oops! day late and a dollar short, but it wouldn’t be the first time that’s been true for me. My schedule has been all kinds of wack recently, so yes this is late, oopsie. Mostly what has been wack about my schedule is my SLEEP—being unemployed means I sleep more than I have probably in years, and then my landlords left for a brief vacation and here I am left taking care of their cat, which is fine except that I have to get up and feed her when she starts screaming at me. Plus I let her sleep with me at night (so she isn’t trapped screaming in the basement if I sleep in) and she is not a big cat but I swear to you, she takes up half the bed (mostly because I am terrified of crushing her.) In fact, she takes up a lot of space for being so small—I am currently writing this from my bed, because she is occupying the chair I typically hang out in when I do this.
Is she cute? Yes. Am I still very tired? Also yes. But let’s move on now to
Books I Wrote About This Week
Folks… we gotta talk the Hard Talk about queer representation. I do not like to do this! (Just kidding, I LOVE to do this, it’s another chance to be cancelled on the internet, my number one goal in life.) Look, I am objectively opposed to it. I’m being facetious but also I think there’s a LOT of power in being able to practice queer readings, and also, as we’re about to explore in relation to this book, it raises MANY more questions within settings than I think many authors are able to grapple with because we aren’t committed to the narrative, we are committed to the representation.
What do I mean by this. Well mostly a load of nonsense, except that I will offer up this example from this very novella. In the book, we have a nonbinary character. Great! Wonderful. We love to see some they/them rep (no neopronouns here or anywhere I guess, but we’ll roll with it.) Also in the book, a character who has up until this point been dressed traditionally in a very high femme way (I think… honestly I can’t remember how much of her clothing was described, but at the very least it’s femme,) comes into the room wearing a suit and a fake mustache and doing a lower voice, and the characters are shocked. Like I guess trans people exist but drag doesn’t? Sir? In this alternate history where presumably the arrival of hippos to the American South doesn’t, in a butterfly effect moment, cause minstrel shows (the birth of drag, at least in part, according to historian Eric Lott,) to suddenly not exist? The character (whose pronouns are she/her throughout, so I’ll use them) then announces to the others that her “heart calls out to suits” more than skirts sometimes, and describes the whole situation (her gender? her appearance?) as “fluid.” Y’know, just in case you needed to pick up what Gailey is putting down here.
And this contradiction—the acceptance of a nonbinary androgynous person without question (even the VILLAIN uses the nonbinary person’s pronouns, so it’s not just like “we agree as the Team to roll with this person’s pronouns”) versus the SHOCK of this potentially genderfluid character doesn’t make sense to me. What gender rules are we playing with her? Or did we see an opportunity to use a plot moment to offer up another way of doing gender because the single nonbinary character would not be representative of enough genders? I am not trying to claim that genderfluid and nonbinary are the same genders, for the record, but hopefully you understand enough of my point here to see where the contradiction makes this gender situation seem like a whole mess. And then there’s the explanation portion. I HATE when characters explain their non-cis genders to people without using the language of “trans” or whatever the situation we would identify them as, because it’s always, without fail, completely terrible. Trying to describe dysphoria in ways that end up just hitting tropes that I find annoying, using enough language to signal to the reader what the character’s identity is without actually naming it in our words… all of it I find so jarring and just… bad.
And maybe I’m wrong! Maybe I’m an out of touch Old and there’s some young person out there for whom this kind of representation is an absolute lifeline. But once, again, I think what frustrates me about this is the lack of imagination in how we picture genders and sexualities as existing outside our own current construction of them. It’s not that I want to banish on-page queerness to the world of subtext (although I do think that’s a fun and frankly underrated part of queer culture, and also identity development,) but I want us to do so in creative ways that are CONSISTENT. I NEED CONSISTENCY, FOLKS!!! THAT’S ALL I’M ASKING FOR!!!
Ever since I read How to Read Literature (yes I guess I’m gonna ALWAYS be referring back to it, lol, sorry in advance for the rest of my life!) I’ve been reflecting a lot on something that Eagleton posits which is that even in realist fiction, we cannot judge a book on how “realistic” it is, because no book actually is real, nor can it be—every “realistic” detail is simply in support of the narrative. I made a flippant comment in writing about it about judging people for making this critique—that a book is “not realistic”—but then suddenly I found myself adrift in trying to describe parts of what I enjoyed about this book.
Here’s the trouble: I want to say this book feels realistic, especially in the way that various barriers and struggles appear in these consecutive ways, but don’t ever feel excessive in the way that sometimes challenges that characters face feel excessive in fiction. But of course, nothing about that is realistic—those are constructed choices in the same way the “extravagant” challenges are constructed. It’s all part of the plot. That’s how books work. And maybe the compliment is in not drawing attention to the constructedness of the text, which is what the book is aimed at (given that this isn’t like. A modernist novel, lol.) So that we recognize that Habeeb is doing a fairly good job within his genre. Again, context with analysis! Or yknow I guess context with me and my feelings about a book, lol.
Which also brings me to my major complaint about this book and a couple of books I’ve read recently which is: I don’t like a “neat wrap up epilogue” in my books. I didn’t like it in Victory’s Price and I didn’t like it here. And I think I didn’t like it because we don’t NEED it—I am not a person who needs us to leap x years into the future and see how things turned out from a narrative. Look, again, I write fan fiction, I don’t need you to tell me what happened later. I have an imagination, I can have a good time on my own. And maybe I was burned as a kid by the Wizard Boy books and that mess of an epilogue, but every time I get to one I’m like “who cares, I do not.” We don’t see anything in any real detail. It’s like a great deal of telling and no showing, and while I know that sometimes in fiction we HAVE to and SHOULD tell, I do not think this is a great place for it. I don’t know! It’s a journey! I just didn’t like it! Please authors stop doing it to me!
The Reading Situation
100 books: I’m currently sitting at 90 books! Only ten more between me and my goal! That’s very exciting, and I hope I can get through some books and get myself there very soon!
Author identity challenge: We’re now sitting at 14 out of 18 prompts, of 78%! And I DO have some plans for going forward, and three whole months to pursue them! All of which is so exciting, so that’s good! Whoo!
Currently reading: I just started Master and Commander so that’s another series by a white dude that’s going to eat me I guess, I’m still working through Literary Theory, and the two compilations of feminist writings, and I started Swimming to the Top of the Tide. So I’m chugging along, but definitely have a ways to go on some books.
And that’s it for this week! If you want to see me tweet about Star Wars and also Oscar Wilde, you can find me on twitter @fadesintointent; if you want me to see and like what you’re doing, but not vice versa, you can follow me on instagram @sonofahurricane. And I must go now anyway, because the cat is calling me. Otherwise, thank you so much for reading, as always, and I hope you are having a great start to your week and have a wonderful rest of your week! Take care of yourselves, and each other. <3