Review: Submission

I spent three months reading Kristen Lavransdatter.  Sometime in the middle of the third book I went from reading for pleasure, to being in a grudge match with fictional medieval Norway.

I needed to cleanse my brain palate.

Something ultra modern. Something short.

Michel Houellebecq’s Submission sounded both short and ultra modern.

soumission

I saw some ridiculous article about it in the Guardian, shortly after the Paris attacks. It’s a book that has been widely condemned as sexist and Islamophobic, written by a singularly miserable-looking troll of a Frenchman.

The dude looks like he was born smoking and sneering.

I figured at the very least I could build up a good frothy fountain of ultra modern outrage.

Instead, I got a book that is strangely haunting.

The main character/apparent author insertion, named François for maximum on-the-nose everyman impact, is thoroughly detestable. Humbert Humbert detestable, really. He is the single-serving, monadic manchild we’ve been warned about. He lives a life of fleeting pleasures-food, booze, and sex. His only real friend is a mental projection of J. K. Huysmans formed from his own fannish, academic narcissism.

This dude is basically the embodiment of the internet-based postmodern personality. Isolated, emotionally stunted, obsessive. Ultimately really boring.

Which is why the book is haunting. As terrible as François is, I’d like to think he doesn’t really exist. Or, if he does exists, it’s just in the figure of Michel Houellebecq.

Ten million Redditors beg to differ.

This guy is everywhere. It’s not that he’s stupid. He’s just hollow.

The book is set in 2022, and the story set during an Islamist takeover of France. The politics are interesting, I suppose, but it’s not particularly realistic.

The argument, it seems, is that Islam is ascendant, because it is, theoretically, anchored in meaning. Tradition. A place in the cosmic order.

However, the book ends on such a cynical note, that it’s nearly breathtaking. For all the critiquing of post-modernity and it’s failures, this version of savior Islam, in the early states of it’s “Eurabian Empire” proves that Islam succumbs to meaningless hedonism as easily as anything else.

Basically, the argument appears to be that there is just no escaping nihilism in the 21st century. Not for François, the Islamic world, for the West, or anyone else. Even if Islam “wins,” it loses.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School

After all the Little House (we got through Little House on the Prairie, On the Banks of Plum Creek, and Farmer Boy) and a ton of Christmas books, it was time to move on to something more modern. Something fun.

Something where the teacher turns all the kids into apples.

And, as my kid put it, “That is weird.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School, by Louis Sachar, 1978

Sideways Stories from Wayside School, by Louis Sachar, 1978

 

Grandma Betty

I am going to tell you what I know about my Grandmother.

Betty

Betty. She died last week. I hadn’t seen her since 2003.

I know she wore white dresses and white gloves to church when she was little. And that they were hard to keep clean.

I know that she took family trips to Galveston as a child. There were pictures of her and her cousins down at the sea wall. I know that she knew that one of her cousins was a lesbian–the girl had been arrested for indecency.

I know that she had an appetite for scandal, and she was the most comprehensive gossip I have ever met. Some grandmas are like that–they will tell you everything about everyone–people who died before you were born, neighbors that moved away in the 60’s, distant relatives even your parent haven’t seen since they were knee high to a grasshopper. My grandma was a Church Lady, too, so it was often church gossip. I cannot imagine the gossip levels she must have attained in that retirement home. It must have been epic.

Having an appetite for scandal, she loved true crime books and celebrity gossip. She once gave me an enormous box of tabloids. She knew more about celebrity comings and goings than I did, by far. And the crime books–grisly stuff. Serial murderers. Kidnappings. Missing children. She let me have one about a woman in the 60’s who murdered her own 7 children, one by one. She read quite a lot, actually. At least she did when I was younger.

Despite her appetite for scandal, she kept secrets. Particularly family secrets.

She played organ and piano. In 1967, she picked up a copy of The Doors’ “Light My Fire.”  She thought it was a love song. My father found this hilarious. It’s actually still pretty hilarious.

She worked as an operator for years and years. When she retired, they threw her a party. She had lots of pictures of that party.

She had lots of picture in general.

She made murals out of her snapshots–one for her family, one for each of her children’s families. I am not sure what inspired it. I guess, in a way, it was far easier to have lots  of pictures from lots of time periods that way, instead of trying to frame and hang each one. She literally had boxes of photographs.

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She asked about my sister and I when she talked to my dad.

I can still hear her voice. She had a strange sort of whispery voice–conspiratorial, almost. Conspiratorial, but aiming for polite. Southern.

Boy howdy, that woman used to use some Crisco.

She thought spaghetti was spicy and foreign.

She collected owls. I don’t know, honestly, if it was one of those accidental collections. You know the type: you mention you sort of like something one day, and ten years later, you’re the Owl Woman, and people bring you owls, and now you have a whole shelf of them, but it was really just an idle comment one day.

She kept a spider plant alive for something like 40 years.

She had this little holder for prayer cards that I used to find just totally fascinating. It was mostly Psalms and Proverbs.

I don’t know what she thought about my parents, but I do think that maybe she was understanding of my dad’s wild-and-stupid years, because they’d lost a child.  And she was, maybe, too understanding about it, really. Looking back. She hid where he was when he ran off. Like I said, she could keep family secrets.

I wonder, sort of, what other secrets she had. The truth is, though, that it’s probably best that I don’t know.

I know that she loved us. I know that her relationship with my grandfather totally baffled my mom. I know that she had some sort of Notions of Ladylike & Proper about her that my other grandmother just did not have.  It may just be that she and Grandpa were just a few years too old to have gotten on the liberated train in the 60’s and 70’s. They were very much of an older school.

I know that it’s a shame that I don’t know more.

At 15.

At 15.

Platforms and Personhood

I miss writing.

When I found out I was pregnant I preemptively mourned for the fiction writing part of my life. I know that, with a baby, there just isn’t time. Fiction writing consumes me in a way that eats up most of my conscious thought. I might not really get to do it again for years and years, and I know that.

But I’ve blogged.

Blogging has changed, though. Everything is about “building a brand.” We are supposed to provide “value” to readers and deliver “content” in a “niche.”

I don’t want to be a “brand.” I don’t even know what my “brand” would be.

People don’t seem to link to each other out of enthusiasm much anymore. Blogging isn’t a conversation these days, it’s a platform for selling a particular person’s made-up persona, in the hopes of building enough traffic to sell someone some stuff.

It’s sort of depressing.

I am not even sure if I like blogging, anymore.

I still like writing, though.

So, I should write.

I am just not sure what I should write about.