Mapping the Interior – Stephen Graham Jones – 3/5 Stars
This short novella by Stephen Graham Jones takes two familiar genres, or sub-genres, and puts them together in a space that is interesting, if limited. For one, we have a haunting. In this novella, a 12 year old boy becomes increasingly aware of some kind of supernatural manifestation in his house. Through guesswork and experience, he determines it must be the ghost of his dead father. This guesswork leads the book into its secondary genre, the family identity novel especially a kind of novel that I have read from Native American writers that are either men, or about men/boys. I am thinking specifically of James Welch’s Wire in the Blood, Louise Erdrich’s The Round House, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony etc. This feeling is combined here with a self-knowledge in the book where the narrator tells us about how about half the boys he knows are named “Junior,” a kind of truisim for the novel and also a funny reference to so many other similar novels (especially by Sharman Alexie) where about half the characters are named Junior. This combination of a fatherless childhood of metaphorical ghost, often where specific fatherlessness is extended metaphorically to a cultural fatherlessness of loss, becomes an actual ghost-story where a dead father is haunting.
This is a more thoughtful book than the other novella of Jones’s that I read recently, Night of the Mannequin, which I did like, but also has a somewhat ineffability to it as well.
“You never tell your mom anything that might worry her. Moms have enough to worry about already.”
“I’m all right,” I told her. This is a lie, when you’re twelve. And all the other years, too.”
How It Ends – Rachel Howzell Hall – 3/5 Stars
A novella where our female narrator has recently left or is leaving her husband, moves to a new neighborhood, and begins to feel very much watched and perhaps stalked in her new home. Marti is in the process of divorce where her controlling husband is almost on the cusp of becoming a controlling ex-husband. He refuses to sign the divorce papers, while he tries to work out the financial arrangements of the separation, or that’s the pretext for holding all the cards. They built a business together, and he is attempting to wrest control of it by denying her role in its growth. In this battle she feels helpless of course, because the goodwill a solid divorce requires (asking someone not to be an emotional terrorist is too much to want sometimes). She moves to a new house and immediately is alerted to the scariness of a new neighbor, who she finds out through research was recently acquitted in the murder of his wife by circumstances Marti doesn’t find convincing. Marti is white, and her new neighbor is black, and this dynamic causes her to feel strange about her guardedness. But he is also clearly interested in her and starts to also use the falseness of “niceness” to get her attention. When she’s attacked in her home one night by someone with a prominent hand tattoo, she immediately suspects her neighbor while also beginning to have trauma-induced sightings of the tattoo everywhere she looks.
It’s a solid thriller, with some unfortunate goofiness at times, and maybe lets things slide a little too much.
Status Anxiety – 1/5 Stars – Alain de Botton
Maybe I shouldn’t have read a book recently that actually took this subject seriously (Barbara Ehrenreich’s very good class analysis Fear of Falling) but this dilletantish nonsense pissed me off. You could say some of the same things about Paul Fussell’s 1980s bestseller “Class” but that book was meant to be fun, Paul Fussell is a serious academic writing popular analysis, and it wasn’t published in 2006 with a false air of seriousness. This book however, which addresses the question of “status anxiety” ostensibly refuses to engage with any actual sense of how reality, politics, law, and forms of oppression control access to status. Instead, it uses lies like meritocracy to discuss the ways in which status is a constantly refreshing (as in webpages) concept in which one’s money and station are not the only purveyor’s of one’s status anymore. It’s a book of constant reference and allusion (99% or not 100% all white European or Americans, mostly men), and it’s book that refuses to acknowledge how racial hierarchy and a colonial past control so much. It’s a “fun” and “playful” analysis that reinforces a different hierarchy while theorizing about hierarchy.
For my ratings, I tend to give 2 stars for books that I don’t think are very good, and 1 star for books that fall into offensive.