Wrapping Up 2020 and 2021 Goals

Time to wrap up 2020!

(and throw it in the garbage)

Actually, 2020 has not been a totally bad year for me personally. Julio and I moved into our house, had a baby, and started a small business.

So, we had several big, joyous events, but being in our family’s little bubble did not shield us from stressing and worrying about all of the major things that went horribly wrong. And it has been sad to be so far from our family for so long. My mother still has not met our daughter, who will also spend her first Christmas without our big, wonderful family. Those things are on my heart, along with all the big, terrible events this year.

Remember when quarantine happened and all us type-a creative people thought we were going to write a great novel because Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague? What a laugh. (Unless you did that, in which case you’re amazing.) I did make quite a bit of progress on a nonfiction book that I am writing with two friends, and queried a bunch for another project I’m doing, but I did not write any of the novels I have taken notes for or the nonfiction book I plan to write solo. What I did do during that early quarantine is get sucked into following some bullshit YouTube drama, justifying the experience by taking notes for yet another novel I will probably not write.

I also grew a human. Being pregnant during the pandemic was a weird experience. No birthing class. An online hospital tour. My husband not being allowed to come to ultrasounds. Socially distant baby showers. All that. Plus, there was a healthy dose of fear because the CDC kept moving pregnant women in and out of the high-risk category. There was just so little data! But, we made it, single umbilical artery, extra monitoring, and all.

I had planned to pray a rosary every day during 2020, but when I stopped having a long commute during the initial shutdown, the time I had naturally carved out for it was gone and it was hard to keep up with when every day felt weirdly outside of time. And the repetition stopped feeling prayerful. So, I switched gears and I’m on track to have read the whole Bible between April and the end of the year. I have also really solidified my habit of keeping my notebook after some fits and starts over the last two years and I feel GREAT about that. 

Looking forward to 2021, here are my big-ticket plans.

  1. Get our farm business running and registered as a St. Kateri Conservation Center protected habitat. We are technically very close to qualifying, but I want the place to be more fruitful and to look better before I apply. This step is really important to me as a big part of our hopes for the homestead focus on living closer to the land and the creatures on it. I hope my wildflowers grow this year, the compost gets up and running, and I have a big, healthy pumpkin patch come Fall. Our orchard will take some time, but we plan to develop that more too.
  2. Learn how to spin yarn. I have started playing with a drop spindle using some wool tops and raw alpaca fleece that I bought. We could have up to 60 pounds of raw alpaca fleece about six months from now and I would like to know how to turn it into yarn.
  3. On Sundays, I’m going to take a break from social media. We have gotten into a really nice routine in which we do Mass, then Julio makes pasta and we watch Bishop Barron’s Sunday sermon over dinner. It feels really homey and special and I would like the whole day to have that good, set apart sabbath feeling, and, sadly, no social media is the best way I can think of to accomplish that. It’s amazing how much time and energy it takes, isn’t it? For this space, that means that I will be publishing my posts on Monday morning instead of Sunday, as I have been doing most of this year.
  4. Actually complete my personal reading syllabus. I got so swept up in other books and life with a newborn this year that I barely made a dent in my 2020 syllabus. I have rolled some of it over to 2021 and added several books about unplugging, living more intentionally, and nature. 
  5. Write more. 

Other than that, I am keeping it loose. As this year taught all of us, I think, there’s no knowing what’s ahead and how that might help us write King Lear. Or not. 

Response to that WSJ Article, Kiddo

Honestly, what I want to write is “Mr. Epstein, kiddo, go fork yourself.” But, that’s not terribly productive. Or kind. Or thoughtful. It’s just rude. Much like this editorial. It’s rude. It’s disrespectful. It’s pointless. Talk to some women who have earned their doctorates and many if not most of us have stories of passive-aggressive sexism, disrespect, or the simple thrill of getting addressed by your title when you earned it. Not Miss, Ms. or Mrs. Dr.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

So instead of simply telling the WSJ where they can stick their opinion, here are some brief thoughts and facts in response to that garbage opinion piece arguing that Dr. Jill Biden should stop using her honorific because she is not an MD and therefore it feels “fraudulent” or “comic,”

GO FORK YOURSELF. 

Sorry. It just came out. 

Let’s set aside how disrespectful it was for Mr. Epstein to call Dr. Jill Biden “kiddo” in a major national newspaper. The title doctor originally had nothing to do with medicine, so the idea that only someone who has delivered a baby should be called “doctor” is kind of nonsensical. Also, Dr. Jill Biden has given birth to a child, so she’s delivered a baby, ffs. “Doctor” comes from the Latin verb “docere,” meaning to teach, or a scholar. The Ph.D. is older than the M.D. People have been getting Ph.D.s since long before the time when medical professionals were using leeches and operating out of barbershops. To be specific, Dr. Jill Biden has an Ed.D., which follows the conventions of the Ph.D. There were Ed.D. students in many of my Ph.D. courses because of the intersections between our courses of study.

This argument he makes about honorary Ph.D.s makes no sense, whatsoever. Dr. Biden earned her degree. It wasn’t bestowed on her out of generosity. She. Earned. It. Most people who get honorary doctorates don’t go around addressed as “Dr.” Most people who earn them do. Me? I went by Miss Book Lady, Miss Librarian, or Miss Kasey for a long time because I worked outside of the academy, but I sure appreciate it when people respect me enough to use my title. I especially loved the affectionate “Doc.” Because I earned it. I earned a full-ride for undergrad. I earned a dissertation fellowship. I earned my doctorate. It was hard, lonely work. No one gave that to me just because. I didn’t achieve these things in a vacuum and I’m grateful for the support I had, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t earn my title. Of course, there is also Dr. Samuel Johnson, the famed 18th-century literary critic and dictionary author who went by Dr. Johnson everywhere he could and his doctorate was honorary. So, there are some notable exceptions (*cough* Dr. Cosby).

Yes, there are a lot more Ph.D.s now than there used to be and more professional fields are moving toward doctorates as their terminal degree. My brother, for example, earned a doctorate in physical therapy, which is a relatively new development in his field. But, based on the most recent data, only 13.1% of the U.S. population holds Ph.D.s. EDIT: 13.1% hold master’s, doctorate, or professional degrees. Fewer than 2% hold Ph.D.s It’s not exactly common. It’s not easy. 

And women are starting to earn Ph.D.s more often than men. But, in many fields, women are still far outnumbered. Then, there’s the prestige gap. And, there is a historical trend in professional fields that once women start to make up the majority of the field, the pay goes down. Look at librarians. Teachers. So, by all means, start to disrespect the doctorate once women start to excel there, too. That seems productive.

Finally, not to make it personal, but that the author opens with the fact that he taught at Northwestern for 30 years without a Ph.D., but with “only a B.A. in absentia” really makes it sound like he is in some way jealous or threatened by Dr. Biden’s academic success. And if Ph.D.s are sooo much easier to get than they used to be, why don’t you go get one, bro?

Further Reading:

Jill Biden Tweets Rebuke

What is the Real Difference Between a PhD and MD?

Asking for a Friend

Late one night, I was alone with my then two-month-old daughter, who was asleep in her bassinet while I got ready for bed. In a heartbeat, she went from sleeping peacefully to wailing, her tiny arms and legs flailing and a look of pure fear spreading across her face. I rushed to her, scooping her up and calming her. It was the first time I could register her needing me for a purely emotional reason—she wasn’t hungry or cold; we weren’t working on brain development or hand-eye coordination. She was just scared.

In that moment, it was like I could see through a telescope to the future: my little baby a little girl running to me because someone hurt her feelings, her sweet face crumpled with sadness, her bunny in tow. I know that life and other people are going to sometimes hurt her. I feel prepared to help her through that, however much it hurts me to think of her hurt. I know that I cannot protect her from everything and that I shouldn’t, even if I want to. I feel prepared and capable to love her and mother her in life’s hard moments.

But… (Trigger warning: child loss)

Alongside these moments that I can forecast live dreadful intrusive thoughts. Since my baby was born, each day has brought me a stray terror or two. At first, I would picture someone slipping with her on the stairs, breaking her perfect, fragile head. I would picture waking up in the morning to her not breathing. As she grew sturdier, my imagination went further in scope: car accidents, choking, guns, climate change, kidnapping, mountain lions.

Listen, where I live, mountain lions can attack children. It’s rare, but it happens.

One night, as the baby slept, I found myself looking up the exact statistics on how many parents outlive their children. Roughly 19%. Having tracked down that statistic, feeling vaguely reassured, I looked up some books on postpartum anxiety.

Where is the line between natural worry over your child and postpartum anxiety? Will this fear fade over time?

I read that once you have a child, it is like your heart lives outside your body. I feel this way about my husband. Before him, I would occasionally lie awake updating my disaster plan for how to raise my little sister if my parents died in a car crash. Now that she is relatively grown, I update the plan for what to do if something happens to Julio. If I lost him, my future would be a vast wilderness of loneliness, the terrain growing more complicated as we add a baby and a herd of animals. I can’t fathom it. I try not to dwell on it. There is no plan for what would happen if we lost our daughter. It would shatter me beyond anything I can imagine. I know that much.

But where is the line? Will the daily intrusive thoughts fade with time and as I resist giving them breathing room?

I am no stranger to worry. I have been depressed. I am not now depressed, but I do have a thyroid disease that has masqueraded as anxiety before, and that makes it hard to know if the tightness in my chest and the constant feeling that I could cry are because my hormones are adjusting postpartum and to a new dose of my medicine, or otherwise. I take deep breaths. I look at my daughter’s perfect face. I try not to worry. But I wonder, what level of fear is normal?

We had a mouse in the house and, even after Julio caught it, I worry that it chewed on wires and that the house will spontaneously burn down. As the baby sleeps, I read about how to prevent fire hazards in your home. I have a plan. I have a fire escape ladder. I diligently keep both baby carriers and a leash in the bedroom so that if the worst happens, we could get the baby and the dog out of the house. I have a variation on the plan for if I am alone at the time, thinking through how I would convince the dog to let me swaddle her to my back long enough for us to climb down. I check our fire extinguishers. At least I put my worry to use, I rationalize. Incidentally. this plan also works in case of an intruder.

What if the baby sleepwalks when she’s older and falls down the stairs? I suppose a babygate could help, but what if she tumbled over the babygate? I do not have a plan for this scenario, but am open to suggestions.

I know.

I know that I cannot and will not have a plan for everything. I don’t expect to. But when these fears intrude on my sweet moments with my girl, I try to beat them back with a dose of preparedness.

Also, where is the line? And how do you live with your heart outside your body?

Two Books on Racism in American Christianity

Thus summer, after the killing of George Floyd, there was a movement in Catholic circles on Instagram calling Catholics to #RendYourHearts, praying 18 days for racial justice. There was also an emphasis put on the stories of Black Catholics about their experiences and how the Church can repair from a history of racism and injustice. It gave me a lot to think about. During this time, I saw two books on race in the American church that caught my eye, The Color of Compromise and White Too Long. Because both books look at American Christianity, they deal largely with Evangelical and mainline Protestant churches, but also include information on the Catholic experience in the United States. Because I have a small child at home, it took me several months to get through them both.

(A quick note: I did not realize until I was partway through White Too Long, which I read second, that one of these books is by a Black author, the other by a White author. Although each author’s race is important to their experiences and perspective, I am not doing a comparison of the books on that basis.)

In The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby does a deep historical look at the relationship between racism and Christianity in American history, going back to the Colonial Era. He frames his analysis by looking at the theological compromises that Christians in the United States made in order to excuse or uphold racism. For example, during the slave trade, baptism did not make slaves free, but slave owners were encouraged to evangelize their slaves. Yet, Christian tradition had previously held that Christians should not enslave each other.

Tisby’s analysis follows this thread up through Black Lives Matter and to the present urgency. He explains that facing the complicity Christian churches have had in the racist history of the United States is essential for healing:

“History and scripture teach us that there can be no reconciliation without repentance. There can be no repentance without confession. And there can be no confession without truth.”

In the 20th Century, Tisby examines the rise of the KKK, the complicity of American Christians in Jim Crow and segregation, and the failure of many white churches to speak up during the Civil Rights Movement. Into the 21st Century, he examines the complicity with racism, often via silence, of American Christianity during the Black Lives Matter movement: “Christian complicity with racism in the twenty-first century looks different than complicity with racism in the past. It looks like Christians responding to ‘black lives matter’ with the phrase ‘all lives matter.’ It looks like Christians consistently supporting a president whose racism has been on display for decades. It looks like Christians telling black people and their allies that their attempts to bring up racial concerns are ‘divisive.’ It looks at conversations on race that focus on individual relationships and are unwilling to discuss systemic solutions.”

Tisby’s writing is clear, concise, and moving. He makes apparent how American Christian churches have repeatedly turned away from opportunities to be more just, more inclusive, and more equitable and therefore have been complicit, often through inaction as much as through overt racism, in the continued systemic racism in the United States. It’s a hard read emotionally, but an easy read intellectually because of the clarity of the writing. He also includes stirring calls to be better such as: “Complicit Christianity forfeits its moral authority by devaluing the image of God in people of color. Like a ship that has a cracked hull and is taking on water, Christianity has run aground on the rocks of racism and threatens to capsize—it has lost its integrity. By contrast, courageous Christianity embraces racial and ethnic diversity. It stands against any person, policy, or practice that would dim the glory of God reflected in the life of human beings from every tribe and tongue.”

In White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Robert P. Jones uses sociological studies to create a data-driven analysis of these same issues. He writes:

“This book puts forward a simple proposition: it is time–indeed well beyond time–for white Christians in the United States to reckon with the racism of our past and the willful amnesia of our present. Underneath the glossy, self-congratulatory histories that white Christian churches have written about themselves is a thinly veiled, deeply troubling reality. White churches have not only been complicit; rather, as the dominant cultural power in America, they have been responsible for constructing and sustaining a project to protect white supremacy and resist black equality. This project has framed the entire American story.”

Jones comes to the conversation through his background as a Southern Baptist who was struck by the racist history of his own church—the split in the Baptist church came over slaveholding, with the Southern Baptists branching off during the disagreement. In fact, Jones explains how virtually all of the major mainline Protestant denominations split over slavery. Not letting Catholics off the hook, he also examines the history of colonialism and how that introduced racism into the American Catholic church, even as race works differently in that history. For a long period of American Catholicism, a large portion of the church has been comprised of people who were not viewed as white by a majority of American culture—Irish people, Italians, Mexicans, for example. Catholics were also targeted as unAmerican by the KKK, but that does not mean that Catholics have not also been complicit with racism within American culture. It’s a complicated history and Jones unpacks it adeptly. 

He also looks at how white supremacy has become synonymous with organizations like the KKK and that has become soothing to many because it has concealed the less blatant ways in which white supremacy works in our culture. The most upsetting aspect of the book, for me, was when Jones gets into studies that examined the correlation between Christian belief, church attendance, and racist beliefs. The studies found that, more than any other factor, knowing a person’s affiliation with a Christian church was the easiest single factor for guessing that they would also hold racist ideas. Jones writes: “To put it even more bluntly, if you were recruiting for a white supremacist cause on a Sunday morning, you’d likely have more success hanging out in the parking lot of an average white Christian church–evangelical Protestant, mainline Protestant, or Catholic–than approaching whites sitting out services at the local coffee shop.”

Jones’s book was slightly less readable than Tisby’s, but the data that he includes is incredibly valuable at making the picture of American Christians’ complicity in racism clear. I think these books work beautifully in tandem for those who are looking to do a deep gut-check on the state of race in the church and how much room there is to do better. 

The Ultimate Thanksgiving Episode Showdown – Revisited

In 2015, Julio and I were newly married and decided that, because we lived across the country from our families, we could only afford the airfare, PTO, and energy to travel home for Christmas. We haven’t been home for Thanksgiving since. In 2020, many people are staying home, away from their families for the holiday, and I want to tell you, as a veteran of spending Thanksgiving away from my family—it’s going to be okay. I will admit, I am strongly biased toward Christmas, but there are plenty of ways you can enjoy Thanksgiving with your own household. As blissful vegetarians, Julio and I have made a tradition of having a feast comprised of all the side dishes (my favorite recipes are here) and watching Thanksgiving TV episodes. That first year, on a short-lived blog we ran, we held a tournament to determine the greatest Thanksgiving episode of all time. For your Thanksgiving enjoyment, I present here a rerun of how that tournament went down, in reverse chronological order (for clarity’s sake, I think). Let me know in the comments: what is your favorite Thanksgiving episode of all time?

 

 

Before we begin, a quick note about the process. Each matchup was posted with a survey in the blog post and participants voted on the episodes they thought should win each round. Julio and I generated the seeding for the tournament based on the IMDB rating for each individual episode. At the time, each episode was available on Netflix unless otherwise noted, but what is available for streaming and where has changed significantly since then.

Final Result….

The winner is: “Indians in the Lobby”

I never would have guessed that this would be the result. Honestly, I thought it would go to “Slapsgiving” or Friends. I’m delighted that it went to The West Wing, a show that I love and which produced a few outstanding holiday episodes. As I discussed with our friend Keaton on Facebook, though, I think the better West Wing episode was “Shibboleth,” which lost to HIMYM back in the quarterfinals. (2020 edit: If you rewatch “Sbibboleth” this year, it hits all the harder. Oi.) Although “Indians in the Lobby” raises interesting points about how the poverty line is calculated and the ramifications of that, the relationship between the federal government and tribal governments, and, weirdly, extradition and capital punishment, “Sibboleth” is more focused and resonant than “Indians in the Lobby,” and packs several earned emotional punches, well balanced by some wonderful humor. If you have never seen it, it is worth a watch this holiday. 

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(Book Review) The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

The Water CureThe Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

This book is an odd one. I’ve seen it described as a dystopian coming-of-age fairytale and I think that is mostly a fitting description, but the fairytale part I’m a bit iffy on.

The Water Cure is a story of three sisters, Grace, Lia, and Sky who are raised by their parents on what they think is an island, safe from the toxin that has infected the rest of the world beyond their border. Women sometimes come to their shores to recover and be cured after violent, poisonous experiences with men. Men—except for their father, King—are dangerous, and by keeping the girls isolated and purifying them up through torturous “cures” their parents strive to protect them. They are toughened up through rules and rituals around love, preparing them to do anything for their sisters. The protection itself, however, is traumatizing. Lia explains: “Trauma is a toxin that hooks into our hair and organs and blood and becomes part of us, the way heavy metals do, our bodies nothing more than a layering of flesh around everything ingested and experienced” (46). Then, King dies and three men turn up on the shore.

This book has been compared to The Handmaid’s Tale and I get the comparison, but Mackintosh’s writing style reminds me more of Emma Donaghue, specifically in Kissing the Witch. There is a lightness to her tone, even when the narrators recount difficult, brutal experiences. Somehow, the writing seems to skim over the surface of things without being shallow. That feature makes the book a quick read with a lot of impact.

For example, Lia observes, “Llew puts the lid of the piano down without comment, pushes the stool back. There is a fluidity to his movements, despite his size, that tells me he has never had to justify his existence, has never had to fold himself into a hidden thing, and I wonder what that must be like, to know that your body is irreproachable” (77).

Even still, I did not love this book. I think that there are interesting elements and the ending included a twist that I did not see coming and a gut-turning one that I did predict, but once those twists are revealed, I do not think that Mackintosh took advantage of the emotional punch in a way that fully resonated. I wanted more. More detail. More why. The narrative perspective follows the three sisters, or sometimes a chapter on all of them, but I wonder if having one toward the end that dove more into Mother’s experience before the story opens would have settled my disappointment.

I think this book is at its best when the girls’ experience connects to the world beyond their shores in a way that readers’ might recognize. For example, Lia’s relationship with Llew and his subsequent pushing her away sounds strikingly like a bad, half-assed breakup that it is clearest then of anywhere in the book that the men are meant to represent toxic masculinity, not some sort of dystopian world beyond the shores.

At any rate, The Water Cure puts a unique spin on violence against women and its emotional impact and features a compelling narrative voice. It is not a must-read in my opinion, however, because of how much of the book feels borrowed from other dystopian feminist literature. Fans of that genre, will likely really enjoy this book.

The Queen’s Gambit, Addiction, Grief, and Genius

Like many people in the last few weeks, I started watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix and ended up binge-watching it because it is just that good. The seven-episode limited series follows the rise of chess master Beth Harmon from her learning to play from the janitor at her orphanage to playing the Russian world champion. I have loved chess off and on since I was a girl. I was in the chess club in the first grade and grew up playing chess with my dad. One of my life’s regrets is that I didn’t keep playing with him. I gave up in college because I could never, ever beat him and I wasn’t at a place where I wanted to/could put in the time to get better. When I worked as a jail librarian, chess came back onto my radar, because it was popular with the guys and some of them gave me tips to help me beat my husband. Anyway, The Queen’s Gambit is fabulous and in place of doing a cohesive analysis, I just want to do some bullet points of what stood out to me as I watched. Spoilers ahead.

  • Of course, I loved the 1960s costumes and interiors and Anya Taylor-Joy is a treasure. When she wore Twiggy-inspired eye makeup, my husband asked, “What is under her eyes?” and I about screamed “Twiggy!”
  • The series throws us into the story at two critical points in Beth’s life: right before she blows a match by staying out partying in Paris instead of preparing and then, back in time, when she was orphaned. I think perhaps this is an interesting move on the part of the writers because they position two types of loss together. Losing a parent is not even nearly equal to losing a chess match, but for someone as brilliant and unused to losing as Beth is, there is real grief that comes with the latter. How she handles the embarrassment of losing that match in Paris nearly derails her life in a way that is transformative much like being orphaned was. In both instances, she has to make herself anew.
  • As someone who studies girlhood, I enjoyed the depiction of young Beth Harmon. Beth is such an odd, cold girl that her depiction falls out of step with how young girls are expected to behave, and right into tropes more aligned with older male geniuses. It was great. I loved watching her play chess on the ceiling and got a real kick out of the look that passed between her and Mr. Schaibel when the high school chess coach brings Beth a doll—a look that said, “Oh brother; what can you do?”
  • Rarely do we see a story about addiction that starts in childhood like Beth’s does. That the orphanage was giving the girls tranquilizers every day (and in the middle of the day!?) is really troubling and hints at a complicated history around children and pharmaceuticals. I think that the show could have done more with Beth’s recovery from the pills, especially since there were so many murky ties between the pills and her grief, and her sense of control over her life, but that these connections are made without getting super explicit or after school special-y is in itself a pretty nuanced take.
  • loved watching Beth’s relationship with her adoptive mom, Alma (played by Marielle Heller), develop. When Alma finds out that Beth has such a talent for chess and that she could make money playing it, I was concerned that it was going to turn into a terrible momager situation. Instead, the relationship grew with such tentative affection that it was oddly suspenseful. I was relieved that Alma seemed to be interested in Beth’s career, not just for the financial opportunity that it afforded them, but also for the way it broadened her horizons. She benefited from Beth, for sure, but she did not just take the money. She supported her and took an interest in her career. There was a lot at work emotionally between the two and it was wonderful to watch a mother-daughter relationship that was not built on cliches. Both had their demons and, well, I was so fascinated.
  • Beth endures more than her share of grief in the series and the audience sees this play out throughout the character’s story and in flashbacks. Beth usually handles her grief in an intensely reserved fashion and it does not really come out until she finds Mr. Schaibel’s photo of the two of them. (Side note: I was disturbed to find out that she never sent him the $10.) It would be easy to write Beth off as unfeeling, but I think the series does a great job of portraying how still waters run deep. Her grief does not look like people might expect, but there are tokens along the way that point to how she is feeling: Alma’s housecoat, her watch, the photo. Beth is reserved with all of her emotions, so it is no surprise that her feelings of loss would be similarly muted in their expression, but that does not mean she does not feel them. I think our culture has a lot of expectations for what grief looks like and it was refreshing to see a portrayal off that beaten path.
  • Finally, I was delighted when Jolene showed up again and that she was portrayed as having made a successful life for herself in her own right, pursuing her own goals and defining what her success looks like. I think in part this could be an effort to bring a character of color into the very, very white world of chess, but I was glad the effort was made, especially because Jolene is such a fun character.

Did you watch The Queen’s Gambit? What did you think?

The Queen’s Gambit runs for 7 episodes and is rated TV-MA. It was created by Scott Frank, Scott Allan, and Allan Scott.

Further Reading

Ten Books like The Queen’s Gambit

What is the Queen’s Gambit Opening? 

(Book Review) Burn Our Bodies Down

Burn Our Bodies DownBurn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

I came to Rory Power’s Burn Our Bodies Down not having read her first book Wilder Girls (it’s on my TBR), but knowing that it is an eco-horror, feminist novel. That set my expectation that this novel would similarly take up environmental themes, but I kept waiting and waiting for them. When the eco-horror finally hit, boy did it.

Burn Our Bodies Down reminds me of an episode of The Twilight Zone in that it drops the reader into a situation-in-progress that seems tense, not unusual, but as the story unfolds and the context grows, the circumstances get stranger and stranger. To me, that made the first three-fourths of the novel a pretty middle-grade YA mystery. It was not until the last quarter that the book really took off.

The book focuses on Margot, the only child of a difficult, emotionally withholding single mother who has never told her anything about her father, grandparents, or where she came from. On the verge of turning 18, Margot is determined to find out where she comes from. When she uncovers clues that lead her to her grandmother’s farm, however, she wonders if her mother was keeping her away for good reason.

The tension between Margot and her mother, Josephine, is the least compelling part of the story. The source of their tension is pretty vague and the angst Margot feels about it very well may resonate more with younger readers than it did with me. Josephine is also one of the lesser developed characters in the novel, especially as we see her only through the filter of Margot’s heightened emotions about her.

The mystery comes together at a slow burn that kept me reading quickly to find out where exactly it was all going. There are plenty of strange twists and clues, but I was relatively surprised when the final twist came. Given all the breadcrumbs along the way, I thought that the twist ending was well-written and earned. I was very satisfied with the book’s end.

For more, including spoilers, keep reading…

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Girls in Horror Movies 2015-2020

Girls have long been an integral part of horror movies, from Final Girls to girls possessed by demons, so many of the best victims and heroes in horror are little girls or teenage Scream Queens. For part four of my spooky season series, I took a look at horror movies released in the last five years to highlight some of the best and worst girls in contemporary horror. Happy Halloween!

hereditary movieHereditary (2018) Let’s start with the creepiest, most well-known girl in recent horror. Charlie from Hereditary. This movie messed me up. I was really angry about it until I listened to the Scaredy Cat Horror Show episode about it and Midsommar because I felt so emotionally wrecked by that one scene—you know, that one in the middle. The one. If you’ve seen the movie, you know. If you haven’t and you are going to watch the movie, I’m sorry for what you’re going to feel when you do. Anyway, I think Hereditary has some real flaws as a story. The narrative does not come together very well and I hated the ending—I thought it was cliched and abrupt and not worthy of the tension that the story had built emotionally. Whether you love or hate the movie, however, it is hard to say that Milly Shapiro’s chilling performance as Charlie, an emotionally troubled and grieving young girl, is not part of the suspense and fear audiences feel watching it. Hats off to you, Milly.

the binding movieThe Binding (2020) This Italian horror film focuses on Sofia and her mother who are visiting her mother’s fiance’s family in Southern Italy. Sofia becomes the victim of “the evil eye,” but there’s more of a mystery to the situation than that, as Sofia seems to be paying for the sins of her step-father. The Binding is not a great film, but it is passable for a blustery autumn afternoon. It makes this list because as Sofia, Giulia Patrignani gives a pretty great performance, alternately very sweet and physically overcome by the curse. The emphasis on the connection between mother and daughter is somewhat interesting in this film, as Sofia’s mother, Emma, notes that she is sometimes jealous of the bond that her daughter and her finance share, as though she is getting edged out. Ultimately, a mother’s love is what saves Sofia, predictably. 

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