I don’t get enough time to read nowadays, and by “not enough time,” I mean that I can basically only read on the odd Friday night when I manage not to fall asleep after both kids have already succumbed. So when I purchased Stay Crazy, I was relieved to find that it was such a slim volume. Maybe sixty, seventy thousand words tops? I can manage that in one sitting! If I don’t sleep much, anyway.
It took me until 2:30am, and I enjoyed every minute. Satifka doesn’t waste too much time getting us to Savertown USA, the Walmart-like superstore where all the action happens, but by that time she’s already established our main character Em well enough that we understand where she’s coming from and can usually tell a hallucination from reality. Usually.
The plot is fun if occasionally predictable, but the greatest strength of Stay Crazy is its incredible depiction of paranoid delusions and the way those delusions mix with the sci-fi element to keep both Em and the reader off their game. Once we’ve accepted that there is an interdimensional being talking to Em, and another one making people kill themselves, every subsequent delusion becomes at least somewhat plausible. Escodex says there’s an evil mind-controlling entity around somewhere, but he doesn’t know exactly where. Could it be the TV quack psychiatrist Wes Summersby? Maybe! The reverend who leads Jackie’s cultish church? Quite possibly! Is Em being paranoid? Absolutely.
I don’t have much experience with schizophrenia, but working with dementia patients I have witnessed plenty of clinical-level paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations up close and personal. I have also been present for manic episodes among friends. At least from my limited experience as a witness and caregiver, the depictions in Stay Crazy ring true. There are plenty of times when Em sees and hears things that aren’t there, and she knows they’re not there, but that doesn’t make them any less distressing. Boy have I seen that with some Parkinson’s patients. There are times when her practical concerns are overwhelmed by mania and magical thinking. I’ve seen that too, and at least from the outside, Satifka’s writing looks spot-on.
The premise is great, the execution is great, the book is great. Highly recommended.
What an exciting day this is! Silent Hall has just received its first review, and what a review! I’m extremely flattered, and look forward to everyone getting a chance to read it!
Speaking of which…the Civilian Reader has kindly agreed to post an excerpt! If you want to read the first two chapters, which introduce two of my five main characters, you can do so here!
Seriously, it’s been a great day.
[Spoiler alert: this post will make you hate the show regardless of whether you’ve watched it or not.]
I’m a sucker for fantasy, especially on TV. If a show has magic and mythology in it, I will watch it way beyond the point where it jumps the shark. I watched through the first season of Merlin despite finding it to have some of the laziest writing I had ever seen. I watched the first season of Once Upon A Time even though the child actor annoyed the hell out of me and the main lead character was ludicrously naive for someone who was sold as bad-ass and cynical (I hear the show improved in season two, and the villains were great to begin with, but I just couldn’t bring myself to give it another try). I watched Misfits right to the end even though the show was a master class in idiot plot, had seriously problematic sexual politics, and its most entertaining character left after season two.
The point is, I often let my love of fantasy override my good sense and taste. But after nearly four seasons of watching Grimm, I just couldn’t do it anymore.
It wasn’t the characters, who were mainly two-dimensional. It wasn’t the repetition of lines and themes that weren’t even interesting the first time (“I don’t know much about his side of the family” ooh, mysterious). It wasn’t the endless complications that didn’t ever resolve themselves or give you a better understanding of the world of the show; it wasn’t the deus-ex-machina and general hand-wavery that the writers used to get themselves out of jams; it wasn’t the long, long parade of “wesen” that – no, it couldn’t be one of those…I thought they were extinct! Nobody’s seen one for a thousand years!
It wasn’t any of that. It was how the writers used sex.
If Misfits was a show that punished its characters for being happy, Grimm is a show that punishes its characters for having sex. And nobody is punished more cruelly or more senselessly than Adelind Schade. For those who are unfamiliar (hopefully everybody), Adelind is the show’s Scheming Woman. In the first season, she and police Captain Renard were secret villains, lurking in the background while they plotted…something evil. We never exactly found out what, because the (male) captain allied with the main character and was redeemed, whereas Adelind was vanquished and her witch’s powers were taken away. How, you ask? Well, the main character forced her to the ground and kissed her against her will; she bit him in response, and through the magic of handwavium, ingesting a drop of his blood de-witch-ified her. This was his revenge on her for having nearly killed his (police) partner…by having sex with him. I know, I know, I should have stopped watching then. It should have been obvious enough that things were not going to get better.
Well surprise surprise, things get worse. Captain Renard and Adelind’s mother treat her like a foolish child for having her powers stripped away, so she leaves the U.S. for some sexcapades. Also so that she can scheme with the remaining villains. It may bear mentioning that despite having turned against her former ally Renard, Adalind apparently has no information of actual worth to share with his enemies. Instead, she briefly returns in order to have sex with Renard and become pregnant (on the first try!) as some kind of a master plan.
But does she actually have a master plan? Of course she doesn’t. We know this because people keep telling her that she’s done something very consequential and dangerous, and that everybody will want to steal this politically important baby from her, and she is surprised every time. She is presented, for the rest of the show, as completely out of her depth.
Now as I said before, this show is chock full of unnecessary complications. Adelind leverages her important pregnancy to find an ally who can help her regain her powers. Then she goes through episode after episode of tasks that are completely punitive in nature (eating raw heart, etc.), all of which eventually result in her regaining her powers, although they also super-charge her baby and make the rest of her pregnancy hell. And now everyone wants to steal her baby even more.
How does she get out of this mess? Why, through the power, wisdom, and self-sacrifice of a bunch of men, of course. And at the end of a long and humiliating road, Adalind does in fact have her baby stolen from her. But it’s stolen by the good guys, so that makes it okay.
Well, she can’t get her baby back, but Adelind can still be all villainous, right? She certainly does her best. How? Sex, of course! She impersonates the main character’s fiancee, seduces him in that form, and thereby takes his powers away from him. For, you know, a few episodes.
You’re probably wondering, how did you ever get this far into the show, and if none of this outrageous shit made you stop watching, whatever could? I’m glad you asked.
This one sexual encounter with the main character gets Adalind pregnant again. All it takes is having sex once, people! Pregnancy every time. Sex has consequences. But worse then that is Adalind’s reaction: Oh no, not again! This can’t happen to me! Because apparently in the world of Grimm, abortion does not exist. Not even for villains! And I guess only the good guys use contraception? Either that, or their virtue makes them immune to unplanned pregnancy.
Adalind’s transformation over the course of the show is from somewhat stereotypical villainess to tragically incompetent, tragically abused villainess. And she has only herself to blame, because throughout the whole show, men are always giving her advice. To her credit she rarely listens to any of it, but then, perhaps that’s why she’s punished so severely. For a show based in Portland, OR, this show is somehow the least progressive piece of media I’ve ever come into contact with. And I’ve seen the occasional episode of Dragnet, which, let me tell you, has not aged well.
For all the talk we had this year about people giving up on Game of Thrones, it’s kind of remarkable to me that this show has slipped under the radar. This is a network show, people, and its ratings have been high enough that NBC has committed to a 5th season. Its viewership has actually been going up from season to season. For all of Game of Thrones‘ gratuitousness, it’s pretty even-handed with its misery. The same can’t be said for Grimm.
I feel I haven’t said enough to recommend Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings. Whether readers like this book or not (personally, I loved it), it is an undeniably revolutionary work of fantasy fiction, as tonally different from mainstream fantasy as Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was.
In the case of The Grace of Kings, the tone and subject matter are unmistakably Chinese. The heroes are based on characters out of Chinese mythic history. The armies of the Evil Empire are led neither by bumbling minions nor by brainwashed innocents, but by strategic geniuses and true patriots, doing their best to defeat the Rebellion for the glory of their beloved country. And you root for them at times, as they win battles and crush enemies despite having their hands tied by foolish (and evil) political leadership.
And the villain? Basically doesn’t exist. Even the Evil Emperor himself comes out vindicated in his aims if not in his methods, just like the king of Qin in so many kung fu movies (Jet Li’s “Hero” and Jackie Chan’s “Little Big Soldier” come to mind). The book is sweeping in its scale, clever in its execution, and more than anything, different. It gives a completely fresh view of what a novel can be, and although I don’t exactly wish I had written this book, I am completely envious of its originality.
Read it. You’ll be glad you did.