Culture Consumption: May 2020

Hi, lovelies. Coming in rather late this month, because I’ve been rather overwhelmed. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, games, and podcasts.

Books

house of whispers by nalo hopkinsonNeil Gaiman’s The Sandman is one of my all-time favorite comic book series. When I learned that the characters would live on through stories told by different authors, I was both excited and wary. However, with Nalo Hopkinson (who is known for putting a Carribean spin on fantasy and horror), I knew the story would be in good hands. Her take, The House of Whispers is phenomenal, with gorgeous illustrations by DOMO.

When the Dreaming begins to be disturbed by unusual occurrences, it unleashes strange affects upon the worlds — releasing a strange magical pandemic that makes people to believe they are already dead and causing  Erzulie, a deity of voodoo mythology, to crash into the Dreaming. I love all of the characters, all the additions to the world building. I fully appreciate this new perspective. I’ve only read volume one, but I haven’t been this excited about a comic series in a long time. I can’t wait to dive into more.

Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching is the story of the Silver family and their house in Dover, England, which has converted to a bed-and-breakfast. The house, however, has a will of its own — and though it loves the women of the family, it has a malice for strangers.

The youngest daughter, Miranda Silver, developed a pica as a child, an eating disorder that causes her to consume non-edible substances, such as chalk and plaster. After experiencing an intense episode as a teenager, she returns home after a period in the hospital, hopeful of pulling her life together.

Oyeyemi tells the story from multiple points of view, with writing style is rich and lyrical, evoking complex emotional structures of family and home.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: May 2020”

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: February 2019

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games — most of which was heavily inspired by my deep dive into Women in Horror Month.

Books

Fledgling by Octavia E. ButlerOctavia E. Butler’s Fledgeling is the story of a 53-year old black vampire who looks like a 12 year old girl. When the story opens, Shori has no memory of who or what she is — all she knows is that she is wounded, starving, and lost. As she heals, she begins to dig into her past in an attempt to discover who she is and who tried to kill her. This is one of the most fascinating portrayals of vampires that I’ve read, presenting a unique complex culture with found families based on symbiotic relationships between vampires and humans. There are so many layers here work unpacking: genetic manipulation, power structures, interesting family structures with polyamorous love, and racism, among other things. It makes for a fascinating storyline with complicated, interesting characters. One of those books that’ll go onto my favorites list.

Two other books from my Women in Horror reading were also phenomenal: Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant (a brutal mermaid story discussed here) and Things Withered by Susie Moloney (a stunning collection of short stories discussed over here).

I also read three books of poetry in the past month. all this can be yours by Isobel O’Hare is a powerful collection of erasures from the celebrity sexual assault apologies. The poems are fierce explorations of how the men making these apologies try to evade their own culpability.

The chapbook Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned by Sara Ryan (Pork Belly Press) delves into the liminal space between living and dead, with this collection of poems about taxidermy. The nature of body is explored down to the bone, with footnotes that provide an expanded philosophical look at the art of preservation.

House of Mystery by Courtney Bates-Hardy draws on the dark undertones of fairy tales, providing a haunting look into the role of women in those stories.

(I have interviews with both Isobel O’Hare and Sara Ryan that I’ll be sharing soon.)

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: February 2019”

Wolves of the Calla – Reading The Dark Tower, Part V

Here are Part IPart IIPart III, and Part IV of my journey through Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.

Wolves of the Calla by Stephen KingPart IV is focused on book five, Wolves of the Calla, and as with all of these posts, there will be so many spoilers.

When I first started reading this series as a teenager, I tore through each of the books, eager to get to the end, only to come to an abrupt halt when I discovered the fifth book had not been written yet. It took Stephen King six years after finishing Wizard and Glass to finish and publish The Wolves of the Calla. During that time, I had lost the thread of the narrative. I always intended to finish reading the series, but it settled comfortably into the back burner and stayed there — until now.

Wolves of the Calla is the first book in the series that’s new to me, and that newness might be why it took me ten months to get around to reading it. Lately, I’ve been having a hard time coming back to stories (TV shows especially), finding myself simultaneously caught between wanting to know the ending to the story and at the same time not wanting to know what happened to the characters. Reading books one to four was comfortable, stepping into the fifth book was a risk, the witness of terrible things, or worse, disappointment in the story or characters.

I shouldn’t have been so worried.

Continue reading “Wolves of the Calla – Reading The Dark Tower, Part V”

Culture Consumption: December 2018

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂 I’ll be posting my favorite reads and movies of the year in the next week or two.

Books

A Cruelty Special to Our Species by Emily Jungmin Yoon and Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar

I read two phenomenal (if very different) poetry collections this month, A Cruelty Special to Our Species by Emily Jungmin Yoon and Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar. In her book, Yoon reflects on the lives of Korean comfort women of the 1930s and 40s, considering not only the history of sexual slavery, but also its ongoing impact. On the other hand, Bodnar uses imagery from horror cinema in her chapbook to delve into the dilemma of female power.  I also interviewed both poets about their work — Yoon on the New Books in Poetry podcast and Bodnar on my blog.

Another book I loved this month was Ted Chiang’s stunning short story collection, Stories of Your Life and Others. These stories present beautiful contemplations of our world through linguistics, mathematics, architecture, and beauty — with characters who pursue knowledge and understanding. It’s lovely and I’ve written more on this over here.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: December 2018”