Summer is a great time for reading, although I must admit that the heatwave that hit the UK last month made the prospect of moving more than a few inches at a time deeply unpleasant, so hey, more time to read! Or fall asleep because it’s too damn hot. Either option is good.
Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh
Today’s reading in the sun choice. pic.twitter.com/QYr3L2IvTs
— Kayleigh Donaldson (@Ceilidhann) July 10, 2022
Over the past couple of years, Ottessa Moshfegh has become one of the most talked-about writers in literary fiction. Her novels of disaffected women sinking into oblivion have become unexpectedly popular on TikTok, the new embodiment of ‘no plot, just vibes.’ I did not expect to warm to her work from her as much as I did. Maybe it’s pandemic brain but I found myself really taken in by stories of gross women who just want to sink into nothingness.
Her latest novel, Lapvona, is something of a change of direction. A Medieval story with a teenage boy protagonist and a macabre focus on political corruption, it’s proven to be divisive among critics. Marek is a disabled and abused young man in the fiefdom of Lapvona. His only pleasure from him in life is suckling at the dry breasts of Ina, the town’s former wet-nurse. After ‘accidentally’ killing the only son of the town’s deviant governor, Villiam, Marek unexpectedly finds himself elevated to the role of his new child, with all the wealth and lack of responsibility that he entails.
Lapvona is grotesque. Even by the standards of Moshfegh’s prior work from her, which has never shied away from the rawness of our bodily functions, it’s extremely nasty, and made all the more impactful by the directness of her prose from her. The candor that Moshfegh writes with often feels nihilistic but I’m not sure that’s what she’s going for. I’ve seen some call Lapvona a satire, which is understandable. A lot of the book is about a corrupt leader, his equally crooked religious advisor, and how the oppressed masses are brainwashed into accepting such inequality. But satire still doesn’t seem like the correct categorization for Moshfegh’s particular brand of bluntness. She’s not interested in offering succinct commentary on the situations she presents. There’s no moralizing here. She’s more intrigued by the ease with which we allow ourselves to slowly and passively accept the absolute worst of consequences. It’s not even nihilism so much as it’s exhaustion. This is the way things are and that’s that.
fight night by Miriam Toews
Up next. pic.twitter.com/cfvJZY6cY4
— Kayleigh Donaldson (@Ceilidhann) July 1, 2022
Miriam Toews’ novels are variations on a single theme, repeated explorations of her own life and its tragedies. Toews grew up in a Mennonite community in Manitoba before becoming a writer. Both her father and sister de ella died by suicide, and her work de ella frequently references both of these events, most notably her stunning 2014 award winning book All My Puny Sorrows. Her latest book fight night carries on many of these ideas, albeit told in a coming-of-age story that celebrates the strength of a women-led family.
Swiv is nine years old and living with her actress mother, currently pregnant with her sibling, and aging grandmother. While her mother de ella works, Swiv spends her time with de ella grandma learning eclectic life lessons and preparing for the arrival of the baby she has already named Gord.
The set-up of fight night sounds kind of insufferable. We’ve all seen cheesy movies about cross-generational shenanigans where lessons are learned and trite platitudes are shared. This isn’t that. Swiv’s precociousness is not an adorable trait to be mined for sassy one-liners. It’s a side-effect of being forced to grow up so quickly as she takes on a carer role to her grandmother and wonders where her absentee father de ella has gone. There’s a poetic knowingness to Swiv’s narrative that could have felt cloying in someone else’s hands, but Toews is superb at walking the nimblest of routes with tonal shifts (her work de ella, even at its darkest, is frequently imbued with genuine jokes.) binds fight night together is its loving portrayal of three generations and how age defines the ways they cope with the same problems. It’s not my favorite Toews novel but even her minor efforts are wholeheartedly worth your time.
Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence by Ken Auletta
I found this very plodding in places and a touch too eager to offer a digestible explanation for Weinstein’s personality defects but the latter half, focused on his fall and trial, is extremely interesting. Still, it’s not definitive in the way it seeks to be. pic.twitter.com/kif85xxKq3
— Kayleigh Donaldson (@Ceilidhann) July 19, 2022
In 2003, new yorker writer Ken Auletta profiled Harvey Weinstein, then at the height of his power as a mega-producer with Miramax. Auletta heard from several reliable sources that Weinstein, known as the bulldog of Hollywood, attacked women, but since he couldn’t find anyone willing to go on the record, the story went unreported. 14 years later, Weinstein was exposed in two major reports as a serial rapist. Weinstein is now in prison, his reputation in tatters, so for Auletta, it’s a perfect time to examine the man, the myth, and the industry that protected him for decades.
Weinstein was always a celebrity whose people were desperate to figure out. He features prominently in years’ worth of interviews, profiles, and coverage of the film world from the 1980s onward. You ca n’t read anything about the indie boom of the ’90s without seeing his name pop up numerous times. He was never someone who people liked. Indeed, he was always known as being a boorish dick who treated people badly and did anything to get his own way. Yet his image of him as a worthy and important power broker went untarnished for far too long. How do you even begin to find answers about someone so cloaked in questions?
For Auletta, there’s a struggle to create a fully layered portrait of Weinstein without descending into trite desires to find direct reasons for why he became such a monstrous bully. He’s keen to draw lines between his aggression from him and the belittling he has faced at the hands of his mother from him. Such pop psychology struggles with Weinstein’s brother, who was raised in identical circumstances but didn’t turn into a serial rapist. Details of his early years of him are ploddingly written, albeit with meticulous research, and Auletta does not seem to have much interest in the film industry of the time, which is kind of crucial for explaining him Weinstein’s power.
Where the book succeeds is in its coverage of Weinstein leading up to and after the #metoo movement took hold. He prepares for trial but seems endlessly convinced that the world is still out to get him for things he did not do. His efforts of him to kill the stories at The New Yorker and New York Times reveal a petulant brat losing his grip on both power and reality. The trial, wherein he is found guilty of rape, makes for some of the book’s toughest reading. As Auletta soon realizes, there’s no real point in trying to ‘figure out’ a sociopath, not when they’re so smothered by their own delusions and ego.
switch by AS King
Really intrigued by this. pic.twitter.com/u8TjlQOReQ
— Kayleigh Donaldson (@Ceilidhann) July 6, 2022
If you keep up with modern young adult fiction in any way then you’ll be familiar with the name AS King. A two-time Printz Award winner, King is easily one of the most acclaimed writers in the category. No two books by her are the same. Her range of her, both thematically and stylistically, is stunning. Her most recent YA title of her, 2021’s switchsignals another shift in direction, an esoteric one that feels inspired by Vonnegut and surrealism.
Time has stopped. The world is forever stuck on the same day, making the now-lost passing of the hours with a website called N3WCLOCK.com. Tru Beck, an isolated teenager in Pennsylvania, is struggling with her parents’ marital strife and the trauma left behind by an abusive sibling. In her house, there is a switch, which her dad continually builds larger and larger boxes around.
The mystery of said switch is besides the point with this novel. For King, the entire setup is an abstract to explore the characters’ struggles with stagnation in various forms. This is the kind of YA book where people talk about philosophical ideas of our entire existence, which you’ll either find fascinating or exhausting. The focus is specifically on Tru but King’s details about how the world copes with this disaster offer welcome fleshing out of her concept (of course ‘new time’ would be something bought and sold for billions!) The end of time, so to speak, is King’s canvas to study the curious yet familiar ways we react to catastrophe, so it proved to be a fitting novel to release smack bang in the middle of a damn pandemic.
Goodreads seems pretty down on switch but I dug its allegorical curiosity, and it only further strengthened AS King’s status as one of the greats in YA. If you haven’t read her work from her, check it out now.
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