The hiatus is here.

Yes, it’s come to this. But not before I rid my phone of its remaining jots.

Glow, Season 1 // Maybe it’s wrong to say this, considering Glow‘s cast is about 80% female, but Marc Maron really steals the show as director Sam Sylvia. He’s fantastic. His own series, Maron, was too on-the-nose, too redundant (especially if you already listened to his podcast) and too self-serving. In Glow, he’s someone else entirely. He’s sweet and troubled and talented in a completely new way, and his leadership invigorates both the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling and the viewer. I loved the episode “Debbie Does Something,” too, because it lets you fall in love with wrestling alongside the skeptical star, Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin). After weeks of wishy-washiness, she finds her hook and allows herself to be reeled in by attending a real match and bathing in the soapy spectacle of it all.

Jaws // I’m new to horror, which means I’m new to even the oldest horror movies. Seeing Jaws is life-changing, though, no matter the decade, because it’s actually more about what you don’t see. Beauty and terror coexist thanks to Steven Spielberg, who builds tension with stress-inducing bouts of silence and emptiness. You’re left wondering when John Williams’ score will start, what’s in the open water, which heroic character will be sacrificed, when will everything go back to normal? Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) are as stoic as can be, but they’re at the mercy of a force more powerful and fearsome than they can comprehend.

It (2017) // There’s this risk-reward thing to horror, I’m learning. Maybe I’ll have weird dreams or feel nauseous, but maybe I’ll also get a rush of adrenaline or a wave of empowerment from it. I definitely did from Stephen King’s It, anyway. Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) terrorizes the town of Derry, Maine, focusing on the lovable Losers Club of Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Stan (Wyatt Olef), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Bev (Sophia Lillis), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Mike (Chosen Jacobs). They’re clever from the start and vulnerable at first, but their weaknesses give way to confidence as they figure out how to harness their fear.

Beginners // On the plus side, the casting of Christopher Plummer and Ewan MacGregor as father Hal and son Oliver was perfect. They have the same mouth. I also loved seeing Plummer play someone as vivacious and silly as a newly-out-of-the-closet octogenarian against MacGregor’s glum, tortured-artist introvert. Writer-director Mike Mills tossed in enjoyable bits of historical footage, too, which grounded the movie’s day-dreaminess. However, the MPDG levels in this flick are astronomical. I want to like Anna (Melanie Laurent) but I can’t, because she doesn’t exist and movies keep refusing to acknowledge that she doesn’t. There are also scenes in which Oliver and Anna vandalize brick walls — hopelessly innocent in 2010 (maybe) but dripping of white privilege today.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man // Though I admit to finding James Joyce’s writing style overwhelming — I had a hard time nailing down the timeline and remembering the names of main character Stephen Dedalus’ schoolmates — it’s hard to deny how powerful and perfect it is to detail the process of Dedalus losing his religion. There’s nothing slick or understated about that experience, and it seems like reading this book is the closest you can get without going through it yourself. Joyce begins with his own take on stream-of-consciousness, akin to if someone got into your head for you and then wrote down what they thought you were thinking. An example: “He thought that he was sick in his heart if you could be sick in that place” (p. 13). Gradually — and ironically — the language becomes more Biblical and visceral as he pulls away from his faith. Dedalus allows himself to be overwhelmed by the very existence nature and the beauty of his own thoughts, rather than attributing anything to a higher being, all while reckoning with the absurdly heavy weight of sin, judgement, fear, whatever else has built up over his life. Like so: “… at times his sense of such immediate repercussion was so lively that he seemed to feel his soul in devotion pressing like fingers the keyboard of a great cash register and to see the amount of his purchase start forth immediately in heaven, not as a number but as a frail column of incense or as a slender flower” (p. 148). The anti-revelation he achieves at the end, the come-away-from-Jesus moment, is far purer than being born again: “To discover the mode of life or of art whereby your spirit could express itself in unfettered freedom” (p. 246).

The Lord of the Rings (the books) // On the one hand, I’m ashamed I dismissed these books as a kid; my ignorance caused me to miss out on something magical. On the other, reading them for the first time as an adult was perhaps the best way to recapture the sense of wonder that’s so easily lost on the subway, in the news, whatever. I won’t pretend to grasp most of what I read, because I didn’t, but I’m already looking forward to the next re-read, and the next and the next. LOTR is a story to check in on periodically, a journey to experience at different times in your life. I know new features and ideas will emerge for me each time, too. This initial once-through introduced me to the language, the world’s lushness and of course the characters. The language, in particular, stood out to me in The Fellowship of the Ring, with such charming words as “durstn’t” and expressions like “eleventy first” and “Fool of a Took!” Cleverness permeates, too: “Boats are quite tricky enough for those that sit still without looking further for the cause of trouble” (p. 23) and “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve) (p. 29) are particularly funny. But the most ubiquitous quality of the language is its kindness and patience: “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and thought in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater” (p. 339) and “Nay, time does not tarry ever, but change and growth is not in all things and places alike” (p. 379) are perfect examples.

In The Two Towers, everything is green — all five senses, everyone’s mood, the world around the Fellowship as they trek. It’s undeniable and lush in a way that demands otherworldly descriptions. Hobbit Pippin details his impressions of Ents like so: “I don’t know, but it felt as if something that grew in the ground — asleep, you might say, or just feeing itself as something between root-tip and leaf-tip, between deep earth and sky had suddenly waked up, and was considering you with the same slow care that it had given to its own inside affairs for endless years” (p. 452). And Ent Treebeard says of his native tongue: “It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to” (p. 454). But nature isn’t all nurturing in the Fellowship’s world; evil lacks the verdant hues but is described just as wholly, in the case of the Tower of the Moon: “Paler indeed than the moon ailing in some slow eclipse was the light of it now, wavering and blowing like a noisome exhalation of decay, a corpse-light; a light that illuminated nothing,” (p. 688).

In The Return of the King, the weight of the Fellowship’s sacrifice and the magnitude of its task ahead really hit me. And little character quirks — which I know were there all along, but which I had been too distracted to pick up on — came to light in a way that made me feel like I really knew the group, like I was making the trek, too. From Gandalf’s nimble wisdom (“Let us remember that a traitor may betray himself and do good that he does not intend,” p. 797) to Merry’s honesty (“It is best to love first what you are fitted to love, I suppose; you must start somewhere and have some roots; and the soil of the Shire is deep,” p. 852) to Sam’s loyalty (Frodo “lay back in Sam’s gentle arms, closing his eyes, like a child at rest when night-fears are driven away by some loved voice or hand,” p. 889) to Frodo’s purity (“It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger; some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them,” p. 1006) everyone (except Gollum) was exactly who they were, insignificant in size (mostly) but legendary in presence. I can’t wait to do it all again with them.

And with that, I’m off for a time.

Thanks so much for reading; it means the world to me. When there’s more, you’ll know about it.

I wish I were better at hiatusing.

What I’m better at is writing notes about stuff and then leaving them in my phone for months.

Aforementioned notes, continued.

Selma // Ava DuVernay did a beautiful job of weaving together new and archived footage. The costumes, the acting, the looming anguish — all of it blends seamlessly. David Oyelowo is commanding as MLK, Jr., though it occurred to me that John Legend (who performed the movie’s Oscar-winning song) might have been a cool choice to play him, too, since he can generate those effortless vocal trembles. The rest of the cast is incredibly strong, and it’s thrilling to see them all come together from Moonlight (Andre Holland), Empire (Trai Byers), Orange is the New Black (Lorraine Toussaint), Get Out (Lakeith Stanfield), The Wire (Wendell Pierce) and so many other prominent but not necessarily non-fiction works of art. I’ll also never tire seeing Martin Sheen play a good guy, nor will watching Tim Roth ever get old, even when he’s depicting someone as deplorable as George Wallace.

Wonder Woman // I don’t have a ton of experience with recent Marvel or DC Comics-based movies, but I can say that the single-character focus of this one made it pretty easy for someone like me to jump right in. And focusing it on a lone female character left me feeling simultaneously invincible and disheartened as I exited the theater. Gal Godot is (to quote my friend Kate) “ass-kickulous,” as is the all-female world she lives in, but the world she enters isn’t. And neither is ours. It was pretty refreshing to see Chris Pine woo her without leading-manning her (though I could have done without the romance, actually) and enthralling to watch a battle scene that contained no men and exquisite armor. For once.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again // The late David Foster Wallace is brilliant for small reasons — like the phrases “pussified whisper” (p. 6), “the sky is the color of old jeans” (p. 87) and “a facial expression that looks the way a bad dream feels” (p. 157) — and medium reasons, like his in-graf abbreviations, his self-loathing footnotes and his entire essay about David Lynch, who is “one of these people with unusual access to their own unconscious” (p. 166). But the large reasons are somehow larger than DFW himself, as cliche as it may be. While reading this essay collection, a woman stopped me on the subway to talk about it. Looking back, I probably should have engaged with her more, but at the time, I wasn’t in much of a chatting mood. She did leave me with this advice, though: “You can’t write until you really know yourself.” And I feel like DFW would have thoroughly enjoyed the guilt trip I gave myself after the whole interaction. He may have even reacted the same way.

The Big Sick // The world needs more Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, I know that for sure. Seeing their imperfect, perfect story on screen was a true delight, and I feel a comedy-nerd pride swelling in my chest knowing that it has gained popularity and acclaim. They took a risk by writing something so intimate — reliving a trauma and portraying oneself and one’s family in an unflattering light is a monumental choice for artists to make — and it paid off. Ray Romano was devastatingly great as Emily’s father, too. I only wish I could have gotten more on board with Kumail playing his twentysomething self. He was way too old for the role, but no one else could have played him, either.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi // Not only will this tiny old Japanese man make you hungry, but he’ll also make you question your work ethic and redefine how you conceptualize “honor.” I don’t know if I’d call sushi master Jiro Ono a happy man, but I think “content” is a fair term. He’s found contentment in learning and honing a trade, in knowing that achievement is inevitable with practice and in unlocking dignity from repetition.

Lucky Number Slevin // It’s clear that the writer/director tandem of Jason Smilovic and Paul McGuigan was going for a Quentin Tarantino/Chan-wook Park vibe with this movie, though it had its own style. The mod, vibrantly colored sets stuck with me much longer than the plot’s twists, turns and timeline shifts, but those were pretty fun on their own, too. Suffice it to say that Josh Harnett, doing his best Benicio Del Toro impression as Slevin, gets caught in the middle of a feud between two crime bosses (Ben Kingsley and Morgan Freeman, as it should be) and enjoys the ride almost as much as the viewer.

The Incredible Jessica James // I am all for the world containing more Jessica Williams, but I’m not sure this movie did what it set out to do. It is, primarily, a vehicle for Williams’ infectious brand of confident comedy — she is effortlessly funny, smart and sexy, and she’s uncocky while showcasing all of it. It also breathes life into the sagging moving-to-New-York-in-your-twenties trope, and it’s the product of a tight script. No extraneous characters or tangents or background information. Yet it also falls victim to an unfortunate, predictable ending — young, struggling woman allows slightly older man to rescue her. Jessica begins dating Boone (Chris O’Dowd, who can do no wrong), and they have unique, unsappy chemistry. They’re a joy to watch and he’s in complete awe of her. But she teaches theater to kids and he is a rich app developer. There’s nothing wrong with one person supporting another, except when the first word you might use to describe the supportee is “independent.”

Bridget Jones’ Diary // Somehow I managed to escape my twenties without seeing this movie. A sin to some, but I’m glad I saved it for when I was closer in age to the title character. It seems strange that Renee Zellweger was nominated for an Oscar, considering how rom-commy the role was. Then again, she was so clumsy and real — and British! — and thus the ideal candidate. Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, dashing suitors til the day they die, were given more than usual to work with here. Grant is Daniel Cleaver, the player boss, Firth is Mark Darcy, the short-tempered eccentric, and both play off Zellweger’s magnetism perfectly.

Next time, I’m really gonna go on a break.

The hiatus is coming, really.

My reasoning for it lies here.

I’ve just got several more jots to jot down before I do it. Here are some.

Other People // I love Chris Kelly for being an SNL writer, even more for bringing SNL and other funny people into the melancholy, autobiographical story of his mother’s death and the most for forcing said showbiz people to talk about the delusions of showbiz onscreen. Jesse Plemons (as David) and Bradley Whitford (as David’s father, Norman) were the sympathetic forces we already knew they were, while Molly Shannon (as David’s mother, Joanne) and Zach Woods (as David’s boyfriend, Paul) demonstrated a sorrowful sweetness that hadn’t emerged in previous roles.

Dodgeball // I knew more about this movie than I thought I did — “Nobody makes me bleed my own blood” — yet I’m so glad I watched it, because it was a revelation of Jason Bateman’s comedic versatility. So often he’s relegated to the straight-man role, and he kills it of course, but his color commentator Pepper Brooks made me cry with laughter.

Walk Hard // “Underrated” is probably an annoyingly common term used to describe John C. Reilly, but damn, it’s true. He’s such a quiet genius, no matter the role, and Dewey Cox is no exception. The movie is all about absurd parodies of other movies, yet he jumps seamlessly between each one, his presence consistently magnetic and curious. And I’ll take a Jack White cameo any day.

The West Wing, Season 4 // So many episodes stand out as brilliant in this arc — the whole team uniting seriously to prep POTUS (Martin Sheen) in “Debate Camp,” then playfully to tease Toby (Richard Schiff) in “Game On;” the high-stress, operatic tension of “Commencement” and “Twenty Five,” wherein Zoey (Elisabeth Moss) is abducted after her college commencement and Toby’s ex-wife has twins. Yet there is a soapy, melodramatic nature to this season, too, that I could have done without. The whole staff felt the strain of Toby’s broken relationship, for example, and the wishy-washiness between Josh (Whitford) and Amy (expert eye-roller Mary-Louise Parker) got to be annoying after awhile. But I welcomed the refreshing, Woody Harrelson-esque arrival of Will (Joshua Malina) as Rob Lowe started to phase himself out and I learned that Josh is a Mets fan. And I love all the characters dearly, even when they act silly, so I’ll keep watching. I’m anxious to see what it’s like post-Aaron Sorkin.

Terminator 2 // Linda Hamilton (as Sarah Connor) is kind of a metaphor for this movie — she is ageless, and so is it. James Cameron paid (and continues to pay) such meticulous attention to detail, from the subtle squeaks of the Terminator’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) leather to the slick morphing movements of T-1000 (Robert Patrick), everything holds up. And the fact that a child — not a grownup — is the movie’s hook gives it an innocence and purity that should not be overlooked.

Manchester by the Sea // Watching this movie on a plane, and having read a few reviews, I expected to be drowning in my own tears for two hours. But it wasn’t quite that bleak. (Though it was pretty bleak.) The lilting music saved it, in fact, injecting ever-so-slight humor into some scenes. Michelle Williams (as Randi) was perfect, as usual, and Casey Affleck (as Lee) admittedly was too, though I suspect he’s peaked. Peaked with bleak.

Beyond Belief // There’s Going Clear and then there’s this. The inside scoop. The autobiographical horror story. I applaud Jenna Miscavige Hill — the niece of the group’s chairman, David Miscavige — for risking her life to escape, and then to tell her tale. It’s amazing that anyone can escape Scientology, especially if they’re born into it. From a young age, they’re taught that normalcy means no human variation, no nuance, no deeper meaning. They’re encouraged to be uniform, to be comfortable with vagueness, to speak with a vocabulary all their own (“TRs” are training routines, “OTs” are operating thetans), to recognize E-meters as true science and levels as sacred, exclusive accomplishments. It seems harmless until it isn’t. It’s real-life psychological horror.

Footloose // It’s scary when a 30-plus-year-old movie can have relevance today, and this one tells a very current story about different generations coming to understand each other. John Lithgow (as the Rev. Moore) is a close-minded, devout man and the father of a thoughtful, rebellious teenager. He’s unable to see the benefits of any behaviors he’s not used to, and despite being relatively gentle, he wields enormous power over a meek town. Kevin Bacon (as Ren) is charismatic sans the douche factor that a typical leading man embodies (something he’s quite used to doing, as he discussed on WTF) and I wish his love story had been with Sarah Jessica Parker (as Rusty the charmer) instead of with Lori Singer (as Ariel the hottie). Of course, Ariel is Rev. Moore’s daughter, so it was a necessary plot, but I felt he and Singer had no chemistry. The again, maybe their chemistry wasn’t entirely necessary. They just needed each other, as fellow semi-motivated people, to work up the courage to leave their town.

Intermission, I guess.

Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage.

I didn’t write much down in anticipation of this blog post when I was reading Rob Delaney’s memoir, Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. It wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy it, or didn’t find anything relevant or memorable to note. Quite the opposite, actually. Everything Delaney shares is just that, memorable and relevant. It’s also highly contextual, so sharing it here in little tidbits would sort of detract from the value and humor and beauty of his writing.

Instead, I’ll just wax poetic about Delaney for a moment, and maybe include some of the tidbits I did write down. He’s such a special type of comedian and writer, the rare one who can do great things with pen and paper and even greater ones with a microphone and a willing audience. He’s got this Hot Dad vibe about him, which he’s completely aware of and plays up, but his comedy is so much more complex and intelligent and fucked up than you could ever imagine or expect. He’s gained perspective since being an alcoholic (p. 35: “I figured it was better for her sanity to believe that her son was a drunk klutz than an actively suicidal daredevil with the stunt proficiency of a trash bag filled with blueberry yogurt”) and nearly killing himself (p. 127: “Dementia would certainly ride well on the thought grooves established by depression”), and now since being married with a bevy of what I presume will be very hairy male children (p. 175: “The way I see it, my new primary function on this earth is simply to die before my son”). His trains of thought veer in directions you’ve never considered before. To say he is honest would be horribly insulting, because his level of honesty and confidence and vulnerability haven’t really been reached by other comedians. He’s at once eloquent and nonsensical, perverse and sensitive, brilliant and silly.

I first saw him at Cobb’s in San Francisco, and most recently at the Bell House in Brooklyn. Both times he utterly delighted and surprised me, and reading his book is like getting to experience that all over again, at your own pace. He’s a furiously hard worker, and I can’t imagine anyone consuming his comedy or writing and not being entertained or enlightened.

Delaney 2016! Just kidding, #ImWithHer. (He is too.)


I forget how or why I decided I needed to read some Alice Munro, but I remember thinking she seemed like the kind of person I might take a chance on identifying with. Runaway is a very nice, surprising collection of essays, with individual pieces that I found moving and relatable, but on the whole, I’m not sure Munro is for me.

Munro has a way of building a beautiful world, dropping in incredibly sympathetic characters and then saturating that world with those characters’ crunchiest, least appealing traits. I’m with her when she introduces the characters, and even when she lets us get to know them a bit, but then she has this tendency to layer in details of the emotionally-unimportant or visually-repulsive variety.

I’ll first share a few of those pleasant, world-building snippets. Here are a couple simple, specific descriptions of the houses in a small town: “… with a yard full of firewood, lumber and tires, cars and parts of cars, broken or usable bikes, toys, all the things that have to sit outside when people are lacking garages or basements” and “… most of the houses are like those in the woods, each one in its own wide cluttered yard, as if they have been built within sight of each other only accidentally” (p. 50). See, that’s nice. This one is, too, even if it sounds a touch outdated: “That was what a girl should be, to be fallen in love with” (p. 164).

But Munro can go dark, too. At one point she describes rape as “being broken into,” which is at once beautiful and horrifying. And this passage on adultery, from p. 174, sneaks up on you: “And she thought it must be a relief to Maury to be driving down the highway by himself, rearranging his impressions of his Grace so that he could stay wholeheartedly in love with her.”

Now, onto the characters. Munro favors solitary women, to whom I’m generally able to relate, by bringing us into their vulnerability. “Tricks,” for example, in part details a woman’s attempt to spend the evening alone, treating herself to dinner and such. And “Trespasses” really nails how cliques inflict pain with exclusivity. Munro is also not afraid to extend her characters’ stories as long as necessary. “Juliet” is the focus of three of the short stories in Runaway, and “Soon” provides the immediate sequel to “Chance” that I didn’t even know I wanted. “Silence,” which wraps up the trilogy, is perhaps the most heartbreaking, since it deals with Juliet’s estrangement from her daughter. By the end of it, you feel completely connected to this fictional person’s life, and you gain a skeletal but profound appreciation for that part of motherhood that no one really talks about — communication.

So, finally, the annoying stuff. Munro leans on a comma-heavy stream-of-consciousness crutch, which I found difficult to read. And her blatant worship of the Canadian version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is rampant. Those two grievances can be summed up in one passage, actually: “Juliet knew that, to many people, she might seem to be odd and solitary — and so, in a way, she was” (p. 56). Here’s another one that made my skin crawl: “As she was herself by now, and Penelope, on the steps, even more so” (p. 98). To me, these types of ugly sentences completely negate the elegant ones she constructed elsewhere in the book. They’re like rough drafts inserted into the final version, and they took me completely out of the scene and story and into Munro’s possibly-neurotic brain. It’s enough having the stories themselves center around the aforementioned MPDG — but to have the narrator channeling it, too? I’m against it. I don’t think touchy-feely-type phraseology does any favors for the characters’ likability. It doesn’t add credible flaws to the characters; instead, it discredits Munro’s narrative voice. She couldn’t resist adding in-text footnotes that were better left unsaid, and now the stories are slathered with this mumbling, emotional excess.

Munro overshares without the commas, too. On p. 319, she attempts to summarize an entire gender, but it ends up falling incredibly flat within the context of the story: “Plenty of men never had a word to say about their lives, beyond when and where. But there were others, more up-to-date, who gave these casual-sounding yet practiced speeches in which it was said that life was indeed a bumpy road, but misfortunes had pointed the way to better things, lessons were learned, and without a doubt joy came in the morning.” This passage is clearly based on one person who existed in Munro’s life, and it would be much more effective as the character’s memory, rather than a sweeping generalization about men. I think it further discredits her voice; while she’s clearly a champion of women, I had a hard time believing this negative, out-of-nowhere stance about men. She seems much smarter than that.

My last complaint is about a paragraph on p. 61 that details what happens in the bathroom stall when a woman is on her period. I’m all for erasing the stigma around menstruation, because it happens to exactly 50% of the population. But Munro combined words in that graf that didn’t need to be combined. I considered bringing you all down with me and writing a couple of those word combinations here, but I’ll spare you, so long as you promise not to think periods are gross, because they’re not. (They are, but only those of us with XX chromosomes can say that.) I wish she would have spared me.

I’m open to reading more Munro, but I’ll need a pretty good argument for it first. For now, though, I’ll respect her female-driven fiction from afar — far south of the Canadian border.

The Fortress of Solitude

For the record, I still like Motherless Brooklyn better. There’s something decidedly less self-aware about it. Fortress is painfully, blatantly self-aware — and this matches the main character, Dylan Ebdus, always over-analyzing his actions. Motherless‘ main character had Tourette’s, so he had zero self-awareness. Yet it all makes sense in the end, and it speaks to Jonathan Lethem’s incredible talent.

Fortress of Solitude took awhile to grow on me, but it eventually did. It really was the self-awareness that built a barrier. And the pretentiousness. The number of times that the word “ailanthus” was mentioned — and I still refuse to look the word up, though I know it’s a kind of tree/plant/flower — made me want to hurl, and the pride with which White Guy fetishized Black Brooklyn was nauseating. But I’m also approaching this book from a 2016 perspective, where WGiBB is done, cooked, over, annoying automatically. Back in the 70s, when this book was taking place, gentrification wasn’t even simmering yet, and there wasn’t any telegraphing when it’d boil over. It was new and actually fresh. The eyerolls I’m applying to it are nuanced and layered, unfair and uninformed.

Even though I didn’t grow up remotely close to Brooklyn, I still feel a bond with Dylan. He experienced an intense kind of reverse-racial bullying, which I am thankful I didn’t experience, but I was bullied, too. So many of us were that it’s impossible not to connect to a retelling of it, no matter the context, especially when it’s done well. See, for me, it wasn’t about the physical aspect. Though girls can be physical with their bullying, it’s not as common. It’s about the psychological, about making the bullee feel consumed by the buller, and that’s exactly what Lethem does with respect to Dylan and his oppressors. In addition to being a body to beat up, Dylan is fodder for their fucked-up brains, and yet part of him enjoys it, so he doesn’t exactly retaliate like he should. He craves their attention, and that’s the way they want it.

Lethem also has this wonderfully casual way of mentioning milestone moments, both positive and negative ones. You’re embroiled in the details of a scene, and all of a sudden you realize Dylan’s mother is gone, or Dylan’s become best friends with Mingus Rude, or Dylan’s just had his first real sexual encounter, or the years have just passed swiftly and smoothly. It’s all very matter-of-fact and organic, but the origin of it all is hazy, and that’s okay. There’s always so much focus in fiction on Milestone Moments, when in reality, they happen and that’s it and we sort of forget how they happened. They blend in with everything else.

We really feel like we grew up with Dylan the whole way — the first half of the book plugs through his childhood in third-person perspective, which is akin to how any kid with feelings feels at that time, outside looking in, self-aware but not world-aware. And the second half is in first-person, self-aware as much as humanly possible, infinitely reflective on every little thing, as is the adult way. Dylan is obviously Lethem channeling himself and his childhood experiences, as it’s hard to believe Dylan is a real kid sometimes. But his life is easy to relate to, in spite of its specificity and undeniable hipness. His best friend is an enigma, and yet Dylan is one too, trying to uncover his own identity in the shadow of someone else’s whom he’ll always covet. The supernatural element of the book — the magic ring — feels entirely, completely sensible, even in the context of this very stark, real world. Because there’s a supernatural element to every kid’s being.

Lethem also has a way of characterizing stereotypes one encounters in one’s life in ways that they haven’t been characterized before. His cynicism cuts deeply, uniquely. For Dylan, Arthur Lomb is that friend: “Positioning, positioning, Arthur Lomb was forever positioning himself, making his views known, aligning on some index no one would ever consult” (p. 126). Moira is that girl: “Moira and I were a couple for two weeks from that night — an eternity at Camden, where rehearsals of adulthood were rendered miniature by a compression of time and space” (p. 387). Home is gentrifying before his eyes: “Brooklyn’s bepissed your blonde destiny” (p. 267). Popular culture is dulling before his eyes: “I flashed on a vision of a world dotted with conferences, convocations, and “Cons” of all types, each an engine for converting feelings of inferiority and self-loathing into their opposites” (p. 345), and “Football was an arrangement of failures, a proving how unlikely most things were” (p. 75), and “My black jeans were like a smudge of ash or a daub of vomit in this cream-and-peach world” (p. 322). Lethem and Dylan are critical, sharp observers, ready to slay.

[Even descriptions of daily minutae have this depleted, beautiful poetry to them: “If the Etch A Sketch and the Spirograph had really worked they would probably be machines, not toys, they would be part of the way the adult universe operated and be mounted onto the instrument panels of cars or worn on the belts of policemen,” (p. 9) and “The squirrel moved as an oscillating sequence of humps, tail and spine bunching in counterpoint” (p. 17), and “The bicycle … would be downstairs again, leaning in the hallway like a stuffed animal, a blind chrome elk loaded with his parents’ expectation and Dylan’s dread” (p. 43).]

Mingus Rude, though, inspired completely different ways of thinking in both of them: “Leave it to Mingus Rude to recuperate their differences for his own purposes, for Robin Hooditry in art’s cause” (p. 145). Around Mingus, Dylan wasn’t cynical, at least not initially. He shook up something intangible in Dylan’s demeanor, something that not everyone gets to experience, it seems. Mingus’ shitty situation bred a wisdom that then sloughed off on Dylan, who shared them with us:”You could grow up in the city where history was made and still miss it all” and “The key to mostly anything is pretending your first time isn’t” (p. 259″, and “Each institution carries previous incarnations, like sluggish rivers with another century’s silt at their bottoms” (p. 465).

But perhaps my favorite line in the book comes from the beginning, when Lethem’s adult wisdom still overpowers Dylan’s kid ignorance. This line is so evocative to me, so exemplary of youth and innocence: “They gathered wide-eyed as though warming at a campfire of their own awe” (p. 47). It captures the unintentional egotism of youth, too, the idea that nothing’s more important than what’s happening right now, and that’s a takeaway from the book, too. No matter how insignificant things may be, they’re significant in their own context, in their own little world, in their fortress of solitude.