Culture Consumption: November 2019

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.

Books

I can’t believe I only got through two books this month (I started several that I haven’t finished). Anyway, here we go.

In Couch by Benjamin Parzybok, three roommates and slackers — Thom, Erik, and Tree — find themselves out of a place to live, when the couple in the apartment above manages to break their waterbed, flooding their apartment. When their landlord asks them to carry the old couch in their apartment to the thrift store. Unbeknownst to them, this simple act triggers an epic journey. The premise for this book was so quirky and strange that I didn’t quite know what to expect from Couch. This book is so beautifully grounded and is abundant with heart. These guys get put through the ringer and they grow and learn and become better humans. I was honestly moved and awed by this book. Wish I had read it sooner.

My second finished book of the month was Mary Shelley Makes a Monster by Octavia Cade (Aqueduct Press). This collection of poetry is brilliant from beginning to the end. The collection begins with Mary Shelley crafting a monster out of the remnants of her own heartbreak and sorrow. Left alone after her death, the monster goes looking for someone to fill her place, visiting other female authors through the decades — Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Octavia Butler, and others. It’s a beautifully moving examination of the eccentricities of authors and how monsters reflect us in the world. I got to have a fantastic conversation with Cade (barring some technical difficulties) about her work for the New Books in Poetry podcast, and hopefully I’ll be able to share it with you soon.

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Culture Consumption: July 2019

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, and podcasts.

Books

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira GrantIf you’ve been longing for a book about murderous mermaids, then Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant is the book for you.

Seven years after the tragedy that befell the scientists, actors, and crew of Atargatis when they were traveling  the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” on mermaids (events that were phenomenally portrayed in Rolling in the Deep), a new team has been put together to find answers. Although they are geared up more thoroughly this time, none of them are fully prepared for the dangers they find.

There were moments in this book that legitimately terrified me, moments where I was to scared to keep reading, where I shouted at the characters as if I was watching a horror movie, where I couldn’t put the book down. Into the Drowing Deep is an altogether phenomenal science fiction horror story, one that makes me even more uncertain of the ocean than I already was.

I also finished up with Song of Susannah, book six of The Dark Tower series by Stephen King and wrote a somewhat lengthy post about my thoughts on the book. The series continues to be excellent and I’m looking forward to wrapping things up.
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Haunted by Grief: A Review of Personal Shopper (2016)

Personal Shopper, directed by Olivier Assayas, begins with the presence of an ghost. Maureen (Kristen Stewart) wanders through an empty house. Doors slam in the distance, things creak. She speaks a name and we see a flicker of something in the shadows behind her, though it’s not entirely clear what.

It’s a perfect set up for a horror movie — the woman alone in the house, the strange sounds, the ghost — and yet, Personal Shopper confounds the viewer by breaking with the expected tropes. Yes, there are ghosts (or something resembling them), but they are mostly harmless, just whispering figures in the dark.

Maureen is a medium, like her twin brother. Each made a pact to the other — whoever dies first would return as a spirit and communicate with the living sibling, proving the existence of an afterlife. So, following her brother’s death, Maureen is in Paris waiting for some sign, some message.

What complicates her search is that she is not a believer (something I’ve never seen from any other medium in a movie before). While Maureen admits to be a medium and being able to sense entities in the world around her, she is not convinced that these entities are human spirits. Even though evidence of a spirit or haunting is present — events that others would take as proof — she remains uncertain as to whether or not this is her brother or something else.

Her pursuit is a blend of doubt and longing. She is desperate to find proof of her brother and finds herself caught in a holding pattern — riding around Paris on a moped and going through the motions of her job as a personal shopper for a celebrity.

Maureen is a woman lost in grief.

One of the most confounding moments in the movie is when it makes a jarring tonal shift as Maureen starts receiving messages from an unknown sender, someone who knows about her and what she’s been doing. Shaken, she at first reaches for the hope that this could be the longed-for proof of her brother’s spirit, only to quickly realize the messages are more likely from a stalker and she becomes wrapped up in a dangerous game.

As a viewer, I found myself confused at first by this storyline. But taking in the context of her character, her choices makes a certain kind of emotional sense. A person lost in their grief might go looking for ways to feel anything else but hurt.

Kristen Stewart’s performance throughout Personal Shopper is stunning. The is the second movie she’s done with Assayas, the first being Clouds of Sils Maria — a movie I adore.  In many instances throughout Personal Shopper, Stewart is alone in a room having to carry the emotional resonance of the moment. And she does so with a beautiful naturalism, bringing up an interior experience to the screen (check out the video essay below for a look at how her acting style has evolved of the years).

Ultimately Personal Shopper is not a horror movie. It defies that expectation at every turn, sometimes in startling and uncomfortable ways. The ending leaves questions confusingly unanswered and is ambiguous to a degree that will likely make some unhappy with the experience. I found myself sitting in silence as the credits rolled, followed by an immediate internet search to see what others thought of the ending and how it was interpreted. It made me wish that I had had someone else watching with me, someone to discuss and debate all the possible meanings.


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Culture Consumption: June 2019

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.

Books

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora GossI loved The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss. The story is about Mary Jekyll, left alone and penniless following her mother’s death. Curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past, she discovers that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be still be alive. With the hope of a reward to solve her financial challenges, she pursues what little clues she has — only to discover Diana, Hyde’s daughter instead. As the mystery thickens, Mary learns of more women who have been experimented upon by their fathers — Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein. Together, the women begin to uncover a secret society of scientist attempting to transmute the human body in order to unleash it’s potential.

A lot of novels, short stories, comics, and movies have taken on the task of presenting new versions of classic horror and scifi — this was the kind of retelling I didn’t know I was longing for. Reading the Alchemist’s Daughter was a delight, presenting a litany of clever, intelligent, strong women who find companionship and support in each other through their trials, while stuggling against cultural norms.  The style of storytelling is also witty and fun — with the girls interjecting into the record with their own commentary and arguments. I love all of these women and I can’t wait to read about more of their adventures in the next volume.
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Culture Consumption: March 2019

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.

Books

It’s been another amazing reading month. I adored Gwendolyn Kiste’s The Rust Maidens, a stunning work of body horror in which young women begin to bodily reflect the decaying undertones of the city in which they live. Their bodies reflect the rust, marred concrete, and broken glass that surrounds them. Check out my full review for a more thorough description and the reasons I love this book.

Speaking of horror, The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes by Sara Tantlinger is a profound and chilling collection, which blend fact and supposition to relate the life and times of the man thought to be America’s first serial killer. The poems are visceral with a fascinating narrative arc. I was excited to have been able to recently interview Sara for the New Books in Poetry podcast, which should be available soon.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is a stunning book of YA fantasy. Magic in Orïsha is gone, the maji long dead. Only their children remain, marked as outcasts by their silver hair. After a chance encounter with a rogue princess, Zélie learns that magic might have a chance to come back — if Zélie, her brother, and the princess can survive long enough to conduct an ancient ritual. The world building and setting is rich and fascinating, the characters are multi-layered, complex, and strong, and the story presents a compelling epic quest. I can’t wait to read the second book.

Old Man’s War by John Sclazi is the story of John Perry, who joins the Colonial Defense Force at the age of 75. He signs up, like many people his age, for a chance at a second youth and at seeing the universe beyond Earth. I’m not generally a fan of military SF, but I love the way this story is told. I dig how we as readers get to experience Perry’s growing astonishment as the weirdness he encounters out in the universe just keeps getting weirder — and more deadly. It’s a rollicking good story.

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