Monica’s Story by Andrew Morton (Book Review)

Monica's StoryMonica’s Story by Andrew Morton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: #MeToo, in-the-news, feminism, politics, memoir, non-fiction, women

I was a gazillion months pregnant when this story was breaking, miserable and desperate for my labor to just start already, if for no other reason than to get away from the endless news coverage of what was, to general knowledge at the time, nothing more than a blow job. I mean, come on. The baby who finally decided to arrive has now reached legal drinking age and with #MeToo, maybe I should start getting caught up on stuff.

I am a fan of Monica Lewinsky. Not for her enormous, awful, unforeseeably life-wrenching choices at the tender age of 22, but for her ownership of those choices and the grace with which she has handled the unprecedented amount of public shaming and scorn. Ken Starr should be ashamed of himself. Linda Tripp will go down in history as the worst friend of all time. I’m still not sure about the bona fides of Andrew Morton, but Monica’s tale, told from her own point of view fresh from the au·to-da-fé, is engaging. Her experience behind the scenes was horrific and that she survived it with spirit and class is inspiring.

I do have some issues with recent claims of abuse of power. Just because Bill Clinton, a flawed human being like the rest of us, was the President of the United States, is he expected to be responsible for other people’s choices in interpersonal relationships? Yes, he was a philanderer and a cheater and generally a scumbag when it comes to women. That’s not the point. I doubt there’s a woman on this planet who hasn’t fallen hard for the bad boy, the player, the boss, the wife beater, the good-for-nothing, the married guy. That it wasn’t a good choice doesn’t invalidate the fact that it was, by her own admission, her choice. Is he supposed to think she can’t possibly mean yes, because he’s the president? Those making a sexual move have an obligation to assume no means no, absolutely. At no time should anyone ever presume that no means yes. But at what point is anybody expected to assume that yes means no? Any time one person is “superior” to the other? Two people are seldom absolute equals, especially in our misogynistic society. If we use relative power as the only possible yardstick for consent, no one is ever going to get laid again.

My point is this: Women have the power and the right to say yes as well as no. Stop infantilizing Monica, and I’d like it if she stopped infantilizing herself as well. In her own (very excellent) 2015 TED talk she said it herself, that she fell in love with her boss. I still like you, Monica, and I’m sure you have as much right to talk about #MeToo as anyone else, but please, no bandwagoning.

And my other, tangential, point is: Stop criticizing Hillary for staying in her marriage. If there’s any woman reading this who has never stayed with a man when every other woman on the planet thought she should have kicked him to the curb, then I’ll eat my left suede boot. It’s Hillary’s life, Hillary’s marriage, Hillary’s decision, and Hillary’s business. People need to give it a rest.

Worth the read, even after all this time.

Now let’s lighten up with the Buzzcocks, because we’ve all fallen in love with someone we shouldn’t have. We’re human that way.

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Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Invisible ManInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book was #25 on my 2020 Reading Challenge, a book with a great first line. “I am an invisible man.”

Well, I tried.

My reading tastes tend more toward the plebian, but I also like to consider myself a well-read person. Toward that end, every so often I pick up a classic, or a story with societal import, or both. Hence, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

I see the major aggressions and the micro ones, and (I think) I understand the racist evil as well as I can while being white, but I have two problems here. (1) The narrator seems wooden to me; I don’t FEEL him. I suspect a lot of this story is metaphor, and it’s mostly lost on me. See above re plebian taste; this isn’t for me. (2) I’m not big on lengthy, flowery description. Another reviewer put it well, and I paraphrase, when they noted that Ellison describes the living daylights out of everything, and then goes back and describes the descriptions. Slog.

I’m almost two-thirds through and part of me is insisting I should just finish it, but I don’t want to fall victim to the sunk-cost fallacy. I didn’t expect this book to be exactly pleasurable, but unfortunately I’m not finding it even compelling.

When all apologies to the world of literature-with-a-capital-L, dnf-ing.

Bookshelves: literature-with-a-capital-l, everyone-loved-it-but-me, racism, couldn’t-really-read-it, classic, best-opening-sentence, social-commentary

Recommend a good classic for me on Goodreads

The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield (Book Review)

The Celestine Prophecy (Celestine Prophecy, #1)The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: just-no, religion-sort-of, mysticism, spiritual, wannabe, ugh

I tried to read this book on my honeymoon several years ago. No snarky honeymoon jokes, now; you can’t boink all the time. We spent a beautiful week on the Snake River in Hells Canyon. We both enjoy rafting and hiking, but while my husband likes to fish by actually fishing, I like to fish by relaxing on the bank with a good book. Fortunately, the shade was cool and the breeze was divine and the flowing water was peaceful and the chirping birds were joyful and my husband’s cussing was inventive and entertaining, because the book was by turns eye-rolling and boring af.

On the way home we broke down in Wieser, Idaho, and took refuge in the only reasonably accessible motel, a creepy old place where we wore our flip-flops into the shower and my gallant bridegroom killed all the bugs we found in the bed with his bare hands. Then we enjoyed an intimate pillowtalk game of Guess How Many Corpses Have Been Chopped Up in This Bathtub. My husband slept well, worn out from driving and vanquishing insects. I kept feeling bugs crawling on me, some imaginary and some not, and slept for roughly 17 minutes. I tried reading to pass the time, but staring at the cracked and mildewed ceiling and listening for Norman Bates had more pull than this book did. It was a long night.

The next day, when our truck was repaired and we were back on the road, I tried one more time to read this book. I ended up leaving it on a badly sloping picnic table outside a liquor store/smoke shop/deli/bait and tackle supply/hair care center/shoe repair shop/authorized Sprint dealer in Jordan Valley, Oregon (pop.181).

If you are the one who found it, I hope it was everything for you that it wasn’t for me.

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Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Fleishman Is in TroubleFleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: unreliable-narrator, the-patriarchy, burn-it-down, chick-lit, eat-the-rich, suburbia, feminism, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous, women, dark-humor, popular-fiction, everyone-loved-it-but-me, high-society, love-the-cover, social-commentary

This novel was #28 on my 2020 Reading Challenge, a book with an upside-down image on the cover. I liked the cover. The book itself pulls off the rare feat of being well-written and insightful while annoying the fuck out of me at the same time.

TL;DR: This is a clever novel with deep insight and sardonic wit that I might appreciate more were I not a lifelong card-carrying member of The Poors.

There’s a lot here about every last damn thing the world expects of women, and what happens when we can’t, or won’t, or simply don’t want to, meet those expectations. There’s a savage edge to it in that we only see the women in the story through the eyes of an insecure, flailing-but-doesn’t-dare-show-it man – which is nothing new. The male gaze, it never ends.

So while I rolled my eyes a lot about how often Brodesser-Akner hit the nail on the head, I rolled them even harder at how unrelatable the characters were for me. Wealthy, social-climbing, pretentious, Lululemon-clad, well-massaged rich bitches all the way. Yes, I’m sure it’s stressful having to spend so much time and effort interviewing nannies and figuring which $40,000-a-year private school is best for your little darling. Yes, I can imagine the pressure of hitting just the right note as you decorate your weekend house in the Hamptons. You poor thing. Fuck you.

But here’s the rub. As I noted above, the women in this book, and most particularly Rachel, are all seen through Toby’s eyes. So, how do we know what’s the real story with Rachel, or with any of the 6,724 women Toby is banging and sexting with while angling his phone so his kids can’t see? I’m generalizing here, I admit that, but men as a rule are clueless when it comes to the never-ending, thankless work that women do to run the household, feed and clothe a family (someone has to remember to put butter on the shopping list and take little Mavis shopping for new cleats), supervise  the children’s educations and social learning (keep your elbows off the table, and is your homework done?), have their own careers (miss me with that women-don’t-have-to-have-careers shit; most families can’t live decently on one income anymore), maintain everyone’s social life as a family unit and as separate people (someone’s got to get the kids to soccer practice and “play dates,” and I hate the phrase “play date”), maintaining family relationships (guess who remembers to send Grandma a birthday card), orchestrate vacations and holidays (a nice Christmas is a lot of work), and feed and nurture the spousal relationship (I also hate the phrase “date night”). So, what Toby sees as bossy and domineering may well be Rachel doing what it takes to make sure everyone’s homework gets done and that they all have a festive Thanksgiving and clean underwear.

I mean, just the other day I had to nag at my husband for the 9,854th time to please please please clean up the crumbs and mustard smears after he makes himself a sandwich so we don’t attract ants; good god, you’d think I asked him to kill the Hydra. And I didn’t even mention his freakingly annoying habit of waiting until 15 minutes after I’ve cleaned up the kitchen (you notice that I’m the one who does that, even though I work full time and he doesn’t) before deciding he has to have a sandwich and leaving another fucking mess. So, this is what women deal with, all day, every day, and I can’t trust Toby’s word about any of Rachel’s so-called priorities.

But on the other hand, Rachel has the right to make her own choices. If she doesn’t want to settle for living on her husbands “shabby” 300K-a-year doctor’s income (oh, poor you again,) she doesn’t have to. There’s no reason she can’t be the ambitious, career-driven half of the couple while her husband pursues his calling as a healer and walks the kids to school in the morning. Gender roles, schmender roles.

But it was the wealth and privilege that seriously made me want to tell everyone in this book to go fuck themselves. I’d much rather read about women who deal with every damn aspect of the patriarchy while also working full time at normal-people jobs such as paralegal or teacher, and trying to train their husbands who also work at typical jobs, while also cleaning their own houses and mothering their own kids and trying to fit in some sort of fitness routine, and doing all of it on an actual budget.

I’m all about burning down the patriarchy, sure. But also, eat the rich.*

*It is perhaps worth noting that I’m writing this review while on lockdown as the COVID-19 pandemic is decimating the U.S. and we are seeing more clearly how relatively useless the wealthy really are.

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