Posts tagged ‘potentially offensive’

The Girl Detective

Fortune Cookie Magnifying Glass
“There are three kinds of food.”
Secret origins of the girl detective

Firstly, let me apologize for the long hiatus. I’ll try not to do that again. Secondly, this review will be a little different than many of my others. This is a review of a short story that, in addition to being in print, is also available as a free pdf. Therefore, this is going to be less of a spoiler-free review and more of a spoiler-filled dissection. I recommend that before you read this review, you read the story. You can download it here: http://smallbeerpress.com/creative-commons/?did=30 , and “The Girl Detective” is on p. 251 of the pdf. (The rest of the pdf is filled with the rest of the stories from the anthology Stranger Things Happen. It’s a great collection, and I heartily recommend it all!)

Alright, I’m hoping that everyone (if anyone is still reading this) has now read “The Girl Detective”. First off, this is my favorite Kelly Link story yet. It is thick with references, as you can probably tell. Nancy Drew, which seems to be the main influence, but also chinese restaurants, fortune cookies, and
The Twelve Dancing Princesses
are all overt references, but what else? There’s a Hades reference (the fourth kind of food is from the Underworld) and of course the whole Underworld. There’s also some oedipal influences and gender role confusion, as the Girl Detective represents our mothers, our daughters, our wives, our lovers. The Girl Detective could even be a man, says the narrator, or the narrator himself/herself, it actually doesn’t say which gender the narrator is, although I seem to picture the narrator as male on first impression. And there could well be more than one narrator, for all we know. I think that the “DANCE WITH BEAUTIFUL GIRLS” section is from a different point of view. I think that could be the fat man, who is also a detective, and who, we know has a dead wife. At the end of the “DANCE WITH BEAUTIFUL GIRLS” section, the narrator of that section marries one of the twelve daughters. So if there are two narrators, why not more? At least two, the main narrator, who sits in the tree, and the second narrator. Or maybe they are one.

And then there’s the housekeeper, who we know nothing about, but who seems similar to the getaway driver and the stern nightclub woman. And they seem to almost all represent the Girl Detective’s mother, or at the least the mother figure. Are they the same? Perhaps…

So there’s the Girl Detective, the stern getaway driver/housekeeper/nightclub woman/mother, the twelve princesses/daughters/bank robbers/dancers, the waiters, the fat man, the father, and the narrator. Any and all of whom could be the Girl Detective. She shares the same Day of the Week underwear as the bank robbers, she’s a detective like the fat man, she could be her own mother, as she’s certainly, at least sometimes, a mother figure, and she could be the narrator as well. After all, the Girl Detective is a master of disguises…

January 19, 2010 at 10:27 PM Leave a comment

An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England

From a Professor’s Letter: In summary, then, I wish for you to burn down the Mark Twain House because Professor Ardor believes Mr. Twain to be something of a [and here you could sense the ashamed pause, lurking between the lines] female pudendum.

Then s/he pulled out a lighter, flicked it, and grabbed a clump of his/her hair. *** was setting her/himself on fire, not starting at the feet the way people at Salem did with their supposed witches, but starting with his/her hair. With his/her hair.

The Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England is a brilliant work of literary fiction, as well as being incredibly funny and suspenseful. The book is a first-person narrative from the point of view of  Sam Pulsifier, a resident of Amherst who burnt down the Emily Dickinson House, one of Amherst’s most famous attractions, and in the process killed two people. He served time in a minimum-security prison in Holyoke, and then after ten years was allowed to leave. He made himself a new life, went to college, and found a wife, Anne Marie. He had two kids. But then it all came back at him.

I suppose I should tell you something of Sam’s past. When he was in prison, many people were sending him letters. There were two kinds of letters sent to him. The first kind were the predictable, “you will burn in hell for this” letters. From literary scholars, professors, and citizens of Amherst, they told him how awful everything he did was. But the second kind of letter was more interesting. They wanted him to burn down other houses. The Frost Residence, the Stowe House, the Twain House, and the lot. For most of the writer’s homes in New England, at least one person wanted them gone.

Anyway, back to the plot. Sam’s life slowly begins to fall down around him. He receives a visit from an old enemy, Thomas Coleman. Thomas’ mother was a tour guide at the Dickinson House. She was there after-hours one night, having sex with Thomas’ father on Emily’s bed. That was the night that Sam burned down the House. They didn’t survive the fire. Thomas visits Sam, vowing revenge on him. Next, a group of bond analysts who were in prison with Sam come along. They want his help burning down other writer’s houses, so they can write memoirs about it. He refuses, and they say he’ll regret it. Then, they leave. A few days later, Anne Marie kicks him out of the house. Thomas told her Sam was having an affair with his wife. He goes back to live with his parents, a dysfunctional couple. His father is a drunkard, and his mother “goes to her job” each day despite having been fired. To make matters worse, someone(s begins burning down other writer’s homes in New England. He begins to try to find out who, trying to remove suspicion from himself. This is all chock-full of twists, red herrings, and suspenseful fun. (And someone sets fire to themself!)

This book is stellar. I could barely tear myself away from it. It was both humorous and tragic. Although it’s a reviewer’s cliche, I think I’d even say It made me laugh! It made me cry! It’s a rare book that can truly do both at once. This book especially resonates if you live or have lived in Massachusetts. I live in Massachusetts, and having been to most of the book’s locations, it’s both funnier and feels more realistic. Sam is a brilliant character, entertaining, snarky, and sad. I highly recommend this. However, make sure you don’t have anything important to do the day after you start reading this. You’ll probably be up all night reading this. I was.

My Rating: 83/100

(Edit: Offensive quote removed, new quote added.)

May 10, 2009 at 8:47 PM 1 comment

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Sherman Alexie

This guy was in love with computers. I wondered if he was secretly writing a romance about a skinny, white boy genius who was having sex with a half-breed Apple computer.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is not actually a diary, unlike some children’s/teen’s “diary” books you might see at a bookstores. Diaries have recently become a trend in children’s books, but that’s besides the point. This book is not a diary. It does, however, have picture clippings from the main character, Arnold/Junior’s diary. These add to the flavor of the book, but it’s not a diary on its own. This book is also humor. But not really. It’s more tragic. Perhaps … tragicomic? All the comedy in the story derives from the main character, Arnold Spirit, oft called Junior. If the story was read without his, well, spirit, it would read as a tragic story about drinking and fatalities on Indian reservations in the USA. It’s only Arnold’s comments and attitude that save it from becoming a tragic, angsty funeral of a story. The above quote might be the best summary of Arnold’s humor. He retains this ability, even in most tragic moments. At a few points, especially in the latter part of the book, the tragedy overcomes the comedy. This is not a happy book.

Arnold lives on an Indian reservation. His school is awful, people die frequently, and life is all around lousy. One of his teachers, filled with guilt over failed pupils, recommends that he go to the school in the nearby town where the only other Indian is the mascot. He manages to get there, helped by his strong-willed and lovely grandmother. But his troubles have only begun… He has a hard time, both in becoming accepted at his new school and trying to avoid being hated by the others at his reservation for being a “traitor.” He meets new people at his new school, including Gordy the computer geek and Penelope, who becomes his girlfriend. And life goes on. So does death. I won’t spoil it all, but the latter parts of the book are literally blow after blow.

This book is very different than the other two books I have examined. They are all comedies, but this uses the comedy for more than just blasts of funny. Pratchett does this with his later Discworld books, but the earliest ones are often just pulling for gags. Parents should be warned, however. The treatment of several serious issues is probably not how they should first be exposed to teens. The key example, in my mind, is the treatment of bulimia. Penelope, Arnold’s girlfriend, has bulimia and keeps it hidden. Little more than a page discusses her bulimia, whilst her beauty has much more description and such. This should be emphasized. The characters also casually use swearwords, especially ret*rd and f*ggot. I personally do not care much about that, but parents who are concerned about that sort of thing should keep it in mind. Still, it is a great teen read! (Also, many pictures for those teens who still feel nostalgic for picture books…)

My Rating: 74

April 22, 2009 at 9:58 PM Leave a comment


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