Literary Inspiration: I’ll Have What She’s Having

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Cute manicure inspiration aside, I don’t have a lot to say about this book, I’ll Have What She’s Having: Adventures in Celebrity Dieting by Rebecca Harrington.  I chose this book to satisfy the to-be-read requirement in my friends’ reading challenge, predominantly because it’s been sitting on my bookshelf for the past two years, longing for precisely that, but also because I was in desperate need of a light, literary palate cleanser after The Handmaid’s Tale.

Following the sort of “I’ll do crazy crap for a year and then write about it” literary craze that started with Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia, I’ll Have What She’s Having tosses writer Rebecca Harrington into the deep end of the celebrity dieting world as she attempts to emulate the weirdly restrictive eating habits of, among others, Madonna (macrobiotics), Karl Lagerfeld (Diet Coke), Marilyn Monroe (raw eggs in milk!) and Greta Garbo (pure, ear-splitting dietary insanity, with a heavy emphasis on a make-ahead (and apparently never-eat) celery loaf.)

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That all seems like fertile ground on which to mine a lot of excellent observational comedy, if I may mix my metaphors.  Yet I’ll Have What She’s Having was stubbornly flat, more a recitation of the unpleasant facets of these diets (the social isolation, the prohibitive costs, the biological disruptions) than any sort of insight, humourous or otherwise, into those same issues.  I was looking for something light, but this was just slight.  Clocking in at 161 pages of very large text and an inexplicable number of double-spaced paragraph breaks, it felt like a feature length magazine article that was needlessly stretched into a full length book.

The inside cover art did provide some pretty great nail art inspiration, however.  Can’t ever go wrong with bold graphics of food against a star-printed background.  That’s, like, right where I live!

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Literary Inspiration: The Handmaid’s Tale

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When I was a younger woman (young enough to be an ignorant git, but old enough to know better) I studied The Handmaid’s Tale.  I was assigned Margaret Atwood’s groundbreaking 1985 novel across a number of different English classes in both high school and university, and true to the nitwit form I spoke about in relation to Fahrenheit 451, it did not leave much of an impression with me.  Frankly, I don’t think I wanted it to, so fundamentally disturbed was I with the nightmare world that Atwood was presenting – the thought that I could be reduced to nothing more than the functioning of my womb was so utterly incomprehensible, it was not even worth thinking about.

But the times, they have changed.  Part of it is that I’m older now, and infinitely more thoughtful.  Too thoughtful – stories like The Handmaid’s Tale have a knack for burrowing deep into my brain, allowing me plenty of time to ruminate on the all too plausible possibilities of Life on Gilead.  I’m also more engaged with the world around me (not hard; I was, quite shamefully, not the most critical of thinkers in my early teens) and what I’m seeing scares the ever living shit out of me.  Here in North America (predominately south of the Canadian border, but still) hard-won gains in the areas of gender equality, women’s rights and reproductive rights are being walked back every single day.  The president of the United States is an admitted sexual abuser, and the fundamentalist vice president would sooner catapult me into the sun than speak to me directly, lest I tempt him with Satan’s forbidden fruit.  If that doesn’t sound very much like one of the Handmaid’s recollections of what immediately preceded the total collapse of American society, I really don’t know what does.

That horrific bit of anti-mimesis (life imitating art) is at present best demonstrated by the immense popularity of Hulu’s television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale.  I am beyond curious about this show, would very much like to watch it, but I know I can’t – I don’t care for either misery porn or torture porn in my entertainment, and the television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale deals in both areas frequently.

But with The Handmaid’s Tale very much on my mind, and with my friends’ reading challenge prompting me to pick up a secondhand book (this 20-year-old university bookstore-procured novel is definitely on its second, or maybe even third or fourth, hand) the time felt right to read it, really read it, and enjoy both the joy and utter terror that is born of informed reading.  The More You Know.

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The plot points of The Handmaid’s Tale are well known.  It’s the mid-1980s, and following an attack on Congress that claims the lives of most of the upper tiers of government, democratic rule is suspended, and then altogether abolished.  A group of theological extremists known as the Republic of Gilead eagerly step into the power vacuum created by this loss, brazenly reshaping the United States in their murderous, totalitarian image.  Women are separated from their families, rounded up and sorted into various colour-coded castes – baby blue for revered wives of Gilead’s commanders, muddy green for domestic-minded Marthas and blood red for Gilead’s “most precious” of human resources, the child-bearing handmaids.  Unwomen, women unable to bear children due to age or health, are assigned no colour; they’re simply sent off to the nuclear wasteland known as the Colonies to toil alongside other “criminals” until they drop dead from exposure.  Men who aren’t lucky enough to be one of Gilead’s “commanders” fare no better than their female counterparts – it’s very much a “Get in line or be executed” kind of regime – but if they aren’t a liberal or an academic or a scientist or gay or of any denomination other than Gileadean, they might be rewarded with a drafty room in a guest house and a choice new career washing some extremist bastard’s car.  But the women – all of them, no matter their distinguishing hue, or lack thereof – are subjugated, diminished and much, much worse.

In Gilead, everyone has a job – the wives passively alternate between smoking, loathing their husbands and knitting scarves for soldiers on a non-existent front line, the commanders pretend they’re big shots and weren’t entry level managers at some mid-level bank just four years ago (in between balling everything they can get their arthritis-riddled hands on at Jezebel’s) and the handmaids are forcibly raped every 30 days by both.  It’s a cruel indecency delivered on unwilling victims month after month after month in the name of “survival of the species” – everyone knows the bitter, husked-out wives are barren, it’s a fact, just as everyone knows the commanders are testosterone-saturated marvels of virility that could impregnate a marble statue at 10 paces.  Why waste all that human potential?  Simply enslave yourself a walking womb and you, too, can have a shredder in eight and a half to nine months!  Act now and we’ll throw in a free trip to the Colonies; can’t beat that!

Between all of the wild abuses of human rights, corporal punishment, religious hypocrisy, ultra far right extremism, torture and sexual abuse, there isn’t a lot of enjoyment to be derived from reading The Handmaid’s Tale.  Yet I enjoyed it very much, now at this time in my life when I can finally appreciate it, although for reasons not entirely related to the story itself.

For me, this one’s all about the writing.  I love Margaret Atwood’s style; it’s spare without being sparse, direct without being pandering, brutal without being sensationalist.  It takes an immensely gifted author to weave such viscerally unpleasant subjects into a compelling, respectful tale.  I can think of very few writers who have pulled off such a delicate balancing act.  There’s nothing about this novel that’s not soul crushingly bleak, but there’s a kind of beauty in the Handmaid’s raw retelling of the life she led “before” versus now, even as you wonder how anyone could continue on in such circumstances.  I really, really enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale, and was alternately delighted AND horrified to learn that I finally now “get it.”  How much I wish I didn’t.

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Because accompanying nail art is sort of the point of this Literary Inspiration series, I had the rather unenviable task of creating a manicure inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale.  Here I ran into a similar problem I faced when reviewing my favourite novel, Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides.  It’s all right there in the title.  So how exactly does one go about creating respectful (?) nail art around such literary unpleasantness?  In that case I went less with a literal interpretation of the novel, eventually creating a manicure that I thought captured the overall feeling of the book, if not the details contained therein.  But for this Handmaid’s manicure, I went with a straight interpretation of the text, eventually landing on this delicate design of dandelion fluff as against a blood red background, inspired by a passage in which the Handmaid thinks of her young daughter Hannah, who she has not seen since they were violently separated trying to flee the United States, playing with dandelions.

“Not a dandelion in sight here, the lawns are picked clean.  I long for one, just one, rubbishy and insolently random and hard to get rid of and perennially yellow as the sun.  Cheerful and plebian, shining for all alike.  Rings, we would make from them, and crowns and necklaces, stains from the bitter milk on our fingers.  Or I’d hold one under her chin: Do you like butter?  Smelling them, she’d get pollen on her nose.  (Or was that buttercups?)  Or gone to seed: I can see her, running across the lawn, that lawn there just in front of me, at two, three years old, waving one like a sparkler, a small wand of white fire, the air filling with tiny parachutes.  Blow, and you tell the time.  All that time, blowing away in the summer breeze.  It was daisies for love though, and we did that too.”

No daisies, no love, no dandelions, and nothing but time.  The Handmaid’s Tale is too cruel, too devastating, too current, but all the same, it had to be reread, and I’m glad I did.  Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

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Literary Inspiration: Fahrenheit 451

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Continuing my run of thoroughly depressing dystopian lit, this manicure was inspired by the latest book I’ve read in service of my friends’ reading challenge, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.  Banned books was the theme, although I actually couldn’t find it on any roundups of the usual verboten subjects.  I’ve no doubt it’s been banned, though, in pockets all across the world, time and time again, staggering irony notwithstanding.  I think Fahrenheit 451 will always be a lightning rod for that kind of attention, though I couldn’t find any major examples.  But I did think an entire novel about the violent destruction of written material and, by extension, the very essence of critical thought would more than suffice for the purposes of this challenge prompt.

Along with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (the super feelgood book I’m reading right now) I read Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 in grade 9.  And I understood the import of the underlying themes of both about as well as you would imagine, which is to say I was utterly clueless.  “Well, that’s bad,” I naively thought, “you shouldn’t burn books.”  And that’s about as deep as my critical assessment went of a world in which the written or recorded word has been banned, mindless reality TV reigns supreme and squadrons of “firemen” are dispatched to the homes of uncooperative citizens to violently torch their secret libraries.  I’m actually rather ashamed at how little thought I gave this all-too plausible nightmare, often a problem with material that has been assigned as school work – school books = ultimate boredom in most matriculating minds.

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But one thing that hasn’t changed between then and now is I still don’t like Fahrenheit 451.  A large part of the problem I have with the novel lies with its protagonist, a by-the-books (pun intended) fireman by the name of Montag in the midst of a major identity crisis – after a chance encounter with a quirky neighbour named Clarisse, a young woman filled to the brim with all of the whos, whats, wheres and whens sorely absent from Montag’s sterile life, he begins to question his purpose as a fireman, and indeed the very purpose of humanity itself.  If it sounds like weighty stuff, that’s because it is, and Montag barrels into his new role as a rebel agitator with very little care or forethought, dragging literally everyone into his unhinged, treasonous orbit – a kindly old academic, his deeply disassociated wife and his boss, the fire chief.  With the exception of the old academic, who simply has the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, these are terrible, craven people (maybe not Beatty, the scripture, prose and poetry-quoting police chief who willingly walks into his own demise) and they deserve their fiery ends.

But might Montag not also deserve such an end simply for being such such an unrelentingly insufferable know-it-all?  I mean, sure, you’ve got the violent autocrats on one side, the sort of people who use a robot called the Hound, a kind of euthanasia machine on legs, to unilaterally mete out their warped vision of justice, and on the other you’ve got a guy who’s really just overly enthusiastic about a thing he only just learned about yesterday, but somehow, the newbie is worse.  Montag is that guy who reads an article about cryptocurrency in the Economist whilst waiting for the dentist, only to go home and bankrupt the next four generations of his family purchasing mining gear.  He doesn’t think through anything, and he delights in throwing his newfound enlightenment in the alternately shocked and uncaring faces of his friends and family acquaintances and colleagues.  He’s drunk on knowledge and about as insufferable as a second year J-school student, a most dangerous state to find yourself in when cunning, stealth and careful planning are paramount to your very survival.  He’s Nicholas Cage screaming his blasted head off as he and ultra calm Sean Connery break out of Alcatraz in The Rock; the man just has absolutely no chill, not even when lives are on the line.

And as it’s through Montag’s lens that we get the story of Fahrenheit 451, it stands to reason that I’d then find the novel to play out like one giant lecture.  It’s groundbreaking work, to be sure, both at the time of its original publishing in 1953 and somehow still now, but it feels weighted down by its own self-importance.  Montag?  More like Mon-nag.  Heh.

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My copy also contains numerous spelling and grammatical mistakes, editing errors that make this insufferable J-school grad cringe, but also sort of wonder if this, too, was some sort of commentary on the unavailing nature of the written word – that it’s not the form the word takes, but rather the ultimate preservation of the word, the thought, the message.  Or maybe it was just crap editing.

This burned book manicure was great in theory, but perhaps ever so less successful in terms of execution.  I guess that’s what happens when you literally burn a book (hey, just a redundant page from one of TWO forewords, but I won’t lie and say I don’t LOVE the irony at work here) and stick it to your fingernails.  Things got quite messy, and this manicure is ultimately a marvel of creative photo editing.  There were also about nine different tense changes in those last three sentences – take THAT, Bradbury!  Immutability of the written word, my grammatically incorrect butt.  Clearly I’ve learned much since grade 9. 😉

Literary Inspiration: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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Look who finally motivated herself enough to finish a book series the rest of the world put to bed over 10 years ago!  Yay, I’m (still not remotely) current!  Really, though, I’m thrilled beyond belief to have finally crossed the final book in the Harry Potter series, the Deathly Hallows, off my to-be-read list in service of the third prompt in my friends’ 2018 reading challenge.

I will please virtually no one with this statement, but like all of the Harry Potter novels, I found the Deathly Hallows to be a deathly slow slog.  If you ARE one of the 86 bajillion people who read the novel over a decade ago when it was first published (or watched the films, as they’re really quite close in terms of both tone and structure) you know that the final book in the series details Harry’s efforts to stop an increasingly desperate Voldemort from forcing his violent nationalist tendencies on a terrified, unwilling populace.  Sound like anyone we know?  Along the way Harry and his friends are tasked with locating, and then destroying, Voldemort’s Horcruxes, physical objects tagged with bits of the Dark Lord’s murderous, fractured soul.  Once they’re disposed of, he’s nothing more than a mortal man, vulnerable and open to attack.

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It’s in the hunt for and subsequent eradication of the Horcruxes that the Deathly Hallows gets terribly bogged down, lingering for 300 some-odd pages on a locket already in Harry’s possession that defies all attempts at destruction.  This passage goes on forever – it is an interminable slog of Apparating and wind-swept moors and Apparating ONTO wind-swept moors.  In a 607-page book with multiple major character deaths (spoiler: arguably THE major character’s (temporary) death) as well as three big battle sequences and a satisfying peek into the future, it’s a puzzling bit of pacing.  We’re in more than 450 pages before Harry, Ron and Hermione return to Hogwarts to kick off the final, epic showdown between the Dark Lord and the Boy Who Lived.  The long, lackadaisical tease of those first 450 pages followed by just 150 pages of frantic fighting and exposition makes for a jarring contrast.  It’s also why it took me four months to read the Deathly Hallows – because I was deathly unmotivated to continue.

In hindsight, some days removed from finishing the book, I can see that the seemingly endless literary slog had a purpose.  Had Harry, Ron and Hermione’s six-month search played out with seamless ease – say, flashing by in a series of condensed vignettes – we may not have gotten a true sense of just how taxing, frustrating and arduous their journey really was.  As it stands, we were with them for every false start, every near miss, every fake lead, every betrayal and every heartbreak.  I don’t know if there was a better way of conveying the sort of despair that results from a long, protracted fight in which you must carry on despite enjoying no victories, but I do wish it hadn’t taken up quite so much of the book.

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Things I did like?  Voldemort proving once and for all what a toothless wussy he really is.  Voldemort suffers from the same problem in my mind as Darth Vader – both are more legend and reputation than actual threat.  And I positively loved that his ultimate undoing was thinking himself beyond the need to do his research and double check every facet of his plan.  You’d think if you were a hideously malformed megalomaniac making a vicious grab for ultimate power you’d at least take the time to educate yourself, do your research and get your friggin’ ducks in order.  Still sound like anybody we know?

Other things I liked?  A naughty little “It’s not the size of the wand” joke Ron makes towards the beginning of the book.  Ron and Hermione finally acting on their sweet, slow burn of a romance.  The epilogue.  Neville, Defender of the Meek.  Everyone finally realizing just how awesome Luna really is.  A longer explanation – actually, any explanation – of Dumbledore’s tragic past.  Always.

Things I didn’t like: Dobby’s death.  And not because he died – I’m glad he did, I friggin’ hated that shrieky house elf.  I just thought given how touching his death is in the film (I cried, and well…see above) the source material might grant his passing more than a handful of paragraphs, and none of that “dying with his friends” tear-bait business either.  Fred’s death (one-half of the delightful twin duo, Rowling, are you freaking kidding me with this crap?  That’s the suckiest move you pulled in seven books.)  The fact that the Dursleys never got their comeuppance.  Don’t know about you, but I generally like to see child abusers get their virulent (and in this case occasionally levitating) just desserts.

Another thing I don’t particularly like?  This nail art, depicting the hidden message and final puzzle piece inscribed on Harry’s bequeathed Snitch, “I open at the close.”  My cursive writing is not great here.  I was going for elegant and refined, and it came off more big ‘n’ bubbly, my everyday writing style.  Although this manicure does look so pretty glittering almost magically under the midday sun.

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But by gosh am I glad to be done the Deathly Hallows, and indeed the entire Harry Potter series.  I never latched onto the novels, actually found Harry to be a snotty little know-it-all.  I far prefer Daniel Radcliffe’s film version of Harry – he’s a kinder, more thoughtful and reasoned young man than his literary counterpart.  But the world J.K. Rowling created, as reflected in the films and now various exhibits and attractions around the globe, is vivid, detailed and fully realized right from the very first page.  I think her knack for world-building is unparalleled, and I’ve always loved the Dickensian flair she takes in naming her characters.  I enjoyed the books, and particularly the Deathly Hallows, so much in that regard.  Ultimately, they were really enjoyable reads, and I’m glad to have finally finished the series so I can fully join the Harry Potter cultural zeitgeist.  All was well.

Literary Inspiration: The Burning World

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Last we checked in on my reading challenge efforts, I was whiffing a friend’s 2017 creation with just 10 piddly books.  I mean, I’m not sure I’d call The Stand “piddly,” but I did attempt to pass off a 35-page ice cream cookbook as a novel from which I learned something, so six of one, half a dozen of the other!  So when that same friend, working in partnership with a third blogging buddy, created a new reading challenge for 2018, I thought it prudent to try, try again.  Second verse, same as the first and all that literary jazz.  Or second verse, hopefully with more effort…than the first, and all that literary jazz (slightly less catchy saying, that!)

Last time I got quite hung up on completing each of the challenge prompts in the order in which they were listed.  This time I just jumped into the deep end with whatever theme spoke to me first, which turned out to be number 26, “A book title that sounds like the cool name for a band.”  And for this theme, I chose Isaac Marion’s The Burning World, the third novel set in the Warm Bodies zombie universe.

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Some of you may remember that I read The New Hunger, a prequel to Warm Bodies, in satisfaction of one of the prompts last year.  The Burning World, a direct sequel to Warm Bodies that picks up two months after the events of that novel, acts as a bridge between the original story and its prequel.  It’s a fantastic framing device, particularly in light of the fact that if you’ve read the prequel, which introduces the main characters into each others’ orbits years before they ever meet face to face, you know things in this book that the characters do not.  Watching the puzzle pieces of their deeply interconnected lives (and afterlives) click into place is half the joy of reading The Burning World.

And it’s just as well there is that joy to be had from this novel, because holy smokes, absent it, there is very little light or levity to The Burning World.  If you’ve read Warm Bodies, you might remember its tone was one of a weary kind of optimism.  It ended on an up note, if not necessarily a “And they all lived happily ever after” note.  But The Burning World opens on a beleaguered community crumbling under the weight of trying to “fix” the zombie apocalypse, and it only gets much, much, much worse from there.  Part heavy political commentary (zombies were just the final outrageous straw that broke the world’s back, after years of war, environmental destruction and political abuses), part road trip journey and part bald warning, The Burning World mostly jettisons the softer aspects of Warm Bodies – gone are R’s “boy zombie-meets-girl” internal monologues, replaced now with meditations on whether love is even something worth pursuing in a world where survival is paramount.  So, too, is any sense of peace or rest or stability for our little band of wandering revolutionaries, who are left, at the end of 500-some pages, exactly where they started – on the run.  And with one final book coming in 2018 to wrap up the story, it left The Burning World in an oddly truncated and abrupt place – I literally flipped the page and thought, “Oh, okay, so that really was it.”

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Having said all that, this was a great novel – Isaac Marion is such an evocative writer, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of his works set in the Warm Bodies universe.  Enough that I’ve managed to pull some decent nail art inspiration from even the bleakest of dystopian tales, this burning manicure being no exception.  As for the tie?  Well, that’s a bit of a spoiler, and on that intriguing subject, I shall say no more. 😉

Literary Inspiration: The Stand

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A couple months back, I was going through a bit of a low phase, one nearly entirely of my own making.  Every day I’d get up and, in the course of going about my otherwise pretty enjoyable routine, I’d jump online and then just completely mire myself in whatever horrible news was emanating from around the globe, with a particular emphasis on the trainwreck that is American politics.  I may be Canadian, but the chaos and casual cruelty that seemingly permeate every aspect of today’s American governance have cast a noxious pall across the world; we are all feeling it.

So when it came time to tackle the tenth prompt in my friend’s reading challenge, one which called for a choice from a favourite author that you’ve not yet read, I’m not surprised I gravitated towards Stephen King; he is my favourite author, yet I’ve probably only read about a third of his novels.  I’m a bit more surprised that I chose an absolutely gigantic tome that’s more like three books in one; 823 abridged pages of very, very tiny text.  And I was going to say I was the most surprised at my choice, King’s seminal text, The Stand (my husband called it King’s bible, a very apt comparison) but it fits both tonally and in terms of subject matter. That’s just the head space I was in when I rolled up on the tenth challenge prompt – major end-of-times bleakness.

For those not familiar with The Stand, here’s how bleak we get: 99 percent of humanity dies horribly in a flu epidemic that ravages the globe in a little under a month.  The book literally kicks off with about 300 pages of mucus-filled respiratory deaths.  You come to know a handful of characters (inexplicably immune, all) and then watch through their eyes as society quickly breaks down, teeters on the brink and then completely plummets off the edge.  Spread out across the four corners of the United States, we follow these characters as they watch their loved ones suffer and die, and then we watch THEM suffer (and sometimes die) as they attempt to make their way to Nebraska and then on to Colorado, drawn there by prophetic dreams of an old woman who offers salvation or hope or death, or maybe all three.

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And that’s just the first 400 or so pages.  After that, we get into a major battle between Good and Evil, and then we meet Randall Flagg, the other Man in Black, the Walkin’ Dude, the devil.  I mean, I guess he’s the devil?  Or at the very least a close confidante.  I just know that Flagg as a symbol of ultimate evil didn’t land for me.  He’s petulant and whiny and kind of lazy; a being of such tremendous power should not be as preoccupied with appearances as he (sound like anyone else we know?)  As Buffy might say, “Ooh, The Taunter – striking fear in the heart of no one.”  But then again, with the exception of Under the Dome’s absolutely horrific Jim Rennie, very few of King’s baddies have left a mark with me.  I think I was expecting more from his marquis villain.

This jacket cover photo, however?  It’s EVERYTHING.  The hair, the suit, the smoke – oh, it’s perfection!

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It’s a small moment in an otherwise gigantic novel, but there’s a little bit early on in the book that strikes at the heart of what The Stand is ultimately all about.  In Nebraska, 108-year-old Abigail Freemantle is setting out for her neighbour’s, a two days’ walking trip.  Abby’s not paying a social visit to her neighbour, though – that would require a host or hostess to greet her, and everyone is dead.  Abigail instead travels to her neighbour’s in search of chicken; on her last visit before the flu took everyone she knew, Abby had spied a few in the backyard.  Moving infinitesimally slow (because she is 108-ancient-years-old) but drawing from a long lifetime of experience, Abigail dispatches two of the chickens.

Mother Abigail, a deeply religious woman with a strong, but ill-defined connection to God, falls into the realm of that tired old literary trope of the “magical negro.”  I’ll give King a bit of a pass because The Stand was written in 1978.  The times and sensibilities, they change.  But I’m not giving myself a pass, because I fell for that aggravatingly regressive trope hook, line and sinker.  When Abigail slaughters the chickens, I ignorantly wondered what sort of magical concoction she needed their blood and bones for.  Then when she is walking back home and she and her bag of chicken are set upon by bloodthirsty weasels sent by Randall Flagg, I wondered what sort of ritual could be so important that she’d put her life in danger in such a way.

But I was wrong.  Instead of some chicken-based hoodoo, Abigail had simply sensed that she was about to have a number of drop-in visitors (the pilgrims who had been dreaming of her just as much as she had been dreaming of them) and the chickens were so that she could have a hot, home-cooked meal waiting for them when they arrived.  There was nothing more to it than connection and kindness through food.  I thought it was such a charming little moment – simple, goodhearted humanity as set against seemingly insurmountable odds.

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A friend recently commented that she remembered The Stand as ending on a bittersweet, slightly melancholy note, and that’s true.  But there’s also an undercurrent of malice, a sense that the mistakes of the past are ones we’re powerless to prevent from happening once again.  I read a lot of fear in the ending.  But then again, it wouldn’t be a discussion of a Stephen King novel if you’re not debating the ending as being either sweet or completely horrifying.

This nail art aims to capture the snow-covered peaks of Colorado.  Without giving too much away, the mountains factor in heavily.  As does the twinkling night sky; in a world gone dark, it takes on a new, watchful meaning.  Ultimately, I’m glad I decided to finally pick this one up; neglecting The Stand was a major blank spot in my Kingsian education, and I enjoyed coming at it from a forensic perspective – you can almost see the partial or nearly fully fleshed out ideas of many of his stories to come.  The King bible, indeed, and an excellent read.

Literary Inspiration: The New Hunger

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First off, reading challenge assessment time.  Grade received: Total crap!  Because I’ve read just 10 books out of a possible 24.  And I can only lay so much blame at the feet of Stephen King, whose gigantic tomes I’ve already read in service of two of the challenge themes.  Reading for pleasure (instead of panic, ie. whatever horrifying news is coming out of American politics this hour) is just not an activity I gravitate towards any more.  I wish I knew why that need to read has departed – I was a voracious reader when I was a kid – but hopefully it will return.

Until then, there are infinitely worse ways to pass the hours than in the broken but healing, dying but not yet dead world of Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies.  And so for the ninth challenge prompt – a story that takes you to another place and time, real or imagined – I chose The New Hunger, a prequel novella from Marion set in the Warm Bodies universe.

If you’ve only seen the 2013 Warm Bodies movie, you can be forgiven for assuming that The New Hunger is a trifle of a book.  I liked the film – correction: I like Nicholas Hoult, will watch him in virtually anything, although I recommend the sexy-as-hell Equals – but there really wasn’t very much there.  It was an enjoyable watch, but a tepid shadow of 2010’s fiery novel (which I see that Wikipedia has sorted into both the post-apocalyptic and gothic fiction tags, neat.)  But the movie – quite apart from some major changes to the story – failed to capture the beleaguered optimism of the novel, distilling R and Julie’s passionate, revolutionary call-to-arms down to a simple Romeo and Juliet story, with zombies.  I adored the book; it’s one of the best things I’ve read in decades, but the film adaptation did it, and the deeply layered Warm Bodies universe, no terrific favours.  Isaac Marion is a fantastic writer – his prose is tidy and to-the-point, peppered with heartbreakingly poignant observations about war, politics, geo-political turmoil, man’s inhumanity to man, life, death and all those other terrifically lightweight subjects.  Warm Bodies, the novel, deserved more.

So a trifle it is not, and neither is The New Hunger, a 2013 prequel novella set in the four or five years before R, Julie, Nora and M make their last stand in Stadium City.  I actually read this book when it was first released via e-reader in 2013.  Scared the crap out of me; the last 10 or so pages left me breathless, wide-eyed, shocked.  As always, I can’t say more than that without spoiling this excellent, taut little examination of the downfall (and subsequent resurrection) of man, but the book links our four main characters years before they ever meet face to face – R, newly awoken as a reluctant zombie desperately clinging to the last vestiges of rational thought; Julie, 12-years-old, living out of her parents’ armored truck and dreaming of the kind of stable childhood she was never allowed to enjoy; M dying alone in the bathroom of the Space Needle; and finally Nora, 16-years-old, on a trek across the flooded port of Seattle in search of food, shelter and safety.

The New Hunger Cover

The bulk of The New Hunger concerns itself with Nora’s story, which ends in a place no less bleak than its beginning.  After years of global crises, nuclear war, destructive political posturing and rising sea levels (sound frighteningly familiar?) humanity has reached its breaking point.  Then, as the final flaming cherry on the end-of-times sundae, the dead rise up to drag the few remaining down.  In the midst of all this – abandoned cities, deserted safe zones, looters and cultists and much, much worse – Nora and her little brother, Addison, have been dumped in a Seattle suburb by their junkie parents.  Nora wakes one morning to find that they’ve simply left, taking all the food and weapons with them.  Nora tries to tell herself that they probably committed that final atrocious act out of some concern that two kids left alone with a gun are bound to hurt or kill themselves with that gun, but she knows better – her parents didn’t give a shit, cared more about their final score than they ever did about their own children.  It’s heartbreaking.

And real.  Maybe a bit too real given some of the realities of today.  I said before that this book genuinely scared the crap out of me.  It did back in 2013, and it continues to frighten me today, albeit for different reasons beyond “ooh, zombies, scary.”  It’s all hitting just a little bit too close to home.  Truly, absent the living dead, Marion’s template of the downfall of humanity seems to be one we’re following note for note these days.  Takes a bit of joy out of post-apocalyptic literature, that.

But you get your kicks where you can, and for me, that always means accompanying nail art, here my approximation of the flooded, fog-shrouded Seattle skyline Nora and Addison cross on their path to what just has to be something better.  Something I think we could all work towards – something better.

Seattle Silhouette