Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Blazing World

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt
(Simon & Schuster, 2014)
Format: audio CDs from library (narrated by Patricia Rodriguez and Eric Meyers)

From Goodreads: "Hustvedt tells the provocative story of the artist Harriet Burden. After years of watching her work ignored or dismissed by critics, Burden conducts an experiment she calls Maskings: she presents her own art behind three male masks, concealing her female identity. 

The three solo shows are successful, but when Burden finally steps forward triumphantly to reveal herself as the artist behind the exhibitions, there are critics who doubt her. The public scandal turns on the final exhibition, initially shown as the work of acclaimed artist Rune, who denies Burden’s role in its creation. What no one doubts, however, is that the two artists were intensely involved with each other. As Burden’s journals reveal, she and Rune found themselves locked in a charged and dangerous game that ended with the man’s bizarre death.

Ingeniously presented as a collection of texts compiled after Burden’s death, The Blazing World unfolds from multiple perspectives. The exuberant Burden speaks—in all her joy and fury—through extracts from her own notebooks, while critics, fans, family members, and others offer their own conflicting opinions of who she was, and where the truth lies.

From one of the most ambitious and interna­tionally renowned writers of her generation, The Blazing World is a polyphonic tour de force. An intricately conceived, diabolical puzzle, it explores the deceptive powers of prejudice, money, fame, and desire."

What a premise, what style, what ideas! This book made me buzz with things I wanted to discuss with others (could y'all just all go read it now then talk at me?) Like, I've been ranting on to my husband and sons this summer about how often women are referred to by their first names, while men are referred to by their last names. (Yeah, yeah, I get that's not universal, you don't have to give me a bunch of examples.) So when Hustvedt has Burden rant about the same thing, ascribing it to a patriarchal, infantilizing impulse, I just wanted to cheer. I love Burden's rage at the same time as I railed about the necessity for it, which is a sure sign that I was overly invested in her journey.

So it's fair to say I'd love to sit at Hustvedt's side and just chat with her all the time. And I quite enjoyed the back-and-forth of the sometimes conflicting narratives in the 'source material' of people close to Burden's Maskings project. And I enjoyed getting to know the characters and following their stories. There's such humor and humanity in Hustvedt's people.

Read this book, then tell me if it made your feminist tendencies rise up their fists in solidarity and power, and also if you think Ethan was quite as realized as you'd have liked.

Friday, July 11, 2014

My Book!

ROCKET MAN is available now.

Right now!

Go, buy it, read it, tell me what you thought! (Be a little nice, though, pretty please with sugar on top.)

A lot more about this writing journey is on my author blog.

Happy reading,

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Dishwasher: 1, Melanie: 0

I have been to war. And I have been defeated.

Last time it happened, I was the victor, so perhaps I entered the fray with too much hubris, and therefore the gods struck me down. 

Perhaps the dishwasher learned from Dishwasher War I, and, having assessed my strengths (few) and weaknesses (many), launched Dishwasher War II from an unassailable position of power.

All I really know is that I have failed, and I have the scars and the dishpan hands to show for it.

In DWWI, the enemy ran a fairly unsophisticated attack: a clogged drain basket. Yes, I had to stare befuddled at the two inches of water in the bottom of the dishwasher, and the eternal darkness of the unlit 'clean' light, but my reconnaissance quickly yielded results. Every other self-help video when I Googled 'dishwasher won't drain' yielded a folksy guy in plaid shirt and ball cap talking me slowly through the battle to come.

I bailed out the water - not a fun process, crouched defensively on the tile floor refusing to let the enemy's psychological warfare (splashes of dirty dishwater, unexpected encounters with food-grit shrapnel) get me down, even once I was obliged to change weapons from cup to sponge to complete my sortie. 

Once done, I contorted my aching body to see the screws over the drain basket which had failed to yield to my blind fumbling with the slot and Phillips head screwdrivers. The dishwasher had temporarily won my retreat from the field of battle, but only long enough for me to locate my hex screwdriver. It hadn't expected me to be technologically advanced enough to handle that obstacle, and failed to add the additional difficulty of rusted-in-place screws. I soon had the basket out of the way.

And my plaid-clad strategists didn't mislead me. A certain unpleasant amount of groping in the bowels of the beast and careful disposal of the dishwasher's arsenal of greasy, gritty food detritus, and I'd cleared the way for my WMD: a 2-to-1 solution of vinegar and baking soda straight down the drain followed, after a judicious waiting period, by a pot full of boiling water. 

The clog didn't stand a chance. Yes, I had to repeat the procedure three times to fully clear the lines, and twist my now-exhausted torso to reattach the hex bolts holding the basket in place, but DWW1 was, essentially, over. I packed up my screwdrivers and baking soda and arose victorious from the kitchen floor.

But that was then.

Probably the dishwasher heard my YouTube advisers, and used an underground spy network to figure out what other useful information they'd be able to share with me. I'm not outright accusing my phone of being a double-agent, but it is (or was) my most trusted intelligence officer, and as such is in the best position to ensure the dishwasher knows exactly what I know. Mind you, the dishwasher is also in fairly close proximity to the router, so it's possible that my enemy is directly subverting the information supply lines. If there's any suspicious delay in posting this dispatch, I might have an answer as to who exactly betrayed me.

What I do know for sure is this: Dishwasher War II started with the same symptoms. The failure to drain, the empty void where the 'clean' light should be. The lack of a reassuring 'glug, whoosh' that lets me know the soapy offal after cleaning has been neatly whisked off to a nearby sewer pipe.

I knew it would be a battle. I prepared myself. The supply depot had everything to hand. Hex screwdriver: check. Baking soda: check. Vinegar: check. Empty pot, plastic cup, sponge: check, check, and check.

I even reviewed the course of DWWI before embarking on DWWII, because I believe in the adage: those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it. 

Unfortunately, the dishwasher also knows that one. And the dishwasher is a diabolical beast.

I crouched. I bailed. I sponged.

I removed the screws. I grappled, hand-to-hand combat at its most basic level, to remove not only the drain basket but also the under layers of screening, so I could fully access the enemy.

I dug bits of food, plastic, grease, and even a sliver of glass out of the drain. It was, like all war, hell. I'll have nightmares about what I saw out there, things that retained just enough of their original state to make me fully realize what grotesques they had become after the dishwasher attacked them.

And then the baking soda and vinegar, and the boiling water. And the repeat. And the third wave, at a time when the enemy should have been exhausted, no longer able to hold out against my superior weaponry. Still, the drain would not yield. Undaunted, I struck again. My supplies were low; the quartermaster was ready to scramble for reinforcements, but I persevered. In the end, it was no use. I was forced to retreat.

Back to intelligence. The plaid men had proved too old-fashioned to deal with the dishwasher's advanced warfare. I unclenched my raw and bloody vinegar-drenched hands to painfully enter expanded search terms, studying diagrams of the battlefield and assessing possible other attack patterns. Via the lower plate, going backwards from the disposal, even from the outside overflow pipe. 

Nothing worked. No matter how specific my search terms, no matter how valiant my attack, no matter how desperate my pleas to the gods of home repair. 

Hours upon hours I moved from dishwasher floor to tool box to computer to sink, hours upon hours I strove. My mounting tension became a cold fury. My cold fury became a hot rage. Knowing it was futile, I hit the top of the float valve with a wooden spoon, and then, I'm afraid, I got MAD. I threw the spoon in the dishwasher and added several new gashes to my much-abused hands attempting to reassemble the subterranean fortifications of the drain basket. 

I surrendered.

I'm not proud of it. But my limits had been not only reached, but exceeded. The water would not drain. The dishwasher had won.

So I surrendered, as graciously as I could (not very graciously. The diplomatic corps won't be recruiting me anytime soon.) I bailed out the last of the vinegar water, re-cleaned my scrapes and cuts, and, aching and weary and sore in mind as well as spirit, hand-washed the sinkfull of dirty dishes.

The repair people are coming on Tuesday. I only hope they're armed.

UPDATE FROM THE TRENCHES: It was the shelling that brought DWWII to an end. Specifically, the pistachio shell that was caught in the drain pump, immobilizing it. The was was expensive, as all wars are, but we won.

We won.