He embraced her, and with the warmth of her face against his, he understood in that moment, the boundlessness of his love for her. That is how, four days later, their remains were found in the wreckage.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is one of those rare books that enrapts you from the very start while sending the story in different directions. The death of a former Hollywood leading man in the waning days of his career, goes from being the big news headline of the day to an inconsequential detail as it coincides with the end and the beginning of two eras in modern history. As incidental as it may be, Arthur Leander’s death remains a crucial episode for the cast of characters whose lives we follow in the time before, during and after the event that wipes out 99% of the world’s population.
St. John Mandel paints her characters with amazing deftness, from Arthur’s ambitious rise from small town life to megastardom and his creeping decay, to Kristen’s struggles with life and survival in the new world, to Jeevan who’s search for purpose transcends the demise of civilization. Throughout, we see a contrast between people living as high-functioning sleepwalkers and those to whom survival is insufficient. We are able to admire the magnificence of simple, every day objects that we took for granted until they were lost to time.
In the end, we see that all the characters, even those who do not live past the event, have come to terms with their state in life. And the Symphony plays on. Thus far, this has been the best book I’ve read this year.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Her use of pronouns has garnered all the attention but the confusion that arises from this is only a reflection of our cultural constructs rather than the structure of the book. Before you realize what’s going on, the interactions between all the ‘women’ in the first couple of chapters will be confusing. And with this, Leckie makes an epic point about our own gender biases and gender norms in language. But that’s not what the book is about. Ultimately, this is a story about defying one’s nature in the name of redemption. Leckie does an amazing job at iterating the space ship Justice of Thoren’s thought process as it redifines its purpose while sprinkling the story with lots of philosophical points about taking action and owning up to the consequences of such. (My favorite: “if you’re going to do something crazy, save it for when it’ll make a difference.”)
Its ability to shine a light on our own perceptions of gender is definitely an intriguing aspect of this book. In the end, we only know that the Breq is the hero of this story but Leckie leaves it up to us to define her gender.
In the past few months I’ve been on the road, slowly working my way from Miami out to the West Coast. My homegirl Fon asked me to write a little something about my current happenings on the road and how it felt to be back in America. At the time I wrote this, I’d just made it out to Austin, TX.
Originally posted on tripfontastic!:
Sometimes the search leads you to far flung places you’ve never dreamed of, strange, exotic lands – a beautiful kaleidoscope of colours, sounds, fragrances and imagery. And, sometimes, that search brings you back to where you started. My good friend, Ruben, is on such a search. You can read it right here:
Where do I begin?
I’ve gone through lots of changes the past few months. My friends back on the other side warned me: of the directness of it all, the bluntness bordering on rudeness, the rudeness itself, the non-stop people on the go-go-go, the price of living, the super-sized portions, the aggressive side of passive aggressiveness. They all made me weary of the impending reverse culture shock awaiting my return. Interestingly, that hasn’t been the biggest source of dissonance since my return to the place I call home, at least not directly.
Just a few months ago…
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Marfa was a 6 and a half hour drive from Austin. I crashed on Tim’s futon in a closet that looked like a bedroom but was really a closet. With a ceiling fan. The house on street D, just two blocks from street F and the outskirts of town, had the strangest of layouts. We were surrounded by dirt and dilapidated trailers and houses with overgrown yards and more dirt. And there were flies everywhere. There’s something about flies and the desert, I don’t know how they get there but they’re always there.
We drove that night even though Tim’s place was only a 15 minute walk to the center of town. (I used to walk 15 minutes to the grocery store back in Bangkok and I would barely make it half way up my neighborhood.) We bought bottles of Lonestar for two fifty a pop at the sallow and dust-laden bar Lost Horse Saloon. If you wanted to have a quiet drink, this was the place. There were a few folks here and there but not much going on except a game of pool and everyone was taking things to another bar a few blocks away anyway.
Padre’s was more lively and way more spacious, both indoors and out back. It was also much better kept, even though the shuffle board was missing pieces and their jukebox was out of order. (Then again, every jukebox I’d seen around town was out of order, it must be a desert town thing.) They only served alcohol inside near the stage where a band played, $3 pints of Big Bend Brewing Company porters and Border State IPAs. Cheap and great tasting local brews. I’ve paid more for coffee.
My last meal had been a massive sandwich/donut/burger in a previous lifetime just before leaving Austin, now it was around 1am and I found myself walking down the street looking for the best grilled cheese sandwich I would ever taste in my life, at least that’s what everyone said. I figured it would be a worthy follow-up ‘the Cubano’ from Gourdough’s. I don’t know how you feel about $5 grilled cheese sandwiches but I’ve been cheated before: two slices of some no-name white bread around what couldn’t have been anything but a square of Kraft cheese -fool me once. Johnny Rockets, I’m looking at you. Sadly, this grilled cheese nirvana had already shut its doors for the night.
I walked back to Padre’s to find Tim and his friends chatting up a group of Londoners. They wanted to score some of the mushrooms some nameless face had been giving away. They were on their way to Vegas and looking to party. We all met back at Tim’s place and crowded around 24-pack of Keystone Light. There was an odd dynamic between the locals and the out-of-towners that didn’t feel entirely genuine. At some point the Londoners realized they weren’t getting the chocolates they came for, so they went their way. And that was how the night ended.
I returned to the grilled cheese joint the next day. I had to. As I worked my way up the block, I heartily considered George W. Bush’s life advice: “you’re never going to fool me three times.” Three is the magic number. That meant I could risk another go, besides, I’ve been known to act a fool when hungry and every single person I met that day kept talking about this amazing grilled cheese.
The Museum of Electronic Wonders & Late Night Grilled Cheese Parlour was the place. It operates from 9:30pm to 1am and it is indeed wondrous and futuristic, if the year was 1960. The small waiting room/dining area was filled with furniture straight out of Star Trek, The First Generation; 8-tracks and stacks of ancient TV sets with rabbit-ear antennas covered the walls. The black and white screens glowed in the dimly lit parlor with the image of someone’s moustache. It belonged to the man working behind the counter, the same man who might be the person behind Food Shark. The Food Shark is as ubiquitous an entity as you can get in this tiny town. Marfalafel food trucks, taco stands, international food filled cafeterias, grilled cheese parlours slash museums. Is a grilled cheese sandwich ever worth a 5 dollar bill? Logic says no but under certain circumstances, like the experience of tasting two thick and crunchy slices of buttered-up sour dough bread slapped around a thick layer of yellow goo in a strange little town in the middle of the desert, probably so.