Dana Spiotta – Wayward

Dana Spiotta – Wayward

Samantha Raymond cannot say what it was exactly that lead her to buy a house and to move out of the suburban comfort zone with her husband Matt and their teenage daughter Ally. Maybe Trump’s election, maybe the feeling of menopause hitting her or just the fact that she spends her nights awake pondering about her life and all that is connected to it: motherhood, mortality and the country she lives in. Via the Internet, she connects with some radical women whose notions are new to her. But sorting out her new life also means getting more and more away from her old life and her daughter. Has she ever been a good mom? Didn’t she do all that was necessary to bring Ally up? And what did she use her one life for actually?

In her novel “Wayward”, Dana Spiotta portrays a woman at a crucial point of her life. She made some decisions that now come under scrutiny. It is not only the outer, visible elements of her life but much more her inner convictions that have to stand the test. Her first move sets in motion a chain of events that bring her further away from all she has known for so many years and it remains to be seen where this will lead her.

What I liked most was the combination of metaphors the author uses. The old house that Sam finds and is attracted to immediately mirrors her body. Just like the cosy new home, life also has left traces on her body. Just like she renovates the house, she starts to train to get stronger. However, all the renovation cannot hide that the years have left their marks on it and some things simply cannot be redone.

Just as she analyses her complicated relationship with her own mother and also with her daughter, she analyses the state the country is in. The opposing parts become obvious through the segregation between the white and better-off parts of town and her new place which is quite the opposite. Coming from a protected life, she is now confronted with crime which has always been a reality for other parts of society, but not the suburban housewives she has known for so long.

The novel has a clear feminist perspective. Sam volunteers at a small museum that was the home of a 19th century feminist who ignored societal constraints and followed her ideals, also Sam’s mother is an independent woman, whereas she herself had given in to a life that she now is running from. Her daughter also tries to rebel against Sam’s life choices and wants to free herself –  in her very own way. All women make choices that have consequences, all woman have to decide between conformity and rebellion, they want their life to be meaningful – but what does that mean and what is the price for it?

An interesting read from a point of view that is slowly expanded to show the bigger picture.

Howard Jacobson – Pussy

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Howard Jacobson – Pussy

Prince Fracassus, son of the Duke and Duchess of Origen, grows up in the Republic of Urbs-Ludus. This small republic is famous for its high skyscrapers (which do not even let you see the moon) and for its casinos. The boy hardly has any contact with people outside the palace, most of his time he spends in front of TV where he watches reality shows and history lessons on emperors such as Nero. His teachers try to bring the world to him and especially to enlarge his vocabulary, but this is not very successful. Therefore, they go on a trip, maybe the direct contact with the real world might have an impact on him. In the meantime, the old Duke dies, the republic is slowly crumbling and Fracassus will be the one to save his dukedom.

Howard Jacobson’s novel is a satire which makes you laugh out loud and want to cry at the same time. He did not even try to convey his message very subtly, no, he openly holds the mirror up to the electorate and asks them: What have you done? So far, many have criticised President Trump, this is not very difficult since he provides you with so much to attack every day. This is quickly done. Jacobson, however, has a very elaborate way of confrontation.

First of all, the protagonist’s name. “Fracassus” reminds me of the French adjective fracassant which has two meanings: on the one hand, it comprises the idea of spectacular and surprising, on the other hand, it is destructive like a wrecking ball. Both significances go well with the current POTUS. The dukedom was also provided with a telling name: a very original idea to call it the capital of play. The surroundings of the small prince match somehow the Trump tower and the fact that he is famous for building houses and known due to his TV shows is not that very subtle.

Second, the prince’s attitude towards life and people. Even though he has a very limited vocabulary, he knows many words for women, or to be more precise, for prostitutes – which equals women from his point of view. He’d like to reign like an ancient Roman emperor, feeding underlings to the lions, building walls to keep out the unwanted and destroying any kind of protest with strong and quick police intervention. He wants to fight terrorism even if there is none.

Third, his use of twitter – just hilarious. His electoral campaign and the fight with his female opponent and the sharp analysis of her weaknesses – I have hardly ever had to laugh that much while reading. All this is accompanied by Chris Riddell’s charming and funny illustrations of the prince.

Fracassus’ return to his home country to make it great again on the basis of all that he has learnt – e.g. to lie to the people, so they will never expect the truth from you –  it is all very funny to read. Until you realise that this satire of this novel is a reality.