Friday, November 28, 2008

A Random List, Inspired by Yesterday...

Yesterday was one of my favorite days of the year.

No, not because it was Thanksgiving. I mean, I love turkey day, but we don't celebrate it here. When I went to college in upstate New York, every year my friend would invite me over to his house and we'd have a huge dinner with his family. I love any day that allows you to eat that much and just have a nice time with people. Americans have so many more days of gorging that we do. Sigh.

But no. I had no Thanksgiving Dinner, but I did get my National Dog Shows.

Crazy confession: I absolutely LOVE dog shows. I can't help it. I can't explain it. But I love them and can't stop watching them and I get very much into them and start rooting for my favorites and it's all a little strange, but awesome. Every year I wait for the Dog Shows, my favorite being the Westminster Show, which plays on USA for like three days and it's a seemingly endless parade of cute and fluffy dogs all primped up and looking super excited to be strutting around a room.

It's kind of psychotically glorious, really.

Yesterday was the National Dog Show, and it was a blast, though it was sadly shortened for time and I didn't get to see all the dogs. I hate when they do that. They pick a few to show you and ignore the others. Absurdly, it makes me feel sad for the ones who don't make it on screen.

I get really into it. Everything is such a hilarious show. You have the overly primped-up dogs (poodles. I hate primped up poodles), the hilarious little tiny dogs (oh man have you ever seen a show Pekingese? those things are awesome), the seriously gorgeous dogs that even the uneducated eye can tell are beautiful animals, the ugly dogs, the ones that sit down in the middle of the floor and don't move, because, well, they're dogs. Then there are the commentators, who every year say the same thing, and make horrible dog jokes. There are the handlers with their horrible shiny clothes and ugly shoes, the crazy crowds (honestly, who GOES to a dog show? I can't understand it).

And there is, always, invariably, the pangs of envy as I look at some of the dogs and think "Oh, God. I want one of those. I WANT!!" This happens a lot. By the end of the night I end up with fifteen fantasy dogs and I scare my fiance by claiming that one day I will have ten dogs in my house. I tell him I am just kidding.

I'm not kidding. Sucker.

Anyway, because I love dogs and I love lists, and I have to post pictures of everything, here are my Top 8 Fantasy Dogs. If I had money, space, time, money and a dream house with a giant yard, these are the dogs I would get:

The Newfoundland. A few years ago one of these won the Westminster show, and I immediately fell in love. They're huge, yes, but they have to be some of the prettiest, sweetest dogs I have ever seen.

Great Dane. Again, this one would be bigger than I am, but damn I love those dogs. And apparently they're as sweet and caring an animal as you could get. Bonus: scares bad people away.

PBGV. Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen. Look at that thing. It's impossibly cute with its little legs and its hot dog body and the ears. They always look so happy.

The Beagle. Who doesn't love beagles? They're little spitfires.


The Miniature Schnauzer. They're so tiny, energetic, and gorgeous. I saw one of these at the pet store the other day, and had to force myself not to spend the small fortune on buying it. Beautiful dogs.

And now, the Terriers. Terriers are my downfall.

Tibetan Terrier. Need I say more? Just look at that thing.


Hands down one of the most beautiful little animals in the world. These are a bit stand-offish, but loyal.

The Norfolk Terrier. I normally don't go for tiny dogs, but these just win my heart every single time I see one.


Ta-da. I was going to make it an even 10, but I don't feel strongly about any of the others. Runners up would be Dalmatians, Black Pekingese (they have the most hilarious faces), Corgis, English Bulldogs and Havanese.

But my heart belongs to mutts. All my life we'd had mutts. The three I have right now, my three stinky babies, are part Havanese, part Maltese and part something else. They're lazy and kind of dumb, but they also hunt down mice and they are incredibly patient, specially with children.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A very long, very angry post about TV...

What's happened to TV?

Why am I suddenly so angry at it?

Several reasons come to mind.

1. ANTM is over for another season. The finale was pretty lame, as I was forced to admit when they replayed it on the weekend. Did anyone really think Samantha had any chance at all of winning? Nope. She wasn't special enough for Tyra. She was very, very bland and boring, and McKey (who is a horrible hunched-up runway walker) completely overshadowed her with her huge smile and awesome photos.

That runway? What the hell, Mr Jay? What new brand of absynthe-laced Tang were you drinking this week? Not only did the over-long and ridiculous pink runway make it obvious that the "show" had an audience of about 20 people, but it also made every model walking look ridiculous as they tried to run up a pink hill in those hideous dresses. Even Whitney looked embarrassed to be there, and that chick will do anything. It was a horrible show, and both the girls did really horribly bad on it. I loved how the runway was hardly even discussed at panel.

It was a big let down. McKey clearly had the better photos, but she wasn't a very exciting participant. That being said, I think for the first time a winner might have a chance of actually having a good career. It's just a matter of fixing that stupid makeover Tyra imposed on her. I wonder if she'll change her name back?

Anyway, now that it's over, my Wednesdays will be deadfests. I am glad I never got too attached to Pushing Daisies, as it had 'cancelation' written all over its cute, quirky self. Network TV audiences just don't do quirky, people. That show really had no chance at all.

2. There is absolutely nothing to watch on Tuesdays. I can't stand to watch five minutes of 'House' these days. Hey, look! House is being a dick and he has a mystery patient! No way! that's so new and exciting!

Or not. Oh, tonight ABC is showing A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, my second favorite holiday movie of all time (the first is their Christmas special), so for once I won't hate Tuesday night TV.

3. I am done with Heroes. Completely, absolutely, irreversibly done with it. I have packed my bags, slammed the door, taken the dog and driven away from Heroes. That bitch had better not call me again, or so help me.

I tried giving it a chance to win me back after the disastrous second season. After all, Lost proved to me that you CAN make a comeback from the lowest pits of TV hell, so maybe Heroes could do it as well.

But, after 10 episodes of only mildly interesting moments surrounded by hours and hours of horrible writing and meandering, useless plots, Heroes has outlived its second welcome, and has now been kicked out of my house. How much do I hate it now? Let me count the ways:

1. All the characters are horrible. No exceptions. They spend half the time whining about their powers, or about each other, or about how hard their lives are. If I wanted to watch people with superpowers go emo all over the damn place, I'd watch Smallville or Spiderman. I hate them all. I'd give Claire a pass, but she's surrounded by such large amounts of suck that I can't take it.
2. It is beyond me how a group of writers can make a show about people with some pretty awesome super powers so damn BORING and pointless.
3. The relationships are painful to watch, all of them. Are we really supposed to believe that all these couplings MEAN anything, when the show has given us nothing but some really bad, cheesy dialogue to tell us that these people like each other?
4. All of the women on this show are cheesy, horribly drawn characters that make me want to punch them in the face. All of them. There isn't a single redeeming female character on this show. Even Claire, who is the only person on this show who seems to THINK about herself and others, has been increasingly whiny and pathetic, begging for some male character to come redeem her. Every other character is a double-faced, insipid, irrational cliche who spouts off bad dialogue while trying to seduce one of the male characters. Complete fail.
5. The overarching plot is so convoluted that even the writers themselves seem to be confused. Subplots and characters are completely forgotten and turned aside, and the show keeps stepping on its own history and mythology. And if the writers themselves can't get this shit figured out, who can? Or who will care enough to try?
6. There are still too many characters. And they're all equally annoying. The worse thing is that the writers feel the need to give them all their own little subplots and stupid quests, which get drawn out for episodes only to come to unsatisfying and often enraging conclusions.
7. Bad acting. Oh good lord. If I have to watch Milo Ventimiglia try to look troubled (or angry, or worried, or sad, or whatever) by frowing and waving his hands a lot any more, I will punch the TV. And I like my TV.
8. All these people do is talk and talk, and whine, and whine some more, about what they want to do, or who they are, or what they did wrong two episodes ago. For the love of everything holy: either DO something about it or shut the hell up and get out of the show.
9. All the fake-outs about possible deaths or people coming back from the dead. When you don't care about a character, you're not going to care about whether they live or die. Even more when you know they'll probably come back to suck some more.
10. This show is going nowhere. There will be more walking and talking and whining, and no action until the big battle that will decide nothing because these characters will never, ever change.

Phew. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to go on that long. But the more I thought about it, the angrier I became at this show. It had SO MUCH potential. Superheroes! pretty people! A really great budget that allowed for awesome visuals!

But no, what do we get? Hiro with the mind of a 10 year old (which is different from regular Hiro how?) chucking corn at Matt Parkman in a Kansas field while he emotes about some stupid girl we're supposed to believe he's in love with.

I was so angry I got up and turned the television off on Matt's face. It felt damn good to do that.

Where was I?

Oh yeah, why TV sucks these days. Well, that's my list, really. Loss of ANTM, nothing to watch on Tuesdays, and Heroes sucking. All that leaves me with is all the good shows playing on Thursdays, and with no DVR it's impossible to watch them all.

The Office is a bit annoying these days, but I still love it. The supporting characters are better than ever, and we're drawing close to some potentially great episodes.

30 Rock is my new love. It's funnier than the Office, and satisfies my craving for the absurd and hilarious. I want Tina Fey to be my best friend, you guys.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a recent discovery (to me) that often has me laughing so hard my stomach hurts. Why hadn't I watched this show before? It's crude and often disgusting, but outrageously funny as well. A new favorite.


So there is hope yet. I can't wait for Lost to come back so I will have a good drama to watch. Because other than Heroes, there are no other dramatic shows that I'm into. That's pretty sad.

That's the end of this week's TV Rant. I'm sorry it was so long. But I am angry. If I could, I'd put in a squiggly, angry-eyebrowed stickman into this.

I think I need a cookie.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Book #3: "Why Girls Are Weird" by Pamela Ribon

I have a love-hate relationship with any book that gets labeled as "chick lit". These are the books that, more often than not, have brightly-colored covers that almost invariably show a pair of legs with tights or funky shoes on (what is up with that? Why the legs? Why?), and they're usually badly written pieces of fluff about shopping and cheap relationships. Yet, when done right, a book directed at (certain types of) women can be funny and insightful, and they make for easy, fun reads when you're not in the mood for something too dense.

After my last two books, I definitely needed a break. A change of pace. I needed something small and colorful and for God's sake, something with a happy ending. This book fit that bill pretty nicely.

The plot is pretty simple. The main character, Anna Koval, starts up an online journal, where she posts stories about her life as Anna K. Most of the stories are true, but her online persona is changed slightly: she is part of a couple, and an actress among other things, while the real Anna is a bored librarian who has been single for over a year. Soon she starts getting barraged by fan mail, and she keeps on tweaking her life for her journal. She strikes up friendships with two fans in particular: a ditzy college student named Tess and a charming male fan who goes by the handle of LDobler, with whom she starts flirting over email. The plot follows Anna as she goes through her boring, single life while having writing on her journal.

Anna is miserable in her job and her love life. Though she broke up with her boyfriend more than a year ago, she is still stuck up on him (or the idea of him anyway). Her best friend, Dale, who is gay and preternaturally happy, observes her life and makes clever little quips about it. Anna soon discovers (thanks to Tess) that meeting fans of her online persona might not be such a good idea after all. She's afraid they'll all discover how fake she is.

Having been hooked on the internet myself for about 10 years now, I know how easy it is to pretend to be someone else through your online self. I found Anna's insecurities and fears about meeting online friends relatable and very, very true to life. There's the fear that you'll never be as fun or smart as your online persona, or that the person you'll meet will turn out to be a serial killer. But the truth (to me, anyway) is that unless you or the people you meet are huge psychotic liars, you can be yourself online, and you can get to know someone pretty well without actually meeting them. What I mean to say with all of this is that I never understood all the drama Anna creates. It felt blown way out of proportion. She just made herself a little more interesting, and who hasn't been guilty of doing this at least once in their lives? From the way she goes on you'd think she had pretended to be a millionaire or a celebrity, or a man. So it's problematic to me that I was supposed to be shocked by the double life Anna was leading, and I wasn't. At all.

My biggest problem with this book is actually that Anna Koval is sometimes unbearably dull. She has great stories, yes, and we're supposed to believe she's had a hilarious and interesting life. We're supposed to find her conversations with her friends funny and charming, but I honestly found them painful and almost embarrassing to read sometimes. I got a strange feeling while reading this book, like I had been watching a medium-quality sitcom. No one talks like this, I thought. It's funny, I guess, but…come on. The supporting characters, apart from Anna, never felt real to me, and she feels profoundly dull sometimes. I could imagine Ribon pulling real quotes from her own friends and forcing her characters to say them. In the end, Anna and her hipster buddies come off as just not that interesting. Then there's the completely unnecessary subplot involving Anna and a high school girl she meets. It felt tacked-on, serving only to provide a cheap moment of enlightenment for Anna, as if we didn't know all along that all she needed was to stop whining and take control of her own life. It's only her that takes an entire book to figure this out.

In the end, Why Girls Are Weird just seems badly matched with itself. There are moments of hilarity and sweetness, where I felt that this could've been a great book. Anna's relationships with her father and with LDobler both felt real, interesting, and touching. But then there are passages where I almost came to hate Anna Koval and her neediness, where it seemed like a whole other character had been put in place, one that I didn't like all that much. I wasn't as impressed by the secondary characters as much as I felt Ribon wanted me to be.
Ribon is undoubtedly a talented writer, witty and smart, but I don't think this book did her talent justice. It felt a bit empty, to be completely honest. That being said, it was an easy, short, fun book that perfectly fulfilled my need for a harmless read. And I got my happy ending, even if it was predictable and silly.
Now…can someone explain to me what the hell is up with these covers and the disembodied legs in funky socks and shoes? And to the boys: no, this book will not help you find out why girls are weird.

Note: I've been reading Pamela Ribon's online work for a while now. I first discovered it back when she used to write some awesome recaps for Gilmore Girls for Television Without Pity. She has a nice online journal of her own,, if you're interested.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Freebies List

Ooooooof. I am halfway through my Novel. I have 25,000 words and 51 one pages of story. I am almost completely proud of it. It'll need editing but I feel very happy with it so far.

But my brain is mush. I'm trying to finish my third Cannonball Book, and also trying to start up a cookie-selling scheme so I can make some money for Christmas presents. I am so poor, you guys.

Anyway, I think for days of brain mush one needs a bit of a breather. And my breathers usually come in the form of ogling pictures. Sometimes it's pictures of pretty places. Sometimes it's pictures of cute animals. Today is a day for the third type: pictures of hot men. There is a just a point at which your brain is so overwhelmed that all you want to do is be completely shallow. You know?

So today I give you my Freebies List. With photos. And annotations.

(For those of you who don't know, a 'Freebies List' consists of the 5 celebrities you'd most like to do whoopie with. No consequences or regrets. Just pure enjoyment. I spent waaay too much time thinking about my list back when it was a Pajiba comment diversion, and here it is in full. Enough with the parenthetical aside...)

Because I can.

Figgy's Five Freebies

(somewhat in order)

1. Eric Bana

Have you SEEN him in Troy? Yowzah. He really needs to get better roles., because I am convinced he is a good actor and the world needs to take more notice of him pronto. Mostly so I can look at him some more. I'll even watch STAR TREK for him, even if he's under 20 pounds of makeup.

2. Christian Bale

Well, come on. Do I even need to say anything about this one?

3. Gerard Butler

I had briefly considered taking him off the list after I heard he was doing a movie with Kate Hudson. Also, he's not exactly a brilliant actor. But then I saw 300 again and I was helpless to keep him here. Those eyes. The muscles. The accent. Etc.

4. Reynaldo Gianecchini

Chances are you don't this one. He's a brazilian soap opera actor that I happened to catch on tv by accident. Now I'm addicted to the damned show. He is possibly the most perfectly built man I have ever laid eyes on. He's perfect. Almost annoyingly so. Almost too pretty, but there's something about him.

5. Sean Bean

Oh, Sean Bean. Another Troy alumn, which just goes to show that while a movie might be completely horrible, if you have enough beefcake in it some people will watch it over and over and over again. Just to see Sean Bean with curly hair and a skirt. This man is gorgeous and brilliant in everything he does.

(And here is where Figgy passes out from so much hotness)

Honorable mentions:

1. Russell Crowe, but only during his Gladiator/Master and Commander/ Beautiful Mind phases. After that he really let himself go. Too bad.
2. Daniel Craig, who wears a tuxedo like nobody else can. I'd break my no-blonds rule for him.
3. John Krasinski, because he's just adorable.
4. Jeffrey Dean Morgan. I can't explain it.
5. Raoul Bova. Look him up.


So that's it.

I think I'll be coming back to this entry quite often. I know I will.

I promise to get back to regularly scheduled seriousness and deep thoughts and--HA who am I kidding. This is the most shallow journal of all time.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nothing can ever top this. Not ever.

Guys, I have been reduced to nothing but a pile of melty goo on the floor. I can't take it. I can't take it.

Hands down the most ridiculously, outrageously, nauseatingly, over-frakking-whelmingly cute thing I have ever *EVER* seen:

Once upon a time... from Capucha on Vimeo.

Warning: might cause your jaw to break from smiling too much, make your heart burst into flames because it can't handle that level of adorable and reduce you to nothing but a mushy mess that can say nothing but 'aaw'.

Oh good lord it's too much.

(Infinite thanks to . This made my freakin' week. Nay, MONTH!)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Book #2: "Everything is Illuminated" by Jonathan Safran Foer

First: No comments on my NaNo excerpt? come on! where are all the people who were pressuring me to post? Was it THAT bad? Pssh. See if I ever post anything again!

"Everything is Illuminated" by Jonathan Safran Foer

What a strange book this was.

I finished it two days ago, and I've spent the time since trying to think of a way to review it that will do justice to its bizarre genius while at the same time not getting me too much flak when I admit I didn't fully understand it. It left me with a very confusing mix of feelings, and I'll do my best to explain them here.

In essence, the book is about the main character's (Jonathan Safran Foer, in a strange meta twist) trip to Ukraine, where he attempts to find the woman who helped his grandfather during World War 2. He hires a guide to help him do this--but what he ends up getting is Alex, the translator who speaks in amusingly broken English and his cantankerous grandfather, their driver. Coming along for the trip is the grandfather's dog, Sammy Davis Jr, Jr.

The book switches back and forth between three different threads. First, we have letters that Alex writes to Jonathan in hilariously bad English, where we learn that the two young men have become friends. To these letters, Alex attaches what becomes the second thread in the book; chapters detailing the story of the trip the three main characters make to find the woman who saved Jonathan's grandfather. The third thread consists of chapters written by Jonathan himself, that tell the story of the shtetl (or village) of Trachimbrod, where his grandfather was born. These go all the way back to the 1700s, and they trace the story of Jonathan's ancestors.

Each of these threads is written in a distinct manner, which is an impressive demonstration of Foer's talent, but it was one of the main problems I had with the book. The chapters told from Alex's perspective are funny and moving in their simplicity, and are very entertaining to read. The characters of Alex and his grandfather are carefully and beautifully drawn and written, so that we become attached to them and their story.

On the other hand, the chapters taking place in the shtetl are confusing, somewhat rambling and disjointed. They jump from amusing little stories of the villagers to the longer stories of some of Jonathan's ancestors. There are also excerpts from the 'Book of dreams', which were amusing and interesting, infused with a sort of magical realism that reminded me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's writing. And then there are two or three consecutive pages filled with nothing but the words "We are writing...", and a full page of nothing but periods. There are some chapters written as plays. It's a crazy little trip that can be entertaining in parts, but in some others I found myself growing impatient and frustrated. Was all this really necessary to the story? Or was it just some strange way for Foer to show off? While I admire breaking away from traditional styles (and some of the book's most beautiful writing is in these chapters) I couldn't help but feel confused over why Foer wrote these scenes like he did. I'm sure a true literary critic would be frowning and looking down at me for being so ignorant, but I have to be honest here. Maybe the whole thing was just beyond me, and I am not worthy of Foer's genius, and maybe there is a point to all of this confusion. I don't know. I just know that these chapters felt a bit dry and strange, and they are very, very hard to write about.

While there is a slight feeling of disconnection between the chapters themselves, the entire book flows beautifully when viewed as a whole. The early chapters are almost uniformly funny and light, which led me to believe this was going to be a completely different book from what it ended up being. Then the mood of the book starts to subtly change. As Alex's writing becomes less broken and more elegant and emotional, so the entire tone of the book changes as new revelations come to light. It's like a downwards spiral, and the three threads of the story fall together, each becoming more ponderous and dark, like turning the dial down on a lamp. The final chapters are moving and sad as each of the threads reaches its conclusion. It's haunting, really, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about those final chapters since I read them.

Do you see why it's so hard to write about this book? I can't even properly voice why I didn't exactly "like" it. I enjoyed it, yes, and it was a worthwhile and impressive read, but in the end, my final feelings on a book come down to two questions. One, would I recommend it to other people? Maybe. I don't think everyone would enjoy it, and some may be put off by dryness of the shtetl chapters, and the whole strangeness of it. I would recommend it if you want to read something different and interesting. After all, I've never read anything like it and I was glad I gave it a chance. It's an insightful, captivating look at the past and how it can come back to haunt us, written in an unique and talented manner.

My second question is, would I read this book again? And my answer to that would be "probably not". I would probably benefit from reading the shtetl chapters with a little more patience, but I have the feeling I would be skipping quite a bit of it on a re-read, and that wouldn't do it justice. Maybe I can go back to it in a few years, but for now I'm going to let it lie, even though I feel it pulling at my mind to go back and read some of the passages I marked for this review.

But no. Bad book! Do you know I just spend two hours writing this? You sit there on the shelf and think about what you've done!

On a completely unrelated note: I don't usually notice this, but this book has one of the most beautifully designed covers I have ever seen. It's the Harper Perennial Olive Edition, if you care, and you should check it out. It's really quite pretty.

Another note: Was the movie for this any good?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

How do I still have the energy to post this? Another rant about all the writing I'm doing.


Sorry about the lack of updates, but November has been a crazy busy month for me. It's great being busy with something again. I stopped being productive for a couple of weeks there, and the laziness monster was eating at my brain.

First there was Paheeba Day over at Pajiba, which was fantastic fun to write for, as well as freakishly satisfying and one hell of an ego booster. My obsessions do come in handy sometimes.

Then there is NaNoWriMO (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated), where basically you sit your ass down and attempt to write a 50,000 word novel from scratch. I've done it two times in the past, both times reaching the word count but not finishing my stories. Can you imagine how long-winded those things are?

Anyway, the first one I did was in 2005, and it was a very fun story about brothers and sisters and love and romance (of course) that I stopped in the middle of nowhere after November had ended. I hadn't even looked at it in two years, but I opened it last month and gave it a read, pleasantly surprised with the result. While it needs a loooot of editing and chopping up of useless scenes, I am really happy with the story and some of the stuff I wrote.

The second time I did it, in 2006, it was a completely different story, that of course I never finished. I liked my writing on that a little better but the story isn't so hot. It was a bit more "modern" (set in real time as opposed to Ye Olden Unspecified Days like the other one) and it just sunk into my making up shit about places I had never been to and a story that relied too heavily on 'the Matchmaker' for inspiration for me to feel very happy with it. I loved my characters, but they deserve a better story around them, so maybe I'll go back to it someday.

I did nothing last year as work was driving me completely insane (I was teaching 12 groups of middle school kids--that's 260 13-15 year olds-- giving 30 hours of class a week and frankly going out of my mind with stress) and I was too tired to do much outside of that.

Now that I am unemployed and being mostly useless (though I keep myself busy with productive stuff...sometimes) I figured, why the hell not try it again?

I started out writing a new story on November 1st, but I really wasn't feeling that one and ditched it when I was 3000 words in. I then pondered taking up my very first NaNo and finally finishing the damned thing and DING DING DING, I opened it up and lo and behold, word vomit ensued! And I have been going crazy over it since.

I am loving it, you guys. My writing feels smoother and less...terrified of itself than it's ever been, and I am so very excited over how it's turning out. It's still scary of course, but I am loving my story and going back to the characters I made. Not to jinx myself, but this could really be good.

I might just get over my crippling shyness when it comes to you know, actually having people READ what I write and I MIGHT post some of it here. Maybe. I'm really freakin' shy about it. No one has ever seen more than a few paragraphs. But I think I feel confident enough about it now to actually unlock the vault. Maybe.

So that's where I'm at.

Oh, I am also working on my second book for the Cannonball Read, and I'm almost done with that. Oh boy...I'm gonna have to write a review for that. I don't think my fingers will be working by the end of November.

Anyway, it's really fun and exciting and Christmas is almost here and there are more good things happening soon.

Check back tomorrow when I may or may not post a scene from my NaNo.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Book #1: "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger

[Note: this is the second time I am reading this book, so I might be a little biased]

I'm not quite sure how to even begin talking about this book. It's quite possibly one of the most unique and beautiful love stories I have read, and one of the most haunting. I know most people cringe inwardly when they hear a love story praised, immediately picturing cloying schmaltz and cheap little romantic platitudes, but 'The Time Traveler's Wife' is anything but.

The book focuses almost entirely on the two central characters: Henry DeTamble and Claire Abshire. Henry is a time traveler. But this is no fun and amusing condition; for him, it is a disease that he has no control over and more often than not throws him into dangerous and possibly fatal situations. Niffenegger takes an often used science-fiction device and twists it into an entirely (to me, anyway) new concept: Henry is cursed by his "ability", never knowing when he might vanish or where he will reappear. The only thing keeping him from disintegrating entirely is Claire, his wife, whom he meets when she is 20 and he is 28 (though when Claire first meets Henry she is 6 and he is 35) . We learn of Henry and Claire's life together, as her life follows one straight line interrupted every now and then by meeting Henry as he reappears in her life--sometimes he is 34, sometimes 41.Their story is intricate and fascinating; we learn early on that the two will eventually get married, so it is a matter of learning how they came to that point, their love growing and changing, painful and filled with absence and longing.

The story shifts between Henry and Claire's points of views. Niffenegger gives Henry an always urgent, almost frantic voice. Because he cannot control his time traveling and can disappear at almost any time and reappear in an unknown place completely naked and lost, Henry is always on the move, always alert. Niffenegger makes Henry a very complex character; while sometimes he comes off a little unlikeable (certainly so to some of the people around him), he is always sympathetic. There are points when he knows everything that will happen, but more often than not he is thrown into horrible situations, and he rages helplessly, trying only to survive and return to Claire.

Claire could have easily been a weeping wallflower, doing nothing but staying at home waiting for Henry to return. Yet she is written as an incredibly resilient and patient woman; strong for herself but also because Henry needs her to be. She suffers, yes, but she remains always strong and hopeful; she accepts Henry's problem without a second thought, because she believes so strongly in their love, and because they need each other to survive. She is the unshakable and impressive, and she easily became my favorite character. Her family makes for a set of very interesting supporting characters, and the scenes set at her family home are as tense and strange as any family reunion you have ever been to.

Niffenegger is a gifted storyteller. She flows flawlessly through the complicated timeline and draws fascinating characters everywhere; even the supporting players are clearly written and could have great stories of their own. And she understands love. This is hard for me to explain, but Niffenegger writes Henry and Claire's relationship with no embellishments: they have fights and problems, their characters are very different but they compliment each other. Their love is beautiful and touching because it is so real, as extraordinary as their circumstances are. It is one of the most insightful looks at relationships I have ever read. And it made me cry about four times. Claire and Henry's love is so powerful, true, and sad, and told so simply and beautifully, that the writing never comes off as unrealistic or cloying. It's moving without being cheaply sentimental, simply and beautifully written.

'The Time Traveler's Wife' deserves a second read. The shifting timeline might get a little complicated sometimes, so a re-read will help sort out the threads of the story. And, like Henry discovers, knowing everything that is going to happen won't take away any of the magic of living it.