March 19, 2021

This Year

In the first week of March last year, I was on the convention committee running FOGcon, and we were watching the news trying to understand what it meant for our small local con, scheduled for March 6 to 8.

We decided not to cancel. That could have been a very, very bad call, but instead we were very, very lucky, and as far as we know, our convention wasn't responsible for any COVID spread. Some would-be attendees wisely stayed home. Those of us who were there made some nice memories to think of during the time ahead. Even a couple of days after the con, it began to seem horrifying that we had just gathered 150 people together in basement conference rooms. But while we were gathering, the average person didn't yet know we were dealing with an airborne virus that had already spread widely, often through asymptomatic carriers.

This past weekend, the FOGcon committee presented a small set of virtual events to let our community reconnect. Chatting in a Zoom breakout room was of course different than hanging out in the hospitality suite or lobby. But there was also a pleasant familiarity in sharing thoughts and catching up with a group of people I've known for years, but only in this limited, con-going way. It was a lot of fun, and I'm glad we were able to make it happen.

During this long year, and especially this longest winter, I have been among those with the most privilege in every possible way. I've been in a position to comfortably go nowhere since November, but I also haven't been stuck inside, because I've been able to get out for neighborhood walks almost every day of the mild California winter.

Things are starting to change for the better in the US, though global trends are troubling. My parents and other older relatives are vaccinated, and every day I hear about more friends getting their shots. It's not my turn yet, but I don't mind waiting. I'm venturing back into the world in a limited way for routine checkups next week, talking about meeting up with friends outside, having hopeful discussions about family travel possibilities later in the year.

This year-old pandemic is not over, and some of the uncertainty of last March still remains. My optimism is uncertain, too, but it's been growing.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At Electric Lit, Rachel Mans McKenny considers Why New Fiction Is Making Mothers into Monsters: "What I appreciate about these literary works is that there is no enfant terrible, no possessed child. It is not the child's fault that society has gutted or failed to implement systems to help caretakers. It is not the child's fault that the default caretaker in a heterosexual relationship is presumed to be the mother. In these stories, the children are just children. The mothers are eely, and their characters reveal the holes that mothers are allowed to fall through: holes in mental health care and child care and sexual satisfaction. The system is untenable, and mothers cannot continue to live this way."

March 5, 2021

February Reading Recap

Last month's reading was mixed, both in styles and in my reactions:

THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS by Stephen Graham Jones: When Lewis and his friends were young men, they went out hunting elk, and everything went wrong. Ten years later, one friend is dead, two still live on the Blackfeet Reservation where they all grew up, and Lewis feels pretty good about the life he's made for himself by getting away. He's happily married, has a good post office job, and rents a nice house that might be... haunted? By an elk he shot ten years ago? As the strange things Lewis is seeing and thinking become increasingly disturbing, his life goes in a short span of time from pretty good to really, really bad.

Wow, this novel is incredible. It is also extremely grisly, with humans, elk, and dogs meeting horrible ends in graphic detail. That I liked the book so much despite the terrible images now in my brain is a testament to Jones's storytelling skills. All the characters were immediately brought to life by natural dialogue and lifelike observations that often provide moments of humor. The plot unfolds through a carefully developed structure and some surprising narrative shifts that all work well to keep up the tension and intrigue. The story is far more than scares, with a lot to say about relationships between people and relationships with the past. Jones has published many previous books, and I look forward to more of his work!

CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN by Sayaka Murata, translated from Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori: Keiko works in a convenience store. She started at the store the day it opened, 18 years ago, and has never worked anywhere else. She's an excellent worker, devoted to the customers and attuned to the rhythms of the store even when she's away from it. At the convenience store, Keiko understands how to behave, thanks to the detailed worker manual. Anywhere else, she is constantly reminded that the world does not consider her normal and disapproves of an unmarried, childless woman in her thirties still content to work part-time at a convenience store.

Most of this short book focuses on the details of Keiko's thoughts and interactions in and out of the store. I enjoyed this at first and was looking forward to getting a deeper insight into Keiko's perspective, but I didn't find much new as the story went on. Eventually there's a plot development. While it was good to have some change in the story, this arrives pretty late and was mostly frustrating to read about. I liked parts of this novel, but by the end, I was underwhelmed.

THE BOOK OF ESSIE by Meghan MacLean Weir: Years before Essie was born, her father's popular televised church services evolved into a reality show documenting the lives of the pastor's growing family. Or at least, their lives as carefully curated and milked for maximum ratings by Essie's shrewd mother. If teen Essie's pregnancy were exposed, the wholesome family media empire would be destroyed. But Essie has a plan. The first step is manipulating Mother into believing it's her own plan, and the next is enlisting the cooperation of a boy at school she barely knows and a local journalist hungry for a scoop.

The book starts off enjoyably sensational, and a real page turner. But as I kept turning those pages, I grew increasingly frustrated at how long the characters' secrets were being withheld, and increasingly certain that the truth about Essie's pregnancy would put an end to any fun left in the story. Some readers will want to stay away from this book due to subject matter. Others should avoid it for the narrative contrivance of point-of-view characters who keep thinking about their traumas but not specifying them in order to delay the shocking reveals. There are interesting aspects to the novel, especially when it explores celebrity and public perception, but I didn't wind up a fan.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Andrea Blythe embraces the risks of writing and deep water: "When I enter the ocean, I have to be present and alert to the dangers around me, and I have to trust in my ability to swim and hold myself afloat. Writing, I find, is similar."