Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Possessions - Sara Flannery Murphy

At the risk of sounding like a cooking blog writer, I'm going to start this entry with a personal and only vaguely related anecdote.  When I was an impressionable youth attending a liberal arts college at the tender age of 18, I had the brilliant and economically sensible idea of taking a course in Canadian women's literature.  I think it was supposed to be my fun elective, since I liked reading and had already proved the semester before that I was terrible at art.  I don't remember much about the individual books that I read, but I do remember that the overarching theme of the class seemed to be women aged 21-35 who had a lot of issues surrounding fertility and motherhood.  Every book had some brooding heroine who liked to hang around water and dream about babies.  At 18, this was unfathomable to me.  Having had the mantra of "DON'T GET PREGNANT" drilled into my head from all directions from 6th grade onward, the idea that at some point people actually tried to get pregnant on purpose seemed false.  I thought to myself that hanging around water and imaging the lake as my uterus wasn't going to make me want a baby anytime soon, and also that it was fairly unhygienic.  Maybe the water or the babies were metaphors, I don't really know.  I was 18 and had moved from one farm town to another even more farmey town, so I knew nothing at all.  



The Possessions is not written by a Canadian author, but it does feature water, brooding, dreams, and babies.  I loved the premise right off the bat.  The setting is almost recognizable as our own modern day world, but with slightly less reliance on technology.  The main character is a medium, and her job is to channel the dead for her grieving clients.  No one seems to think this is quackery, and the entire process is facilitated by a drug called "lotus."

At first this seemed to be a mostly gothic story with slow pacing, but with the plot of a murder mystery. One of the rules the mediums and clients are supposed to adhere to is that they're not to channel people who've died by suicide or violent means, The main danger appears to be that the spirits might come through with a desire to hurt their host bodies, or they might just take over permanantly. 

Our main character, Edie, has been working this job for about five years and appears to have no real life of her own outside of the lives she lives for her clients.  It's obvious from the first chapter that there's a Big Dark Secret Past she's hiding from, and I was very excited to learn why someone else would choose to spend their entire lives blacking out and letting dead people use their bodies.  It would be a different story if the medium could experience the spirits' lives during the sessions, but in this story the medium disappears entirely while the encounters are taking place, and if they do remember anything of their spirit visitors, it's usually a pretty bad sign.

Naturally, Edie starts having hallucinations and dreams almost as soon as she channels her handsome, mysterious client's dead wife.  The wife is said to have drowned as part of an accident, but Edie is smart enough to realize almost immediately that there's got to be a lot more to this story.

Let's go to spoiler town here, so I can can get to my outragey rant.  The dead woman (Sylvia) was clearly not the innocent drowing victim she appeared to be, and the husband (Patrick) was less than forthcoming with the society of mediums when he told them why he had to contact his wife.  There's a whole sequence of Sylvia taking over Edie's body without the aid of the lotus, and soon Edie is channeling the wife in an effort to build a relationship with the husband, Patrick. This is like a love triangle gone competely bonkers.  Is Edie really in love with Patrick, or is is it the dead wife living through her body?  Was Sylvia having an affair?  Was her death an accident?

Both.  Yes.  Maybe but probably not?
Sylvia turns out to be living a double life, and she attempts to break up her lover's marriage when she finds out his wife is having a baby.  Sylvia has come back through Edie to seek her revenge from beyond the grave.  Because, surprise, she's not just pissed that her lover has dumped her for his pregnant wife.  Sylvia ALSO has baby fever. Of course she does.  
And guess what?  Edie has baby fever, too!  What are the odds?  
I had to google the author to see if I'd accidentally stumbled across my old nemesis, Canadian Womens' Lit again. Surprised to find the author is from Little Rock, I briefly entertained the idea that SHE was the real medium, channeling an author from the Great White North.

Naturally, Sylvia's former lover decides to crack the seal on Edie's secret life in order to separate her (and Sylvia) from Patrick.  Revenge for revenge!  This novel goes from gothic thriller to Lifetime Original in about two chapters. To redeem this, I needed Edie's deep, dark, secret past to be something terrible.  Something grotesque.  Some kind of plot twist.  Anything other than....

OH GOD, IT'S MORE BABY DRAMA. 
Edie, suffering from severe depression, had accidentally miscarried months after a suicide attempt, and it was unclear if the suicide attempt was the cause of the miscarriage.  No evidence.  So naturally she was given the treatment she needed and appropriate counseling.  

Hahahahahaha!   Because this book is just a little dystopian future, not one person offered comfort or sympathy for Edie and her mental health.  No, she was pretty much just reviled, blamed, and chased from her former life for "murdering" a baby.  She was arrested and almost charged with murder.  
Patrick finds this out and leaves her.  Rather than telling him to go jump in the lake and drown like his dead wife, she APOLOGIZES to him.  

It gets worse.  Patrick accuses her of lying to him, and of keeping a secret life from him.  Yes.  The man who lied about his dead wife's violent death despite knowing of the risk to the medium, the same man who seduced the medium and had sex with her as both herself AND his dead wife, that man is mad that she  didn't prostrate herself at his feet and weep tears of forgivensss for having 1. clinical depression and 2. a very common type of miscarriage.  An illness and miscarriage that happened before he met her, and which had nothing to do with him.

When. Did. This. Become. Atwood?  I signed on for a thriller!

I realize that the author was probably going for feminist outrage here, understanding that it's far more terrifying that ghosts who need drugs to take over the living.  Women face this kind of horrible puritanical fetus worship constantly.  In real life, women are seen as little more than host bodies to channel the unborn.  Much like Edie is little more than a host body to channel the dead relatives of her clients. If I were back in freshman English, I'd be high-fiving myself as I typed that last sentence. Of course Patrick is a trash bag, and almost all of the men in this novel turn out to be garbage humans.  Sylvia, still lurking and occasionally possessing Edie, knows that Edie is now pregnant with Patrick's child.  And Sylvia, who also wanted Patrick's child, uses her ghostey powers to protect Edie from her illness so that they can have the baby.  

There's a strong thread of sisterhood running through this book.  The mediums and the most complex characters are women.  The few male characters are either horrible, or barely described at all.  Throughout the novel women are helping each other survive in what seems to be a tough economy.  In the few instances where it seems like a man may be coming to resuce one of the female characters in some way, he fails spectacularly.  There's also a thin murder mystery thread separate from the Sylvia/Patrick story that turns out to be one of those moral grey areas when we finally discover who did it and why.    

This book also feels like it's a commentary about how women give so much of themselves to help others.  Not just as mothers, but for other people in general.  Even as Edie is planning to run away with Patrick and have his baby while also channeling his dead wife for his sexual pleasure, she feels guilty that she's letting her other clients down by not allowing them to use her body anymore.  In the end, Edie realizes she's only happy when she's giving herself to others.  And this is...good?  Good that she's happy?  Messed up that her sense of self is entirely dependent on her giving up all of her autonamy for others?  Is this supposed to be a compromise?  

The good:  I loved the writing and the tone, and I like that it didn't end with some trite love story.  It ends with a woman starting a successful life on her own tems, if by "on her own terms" you mean that she's still sharing her body with another woman.  

The bad:  I just don't know that I can forgive the fact that the murders of the grown women in the book seemed less dramatic in the end than the (accidental) miscarriage.  For that kind of build up, I'd been hoping for a Psycho style ending, with her keeping Sylvia's bones in her living room or something.  The Atwood style ending wasn't what I was expecting from the creepy start of the novel. 

When you've braced yourself for almost supernatural horror, it's hard to reconcile a social commentary ending.  

I rarely find myself so conflicted about a book, which is why I wanted to write about it.  I both loved and hated parts of this story, and I'm still thinking of it a few weeks later.  I suspect this is the mark of good writing, and my reaction to it was probably what my literature professor was going for all those years ago. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Devil Wears Prada - Lauren Weisberger

I know this post is about 16 years too late, but sometimes it's fun to go back and re-read something that you've already read, just to get a fresh perspective.  So what was my first thought upon my re-reading (well, re-listening) to this book?  TEXTING.  That's right, this book, which is so centered on a woman who is basically glued to her cell phone, was written in the days before texting was widely popular and available.  So many of her interpersonal problems could have been resolved if she'd possessed a smartphone.  I think I'm getting ahead of myself here.

The Devil Wears Prada is rumored to be loosely about Anna Wintour and the demands she placed on her assistants at Vogue.  I'm not sure if this is true or not, and it doesn't matter, since the personalities involved would have had to be embellished enough that no one ended up being sued for defamation. Or maybe not - I know I've worked for some wackadoos, and I certainly recognize a lot of the behavior demonstrated by antagonist Miranda Priestly.  Sometimes people get so used to having their asses kissed that they forget it's because the people doing the kissing WANT something from them.  I want to shake those people and shout "you're not special, you just have firing authority!"  Which of course I won't do, because I do not have firing authority.

I don't think this is a hot take, and it's certainly not a snappy one because I've consumed two of Costo's finest house brand night time sinus pills and I feel like I'm typing through a soft layer of cotton balls.  I'm on the fence about whether this medication actually relieves sinus pressure, or whether it just makes me kind of soft and foggy and occasionally weepy with just the tiniest sharp edge of paranoia so that I don't notice it anymore.  This may be a just me thing, but last time I took these pills I ended up noticing that one of my dogs had more grey on his muzzle than I'm used to seeing.  This alarmed me enoumously, and I sobbed about the relentless and merciless freight train of time for about two hours.  I group texted my girlfriends and called my boyfriend and was an emotional disaster until I ended up crawling into bed and snuggling my grey boi, who was decidedly not pleased with my sweaty cuddling since I'm what is known politely as a "hot sleeper."  You'd think I'd have thrown the medication away, but I don't like wasting money and I still have most of a bulk case left so here we are!  Hot mess express!

Anyway, not a fresh or particularly sharp take on this book, but here are my thoughts:
1.  Everything seems dramatic at 23.  Andy, our heroine, agrees to take on an insanely demanding job for a woman who is, to use today's favorite unprofessional pop sych terminology, a narcississtic sociopath.  I realize that was the longest sentence in the world.  I'm also not going to go back and spell check that, because in my head I started to type Mississippi and I just went with it because it felt fun!  THANKS, KIRKLAND COLD & FLU.  She's lead to believe that if she can stick out this absolutely horrific job for a year,  she'll get a reference to work anywhere she wants.  She has dreams of going to The New Yorker, and this will save her years of work and is an almost guaranteed job.  I think this is a pretty mature decision for 23, and she went into it with a great attitude.  Unfortunately, because she's 23, she's not yet emotionally equipped to handle confrontation.  Instead of rolling her eyes and knowing that it's temporary, as people keep telling her to do, Andy lets it eat away at her and feels herself morally superior.  Listen, Andy.  You're the one using someone you hate to get a job you want.  It's a business decision.  Treat it as such. 

2.  Andy's friends are dicks.  She tells them repeatedly, and specifically, that she is on-call 24/7.  Her boss is insane, she's not allowed to have a personal life, she's going to have to cancel plans, she's going to be too exhausted to do things.  Her friends, boyfriend, and family all refuse to believe her.  They assume she's exaggerating because she works in fashion, which they consider frivolous.  This leads to Andy, who isn't good at confrontation or boundaries (see #1), to go on guilt trips that make her even more passive aggressive and bitter at work.  Listen.  If someone in your life expresses the reasons why their life is hard?  BELIEVE THEM.  It doesn't matter if you think you have it worse.  It doesn't matter if you think the reasons their life is hard are stupid.  This isn't the struggle Olympics.  Her boyfriend gets a special place in boyfriend jail for being annoyed that she can't have phone conversations in the middle of the day, and for not caring about her boundaries because he feels his job teaching is more important than her job assisting someone who's running a large sector of the local economy.  He's pretentious and self important, Andy.  Dump. His. Ass.

3.  Andy's internatlized guilt makes her blame herself when her best friend Lillie, who is struggling with depression, downward spirals.  She blames herself for not being there for her friend and she feels like she could somehow have prevented the incident that follows.  In re-reading this book, I call shenanigans.  Despite being busy, Andy still regularly sees her friends and boyfriend.  She shares an apartment Lillie in the second half.  No, they're not spending all weekend together, but she's there.  She even brings up Lillie's self destructive behavior and asks if she needs help. Lillie brushes all of this off, and blames Andy for not being "supportive," while at the same time criticizing how seriously Andy takes her job - the temporary job that Andy has made clear is going to land her a fantastic career for the rest of her life.  Yeah, Andy, I don't think you're the problem.  Also, serious note, if someone you love is struggling with depression, you can be supportive and listen and try to help all you want, but it won't cure the condition.  You can't good-listener someone out of depression, and you can't force them into therapy.  Sometimes the closer you are to them, the harder they push you away.  It's not the popular thing people want to hear, but it's true.  Andy is 100% not at fault for Lillie's issues, and Lillie isn't either.  It was a crappy situation for everyone.

4.  Just like you can't cure a friend with depression, you're not going to passive-aggressive your boss out of being demon spawn.  Sure, you may present your boss with a clock or calendar and try to explain the concept of linear time to them, or you may try to explaint that you're not a mind reader.  They really don't care.  They just don't.  You can have one or two conversations about managing expectations right off the bat, but if it doesn't take at the start it's never going to happen.  You're either going to have to live with it or move on.  In Andy's case, she didn't quite make it the full term but it didn't really hurt her in the end.  There's a very fictional quitting moment that reads as pure fantasy, as though all of us collectively walked out of all our worst jobs.  She lands on her feet - not really a spoiler, since she's from a well off family in Connecticut.  The Andys of the world always land on their feet. 

If this book had been written today, Andy would have had a calendar and her email right at her fingertips.   Instead of her needy boyfriend dumping her because she couldn't make personal calls in the afternoon with her boss in the next room, Andy could have just texted or sent him a quick emoji here and there.  She could have vented her rage on Twitter instead of internalizing it and suffering all kinds of mental anguish.  She could have handled many of the communications issues much more quickly and efficiently.  Of course, I can also argue that if her needy boyfriend didn't respect the difficulties of her job in the first place, she should have just dumped the boyfriend in chapter four. 

I'm also much less interested in fashion than I was when this first came out.  I've been listening this book and its descriptions of late 90s/early 2000s clothing in the background while I do domestic chores in a pair of men's sweapants that I've custom cut up to fit just the way I like. The secret is to remove the elastic at the ankles so that the pants can lay flat over the top of  your slippers.

This was a fun, light re-read now that I'm older and have more experience with with workplace.  I don't know that I would have had the guts to stick it out as long as Andy did, because at 36 I have something that Andy did not have at 23:  cynicism.  Andy took it for granted that she'd get her dream job in the end.  I wouldn't have trusted a boss that awful to do anything as beneficial as writing a reference. 

Until next time, readers, I leave you with these words of wisdom:  every boss will be terrible at some point in your career.  And if she's really terrible, you can write a tell all book and sell the movie rights. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas

Have you ever found yourself faced with a writing project and no idea how to start? Have you ever experienced the uncomfortable realization that everything you write is going to be a reflection on your personal life in some way and that people won’t believe you’re writing a character, even if that character doesn’t resemble you in any way? Have you ever written something for a creative writing class that started along the lines of “the author put pen to paper, but words wouldn’t come.  She bounced a tennis ball against the floor ten times, trying to come up with a different character name on each bounce.  She slept with her pen under her pillow and showered with her tablet in a plastic bag.  One glorious autumn day she awoke to the sounds of geese calling overhead on the migration route, and their brazen honking acted like a tissue might on a stuffed up nose.  She ran to her computer and without preamble, started to write....”
My god, we’ve all done it. We are all GUILTY of that bilge. We’ve all been that self-inserted character, writing pure garbage with the hope that at some point, something of value would emerge.  We’ve all discovered that the best way to write something good, or memorable, or even therapeutic, is just to sit down and do it.  Just write.
This is the whole point of NaNoWriMo.  Stop telling everyone how much you’d love to write a novel one day and just sit down and write one.  No deleting, no editing.  30 days, a beginning, middle, and end, at least 50,000 words.  It won’t be good, but it will be written. 
I’ve tried to convince a number of people to participate in this madness with me every year since I started.  Most people say the same thing - that they don’t have time, or that every time they’ve tried their work has turned out nonsensical.  Listen.  I managed to complete NaNoWriMo one year while working full time and going to night school, and I did it in the stolen moments.  In the times you’d take a cigarette or snack break, a full lunch at work, watch TV before bed, spend scrolling Twitter, sitting on the toilet, all of those minutes add up.  Those stolen little minutes can create a whole life within your life.  I wrote my novel using Google Docs, although I’m sure any cloud-based writing program would work.  You can do it on your phone or tablet while standing in line at the store, or waiting in the doctor’s waiting room.  It helps, of course, to have a good outline beforehand so there’s no wasted time. You just glance at your outline for the next scene or plot direction and write for five minutes.  
I wrote a lot of terrible things that year.  Because the goal is to write 50k words, sometimes my characters would do things like debate what they were going to eat for lunch. I could easily write a couple hundred words debating which was the best menu option at Taco Bell (the beef nacho cheese chalupa if you’re not counting calories, duh).  It didn’t matter exactly what I was vamping about, somehow that chalupa would turn up in later chapters and become central to the character or the plot.  Just the act of writing something down turned into ideas for future scenes, and somehow I got to 50k in about 1667 words a day.  Some days more, some days less.  It’s just like eating a pie.  Most of us don’t sit down and eat a whole pie at once, but I sure can finish a pie if I’m telling myself I’m just having a nibble with each meal.  
This brings me to Scarlett Thomas. Scarlett Thomas writes books that you will either love or hate, depending on your mindset and where you are in life.  They tend to lean heavily on philosophy and have elements of fantasy or mystery in them.  There are also personal insertions that pop up from book to book and seem to run parallel to what she’s told us about herself in various interviews.  I remember reading PopCo and rolling my eyes pretty hard at the strong push to veganism - it was so heavy handed I wanted to hurl the book across the room at the time - but there was also a really interesting spy element, and overall I loved the book.  Interestingly my least favorite of her books is a dystopian/utopian YA style novel where a bunch of people end up stranded on an island.  I remember thinking that a new utopia isn’t really all that great if they don’t strand a good surgical dentist on the island with everyone else. Nothing can make you miserable quite like persistent worsening tooth pain. I found this lack of dental care to be completely unrealistic, and yet I wasn’t bothered at all by the completely realistic book with the talking mouse and mental video game simulations.  I may be critical, but at least I’m inconsistent!
Our Tragic Universe is a book I really hated the first time I read it.  It’s about a writer struggling to write - looks like someone took a MFA writing class, har! - and who completely deletes and re-writes her novel based on whatever is happening in her current life at the time.   It’s about “storyless stories,” a phrase that I still loathe, even though I’ve come to love the book.
I’ve never claimed to be the fastest racehorse, but my perception of the book changed completely when I re-read it and realized that the book about the self-inserting author, which is written by a self-inserting author in real life, is a metaphor for how we live our lives.  That every time we change our circumstance or pick up a skill or learn something new, we can rewrite our story from the new perspective we’re in.  
There are large chunks of dialogue between the main character, Meg, and her intellectual friends where they talk about plot devices and storytelling in general, and each of these conversations makes it back into the book in some way.  They discuss Chekov and the gun - if you introduce the gun in the first act the the gun has to go off in the third.  Within the book, there is an obstacle that is brought up in the beginning and is revealed at the end of the book.  There are plotlines that seem to go nowhere.  Is that sloppy writing, or is the author telling us one of those “storyless stories” they all keep banging on about?
It’s easy to hate Meg, to say she’s unmotivated, whining, and capable of making all the changes she needs to in her life.  It’s easy to hate the deus ex machina resolutions to some of the plot lines.  You can hate her all you want,  but she’s very real.  A person who is living with people who are immersed in depression can pick up the traits themselves.  It might  not be chemical, but unhappiness is contagious and can really sap anyone of basic decision making skills.  If you hate Meg, please take a look at some of your own non-choices.  And as for the deus ex machina element, I think that’s extremely realistic.  So many big things in our lives happen randomly.  It’s the difference between taking the plane that doesn’t crash, or interviewing for the job that turns into your career.  
There’s also an element of moral ambiguity to the characters, which I always like.  What’s the point of saying you’re going to write a novel and then spending the whole time trying to push everyone into a modern morality play, with everyone acting in ways that are always mature and healthy and good for everyone? That would be one boring ass book.  
The last time I reread this it reminded me so much of participating in NaNoWriMo that I had to tie them together.  Meg is dealing with deadlines, a personal life she feels trapped in, and she feels creatively bankrupt.  But she keeps trying.  
As much as I enjoy this book, there is one MAJOR NO NO.  Meg deletes.  She writes, deletes, and restarts over and over, year after year.  This is the number one cardinal sin of NaNoWriMo.  Never delete your word count, Meg.  January is for editing.  For now, just shut up and write.  

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Emma - Jane Austen

Is there anything in the world more deliciously fun than rubbernecking other people's personal drama from the outside?  I'm sure that there are a few pearl-clutchers amongst my readers who may be saying sanctimoniously to themselves "Well, I never gossip or judge other people.  You just don't know their circumstances."  I'm here to tell you, pearl-clutcher, that you are a hypocrite.  Just because you're not saying it out loud doesn't mean you're not thinking "If I had a fight like that with MY sister in law, I certainly wouldn't put it on Facebook!" And that may be true - you might not put it on Facebook.  But you're sure as hell reading Facebook and rubbernecking the drama, just as the rest of us do.  Sometimes I like to go in and stir up drama, then sit back on my heels and watch it all play out, just for kicks.  "I see that you don't want to talk about it, but you sure love posting it on Facebook" I might type on a young cousin's status, then I sit back and watch the angst.  I'm so glad that I got old before social media became a THING.

In Jane Austen's day, there was no Facebook.  Their gossip was spread through an in-personal social network.  An analog Facebook, if you will.  It wasn't instantanous, but because people lived in small communities where they saw each other every day, gossip and speculation could still spread pretty quickly.  Your whole life could be confined to this very social circle and because people had to take care of each other, your business was automatically everyone else's business.  

I know that readers generally either love or hate Emma.  I think that it's her most modern story, and that it holds up to the test of time better than many of her other books.  This is especially apparant when you watch the movie Clueless, which is a cinematic masterpiece disguised as a silly high school love story.  Watch it, I'm serious.  

Emma is the story of a young woman who was basically the OG of young women in her small community of Highbury.  When I say small, I mean that there were only a handful of families in her social class within a reasonable distance from her home.  Emma has never left this home, where she lives with her doddering father and until recently, her governess.  

Emma's dad, Mr. Woodhouse, is written as a charmingly eccentric, gentle soul.  He's prone to health anxiety.  If Mr. Woodhouse was here today, he'd be that middle aged dude who says things like "back in MY day we put butter on burns, and I see no reason to stop it now!"  He's also the type of person who thinks that if he doesn't like something, that no one else could possible like it or should do it either.  Mr. Woodhouse thinks that he's perfect and everyone should be just like him - stay at home, wrapped in quilts, and never have any excitement or fun.  He's profoundly against marriage because he's widowed, and since he can't imagine remarrying, he doesn't see why anyone else should marry either.  

To Jane Austen's credit, her characters know that he's a kook.  They like him because he's genuinely concerned for everybody and wants everyone to be happy, but because he can't imagine any happiness other than what works for him, they make allowances for his piss-poor behavior.  Mr. Woodhouse in 2018 might benefit from some medication.

Emma has sworn she'll never marry, party because she really hasn't met anyone eligible.  Of course, it would also upset her dad, and she's a total daddy's girl.  Despite this, she's considered very eligible and thinks quite highly of her station in life.  She's the richest, most accomplished ingenue in town, although Austen as narrator admits that this is largely because town is so small.

The drama starts when Emma's governess decides to get married, as you do.  This upsets Mr. Woodhouse a great deal, and as Emma has spent most of her time with her governess, she becomes lonely and bored.  A bored, arrogant young woman is a dangerous person.  She soon turns her attentions to a woman of lower social rank, a Miss Harriet Smith. 

Harriet is described as a total babe, but she's of dubious parentage and basically lives at a boarding house.  She's not very smart, but she's incrediby sweet and kind.  As she is also young, she's in the habit of falling in love with every man who bats his eyes at her.

This is another odd Austen quirk.  Because of the short window of marriagable age and the small communities, people pretty much made up their minds to marry people within a six week period.  I won't get into the social class structure of the time, because it's complicated and very boring.  I won't criticize it  either, because there were good reasons for it back in the day.  The point is that you might meet a half a dozen people who were considered "eligible" to marry, and if you didn't want to or couldn't live with your family forever, you'd end up with whomever sucked the least.  This is not really all that different from modern day dating.  

Anyway, Emma gets her claws into Harriet and decides to improve her.  She drags Harriet from the boarding house at every opportunity and invites her to social mixers.  She teaches her an appreciation for a finer life, and gets Harriet to set her eyes on the eligible bachelor of the moment, a Mr. Elton.

Mr. Elton is a ridiculous man.  He's over the top in his gentlemanly manners.  We all know the type, don't we? The guy who thinks he's a ladies man - his manners are so obvious that we know they're for show, and we know that he thinks he's making panties drop across the room whenever he slides out a chair for a woman.  Men - just be normal, please.  Well, in Austen's day, panties didn't quite drop, but there was quite a bit of flirting through conversation and games.  Unfortunately, because most of this happened in the presence of other people, this could be ambiguous.  To flirt outright would be too forward and rude AF, but if you were too effusive in your manners to everyone, people might get confused as to who you are flirting with.  

Emma's longtime family friend, Mr. George Knightly, warns Emma about this outright.  "I know you think you're pushing Harriet in his way, but we don't know who her parents are, and you're setting her up to fail" he might say.  Or "are you sure Mr. Elton isn't really in love with you?"  I'm paraphrasing, of course.  Emma rejects this and tells G-Knight to stop criticizing her.  

One of the most perplexing things about this book to me is that G-Knight constantly tells Emma she's too big for her britches, too sure of herself, too arrogant, while being exactly the same himself.  He's 17 years older than she is, and has seen more of the world, so it makes sense that he's often right about things.  But when he criticizes her personality, it's hard not to snort.  Yeah, dude, Emma's the only egotist in this book.  Hah!

Because this is a pretty universal trope, of course Mr. Elton IS in love with Emma.  Emma, who finds him ridiculous, rejects him in what I thought was a very appropriate and modest fashion.  Mr. Elton, who thinks very highly of himself, does something I have personally witnessed from modern day men a number of times:  he throws an angry tantrum.  Moments after declaring how wonderful she is, he turns abruptly and starts screaming about how she's beneath him, anyway.  It's the olden times version of a man calling a woman hot, and then screaming that she's an ugly c-word the minute she says she's not interested. 

Harriet, who has been pushed into this drama by Emma herself, and who has actually rejected someone she was really interested in but who Emma deemed lowly and crude, is crushed.  Emma realizes that her meddling is terrible and it has to stop.  Immediately!  She will turn over a new leaf.

Hah, amiright?  Mr. Elton storms off and returns several weeks later, with a new bride.  The brand new Mrs. Elton is the best character ever.  She's from another small town, smaller even than Highbury.  Her brother in law is the wealthiest household in their town, and so she constantly compares everyting at her new home to her old home.  This is mostly funny because she's so obvious and horrible about it, but also because the people at Highbury (Emma) who are offended that she'd DARE compare Maple Grove to Highbury (Emma) are themselves being snobs for assuming that Maple Grove ISN'T just as nice.  Mrs. Elton is horrible for other reasons - she knows the Emma/Harriet love triangle story and goes out of her way to shun and embarrass them socially, and so does Mr. Elton.  Harriet really dodged a bullet.  My favorite bit of snobbery by Mrs. E is the way she constantly name drops her brother-in-law's model of carraige.  The baroche landau.  This is like the way my former smarmy boss used to hand me the keys to his very, very used car and say "don't dent my Mercedes!" as loudly as possible, so that the guy who managed whatever gas station we were at could hear and be impressed with his third-hand finery.

Fortunately for Emma and Harriet, there are other new people in town upon which to fixate.  Mr. Frank Churchill, the son of the man Emma's governess has married, and Jane Fairfax, Emma's imagined rival. 

For family status and snobbery reasons, blah blah blah, Frank Churchill has been raised away from his dad and has developed an outrageous personality quite independent of his dad. Frank has been riased by rich relatives, so while his own birth is rather modest, he's been moonlighting with an upper class aunt and uncle, so his social status is a bit ambiguous.  When he comes to town from London-adjacent, he's a breath of fresh air to Emma, who is instantly charmed.  They flirt openly and brashly, and for a time, Emma is infatuated with him.  Mr. George Knighly, G-Knight, dislikes the foppish Frank instantly.

Jane Fairfax, our other newcomer, isn't really new.  She's from Highbury originally, but has been living out near Frank and claims to know him slighly from parties out yonder.  Jane is everything Emma isn't, which means that Emma is insanely jealous of her except for one fact - Jane is poor, and will be resigned to having to work for a living, after being raised amongst finery and the upper classes.  This is sort of simliar to Harriet, who was raised amongst the working class but who is now being introduced to higher society.  The difference between them is that Harriet is quite simple and happy amongst the lower classes, and Jane is brilliant, reserved, and very musically talented, and so she doesn't fit in with the lower classes to which she'll be resigned.

One of the overwhelming themes of this book is that status jumping can be very, very difficult, except for the opportunity of extrordinary circumstance.  It's easy to want to say this was the snobbery of old England, except that it's still pretty true.  Every time I attend a professional function and overhear people talking about how they worked their way up in the world because they had to pay for their own law school becaue their parents were ONLY paying for undergrad, I know that I am out of my depth.  This was even something I discussed with a therapist, the additional difficulties heaped on relationships when there are different backgrounds shaping your values and expectations.  This shit was REAL, and Jane Austen was a pretty good judge of human nature.  It's no wonder she never got married. 

Anyway, as immature as Emma is, she's incredibly self aware.  She knows she doesn't like Jane because she's jealous, and she knows that she should pity Jane for her social position, but she doesn't care because she's young and petty and used to getting her way.  I really identify with Emma. 

Frank and Emma even mock Jane from time to time, although through the course of the book Emma realizes that she's really more friends with Frank than in love with him.  They both love to gossip, and they both speculate wildly about why Jane has left the bosom of the wealthy family who was educating her and why she's back at home now.  They both predict that it was SCANDAL! 
Interestingly, as Emma cools a little towards Frank, his behavior becomes more brazen towards her.  It's not consistent, though.

G-Knight, our old friend, asks Emma if she thinks this is weird.  "Do you think he's making fun of Jane because maybe he's concealing something?"  G-Knight asks.  Emma declares that G-Knight is an old bossy pants and tells him to mind his business. 

Mrs. Elton, too, senses that Jane and Emma aren't the best of friends, and has taken Jane under her wing.  Mrs. Elton goes out of her way to make sure everyone knows how charitably she feels towards pooooooor Jane, and also goes out of her way to try to get Jane a job.  This might be nice, except for the fact that Jane tells her no REPEATEDLY, and although she's too polite to throw Mrs. Elton out of her house, she's pretty direct in saying no. Mrs. Elton disregards this and SIGNS HER UP FOR A JOB ANYWAY.  God, Mrs. E., no means no!

G-Knight and Harriet, meanwhile, have struck up a bit of a friendship.  He feels awful about the way the Eltons are treating her and also feels that Emma has My-Fair-Lady-ed her into a position where Harriet will not be fit for any spouse, being raised above her rightful station.  Harriet, so damaged by the Eltons' public abuse, falls in love with G-Knight. 

When Harriet tells Emma this, she loses her shit, inwardly.  She's forced to confront the fact that she loves G-Knight, as he's been the only person in the world not to spoil her or tell her how fabulous she is when she's really only average.  As I've said, Emma is pretty self-aware. 

Frank ends up confessing that he's been engaged to Jane the entire time and was hiding it by acting like an ass.  Harriet ends up with the first man she was in love with, the one Emma thought was unworthy of Harriet even though they both loved each other and were of simliar stations.  And Emma ends up marrying G-Knight, and they decide to live at Highbury with her dad while he is still alive, to avoid rocking the boat. 

Mrs. Elton is HIGHLY critical of their weddings, not being nearly so fancy as her own.

I love this book and I've loved every adaptation I've see of it.  There's a 70s BBC version that's way too slow paced, but has the best Mrs. Elton I've ever seen.  She shows up at every event bedazzled out the wazoo, like a drunk gold-digger on a cruise.  At the end of the story, Emma, Frank, Jane, and G-Knight laugh at the parts they played in the drama, but forgive each other, because they know that human speculation is part of life and is inevitable.  They do promise to be less outwardly deceptive, but they don't really apologize for the gossip.  They all know that they're going to continue to gossip forever, because there's nothing else to do.

I vote that from now on we re-brand gossip as "human interest," and try to villify it less.  Who's with me? 





Saturday, July 14, 2018

Hello again! - The Year We Turned 40, by Liz Fenton

So you know how when you have a blog online, it has to be “hosted” somewhere?  Well.  This was news to me.  A few weeks ago, my boyfriend Jasen pointed out that my website was no longer working.  “Huh” I replied.  “That’s weird.”  I then forgot about it for several days.  Eventually I made a few half-assed attempts to login, and by that point, even WordPress couldn’t locate any of my stuff.
Jasen asked me if I wanted help.  He approached me in a wary fashion, the  same way I approach wild geese.  I’m sure he was afraid I was going to accuse him of mansplaining, which to be fair, I’ve done about half a dozen times.  Jasen is a very patient man.
 “Who’s hosting your website?”  he  asked. “I have no idea” I replied, assuming that he’d look at my registry information and figure it out in half a second.  But alas, it appears that no one was hosting grownassbookreports.com anymore.  Apparently if you use one of the types of WordPress, someone ELSE has to do the hosting, and, I don’t know, honestly my brain makes a loud BRRRDDDDDDDTTTTT whenever someone starts getting into details about coding, or hosting, or anything tech related.  
“Did anyone else have access to your site details?”  He asked, determined to make me be helpful.  “My ex-husband?  He set it up.”  I said, completely unsure if that was even true or not.  Had I changed my password?  Had I needed to?  It wasn’t like it was my bank account or anything.  Jasen gave me a LOOK, which I totally deserved, given that the week before I’d confessed to accidentally mailing my own house keys to someone.  It’s a long story.  Anyway, I assume that at some point the person who set up my site and who does websites professionally switched hosting services, transferred all his own domains, and mine got lost in the shuffle.  This was an extremely long opening story to try to explain why the site was down.  I apologize.  
I came here to review The Year We Turned 40, by Liz Fenton.  I’m not entirely sure why I checked this out.  The blurb said it’s a book about what you’d do differently if you could repeat a year of your life.  It sounds heartwarming and life affirming and not at all like something that would interest me.  Sappy as maple syrup, would have been my initial assessment.  However, the fact that right after I checked out the book I ended up sobbing to the Practical Magic soundtrack while binge eating salty almonds tells me that my hormones were in control, and the hormones, they make me do things that seem out of character.  Sometimes it’s fun to just let it ride.  
This book opens with three characters who are turning 50 and who are filled with regret over the last decade of their lives.  Gabriella wishes she’d been able to convince her husband to have a baby, Jessi is still hung up on the ex-husband she cheated on, and Claire is struggling with her adult daughter and the death of her own mother.  All three characters feel that the year they turned 40 was the year that their lives started to spiral.  On the evening of their birthday, they meet a magician and are given the opportunity to go back one decade and try to work out some of the mistakes they’d made that year.  Then, at the end of the year, they could choose to stay in their 40s or they can go back to the present.  The women are hesitant, but see this as an opportunity to bring some of their wisdom back with them.  This struck me as hilarious, because I worked with a woman who was in her late 50s who always told me she wished she could go back to when she was younger so she’d have her hot young body but she’d have her wise, awesome middle-aged lady brain.  I wanted to say “going back with your current knowledge only works if you’re not still an idiot at 55, KAREN,” but I did not, because I’m not a complete and total dingbat.  
It would be easy - and bad - storytelling to have the women go back in time far enough that they could avoid their entanglements entirely.  Gabriella could tell her husband she wants children before he’s already adapted to life without them, Jessi could skip her one night stand, and Claire could be more strict with her daughter and get her mom to the doctor for regular tests before the cancer sets in. This book doesn't do that.  The characters go back in time to the day after their combined 40th birthday party, and at this point, the mistakes have already been made.  
The characters talk a lot about the differences between 2005 and 2015, no iPhones being a major adjustment.  I hear that.  I use my google map to navigate everywhere.  I know some Gen X-ers are rolling their eyes and saying that people today can’t think without their phones and that if we were less reliant on them we’d be better with things such as navigation but the truth is that in 2005, even when I didn’t have a google map, I would mostly just drive vaguely in the direction I was supposed to go, hoping I’d hit a major landmark at some point.  I spent a lot of time driving around, insisting that I wasn’t LOST, I was headed NORTH.  I fooled nobody.
One of the best aspects of this book is that the characters aren’t magically any smarter or better because their minds are older.  They still make some dumb mistakes.  They still try to cover their own butts.  They’re just better at confronting the issues earlier because they’ve already lived the life where they did nothing and watched things fall apart.  Because of this, things still go to shit, but they go to shit sooner, and in different ways.  
Obviously things work out, because this is feel good fiction.  They don’t necessarily work out the way the characters think they will, but at least no one is stuck with a decade of regrets.  At the end of the book they decide to stay in their 40s, having learned some things about conflict resolution.  All in all, this was less syrupy than I expected and surprisingly realistic about some of the bad stuff about life.  Some things just won’t change, and you’re going to have to deal with it.  
I have one major complaint about the book, and that’s the windup to Gabriella’s baby storyline.  Gabriella is an author who was very open with her husband and family that she didn’t want kids, until Jessi has a baby.  Gabriella sees the baby and -  boom!  She wants a baby!  Is this a thing that happens?  Women turn 40, see a baby, and decide right there that they need one too, like it’s a fancy purse or something?  I get where the author was going, and she writes a really good storyline where Gabriella, former wonder woman, goes banana-pants and pushes her husband into trying to conceive.  Because after a decade of her husband trying to manipulate her into having kids, of course he’s changed his mind.  They are both dysfunctional people who should probably not be making babies.  I enjoyed the downward spiral here, but the spontaneous baby fever that started it made me roll my eyes so hard I saw stars.  
All in all, a good audiobook, if you’re not a stickler for the authenticity of English accents.
I’ll try not to lose all my work again, but no promises!  I’ll be reposting some older reviews that I had backed up, once I figure out how to do that.  If I could go back in time, I’d be better about password security, knowing how websites work, and organizing all my saved backup work files.  Lesson learned, Liz Fenton, lesson learned.  

Friday, April 22, 2016

Life by Committee: Corey Ann Haydu

 I’m not sure if it’s that my brother is now working for the company that services the Ohio Digital Library’s e-book app and is screwing with my account, or if the makers of OverDrive use some kind of crazy psychic algorithm for book recommendations, but for some reason I’m being presented with an assortment of crazy ass novels every time I log in to choose a new ebook or audiobook.  On one occasion I logged in to see two books recommended to me, one was “What’s Going on Down There” and had some youths on the cover looking down towards their crotch areas, and the other was “The Chocolate Wars.”  Given that this recommendation popped up on the first day of my period I was understandably spooked, and also a little crampy and hungry for chocolate.  
        “Life by Committee” popped up under the mystery/suspense category and while there are some elements of mystery inside, I don’t know that I would categorize it as either a mystery novel or a suspense novel.  The premise is that Tabitha, a 16 year old, is going through a period of depression after her friends all drop her the moment she starts becoming attractive and developing an interest in boys.  As she is feeling socially isolated, she turns to a website where you can vent your deepest, darkest secrets, and you are given assignments or challenges to help you act on the desires that drove you to those secrets in the first place.  The website has a small number of members and they all encourage each other through their challenges.  This provides the emotional and social outlet she needs as she becomes increasingly alienated from her parents and her few acquaintances at school.
        Now those of us who are a little older and wiser will immediately see that right off the bat, expecting people from the internet to help you manage your life is not generally a great idea.  I mean, look at Boaty McBoatface.  I hear that the English government is forcing a re-name of the boat that was initially named through totally legitimate voting, and that’s a crying shame.  I mean, if a country won’t even allow the results of a citizens’ vote to stand when it comes to boat naming, what other results is it ignoring?  The people of England should protest and also make lots of comical signs for my amusement!
        Very few YA books can keep my interest for too long because I find the main characters to be nauseatingly sweet and good.  I feel like many YA authors writing female protagonists feel obligated to write Mary Sue style role model characters, and we all know that this is complete BS.  I believe this trend started with Jane Austen writing about Fanny in Mansfield Park.  Fanny needed to grow a pair, fam, and I don’t know why our culture insists that we have to keep making our female girl characters these austere models of purity and moral decorum. Teenage girls are awful.  I was awful, you were awful, your daughters and your sisters were probably awful.  It’s just how teenage girls are.  This book sparked my interest immediately because the main character is so real.  I read several reviews online where people said that they liked the book but hated the main character, and I have to question why.  Sure, she chose to pursue a boy who had a girlfriend.  Sure, she was a terrible listener to her best friend, because she was too wrapped up in her own drama.  She’s sixteen.  That’s what sixteen is.  And if you sanctimoniously think “I wasn’t like that when I was sixteen!”  you are lying to yourself.  Seriously, go ask your family.   If you think you weren’t an ass at sixteen, you’re probably still an ass now.
        There were some things in this book that were not standard for YA novels, and that’s what sets this one out from the crowd.  First, Tabitha is attractive.  She’s not one of those quirky charmingly clumsy girls who can’t understand why boys like her because she thinks she’s super unfashionable and plain and blah blah false modesty.  Tabitha has developed early and well, and she doesn’t apologize for it by dressing down or pretending boys don’t like her.  She loses her high school friends because they’re jealous of her and the attention that she’s getting, and they’re very sneaky and catty.  They slut shame her so subtly, telling her that they think she’s boy crazy and that she’s demeaning herself with the way she’s dressing.  They pretend they’re so concerned for her, all that typical crap plain or slow developing girls say about the ones who grow up the fastest.  Tabitha knows immediately that this is sour grapes and I like this.  Sure, she struggles with wondering why people don’t like her, but she also takes their words with a grain of salt, and is realistic about what’s probably going on.
        I also love Tabitha’s family.  Her parents are youngish (32) and her mom is pregnant with another baby.  They are a wonderful family and it’s clear that Tabitha’s angst and feelings of separation from her parents have nothing to do with her parents being inadequate or unfair or uncaring, but from her parents having their own lives outside of Tabitha’s immediate day to day actions, and from their own problems within their marriage.  In so many books the parents are used as a foil for the teenage protagonist, and in this book her parents are dealing with real issues, such as a dad who is refusing to take on responsibility because he doesn’t want to grow up, and a mom who has enabled this sort of behavior for sixteen years.  The storyline that plays out between the parents is almost as interesting as Tabitha’s storyline.  
        The way Tabitha stumbles onto the Life by Committee website is mysterious and fun, too.  Tabitha is a voracious reader and loves to read used books with notes and personal musings in the margins.  I googled this and it’s called “marginalia,” and I’m totally going to do it next time I read an analog book, before passing it on to someone else to share and mark up with their own notes.  She mentally makes friends with the people who are commenting in the books and so when one of the books has a URL for the Life by Committee forum in the back, of course she follows the link and signs up.  This appealed to the mystery lover in me.  Will she find her mental soulmate/best friend on this forum?  Is it fate?  How is it that this appears at the time she needs it most in her life?  Will Tabitha finally find some friends and some people who truly understand her?
        Even the concept of the forum where Tabitha becomes a member so she can start sharing her secrets seems fairly realistic and I could see many people becoming swept up by the concept.  This is how it works: your membership beings when you enter a secret on the website and are assigned a challenge, something related to the secret to help you live your best life.  If you don’t complete the assignment, your secrets are publically revealed.  This is an ongoing, thing, one secret per assignment, meant to help you overcome your fears and limitations and live your life without rules.  How romantic is this crap?  It’s like that therapy style where you overcome your phobias by immersing yourself in them.  Only with more boys and fewer spiders.
        Tabitha’s initial secret is that she kissed a boy who has a girlfriend.  She and this dude stay up all night chatting on the internet, developing strong internet romance feelings for each other, but they generally keep their distance at school during the day.   As things escalate, they begin to get bolder in real life, culminating in a kiss.  Tabitha knows that she’s screwed up, because this boy has a girlfriend.  She sends him an email telling him he can’t continue to pursue her unless he cuts ties with the girlfriend, but then she signs up for the website and spills her secret.  Of course her first assignment is to kiss him again.  She feels some moral pangs, but the members of the group encourage her to pursue the relationship.  After all, not all boyfriend/girlfriend relationships end up in a marriage, and many marriages are the result of someone leaving one person for another, right?  They justify this until Tabitha does it, feels a rush of power and control, and posts another secret.  
        The thing about being challenged to confront the things that are deeply secret to you is that sometimes those things are secret for a reason.  The challenges become gradually more and more horrible, and in fact, some of them seem downright wrong.  The group leader insists that there is no “wrong” or “right,” and that the goal of the group is to help them live their best lives – that doesn’t always happen from doing the “right” thing all the time.  He encourages selfishness and even as the group members argue about the method, there are some who insist she has to stick with it, and that it will work out in the end.  It’s a little cult-like.
        As is bound to happen, things fall apart both at school and at home.  Tabitha becomes even more isolated because she can’t talk about the group with anyone, and her activities are now isolating her even further from her family.  She’s being pushed to pursue activities that she knows are wrong, but she’s operating under the principal of “I know I should do this but I waaaaaaant so baaaaaaaadly,” which is how I feel when I’m confronted with large amounts of dairy.  Of course because this is fiction, bringing the problems in her personal life to a boil results in them rapidly cooling off and eventually everything falls into place.  Tabitha finally confronts her biggest fear – that no one will like the real her -  not because she’s a crazy boy chasing slut (according to her former friends and classmates) - but because she’s not a likeable person.  She reveals all of her secrets in a public school assembly and, miraculously, everyone else in the class gets up and follows suit.  Her biggest fear is that deep down she is unloveable, and she learns that EVERYONE does bad things from time to time, or thinks horrible thoughts.   She makes peace with her arch rival, and finds a respect she didn’t believe she deserved.
        This is precisely why I don’t understand how some reviewers can hate the main character so much.  The whole point of the book is that everyone is a little awful, some of the time.  We’re all hypocrites.  We all have secrets.  We all act on impulse.  We need to do some of those things to learn and grow.  
        I really liked this book.  This may actually be one of the best books I’ve read all year, and it was a total left-field recommendation from my crazy OverDrive app.  There were times I identified with the sixteen year old main character and times I identified with her thirty two year old parents.  I even understood the bullies.  There was some great character development and the whole thing was just very real.  I will certainly be reading more from Corey Ann Haydu.  Well done, lady.  You’ve written something that even I can’t snark about.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Lois Duncan Book Dump: Daughters of Eve, The Third Eye, and Down a Dark Hallway

 I know this is a book blog and not a personal blog, but I must admit that sometimes the lines blur.  Last night my best friend asked me if I’d considered journaling as a way to experience some relief from some recent personal sadness.  I told her that I’m awful at personal blogging for the same reasons I’ve outlined a number of times already on this book blog, and that I’d been seeking a creative outlet in fiction.  She was pleased to hear about this particular blog, but I don’t think she really considers it “journaling.”  If only she knew that part of my fiction refuge has been teenage thrillers written in the 70s and 80s by Teen Thriller Queen Lois Duncan.  These books have everything a woman in her thirties could want, provided what a woman in her thirties wants is a strong female lead and some spooky drama that eventually gets wrapped up in a pleasing way by the end of the book.
        I picked out Daughters of Eve based on an OverDrive digital media recommendation, and until I was part way through the audiobook I didn’t know that the author was the same woman who wrote “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”  In fact, there were things about Daughters of Eve that seemed incongruous and I later realized that it’s because the book was written in 1979, but the audiobook version had been updated to include things like texting and the internet.  I hate when publishers do that.  Most of us are smart enough to know that time existed before technology.  Reading is a way to get in touch with the past, and sneaking in modern technology just ruins that.  
        If you can remember the moment that you realized that women, no matter how far we’ve come, are still held to the idea that our REAL work is just popping out babies and getting dinner on the table, then this book will fill you with rage.  Obviously, it’s hyperbole, and yes, it’s filled with some over the top preaching on a subject that’s made some progress since 1979.  Still, if you’re a woman, or if a woman you know has ever been told that the thing that’s “wrong” with your life is that she doesn’t have a baby to “put things in perspective,” or that she’d be less confused if she stuck to her traditional role (both things that have been said to me, by the way) this book will make you want to set everything on fire.  
        
        There’s also a flip side to the gender norm bucking trend here. As the teenagers in this book rebel against old fashioned notions, they slip too far to the other side.  They assume sexism where none exists, and they take action in ways that are vengeful rather than productive.  I’ve read that some people think the mixed ending of this book is anti-feminist but I don’t think that’s the case.  I think it’s a book about using your brains to take appropriate action to rise against injustice.  The characters who crossed the line paid the consequences.  Those who kept their heads down and proved people wrong by improving themselves rather than trying to change others had happy endings.  Sure, you may want to murder someone who has made your life completely miserable, but you’re going to get caught.  Ladies, take it from me.  Murder isn’t the answer.  What you want to do is make this person’s life a living hell. Drag it out, day by day, for the rest of their lives. The best way to do that is by educating yourselves and grabbing little personal power.  If these girls had relied on things like blackmail and damage to their boyfriends’ and dads’ credit scores, they’d have gotten much further ahead.  Or would they?  I mean, obviously I would never encourage anyone to do anything illegal, but…well, crimes have to be proven, don’t they?