Tuesday, September 16, 2014

obnoxious heroines, and on not being the wolf's human any more

Last weekend, our little family made an outing to a local Puppy Mill Awareness event (for the record, it was anti-puppy mills). There were some booths and a police dog demonstration, and Perdita slept through almost everything. Then we walked around town, and behaved badly at the local chocolate shop (you'd think $27 worth of chocolate would last longer than two days, wouldn't you?), and generally had a lovely time.

Bingley got lots of attention, which he never used to, being completely overshadowed by the Great White Rockstar. It was wonderful to see him receiving lots of scritches and praise, and hearing people comment on his beautiful brindle coat, and having little kids refer to him as "a BIG dog!" which, again, is something that would never have happened before. As I waited for Berowne outside a shop, a gang of late-teens-early-twenties girls came down the street, one of them complaining loudly about her awful day, and when she saw Bingley she broke off mid-sentence to ask, "May I pet your dog?" and, after much ear-rubbing and wagging, told me that her day was now 100% better.

Wonderful, like I said. He's a glorious dog and I've never felt he got enough attention or admiration. But that night, home and consuming chocolate, I confessed to Berowne that being out at a dog event without Darcy-Bear had hurt far more than I expected it to. For all the attention that Bingley got, we were still pretty much just a couple with a stroller and a dog. I grew accustomed to a lot more than that, in my five years with Darcy. I was used to jaws hitting the ground when we walked up, to being surrounded by a dozen or more awe-struck people at once, to know that absolutely everyone within a two-block radius is staring amazed at your beautiful giant wolfy companion. I never got tired of telling his story over and over, or of saying, "Shepherd-malamute mix" until the words stopped sounding like anything.

Not only did I love him for himself, because he was wonderful beyond words, but I was so proud to be his human, and I loved taking him places. I loved the attention we got. And oh, how he would have looked next to the stroller! His head would have been level with Perdita's gaze as we walked along, and she would doubtless have laughed with joy at this, as she laughs at Bingley's antics now.

I know that the only thing worse than dealing with his illness and death while hugely pregnant would have been dealing with it while also dealing with a newborn baby, or having the final moment come when we were in the hospital. But it was so hard to accept that he would never see the baby, nor she him. And after being part of something so special, realizing we're now just another couple with a stroller and a dog makes me feel his loss with a very sharp edge.

He was supposed to live long enough for Perdita to remember him (though I knew even before he got sick that that was a long shot). There were supposed to be Little Red Riding Hood photo shoots, damn it. He was supposed to live forever, because I loved him, and now I'm about to get into Auden territory about a dog, but it's how I feel. Every day I miss the big dog and it hurts like hell.

Well! That cheerfulness aside, there's a lot of reading, because I've slacked on writing about that:

Now You See Me, by S.J. Bolton. I wanted to finish this, even though it was total hate-reading from about page five, but it defeated me. Our heroine and narrator is ridiculous: so gorgeous that she has to wear fake glasses and baggy clothes at work to be taken seriously, got the highest marks ever at police academy but behaves like a twelve-year-old on speed when it comes to common sense or impulse control (she's supposed to be "rebellious", I think), and as a teenager lived on the streets for eight months and did tons of drugs because she is SO cool and badass (and magically immune to the effects of such a period on one's looks or career prospects). I learned all this by page three, though; page five is when it became apparent that the sleeveless-T-shirt-wearing, "turquoise-eyed", hyper-misogynist superior officer is her love interest, and that Bolton's idea of a love interest means having her heroine think, "I hate him SO MUCH but I lose all my breathtaking intelligence around him, and the incredibly offensive way he takes charge of my life and makes inappropriate comments about my fabulous body makes me all tingly, so I'm going to make inappropriate comments right back because that's how two adults who work together handle these things, right?" Also the fact that the serial killer is obsessed with her is presented as further proof of how awesome she is.

But still I trundled on, until our heroine is almost killed by a suspect, and when she wakes up in the hospital, her reaction is zero percent thankfulness that she's alive and one hundred percent screaming sobbing meltdown because her nose was broken and she might not be quite as beautiful any more. She's far too cool and jaded and sexy for emotions; people getting killed in front of and for her doesn't phase her in the least; but when she thinks her nose might become slightly crooked she throws a temper tantrum. (Wouldn't crying hysterically with a broken nose hurt like crazy?) And this is the cue for DCI What'sBestForYou to take her in his arms and declare his love, because nothing says "relationship material" like "cares more about her appearance than about the victims whose murders she's supposed to be solving". Nothing says "heroine with whom we're supposed to sympathize" like that, either, to the extent that I sent this book back to the library tout suite.

I've lost all tolerance, if I ever had any, for the female character who is a total asshole (because she knows how impossibly gorgeous, impossibly successful, and impossibly brilliant she is) but whom the author repeatedly tells us is the most generous and giving person in the world. These heroines are especially awful because they're always narrators, and so you have to spend a whole book in their head while they talk about how annoying it is to have men walking into walls around them, and how disgusting that fat woman over there is, and how pathetic and slutty this other woman trying to get a man's attention is, and how tedious other people are when you're the smartest person in the world, BLAH BLAH BLAH, and then there's ALWAYS some other character piping up with, "You have the kindest heart / most generous nature / best personality ever," as if the reader's just going to nod along with that after a couple hundred pages of flat-out mean narration towards everyone the heroine has ever met. A very good example of this: Diana Gabaldon's Claire, who spends thousands of pages thinking the nastiest things imaginable about gay men and all other women (because they are all after her man, don't you know), and also being casually racist, and when leaving her daughter forever (as in: will never see her again, never hear from her again, will be separated from her by a magical two hundred years, FOREVER), tells her, "Try not to get fat." To which the daughter's father replies, not sarcastically, that she is the best mother ever, the same way that all the other characters are constantly extolling her to the skies as the kindest person ever to walk the planet even as she's thinking vile things about them based on their race or sexual orientation or bodice size.

I just can't deal with that shit. I was floored by the "try not to get fat" thing years before having a daughter of my own, and now it makes me break out in a cold sweat. I mean, when I decide that the present has entirely too much hygiene and medical science to be sexy, and I must journey into the past for my sexy times, I don't think leaving my daughter a legacy of body hatred will be my first instinct. (Of course, taking said journey would not be my first instinct either, as my turn-ons include owning property and not dying in childbirth.)


Red Bones, by Ann Cleeves. Another in her Shetland mystery series, which I like very much. Makes me want to live on a Scottish island SO BAD (although, to be fair, waking up in the morning can also make me want that). 

Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue. Oh, Emma. She's such an amazing writer, and it's just all historical prostitutes, all the time. This one also had horrifying stuff about historical child neglect and illness which had me blubbering like a walrus (and briefly not wanting to live on a Scottish island unless I can find one with a state-of-the-art pediatric medical facility). 

A Dying Fall, by Elly Griffiths. The latest in her archaeologist-sucked-into-police-investigations series. Around the second book the premise got strained, but I'm willing to go with it because I like the characters and the writing. However, I grow weary of how the protagonist's single motherhood is presented: as not nearly wearing enough. It's just a sort of tossed-off, "Ruth is often tired these days," when, as someone five months into fully-partnered parenthood, I am quite certain that after two years of completely solo parenting, being described as "often tired" would make you go into Blanche DuBois levels of hysteria if only you could remain conscious long enough. Ruth also occasionally feels guilty about being late for pick-up at the "childminder", but never does she have trouble finding childcare or worry about the money involved. Hrrrm.

Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Klein. To say that this is a book-club book is not to say anything negative about it - book clubs are awesome - but it does describe a certain type of book in a way that I hope you understand. It was a good book, and made me cry, and I hustled through it. 

I left unfinished Marisha Pessl's Night Film. All the reviews said it was pretty god-awful, but I wanted to give it a try anyway. The reviews were right.

Eugene Onegin, by Alexander Pushkin. I... did not know this was in verse.

Fetch the Devil: The Sierra Diablo Murders and Nazi Espionage in America, by Clint Richmond. This was my Early Reviewers book, about the murder of a mother and daughter in the Southwest in the 1930s, and how Richmond believes that it was related to espionage. He makes a good case, but the reporting was a bit dry and too heavy on portraying the law enforcement involved as rugged cool dudes. There is a way, I know, to write about an unsolved mystery without making the reader feel that their time has been wasting in reading about it. I can't quite articulate how it works, when it does, but it didn't in this case. 

The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, by Alison Weir. Very interesting after my last reading about the misinformation around Anne Boleyn; Bordo had some scathing things to say about Weir. There were indeed moments when Weir assigned motives (often spiteful) to Anne that the historical record doesn't support, but she was mostly good about admitting where the holes in our knowledge are. I got the feeling that Weir didn't like Anne, but was trying to be fair. 

Next time: adventures in chocolate budgeting! Ha, that will never happen. 


  1. Oooh, no you don't; say more about Eugene Onegin! I've only seen the opera, and never read any Pushkin at all.

    1. Ha! I was so thrown to see that it was in verse, and had so many questions about what that meant for the translation, that I then had a hard time gauging its actual quality. The verse in English was decently clever, but I didn't feel like I could possibly be reading anything close to the original poem. It was... okay. Not much happens.

    2. Interesting. Apparently Nabokov translated it using prose, and had lots to say about verse versions (along with many other aspects [quelle surprise]).