Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review: The Falls

This is the first Joyce Carol Oates novel I've read and I enjoyed it. The Falls is a sweeping multi-generational, family saga that starts in the fifties and ends in the late seventies. Narrated in third person, it is told in alternating perspective. There are really two main characters: first, Ariah who is tragically widowed on her honeymoon at Niagara Falls and then, much later, her son Royall who finds himself sifting through the secretive past on wich his mother built their life.

At heart, the dysfunctional family story is very relatable, but the plot is refreshingly original as are the flawed, eccentric characters. An interesting part of the story is that the reader feels complicit in the keeping of Ariah's secrets. We know the truth before the other characters do. In fact, some of them never know the full story, as they wouldn't in real life. Only the reader, able to see from each character's perspective, sees the complete picture.

There is an improbable scene at the midpoint of the book (between Royall and the "woman in black") which is jarring because of the previous believability of the story. But if you can get past this, the resolution is satisfying.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How to Celebrate the Fourth (Without Being "Patriotic")

 Patriotism has always been an uncomfortable thing to me. I'm happy to be an American and I appreciate the (unearned) advantages that come from my citizenship. But I don't feel pride or superiority from it and I think patriotism can be dangerous when it cultivates these things- just as religion can be.

There's a lot going on in the world right now that makes me feel discouraged and disappointed in my government, if not my country. The war against a woman's right to control her body. The fact that our president acts outside international laws he suggests other countries should comply with. That people like Bradley Manning are punished for exposing war crimes while the war criminals have immunity. Fracking. Climate change. Monsanto. The list goes on. And on.

So here's a list of five reasons to celebrate this Fourth of July, in spite of the above:

1. Celebrate one thing in this country where we're making progress. Example: the SCOTUS decision on marriage equality.
               It's about time and hopefully the next step is prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, something that is still, shockingly, legal in a majority of states.

2. Differentiate between love of  country and love of government.
               Americans are often criticized for apathy, but I don't believe people don't care. If they're anything like me, they care - they just don't know where to start.

3. Be hopeful.
               There are rumblings of democratic protest happening - with Occupy and the citizens filibuster in Texas recently and with the movement for marriage equality.

4. Have gratitude.
               America is part of the privileged 1%, globally. There are still protections for the most vulnerable among us - safety nets that don't exist in other parts of the world.

5. Make it about food and friends.
              It doesn't have to be political to enjoy some burgers and good conversation with your favorite people. And it's an excuse for sparklers, which is pretty awesome.