my dog’s tale wagging – and the larger feeling of knowing that there is some being out there that loves me with an almost nonsensical loyalty. This idea gets echoed twofold in the foil of itself (man that’s a confusing sentence – let me explain): all of the love we see our narrator given is the same kind of judgement she feels from her mother’s village sets, these porcelain fake smiles and gingerbread tackiness; it’s as if her animals and her mother’s memories pull on our narrator in opposite directions, and when she can’t make up her mind, Gray just can’t wait.

This story definitely had the most ambiguous ending thus far, as it seems like our narrator is content with the decision she makes, her last moments seem to be one of regret for giving away the things we love – I wonder if the ambiguity isn’t part of the point, that maybe it means that we, as humans, can love equally but oppositely, and that sometimes we give up what we love to gain what we love more.

Rating: OMFGZ!

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[23] “The Urban Coop”

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Zydo had been dehydrated and confused. He’d snapped when they lifted him into their boat. Desperate and lonely, he had swum a mile in to the open sea.

I kind of have this problem where I personify my animals to, like, an unhealthy degree. I wonder if Mrs. Megan Mayhew Bergman and I don’t share some of this same trait. “The Urban Coop”, the story that lies about half-way through Birds of a Lesser Paradise, is a story about what happens when we, in a single second, perform an action we end up greatly regretting. It’s also a story about finding peace where you’re at, not where you may one day be. And it’s a story about chickens. And urban farming. EGADS, it’s a story that was basically written with a giant blinking sign calling my name.

Like all the stories from the collection we’ve talked about thus far, a majority of this story revolves around a couple, their animals, and the issue of fertility, motherhood, and parenting. Mac and his wife, the narrator of our story, own a neighborhood garden, keep chickens in an urban coop, and badly want a child, although they’re unable to conceive. One day, when out on the boat, some friends come along and Mac and our narrator leave their dog Zydo on their boat while they leave. When they return, Zydo is gone. And suddenly or narrator doesn’t know if she can trust Mac anymore, herself anymore, or parents anywhere anymore. Describing the plot makes the story sound so much more simple than it is – a running theme with Mrs. Bergman’s stories, I’ve noticed.

Getting on to some of the things I did and didn’t like, the thought that always pops back in to my head when I think of this story is “Oh yeah, that one at the Merc.” Let me explain, for those not from Lawrence/the Kansas area, or for those who don’t give some of their favorite grocery stores adorable nicknames. The Merc is the affectionate moniker for The Community Mercantile, a locally sourced co-op in Lawrence that offers local organic meat, produce, and other fare. It’s also got a community garden, gives back to the community through initiatives, and, lets be honest, draws in a certain kind of shopper. And it’s this shopper (a camp in which I would place myself most firmly) whom “The Urban Coop” so directly brings in to light. It wasn’t the main focus of the story, but in a collection that covers our connection to nature as its primary premise, I thought Mayhew-Bergman did a great job personifying this whole culture that seems to exist in our society of trendy environmentalism, in ne0-foodies picking up unpronouncable ingredients because, well, they look cool in the basket. Maybe I’m being too cynical – I will say that I believe I’m being more cynical than the characters within the story. And, although this entire paragraph is ranty, I will say that there’s some great social commentary on urban eco-living wrapped up in this beautiful little story.

This story wasn’t my favorite, other than the aspects I mentioned earlier. I mostly decided to write about it because, in addition to the above, there is also an awesome paragraph on chickens. Which I would someday like to own.

I kept an urban coop in the backyard stocked with silkie bantams. An ornamental breed, they produced tiny eggs and paraded around the coop like Solid Gold dancers, their legs ensconced in black feathered pantaloons, heads topped with Afr0-shaped tufts.

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Yeah, I can see that.

Rating: Okay

 

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[22] “Yesterday’s Whales”

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Mothers, I believe, intoxicate us. We idolize them and take them for granted. We hate them and blame them and exalt them more thoroughly than anyone else in our lives. We sift through the evidence of their love, reassure ourselves of their affection and its biological genesis. We can steal and lie and leave and the will love us.

This story is, so far, my hands-down favorite story in Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Birds of a Lesser Paradise. Not only is the premise ironically hilarious, but, in case you haven’t noticed by now, I’m a little bit of a sucker for mother-daughter relationship stories! The story here goes a bit outside the normal parameters of this kind of story, though, and I think that’s where Megan gives it its power.

Lauren and Malachi spend their days protesting childbirth, families, and anything the feel has to do with the people they call “breeders”. Malachi believes that humans are doomed to make themselves extinct, to populate to the point of wiping themselves out and allowing the planet to retake feral rule. He spends his nights, along with Lauren, recruiting people to his club of like-minded thinkers, trying to raise support for a movement of people who pledge to no longer bring any life in to what they view as a dying world. Until Lauren gets pregnant.

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Then, of course, both Laura and Malachi have to figure out what they’re going to do. Which really means that Laura has to figure it out, because Malachi pretty much loads up on the “but what about our public image – I CAN’T DO MY WORK WITH A PREGNANT WIFE” train, and from then on out Laura is left alone to decide what she wants to do. She takes a break to her grandma’s mountain cabin, reflects on her childhood, mother, grandmother, and future. The animal tie here? A year before our story starts, Laura’s mother tells her two facts about whales:

1.) today’s whales sing lower songs, and no one knows why, and

2.) when a whale calf is born, the mother whale will push her baby above the water in order to breathe

You can imagine, given Malachi’s beliefs and Lauren’s struggles, what kind of influence facts like that may have on the fate of the story. But you have to read it to hear it expressed so artfully, with the lines between human and animal, mother and daughter, parents and breeders, brought in to a whole new and illuminating light.

One of the reasons I felt so drawn to this story is because of just how amazingly the characterization is done. Not only is it easy to see how Lauren has gotten swept up in a belief system she’s not actually sure if she believes, but I also know SO MANY boys who meet basically the exact same description given of  Malachi:

He was a vegetarian epicure who snuck bites of bacon out of salads…he always knew what he wanted – upscale Thai, an IPA, the Sunday New York Times, a bookstore without a children’s section.

I mean, maybe its fact that I’m somewhat recently out of a college town, or the fact that many of my friends are still in said college town, but I KNOW THIS GUY and he’s SO ANNOYING in real life but on the paper it’s worse in a kind of delicious way… I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. Because I hated Malachi and wanted to punch his stupid face in, but at the same time he stuck to his philosophical guns and I have to give him props for that.

cwRating: OMFGZ!

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[21] “Saving Face”

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There were no promises, no obligations between living things, she thought. Not even humans. Just raw need hidden by a game of make-believe.

This story is loaded with the kind of questions to which there are no answers and which, if allowed, will drive you mad – what if our narrator, Lila, had waited? Hadn’t been alone that night? Had given the wolf more anesthetic before beginning a small operation? Maybe she wouldn’t have been attacked, her beauty and top lip forever gone in a few short seconds.

Don’t worry, that’s no spoiler. It’s talked about early in the story. Another from Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Birds of a Lesser Paradise, the animal at hand this time is, primarily, the wolf who attacked Lila one night when he awoke from the local anesthetic Lila used before attempting to pull the quills from his muzzle. It’s this wolf who takes away Lila’s sense of beauty, a sense she’s had her entire life, a sense that, now gone, forces her to realize just how easy being pretty made life. She also begins to question the lines between love and pity after a tragedy, and, in a way, whether we need the love of strangers more than we need the love of those closest to us.

However, there is another animal involved, and I think that this second animal is perhaps the even more important one in the story. Part of Lila’s job is traveling to a local prison that is also a self-sustaining farm. The state, facing budget cuts, wants to close the farm and calls Lila in to assess how much they could get for the livestock on the property. While there, a prisoner named Romulus brings to Lila’s attention a sick calf who, basically, won’t survive if Lila doesn’t take her off the property. It’s this sick calf that forces Lila to confront her thoughts about compassion, about the idea of ‘doing what’s best’ for an animal which, in Lila’s mind, means no longer forcing those around her to pretend to love her. I also think it’s awesome that a character named Romulus quasi-attacks her to get her in to the barn in order to see this calf, thus dealing with her feelings: Megan is able to echo the same kind of feelings that Lila’s first wolf attack brought to the surface. It’s a subtle repetition that lends a really sad poeticism to the story as a whole.

While I didn’t like it quite as much as I liked “The Cow that Milked Herself”, I thought that the main reason for this is that I found myself sympathizing with the other narrator much more than Lila. While I thought Megan did an amazing job outlining the thought process that brought Lila to where she is at the end of the story, I just don’t know if I agree with the path the character chose to take. It’s definitely worth a read, even so, even if just for the discussion on the important of physical beauty!

Rating: Hell Yeah!

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[20] “The Cow that Milked Herself”

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A breast pump is an awful lot like a vacuum milking cup, my husband said, untangling the gifted contraption. He held the suction cups to his chest.

Soon, she will be the cow that milked herself, he said.

So, as if the stories in Megan Mayhew Bergman’s first collection Birds of a Lesser Paradise weren’t enough to make me swoon, one of the first pictures of her that popped up was her with a goat. A GOAT. Maybe this means nothing to, like, all of you, but as a feckless-dreamer-future-farmgirl, this floppy-hatted picture of Megan made me girl crush. Hard.

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To be honest, I’m a little ashamed to have put that GIF in a post dedicated to Megan Mayhew Bergman, because she seems like too classy a lady for that – but clearly it’s still there, so lets move on shall we? “The Cow that Milked Herself” is the second story of the collection and, like the rest of the stories, depends deeply on human-animal relationships to talk about just so many things. In this story, our narrator is pregnant and she and her boyfriend (husband?) Wood, a veterinarian studying frozen jaguar sperm, are basically just preparing for the arrival of the baby. Wood is, like, creepily clinical, and many times throughout the story our narrator and her child are referred to in very animalistic terms (her birth is compared to the kidding of goats, her breastfeeding to the milking of cows, the cries of her baby likened to the wails of a hungry cat) and, by doing so, Megan likens so much of how we operate as humans to our original animal ancestors.

Because this story isn’t really about pregnancy. Or about a vet. Or about any of the things that the plot really talks about. It’s about fear and trepidation and hope and all those things that pregnancy really brings to the forefront. And it’s about feeling the kind of cold calculation that passes through your body when you hear Wood talk about childbirth in such clinical terms and you realize that, while he’s not wrong, it still sounds so off to make it sound so…National Geographic. That’s quite possibly the most striking thing at the heart of Megan’s stories (others will, of course, be talked about soon): while none of them speak false, there is something strikingly, disturbingly true about just how animalistic we humans are at our core.

This story is only, like, ten pages long. But as I’m learning more and more with the short stories I read, the length or page number doesn’t really matter. The joy of the short story comes when the story is able to distinguish itself in however many pages it takes up. And Megan’s stories do that. Very, very well. I first heard about this story from three of my favorite podcasters over at Literary Disco, and it made their top reads of 2012 list, which I wholeheartedly endorse. And I’m not even fully done with the collection yet.

Tell me again about jaguar reproduction, I said.
The baby gestates for a little over ninety days, Wood said. If her cubs are taken from her in the wild, the mother will chase them down for hours, roaring continuously.

I would do that too, I said. I promise.

Rating: OMFGZ!

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[19] Beautiful Ruins

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Stories are nations, empires. They can last as long as Ancient Rome or as short as the Third Reich. Story-nations rise and decline. Governments changes, trends rise, and they go on conquering their neighbors. Like the Roman Empire, the Epic Poem stretched for centuries as far as the world.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (who is, actually, a dude, contrary to my initial belief) is a contender for the 2013 Tournament of Books – and the second Tournament book I’ve read, the other one being The Fault in Our Stars. No lie – I loved this one WAY better than TFIOS, but I think I might be in the minority on this one (or at least, don’t think that Beautiful Ruins will end up beating out TFIOS in the long run).

This story is a story about so many things. It flashes back in forth in time from Italy in the 60’s to Hollywood in the present day, and it offers such great commentary on things like reality TV, our obsession with movie stars, the magic of the early movies, as well as larger issues like regret, doubt, love, and creativity. Plot wise, we follow both Italian hotelier Pasquale as he meets, falls in love with, and loses a woman he knows only as Dee Moray. Dee Moray who, for a brief period of time, has an affair with Richard Burton and is starring alongside Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra. Flash forward to the 21st century and we’re with Claire, production assistant to aging and desperate producer Michael Deane, the ‘Deane of Hollywood’. She’s about to quit, betting fate that unless one last good movie pitch walks in – enter Shane Wheeler, who sets in motion a chain of events that reunites Dee Moray and Pasquale almost 40 years after they saw each other, a chain that effects ever character involved, with beautiful language and a plot that pushes forward.

But aren’t all great quests folly? El Dorado and the Fountain of Youth and the search for intelligent life in the cosmos– we know what’s out there. It’s what isn’t that truly compels us. Technology may have shrunk the epic journey to a couple of short car rides and regional jet lags– four states and twelve hundred miles traversed in an afternoon– but true quests aren’t measured in time or distance anyway, so much as in hope. There are only two good outcomes for a quest like this, the hope of the serendipitous savant– sail for Asia and stumble on America– and the hope of scarecrows and tin men: that you find out you had the thing you sought all along.

To be honest, there were some slower points in the novel, and while I enjoyed the different media included in the book (there is the discarded first chapter from Michael Deane’s memoir, as well as the first chapter of a book by aging writer Alvis Bender, and, of course, the screen pitch for the movie Donner! (a hopelessly depressing movie about the Donner party that Shane Wheeler brings to pitch to Michael Deane), sometimes they felt a bit jerky in their transitions between these portions and the narrative flow of the other chapters. I also had some issues with characters (Michael Deane is reprehensible, and I felt that some of the characters stories lines overlapped in a way that seemed too fortuitous, not to mention the sheer cast of characters that Jess isn’t afraid to return to), but on the whole I thought that this book was a really great social commentary on the way we’ve changed the way we view our entertainers and the world in which we live, entertainment wise. I felt like it was one of the better contemporary novels I’ve read in quite some time, and it left me feeling excited about diving in to the rest of the Tournament book list!

Rating: Hell yeah!

PS: If you’re interested in seeing even more discussion of the Tournament of Books books, then I urge you to check out Book Riot’s commentary on the competition, especially the discussion of Beautiful Ruins that they did!

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February Short Story: “In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried”

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The story had made her hungry, she said—so I took the elevator down six floors to the cafeteria, and brought back all the ice cream she wanted. We lay side by side, adjustable beds cranked up for optimal TV-viewing, littering the sheets with Good Humor wrappers, picking toasted almonds out of the gauze. We were Lucy and Ethel, Mary and Rhoda in extremis. The blinds were closed to keep light off the screen.

For those of you who missed in January, Ann Kingman from Books on the Nightstand has declared 2013 the Year of the Short Story, which is crazy amazing. Part of that involves her focusing on one short story every month. For January, the story was “Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu; February brings us a truly, truly wrecking tale about female friendship “In the Cemetery where Al Jolson is Buried” by Amy Hemple.

The story follows two female best friends as they spend time together in the hospital. One of the friends is dying from some kind of long-term illness (cancer isn’t ever specified, unless I missed it, but it’s clearly something along those lines). The one who is well walks to the beach, reflects on memories of earthquakes and long flights with her friend, and when she tells her friend she has to leave, her sick friend expends the rest of her energy trying to chase after her. The story rips out your heart and jumps up and down on it and the minute I started to think about what it would be like to have myself and my best friend in this same position – lets just say I had an empty house to do all my ugly crying!

I think one of my favorite things about this story is just how beautiful the language is to describe so much sorrow. And it’s not just the sorrow over death – it’s the sorrow over lost memory and the pain that comes with survivors guilt mixed the the sheer boredom of spending day after day doing the same thing in a confined hospital watching someone you love die. It’s a position I’ve not had to be in, but that we all must inevitably share. The story isn’t long, but in it we get so much of the love between these two un-named women! I’m still not sure what significance there is to the fact that the cemetery is the same one Al Jolson is buried in, other than perhaps the fact that her sharing her final resting place with such a famous entertainer – an uplifting soul who still seems to be pushed to the sidelines of history, to the category of miscellaneous trivia – I’d never heard of him before my trip to wikipedia.

I had a convertible in the parking lot. Once out of that room, I would drive it too fast down the Coast highway through the crab-smelling air. A stop in Malibu for sangria. The music in the place would be sexy and loud. They’d serve papaya and shrimp and watermelon ice. After dinner I would shimmer with lust, buzz with heat, life, and stay up all night.

PLEASE read the story and let me know what you think. If you’ll notice, this post is almost shockingly sparse of any kind of snark or sarcasm (and/or funny and inappropraite GIFs) and it’s because I want you to take me seriously when I say that you need to take the 20 minutes of your life that it will take you to read the story in order to bring Amy Hemple’s beautiful world into yours, for however briefly. Ann did, yet again, a wonderful job selecting for the month and I can’t wait to see what kind of discussion unfolds over on the comment section!

Rating: OMFGZ!

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[17] “A Fable for the Living”

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What a BEAUTIFUL story, and in only seven pages!

The general plot outline of “A Fable for the Living” by Kevin Brockmeier (who’s BOMB ASS picture can be seen above – I WANT THAT TYPEWRITER! also that wooded hollow) is one of a world where, after the dead die, it is possible to communicate with them through letters that are absorbed into the ground. A recent widow writes letters to her husband for a year until she wonders – is he even really there? So she asks him, and when she gets an answer back, the entire world around her changes. The idea of writing to the dead, complete with functional delivery system, is not only endearing – it’s wonderfully hopeful!

There is something so creepy about the idea of letting the Earth just swallow you into itself (when the widow decides to join her husband in the land beneath the soil, she delivers herself as she would a letter – settling herself into a fissure in the ground until she is just kind of…absorbed), but I can’t say I wouldn’t necessarily let myself be taken if it meant being back with all those people I really love in life. I REALLY wish we’d gotten to hear more about the land of the dead beneath the Earth, but what we got of our world was so sweetly rendered. I will say that, looking back over the reading of this story, the whole thing seems to exist under a kind of grey haze, a feeling of fond detachment that made me picture the whole thing in my mind as if it were being done in some kind of charcoal sketch – black, white, fuzzy around the edges.

However, I think this is a story worth returning to later because of the way that Brockmeier was able to create and write the kind of meaningful details of love and relationships that I find myself trying to write in my own stories. Only when I do it, it doesn’t work – it seems cliche and corny. So I need to figure out if he’s really doing something different (which I imagine he is, in which the question then becomes WHAT, DAMN IT!) or if I just have a problem looking objectively at my own writing – which is probably also true. I think that this if one of the most fun results so far in my short-story reading journey: the ability to seem some truly great masters working out issues in their writing that I have in my own (it seems to be easier to see this in short fiction rather than novels, for some reason).

One thing is for sure, though – I need to look into more of Brockmeier’s stories in the future!

Rating: OMFGZ

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[07] The Fault in Our Stars

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‘All salvation is temporary,’ Augustus shot back. ‘I bought them a minute. Maybe that’s the minute that buys them an hour that buys them a year. No one’s going to buy them forever, Hazel Grace, but my life bought them a minute. And that’s not nothing.’

Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace are both 17 years old, and both have cancer. They meet one another one week at a support group, and begin the process of changing each others lives. Augustus uses his Make a Wish to take Hazel to Amsterdam to meet her favorite author, to get questions about her favorite book answered. The author is a lout, drunk and cruel, and the two leave the authors house without any answers. Their trip isn’t wasted, however: they fall in love, have sex, and Gus tells Hazel he’s no longer in remission.

Once they’re back in the States, Gus quickly goes from bad to worse, and he has to leave Hazel behind. But not before offering Hazel’s favorite author a little redemption, and not without leaving Hazel a eulogy worthy of both her and Augustus.

You clench your teeth. You look up. You tell yourself that if they see you cry, it will hurt them, and you will be nothing but A Sadness in their lives, and you must not become a mere sadness, so you will not cry, and you say all of this to yourself while looking up at the ceiling, and then you swallow even though your throat does not want to close and you look at the person who loves you and smile.

The kids in this book are all smart. Like, smart talkers in the vein of The Gilmore Girls or Dawson’s Creek. And while normally this annoys me to no end, I felt here it bordered on just possible enough that I enjoyed it – I found it endearing without being too obnoxious. However, although I really did love the characters, and felt myself being sucked in to the story, I’m not sure how I feel about the novel now that I’m on the other side of it. Of course it was romantic and sad and made me ‘le sigh’ – its a book about terns with cancer who fall in love. Its a well-written Lurlene McDaniels book. I also appreciated and loved the sense of humorous that John Green managed to keep alive (pun intended, obvs) throughout the book:

‘I don’t think you’re dying,’ I said. ‘I think you’ve just got a touch of cancer.’

But, for a book that spends a great deal of time and glib attention talking about stereotypical cancer books that heroize their children heroes, the book does essentially just that. Hazel and Augustus are ultimately the brave, kind, cancer-fighting people they mock; even if they do curse and have sex and make mean jokes about each other. The book makes some interesting differentiations between Hazel, who has always been a terminal patient, and Augustus, who went in to and came out of remission – how that difference effects their views, their hopes, and especially Augustus’s ceaseless obsession with feeling that he has to do something to make his life and death mean something.

Rating: Okay, with some Hell Yeah! bits

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