Archive for May 2010
A picture of a hummingbird cut out from a small calendar, found in a copy of The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak.
Locas: A Love & Rockets Book is a collection of comics drawn and written by Jaime Hernandez, whose work in combination with that of his brothers’ made up the Love and Rockets series, published throughout the ’80s and ’90s. It’s a hardcover with about 700 pages of artwork from the first 50 issues of L&R inside and clocks in around 35 pounds, I’m guessing, which I’m pretty sure makes it the largest book I own.
The Locas (or Hoppers 13) stories follow a multi-generational group of (mostly) Mexican-American women in a fictional California town as they drift in and out of a growing punk scene. These women are traveling mechanics, professional wrestlers, writers, and strippers. They all seem somewhat exceptional, but even so, they go through the same shit as everyone else: they struggle with aging, with rivalries and attachments, and they gain weight. At the center of these stories are Hopey and Maggie, friends and sometimes lovers whose real love for each other endures through the constant ins-and-outs of their dynamic relationship.
At first, I worried that these stories weren’t going to be for me after all, since the first few contain elements of more straightforward superhero comics, and I’m just not really into that sort of thing. I also sensed, in these segments which take place in impoverished, undeveloped countries, a bit of condescension toward the locals, which really sucked. But after the first 80 pages or so, the narrative settles into more of a traditional graphic novel form and it’s easy sailing from there. It did take some time to get acquainted with all the characters, but as soon as I felt I must have missed something, that something didn’t make sense, I’d get a flashback: I’d see the characters meet/form a band/have sex with each other, and everything would fall back into place. It really worked for me.
With the Locas stories, Hernandez succeeds in writing interesting, multi-dimensional characters who I really came to care for, and will genuinely miss. I cherish the time I spent with them. Everything about them, both the way they’re written and the way they’re drawn, is refreshingly realistic and somehow comforting. Even as Maggie, Hopey and crew mature, there’s a sense of youth and adventure to these stories which makes for serious nostalgic catharsis. I can’t wait for the passing of time to dull my memory of the book a bit, just so I can pick it up and start again! I love you, Locas!
First ten songs on iTunes shuffle, plus a video:
1. The Dresden Dolls- “The Time Has Come”
2. Tommy McCook & the Agrovators- “At the Dub Market”
3. The Smiths- “Bigmouth Strikes Again”
4. Nirvana- “Lithium”
5. B.B. King- “The Thrill is Gone”
6. Orchard Thief- “Transparent Popsicle”
7. Japanther- “Um Like Yer Smile is Totally Ruling Me Right Now”
8. Radiohead- “Like Spinning Plates”
9. Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers- “Filthy and Free”
10. Weezer- “Photograph”
Nirvana performing Lithium
I swear, I love Nirvana more and more every day.
At first, I didn’t want to read Madame Bovary because from all I’d read and heard about the book, it sounded as though Gustave Flaubert had created a female protagonist who is vapid, frivolous, materialistic, irresponsible, unrealistic, and deceitful, who he then punishes (basically, for being a woman discontent with her husband, marriage, and family) with a horrible death which selfishly ruins the lives of everyone who’d known her. Which, ew. Why would I want to punish myself with such anti-feminist tripe? But after a friend told me about how much she loved the book, and Emma Bovary’s sense of romanticism and passion, I decided to give it a try. In some respects I was surprised by what I read, in both positive and negative ways.
First off, I was surprised to find that I did not find Emma Bovary to be as disgusting a caricature as many other readers seem to, even if I did not quite like her. For about the first half of the book, in fact, I was totally sympathetic to her. She was a young woman who craved adventure and had high expectations of love, who was morbidly depressed and bored by her early-settled domestic life in the country with a man who was uninteresting to her and for whom she had no attraction. Her desires and motivations did not seem frivolous, peripheral, or unreasonable to me at all. I get that at the time and place in which this book was written, it was still expected that hetero couples marry young for convenience, stability, and family-raising, and that real romance was a sort of secondary bonus when it happened, but it seems unfair to me, as a modern reader, to consider Madame Bovary’s desire for more than that as selfish, even as her adulterous actions began to lack direction and the results remained unfulfilling throughout the second half of the book. True, she was a bit materialistic and irresponsible with money. But it’s also true that all the more rich and glamorous people she encountered seemed to be living much more thrilling, alluring lives than she was, so it wasn’t hard to see why she’d be tempted. And true, she had a tendency to project idealizations onto men who were only human after all, but I don’t really think it’s so terrible that she’s an idealist unwilling to settle, either.
So while it didn’t seem to me that Flaubert had constructed an unfair, stereotypical woman as his protagonist–indeed, he seemed to identify with her–her death was undoubtedly a punishment for her deceit and her husband’s debt. It was long, painful, and gruesomely detailed. Anyone with something against Madame Bovary was generously rewarded. This does fit a particularly irritating, misogynistic theme in literature (woman is not happy with her home, husband, family/indulges in some kind of escapism or adultery, lies/commits suicide, dies, or is killed), but it does not preclude me from liking all books that employ it. I loved Anna Karenina, for example. In this case, I was left feeling totally ambivalent about it. Honestly, I was just ready for the story to end.
And that’s what turned out to be my biggest problem with the book. While I enjoyed Flaubert’s style and his ability to use lots of detail without slowing the pace of the narrative, there just wasn’t enough story there for me. I would have enjoyed a nice subplot or two. My interest in Emma’s love affairs waned as the passion of the affairs did too. Maybe if I’d known more (or anything, rather) about Gustave Flaubert and his intentions with Madame Bovary before I read it, I might have had a stronger reaction to the way the themes of the book played out. Clearly, I need to do a little research. As I haven’t yet, though, I mostly just feel…
What did other people think? Was Madame Bovary really not as terrible as she’d been made out to be (at least to me) who was killed because it was time to end the struggle, the unhappiness, the story…as obnoxious as that may be within the larger literary picture, or was she a straw-woman brought to life only to be punished and thus made an example of? If there’s misogyny here, is it coming from the author or the reader? Is this framing too simplistic?
Maybe some lit majors or something can help key me in here.
In A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole succeeds in writing one of the most repulsive, loathsome, pugnacious protagonists possibly in existence. Ignatius Reilly is 30-something years old, lazy, and considers himself to be above and apart from the absurdities of modern life and culture that he despises. To the constant remorse of his frazzled mother, Ignatius spends all his time at home writing a seemingly endless indictment of the chaos, lunacy, and bad taste of the modern age, which he sees as lacking “theology, geometry, taste and decency.” Until he’s forced to find a job, that is, and then the unleashing of his worldview causes trouble for a myriad of other interesting characters including a lousy undercover cop, a pants factory owner and his wife, a seedy bar proprietor, and a hot dog vendor in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
It took me a while to get into this book, which is often hailed as a great literary comic masterpiece, an epic farce. It is funny, and very clever, but I never did laugh aloud while reading it, and I’m a very expressive reader (friends have often told me that they can tell the tone of what I’m reading by my facial expressions and such). But something about the pace of the story really works; the reader is allowed just the right amount of time with each character and perspective, and I enjoyed seeing all the characters tidily brought together at the end of the book. It was rollicking good fun.
I must say, though, that I’m very glad to never have to hear about Ignatius Reilly’s belching or the opening and closing of his “valve” ever again. Gross.