Literary Inspiration: 20th Century Ghosts

Pop Art Collage

So the long and the short of it with regards to Joe Hill, son of Stephen King (a fact relevant only in that there’s an inescapable comparison to be made between the two; they are both authors who work in the area of weird) is that I don’t jive with his writing.  And with all apologies to the man, too, because even if it’s an inescapable comparison, it’s a patently unfair one – he is not his father.  But as I mentioned in this post from 2017 about Hill’s book Heart-Shaped Box, I am so well versed in his father’s works that I have a hard time not likening one to the other, and Hill’s writing invariably comes up short.

Heart-Shaped Box didn’t leave much of an impression with me (beyond the memory that it was utterly obsessed with hand and fingernail trauma) and neither did this 2005 collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts.  I read this quite a few months ago, and before doing these nails, I had to go back over all of the stories in order to remind myself of what I had just read.  And then instantly regretted it, because I suddenly remembered the story that kicks off this 316-page book, a grimy little tale about a literary editor caught on the wrong side of a Texas Chainsaw-esque family that itself reminds me of an infamous episode of The X-Files that I in turn will not remind you of, and you’re very welcome.

20th Century Ghosts actually begins with an introduction from its editor (who is thankfully not being terrorized by hillbillies from hell, that we know of) and the not-very-encouraging assessment that “Modern horror is not often subtle.”  Well, it can be, but as presented in 20th Century Ghosts, it isn’t.

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So there’s the story about the folks from The Hills Have Eyes, “Best New Horror.”  There’s “You Will Hear the Locust Sing,” a squicky tale about a teenage boy living on the edge of a nuclear test facility who turns into a gigantic insect.  That was a real WTF-er.  There’s a haunted theatre story, the titular “20th Century Ghost;” “Abraham’s Boys,” a deeply perverted reworking of the vampire mythology; and “My Father’s Mask,” a Wes Anderson-by-way-of-David Cronenberg familial mindf**k.

There’s also “Pop Art,” a melancholy tale about a sensitive young man whose best friend, Arthur Roth, is inflatable.  Yes, inflatable, as in made of white plastic, nearly totally featureless, incapable of speech (though Art is real hell with crayons and a pad of paper) and bearing a little nozzle under one arm that allows him to be pumped full of air.  Art has adoptive parents (humans, both) and interacts with the larger world the way any other person would (save the bit where bullies kick him up onto the roof of the school) although you’re never quite sure if Art is indeed a person, just with a major, life-altering disability, or an imaginary construct of the narrator’s admittedly troubled mind.  It was actually a really heartbreaking story; I liked re-reading this one.

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So much so, in fact, I put it on my nails in service of the theme of “A numeric title” in my friends’ reading challenge.  This is Art, peacefully drifting through the late August sky – just a simple, pillowy figure on a basic blue gradient.

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Literary Inspiration: Furiously Happy

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With apologies to the friend who gave me this book, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson, I hated it.  Just loathed every page, every anecdote, every mea culpa and every non-sequitur about horribly misshapen, taxidermized rodents.  And there were quite a few of them, often expressed as quarter page-long footnotes.  Furiously Happy was tonally bizarre and as all over the place as Lawson professes her mental health to be.  Instead of making me happy, it just made me furious (as evidenced by the front cover amendment I made at the end of one particularly enraging chapter, an egregious act I’m only mildly pissed at myself for having carried out – you DO NOT abuse books in such a fashion.  Unless the book in question is beginning to mess with YOUR mental health.)

Known around the interwebs as The Bloggess, Lawson’s writing is often compared to the works of David Sedaris, and is bolstered by such high profile literary talent as Neil Gaiman, Augusten Burroughs and Christopher Moore (should have been a tip-off; I dislike all three of those authors.)  She’s an engaging writer with an easy, meandering style.  She’s also legitimately funny, with a scattered sense of cat-centric humour that edges on the dark and inappropriate, and I like that.  But I did not like this book.

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Two years ago I read Lawson’s first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, a somewhat fictionalized account of her life, which depending on how and when you looked at it, could either be deemed charmingly quirky or grounds for about five child endangerment lawsuits.  I suspect that after reading multiple tales of how her father – described as a gregarious Viking of a man with a penchant for taxidermy – traumatized Lawson and her sister with dead squirrels stuffed into popcorn boxes, or her own haphazard attempts to dispose of the family pug’s carrion-nipped corpse, the concern trolls came out in force, probably questioning how her unusual upbringing – and, by extension, the one she was giving to her own young daughter – could in any way be deemed “okay,” or even entertaining literary fodder.

So when it came to Furiously Happy, I can imagine that the overriding editor’s note was to explain that while humorous, and embellished in certain instances, these anecdotes are rooted in the larger issue of the author’s poor mental health.  That Lawson didn’t just bail out on her kid’s recital because she’s a flake that got distracted by a dead animal – you would not believe the number of times this happens – but because she’s MENTALLY ILL.

Which, alarming number of taxidermy stories aside, you’d never know, until Lawson begins shouting it in your face every second page.  The world’s a weird place, and I think most of us are just bumbling through as best we can, beset on all sides by varying degrees of anxiety and depression.  That’s the unfortunate downside to the gift of life – having to live through the thing.  But the situations that Lawson describes as being so very damaging to her existence – and they are, if she’s being in any way truthful – are the things nearly all of us confront every single day.  The social anxiety that keeps us trapped in our homes, the depression that keeps us confined to our beds, the heartbreak we think we couldn’t possibly live through.

If there is an overriding thesis to Furiously Happy, it’s that everyone deals with poor or flagging mental health in different ways, and what works for some people – what apparently works for Lawson is getting so angry at her rebellious mind, she comes right back around the other side to “furiously happy” – does not work for all people.  Getting right with your own head takes time and effort, and nobody’s process is the same.

But not all people have endlessly patient and understanding families, husbands on important business conference calls who allow you to barge into the guest bedroom so you can shriek about feral swans, or publishers willing to finance a trip to Australia where the very best thing you can think to do is behave like an infuriating American tourist in a plushy kangaroo costume (seriously.)  Not all people have children who understand why you bailed on their recital because there’s too many other people there.  Not all people have access to a rotating cadre of therapists, or the necessary funds to even seek out mental health care.  Not all people are bestselling authors who CANNOT shut up about how wacky their lives are because MENTALLY ILL.  I started out the book feeling deeply sympathetic toward Lawson’s condition – as my boys in TOP say in the song Migraine, “Sometimes to stay alive, you’ve gotta kill your mind” – and by the end…well, you can see what I did to the cover.  It was just one vignette after another, all amounting to “I did something wacky/bizarre/borderline certifiable that led to me hurting myself and/or the people around me, but I cannot help myself, I AM MENTALLY ILL.  Isn’t that funny?!”

THAT person is not sympathetic.  But the other side of Lawson’s condition is self-harm and suicidal ideation, and that person IS sympathetic.  No one wants to hear of a person so worn down by life and all its attendant maladies that they just want to check out.  It’s why there’s a justifiable stigma around suicide.  It’s the place most of us just don’t want to go.

And Lawson doesn’t want to go there either.  If anything is clear from Furiously Happy, it’s that she’s a fighter, and for the sake of her family, her friends and her community of readers, she’s going to continue fighting.  I respect that; there’s no other way but forward, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.  But the real insights on mental health in this book are so buried beneath its stupid, infuriating veneer of forced wackiness, you can hardly find them.  It’s really asking too much of your readers to guffaw at the inconsequential fight over clothes you had with your husband in one chapter, and then react in sympathetic horror to your bloody self-harm in another.  The tonal and emotional shift is just too great.  I hope Lawson continues the good fight, but I don’t ever need to read another thing she’s written.

I read this book in service of my friends’ reading challenge for the theme of “Yellow/Gold is the color of novelty, so read a yellow novel.”  Consider it read, and now nail art-ed as well, a matte-and-glittery design – and quite yellow, indeed – inspired by the book jacket cover art.

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Literary Inspiration: Middlesex

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Have you ever, fearing the absolute worst of something or someone, just put that something or someone off, for days, weeks or years?  I mean, hopefully if that something is, say, renewing your license and that someone is twenty one pilots’ drummer Josh Dun’s arms the Queen, you could hotfoot it a bit, but by and large, there are a spectacular number of obligations, experiences and even people that we can, and do, put by the wayside, sometimes forever, but mostly just for what feels like forever.  Then, many moons later, we finally get our acts together and do the uncomfortable thing that we’ve been putting off for absolutely no good reason whatsoever, and it’s no big deal.  Or, more likely, it turned out to be a great time/the very best course of action/just the thing that  needed to happen, and all we can do is berate ourselves after the fact for our nonsensical dithering (also known as WhyDidn’tIDoThisSooner-itis.)

I’ve done this with countless big ticket purchases (cars, mattresses, our apartment) and experiences – 13 Disney-less years of existence prior to 2017 would certainly bear out that assertion.  And I do it with the media I consume as well – whilst tidying up our possessions in contemplation of the nearly-completed renovations to our apartment, I found all manner of forgotten movies, television shows and books, things I meant to get to, but never did, because at one time in the distant past, they just weren’t speaking to me.

But life is short and all that not-so trite shite, and in my advancing years, I’ve learned that putting off the uncomfortable, the awkward, the expensive and the unpleasant does you no favours in the present, and maybe even a good deal of damage in the future.  So go ahead and buy that new mattress that both your back and sleeping patterns so desperately need, even though you know it’s going to be a righteous pain in the ass to move it in and dispose of the old guy, and mattresses are so expensive, so why even bother in the first place, even though you’re pretty sure if you sleep one more night on the back-breaker from hell, you’ll wake up crippled (totally speaking from personal experience here, and yes, our new mattress – delivered four days ago, and indeed, it was a pain moving it in – is divinely comfortable, and we’ve been getting great sleep, and Why Didn’t I Do This Sooner?)  Or hit up that restaurant/theatre/gallery/club/bar that you’ve always been interested in visiting, even though it’s in a completely inconvenient part of town with absolutely zero parking, and, and, and…just go, struggle a bit with the parking, sure, but ultimately enjoy a fantastic evening and discover a fun new activity, and Why Didn’t You Do This Sooner?  TL;DR?  The only predictable thing in life is its unpredictability, and the universe WILL be a dink.  So stop making excuses and get on with it already.

And that goes doubly for the movies and TV shows we (don’t) watch, the music we (sometimes) listen to and especially the books we (forget to) read, which have a tendency to languish on IKEA Billy bookcases for decades until we take them down and finally devour them as part of a friend’s reading challenge (the third prompt, “Carpe read ’em – a title on your TBR for 1+ years”), unexpectedly love the crap out them and then spend the next week berating ourselves for not reading them sooner.  Once again speaking from personal experience, this time regarding Jeffrey Eugenides’ 2002 Middlesex, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from the author of my favourite book, The Virgin Suicides, and a novel that sat, unread, on my IKEA Billy bookcase for 17 years, because I ultimately just wasn’t that interested in the story and could never work up the motivation to even crack open the front cover.  And this is a book that was gifted to me because I asked for it!

Middlesex Bookshelf

But I was wrong to put off this novel for so long, because it was a certifiable discovery, one of the most enjoyable things I’ve read in years, and one tagged with a front cover pull quote from my hometown newspaper, no less!

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But on its face, I get it, Middlesex doesn’t look like much.  This is the story of Calliope Stephanides, an American-born Greek growing up in suburban Detroit in the 1960s and ’70s.  Cal is born with ambiguous genitalia, a fact that goes completely unnoticed by her aging doctor, her loving, but increasingly WASP-y family, and even herself.  It’s not until Callie fails to develop like other girls her age that her parents take her to a specialist in New York City, an act that blows the lid off a huge family secret and sets the wheels in motion for Calliope to truly become Cal.

The story actually begins in 1922 in Bithynios with the man and woman who will become Cal’s grandparents fleeing the Turkish troops laying waste to their small Greek island.  We follow them as they immigrate to America, settling quickly in Detroit, with Cal’s grandfather, Lefty, taking work in the then-flourishing auto industry, whilst also dabbling in a bit of rum-running, gambling and speakeasy-ing on the side.  We watch as Cal’s grandmother, Desdemona, struggles with new American customs, holding firm to the old ways, though still desperately trying to outrun the past.  We see Lefty and Desdemona begin a family, and then watch as their son, Milton, grows into a deeply romantic young man, whose spurned affections for Tessie, the girl next door, lead him into a deeply ill-considered stint with the Navy.  But Milton returns to Detroit whole, and counting their lucky stars, he and Tessie marry and they begin a family of their own.  We then watch as their daughter, Calliope, grows up in the shadow of the floundering Motor City, a product of her Greek immigrant grandparents more than she could ever know.

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Middlesex is a book about a person finding their true identity, inasmuch as they choose to be defined by their genetic markers.  But moreover, it’s a book about a person finding their true identity simply by living it.  We are there for every moment of Cal’s mostly average suburban life.  We see her attend school, make friends, develop an infatuation, spend time with her family – the stuff of normal childhood and teenage life.  She becomes the person she was was meant to be (or more accurately, the person he was meant to be) mostly because of her upbringing and environment – post race-riots Detroit – and less because of what gendered box she checks off on the census.  And when Callie finally does embrace the Cal side of her identity, it changes virtually nothing about his basic personality, which has always been kind, thoughtful, respectful and loving (dated though it now is, this book could be a timely resource in today’s politically-charged climate, a reminder that not all “others” are scary freakshows trying to steal the government’s money so they can swap genders as easily as pulling on a pair of pants; it’s a LOT more nuanced than that, and also a lot more normal – whatever that word means – than you might expect.)

There is a reason Middlesex won the Pulitzer Prize, and that’s because Jeffrey Eugenides is a phenomenal writer.  Bit of a literary hermit, that one – he really only pokes his head out every 10 years or so, drops some astonishing bit of prize-winning art on us and then retreats to his foxhole.  But when people speak of effortless, lyrical writing, this is what they mean.  I can think of few authors who would be able to turn such a sprawling family tree into this engaging, enlightening and slyly funny a coming-of-age tale.  I absolutely adored Middlesex.  Please read it so we can talk about it together.

As always, I have nail art to accompany this review (can it be called a review if you spend the first 800 words talking about your renos?)  Here I’ve got the Detroit city skyline as against a gradient pink sunset, the only kind there apparently were in the heyday of the Motor City, when all the smog, pollution and miscellaneous floating about the atmosphere turned every sunset into a lurid pink fever dream.

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Literary Inspiration: Ready Player One

Ready Player One Collage

Fun fact: I’m a bit of a gamer.  Always have been, actually.  As a kid, I loved playing Q-Bert, Frogger and OG Donkey Kong on my family’s Texas Instruments rig whilst waiting for our gigantic claw-footed bathtub to fill.  Naked (and yes, there is a completely mortifying photo to that effect – a Polaroid, no less – and no, you will never see it!)

As a slightly older kid, I owned every generation of Nintendo and squared off with my friends every chance I could get – the Super Mario Bros. games were favourites, though I’d dabble in Sega titles from time to time.

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In high school I fell in love with the Donkey Kong Country games to such an extent, I was able to parlay my mad skills into a first place finish in a Kong-centric drinking game during a big, multi-school party.  Yup, I was definitely the “winner” that evening. 😦  And I know I used to drive my best friend absolutely bonkers because I’d play while we were on the phone together, and she totally knew.  Sorry, Sandra!

Then one Saturday morning right toward the end of high school, my dad came home from a local garage sale and tossed me an open NES cartridge, saying, “Here, you like this zombie crap, don’t you?”  The game?  Zombies Ate My Neighbors, a super rare cult classic from Konami that went on to occupy my off-hours attention for the remainder of high school and most of university.  Trust my dad to just wander into purchasing one of the rarest and most beloved zombie games ever released for a buck at a garage sale. 😉

Between the end of university and the beginning of my Life As An Adult (still waiting for that to take hold, by the way) my gaming fields went fallow – access is key, and I didn’t have either of the big consoles at the time, or a PC.  Then I met Mr. Finger Candy and we got so serious so quickly, he MOVED HIS PLAYSTATION INTO MY APARTMENT.  This really warrants all caps, because at the time, this was basically the equivalent of him leaving his penis at my apartment all day long – that’s how important that PS2 was to him (also one of the ways I knew how very serious he was about our relationship, because he was willing to entrust his most beloved possession to his new girlfriend and her roommate, who played the CRAP out of it – particularly the badass snowboarding game, SSX – every chance they could get.)

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Then a couple of years after we got married, Mr. Finger Candy introduced me to the Sims.  And the next four months are largely unaccounted for (beyond knowing that I spent nearly every second of them in the guest bedroom crafting a glorious desert trailer park filled with pirates and carnies and ill-tempered ex-celebrities.)  I haven’t played with that level of intensity since (and that’s probably a good thing; the Sims is, shall we say, demanding of one’s time) but I’ll still dabble from time to time.

The Sims

I was for a time also completely obsessed with this totally messed up American McGee game called Alice: Madness Returns.  It was an utterly beautiful game, and the visuals were just incredible, but yeesh, what a mindf**k.  I adored it, and indeed, I launched this very blog with some of those working-way-beyond-my-comfort-level designs.

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And my husband is a pretty hardcore gamer, clanning up online with a bunch of buddies to run around and kill virtual things every weekend, be they rogue military factions, zombies or rogue military zombie factions.

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So still lots of gaming in my life, then, now and probably always, so it’s a no brainer that I was drawn to 2018’s Ready Player One, a Spielberg-directed Amblin throwback of gigantic nerd proportions inspired by the 2011 novel of the same name by Ernest Cline.  I adored the movie – spunky kids saving the world from fantasy-based destruction! a giant melee fight scene scored to Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It! and an incredible mash-up of about 200 competing video game, movie and TV titles, including The Iron Giant, Halo, Pikachu, DC Comics, Overwatch, Back to the Future, Gundam, Jurassic Park, Hello freakin’ Kitty, and an absolutely incredible scene set within the world of The Shining that’s worth the price of admission alone.  I loved it.

I loved the novel, which I read in service of my friends’ reading challenge for the second theme of “You saw the movie but didn’t read the book…now read the book,” ever so slightly less, simply because it was so intensely detailed and relentless in its references to tech and nerd culture, I found it hard to map the overall story.  It was a really enjoyable read – fun, lively, and with so many delightful little nods to the games and movies that have shaped my life – but I could also never quite shake the feeling that I was sitting an exam on 400-level nerd culture for which I had not studied, and I was about to fail HARD.  This is one of those books that probably requires a second read-through just to pick up the smaller details you may have missed the first time around.

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Barring one or two deviations, the movie and the novel tell the same story: It’s the year 2044, and everything sucks.  Humanity’s just given up on trying to solve its unsolvable problems and has retreated into an online mecca known as the OASIS, an unending virtual playground where you can do or be anything you wish.  In Columbus, Ohio, a poor young man by the name of Wade Watts has spent the past five years trying to solve a puzzle left in the OASIS by its late creator, James Halliday.  And Watts is far from the only Gunter (egg hunter) hard at work on cracking the puzzle, because the player who finds Halliday’s easter egg will assume total operational and financial control of the OASIS, a property estimated to be worth nearly two trillion dollars.  With that amount of money and power on the line, the hunt for Halliday’s easter egg lures in more than just the Gunters, with the world’s less morality-minded organizations lining up to lay their claim to the egg.  IOI, or Innovative Online Industries, an outfit that sells medically questionable allotments of ad space AND correctional services, is at the head of those companies, devoting nearly the entirety of their significant operational budget to the search for the egg through any means necessary.

When both the book and the movie open, Wade and a few friends have cracked the first clue, with IOI nipping close at their heels.  And the rest of the book follows this back-and-forth between the independent and corporate forces as they try to assume control of the OASIS for their own ends, peppered with about nine bajillion references to popular culture, technology and hardcore geekery.  There’s also a bit of romance in there.

Where the book and the movie really deviate is in tone, with the movie striking that perfect Spielbergian note of sassy childlike wonder – bad guys are trying to trying to take something good and make it bad, let’s stop them! – while the book went for something much darker.  In the movie, Wade’s parents are dead, victims, he insinuates, of a harsh world ill-suited for good people.  But in the book, you find out that Wade’s parents, paying no heed to their duties as caretakers, destroyed their family and died badly, Wade’s mom overdosing and his father dying during a failed looting attempt.  In the same vein, the IOI of the movie is almost quaint in its forgotten era bad guy tactics, with the book IOI just straight up throwing people off balconies.  But apart from the darker content, the book is just missing that sense of innocent wonder that made the movie such an appealing adaptation in the first place.

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But I really liked Ready Player One, sped through it like a beast in about three days, nitpicky little details notwithstanding.  I like these nails I did, inspired by DOS lettering, a lot less.  This is what happens when you refuse to use nail art stuff like striping tape that might make a design that needs to look precise look a lot more precise than it does.  Which is not one bit!  Egads, would you look at that S?!  On second thought, don’t look too closely at it – that thing is atrocious.  This is definitely one for the redo pile, perhaps the next time I reread Ready Player One.

Literary Inspiration: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict

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As Bon Jovi would say, this is my confession: I didn’t particularly enjoy Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, I’m not sure why I read it (other than it fulfilled the required theme of “A tale where the main character loves to read” in my friends’ reading challenge) and I wouldn’t read it again.  It was silly, dull as dishwater and completely and utterly lacking in wit.  Confessions was a tepid recreation of any one of Austen’s novels about headstrong young women of means boxed in on all sides by romance, propriety, social convention and Georgian Mommy Dearest, with a dash of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Goin’ a bit harsh here, perhaps, but this book was as boring as any one of the innumerable scenes of our heroine (*pulls out book and looks for the main character’s name, because it’s already gone*) Courtney Stone needlepointing her way through a situation that has somehow resulted in her becoming a Jane Austen-type character in Regency England.

Annnnndddd I was about to explain the hows and whys of how that came to be before I realized it just doesn’t matter.  Despite declaring herself a major Austenite, Courtney – Jane Mansfield now, seriously – has no idea how to navigate this world of intricately choreographed social convention, not even with the perpetual threat of blood-letting, institutionalization and her mother’s cruel threats hanging over her head.  So she sees no problem whatsoever in carrying on as though she’s still Courtney, confusing and worrying absolutely everyone with her talk of modern products and concepts, or mixing up the names of the many, many men who have apparently done her wrong.  There’s TWO half-baked love triangles in Confessions, one in Courtney’s past-present and then another in Jane’s present-past, and I didn’t care about either of them.  Arguably neither did the author, Laurie Viera Rigler, because the driving conflict of one is resolved in a three-page epilogue, and the other is never addressed at all.

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The only real emotion I was able to muster was when Courtney/Jane, worn down by her fruitless attempts to get back to her time, says to hell with it and nearly shags some random drunkard in a side parlour during a fancy party in London.  Times have indeed changed, and in Courtney’s world, having a one-night stand with some random is NBD.  But in Jane’s world, for a woman of her station – proper, wealthy, and with at least one suitor poised to propose marriage, to say nothing of the batshit mother – this indelicate act is tantamount to taping a grenade to her face.  It was a reckless move on the part of the character, and a careless move on the part of the author – Austen’s most beloved heroines are always fiercely protective of what little independence they’re able to carve out in such a regimented society, but they’re not careless with their safety or their reputations.  You’d never find Elizabeth Bennett contemplating how much fun it would be to drag some drunken lout into a coat closet for a snog while Mr. Darcy stands outside.  She’d just be looking for a way to get the hell out of the party so she could go home, sit in the parlour with her father and listen to his wistful stories about a time before Mrs. Bennett.

My own mother read this book twice, out of admitted boredom.  She was apartment-sitting while we were on holiday and our TV went on the fritz; with nothing else around she wanted to read (seriously, Mom, there is a SHELF full of Stephen King; read those, they’re great!) she willingly read this book, that she had previously loaned me, again.  I don’t even know how, and I really don’t know why.  Is Stephen King really that bad?

Anyway, the only thing more boring than Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict is needlepoint, an activity Courtney/Jane spends a lot of time attending to, so I did this folksy, stitched manicure articulating my feelings on the matter.

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Literary Inspiration: Fat Vampire

Fat Vampire Collage

So read in service of my friends’ 2019 reading challenge for the theme of a coming-of-age tale – or in this case, the after-the-colon sub-title of “A Never Coming of Age Story.”

2010’s Fat Vampire, by Adam Rex, starts off strong and engagingly daffy.  When the book opens, 16-year-old Doug is really not living his very best life, beset on all sides by bad skin, weight gain, unpopularity and a new, deeply confusing state of vampirism – confusing because post-transformation, Doug is still just as overweight, unpopular and bedeviled by acne as he was before.  No “Sleep all day, party all night” for this vampire.  And the biggest bummer of all is that he’ll remain this way for eternity.

The first 50 or so pages of Fat Vampire had me guffawing out loud, shouting lines of dialogue out to Mr. Finger Candy with glee – “And then he gets punched by a panda!”  There was so much to giggle at in those opening pages, from Doug’s botched plan to feed off a celebrity panda at the San Diego Zoo (it really does result in him getting cold-cocked by Baby Shaun Shaun’s righteously pissed off mother) to his buddy Jay’s deer-in-the-headlights attempt at distraction at the blood bank he and Doug inelegantly attempt to rob (“WE DON’T HAVE ID,” said Jay, loudly.  “‘CAUSE WE’RE CANADIAN, WE DON’T USE ID.”  “What part of Canada you from, honey?”  “THE LEFT PART,” said Jay.”)

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Doug and Jay’s clumsy adventures in San Diego quickly catch the attention of smarmy cable TV producer Alan Friendly, who’s looking for proof irrefutable that vampires exist.  The future of his low budget program, Vampire Hunters, hinges on finding and investigating real vampire activity, and his sponsors have run out of patience with his zero-sum results.  Soon, Doug has a bunch of ratings-obsessed reality TV types on his tail, with no clue how to shake them.

After moving the action back to the boys’ suburb outside of Philadelphia, the book veers off into about seven different directions, none of them particularly coherent or funny or informative of the story as a whole.  Doug links up with a group of elder vampires and discovers that he’s far from the only student at his high school to be recently transformed, though no one knows who the vampire or vampiress might be.  The jocks are werewolves.  Which is a metaphor.  Until it’s not.  An Indian exchange student by the name of Sejal shows up and catches Doug’s eye.  Sejal shows him absolutely zero interest, and when she turns down his invitation to go on a one-on-one date, he bitterly accuses her of leading him on.  Sejal doesn’t care; she’s got her own problems to deal with, including shaking her former identity as a sufferer of “The Google,” a too-twee way of saying that back in India, she was a dick to other people online.  Jay bears the brunt of Doug’s not-so-gentle good humour, and other people begin to notice the one-sided nature of their friendship.

Somewhere in here Doug feeds off a sexy deer and turns into a raging asshole.  I missed the bit about how deer blood apparently suffuses you with sexy dickhead superpowers, but next thing you know, Doug’s skin has cleared up, the weight has come off and hey, he even has a girlfriend to abuse and ignore.  Sure, she’s albino pale, rail thin and seems to be suffering from an epic case of unexplained lethargy, but here’s finally the girl the world has promised guys like Doug.  Ah, Doug – the vampire incel hero you never knew you needed.  And he’s still a dick, except now he’s a full fledged vampire dick.

The Vampire Hunters stuff gets dealt with, sort of.  Chasing after Doug, Alan Friendly is involved in a huge car crash and is critically injured.  At the end of Fat Vampire you don’t know if he’s going to live or die – his story simply ends.  Ditto another very important character, who deserved so much more.  The book ends with a definitive conclusion undone by about a dozen what-ifs, all of them so much better than the actual ending.  It was a frustrating read, particularly after all the charm and wacky delight of the opening chapters.

Fat Vampire feels like two separate books slapped together, one filled with all the wit and awkward whimsy you’d expect from a story about an unpopular, underage vampire, and then another nastier little book about a mean and bitter man raging at a world that hasn’t given him what he feels by rights is his.  No wonder I didn’t enjoy it – don’t we have enough of that in the universe already?

Fat Vampire 1

I do like these nails, though, which feature Baby Shaun Shaun, Jay’s Canadian maple leaf, Sejal’s ditched-at-the-airport pink suitcase with its heart-shaped luggage tag and my own befuddlement at the story.  Truth in nail art, yo.

Literary Inspiration: The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World

Hidden Magic Collage

“Wait,” you may be saying to yourself, “you never shut up about Disney World, and I suspect from your last seven, long, incredibly detailed posts that you already know all of the out-in-the-open magic of Walt Disney World.  So what gives with the book?”  (As an aside, it’s amazing how much you sound like me when you’re calling me out!  You’re also a little rude, but I’m willing to overlook that.)

What gives with the book, The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World by Susan Veness, is that in the lead-up to our last trip to Disney, I was looking for a fun trivia book that would point me in the direction of some heretofore undiscovered Disney delights.  Turns out I really do know, like, 90 percent of the magic of Disney World, and this spare little book didn’t illuminate too many things I was not already aware of (at the Magic Kingdom, a kid’s eye view of the Sleeping Beauty fountain in Fantasyland reveals a crown atop Aurora’s head; over in the Animal Kingdom, the red, yellow and white pipes that run along the ceiling in Dinosaur bear the chemical compositions for ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise in a nod to the ride’s original sponsor, McDonald’s; Hollywood Studios’ Tower of Terror bears an exterior Mediterranean aesthetic in order to blend in with Epcot’s Morocco pavilion next door, over which it – pun intended – towers.)

Things I should have noticed before I purchased the book?  That its information only went up to the Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland expansion in 2012, which means it was missing details on both 2017’s Pandora – the World of Avatar expansion at the Animal Kingdom and the opening of 2018’s Toy Story Land in Hollywood Studios.  So it was really telling me nothing I didn’t already know.  It did not take me very long to blip through this wee book.

The most complete, detailed information came in the section on the Animal Kingdom, the park I am probably the least familiar with.  And I suspect that its completeness is owing to Veness securing a direct interview with Joe Rohde, Disney Imagineering legend and lead designer of the Animal Kingdom.  Ultra engaged, ultra gregarious and ultra creative (you’ve seen him; he’s the very enthused, exceptionally earnest gentleman with giant, stretched out earlobes weighted down with intricate metal rings) Rohde strikes me as the kind of man who would grant a delightful interview to anyone, from a major news outlet, to an elementary school newspaper, to an author seeking information directly from the source.

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There is just a ton of detail here about the Animal Kingdom, in particular Dinoland USA, a day-one part of the park (an incongruous mix of the serious – paleontology – with the not-so-serious – a trashy side-of-the-highway amusement park) that has never quite felt like it fit with the rest of the park’s lush, natural aesthetic.  I love the crap out of the Dinosaur ride (it might be my third favourite ride behind the Haunted Mansion and the Tower of Terror) but I’ve just never understood the Dino-Rama midway part of Dinoland USA; why the too-bright, too-loud dino carnival in the midst of the Animal Kingdom’s otherwise peaceful oasis?

Dino-Rama Collage

Rohde, who oversaw the design and implementation of Dinoland USA, has always said there’s a method to his madness, and Dino-Rama isn’t just a weird jumble of carnival shys, body-punishing wild mouse coasters and hokey dinosaur puns (“This exstincts!” proclaims one sign bearing a dino staring up in dismay at a meteorite hurtling towards his head.)  But I’ve warmed to the place considerably since reading The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World, because it finally explained that madness, and turns out, it’s really not so weird after all.

The story behind Dinoland USA is that the Dino Institute, a scientific operation where you can take tours into the past (AKA ride the Dinosaur ride, in which you travel back to the Cretaceous period to nab a dino for a morally conflicted researcher, Dr. Grant Seeker, heh), has funded a paleontology expedition in the area and sent a number of students and professors there to carry out the painstaking work of digging up old dino bones (AKA The Boneyard, a massive, incredibly fun-looking playground area for kids.)  The grad students and their professors live in the various trailers and RVs dotted throughout the area, with a number of these 1960s-style trailers converted into makeshift dining halls bearing names like Trilo Bites, the Dino Diner, Dino-Bite Snacks and Restaurantosaurus (actual dining spots you can visit and grab a – sigh – dino bite.)

Animal Kingdom Dino Diner

So the story goes, married couple Chester and Hester, carny opportunists to the core, came to the area and immediately noted the financial possibilities inherent in a place with a totally captive audience of stressed out, entertainment-starved academics.  So they moved in right next door and, cribbing off the Dino Institute’s goodwill and legitimacy, opened up Dino-Rama, a ramshackle midway competitor for the students’ attention, time and money.  This is a dig at the many, many fly-by-night attractions that sprang up directly outside Disneyland’s gates when that park opened in 1955, a “how did we not see this coming?” move that irked Walt to no end and prompted him to essentially buy up nearly all of central Florida in a move to head off a repeat performance when he opened his World of Disney in 1971.

Dino Collage

The big draw in Dino-Rama, aside from numerous looming dinosaurs and Chip and Dale strutting about in their finest dino costumes, is Primeval Whirl, a densely knitted wild mouse coaster in which your cart wildly spins, sending you plummeting downhill somehow both sideways and backwards.  It’s an incredibly rough ride – really never fails to break our old arses – and you swing about so much, you never really get a chance to appreciate the silly cartoon dinosaur artwork and sad trombone jokes that pepper the attraction in a budget imitation of the legit Dinosaur ride next door at the Dino Institute.  Here, behold!  Now with additional Triceratops Spin action!

It’s all so very petty and passive aggressive, and I really kind of love it now that I know the backstory.  The whole of Dinoland USA is actually blanketed with little bits of trivia about the two disparate groups – letters and photos and other mementos dotted about as reminders of this odd, competitive pairing.  I think it’s all quite charming!  And information I’m glad to have learned – it really made my experience that much richer this last visit to have the scoop on the funny little inside jokes and local colour of Dinoland USA.  Which is why I chose its colourful sign – at least the Dino part! – as the subject matter of this manicure, inspired by Hidden Secrets of the Magic Kingdom, which I read in service of my friends’ reading challenge for the eighteenth prompt, “a guide.”

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