More than Weirdness Machines: The Inequality of Hurricanes in Fiction

I wrote this post right after Hurricane Matthew, but my life was so scrambled that it never got posted. The following are my belated thoughts on hurricanes in fiction.


Like many of my fellow Floridians, I evacuated for Hurricane Matthew. As I’m writing this, it’s been nearly a week since it hit. I’m still without power. I’m sitting in Denny’s, basking in the Wi-Fi, and thinking about how in my 26 years (in other words, my life) in Florida, hurricanes have always acted as weirdness machines.

Aftermath carries a bizarre glow, a strange cast to the sky. Oddities have been shaken out of hiding. Strangers carry on conversations, empathize and sympathize, never to see each other again. Matthew sent me to hunker with my cousin and his wife in Ocala, where I saw a letter-board outside a hunting outpost that read “Remember Lot’s Wife.” Driving home, a man dressed half in Army fatigues and half in Confederate gray uniform crossed the road in front of my car. I have found stray shot glasses in my yard after a storm not once but twice. Continue reading

My Top Five Favorite Novels of 2016

I have read a lot of books this year (124 as of today), some of them amazing, some of them egregiously bad. These are my top five favorite novels I read this year.

vegetarian-coverOn its surface, The Vegetarian by Han Kang is a deeply disturbing story of a woman’s descent into madness. But don’t let the surface fool you. At its core, this novel is about the rules for femininity that confine Korean society. I highly recommend The Vegetarian by Han Kang. It’s astonishing (but tight!) prose and highly significant subject matter would make it the perfect book for readers of literary fiction and maybe even for book clubs that want to push the envelope and spark discussion. Read the rest of my review. Continue reading

Review of The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

Full of turmoil, love, loss, and pain, Lindsey Lee Johnson’s The Most Dangerous Place on Earth is a complex meditation on privilege and the crucible that is adolescence. Set in Mill Valley, California, at the real life Tamalpais High School, the story centers on a fledgling teacher, Molly Nicoll, as she discovers and comes to terms with the complex lives of her students and her role (or absence) in their evolution as people. With perspectives that alternate between Molly and the main group of her students, Johnson weaves a series of interconnected life stories that create a portrait not only of the idyllic Mill Valley, with its towering redwoods and foggy views of San Francisco Bay, she creates a portrait from the inside, from the multifaceted and often breaking hearts of the teenagers who are beginning their lives there. Continue reading

Review of Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt

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Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt has been difficult for me to review. I finished it a few days ago, and since then, I’ve been ruminating on it.

In its essence, Cruel Beautiful World is a novel about family and love. But the horrible underside of humanity is afoot as well. Yes, it takes place during the same time as the Manson murders, but that isn’t the true specter that hangs over the characters’ psyches. The true roots of the novel’s conflict lie in the question: How well can we really know the ones we love?

The climax and denouement of Cruel Beautiful World answer this question two ways. Without giving you any spoilers, I’ll say that one represents the beautiful and one represents the cruel. Continue reading

Implications: On Writing Mental Illness and Why Representation Matters

Mental health advocacy is really important to me. In this blog post for Obra/Artifact, I talk about the importance of getting things right and loving your characters into existence, especially when they are not like you.

obra / artifact

A few years ago, my friend “Michelle” was kicked out of the house where she’d been living with her uncle and his girlfriend. Michelle didn’t understand what she’d done; she’s not exactly a trouble maker. She’s more likely to be caught at home with a novel on a Saturday night than out in a club. But a few months later, Michelle’s cousin related back to her all of the lies their uncle had spread: his girlfriend was afraid of Michelle. He thought Michelle might be dangerous. It was because she was “crazy,” and like everyone knows, “crazy people” are violent. At least that’s what popular media had led Michelle’s uncle and his girlfriend to believe.

When Michelle heard this, she knew what she’d done wrong. She’d confided to her uncle’s girlfriend about her struggle with bipolar disorder, a mental illness that, while creating some difficulties for Michelle, had not stopped…

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Review of The Vegetarian by Han Kang

“It’s your body, you can treat it as you please. The only area where you’re free to do just as you like. And even that doesn’t turn out how you wanted,” (Kang 182).

On its surface, The Vegetarian by Han Kang is a deeply disturbing story of a woman’s descent into madness. But don’t let the surface fool you. At its core, this novel is about the rules for femininity that confine Korean society.

While The Vegetarian is divided into three sections, each section centers on the main character, Yeong-hye. It is absolutely vital to the novel’s message that the story be told from outside points of view. The first two of these perspectives are male: Yeong-hye’s husband and Yeong-hye’s brother in law.

From her husband’s perspective, Yeong-hye’s first symptom of insanity is that she stops eating or cooking meat, in direct disobedience to her husband and father. This section comes to a head when her father tries to physically force Yeong-hye to eat meat. Yeong-hye resists, and in an act of defiance, she cuts herself with a knife.

Continue reading