Advent Day 21: Black Mirror

Pssst. Have you heard the rumor? Apparently, we’ll enjoy more Black Mirror creepy goodness before the end of 2018. Nothing could be better (when it comes to TV entertainment, let’s not mess this up with politics).

With Black Mirror set to drop new episodes December 28, this means all my fears about future and technology will be raised just before the new year. Yay. Black Mirror has excelled at weaving together technology and human failings to produce episodes that terrify you and make you think. Last year’s U.S.S. Callister was easily a stand-out, with a group of people who’d essentially become prisoners in a video game plotting a mutiny. Then there was Arkangel. How can a technology meant to help you keep your child safe be so destructive? Dang, last season was a great season. The high water mark for me is still season 4’s San Junipero, but every season of this show has delivered. I can’t wait for more.

 

Advent Day 22: The Oddling Prince

Advent Day 23: The Americans

Advent Day 24: Fight Fascism

Advent Day 25: Bodyguard

Advent Day 26: Baskets

Advent Day 27: Literature

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Advent Day 22: The Oddling Prince

51agxqz0ttl-_sy346_It is so hard to express just how much I loved this delightful story. Reading it felt like skipping along a path through the trees on a glorious day when the sun shines through at just the right angle to make everything shimmer in gold. It’s rare for me to associate a reading experience so strongly with emotion or a mental image – particularly if it’s a pleasant one! – but I loved every minute of this read.

It’s a quest, but not a conventional quest, and the way the story unfolds both surprises and delights in equal measure.

This is, quite simply, a great story that I thoroughly enjoyed. My first Nancy Springer book, and I guarantee it won’t be my last. You can read my original review here.

Advent Day 23: The Americans

Advent Day 24: Fight Fascism

Advent Day 25: Bodyguard

Advent Day 26: Baskets

Advent Day 27: Literature

Eclectic Mayhem 2: The Native Flu

coyoteCoyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias

On a map it’s easy to look at a line and call it a border. Down on the ground though, borders are amorphous spaces where people and things blend and mingle and aren’t always so clear cut. Within that blending, magic happens. That’s one reason why walls suck. Coyote Songs takes a mosaic approach to showing us some of the stories on the border. Stories with heart that have some genuinely awesome moments and some genuinely moving moments.

Coyote Songs at times occupies some of the same limnal space as “The Cowboy Bible” by Carlos Velázquez and “The Kidnapped Space” by B Traven. Which, to be clear, isn’t to suggest that Coyote Songs is derivative in any way, but only that this mosaic novel is itself, one tile of a larger mosaic of Border fiction.

brotherBrother by Ania Ahlborn

The great writer Derek Raymond, influenced by classic 20th Century American hardboiled crime fiction wrote of the black novel. He said, in part, that, “The black novel…describes men and women whom circumstances have pushed too far, people whom existence has bent and deformed. It deals with the question of turning a small frightened battle with oneself into a much greater struggle — the universal human struggle against the general contract, whose terms are unfulfillable, and where defeat is certain.” The black novel is similar to noir.

Sometimes the best noirs are what I call accidental noirs. Meaning, the author didn’t necessarily set out to write a noir story, but one emerged out of the darkness. I’m often wary of noir used as a descriptor or marketing term. If an author or the marketing surrounding a story categorize it as noir, I’m skeptical. But those accidental noirs, the venture out into the darkness? Those are special. Brother isn’t, strictly speaking, a noir. But it is a black novel and any basement noir crazies out there should check it out.

Brother is sharply told, has characters that will evoke strong feelings, some you will support, some you will loathe. By the time you suspect where the story is heading it is too late, you are strapped in for the ride. And as bad as you think it will get, it winds up being worse.

lineThe Line That Held Us by David Joy

The Line That Held Us got me thinking about the Lindenmuth men in my own family. My great-grandfather, Old Heck, was a trapper in the mountains of Pennsylvania. He would spend months at a time out trapping, come back to town to sell his pelts, drop off some money to my great-grandmother (presumably), and head back out. My grandfather had a large nose, so people around town started calling him Old Hook. He was an avid and life long hunter. My grandfather took my Dad hunting when he was a boy. He sighted a deer and, in that moment, realized he didn’t want to shoot it. He also realized that he couldn’t tell grandfather this so, in an elegant solution, shot the ground off to the side of the deer, scaring it. You see, he realized that the most important thing for him to do, in the moment, was to pull the trigger. It was better to pull the trigger and miss then to not pull the trigger at all. And I have never been hunting (but I have no problem with it, to be clear).

Over the years this progression has been jokingly called both the evolution of man and the de-evolution of man. While it makes for a good punch line, it sacrifices accuracy. If one is feeling generous, they could place the Lindenmuth men along a kind of continuum that might represent the wild on one side and something like civilized on the other.

The three main male characters in The Line That Held Us fall at different places along a similar continuum. Dwayne is wild and not fit for town living. He follows more primal ways and cuts right through the often unspoken norms that bind a society. Calvin is a guy who lives and works and succeeds fully within the bounds of society. He has a job, a woman that loves him, and goals and things he wants to accomplish. In a way that most of us understand, he has the most to lose. The man that connects them is Darl, who has a foot in each world. He wants to spend as much time as possible out in the woods, hunting. But he needs his connections to those in his small circle of family and friends. His presence in each world recharges his battery for his presence in the other.

The men on this continuum will clash and the outcomes won’t be neat. How they clash and the messiness that ensues is for the reader to find out.

8193+a8LxALIndian Horse by Richard Wagamese

On the surface, Indian Horse is about hockey and the Indian Residential School system in Canada, but it encompasses so much more: trauma, loss of culture, loss of identity, growing, and the long hard path to righting your ship when so many forces were hell-bent on sinking it. It’s told in an intimate, confessional way that draws you into the narrative, deeply investing the reader into the story of Saul Indian Horse.

Richard Wagamese died in 2017 and I’m sorry it took this long to read him, I’m now a fan and can’t wait to read his other books. He has said on numerous occasions that Indian Horse, originally, was intended to be a “Shoeless Joe does hockey” novel. I have no doubt that Kinsella’s novel was the starting point and structure and inspiration for Indian Horse but it is more akin to Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, especially in the sections of the book that describe hockey and everything that it means and is capable of. But also in the way the it deals with the helplessness of wanting to help someone but not being able to or knowing how.

Upon finishing Indian Horse I had the rare feeling of wanting to immediately read it again. And I’m sure I will again, soon.

Side note: The hilarious and profane Canadian TV show Letterkenny has a running joke about the Native hockey teams. In the world of the show, the Native teams are so tough and so feared that when teams have to play them, some players are inevitably sick and can’t play those games. Those players that call out are said to have “the native flu”. After reading Indian Horse, and its representation of how the Native players learn the game, and the conditions they play under, especially when compared to their white counterparts, it’s easy to see how that reputation can develop.

Indian Horse was made into a movie and released earlier in 2018. I look forward to checking it out when it becomes available.

Advent Day 23: The Americans

 

For six years, The Americans followed Philip and Elizabeth Jennings as they lived their covert life, acting on behalf of their country to further the Soviet agenda during the Cold War.

Not an easy show at times. Not easy to root for the bad guys. Yet these characters are anything but one dimensional. Elizabeth is a rape victim. She is a survivor. They are parents. They genuinely love their children.

They also genuinely love their country.

And yet, Philip wrestles with what they’re required to do. He doesn’t follow blindly. Neither does Elizabeth, although people may see her as more of a patriot than her husband.

We went into the last season wondering how on earth they would wrap it up and as the season progressed they seemed to be adding loose threads rather than resolving things. We spent hours guessing who would live and who would die …

No spoilers, but I will say this: the ending wrecked me. Simply one of the best series endings ever. I don’t say that lightly. It wasn’t at all what I expected and yet it was remarkably satisfying.

And that one scene – if you watched the finale then you know the one – God, I need tissues again. I’m still gutted. With or Without You.

And Gad. Damn. Gad.

Bonus: If you love your 80s music, the soundtrack is stellar.

I’ve long maintained that the most amazing endings have you wondering what X or X character is doing after the final page or shot, because they live on in your mind as though they are a part of your reality, and for the characters that made it through to the end, I have often wondered if they were apart of certain significant world events or whether they reconnected with so-and-so, etc. etc.

This amazing crew made these characters do real for me. And I still miss them.

 

Advent Day 24: Fight Fascism

Advent Day 25: Bodyguard

Advent Day 26: Baskets

Advent Day 27: Literature

Advent Day 25 – Bodyguard

This British thriller series is on Netflix. Honestly, had it not been for a friend recommending it, I’m not sure it would have been on my radar, and that’s a shame. It has one of the most intense beginnings of any show or series that I’ve ever seen. They also tackle some pretty tough things, like PTSD and how men deal (or don’t deal) with their problems in a realistic way.

And I loved how the show played with prejudices and assumptions and used them in the story.

Advent Day 26 – Baskets

This is a show that isn’t easy to categorize. It’s a comedy, sure, but it also has some very keen insights about people, human nature, relationships and identity. And it’s really offbeat, but I mean that in the best possible way. You’ll laugh. You’ll groan. And you’ll cry.

And you’ll always end a season wanting more.

So, how do I love thee, Baskets? Let me count the ways.

First, there’s Chip. This aspiring clown who aspires to so much and falls short spectacularly. He has so much heart and he’s always got his eyes on what he can’t have, and can’t see the good things right in front of him sometimes. He’s beyond spectacular and relatable and I’m rooting for him.

Then there’s Christine. Oh Christine. She really sees the world one way, but every now and again she edges out of her zone and surprised herself, and the audience in the process. She really means well, and shows just how much damage a person can do to someone else with their good intentions.

Martha is a trip. She’s the classic gal who doesn’t stand up for herself and complies to keep the peace, which means she’s usually the one that makes everything come apart at the seams. Or she’s inadvertently coerced into things way beyond her comfort zone. Only Martha could take in a stray dog that turns out to be a wild coyote, God bless ‘er.

Eddie. Great with horses. Not so great with people, unless you count conning them.

Ken. He amplifies Christine’s crazy sometimes, but in the best possible way. Love Ken.

Season 4 could mark a real shift for the show, so I’ll be very curious to see what happens next.

 

Did you miss Advent Day 27? Check out LiteratureAdvent Day 27? Check out Literature.