Monday, January 28, 2008

Book 2 – Blood Is the New Black

By Valerie Stivers

Fashion is a bloodsucking business. Literally.

When you have this as a tagline, either you totally want to find out more, or you don’t. Like when you’re nursing a hangover and you somehow managed to haul your ass over to the new releases section of the nearest video store, and you’re dumbly gazing at the catchy cover, well, you just need to know whether it can deliver the mindless yet engaging entertainment you wish to occupy your mind with for the next few hours. And Blood Is the New Black is just that, um, except it’s in book form.

So you've got the heroine, Kate McGraw, who, you know, is plucky and independently minded, not a fashion slave at all, because she's got her own retro-style going and she wants to be a doctor or lawyer one day. Somehow, her aunt pulls strings and she ends up working as an intern at Tasty magazine. Like any fresh young upstart, Kate is instantly disliked by her immediate boss, the uber-bitchy Lexa, and catches the eye of the cute in-house photographer, James. However, she also falls under the spell of the ethereally graceful and mysterious editor-in-chief, Lillian, and gets herself embroiled in the shocking “fashion murders”, where the victims are inexplicably drained of their blood, and found near photo shoots and parties whenever her freakishly pale co-workers are around.

As Olman already pointed out in his review last year, the manifestation of the vampire myth in the modern, fashion world is fantastic. It cleverly integrates all the vampire clich├ęs, updates some of them and wittily critiques high fashion. And I must say, I agree with this statement. Here are some good quotes that perfectly illustrates why there are so many fashion victims...

“I learned that vampires are always seeking others who can join their ranks. They have a pathological need for followers. That’s why they’re in fashion. But very few humans can make the transformation.“

“… Now that she’s marked you, you’re like a beacon. Our kind can sense you. And with each bite, your ability to evade attack lessens. Most blood donors end up it in the end. You’ll see them shopping in Nolita, or at the tents in Bryant Park during Fashion Week, just waiting to be picked off.”

Now, I’m not exactly on the cutting edge of fashion, but I’m a woman and like most women, I loooooove clothes. So unlike Olman, I enjoyed the noisy-chatty and at times, very clever-nasty, female-driven dialogue and the detailed references to what the various characters were wearing. When you have lines like:

“When Reese leaves, the silence in our closet-slash-office is thicker than Pringle cashmere.”

“My aunt walks into the kitchen wrapped in a fuchsia silk robe with a contrast-band of brilliant blue around the waist and blue bias-tape trim.”

“Let me see it,” she says, taking my wrist and examining the tacky puncture wounds. “This is nothing! This is just a sip. You’ll want to shop a little bit more than usual, but that’s it. And you’ll look good. Anemia is chic!”

It’s like Sex & The City meets The Devil Wears Prada meets Buffy! What more can a girl ask for?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Book 1 – The Land of Laughs

By Jonathan Carroll

The Land of Laughs had been on my list forever, back in the day when I was intrigued by fantasy-realism (like Peter S. Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place or Jack Finney’s Time and Again) and when I saw it at a used bookstore in Berkeley, I went ‘what the heck’.

The novel begins quite conventionally (hence realistically) with Thomas Abbey, who lives a ho-hum existence as a teacher at an all-boy’s school somewhere in New England. His one true passion is the work of Marshall France, a mysterious and reclusive writer of fantastic children’s books, who died at 44. Although well-known, no biography exists of France, due to the author’s difficult family. In a fit of early-life crisis, Thomas decides to go on a sabbatical. Soon he and new girlfriend, Saxony Gardner, journey to France’s isolated hometown in Missouri where they’re warmly received, surprisingly, by France’s daughter, Anna. Even more surprising, they're eventually granted permission to embark on writing the long-awaited Marshall France biography. For a period of time, everything seems to be going well. Then strange things start to happen to Thomas, like seeing the face of a local fleetingly transform into one of France’s beloved characters, or overhearing a bull terrier muttering to himself in his sleep. Gradually, Thomas and Saxony learn that the vivid imagination of Marshall France has had a persisting influence over the town of Galen, even long after his death.

TLoL is also categorized as slipstream, as opposed to conventional magic realism or fantasy. As much as I was enjoying the realistic, almost rom-com style narrative of Thomas and Saxony meeting, their journey to France’s town, their interactions with the townspeople, their research, etc. it took a looooong time for any kind of ‘magic’ to appear. This was likely intentional as the pacing of the intro of supernatural elements seemed deliberate, then you finally get some sort of explanation and then suddenly an ending that was rather jarring and a little disturbing, a bit like how the Japanese film, Audition, was structured (but not nearly as horrific). In building up the disquiet and surreal, by the time it gets to the unexpected denouement, I was quite taken aback.

There were times, however, where the writing style lacked a certain flair for words and maybe a kind of coolness factor. I think this had to do with US-born Carroll having relocated to Austria permanently when he was a young man, thus becoming somewhat isolated from American culture for a period of time. At times the exchanges between him and girlfriend Saxony were rather corny, almost derivative of an 80’s TV movie (the novel was published in 1980). Same goes for some of Thomas’s internal dialogue. For example, here’s a passage where he fantasizes about rescuing a roped and naked Anna from a basement (which is also corny in itself):

The plywood door explodes and I come flying in with two Bruce Lee kung-fu chains whirling around my hands like airplane propellers.

My first thought, other than “man, this is hokey-ass”, was “dude, those things are called numchuks”.

Despite all this, I enjoyed The Land of Laughs, but I wasn’t totally wowed by it. If you’re interested in fantasy-realism, I’d recommend Peter S. Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place or Jack Finney’s Time and Again first.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Year End Wrapper Upper

Not exactly a feel-good way to end the year with the utterly bleak I Am Legend and anarchically violent No Country For Old Men, but satisfying nonetheless to complete my year-end holiday with these two excellent books.

What’s more, 2007 was a very good year of reading for Meezly. My output has almost tripled since I first joined the 50-book meme, starting with a measly 7 books read for 2005, 15 for 2006 and a whopping 19 for 2007!

The 50-book thang also got me perusing used bookstores more frequently than ever before. For 2008, I’ve literally got on-deck stacks to get through! Maybe this year I may be able break into reading twenty-something books.