Category Archives: Coming of Age

Dunno What Nth Discussion: Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On

simon-bazDunno what nth discussion because someone hasn’t written the past discussions yet. *passive aggressive mode on* Just kidding.

It’s back to the good old days, with Raj, Timmy and Aaron, like we were at the start of the book club 5 years ago. The book is a fan-fic of a queer Harry Potter—queer because he likes the person, not the sex—and a gay Edward Cullum.

static1.squarespaceThese are some of the things we talk about:

  1. Shallow and superficial: Simon wishes father is a footballer, mom is a model (8). All along, Agatha is trying to break out of the “blond cheerleader” typecast, yet at the end, she becomes the damsel-in-distress, and doesn’t even fight to save her life. She wishes she has nicer clothes so that she can die pretty (465). WTH.
  2. All characters are queer but with limited character development: Agatha seems to be the most interesting character because she tries to break out of her mold; none of the other protagonists does it. Simon plays his Chosen One role; Penny plays the Hermione role dutifully, and Baz the anti-hero.But Agatha struggles with her emotions, fakes her emotions (9, 74, 75), and claims “we are all monsters” (14), a deep thought coming from a putative “bimbo.” Unfortunately, the damsel-in-distress part is a big gaping plot hole.
  3. Treatment of LBGTQ characters: These characters are not human. Baz is a vampire, Simon becomes a dragon/devil caricature; and Trixie is half pixie. There is something homophobic in that.

    That is not to say this book isn’t a book with good intentions. Baz’s difficulty of admitting he’s a vampire (262) mirrors the difficult coming out. His dad, preferring him to be Undead than to be queer, is heartbreaking (215, 279).

    Futhermore, there are two gay sex scenes between the homos, and gay sex scenes are always good, even if they are encoded. First scene: Baz and Simon’s fight scene with the dragon is written in erotic terms: “I did something I’ve never done before—something I probably wouldn’t try with anyone I was scared of hurting. [anal sex hurts.] I push I just push it into Baz” (239). “His arm straightens like a rodI push a little more magic. I worry that it’s too much… His shoulder is rock hard… it’s jerking itself…I stop pushing… letting Baz draw on my magic” (240).

    The second scene is more subtle (391).

  4. Sexism: No strong male characters, only strong female ones, like Fiona, Baz’s mother, etc.

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  5. Magic as metaphors:
    1. Class: The powerful magicians are always depicted as “rich and powerful,” kept within old families. Magic is also seen as hereditary, which reeks of biological essentialism; we can never transcend our DNA, which means the novel advocates a racist, sexist, homophobic philosophy.

      In a way, The Mage, wanting to liberate magic so that even people with a smidgeon of magic can go to Watsford, and eradicating school fees, can be seen as democratic.

      But Mitali, Penny’s mom, an Indian woman, who calls The Mage sexist for no apparent reason, wants a traditional Watsford, keeping magic for the best students. She also thinks that they are better than Normals (111, 261, 401). In a way, Mitali is supporting the system that oppresses her. Raj thinks that Mitali and Penny are portrayed as a stereotypical Indian family, which makes the novel racist.

      Unfortunately, the death of The Mage, especially at the hands of Baz from an Old Family and Penny, Mitali’s daughter, implies that Mage’s democratic ways are wrong; they revert to the old traditional methods.

      One could argue, as Raj did, that the Mage represents extreme democracy, ie, he is an extremist that he must be destroy. After all, in the end, he wants to be the most powerful magician of all time.

    2. Magic as Commodity: Magic is often viewed as something to be conserved and not to “waste” (38, 78, 186, 187); it is also seen as something to be “eaten” and consumed (47). We didn’t appreciate this cultivation of materialism.
    3. Magic as Objectification: Simon is often objectified because of his magic; he’s “power” (67), a “vessel” (123), “element” (181), “nuclear” (181, 242),  “generator” (258). Simon even objectifies himself, calling himself a “current” (337), and “I am magic” (455). Ebb is also a “generator” (284). Baz is used as a “wand” (254). Penny’s dad is a “book of footnotes” (247). Like the message of magic as a commodity, this sends the wrong message.
    4. Magic as ozone layer: Magic leaves holes, unfortunately, this is not explored further in the book.
    5. Magic as finding the right words (107)
    6. Magic as texture: Different people’s magic feels differently. An interesting concept that isn’t explored in the novel.
    7. Magic as Religion (197): If magic is seen as a religion, it would explain why Agatha finds it so hard to walk away from the magic community; to become a Normal is to be outcast.

      The theme of outcast recurs in the book, not just gay people—a vampire and a demon—are outcasts. Ebb’s brother, who chooses to leave the world of living to become a vampire, is ostracized by the magic community, and by Baz, Simon, and Penny who need his help badly, bearing in mind that Baz himself is a vampire and that Ebb’s brother is very powerful. Even the outcasts can outcast others.

      Ebb’s death can also be read as her rejection of her power. Because she rejects her immense power, because she lacks the training, she dies at the hands of The Mage.

      Superficially, this book seems to be a message of inclusion, but at a deeper level, the prejudice of the book shows. If you don’t want to be in the magic/religious community, you will be outcast and we will never accept you back, regardless of the direst situation. If you don’t practice your magic/religion, you’ll be punished, and in Ebb’s case, her punishment is death.

 

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Filed under Bisexuality, Class, Coming of Age, Ecology, Family, Food, Love, Queer, Race, Rainbow Rowell, Religion, UK, Young Adult

72nd Discussion: Yukio Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask

Moderator: Raj
Attendees: Alexius, Dominic, Ivan, Timmy

The biggest complain we had about the book was the way it was written: Dominic felt it was unlike the “Japanese style of writing”, comparing Mishima to Murakami. Raj thought the book was draggy, describing “mundane things in mundane ways.” Alexius did not like the ending and was left disappointed by the book. Timmy found it uninteresting as a whole.

For this discussion, we forewent our usual style and went through the book chapter by chapter.

Chapter One – which we deemed “Resurrection” because of an experience the narrator went through when he was four.

Believability
We started doubting the narrator’s credibility from the start of the book. Timmy thought it was all “fluff and bluff,” while Dominic opined that the book seemed like a semi-autobiography of the writer… a romanticized version of himself as the narrator.

Childhood
Timmy was amazed by how well-read the narrator was, even questioning his accessibility to such literature at that age. Raj added on his penchant for changing the (fairy) tales that he read, which added (and accentuated) his morbid nature from that age onwards.

Donning the mask      
According to Timmy, the turning point was when he started playing dress-up as Tenkatsu. This went on as he started being masculine in front of his cousins.

Obsession with death
“Maybe he finds life hopeless?” Alexius joked.

Joan of Arc
Raj noted the narrator’s disgust of Joan after finding out that the martyr was a she, declaring that incident as the “first disappointment of his life.” (Joan of Arc was Raj’s favourite of the book)

Chapter Two – “Boys with Toys,” because:

“The Toy”
The matter of the narrator referring his penis as “the toy” was brought up. Timmy quipped that the narrator thought his penis had a mind of its own; Raj observed that he was very detached to his member despite being an adolescent in this chapter. Alexius offered that perhaps he was ashamed of his homosexuality.

From St. Joan to St. Sebastian
Raj made mention of the narrator moving on from one historical figure to another, noting his preference for “virile, lean (guys) with muscles and wearing very little,” adding that St. Sebastian may have been the narrator’s role model at that point of time. According to Timmy, this may also be a continuation of the narrator’s sexual awakening. (St. Sebastian was Dominic’s pick as favourite.)

Omi
Was he gay? Raj and Timmy said no, while Alexius said yes. (Both Alexius and Timmy picked Omi as their favourites.)

Delusions of grandeur, S&M, and armpits were also discussed during this chapter. Overall, we felt that this chapter did not make a lot of sense – just like an adolescent’s mind, according to Timmy – and contained “too much fantasizing,” according to Raj.

Chapter Three – for which we termed “Regressed Suppression” as the narrator did not face any pressures from external forces, only internal conflicts.

Raj found this chapter “bizarre,” which probably had to do with the myriad sub-topics we touched on but barely managed to delve deeper into:

  • The narrator acting more of a teenager, which included mimicking his peers (Raj noted his obsession with kissing, which he found interesting) in his attempt to appear straight;
  • His body, which he seemed to be embarrassed about;
  • War and the military (according to Raj, women were front and centre in this chapter because “the men went to fight”);
  • Voyeurism;
  • Dying young.

Chapter Four – “The Beginning of the End”

A continuation from the previous chapter, where the narrator was labelled “the last virgin alive” by Raj and his desperation to have sex (“everybody’s doing [and done] it, so I should too.” – Timmy) despite ending up not doing it. We didn’t get the chance to discuss more about Sonoko and their relationship.

“So when did the mask come off?” asked Raj.
“It didn’t,” Timmy replied.

And that concluded our discussion, followed by an apology from Alexius who regretted recommending the book as well as did not find it as appealing upon second reading.

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Filed under Classics, Coming of Age, Disability, Family, Gay, Japan, Time, War, Yukio Mishima

54th Discussion: Kathleen Winter’s Annabel

ANNABELSpecial thanks to Raj for organizing a Christmas party for this discussion.

It seemed that everyone, except Aaron and Amit, disliked the book: it’s depressing (Alexius), too slow in the latter half (Timmy), grating style (Raj), and forgettable one-dimensional characters (Amit). Har didn’t read it because he disliked the cover. Javin, Luke, Ben and Gil lent their moral support.

THEMES

1. Parenting:

(a) mother: Raj claimed Jacinta wants to raise Wayne as a girl, not a boy. Timmy agreed, saying that’s why Jacinta encouraged Wayne’s interest in synchronized swimming. Aaron, on the other, believed that Jacinta would raise Wayne as s/he is, as an intersex.

(b) father: Raj and Timmy thought that Treadway has no love for Wayne, but Aaron argued that Treadway shows his love in actions.

(c) Thomasina: Both Raj and Timmy thought that Thomasina loves and understands Wayne. But Alexius pointed that that she is using Wayne as a substitution for her dead daugther. Aaron saw her as the villain of the novel because she makes use of Wayne to cope with her grief selfishly, and makes very bad decisions.

2. Marriages: Amit observed the only happy married couple is Thomasina and Graham, and that’s because, Timmy said, Graham is blind. Aaron opined that since blindness is a classic Freudian symbol of castration, then it seems that a happy marriage is between a woman and emasculated man.

3. Sexuality: Although the portrayal of Mr Henry seems homophobic, the ambiguity of Wayne’s sexuality gives the book an inconclusive stance on homosexuality. However, Amit averred that the author seems to skew Wayne to his female self, and to like women.

Metaphors:

1. Peeling: Alexius read the peeling of skin as a sign of his puberty but Timmy saw it as a metaphoric rebirth.

2. Bridges: Alexius said it was the bridging of Wayne’s genitals to cause his pregnancy; Raj saw it as a bridging of both feminine and masculine traits.

Favorite Characters

Timmy’s and Raj’s favorite is Thomasina because she is a strong, independent woman who keeps it real. Alexius liked Steve. Following in Alexius’s footsteps, Amit liked a minor character, the kind make-up artist, and Wayne who reminded him of himself. Aaron stood up for the misunderstood father, Treadway, who prefers animals to humans.

As a conclusion, Alexius relished the synopsis on the back cover; Timmy, the unpredictability and complex characters and the name “Annabel”; Raj had not seen such a writing style; Amit generally liked it, especially the tender portrayal of Wayne as a human being. Aaron gave three reasons why this might be the best book we read this year: (1) the zen-like placid style mirrors the peace of forest and nature; (2) the author is compassionate and this compassion shows in the treatment of characters, even villains, and Aaron thought the world needs this compassion (although, Alexius chimed, the author isn’t compassionate to dogs); (3) the moral of the story: even if we are born a certain way, with our own defects, or encounter obstacles, like Wally, we can still overcome what we are given and make the best out of the situation. Despite adversities, there are little victories in life, and perhaps that is all that matters.

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Filed under Canada, Coming of Age, Ecology, Family, Intersex, Kathleen Winter, Love, Queer

27th Discussion: Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson’s Target (15 Dec)

Our general response to the book was dislike. Isaac thought it was too mild and full of stereotypes. Timmy, Raj and Roy thought it was too slow. In addition, Timmy didn’t feel for the character perhaps because, as Alexius suggested, the depression was exaggerated although Alex said, “But if I were raped by women, I would die.” The abrupt ending fueled Timmy, Alex and Glenn’s disapproval of the novel. In defense of the book, Roy said that the style is easy and immediate; Alex enjoyed it; Melissa felt the atmosphere is well-written, conjuring a raw and uncomfortable mood. Ernest and Teri came to lend their moral support.

Themes

1. Sexuality: Grady – Gay or Not? A few evidence that he is gay: he doesn’t retaliate in the rape (Alexius’s point) but perhaps Grady doesn’t want “his anus to be torn” (Timmy, 2011). Grady dreams of Fred (Roy’s point); Grady lets Mr Howell touch him (Alex). But he’s also not gay in the sense that he is always in love with women. Alex brought up an excellent point that perhaps the rape is too traumatic and Grady cannot reconcile that his (gay?) sexuality can be so monstrous. Alex also stated that Grady’s sexuality is ambiguous. Roy suggested that perhaps the author wants us to think through the ambiguity.

Aaron claimed that the novel precludes the possibility of Grady being bisexual. Why? Because, he further argued, the novel makes it very, very hard for us to see that gay is normal. Grady’s struggles are partly struggles over his sexuality; if he could think that it is alright to be gay, then he wouldn’t struggle so much. Grady is presented to the readers as a very “straight” teenager, always in love with girls, and it is the rape that screws him up. Only in homophobic societies is heterosexuality taken a criterion for normality. Aaron also brought up several examples of homophobia: no one who is homophobic is punished for it. For instance, the homophobic cop receives no censure. Grady’s parents are more worried about Grady’s sexuality than his well-being. Even Jess, who arguably is punished by getting into a fight with gay Fred, gets off rather lightly and is unrepentant of his homophobia. The rapists, who set out to punish “faggots,” get away. What are the rapists, anyway? If they are gay, isn’t it a homophobic  stereotype that gay people rape? If they are straight, the message behind the book seems to be, “Be homophobic anyway, you won’t get punished.”

The rest of the group disagreed. Melissa, Alex, Timmy, and Raj all voiced that the novel is a realistic portrayal of homophobic society in general. Isaac claimed that there is a positive portrayal of gay people (Fred). The reason why Aaron was ambivalent about the novel in the first place is the confused garble. What is the author trying to say? On the surface, there is positive portrayal but if you look deeper into the plot, homophobia surfaces: this is the same for issues of gender and race.

2. Gender: Aaron claimed that the major female characters in the book are colorless and known only for their beauty or art. Art for girls? That’s a stereotype. Melissa countered that it is because the girls are seen from Grady’s perspective. But, Aaron said, how does the fact change anything? The message seems to be that it is alright to objectify women. But the group disagreed.

3. Race: Timmy notes the stereotypical behavior of a fast-talking black boy is racist. Alexius notes that Jess may be putting on a brave front to hide his vulnerability.

Characters:

1. Timmy let out a high-pitched wheeee when talking about Fred.

2. Aaron felt very strongly that Jess has no redeemable qualities, a point the rest of the group disagreed. Aaron claimed that Jess’s sarcasm is overboard, unwarranted and hurtful. And, as Gwendolyn rightly points out, Jess is still homophobic and sexist despite his minority status.

3. Raj and Alex liked Pearl. Timmy asked, “Why? Is it because she’s a magician? Can wear 2 layers and not sweat?”

3. Timmy and Aaron had no sympathy for Grady who is like bad actress Joanne Peh and couldn’t decide what role he is: is he a rape victim or a nutcase? Alex found it interesting that most of us cannot stand Grady’s depression. Isaac claimed that it is because the rape scene is handled too mildly. If it’s more hardcore, we can feel more for Grady.

Literary

1. Ending (I): Alex elucidated that Grady’s breakthrough comes when he can reconcile the past and the future, to accept, confess and face the fact that he is raped. In a way, like gay people coming out, Grady is coming out as a rape victim. Aaron wondered whether this was patronizing, as if Grady is in AA’s 12-step recovery program.

2. Ending (II): Alexius had a unique interpretation of the ending. He claimed that Fred’s boyfriend may be one of the rapists. Aaron saw the usage of the word “shimmer” as homophobic–why couldn’t the author use “unfix” or “fluid” instead of such a disco-ball description?

3. Birds: What’s up with the ubiquitous bird metaphor? Roy claimed the bird may represent the mental trauma. Alex asked if there are birds during the rape. “Three,” Aaron answered.

4. Self-eroticizing: Why does Grady keep touching himself? Melissa said it’s a mental thing; Alex claimed it is the only comfort he has; touching himself is a blue blanket, commented Isaac.

5. Rape Divided: Roy asked why the rape is slowly flashed out throughout the book. Raj replied Grady doesn’t want to think about it but the memory keeps resurfacing.

6. Depth of character: We all found that there is no depth to the characters, even for Grady. Melissa explained that perhaps we are meant to read the novel as such, that Grady is distanced from the reader and this distance emphasizes the alienation he faces.

In the end, our opinions of the book remained unchanged. Alex still enjoyed the book although he admitted there are some stereotypes. Timmy was XXX Fred. Glenn felt for Grady. Roy said there is no plot. Ernest claimed it is Prozac Nation meets St Augustine and was glad he didn’t read this. He said, there are moments of beauty in our other book club books, but this one doesn’t. Aaron concluded that it seems that the author has good intentions and tries to be as generous and liberal as she can but her work cannot transcend the ideology she’s trapped in, showing slippages of homophobia, sexism and racism.

We’d like to thank Raj for hosting us and Timmy for helping us access the book.

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Filed under Coming of Age, Family, Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson, Queer, Race, S/M, USA, Young Adult

24th Discussion: Rose Tremain’s Sacred Country (15 Sep)

Thanks for all the moral support, peeps, David, Timmy and Nicole. Javin saw objectively the novel as good with complex characters and their desires but personally, he disliked the bucolic setting. Nicole liked it because it’s English. Raj was neutral while Alex thought that it is unoriginal. Josh liked its realism.

1. Characters

a. Grandpa Cord: Nicole’s favorite character 100 pages into the novel. Cord is adorable, fun, astute and open-minded. Josh said Cord has unconditional love.

b. Estelle: Josh’s favorite character. He argued that she shows a limited form of empowerment for women at that point in history; she is “sane in being insane” and see things clearly. He noted that what Estelle cannot achieve in her life, that is piecing pieces together, she does it by sewing. Josh and Nicole reminded us that the novel should be read historically, that is, Nicole mentioned, Estelle’s insanity could be a tool of oppression of men. Raj, Alex and Josh believed that it is very empowering for Estelle to lie still and order Sonny to impregnate her. Aaron wondered aloud if Tremain is critiquing the characters in the book: both Cord and Estelle are perceptive characters and yet none of them does anything to help Martin: is Tremain trying to say, “Kind intentions are not enough, one must act on it?”

c. Walter: Alex’s favorite character because Walter never gives up on his dreams but Nicole called him a spineless “wank” although he too grows balls at the end and goes after his dreams. After a discussion, we concluded that Walter’s sexuality is fluid; he likes the person because s/he is kind to him. Aaron brought up a quote found in the book, “Souls have no gender,” which is perhaps the moral of the story.

d. Edward:  Raj firmly believed that Indians have a prerogative on reincarnation and was flabbergasted by Edward but both Josh and Alex found him hot and philosophical.

e. Pearl: Aaron was quite repulsed by the angelic, 2-D portrayal of Pearl whom Alex called “a vacuous, boring woman.” Nicole added that even her name is a precious thing, not human. Josh defended Tremain and said that there are people, who are loved all their lives, who turn up nice and boring and colorless.

f. Georgia: We loved a minor character, a cougar who preys on Martin, who–Alex observed–is as violent as Sonny, Martin’s father. The irony, Raj said, is that she’s incapable to control her own emotional world when her occupation is Aunt Agony.

2. Themes:

a. Family:

i. Mothers & Sons: Alex and Javin claimed that Estelle (mother) doesn’t understand Martin although Josh disagreed with them. Alex and Javin said that because Estelle couldn’t understand Martin, she doesn’t help him. Nicole countered that Estelle is clinically depressed, which renders her incapable of actions in the first place. As a group, we saw Estelle’s apology as a  form of helpless; she realizes in the end that she ought to be supportive of Martin, which she has failed to do so.

Raj brought up the relationship between Gilbert the Dentist and her mother, that mothers always know sons’ sexuality. Alex noted a point that the crumbling coastline is metaphorical of the erosion of family. Aaron mentioned that all mothers should police their children, very hawk-eyed, and wondered what Tremain is trying to say.

ii. Violence In the Family: Josh shrewdly pointed that the Martin is perpetuating the violence he has learnt from his father, Sonny, when he tries to rape Pearl.

iii. Sibling Rivalry: Javin contended that Martin is jealous of Timmy because Timmy not only robs away Sonny’s affections but, to Martin, he believes he is a boy too and feels indignant when Timmy gets the attention that he should be getting. Aaron opined that while Martin treats Timmy with hostility, Timmy is always deferential to Martin. Josh continued that the sibling rivalry is because of the failure of the parents to love the children for who they are, causing the tragedy of their lives.

b. Rage/Hatred: Josh criticized that Martin is driven by hatred and rage and the novel is a journey for Martin to come to terms to himself and people around him. Whether this be true or not, Aaron imagined, “Wouldn’t you be angry and full of hatred too if you were born in a body of the ‘wrong’ sex? I know I would, especially when there is no support.”  Josh also very perspicaciously discerned that Martin hasn’t gone for a full operation yet and is still searching for himself.

c. Country VS City: A common perceptive of the group is that we think country people would be more narrow-minded but Tremain doesn’t fall into this fallacy. Everyone seems to accept Martin for who he is: the country characters do it tacitly probably because they suffer much too and can understanding suffering, while the City people accept diversity, although Raj sharply pointed out that the City people are African and Australian, all outsiders, not English.

d. Love: Does Martin attend Pearl and Timmy’s wedding? Alex claimed it was ambiguous since Estelle hears Martin call her. Aaron pointed out how idiosyncratic Pearl’s reason for marrying TImmy, that is, he has hands that will never produce beautiful handwriting. Raj and Josh believed that she is merely settling. Raj argued that Pearl can never love Martin because Martin has killed Mary, while Aaron was more inclined to Josh’s thinking, that Pearl does love Martin and Timmy is a substitution for Martin.

e. Knowledge: What is the point of Timmy’s right angle? Aaron suggested that there are two angles to look at it: (i) the lines when extrapolated will never meet, as mentioned in the novel, and the non-meeting of the lines demonstrates the solitude and isolation each character feels. To support this assumption, Timmy tries to tell someone about his puzzlement with the right-angle and no one would listen to him. (ii) If the novel is seen as a bildungsroman, both Timmy and Martin try to make sense of the world through knowledge. Martin has his Book of Inventions. They need explanations to themselves why they are who they are. They are finding their way and they need information.

f. Gender: We loved the complex and balanced representation of both genders, without falling into the what-masculine-is and what-femininity-is trap.

g. Sexuality/Cougarism: Aaron, playing devil’s advocate, asked, why is Gilbert, the only gay man in the novel, incapable of loving, so callous? Is it homophobic? No direct evidence from the novel to this, but the group’s gut feeling is it is not homophobic because the novel is so sympathetic.

There are also many cases of cougarism in the book, notably, the Gypsy-Walter and Georgia-Martin.

h. Animals: include Marguerite, the hen (Raj’s favorite character); Sonny’s dog, Wolf; the Psychiatrist’s fish; Pearl’s visit to the Natural Museum where Pearl informs Martin about the myriad of animals; Pete who killed a dog because it was fucking him; a parable of two cubs eating up their mother bear who was snared in a trap. Even Timmy is described as a frog: “Timmy’s frog’s eeyes were filled with tears. ‘No,’ he replied. ‘Never. Not since I gave up butterfly.” Alex evoked the multitude of animals as “souls,” linking the animals with Edward’s theory of reincarnation. Edward says maybe Martin’s soul is a marmoset. Aaron claimed that Tremain may have two intentions: (i) Wolf is used to redeem Sonny. Sonny is obviously capable of deep devotion and love but his incapability to express his emotions mars his life. His emotional turmoil and pain in killing off Wolf is unimaginable. And (ii) See below 3b, Repetitions & Multiple Voices.

i. Politics/ War: Aaron asked for the significance of starting with the death of King George. Nicole regarded it as setting a timeline for the story; Raj proposed that it allows Martin a quiet time to reflect, and it’s a time to signify change while Alex stated the incident reflects the dynamics of the family. While all the reasoning are true and sound, we could not help to feel that there is something deeper that we were not getting, especially with the heavily political nuances going on in the novel and Sonny being a WWII veteran. Do the politics parallel the family structure in England?

3. Style:

a. Title: Alex inquired over the significance of the title. Aaron quoted from Grandpa Cord: “He said beass rubbings were ghostly things in two sense and everything important in life was dual, like being and not being, male and female, and there was no country in between. I sat on the toilet and… thought, Cord is wrong, there is a country in between, a country that no one sees, and I am in it.” In other words, Aaron surmised that Tremain is advocating a postmodernist world, a world that has shades from black to white, from male to female. That is the “Sacred Country.”

b. Repetitions and Multiple Voices: Many characters share the same fate: the mothers are police; the children move away; Estella’s trance, enraptured by a tap-dancer, in the asylum is repeated when Walter, Sky and Martin go to Pryland, biggest parking lot in the world, and Sky roller skates, captivating the men. Aaron asserts that the repetitions, the multiple voices and the animals all point to how Tremain writes about the human condition, that we, including the animals, share a common existence, a common history, a common story, we suffer in the world and so we shouldn’t cause more suffering to Martin, Walter, to humans and to other living beings. We should help alleviate the suffering by being sympathetic and understanding, as in shown in the sympathetic style and non-judgement of the author towards the characters. This is truly a tremendous, extraordinary, compassionate novel, a novel that makes the world a better place.

*

After the discussion, Raj, Aaron and Alex appreciated the book better and found it more meaningful.

 

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Filed under Class, Coming of Age, Ecology, Family, Gay, Lesbian, Love, Politics, Queer, Rose Tremain, Space, Transgender, UK, War

22nd Discussion: Perry Moore’s Hero (15 July)

It’s half-and-half vote for the book. Timmy, Alex, Alexius, Raj liked it because of the idealism although Timmy admitted the novel isn’t original. Jason was on the fence. David, Nicole and Aaron didn’t like it. Javin and Leo lent their moral support.

1. Themes

a. Daddy Issues: Alex pointed out that Thom gives Hal, his father, new hands–a metaphor which we didn’t explore. David pointed out that there is certainly some sexual tension between Thom and Hal. For instance, Thom jerks off to Uberman who is, Thom informs the reader, a superhero of his father’s age, quite like his father. The metaphor of wearing his father suit is wanting to be IN his father, although as Timmy pointed out, Thom is a bottom. What Thom does is to substitute one father figure for another: from his father to Uberman to Goran, who is a father figure, teaching Thom boxing, training him, and taking care of his younger brother. Obviously, the father issue isn’t resolved yet.

b. Mummy Issues: We were surprised about the relatively unimportant role of Thom’s mother in his life since gay novels usually revolve weak father/strong mother stereotypes. Jason noted how appalling it is to kill off the mother in a single sentence.

c. Gender: Continuing on how cruel the author is to the Mom, Nicole, Raj, Timmy et al pointed out that there are no strong woman figures in the story. In fact, the powers of the women are stereotypical of female superheroes. (This being said, Alexius observed that Thom’s power is feminine and passive. Timmy said, It’s because Thom is a bottom.) Even motherhood is portrayed negatively, with Mom instructing Thom to retrieve the ring, slicing his body up. What sort of mother would do that? While some of us thought that the book was sexist, others disagreed. Some say that perhaps this is a book written in a male prospective, for boys, gay boys.

d. Race: Aaron thought that the book is racist in the portrayal of Goran, as if every non-White has to excel in sports, studies and do volunteer work. Furthermore, Goran is metaphorically silenced since he never speaks in his superhero guise. To recognize Goran, Goran has to place Thom’s hands, one covering the forehead, and one the lower half of the face, leaving only the eyes, effectively effacing Goran’s identity. Alexius thought the gesture is romantic, and shouldn’t be misconstrued.

e. Love: Aaron hated the idea that teenagers are made to believe in a fairy tale ending when they should be taught to be realistic and taught that it takes hard work to maintain a relationship. For example, why should Invisible Lass be demonized just because she falls in love with the wrong man? Timmy argued that perhaps Invisible Lass’s sudden and unsentimental death comes from a punishment of not manning up to her mistake. Besides, most members in the group like a happy ending.

f. Media/glamour: Nicole and Jason mentioned the fast pace, action-packedness of the novel; both can envision the novel as a movie. The pace and action are definitely related to Hollywood. For example, in the scene whereby Thom is held captive in the pantry, there are product placement everywhere. Or the superheros themselves are movie-stars, glorifying muscles, and all want to be A-listers. This world, Aaron felt, was contemptible. Jason believed that perhaps the novel is trying to show that superheroes are as superficial and human and liable to err as humans.

g. Ageism: The older generation has to be screwed-up and died to pave the way for a new generation, full of hope.

h. Sexuality: Why do every character know that Thom is gay? Some of us believed that it is just taunting Thom, but, Aaron pointed out, Gary Coleman does it in such a matter-of-factly way that it isn’t a jibe but an observation. David said people just know because there is a difference in thinking between gay and straight people. Some of us questioned if this is really true since gay people can pass very well, a basic skill for survival. But if Perry Moore is suggesting there is indeed a difference between gay and straight people, then, as Nicole claims, isn’t it detrimental to gay people, i.e., gay people are outcasts and weird?

2. Characters: Timmy and Raj liked Ruth because she’s a layered character and has spunk and is accepting of others.

Alex liked Larry because he’s vulnerable and finds it hard to get close to people. Timmy said that Larry is ernest.

Alexius liked Golden Boy because of his immaturity.

David liked Goran because of his painful and dark past.

Jason persuaded Aaron that Justice is the most complex character who struggles between the good and bad within him; Justice wants to go back to the planet that isn’t even there but by doing so, by using Earth’s energy and destroying the planet, there will not be Earth for him to return to. Jason contemplated on the agony of such trauma.

Nicole didn’t have a favorite character. Aaron thought all the characters are one-dimensional and flat. For instance, Ruth only have one issue, and that screws her up for life. Everyone has one issue that screws him/her up in the book – but surely, Aaron thought, they could move on and grow, something the characters haven’t considered.

3. We all concluded that it’s a fast-paced book, easy to read, and we shouldn’t put much thought while reading it because we would end up indignant like Aaron who thought the book is racist, sexist, and ageist. Old curmudgeon fart, he is.

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Filed under Coming of Age, Family, Gay, Love, Perry Moore, Race, S/F, USA, Young Adult

20th Discussion: Colette’s Cheri and Last of Cheri (19 May 2011)

Everyone was excited to kick-start this discussion. Timmy exclaimed this is the straightest book we’ve done. Raj loved the book as he believed it was very “French.” Nicole observed that the characters are very well flashed out, especially when Colette writes on women’s psyches. However, Nicole thought that the book has no direction while Timmy found that second part draggy, saved only by the character development of Edmee. Raj argued that the draggy-ness reflects the lift that Cheri leads.

1. Themes

a. War: Aaron noted the prominence of the theme in so many of the books we have done and questioned if a writer could only be considered as “serious” when s/he has written a war novel. He also noted this novel is about post-war trauma, relevant to soldiers today. Nicole suggested that the War is too big an event to ignore. Raj further said that the specificity of the war makes the novel realistic and that war affects the GLBTQ community very much (we thought of the Pink Triangle used to mark out gay people in Nazi concentration camps in WWII). Moreover, Raj claims that the war makes Cheri an outcast, like a gay person.

b. Relationship Between Women:

i. We were all fascinated by the complex relationship between Lea and Charlotte: rivalry, respect, jealousy, cunningness, trying to get the upper hand of each other – and perhaps a different kind of love?

ii. Nicole suspected that the relationship between Lea and the Princess is more than friends from the obsessive descriptions of the women’s bodies and clothing.

c. Race: Aaron suggested that Cheri is described as an African and Chinese because he’s as unformed as an animal. Raj said it may be due to his exoticness. Timmy said Cheri is as flexible as a Chinese acrobat and has big ding dong like an African.

d. Nostalgia: The Pal is a queer character and both Raj and Timmy suggested that she’s a drag queen. Timmy noted the obsession of the Pal with Lea, collecting Lea’s old photos. Nicole suggested that the Pal’s apartment, which Cheri visits often, acts as a space of escape from his mother and wife. Timmy pushed the point further to say the apartment represents to Cheri what life could have been for him and Lea. Raj said that the scene suggests a nostalgia for the past; Cheri even wants to die in the past.

2. Characters:

a. Cheri: Raj claimed that Cheri is not a man but a lesbian. Aaron wasn’t convinced because there are scenes that explicitly point out his manhood; Cheri is, Aaron thinks, effeminate but not definitely not emasculated. Aaron was also amused by the inversion of roles, that Lea, a prostitute, pays for Cheri’s decadent lifestyle. Timmy noted the gay scene between Cheri and Desmond and he also observed that Cheri never grows up as long as he is with Lea. Nicole suggested that Cheri is finding a purpose in life – but fails.

b. Edmee: Timmy’s brilliant analogy: “Edmee reminds me of Jeanette Aw’s in Little Nonya.” Aaron said that Edmee should be a very sympathetic character. She behaves with utmost propriety, defending her husband when she doesn’t love him – but, Aaron asked, why is she demonized in the book? Raj suggested that it may be because she couldn’t manipulate Cheri.

3. Scene Analysis: We questioned but couldn’t find out the reason of Cheri’s vacillation after he spends the night with Lea, betraying his wife. Raj claimed that they are using their heads and not their hearts. Nicole and Timmy both said that Lea handles the situation much better than Cheri.

4. Aaron concluded that although there aren’t any explicit lesbian scenes, the value of this book lies in its normalization of sexuality, such as intergenerational love, relationship between women, and prostitution. These relationships are usually treated with scorn but here, Colette normalizes them. If these relationships are normal, then naturally gay relationship is normal too.

Thanks to Raj and his champagne, figs, cheese and strawberries with freshly-whipped vanilla cream!

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Filed under Bisexuality, Classics, Colette, Coming of Age, Family, France, Lesbian, Love, Race, Transgender, Transvestism, War