Book Review: Saga, Vol. 1 & Vol. 2

If you’re looking for a fun summer read filled with beautiful art, look no further than Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples’s Saga.

Since I started putting these little book reviews up, I’ve debated on whether I should include comics. There was a point where I was a voracious comic book reader, but shortly after DC’s reboot I began to feel that comics were no longer for me. I stopped being able to relate to the stories, and rather frankly, I couldn’t relate to the vast majority of comic fans either. At the same time, analysis of comics was starting to gain popularity in academia, and let me tell you, it is a whole new kind of painful to be stuck in a class for a whole semester with someone with a rudimentary (at best) understanding of both comics and feminist theory who attempts to relate everything to Birds of Prey and Firefly. But I digress.

I heard about Saga through a good friend who has never stopped trying to get me back into comics. What a great hook! Saga has it all: a likeable narrator, fresh art, a melding of fantasy and sci-fi that reads like a war story, amazing character development, and the very best cliffhangers you will encounter in comic form. Most importantly, I find myself reading Saga to see how the characters react and interact with each other. This is a truly human story. What I like much less about the book is the amount of swearing. It’s not that I’m opposed to swearing, it’s that I feel like Vaughan relies on it too much and that it is largely unnecessary. It reads as a hasty shortcut to denote seriousness, levity, coarseness, or shared humanity. Further, I found myself taken out of the impressive and immersive world Saga builds when nearly all of the characters share the same expletive-laced phrases.

 

Bottom line:

I have mixed feelings about Saga. I think I need to see where it goes. There is so much to appreciate and enjoy about this book, and at less than $15 a volume this book is still a real value even if it ends up tanking. Saga pleasantly surprises me again and again, which is not something that I can say about most other stories. However, this title is not for children. The themes of war, love, friendship, life, and death are adult themes and are treated as such. So, pick up Saga and prepare to be entertained while appreciating some very solid art. As for me, I’m about to purchase Saga: Volume 3, and if the last two volumes are any indication, it’ll leave me eagerly anticipating volume 4.

Book Review: The Diving Pool

Yoko Ogawa is a challenging author. I was first introduced to Ogawa’s work last year through Revenge, her book of “Eleven Dark Tales.” I was instantly enamored. Just as in Revenge, The Diving Pool is a set of weirdly creepy stories that prod at the darkest corners of suburban life and social roles and always come up with something unexpected.

The Diving Pool is made of three novellas, which, unlike Revenge, are not obviously related. However, the stories don’t feel out of place sandwiched next to each other in this book. There is no good way for me to try to describe what goes on in an Ogawa work—each time I try I know that I am not doing justice to the author. So, let me say this: Ogawa is challenging for her unexpectedness and for the harsh light she shines on the less flattering aspects of human character, but she is at least equally rewarding.

I believe that Ogawa’s three greatest strengths are her immersive descriptions, her creativity in examining the psyche, and the way that she uses both of these as tools to craft beautiful stories that feel both final and unresolved. Her stories are not scary in the typical sense. Rather, they offer a reality that feels intimately familiar until closer examination shows seams that are beginning to rip under the weight of the unexpectedly sinister. Ogawa is an author for anyone who is open to the dark mysteries of those we think we know.

 

Bottom line:

Yoko Ogawa is not for everyone. Her stories are not uplifting, and often they seem to simply end without typical resolution. However, that is part of why I love her. I believe that very few authors have the ability to craft a story as well as Ogawa does, and even fewer take this ability and use it to examine the darker parts of human tendencies. I do whole-heartedly recommend both The Diving Pool and Revenge, but with the warning that you, dear reader, will find very little to warm your heart or restore your faith within these pages.

Lost & Found

My grief split open like an overripe peach and swallowed me whole. For a while I flailed about in the pulpy, suffocating mess, but then I gave in. I cried and cried, and my tears made a layer of buoyant saline until I finally floated to the top of all of my feelings. The swelling around my eyes receded, and gradually I found that I could look up and see that things were not yet dire. We, the survivors of my granddad’s death, are all still here and I have been given the great and important gift that is the knowledge that my love for my family is fierce and bottomless.

When I was in high school and just after, I thought that I could manufacture a family that could replace the one I was so baffled by. I was convinced that I didn’t belong. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I began to realize how woven in to my family I am. He said that meeting each member of my family was like finding a new puzzle piece that made up me. How reassuring to hear after years and years of thinking of myself as an alien.

And so, after the diagnosis of my dad and after the death of my granddad, I fell apart when I heard that my uncle was suddenly, nebulously unwell. I felt as if I had just met these people I took for granted for so long and now they were disappearing. Dramatic, I know, but admitting that my feelings were both selfish and melodramatic did not actually do anything to decrease them.

But I didn’t start writing this to rhapsodize about my family, or to outline all the things that have happened to them that make me sad. No, I started writing this because a series of things has happened that have enraged me. It’s possible that I would not have felt so strongly if the background of my life had been different and less grief-stricken, but that is not life.

Since we moved back, I have realized how terribly selfish people who say they care about me can be. I quickly realized that one person I reconnected with, while mildly interesting over text message, would not actually speak to me when in person no matter how much I prompted. Additionally, she regularly sent me whining texts asking me why I didn’t want to see her anymore when she flat out told me that I would need to plan everything every time we got together because she was “not that kind of person.” These texts did not acknowledge the various times I invited her out and she said no. For some reason, she also expected to not have to pay for her drinks, and that I would drive 45 minutes to pick her up. All the awfulness of the tail end of a short-term romantic relationship without any of the benefits…who wouldn’t be interested in that?

However, that pales in comparison to another person I had been hanging out with on and off. Each time I saw him, his comments became more suggestive, and I blamed myself. I told myself that I needed to enforce my boundaries more forcefully, that I was reading too much into his comments, that he must be a good person because he’s religious, that he was just an affectionate guy. You name a rape myth, and I can tell you how I applied and internalized it just to keep this guy as a friend.

The last time I saw him was a couple days ago. I told him that I was exhausted from work and sad about everything going on with my family. His response? “By the end of the night maybe you’ll say something happy.” I get that other people’s grief can result in people saying stupid things, but I thought that this was a person who cared about me. Even worse, my immediate reaction was to think that he was right and that I ought to try to be nice to be around. As the night wore on, I realized that he didn’t seem to be listening to anything I said. He ignored me when I repeatedly told him I was tired, and we ended up walking around for hours. I also became aware of all the different ways he tried to touch me, how often he commented on my appearance, how he told me what he thought I should wear, that he tried to modulate how quickly I ate. He also, out of the blue, asked me sexually explicit questions about what my husband and I do, and I had to tell him twice that that is not something either of us was going to talk about.

 

Since that night, I gave in to my grief and came out the other side slightly more whole. I’ve also had time to reflect on why it is I keep allowing people into my life who see something in me and want to possess it as some kind of status symbol. There has to be some middle ground between being on high alert for any acts or words that might be informed by matrices of inequality and domination, and being subjected to someone who I thought actually valued me as a person joke about how he imagines me whipping him (honestly, I am now certain that was not a joke).

 

I went through a phase in college where the only t-shirts I wore were political t-shirts. When we moved back, I retired them, but some have slowly found their way back into rotation. It seems weak to me to end this piece on a cliché, but I don’t care how I seem anymore. I know that I’m strong.

 

So here is a pronouncement from the trenches:

Patriarchy is not dead. It is alive and kicking and taking on ever more covert and insidious forms. It is trying to worm its way into your life in the form of everyday minutia, in the form of entertainment, or under the guise of someone you don’t really know who only pretends to care. All of us need to identify it and fight it.

 

And here is a pronouncement from my current favorite t-shirt:

“Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist. Keep loving. Keep fighting.”

 

Stay safe, dear reader. Wrap yourself in the warmth and protection of the love of the people who know you best. No one is getting out of this life alive, and while we are all each other’s responsibility, we also need to claim responsibility for ourselves.

And for the love of all things good, be kind.