Geek Love and True Love

The past few days have been a bit weird, reading-wise.  I was reading Geek Love – recommended to me by Toryssa as an antidote to the trite blahness of Water for Elephants (Water to Elephants?  I can never remember) – and then when I wasn’t reading that, I was reading the Brownings’ letters to each other when they were a-courting.

It’s been strange.  Geek Love is two stories running consecutively: the main character, Olympia, is a hunchback dwarf from a family that deliberately bred freaks in order to make their circus all interesting, and she’s telling the story of her childhood.  And then she’s also got things going on in the present with her tail-having daughter and this woman who wants to give the daughter surgery to de-tail her.  Oh, and Olympia’s brother Arty (who has flippers instead of hands and feet) has a cult of people that get their limbs cut off.  But then *spoiler* the circus blows up.  So oh well.

Interspersed with letters from Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, in which they are so damn cute that my brain perpetually explodes.  Every time I think I can’t love Robert Browning any more, he says something even sweeter and I have to reset the scale.

And then back to Geek Love with the amputations and the telekinetic Chick kid.  The transitions have been weird.

Sorting through this confusion, I find that I do not care for Geek Love very much.  I didn’t like the family dynamic.  It was creepy, of course, the creepy parents with their creepy plans for the kids, and the creepy siblings with their creepy behavior, but it was sort of predictably creepy.  Creepy in ways you really could have anticipated.  Geek Love was such a strange book that I kept losing track of how blah the family dynamic actually was, but after a while I’d notice some discontentment feelings and discover that the source of the feelings was that the relationships between the family, while dysfunctional, were not interestingly dysfunctional.  You always knew what everyone was going to do.  I lost interest long before the book ended.

Oh, and?  I was also displeased with how the *spoiler* circus exploded.  It was like the author just got sick of the Binewski family and was trying to figure out what she could do to get rid of everyone so that she could get back to Olympia in the present in order to end that storyline unsatisfactorily too, so she was like, Well, hey, I’ll just blow everyone up.

Hmph.

I am much happier when I contemplate the Brownings.  Do you know about the Brownings?  If not, it is definitely worth your while to go and look up the Brownings and learn a little bit about them.  And go ahead and read The Barretts of Wimpole Street.  And then go ahead and read their letters to each other.  The ones from 1845-1846 are all the letters there ever were, because after they were married, says their son, they were never separated.

A sad (but nice) story: On Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s last day (of life, I mean), she was sickly and he was fretting, and when he offered to bathe her feet to soothe her she said, “Well, you are determined to make an exaggerated case of it!” and she died in his arms and the last thing she said was that when he asked her how she felt, she said, “Beautiful.”

(That story makes me teary-eyed.)

The Brownings are lovely.  I always want to give them a hug.  They’re so brave and humble and affectionate and dear, and they always send letters to tell each other how much they love them.  When I read their letters I feel like that episode of Buffy where she’s all upset about Xander and Anya having a fight and she’s all, “THEY HAVE A MIRACULOUS LOVE!”

That’s me.  About the Brownings.  Darling Brownings!

…I’m not bragging or anything.  I’m just mentioning.  Robert Browning?  He was born on my birthday.  So unless you were born on 9 December or 23 April, and actually even if you were born on 9 December or 23 April, I still pretty much win at Best Birthday.  Because Robert Browning was a gifted writer and also a completely lovely person.

Love, Let Me Not Hunger, Paul Gallico

“I’ll let you out of your contracts if you want, so you can get jobs with other circuses, but I’m telling you they’ll all go bust if this keeps up – just like the cinemas. But you know where they ain’t got the telly yet? Spain! And you know how I know? Because I been there!!”He stopped to let the magnitude of this revelation sink in. While they had been loafing the winter away, he, Sam Marvel, had been on the job and had gone ferreting out the situation.

“That’s right,” he continued, “Spain. There’s telly in some of the big cities, but there’s none out in the country. Why, there are some places there that ain’t even got telephones! There ain’t been a British circus on the Continent in the last forty-three years. Well, we’re gonna show ’em. We’re going where there ain’t any bloody tellyvision!”

I liked Jennie (a lot actually), and I like circuses, so I picked up this book at the library last time I was there and I thought it was going to make me happy the way Jennie (it’s called The Abandoned here) always does. I guess I forgot that Paul Gallico, apart from his Mrs. ‘Arris books and sometimes not even then, is not a happy writer. His books are full of sad people with matter-of-fact and depressing approaches to sex, who live hard, sad lives and then die miserably at Dunkirk.

You know what was a circus story that I liked a lot? Mirrormask. And also, also Circus Shoes. Those were such nice, pleasant, friendly, un-soul-destroying circus books. On the other hand, Love Let Me Not Hunger made me feel mighty depressed, and if Water for Elephants had been a better book I imagine it would have made me depressed too since that circus is also depressing (P.S. If Sara Gruen was not hugely influenced by Love Let Me Not Hunger it would surprise me). It is way too sad to read these stories about circuses that can’t sustain themselves and the owners are cheapskates and the animals starve.

Basically Love Let Me Not Hunger is a book about a little circus that goes to Spain, and while they’re in Spain there is a humongous fire (other things I don’t like: massive circus fires in fiction), and there are insurance issues, and anyway what happens is that most of the circus leaves the country to go find other jobs while they’re waiting for the insurance money to come in, and the animals and five of the circus people are left behind. One of them is a nice sweet man called Mr. Albert who looks after the animals; one is an asshole American horse guy; one is a dwarf with dogs (hi, Sara Gruen!) who murders a horse later to give the meat to his dogs (ew); one is a horny British horse guy called Toby; and one is a sweet angelic girl called Rose who is madly in love with Toby and really likes the animals. Toby and Rose have matter-of-fact depressing sex and the animals starve for like, God, such a large portion of the book, and she goes and prostitutes herself to pay for food for the animals and then Toby finds out and throws her out and then Mr. Albert sells himself to this big creepy rich lady in exchange for her paying for the animals’ food and oh my God is it ever depressing.

Yeah, but don’t worry, because eventually Toby falls very in love with Rose too and then there is a touching scene in which he proves that he really cares about her by letting her have an orgasm too, that lucky duck. Then they run away together but Mr. Albert has to stay with the creepy rich lady forever because he promised. Yeesh.

Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen

Heard about this because it was one of those books that is always on front shelves at Bongs & Noodles.

I know it is contradictory to say that I enjoyed this and then file it as an unfavorite, but it’s true. I enjoyed it in that I carried on reading it all the way to the end, so I guess something about it must have been interesting and absorbingish. Basically, the story is narrated by an old man who is slipping in and out of the present into his past, when he worked as a circus vet in the Depression. (I don’t like the Depression. I know that everybody didn’t like the Depression, but I just want to go on record as disliking it.) There is an elephant and an crabby midget and a pretty girl and some crazy people. I love circuses (in theory – I have never actually been to one). I really wanted to like this book. I really really did. I’m not just saying that.

It’s just – I didn’t give a shit what happened to anyone. The guy’s two best friends get killed by the crazy circus people, and I just didn’t care at all. I didn’t care if the elephant got killed; I didn’t care if the chick stayed with her crazy-ass husband or ran off with the narrator; I didn’t care about anything that happened to anyone, ever. And you know, that isn’t really the mark of a great novel.

The concept was interesting, a Depression-era train circus and its wild and wacky adventures, but it wasn’t worked out at all well. The transitions between the bits with the old guy in the nursing home and the bits of his past that he remembers are really, really not smooth (mostly), which has led me to believe I can (and will!) do better with such a frame. There was a very unfortunate combination in this bookydook of excitable prose and unbelievable relationships (I don’t know if that’s the right adjective, but my point is that there was nothing the least bit realistic or moving about these relationships), which gave the novel a feeling of fantasy rather than history. In a way that might be a good thing, but because it was a historical novel, it made the history bits sound made-up, and everyone worked together in a painful congruence to make this book seem childish and very unfinished. Which is a shame, because I think there is a fascinating book in there somewhere, and I have no doubt that the truth about Depression-era circuses is most riveting.

Pooh.