All of My Imaginary Friends Are About to Die (and other Game of Thrones predictions)

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On April 14th, 2019, my fraught relationship with HBO’s Game of Thrones will come to its bittersweet, ice-crusted end.  The show has been by turns thrilling, frustrating, deeply dumb, incredibly smart, and undeniably gorgeous.  As an adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s novels it has often missed the point.  As a cultural phenomenon it has been both alarming and encouraging to behold.  It was a show that could both rile you with its excesses (Sexposition!  Rape camps! Ramsay Bolton!) and enthrall you with scenes in which two people simply sit together and talk (Arya and Tywin 4EVER).  How cavalierly it reduced atrocities to plot-points!  How vast were the inner worlds conveyed by Lena Heady’s smirk!

In Season Seven the show was the epitome of itself, mashing excellent episodes like “The Spoils of War” (with its nail-biting dragon attack) against physics-defying romps like “Beyond the Wall.”  Ah Gendry!  How easily you ran those fifty miles back to Eastwatch while your friends sat on a rock surrounded by dead guys…doing what, exactly?  At such times, one had to completely suspend disbelief and go with the goofy insistence of the showrunners (you know you have a problem on your hands when you have to have a special “Here’s what we were trying to say!” featurette at the end of every episode).

Still, those of us who put up with the bullshit were rewarded: even the worst Throne’s episode–probably “Oathkeeper” (because rape camp!) or “The Broken Man” (because total betrayal of Martin’s message!)–had its moments.  In Oathkeeper it’s the soul-stirring entrance of the Blackfish.  In The Broken Man it’s Lyanna Mormont.  And while “Beyond the Wall” has enough plot-holes to fly a dragon through it also sports some of the show’s funniest interactions:

Jon: [when Tormund suggests fucking to keep warm]: There’s not a woman within a hundred miles of here!

Tormund [slyly, eyeing Gendry]: We’ll just have to make do with what we’ve got.

It was often these unexpected pairings of characters that produced the show’s most electrifying moments–scenes of just two people in conversation that made your heart trip or race or soar.  While Bronn vs. Drogon was everything Thrones ever did right: two beings we care about pitted against one another in mortal combat, the show was somehow more exciting when Arya and Tywin talked dragons, or when Tyrion and Jorah recited poetry, or when Cersei and Robert discussed their marriage.  It was then that we knew why we gave a damn about this story.  It was then that we knew we were going to miss it, no matter how badly it hurt us, every time.  It was never a perfect show.  It veered wildly between gratuitousness and profundity. “The Lion and the Rose” gave us both Ramsay hunting his former bedmate and Sansa handing the wine glass back to Tyrion.  Moreover, the sloppiness of later seasons ensured that it just missed being great.  No matter.  It was never The Sopranos or The Wire, but for eight years we were happy to make due with what we got.

The following are my (almost certainly wrong) predictions about how the T.V. version of Game of Thrones will end.  Beware: Here be dragons and spoilers.  Also did I mention: I’m probably wrong?

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Scary mommies*

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I asked myself: why am I so into horror lately?

Well, for one thing, I became a parent.

Don’t laugh.  All the clichés hold true.  There really is nothing more terrifying than raising a child.  Once the Chub-a-lub is yours the world is transformed into a series of pitfalls.  Kids, especially young ones, hit their heads on things, fall off tables, get sick, mess with the wrong cat.  One tries not to be a helicopter parent, but then, one is simultaneously besieged by impossible scenarios.  Your cute glass table is a secret bludgeon.  So is anything larger than your child.  The floor betrays you.  Lipstick is discovered (and eaten from) low lying drawers.  You begin to understand Damocles.

Case in point: my husband, seeking five minutes to “get something done” inflated a bike tire that promptly exploded.  The cute, diaper-butted kid I’d just sent laughing down the hall turned around shrieking and cowering from the noise.  He and his hearing were completely unharmed but my husband fell into a deep blue funk.  Visions of exploded toddlers assailed him. If the Chubs had been closer. It there’d been any flying parts.

Given these new feelings of a world transformed, is it any wonder so many horror stories center around families?

There is, of course, a whole “possessed kid” subgenre, but the stuff I’ve craved lately has more to do with atmosphere.  That stressed out, foggy netherworld in which parents operate—if you define the word “operate” as “unable to function at all.”  I found King’s Pet Sematary downright cathartic with its portrait of a father slowing going insane.  Long before his child comes back (evil!) from the dead, modern life has made Louis Creed a basket case.  New job, new house, new part of the country and the poor bastard’s got two kids?  Of course he’s going to consort with dark powers to bring the family kitty cat back from the dead!  Anything to get some sleep, dude.  Anything to feel you’re still in control.  King’s whole narrative famously arose from his own fears about his ability to protect his children.  His obvious experience and sympathy parenting makes Louis Creed’s madness all-too-believable.  It’s a madness born of love—and easily exploited by the dark ancient powers that dwell in the wood.

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That Year-End Post I’ve Been Meaning to Write (+ 2018 Awards Eligibility)

 

IMG_20181202_115829906So.  Here we are at the raw, tail end of 2018.  Even California is bleakly cold .  I’ve been laid up in bed with Toddler Flu and, while the Chubs is off at daycare, conquering the world, have been guiltily glutting myself on all the books I would, save for sickness and the godsend of being able to afford the second mortgage that is childcare, have no time to enjoy.  I finished Victor Lavalle‘s excellent, World Fantasy Award-winning novel, The Changeling in two days and am moving on to John Kessel‘s Pride and Prometheus (a Jane Austen/Mary Shelley mashup expanded from his delightful Nebula award winning short story of the same name) which was published this year just in time for the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein.  Lavalle’s novel was particularly poignant to a new parent like me.  I don’t think you can accurately reflect the state of being a parent without a good dose of magical realism.  He gets it.  Every reader-parent with a young child should buy it.

I’ve fought hard for sanity and clarity this year as I struggled free from the vestigial tendrils of postpartum depression.  That sounds melodramatic, but 1) I’m me, and 2) it was exactly like that.  My marriage has blinked on and off like a lightbulb.  I’ve despaired of myself, all other people, and the world.  It was also a sad year creatively.  I went to both World Con and World Fantasy thinking that, after five years with very little contact with the larger literary/fantasy community it would be rejuvenating and galvanizing.  I quickly realized this was no longer a scene I thrived in–and that it had mostly forgotten me anyway.

I did publish a short story this January: An Aria for the Bloodlords in the consistently awesome Beneath Ceaseless Skies. There’s a bad typo in the first paragraph that I’ve been too busy to complain about but it was a fun story to write and actually eligible for awards for 2018.

Maybe part of my creative dissatisfaction this year (other than lack of time–see above, re: baby) has to do with the fact that fantasy doesn’t interest me the way it used to.  I’ve read mostly Stephen King and Soviet gulag books this year and watched mostly horror movies (“Get Out,” “A Quiet Place,” “Black Mirror,” “The X-Files,” the much-better than it has-any-right-to-be “Ash vs. Evil Dead”).  I was glad to get an idea of what’s been going on in fantasy at the cons (wouldn’t have known about the Changeling without them) but even then, the genre doesn’t excite me the way it used to.  Not sure exactly why this is.  Maybe because real-life too strongly resembles an alternate Abercrombian reality?  Because I’ve always found horror more comforting when times are awful?  Because I’ve lost my belief that art (particularly my own, particularly literary fantasy, of which so little is either known of or consumed by La Public) can solve any problems?

I’ll solve problems by raising a sweet, loving child and (probably) learning to can my own food. That’s all you can do: pick your ground and tend it.  And hope it doesn’t end up like Pet Semetary.

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The Literary Trump: Stephen King Edition

 

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Is there a better writer for the current political moment than Stephen King? Insert joke about horror stories here—but seriously: one of King’s greatest strengths is his well-drawn observations of a certain kind of American.  Open up any of his sixty-plus novels and you will find a plethora of well-observed, blue-collar characters.  Some are heroic and lovable (Ralph Roberts in Insomnia, Stu Redman in The Stand) and some are homicidal nightmares (Henry Bowers in It), but all, I would argue feel true-to-life and a great many of them are in mourning for their country.  This melancholy seems more pronounced in King’s more recent effort like “Premium Harmony” (a 2009 short story set in a Walmart) and novels like Mr. Mercedes (which, though written three years before the events of Charlottesville, Virginia features a red-neck killer driving the titular vehicle into a crowd of civilians) but the idea of a (largely white) working underclass features prominently in all his work.  At a time when this same idea has risen from the ashes of the Trump presidency, when “deaths of despair” and opioid addiction fill our headlines, and white working-class resentment has pervaded the culture in a resurgence of Nationalist sentiment and alt-right hate, King’s work doesn’t just seem en pointe – it feels spookily prescient.

King, of course, grew up educated but lower class, working in laundry presses on his summers off from teaching.  As he vividly describes in his memoir On Writing, his young family lived in a trailer and, when fortune finally knocked in the form of a book deal for Carrie, the most lavish gift he could think to splurge on was a hair dryer for his wife, purchased from the local drugstore.  Unlike many of our modern novelists who came from money (or, at least means) and attended Ivy League schools, King is intimately acquainted with the Rite-Aid version of America and of working people either too exhausted, exasperated, or deranged to identify with the liberal elite.  King himself, now a member of this elite, a man who has publicly warred with Trump, has nevertheless retained his keen eye for the idiosyncrasies of the demographic (arguably) responsible for last year’s political outcome.  His characterizations are by turns poignant and frightening, but like any good novelist always empathetic.

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An Ember in the Dark: Post-Partum and Apocalypse in 2017

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In this year of madmen and wildfires I gave birth to a beautiful red-haired son.

This isn’t a story about motherhood, though.  This is a story about being on fire.

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The Literary Trump: Essay Edition

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Yes, yes.  I know.  Contradiction in terms.  Unless there’s another glitch in the Matrix, Trump will remain the most distinctly un-literary President ever to occupy the White House.  Even George W. Bush occasionally dipped into “My Pet Goat.” Trump can only read his own tweets.

And yet, one of the few (freezingly cold) comforts of this historical moment has been to witness the great outpouring of essays and commentary it has produced.  From George Packer’s “Hillary Clinton and the Populist Revolt” (a brilliant deconstruction of the myriad factors which led to the Trump Presidency) to Ta-Nahesi Coates’s unpacking of the Obama presidency and systemic racism in “My President Was Black” hundreds of great writers and thinkers have weighed in, given their take, and tried to make sense of the senseless.  If Donald “140-characters” Trump could appreciate irony he might giggle to find himself the impetus of an entire literary canon.

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The Fall: Season 3

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Gillian Anderson in The Fall

**Written (and lost) somewhere between Halloween and the election of Donald Trump some orange douche bag with no respect for human dignity including his own, here is my review of Season 3 of the BBC’s The Fall–an ultimately flawed, but still powerful show with a way of handling female characters that, given the current political climate, seems more important now than ever.  Spoilers for all three seasons follow.**

The Fall,which just dropped its third season on Netflix, is about a serial killer who brutally strangles his female victims.  It depicts these murders in every detail from the creepy stalking to the terrible denouement.  It pits an icy Gillian Anderson against a terrifying Jamie Dornan, and revels in the sexual chemistry of both.  It will give you nightmares if you watch it alone and, at the Atlantic notes, it is the most feminist show on television.

The Fall’s dedication to depicting realistic female characters redeems the show even when the thriller aspect fades–and it certainly fades in the third season, the steam leaking from the narrative like air from a balloon.  After two seasons of almost unbearable cat-and-mouse, Gillian Anderson’s DSI Stella Gibson has finally got her man.  Serial strangler Paul Spectre (Dornan) has been shot by an angry husband while on a foray to show Gibson where he’s hidden his latest victim.  Season two memorably ends with Gibson clutching the fallen Spectre, screaming “We’re losing him!” as he passes out. The show has worked hard to tease Gibson’s ambiguity.  Does she hunt Spectre purely for justice or is she more than a little obsessed?

The Fall, it turns out, isn’t interested in explanations – indeed, it delights in showing us how little they matter.  While we learn much more about Gibson and Spectre this season, their parts never quite account for the whole.  Spectre, for example, was a sexually abused child who may have turned to murder to regain a sense of control.  He is also a father of a young daughter with whom he has a shockingly normal relationship.  Gibson, we suspect, might also have been molested: she is haunted by the memory of her father and leery of granting men physical control.  But is seems she’s only traumatized because her father died when she was young.  Her (sometimes visceral) mistrust of men remains a mystery.

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