The Do-Over – Sharon M. Peterson

This is what books are for.

Yes, yes, I know, Great Literature and Deep Thoughts and Theme and Sturm und Drang und whatever. But be honest – when you pick up a book, do you always want to be harrowed and tested put through the wringer? There’s a time and a place for that sort of great book, of course, and some folks do always want that experience – more power to ’em. I think I’m too old for that s … stuff. What I’m endlessly looking for in a book is good writing, good characters, a good setting the characters can live in, a good plot the characters can live in. A satisfying, unpredictable, well-crafted ending. Sometimes it feels like that’s getting harder and harder to find.

Found one!

The description sounded like a light, fun read. And that’s exactly what it is – and in no way take that as any shape or form of negativity, or dare to put the word “just” in front of the adjectives. I haven’t used the alleged Mark Twain quote about the difference between lightning and a lightning bug in a while. It’s the difference between this book and what I was expecting. I wasn’t expecting such sharp, smart, funny writing, for one thing. I honestly can’t remember the last time I literally laughed out loud at a book – it was probably something Bria said. No, it was definitely something Bria said. Oh right: “You that guy who wears the pizza outfit and waves at people on the street?” And the Mimi-isms at the head of each chapter are keepers. (“Always choose kindness. Unless the other person’s a jackass. Then all bets are off.”—MIMI) (Good writing: check.) (One of my new all-time favorite lines, right up there with “I piggybacked from a pizza dough freezer”, is “So, I threw my Spanx on the meatloaf and I lied and said you were my boyfriend.”

I wasn’t expecting characters I’d genuinely care about. Perci is kind of a mess, and while her mess is nothing like mine the fact of being kind of a mess was definitely something I bonded with her over. Her circle of friends and family are marvelous – imperfect and wonderful and awful and heartbreaking and hilarious in equal measures. At one point the plot takes a turn that scared me enough to know that yes, I really did care about these characters – and then I started to suspect something. And it was perfect. Handled differently, that part of the book might have bene something I’d skewer the writer for, but this was – did I say perfect already? Well, it was. “I don’t have all the right answers though, and I never should have made you feel like my way was the best way. But I want you to know that I’m here . I’m not going anywhere. You can ignore me and not answer my calls, but I will still be here when you need me. Always.” I swallowed and waited for a reaction, an understanding, a coupon for free French fries, anything. “I’m done now.” – If I’d had friends like this, my life would be different. (Good characters: check.)

Perci’s home is enviable. I want an apartment in a renovated cookie factory. I want to live in this book. (Which is a pretty clear sign of: Good setting: check.)

And the plot? Check. It’s light, sure – but not so frothy that I was positive it couldn’t take a turn. It’s probably a cliche to say that it had heart, and that’s what kept it from being so fluffy it could blow away on a breeze. It didn’t hurt that my family has had losses in the past few years, and we always look for cardinals too. The ending? Left me with a smile on my face and that feeling of satisfied contentment a really good finale brings. Could I have predicted some of the ending? Sure. But not all of it, and not how it would be achieved.

The tl;dr of it all is: I loved this book. I’ve said before that it’s easier to write a long review (or sometimes to write a review at all) of a book I hated than of one I loved, and I’ve speculated that that’s because a negative review is about the book and why it wasn’t good. A positive review tends to be more autobiographical. Another aspect of it is that it’s hard (for me at least) to explain how a writer produced lightning in a bottle. It’s easy to point out flaws – they’re common. Anyone can write a bad book (except, you know, Guy Kay and Barbara Hambly and folks like that). If it was easy to pinpoint exactly what makes a book wonderful, maybe more people could do it. I wish they would. I hope Sharon M. Peterson does, many many more times.

Many thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing an advance copy for an honest review.

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Every Picture Hides a Story

Authors: William Cane and Anna Gabrielle

I’ve really been trying to make an effort to clear up my Netgalley backlog – which is daunting. This is a more recent book from them, and … unfortunately, the bad ones are usually a lot easier to review. Someday when I have time I should come back and add images to this…

I’m really, really baffled by who the target audience is for this book. The language is juvenile – often outright childish – while some of the content is not. Although even the rather more grown-up topics – such as exactly what Adam and Eve were doing in Michelangelo’s pre-expulsion Eden – is handled coyly. And for every single artist addressed in the book there is a (happily) brief exchange at the section’s beginning, consisting of an extraordinary, bizarre snippet of “conversation” with or about or to the artist, featuring a level of offensive familiarity which would probably have gotten the authors pummeled by at least a few of the artists discussed (if not all). These horrible intros are only slightly worse than the style of the book as a whole, which is scattered throughout with so many exclamation points that some pages look like birthday cupcakes, covered in sprinkles.

I regret to say I saved examples, and will now inflict them upon the reader:

Ouch, ouch, ouch! I can’t take it! Don’t— please don’t make me stand like this! It’s killing me! My arm feels like it’s breaking! In actuality, although she loved his work, the princess was bored with the hours she had to stand still as a model for Ingres. But she didn’t really complain about her arm aching.”

“And so the Big Wig was tight with Caravaggio” – This is how Caravaggio’s patron Alof de Wignacourt is almost exclusively referred to in the section. It was truly nauseating.

“Then last, but certainly not least, good old Kilmty! Oops! Did we say Klimty? . . . Well, you’ll just have to wait and see why that moniker slipped out.” (The typo is a lagniappe.)

“good old Velázquez” – It’s so … jolly.

“When you hear about Michelangelo’s next bit of tomfoolery you may gasp at its scope and viciousness. Just keep in mind his temperament as you consider what he did.” I … didn’t gasp. And it wasn’t vicious or all that … scope-y. But at least the artist wasn’t referred to as “Mike”. (If only he had been – I could have quit right then and saved myself the pain.)

“Little Berty” – that’s Berthe Morisot. Lashings of respect for the artist, right? That’s even better than constantly referring to Velázquez as gagcoughgag “the Big V”. (I’m so sorry.)

“Now sit tight as you hear her story!” I’m sorry, did the authors expect a five year old reader?

What I was expecting from this book: Long ago, at the dawn of time, I went to art school. One of the art history teachers took her classroom of young adult artists at 3:00 in the afternoon, turned off the lights, and showed a series of bad slides of work somewhat close to what was in the book, ignoring the (literal) snores of her students as she basically read the textbook to us. The other art history teacher would sit cross-legged on the table at the front of the class, and talk. She told stories about the artists, about the cultures, about the works; she provided context and background; she made it live. When I requested this book from Netgalley, I expected it to be filled with the sort of thing she told us every week. Example: Caravaggio’s Conversion of Saul. In this painting, Saul has just been knocked off his horse by a brilliant light; he was riding away from the viewer, and has fallen toward you – and the horse is angled away from you. Debbie – our teacher – pointed out that probably the first thing you see when you look at this picture is, frankly, the horse’s rump. The horse is a piebald, black and white, and takes up a large percentage of the canvas – particularly that large black and white tuchus. Debbie told us that Benedictine monks wear black and white habits. And Caravaggio had a deep loathing for Benedictines. So the position of the horse, the prominent anatomy presented to the viewer, and its color, is a very intentional commentary. I know there was a lot more, but it was a long time ago … But I never have forgotten that tidbit, because it deepens my understanding of the painting, and of the artist. I was harboring hopes when I saw that Caravaggio was one of the artists discussed in this book. I didn’t get The Conversion of Saul, though. Instead, I got “that portrait of the Big Wig shows him holding his staff suggestively!” and “that shadow in Supper at Emmaus looks like a fish!” OK. Thanks. Oh, and “That bit of the weave of that basket looks like half of the ichthys! No, it doesn’t = and if it did, it wouldn’t be too surprising since the icthys consists of two curved lines. Half of that is one curved lines. There are a lot of curved lines in art. Elsewhere, in discussion of a portrait of Cleopatra, much is made of the fact that she’s wearing a headdress with a rearing cobra. Somehow missing the point that the Egyptians who created her jewelry would have been using symbolism too, and this is more an example of the artist having done his homework than of hiding meaning in the painting.

That’s how it was all the way through. There are lots of overblown promises:

“Buried below the threshold of conscious awareness, our wily friend Leonardo may have encoded an unseen subversion of gender roles. Not only don’t people know what they’re seeing, they would be shocked to find out.”

“No one who has looked at the works of the most accomplished Spanish painter of all time has seen everything that we are about to reveal.”

“But be forewarned— what you’re about to see firsthand has been ignored and missed by every other art critic to date!”

“we’re going to uncover a final secret that it contains, a secret that no commentator has ever mentioned— or noticed. This secret concerns the way people interact with one another every day of their lives.”

As I mention below, I learned a couple of things – none of which was new ground being broken by this book. The “revelations” promised throughout were all … not much of anything.

So much of what was asserted in this book was odd, silly, obvious, or just plain wrong that it began to be painful after a while.

“As we mentioned in the introduction, some people are fearful, skeptical, and unbelieving when you tell them that there are symbols hidden or embedded in works of art” – I’m sorry, are “some people” new? I suppose if you’ve never come within a light year of an art history class of any sort you might not know about symbols being used in art, but – – that’s not the sort of person this is aimed at, is it? It goes back to my initial question of who the audience is. It’s presented as something that will take an art lover’s basic knowledge and deepen it, not as a primer for someone whose first thought on hearing artists’ names is of turtles. In the end, it doesn’t accomplish either task, so the question is pointless.

“Incidentally, why should the whole issue of subliminal advertising matter to you? After all, this isn’t a book about advertising, it’s a book about art and the way famous artists have employed sophisticated techniques to hide things in their work.” Seriously, out there reading this – have ANY of you not heard of Joe Camel? Anyone?

Caravaggio is not “the quiet and well-mannered artist you might imagine when thinking of a Renaissance artist” …Like Da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo (who the authors just got finished describing as “obstreperous” and “impetuously lashing out at his critics”, and whose “tomfoolery” was supposed to make me gasp in shock)? Those quiet and well-mannered gentlemen?

“The painting is unabashedly erotic because the girl is naked, after all” – Which … I don’t even know where to start.

“Satyrs are half man, half horse” NO THEY ARE NOT. (see, this is what started to happen in my notes on the book. I started using as many exclamation points as the authors did (almost), and caps. And foul language.)

“…The scene in Nymphs and Satyr is highly idealized. That is to say, there’s no splashing or mud spatter on the bodies of the nymphs.” I’m sorry – show me an artist prior to the warts-and-all (or focus-on-the-warts) 20th century who ever put in all the mud. That’s a great part of what art has been … forever: idealized reality.

Phallic symbol after phallic symbol is pointed out – sometimes as the only “hidden” things in any given painting. And, yes, sure, ok, even pre-Freud I’m sure a slew of those long skinny objects really were intentional phallic symbols, especially given that a lot of these paintings were by men in their 20’s. But it strains credulity that ALL of the long skinny objects were intentional phallic symbols. What was that Freud said about cigars?

“In photography this blurred background is known technically as bokeh” – I mean … no, it’s not. A blurry background is the result of the lens focusing on something else. When it’s done intentionally, in a very specific technique (and since 1997, when the first use of the term seems to have occured) then sure, it’s bokeh.

“Tennyson tells us that the Lady [of Shallott] lays down” – lays what down?

The bodice of Sargent’s “Madame X” … brace yourself: “functions on a subliminal level as a magnified and enlarged image of a face— those two black loops being the eyes, and the upper part of her chest and shoulders being the forehead of an enlarged face.” Whose face? Zorro’s???? I mean … ?!?!?!?

“Here, Madame’s high contrast level— dark reddish hair and extra-pale skin tone— give her a high contrast level.” That’s deep.

“It hardly need be said that the decision to feature the nude youth must have been a conscious choice of the artist.” THEN WHY DID YOU SAY IT?! This attitude – that everything in a painting is not under the full control of the artist – is either something the authors think everyone else thinks, or is something they’re none too sure of themselves, as they’re endlessly surprised at shadows and backgrounds and, yes, symbols.

“When we showed [John William Godward’s ‘Dolce Far Niente’] to a forensic pathologist— a person who testifies in court about murder cases— he stated quite bluntly that the posture looked like a death scene.” This opinion is apparently based on the fact that the model is lying on her side with her knees drawn up, lying on a “haphazard” arrangement of furs. Well, authors, that position happens to be almost exactly how I sleep most nights – and if you look at the furs, you’ll see that they’re spread out so that every part of her but her lower legs and feet are cushioned by them. They’re not as tidy as a bed with hospital corners – but the disarray isn’t a sign of a struggle. (But hey – thanks for defining “forensic pathologist” for me.)

This was just terrible writing: “Godward’s parents became estranged from him, and because of his suicide they even went so far as to destroy references to their son in family records.” Why is this bad writing? Because it’s the second time in a very few pages that the reader is told that the parents erased Godward from their family history – but it’s the first time they let slip the little detail that he committed suicide.

The authors constantly show a weird exclusive bias toward fine art as possibly the only worthwhile field of study. Pre-twentieth century fine art, and only that, mind you!

“His influence— with his distortions and unusual anatomical perspective— led to some of the worst excesses in modern art, including the absurdities of cubism. Picasso seized on the idea, and as Tom Wolfe and Fred Ross point out, used it as an excuse to paint in such an unrealistic manner that art critics— desperate for something new to hang their hat on— elevated him to the status of a competent artist despite the fact that his drawing skills never advanced much further than those of a fledgling art student.”

YIKES. I’m not a fan of Cubism either, but I’ve never slandered Picasso’s ability to DRAW. What – those who can, paint; those who can’t, Cubist? The authors slander Impressionists a bit too – I mean, why else would you want your work to be impressionistic unless you were trying to disguise a lack of draftsmanship?

“The modern Guggenheim, where curators regularly exhibit works of debatable merit … When people go to the Guggenheim or other museums of modern art, they don’t have that specific intention, that is, they think they’re going to see good art and are then shocked by the garbage that’s on display”

OK. Wow. I mean, I’m not going to sit here and pretend I don’t loathe a lot of modern art. I’m not going to pretend that that moment the authors describe – of walking into a room filled with abstract art and truly wondering if the artists were pulling an elaborate, horrifyingly successful con on gullible patrons who will see what they’re told to see and think what they’re told to think – that this didn’t happen once to a friend and me in New Haven. But WOW. Don’t mince words, folks.

The authors certainly know nothing about literature: “In literature, a writer is said to have created a three-dimensional character when the individual possesses characteristics that ring true, usually because they go against type. A sheriff may have a foible or weakness that makes him less than perfect, a preacher may yearn for worldly goods, or a wife may have an affair.” Yes. Yes, absolutely, all the writing advice manuals suggest exactly this method for making a character three-dimensional. Brilliant.

“Isn’t architecture, after all, a tedious study of blueprints and stress factors and load weights? Isn’t architecture rock and stone and masonry? How could such a subject ever help a painter, especially one like Godward, whose specialty all his life was fair maidens, even a few tastefully depicted nude ladies swathed in ancient Greek and Roman togas and soft diaphanous gowns?” * paging Peter Grant … would Peter Grant please report for duty *

I did learn a couple of things. I hadn’t known, or remembered, that the slab the David was carved from was basically a reject of other artists, and the size and shape constrained Michelangelo’s posing of the figure. That’s great. I’d never heard of a “licked finish” before (though I had to go online to get a better definition telling WHY it’s called that). I didn’t know (or really care) that Oprah Winfrey bought Klimt’s Adele Bloch-Bauer II – and then sold it to a Chinese collector, which I wish I hadn’t known. Apart from that I collected a short list of books to look for at some point – hopefully by writers with less nauseating styles and more data. One more quote: “You’ll probably be eager to tell your friends what they’ve been missing, too!” No. No, I’m not. I’m eager to tell my friends to avoid this book. Because despite all of these assertions, there is very little substance to what is “revealed”. If any.

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The Haunting of Leigh Harker – Darcy Coates

I’m not sure how to view this book. I’m not sure I was the right audience, for starters; I love a good ghost story, and I’m a paid-up member of Jim Harold’s Plus Club… but I can’t watch a scary movie (I stepped into one of the Halloween movies when it was playing at the theatre I worked in, and stepped back out again about three minutes later – and the scene I caught wasn’t even all that scary). I realized when listening to a podcast one night about a ghost that knocked on walls and doors that, if I heard a knock right then, I would probably expire of the terror, so I’m perfectly fine not having any paranormal experiences, thank you. (This was borne out by the time I did have one. Which, as it turned out, wasn’t – but I thought it was at the moment, so – no, thank you.) I must have been steeped in Campfire Stories and so on when I requested this book from Netgalley (thanks, Netgalley), and also succumbed to the cover, which is beautiful. But no – I’m not the right audience.

The book jumps straight into the creepiness. I don’t know how a hardened horror fan would see it, but for me, it was plenty creepy. I hated it – and kind of loved it – and definitely didn’t read it at bedtime. It ticked all the boxes for raising goosebumps. But the creepiness just kept going. And became a little bit repetitive. And the main character started to really irritate me. Again, I’ve only ever had one pseudo-ghost experience, but when the voice spoke to me I thought frantically about what I was going to reply. When this ghost (or whatever) kept saying “Hello” to the book’s heroine, I found it intensely frustrating that she never just … answered. She never said a word to this entity – not “what do you want”, not “you’re not welcome here”, not even just “hello” back – until well late in the book when things changed. If she had, the whole thing might have been easier for her.

The writing definitely let the story down rather frequently. It wasn’t quite one of those cases of “put down the thesaurus and back away slowly” – but it wasn’t far off. Reading on my phone makes it harder for me to take notes and make highlights, so I have none for this, but at times the descriptive language went well over the top. I remember one passage in which the threads of the carpet burrowed in between the heroine’s toes, and it just knocked me out of the book for a moment, odd as the choice of words was.

But, in the end – and in the middle – the twists the book took made up for a lot of the issues I had with it. The writing may not have been of a style and quality I look for, but the plotting was; the midway plot twist and the resolution were extremely satisfying. It’s one of the only times I can think of that the way an author ended a book made me raise my rating – so often it goes the opposite way.

In all honesty, I doubt I’ll seek out any other books by this author – but in a way I’m glad I read it, just for the simple satisfaction of the outcome.

The usual disclaimer: as mentioned, I received this book via Netgalley for review.
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A challenge from NPR

I receive a newsletter from NPR, and today’s had a section titled: “NPR asked listeners to submit poems celebrating the teachers who impacted their lives.”


Well, well, well.

I enjoy the fact that they said “impacted” – because, yeah, my teachers impacted me all right. Perhaps not in the way NPR meant it. So THAT’s what “triggered” means. I spent an hour or so knocking off my submission (darn, if only it wasn’t too late!), and I don’t know what else to do with it, so …

Thanks for the idea, NPR! This was fun.


Did you even see me?
Did you ever pause
When you got to my name in your roll
And think “is she ok?”
I wasn’t.
Did you ever bother to wonder
Why I was absent so often?
(It’s not me – it’s you.)
There was no trouble at home
I wasn’t showing up with bruises
and downcast eyes
That wasn’t the issue
(Would you have helped if it had been?)
I didn’t know why I was different
It took decades to find out


You tsking at me because I didn’t raise my hand more
You laughing at me because I read my five minute oral report
in three minutes
because I just wanted to get back to my seat
You huffing and pouting because the one thing I liked
The Creative Learning Program
for “advanced students”
(which was actually completely pointless)
took a few of us out of your class one day a week
and you had to do extra work to help us make up the day
You accusing me of plagiarism with that poem I wrote
And correcting my spelling incorrectly
And making me afraid to stick my head up even that far
ever again
You failing, utterly, to do anything to help me
Every day
Every year
From the second grade on.
(I had a wonderful teacher in the second grade.
She was the last one.)

I know now I was an introvert.
Everything about school was the opposite of what I needed
or wanted
I had no idea why I balked
Every day
Every year
against going in
(My poor dear mother)
Stomach aches
I’m no doctor
(Nor do I play one on tv)
but I assume my anxiety manifested
in these physical symptoms
I knew missing classes meant making up the work
With little support
I knew
I still couldn’t make myself go in
So many days
(a third of one school year)


I never knew the school even had a guidance counselor
til I dropped out
THEN I had to see them.

Seriously – how did no one ever do anything?

At all?

I was still in all advanced placement classes
I still never got a grade below a B minus
I never flunked a test
I still scored well over 90% in the achievement tests
I still got into that damned useless CLP
I still got a National Merit Scholarship
(had no idea what it meant)
I still did damn well on my SAT’s
(Even if there was stuff on the math part
I’d never seen before in my life –
How did I completely escape trig?)
(And despite the fact I didn’t even know
what the SAT’s WERE until I was shunted into
a PSAT prep class)
This was all despite you
Not because of you

Then I went to art school.
I could easily have gone elsewhere.
I had no idea what my options really were
because – surprise – not a soul ever lifted a finger
to point me in any direction whatsoever.
But I hadn’t changed
Still an introvert, if better at it
And teachers were the same
The loud ones got the attention
Am I a good artist?
No one ever said either way
Was it worth pursuing an art career?
I haven’t picked up a pencil in months
if not years
Never mind a brush

I coulda had class
I coulda been a contender
I could’ve been somebody
instead of a biller for this stupid company
Which is what I am


With one single teacher
Lifting a finger
Showing a particle of care
Showing they noticed I existed
beyond the piece of paper I was handing in
or the extra work I was causing
Maybe I could have flourished
Become a great novelist
(Very likely not a great poet
I mean, look at this)
Made a splash in the art world
Become a historian
A librarian
Someone somewhere buried in books
Happily archiving or researching or compiling or collating
Or something

I read about great teachers
Teachers who took time
Teachers who noticed
Teachers who cared
Based on my own experience, though,
they’re mythical creatures
(perhaps cryptids)
Skunk ape
My teachers were more along the lines of
I never
had a single teacher
express the slightest sign
they gave a damn.
I’d remember.
It would stand out.

Every time I see one of those bumper stickers
“If you can read this, thank a teacher”
I want to ram the car
at full speed
I can read
(Sometimes fiction about great teachers)
Thanks to my mother.
She’s probably the only reason I didn’t open a vein at sixteen
I think I put her through a special hell
She took the brunt of the schools’ disapproval
And never told me
She had no notion of introversion
(She was one of eleven children –
She hated being alone)
She supported me no matter what
Which is how I know it’s supportive teachers
and not supportive people in general
which are the mythical beasts

Teachers did impact me
Like bullets
Like sledgehammers
Like golfball-sized hail
Like a bus
Like a wrecking ball

“Thank a teacher”
I’m nothing if not open to suggestion
Thanks for forcing me to find my own way
Not sure it made me a better
or stronger
But it taught me to …
… not trust anyone
… not rely on anyone
… not bother asking for help
… withdraw further
… do for myself
How’s that?
Thanks for … for the paucity
of information I actually wound up with
after all those years
I didn’t score Jeopardy auditions
Because of anything you ever did
(I doubt any of you taught me
the word “paucity”)
I have
without your help
yet because of you
learned what an autodidact is
Not what was meant?
Well, this one’s not sarcastic
Maybe that will be better
For making me appreciate my mother more
and more
Every day
Every year

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Finally 46

I’m at work today, unfortunately – that was a lack of forethought. But I had ABC, CNN, and PBS up on my computer, and very little got done between about 10:30 and 12:30. Sorry, not sorry.

(Gosh darn it, I did not tune in in time to see 45 give his speech.)

And here’s the result of my morning – finally, something I think I’ll WANT to remember:

Was it just PBS that had “YMCA” playing over Trump and co getting on Air Force One (FOR THE LAST TIME)? Because … that was surreal.

I mean …

Young man, there’s no need to feel down
I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground
I said, young man, ’cause you’re in a new town
There’s no need to be unhappy

Young man, there’s a place you can go
I said, young man, when you’re short on your dough
You can stay there, and I’m sure you will find
Many ways to have a good time

It’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A
It’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A

They have everything for young men to enjoy
You can hang out with all the boys

Young man, are you listening to me?
I said, young man, what do you want to be?
I said, young man, you can make real your dreams
But you got to know this one thing

No man does it all by himself
I said, young man, put your pride on the shelf
And just go there, to the Y.M.C.A
I’m sure they can help you today

They have everything for young men to enjoy
You can hang out with all the boys

You can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal
You can do what ever you feel

Young man, I was once in your shoes
I said, I was down and out with the blues
I felt no man cared if I were alive
I felt the whole world was so tight

That’s when someone came up to me
And said, young man, take a walk up the street
It’s a place there called the Y.M.C.A
They can start you back on your way

Y.M.C.A, it’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A

No man, young man, does it all by himself
Young man, young man, put your pride on the shelf …

Literally the last person I would think of listening to those words is … that person.

And then they played “Tiny Dancer”. Reginald, you need to sue. (And also – wut??)

I admit I was hoping they’d trip on the way up the steps to Air Force One (which I just tried to type as AF Once), which they didn’t – but they did stop halfway up, and I wonder why. Catching his breath? (See below…)

“My Way” makes a little more sense to play for this person. If nothing else, he sure did do it his way. Sadly. Shamefully. His way.

ABC – Rep James Clyburn referred to Trump as a cancer and a malignancy on this country

Just because there’s a new administration doesn’t mean the work is done – no: it means it has a chance of GETTING done

Joe Biden is not a young man. No question. But he just climbed 48 steps up to the entrance of the Capitol building – and he does not appear to be even slightly winded. I’m impressed.

Funny – I cry pretty easily, but sometimes there are solid reasons. Four years ago today I was crying because dear God what had the world come to. I wore all black, I remember. Today I keep choking up because I want so badly to hope for the best. And I’m so relieved. And when it all settles down, dammit, I like Joe. That’s not why I voted for him – I was furious with people who didn’t vote for Hillary because they “didn’t like her”. That doesn’t matter. If T**** (That’s how one of the late night comedians spells his name, like a curse word you can’t show on tv, and I hereby adopt it for the rest of time) had done good things, it wouldn’t matter so much if he behaved like a toddler. Can you do good things and behave like a toddler? I have no idea … Toddlers occasionally have their charm, even for me, an avowed disliker of children. So maybe. But still – it’s nice to like the Commander in Chief for the first time in years.

Gene Goodman, the Capitol cop who saved the lives of members of Congress and the House by leading a rabid mob in the opposite direction, escorted the Bidens and Kamala and her husband into the building, and escorted Kamala Harris to her seat. Bless him.

One of ABC’s reporters just talked about “Republican friends of mine” … God bless her for having the ability to say that. I can’t. There are some things that have to permanently affect how you perceive a person. I mean, I listened to an interview with Sister Helen Prejean, the nun known from Dead Man Walking, talking about the suffering of that first convicted murderer she provided spiritual solace for. She talked about how torturous it is to know the moment of your death, and be escorted to it. And all I could think, the only reaction that I hold in my head, was “yes, the young girl he raped and murdered must have felt much the same, though for a shorter period of time.” And Sr. Helen spoke of that convict asking for prayer and spiritual support, and, again, all I could think was “the girl he raped and murdered didn’t have that kind of solace.” T**** didn’t kill anyone with his own hands (as far as I know) (bone spurs), but he has caused death and pain and suffering and anguish. He has indeed been a malignancy. And anyone who voted for him contributed to that. Deliberately and with forethought. It’s much the same as knowing someone’s driven drunk. It’s indicative of … something. Personality; thoughtfulness; the word isn’t coming to me right now. But it is, no matter what, indicative. (ETA, in an esprit de l’escalier moment: Character is the word I wanted.)

Oh, Barack and Michelle Obama are just class on ice. God, they’re beautiful.

Bush 43’s reaction to T*‘s inauguration? I need to look that up. I have a feeling I will be delighted. And, again, I hereby retract and apologize for most if not all of the mockery I sent his way in his day. Now I know what the worst looks like, and he was not it.

In a comment unconnected to the prior, but to his appearance onscreen – – Wow, when’s the last time I saw Dan Quayle?!

Hunter Biden enters; one of the proudest moments of the Election cycle was when someone in one of my FB groups asked for suggestions for a sign to carry at a (socially distanced and masked) rally for Biden. Right around then, Hunter Biden was being viciously attacked on a couple of fronts. It was ugly. And messages from Joe to Hunter in rehab were leaked, in which he said all the right things, and which were full of love and support and a complete lack of giving a damn about what it “looked like”. (Compare and contrast to T****’s relationships with his sons, the elder ones especially.) And I suggested “Joe Biden is a great dad” – mostly kidding. Next thing I knew, the original poster put up a picture of herself with the handmade sign saying “Joe Biden is a great dad”. I love that. I kept it.

George Stephanopolous just commented on all the masks being a sign of the times. Also a sign of the times is that I didn’t mark it. There have been plenty of times I’ve looked around me at the gas station or in one of the two times I’ve gone to the grocery store, and felt knocked out of myself by the fact that a year ago this would have been unthinkable and now it’s normal and necessary.

“Many members of Congress wearing body armor” … I have to say, Biden’s coat looked like it was hanging a little strangely, with some lines across his back. I hope he’s got Kevlar on.

No, seriously, I love Obama. Just seeing him – either of them, actually – makes me happy.

Aw, dammit, karma just got me, and Kamala had a little stumble coming down steps.

Kamala Devi Harris’s Secret Service code name is Pioneer. Doug Emhoff got to help choose what he’s going to be called: Second Gentleman. The first. Weird, I couldn’t pick Mike Pence’s wife out of a lineup.

It’s snowing, I think.

This feels like it’s the way it should be. An elder statesman about to take the office, and a young, feisty, fierce black woman being sworn in as VP. It’s comforting and safe-feeling and … good. This is good. Would I have chosen Joe Biden. Nope. Will he do a good job? I think so. We’ll be ok. In a way, I’m sort of glad he’s the oldest president to be inaugurated. We need experience and empathy and all that sort of thing right now, and Joe’s got it all in spades.

Sergeant at Arms – “acting”, because the previous one was relieved of duty after the insurrection. Two weeks ago, for the love of God. The unsung heroes of today are the staff who worked their ever-loving tails off to restore the building and make it safe and presentable.

It’s not fair that we can’t kick T****’s claims of having record numbers at his inauguration to the curb. It’s not bloody fair.

Aw, I kind of hoped Amy Klobuchar (sp) was going to quote the song (not written by Cole Porter, as I thought, but Dorothy Fields) – that we were going to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and start all over again.

Reagan’s description of the Inauguration: “commonplace and miraculous”.

I so hope my mother’s watching.

With malice toward none and charity for all …

Be with us, holy mystery of love, as we dream together.

Shut up, Lady Gaga looks spectacular.

Firefighter Andrea Fall signed the Pledge of Allegiance. Beautiful.

“My whole soul is in it.”

I believe it.

I will never, ever, EVER understand how people who call themselves Christians can have supported or voted for T****. How? I have a bumper sticker on my computer at home that says “give me a break – like Jesus would ever own a gun or vote Republican”. I mean, think about it. Whatever religion you follow, if any, the historical man Jesus would not have espoused anything that T**** ever stood for.

The sun just came out as he was speaking of unity, and bathed him in light. Thanks for the added symbolism, Lord.

12:06 – ABC lost the feed. The screen went blue – for maybe two seconds, long enough for me to be really, really scared. Because, deep down, I never expected to reach this moment.

Lead not by the example of our power but by the power of our example. That’s good. Someone referred to Biden’s speech as “workmanlike” – and that’s about right. It was solid. It was appropriately uplifting without being terribly poetic. It wasn’t something that would live in history in ordinary circumstances other than being his inaugural speech – but given the way things are right now his first words are the beginning of myth and legend. Solid is good in a foundation.

I feel pretty good right now.

Hamilton reference by the poet laureate! 22 year old Amanda Gorman. “The Hill We Climb”. What a bright shining soul. I did not want to be won over by her – and I am now her fangirl. (ETA: my original phrasing here was remarkably dumb, and I regret it.)

I’m not going to relax for a long time – I have been braced all day to see a little red dot appear on someone’s chest, and I think I will be for a while. But I feel better.

P.S. @ 1:30 PM – Good heavens. Minutemen.

Well, we’re off.

(ETA: One of the reporters just talked about the National Guard out on the streets of DC (the only people out there, the reporters and the Guard), and praised them for doing their duty which can be pretty boring. Let’s all hope it stays boring, huh?)

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Part of the problem

Am I? Part of the problem, I mean? I kind of am, I guess. See, I met a Trump voter in the wild today. It didn’t go too well.

See, for almost as long as I’ve been online (which is almost as long as the internet has been around, because I’m old) (ish), I’ve been part of a group that discusses the Lord Peter Wimsey novels. The group used to live on Yahoo, but then had to migrate to Io or whatever they are, and it’s had its ups and downs. I’ve never gotten around to participating much, having not much of value to contribute to the discussions, but I’ve enjoyed dipping into the conversations about the books.

But then over the weekend apparently the discussion led to observations about how “We all tend to accept whatever is going on around us as somehow ‘normal'”, in the context of not really looking past the trains running on time in Nazi Germany. Another person – one whose comments I’ve found abrasive and off-putting – finally said something I agreed with: “And unfortunately it continues today in American society with MAGA.” And he got jumped on for making a political comment.

As I mentioned, I don’t much like this person, but there are some buttons which, when pushed, I can’t ignore, and I made my first comment in months to support him. It did not go well, and I decided that now was a good time to unsubscribe from the group. I mean, I get it. Sort of. I get wanting to have one place on the internet that’s free of political commentary of any kind. But at a certain point the politics become a big, huge, neon pink, sequin-tutued elephant pirouetting in the corner of the room, and not addressing it just seems … dumb. I didn’t like the way the situation was handled; I have had nothing to contribute in a long time; and let’s face it – this is the eleventy-first time the books have been discussed. The well isn’t dry, but the bucket is getting a little old. (That is probably my worst metaphor ever, and I’m leaving it.) (I did NOT flounce. I just left.)

A while later, I got an email from the technical owner of the group. It was a very nice email; actually, it’s sort of the sort of email you secretly hope to get when you quit something online – she said something nice about the small amount I did contribute once upon a time, and invited me back.

But then she said this.

“Just to be clear: I voted for Trump twice, once against Hilary, and once against Biden, but would have greatly preferred to be able to vote for a better candidate. I still think that Trump was far better for the country than Hilary would have been, but I recognize that many, many people disagree with me on that. As they should. However, I am not a racist, not a sexist, not a bigot, and I think long and hard about my positions. Vast swathes of my husband’s family were killed or left stateless by the evil of the German fascists and the Russian anti-semites. So, painting all “MAGA” supporters as evil is bound to rub me the wrong way.”

Now, maybe I should have opened a dialogue with this person. I’ve been lucky; I’ve been sworn at (by my cousin’s husband), and gotten blindly pro-Trump messages from a few people, but it’s been rare. I generally tend to hang out in groups which are avowedly anti-Trump, because life is short and I know nothing I say is going to change any rabid MAGA fool’s mind. So, having this person in front of me, so to speak, with the common factor of the Lord Peter books between us, maybe I should have looked for answers to the questions I’ve had for over four years: WHY? HOW? I understand not agreeing with someone’s policies. I wouldn’t have chosen Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate in 2016, nor Joe Biden in 2020, but once they became the only viable alternatives to Trump, my votes for them were locked in. Granted, I would have voted for Gef the Talking Mongoose if he had been the best alternative. Because Trump is not a good human being. But – okay. Let’s say I … Nope. Nope nope nope. I was going to bring up the hypothetical that I ever voted … the other way … and I can’t even write it. Because we knew what he was in November of 2016. He’d shown his colors, in HD. And when the 2020 election finally rolled around, it was even clearer. He sold off Federally reserved land to developers. He worked very hard to initiate drilling for oil in hitherto pristine wildlife preserves in Alaska. He rolled back regulations to make sure our air, water, and land is less safe. He tried to build his ridiculous wall, and largely failed. If there has been a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic, rapacious, or otherwise inhumane move to make, he has, with clockwork predictability, made it. If he has had the choice of saying something civil and adult, he has – again, very reliably and predictably – chosen instead to be rude, crude, childish, racist, homophobic, xenophobic … whatever he could squeeze in. Every time. Every. Time. All the way up to now, when he is petulantly refusing to end his shameful term with any kind of grace, but instead is sulking, raging at the few people he still has around him, and ignoring every single tradition of the orderly transfer of power. No concession call. No congratulations. No attendance at his successor’s Inauguration – for the first time in 150 years. Instead, he wants a red carpet and a full military send off (careful of those bone spurs getting on Air Force One for the last time, sir!) hours before Biden is sworn in, so he doesn’t even have to watch it. Then he’s on his way down to Florida, where he can take out his pique tearing out whatever renovations Melania has made which he doesn’t like.

So … while I had someone apparently clever enough to appreciate the Lord Peter books, whose husband’s family was decimated by fascists, who nevertheless voted for … that creature – that fascist creature – maybe I should have tried to – what’s the awful corporate phrase? Open a dialogue? I mean, if we don’t start talking to each other in some kind of intelligent fashion, if no one starts building bridges and all those other metaphors, et cetera et cetera…

Nah. It’s too soon. (See also: this article.).

I cannot be a part of any community run by someone who voted for Trump not only once, which could have been excused by ignorance, but a second time, in the midst of a pandemic he has done nothing to alleviate and after four years of his constant spewed hatred, misogyny, and xenophobia. I am frankly shocked that anyone who can profess a love for a character as intelligent and empathetic as Lord Peter Wimsey could even consider voting for a hate-filled, sociopathic piece of shit like the creature who is about to finally ooze his way out of an office he did his damnedest to destroy – literally, as of January 6.

Seriously – you voted for someone who talked about grabbing women’s pussies and mocked a disabled journalist? TWICE?

And, for the record, yes: if you support a racist, that does, in fact, make you racist. Sorry.

Oh well. I’ll try to do better next time.

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Living history

I’ve been thinking a lot of putting my hands on my keyboard, since the election, since Christmas, since – God knows – January 6, but … well, there are a lot of reasons I haven’t. Everything has moved very fast. Everything – except for the election, has been pretty awful, and obviously the election hasn’t exactly brought unalloyed joy.

It’s January 16 a little before 2:00 EST. Joe Biden is giving a speech about the science team he has put into place, a speech that I doubt all that many people are watching right now. It’s not a huge speech, it’s not about a major issue or event as such, it’s about the team he’s putting into place to handle this thing some people call “science”. And in speaking of the possibilities of what scientific exploration can bring – like 3D printing organs – he said “Imagine. Imagine.” And I started to cry, out of nowhere, because how long has it been since there’s been an inspirational speech coming from a high level politician? How long has it been since someone with the right to call himself President said anything like “Imagine” without meaning to inspire his listeners to imagine something … good?

His voice is gentle, steady, sincere. And he keeps saying these things to make me cry. “If any of your children are listening, I want them to know – you can do anything!” Has the current, outgoing president ever, ever said anything like that?

It’s not groundbreaking. It’s not writing or eloquence that will go down in history. But it’s like sweet cold water when you’re dying of thirst.

Discovery and hope. Gratitude and humor. I don’t know what to do with that anymore. Won’t it be nice to get used to this sort of thing again?

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Happy Hobbit Day!

In honor of the Bagginses birthday, and since I haven’t written anything else lately, here is an oldie but (in my mind at least) a goodie. Hope you enjoy it, and don’t forget to raise a glass to the Hobbits!

He Didn’t Mean To Adventure
– The story of The Hobbit, singable to the tune of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (try it!) (spoilers…)

Bilbo is respectable in Bag End Under Hill
Till “Gandalf tea Wednesday” and a rune scratched on the door.
Fili Kili Ori Óin, Dori Nori Bombur Glóin
Bifur, Dwalin, Bofur, Balin – are there any more?!
Yes: Thorin especially; Gandalf makes fourteen
An Unexpected Party, and a burglar with no choice.
Green Dragon, Bywater, Trolls consider slaughter:
Bert, Tom, and William – Gandalf throws his voice.

Bilbo: I didn’t mean to adventure
Minding my own business,
Then all things went amiss
I didn’t mean to adventure
Taken from my doorstep
Now with Gandalf I schlep

Heading on to Rivendell, Elrond’s House where elves yet dwell
Moon runes, Elf tunes, but it’s not long before:
Thunderstorms, giants swarm, misery is uniform
Captured by the Goblins, but Gandalf comes through once more
Goblin King, a missing Ring(!), Bilbo makes good use of Sting
A game of Riddles in the Dark, Gollum’s bite’s worse than his bark
Balin is sharp-sighted, the party’s reunited,
Bilbo appears, Dwarves cheer, Gandalf is delighted.

Bilbo: I didn’t mean to adventure
Wish that singing was my kettle
Not Elves in fine fettle
I didn’t mean to adventure
Almost served like mutton
Then lost all my buttons

From the frying pan of Goblin fray to Wargs and wolves, ya harri hey
An eye-opener and no mistake, racket keeps Eagles awake
A night spent in an eyrie, Beorn’s house is more cheery
Ponies serve up honey-cake, with dogs and rams – no chops or steak
Beorn gives good advice (maybe should’ve told ’em twice)
Black squirrels and butterflies, cobwebs and insect eyes
White hart frustrates, Bombur is a dead weight
Vanishing feasts agonize, all lose their heads (no real surprise)

Bilbo: I didn’t mean to adventure
I don’t think I’m an asset –
Are we nearly there yet?
I didn’t mean to adventure
The Road goes ever on
That’s why I’m woebegone

Bilbo’s nearly caught in webs; courage peaks as daylight ebbs
Attercop, Attercop, monster spiders nearly get the drop
Thorin caught by Woodelves, the rest made prisoners themselves –
Butler and guard drink till they drop; barrels float, Bilbo atop
Bilbo starts to cough and sneeze; Fili says No apples, please!
Desolation of the Dragon, now it’s all up to Burglar Baggins!

Bilbo: I didn’t mean to adventure
Hope I come in useful
Not look too much a fool
I didn’t mean to adventure
Once I blew smoke-rings
Now I’ve got this joke Ring

Bilbo ‘thags you very buch’, old black snail-cracking thrush
Smaug rises in fire, off to Laketown venting ire
But now the dragon’s Not At Home, I’ll just take that Arkenstone
Goblets they found there for themselves, and harps of gold where once they delved
Mithril vest, did Smaug go west? Lake Town is put to the test
Grim-voiced Bard, black arrow last, a little bird speaks as Smaug flies past
Smaug goes down in clouds of steam – Bard should be king, the Dale folk deem
Dalemen and Elf array marching northward straightaway

Bilbo: I didn’t mean to adventure
I miss my good old arm-chair
Once back I won’t leave there
I didn’t mean to adventure
Don’t care how much gold’s strewn
Can I be going home soon?

Old Roäc, son of Carc, reports Bard’s arrow hit its mark –
That’s the good news; bad remains – Thorin sends him off to Dain
Dueling ballads, Elves and Dwarves – Thorin’ll sit on gold and starve
The Clouds Burst, Bilbo’s cursed, after Dain comes the worst –
Goblins led by Azog’s son – wolves and Wargs behind them run
Disagreements disappear – so does Bilbo, thinking clear
Goblins offer no reprieve, then Thorin turns the tide at eve
And Bilbo sees a welcome sight – Eagles are coming! To join the fight

Bilbo: I didn’t mean to adventure
I’ve a helm and hard skull
Of adventure chock-full
I didn’t mean to adventure
Didn’t expect warfare
Eagles, Dwarves, Wargs, Elves, bear

Bilbo comes to once more – Thorin’s passing grieves him sore
And Fili and Kili, body and shield, defending Thorin died before
Under the Mountain Dain’s now King, Even dragons have their ending
Chest of silver, chest of gold, Yule-tide with Gandalf in Beorn’s hold
Bilbo’s Took blood grows more tired the closer he comes to the Shire
Rivendell – the first of May, and Elves’ lullabyes at break of day
Auction ended, SB’s offended, reputation gone and won’t be mended
Thus ends the tale, how beyond all ken, Bilbo journeyed There and Back Again.

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Bleaker House – Nell Stevens

You’ve heard, I’m sure, of the distinction between “street smarts” and “book smarts”, which presupposes that someone who reads a lot or is good at math or whatever has absolutely zero common sense. Aside from the fact that it all depends on what books you’re reading – and sidestepping a lengthy side discussion about why a certain brand of heartland Republicans seem to think education is bad … this book kind of exemplifies this. Nell Stevens is obviously very book smart – but the fact that she actually survived this project she describes surprises me deeply.

Now, I’ve often thought that if I could only have a substantial chunk of time to myself, with no mundane work-sleep schedule to adhere to (meaning enough money to live for a few weeks or months or whatever without working), I could absolutely finish my book. (The times I’ve been unemployed don’t count, because between the time needed for job-hunting and the substantial stress of being unemployed undid the benefits of having free time.) (That’s my story, anyway.) It worked for another Nell, after all – Nelle Harper Lee, that is; her friends gave her an amazing gift of time, and I think it could be said she used it well. So it’s not completely ridiculous that Nell Stevens decided that what she needed in order to write her novel was three months, completely alone, on an island in the Falklands, about as close as you can get to absolutely zero distractions.

Except it is completely ridiculous.

She plans it out meticulously. She can only bring so much baggage with her, so she organizes reading matter, clothing – and food, because this island she is going to is uninhabited for most of the year – like the time of year she will be going (winter, inexplicably) – and the only food she will have is what she brings with her. And here’s where her lack of “street smarts” becomes dismayingly obvious. “It works out that I will eat 1,085 calories per day”, she says.

Per, it’s recommended that a woman aged 19-30 take in 2000 calories if sedentary, 2000-2200 if moderately active, and 2400 if active. And Ms. Stevens is very active during her time on this island, walking what must be miles per day. I didn’t make note of how much weight she discovered she had lost when she got home after the adventure – I mean, on Survivor they tend to lose about 10% of their starting weight, and that’s only 40 days, with some of those days being much more sedentary than others – but after only a few days even she recognizes that starvation does not lead to clear thought, and when higher brain functions are impaired it’s hard to write a novel.

So it’s not surprising that at the end of the quarter she does not have a novel completed. What she ends up with is Bleaker House, a sort of memoir/travelogue/picaresque story of her isolation and hunger, and how she handled it. And seagulls. All this is intercut with sketches from the novel-that-never-was, which seem to be well-written and have some life to them … but I can see how it died on the vine.

In the Goodreads summary words like “clever” and “deft humour” and “whimsical” are used to describe the book. Maybe I was in a bad mood when I read it, but I didn’t think the story of an extremely unwise and ultimately unproductive trip (though it resulted in this memoir, it did not inspire the author to produce 2,500 words of a novel per day) which … I’m sorry, it was almost criminally stupid. Whimsical is only a good thing if it doesn’t almost kill you.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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Devolution – Max Brooks

I wanted to like this. I expected to like this. I pre-ordered it, after all, when Audible brought it to my attention, and listened to it soon after buying – I almost never do that.

(Beware of some spoilers later on.)

That was mainly because I thought World War Z was something extraordinary. It was also because the book description listed Nathan Fillion and Mira Furlan among the full cast of narrators, and that was an automatic buy for me. I was also looking forward to Steven Weber and Kate Mulgrew, and Kai Ryssdal and Terry Gross playing themselves – but the chance to spend more time with Mal Reynolds and Delenn? Priceless.

The third – distant third – reason was that I survived the Astonishing Legends series on the Patterson Gimlin film: six podcast episodes totalling fifteen hours and fifteen minutes. I’ve never been terribly interested in Bigfoot stories, but after that much conditioning it was almost automatic to click on a book about Bigfoot.

But I really did not like this. I disliked it enough that I returned it to Audible, which isn’t something I do often. It went beyond being a disappointment to, by the end, being something I actively hated.

It all started with, somewhat ironically, the narrator. Those names I listed above, among my reasons for wanting this? They had very little to do (though Nathan Fillion had I think the second biggest role; it was good to hear his ruggedly handsome voice, but he didn’t have a chance to show much personality). But the narrator voicing Kate, the author of the journals the whole thing hinged on, was Judy Greer, and her voice made me want to claw my ears off. It was the voice of an irritating teenaged girl, stopping just short of upspeak, a performance better suited to a quirky YA romance than the account of the gory Rainier Sasquatch Massacre. It got a little better when things started happening, but it was never a pleasant voice to listen to.

Even Terry Gross and Kai sounded more stilted than I expected. Between NPR and his podcast, I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of Kai Ryssdal (hence being on a first name basis with him), and this didn’t sound like him.

The fact that the main character herself was pretty unlikable didn’t help. Her situation should have evoked sympathy, but … sorry, no. If nothing else, she should have gotten her lazy SOB of a husband off his couch to help her bloody move. Any person, man or woman, who is physically capable of lifting anything and who lets someone else do all the work is a worthless piece of flesh, and I kind of hated her for going with that flow. She seemed afraid of him, afraid to poke the bear … but in this story he wasn’t a bear. Her trepidation around him made me expect him to have a hair-trigger temper, to explode into violence, whether verbal or physical – and that never, ever happened. He struck me as a kind of a surfer dude. Then, his turnaround was too abrupt. It made little sense. Maybe a POV from him would have been useful – don’t know. I don’t think I cared enough in the end. Her abrupt tumble back into love with him was a little hard to swallow, as well. Basically, both those characters – hell, all of the characters – were less than believable.

The plotting was the other main issue I had with the book, aside from the insurmountable narrator. I mean, the subtitle of the thing is “A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre” (and it’s by the man who wrote WWZ), so you know it’s not going to end up with Kate and company and a bunch of Bigfoots toasting marshmallows around a campfire. There will not be peaceful coexistence. The volcano eruption that sparked and exacerbated the whole thing was a kind of a surprise, but barely affected Greenloop directly, apart from an ash fall – it was purely a plot device. When the Massacre does finally come along in the story, it’s compelling and violent and horrifying and fast-paced … and at some point in the middle I remembered that this was supposed to be Kate’s later journalling about the fight. And the illusion bubble completely popped. The language was that of a novel writer, not of someone trying to put into words something incredibly horrible that had just happened to her. It was too immediate – and too coherently descriptive. If it had been presented as a transcript of an audio diary, then maybe it would have worked – but to sit down with pen and paper and actually write this? First of all, when?? This was a point against several of the entries – she’ll talk about how busy she is trying to do a hundred things, yet she takes hours out of her days to write in her journal? It would be hours – I’ve done it; I know.

Why did some of the community members try to cover up what was going on? What was the deal with the psychotic breaks of the two community leaders? What was the deal with the benevolent mama ‘squatch referenced in the guided meditation session in the beginning – was that supposed to be anthropomorphism? Or a depiction of what the creatures would actually be like if approached when not starving and desperate?

Why did Mostar insist that the preparations she and the Hollands start remain totally secret? It made no sense that here they were in a situation that was at best very bad, and at worst deadly; it made no sense that someone (Mostar?) didn’t just step up and say “OK, look. Whatever you think about the noises in the forest and animals and whatever, the deal is that the bridge is out, we’re cut off, and we’re pretty far out in the boonies. It will take time for people to get to us. It might snow soon. Right here, right now, bring out all the food you’ve got – all of it, because if the group finds out you’re holding back there will be consequences. We will pool it in the community building, and work out rationing. Pick all the apples from those trees – stop feeding the damn deer, please, and maybe shoot one of them. Go into the forest (as long as it’s safe) and look for edibles. And every single garage should have a garden going by tomorrow.” Why did the one woman keep back potatoes just to cook? Why did those people keep feeding deer when any moron should have been able to realize food was going to become scarce (given the chance)?

There’s a barely legible review on Audible which makes (I think) a good point: basically, that Greenloop had it coming. It’s a nice idea, bringing together a tiny community, a microcommunity, to live not just a carbon neutral lifestyle, but carbon negative. But these were, every one, people who had no clue whatsoever about living where they were. They were city folk, who couldn’t choose an edible mushroom from a piece of bark, who could never light a fire without a lighter, who expect to keep living in the wilderness as they did in San Francisco (or wherever). (Mostar being always an exception to all of this.) They none of them (including Mostar) had any real supply of non-perishable food, depending on weekly deliveries by drones and self-driven cars. But – what about mundane bad weather? What about winter? You can’t tell me that in the remote spot they chose for this tiny village that deliveries would be able to continue regularly. And it comes out in the course of the story that none of them – not one – has so much as a hammer. I mean, I’m the least handy person I can name, and I have a hammer. (Somewhere.) Somewhere I even have a Swiss army knife with a saw blade. And if I knew I was going to be moving out into the wilderness, with only five other homes within miles, only one access road, and beyond them only forest (and a volcano), I like to think I’d have the sense to at least have a book about survival skills. And a hammer.

AND it was pretty annoying that not a soul in the group knew even the basics of how all the smart home technology worked. Nothing. Again, these people depend on people from the outside to take care of them. I expected there to be something about the smart tech that would contribute to the massacre, but I was wrong. I kind of wish it had happened. It felt just a little like a Chekhovian gun that never went off.

And I just don’t understand the criteria for the choice of the six people or couples (plus one kid NAMED PALOMINO) –


– to inhabit this teeny tiny town. They are none of them the sort of person you’d see on Survivor, for certain; their idea of deprivation is not getting the right kind of quinoa. They are not ready for a two-day blackout, much less a volcanic eruption, much less an invasion by Bigfoots. (After many hours of the  Astonishing Legends podcast, trust me: the plural is Bigfoots.)

All in all, there was almost no tension in the story. I mean, again, it’s in the title: massacre. The main issue in question is who’s going to die in what order. I mean, between that subtitle and the chapter openers and the buildup it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen and even when. There’s just no doubt. If Brooks had pulled out some kind of twist at the end – like “no, as it turns out, the creatures weren’t going to eat anybody and that first guy was killed because he tried to hurt one of the young and no, really, they didn’t eat them they were looking for help and, poor things, Kate lied or exaggerated or was mentally ill, look here’s someone else’s journal telling what really happened, turns out they all integrated together and are now living in the wilderness in harmony”… Or something – if anything remotely like that had happened, I would have been so happy. But it didn’t. There was a vaguely surprising revelation at the end – but that almost felt like a cheat, not a proper conclusion to the book.

I hated very nearly everything about this.

Except for Nathan Fillion and Mira Furlan.

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