I read a lot of heavy things, mostly in research. For a while, doing so placed me in quite a slump that I’ve had a hard time getting out of. It’s mostly just academic texts and folklore for writing research and inspiration, so leisurely reading has been difficult to get into. And yet, while I was still working at the bookstore in receiving, I stumbled across a beautiful color of skyscrapers and stars, and a premise that began and ended with music.
Welcome to the Cerebral Hedonist! I’m your Scholarly Squid and here comes a stellar thought on:
The Sound of Stars is a sweet and fun little story of Janelle “Ellie” Baker, a young girl living in the aftermath of a massive alien invasion. All humans have been pushed into interment installations and all of our creative media have been confiscated and destroyed. Art in any form is illegal and anyone discovered with it face death by hanging as a demonstration. Having to navigate this dark new world, Janelle chose to become a rebel in her own way as her building’s secret librarian. She loans her personal collection of books in order to offer relief to others in these dark times and knows that if caught, her life would end. However, Janelle could just do nothing, living by the moto of “they can control how we die, but now how we live!”
Enter M0Rr1S, a manufactured version of the invaders meant to look and feel like the subjugated race in order to better conquer it. He discovered Janelle’s secret library and falls in love with a book of hers. Thus, he feels a meaningful connection with her spirited, yet subtle rebellion and enlists her to help him in obtaining his secret love: Music.
Through unfortunate mishaps, Janelle and M0Rr1S embark on a cross-country road trip to save humanity, never realizing that saving the earth doesn’t lie at the end of their journey, but in the connection, they form with stories and catchy tunes!
Alechia Dow is literally too pure for this world and so are her ideas. While originally from America where she worked as a librarian and has a detailed background in culinary, Alechia currently resides in Germany with her adorable daughter and husband. You can catch her tweeting and instagraming her delicious creations, participating as a mentor in #pitchwars, and writing a sequel as well as delving into Food Fantasy! She’s a big nerd and the sweetest little cosmonaut I’ve ever had the pleasure to interview. Not to mention her daughter is adorable. She hopes to bring happiness and some fun to the world she writes, keeping things lighthearted for those in dark times! It’s good goal to have when you’re competing with all the things wrong in the world and I believe she can do it!
I didn’t realize this was something I needed until I read it. The right type of simple, the right type of sweet, and the right type of hopeful! The Sound of Stars provided a kind, light hearted journey of discovery between Janelle and M0Rr1S as they learned each other and I learned them. While it did show some racial and social justice issues, they were delivered in a way that showed why Janelle became the young woman she is. It did well to show how even in the most dire of circumstances, the nature and inner prejudices of others are not guaranteed to suddenly change. Janelle feels true-to-life as a girl growing up in Brooklyn suddenly thrust into upperclass high-society area. The prejudice she and her family faced and the affect it had on them before the invasion. It embittered Janelle and makes her question if she truly wants the old earth and old humanity back.
On the other side M0Rr1S’s perspective – cleverly written in 3rd person – grants a voyeuristic quality to his narrative. He has no privacy due to his connection to what is essentially a hivemind. Showing emotion is dangerous for him, to the extinct that he could be “terminated” should he say or do the wrong thing under all those eyes. Often, he is not allowed a choice as other can simply press into his mind and thoughts at any time they please without his permission. His only solace is the music he has collected illegally from earth. He only solace is his love of the music of earth he managed to secretly collect. He allows himself to fall in love with the sound of earth and nurtures his desire to save the planet in any way that he can. His character is refreshing as many times the male protagonist is designed to be stoic, aloof, and often standoffish. M0Rr1S is the most happy-go-lucky guy I’ve ever read. He wears his heart on his sleeve where all can see. It actually can be a bit overwhelming, especially for poor Janelle who is trying to reconcile her vision of the alien overlords and… well this ball of sunshine and sparkles in front of her. However, M0Rr1S is very determined and carries a heavy burden to the end of the world. He is happy to have someone to share it with and help strength his resolve to do what he must.
Janelle and M0Rr1S are the products of their environments and share a resistance in letting it control them. Each of their perspectives are beautifully unique and cutely written. Everything about this story is very character-driven and positive foot forward. It’s easy to tell that the focus was never on the horrible future Janelle and M0Rr1s may face at the end, but on the connections and empathy that can be shared between two people even if they’re literally from different worlds! It pts pleasurable read that can be cleared in a couple days (one if you’re like the wife) and it leaves you with a fluffy, floating feeling like perfectly whipped meringue.
Honestly, I don’t have many complaints. It is very much a teen novel in its purest form and reading level. Fast paced read as the focus is on the story than trying to impress with metaphor. Dow’s crème puff personality shows vividly in through her word choices, descriptors, and references. You can tell which scenes are very important or loved by how much more goes into them. My only wish was that the novel had actually been a bit slower in its pacing. As it is a quick read, the event go by a bit faster and would’ve loved a bit more of a slow down and vibe in some scenes as well just tiny bit more introspection in others. Surprisingly, I would’ve wanted more screen time for 0rsa and Br1xton and wished I’d gotten more scenes or at least a bit more to them – perhaps I will in the next book! Overall, character development, romance, and structure are good. I feel Dow will get better and improve with each word and book she’s allowed to write, and I want more than anything for that woman to be allowed to write. The positivity in her writing is something we need.
I loved this book. I think there will be some who find it not to their taste because of the strange notion that Scifi requires a lot of science and action – especially in alien invasion type stories. In reality, it gave me the nice chill down I needed from all that academia reading as well as instilling me with a very new light and warm sense of hopefulness. To describe it, this book is fucking adorable! It brought me back to appreciating the Young Adult category and gave me just what I needed among all the serious fiction and allegories about blackness and suffering. Dow gave me a black girl who wasn’t in a state of constant suffering. Where her skin color, her experience, her traumas made her who she was, but did not define her and did not take away her happiness and will to do good for her world. Having black characters in sweet, hopeful narratives, having them be happy are so, so important and it hurts that these are not the stories that publishers want? That they want more of the Hate U Give. That they want more COBABs, that they want more Dear Martins, etc, etc. That they want more of our anger and our hurt.
That’s why I will hype the living hell out of this book as well as its sequel and any others that for once just let a black protagonist have an adventure that doesn’t end and begin with a metaphor about their skin color. I want to see more stories like this where even if things aren’t quite okay, the love and happiness are not just bittersweet interludes between pain on pain on pain and taking on the world. But rather just something that we can escape into that doesn’t look so much like our reality already. I think anyone who reads The Sound of Stars will be filled with the same warmth and sweetness that Dow poured into it. I hope the sequel gives that and much more.
So! I’m asking from the bottom of my heart to check it The Sound of Stars (( LINK )) and give it a chance. She deserves some attention as the debut of this gem was buried by COVID. It’s been out less than a year, so let’s turn it around. Make it so we can show that happy black adventures sell too!
I do have a Connecting Worlds interview coming up with Alechia on October 25th! So mark your calendars so you can enjoy this wonderful person as much as I did!!!
It’s been such a wild ride with hurricanes, blackouts, and bad mental and physical health all around! BUT, we did it! I am happy to announced two projects that have taken months of blood, sweat, and tears with sprinkles of what’s left of my sanity on top!
That’s right! On October 25th and October 26th all of you get to see what’ve been pouring all my energy and hopes into! I’ve been gushing about and finally RESULTS!!!! I’m so proud to have gotten this far and actually pushed through to the completion of a project (much less TWO!) and I truly can’t wait to share them with y’all and hear what you think. Do keep an eye out! Mark your calendars!
But most importantly!
Make sure you FOLLOW this website for updates and SUBSCRIBE to My Channel!!!
I have a confession to make. I have a severe problem with most YA Fantasy that begins and ends with Bad Writing, Weak World Building, and Boring Characters. I’ve read more YA in the past two years than I care to admit and out of all of them, only two of them have managed not to disappoint me. Unfortunately, they were both contemporary YA. YA Fantasy tends to fail often with me, especially of those of the self-proclaimed high-fantasy variety. Whether it’s the lack of cohesive worldbuilding, the hyper-focus on flimsy fast-paced romance, or drudging plots. So, when something comes along that not only subverts my expectations, but exceeds them…
Well, I just might want some sugar with my coffee!
Welcome to the Cerebral Hedonist, I’m your Scholarly Squid and I’m about to gush all over this review of,
((Warning: I’m about Hype cause this book snatched all my braids out!))
Blood Heir is a Young Adult High Fantasy set in the Cyrillion Empire – a Russian inspired country/empire. It tells the story of a lost princess, a corrupt monarchy and government, and an oppressive class struggle. It sets itself as a reimagining of the historical figured Anastacia Nikolaevna Romanov and while you will find some things similar to the more romanticized aspects of the lost Duchess, that is where any connection ends. Blood Heir follows Anastacya Mikhailov, a disgraced princess and fugitive thought to be dead by her empire. She seeks to find the man who framed her for murder with the help of the dastardly dashing disaster that is Ransom Quicktongue — a criminal in his own right and a conman who is on a revenge path against those who betrayed him.
However, it is not so easy as simply capturing their target, because you see, Anastacya has something thing uncontrollable working against her — her affinity. Affinites are people born with supernatural abilities and subjugated by empire Anastacya is an heir to. She happens to have one of the rarest and most dangerous affinities in existence, a blood affinity. Charged with the murder of her father, the Emperor himself, by way of hemorrhaging, Anastacya is forced to become acquainted with the true face of her empire and the pain brought by the trafficking and oppression of Affinites while warring with the monster inside of her. She and Ransom function as two morally gray protagonists who flirt with good and evil both outside and within!
Amelie (Pronounced Ah-May-Lee) Wen Zhao is a Chinese Author who has, like many of us, been making up stuff since she was able to hold a pen. Though she was born in Paris, she was raised in Beijing within a diverse, multicultural community where she later attended an international school. This, I believe, is where she was able to emersed herself into other worlds and cultures and languages thus becoming such an incredibly unique storyteller. As I have interviewed her, I can honestly say she is a LITERAL fucking ray of sunshine! She has such a positive outlook that its almost a fault, but it makes it easy to see why she writes such intricate and complex characters. Now that she is writing full time, she will be delving more into fantasy and continue to push the limits of her imagination.
Let’s tackle the elephant in the room. This book had a rough start prepublication. People swarming over something foolish that someone said and feeling the need to prevent its publishing and honestly, I’m glad they failed. Once I finally got a hold of this book and read the first chapter my whole world stopped. Not because I was blown away by some holier-than-thou prose, but rather that it was written so tightly and the imagery gave me something to grasp on to. I was placed into a small piece of the world Zhao had created, given an instance and an event that led into the opening of the larger world. THAT was something I hardly get to experience so smoothly in YA fantasy and it wrapped me around Ana and Ransom’s fingers easily. Their perspectives on the world they inhabited were vasty different. Ana realizing how dark and sickening the empire she and her brother were meant to rule was and Ransom discovering there are parts of it worth fighting for even as he tries his hardest to remain aloof and apathetic.
Cyrillia is a solidly built world steeped heavily in Russian culture and while some may find the names for things a bit jarring if they only lightly step into fantasy, but an avid fantasy reader you’ll have no issue with acclimating to the world and its words. The intrigue is slow – not sluggish, only slow. It’s the type of burn that isn’t meant to explode into a super massive climax, but rather show the ups and downs and turmoil the characters have to face. Much if it involves playing the parts of people that Ana hates and being at war with the violence and trauma inside of her and Ransom playing a careful game in which he must balance Ana’s trust with his desire to return to his former life. The conflict within them is absolutely enrapturing and Zhao is not afraid to allow her characters to do evil things in order to achieve their goal. She’s also not afraid to allow them to feel the damage of their actions and how it affects them as well as the people they’re meant to help.
The romance itself is certainly done very well. There is no insta-love. There’s more of an enemies-to-lovers feel as neither of them trust each other and Ransom spend a good chunk of the book intentionally playing Ana for his own means. This was perfect because they knew nothing about each other. Absolutely nothing. It gave time for them to learn, grow, and figure out that there’s some parts of each other and themselves that they can’t fix or change without a healthier path. This could’ve easily been a toxic dynamic, but instead they came out to be the greatest power couple I’ve read in a while and SPOILER: they don’t even kiss or get together in the end!
Instead you’re treated to a new level of trust between them that is healthy and important to show between younger people. That they don’t always have to start off as absolutely crazy about each other. That you both can be flawed and down right broken in a way in which you can’t help but use against each other. That in the end, its okay to take it slow and let it simmer. Zhao does some good relationship building.
Honestly, trying not to spoil it is extremely difficult because there’s so much I want to talk about but lets get to my favorite part!
Amelie Wen Zhao put her damn foot in this book.
Young Adult often has a writing (and often editing issue) where you’re often talked down to by the writing and its issues are presented in the shallowest of levels. You can often spot many, many errors and issues that remain blatantly present in the final product. With the rush of YA series debuts to be pushed out in two years or less (not to mention having a new book damn near every nine months to a year) often follows a diminishment of quality. Considering YA is a well-fed market, it often doesn’t matter.
Then we have Zhao!
Firstly, this woman is talented. She has a great command of how and what she wants you to see and what she doesn’t. The execution of her plot threads is impressive for a debut writer and near immaculate for her chosen category. Even though this is very much a Young Adult story, it doesn’t sacrifice complexity, in-depth character development, and a slow burn in favor of surface level tropes. Her prose is surprisingly smooth and the events and intrigue of the plot flow into each other almost seamlessly rather than the choppy “and then and then and then” I normally encounter in YA fantasy. It reads as a completed story in that everything she shows you has its due payoff that does not disappoint nor comes off as arbitrary. What isn’t paid off leaves you wonderful hints for the coming sequel, Red Tigress (available pre-order, click here). Honestly her command of her own narrative and her characters creates such an immersive experience that I — who is often disappointed in the quality and flimsiness of many YA Fantasy world building and execution — am enthusiastic to embrace more YA fantasy in the same way Mary HK Choi has brought me to embrace YA Contemporary
NOW that being said. This is by no means a flawless work.
There are some points in which I wished there was more introspection for Ana and Ransom — more insight into their heads for each other their chapters at certain points. I do wish there was more presented of Ana’s trauma response to a character’s death — though I appreciate that it was not simply brushed off and moved on. The ending might grate just a little NOT because it’s BAD, but because it feels rushed. It felt like there is something missing towards the end (perhaps cut in editing) that felt important for the build up to the ending. It also felt a bit sporadic as though there was a need to finish. The court scene at the end was very hasty but even with these complaints, I will say it did not lower its rating for me. Zhao took me on a ride that I enjoyed from start to finish and even in the bumpy parts I was never pulled out of the struggle and romance of Ana and Ransom which is one of the most satisfying slow burns I’ve been allowed in a long time.
Needless to say, any flaws I’ve found are things that can (and I have a grand feeling they WILL) improve as Amelie Wen Zhao continues her career in fantasy writing.
Blood Heir deserved none of the egregious drama it garnered from the mob and, unfortunately, other YA authors. This is a wonderful book! One I’m so happy Zhao decided to release despite it all. Knowing that I could’ve been denied this makes something in me act because I truly, genuinely enjoyed this piece of storytelling and now, having spoken to the author herself, I love it even more. The writing, the world, the romance, and most importantly, the characters all fit together well and while it may not be the title on everyone’s lips, I feel that the people who read and enjoy my blog will find that this is a fantasy that is just for them, as much as it was just for me. I think the best description I have for it is that its SOLID.
Show some love to Amelie Wen Zhao and buy Blood Heir and pre-order it’s sequel Red Tigress! Support her because she about to do some amazing things both with this series and in fantasy and absolutely CANNOT WAIT!
There is a very strange little monster who lives just in the corner of my vision where I can catch glimpses of him when things aren’t quite right. I can hear him if he whines or purrs because he’s just that close where I can never catch him.
We spend a lot of our lives weaving in and out of each other’s lives without a second thought or glance backwards. We’re on a journey. We’re constantly seeking something that we don’t quite understand. A sort of acceptance of ourselves that we rarely get from other people. Even less from ourselves. The desperation in that search blinds us, isolates us, and often makes horrible decisions for us. All of this because we are searching so hard. Sometimes the desperation is so real, we don’t notice that our journey’s end is right in front of us. That our acceptance is right there. But, maybe its because we just aren’t ready for it.
Welcome to the Cerebral Hedonist, I’m your Scholarly Squid, and here comes a perfectly normal thought on…
((This is a review of the Book, not the Hulu Original Show))
I hadn’t heard of this book until it was put on my stores “Book of the Month” and the idea was to pick one and recommend it to people so that it can sell. Being who I am, I can’t in good conscious try to push a book that I know absolutely nothing about. So I picked on that matched my checklist of interesting premise and was short enough to get through in a timely manner. So, I ended up with Normal People. I was not prepared and neither are you!
Normal People tells the story of two ordinary people named Marianne and Connell. Even their names are super plain. They live in a small town where everyone is young, dumb and horny, but most of all everyone is in everyone’s business.
Thus, you have eccentric and socially isolated Marianne, who breaks so many of the rich girl tropes of being “pretty and popular” by just being shunned. She is an outside who is socially awkward and considered everything between stuck up and weird. There’s not much positive in between. Then there’s reserved to a fault wedlock child Connell who is surprisingly well liked, but lives his life believing he has to walk the thin line of acceptance and ostracization. He lives in a state of internal anxiety over being judged while Marianne lives in a state of anxiety of never being loved. And thus, they discover each other and hurt each other. It becomes the most frustrating game of “will they, won’t they”, a game of “I hate you but I can never stop loving you.”, a game of “All the things I never said…”
And so, we explore the playbook of Marianne and Connell, an intimate playbook of life.
Sally Rooney is an Irish Author who was born in Castlebar, Country Mayo, Ireland. A mouthful. She attended the Trinity College in Dublin which is featured in her novel. There she studied English and was even elected a scholar there. Considered impressive, talented, and intelligent, she’s surprisingly decorated for her age. Rooney wrote her very 1st novel at 15 – which she thought was garbage, like most writers – and decided to start writing constantly in 2014. This resulted in 100K words in three months that went on to become her debut novel, Conversations with Friends. Ladies and gentleman, the baddest of bitches. She now lives in Dublin and is still constantly writing! She’s even working on her next novel and I can’t wait to read it and Conversations with Friends!
I’ve never met two people who frustrated me more simply because they are me. Normal People broke me on a subconscious level in only 278 pages. But to start, this is not a New Adult (whatever that menas for you) or a YA, like definitely not. It’s something that highlights the complexities and toxicity of our day-to-day interactions and assumptions, and further, how they shape who we are as people – as adults. The amount of self-discovery puts much of my own life into perspective and how maturity and wisdom come with age and experience.
With Marianne and Connell being so clumsy with each other yet obviously perfect for each other, it gets to the point of wanting to murder both of them. However, it gives a deeper understanding why they don’t know what to do with each other and its because they don’t know what to do with themselves. They are the result of too much pressure, too little validation, and no acceptance of who they are. Even though we the reader can say “oh my god, work it out already” or “just fucking talk to each other”, we are able to recognize our greatest flaws right down to the words becoming caught in our throats. Normal People begins and ends with a song about life about life, about interaction, and about communication.
I am so happy I was able to absorb this simple work of fiction. Never before have I felt myself and my never-ending journey towards the elusiveness of adulthood so fully represented. It was easily finding that you are not alone but also compartmentalize the frustration with your often feel with yourself and with other people. It reminded me that even when I’m worrying too much about the wrong thing or claiming I’m fully there for someone and love them, I am very much guilty of not listening, of not hearing the cries of help from others because I’m too deeply in my own head. Even worse when I am frustrated by my own cries not being hear, despite the fact that I don’t always say them out loud…
Normal People refuses to be an ordinary romance nor an over exaggerated piece of life and suffering. It refuses to be a meet cute in which the “will they won’t they” is caused and supplemented by a barrage of foolish, tropic misunderstandings. All of their issues, all of their miscommunications are internal! Internal and very real things that most often blind us to what’s right in front of us. But, when we are able to come out of our own head and clearly look at the world the way it actually is, not the way we fear it is, our journey ends and we find exactly what we’ve been looking for. Normal Peopleis very much about normalizing people, because at the end of it all, we are only that.
Much like Mary H.K. Choi, Rooney is very talented at saying so much in very few and very simple words. She doesn’t use quotation marks, which started out jarring for me and took a bit to get used to. However, once I found my footing it was like lightning. This book can be read in a matter of hours if you’re the type who runs through novels like a field of poppies. I am a slow reader who makes a lot of notes and absorbs slowly so it took me about four days between work and other projects. So definitely a quick read. But the important thing is how much of the writing is contextual. You cannot, I repeat, cannot skim this book. Gaining an appreciation of the nuances and depth hidden between the lines is something that can’t be rushed through nor achieved by skipping to dialogue only. Of course the no quotations format made sure you couldn’t. But the very real beauty of Rooney’s writing is not in her prose but in the subtle character interactions with society and each other. She creates a quiet place when portraying Connell and Marianne compared to others. Within the scarcity, or rather, bareness of their conversation lies an intimacy that is uncluttered by description. However, when they’re with others, when they have to confront themselves with others, Ronney is able to accurately portray the cacophony that ensues between the status quo and the “othered” by just portraying the conversation and actions and reactions. It becomes a certain type of voyeurism, if you will. This insight that by her use of words and implication, you are seeing the destruction and reconstruction of Connell and Marianne as though Rooney is spying on the lives of real people and can’t look away. Even more so, she is holding up a mirror and you are having to watch the very best and very worst parts of yourself playing out through two people you’ve never met.
Now there are some moments where there is a language barrier as I am American and this is set wholly in Ireland and written by an Irishwoman. However, they do not take you out of the story in the slightest. In fact, it makes the immersion deeper. The noting of the dates aided in immersion for me because I was able to relate fully to the time period. Rocking their earily 20s through 2010s landscape allowed me to identify much more with their mindset. Rooney writes for the working adult, the starving student, and the forever lost teenager that is turning 25-30 who still can’t figure out themselves and that is perfectly normal.
Normal People is one of those novels that, honestly, I feel was made specifically for me. That I was the target audience and thus was given the good grace and good fortune to read it. It was a surprising and unexpected piece of life that brought me eagerly from my reading slump and was a wonderful palate cleanser after the debacle that was American Dirt. Rooney grounded me and reminded me why I continued to do what I do. Why I continue to delve into social interaction the same way I dive into books even though I am disappointed more often than not. Because like Normal People, I stumble across people, conversations, and interactions that normalize my otherness. That normalizes me… That’s what this book is for. It’s normalizing our flaws and allowing us to grow from them to becomes just people.
Thank you for joining me today. I hope you found this Review enlightening and I hope you can experience Normal People yourself. If you like what I have to say and what I do, like and follow and don’t forget to support me on Patreon or Commission me on Ko-Fi, if you can. Things are getting weird out there and I’m unfortunately being affected by the weirdness. In the meantime, thank you always for this moment of your time.
As we all know, there are some very loud conversations going
on about diversity, representation, and, my favorite, problematic content. To
elaborate, that would be: does potentially offensive, and/or triggering content
have a place in creative media, (fiction, art, film, etc.)?
The Answer is yes.
The Answer is always YES!
Welcome to the Cerebral Hedonist! I’m your Scholarly Squid and here comes a thought on:
The Diminishing Human Element in Creative Media
The demand for diversity and representation in books (especially from the Young Adult community) has become a cacophony of who is allowed to write marginalized cultures, characters, and experiences and how that should meet an all-positive checklist. This checklist excludes any traits that could be socially negative that would, on the average character, humanize them and make them more realistic. Essentially it infantilizes the character, story, and reader. There are words for these that no one’s using: Tokenism and Gatekeeping.
As someone with a severe mental illness, I go into most movies that boast a character “suffering” from mental illness with certain expectations and it’s never good. Either the person is a violent, irrational killer because they have a mental illness or they’re an absolute savant that somehow makes the neurotypicals believe that the severely mentally ill are just secretly misunderstood geniuses waiting to be discovered.
I am neither of those things.
I haven’t really seen many depictions of mental illness that stray from these two polarities. Those that attempt tend to be from ages ago and don’t quite hit the mark. Shutter Island, A Beautiful Mind, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. They still tend to make me question how much research went into it. Then I’m reminded that there wasn’t much published research at the time and it certainly wasn’t required for authenticity. Now that there is, we have the chance to show mental illness in theatrical settings the way it “really” is. It can be true for some, overkill for others, but one thing is true: It is NEVER glamorous.
Welcome to the Cerebral Hedonist. I’m Harli V. Park and this is my review of Joker.
Joker is a character I went in as a fan of. His antagonism goes beyond the realm of just being against the hero, and into the dark, and lately, rarely visited area of pure evil. He is a character well-known and well-loved for his unapologetic and unjustified villainy set against any and every one. So when I heard a drama was being made about the polarizing character that dared to be an origin story, I was skeptical at first. Then, I saw the trailer. Within that trailer, I saw an homage to insanity, a symbolism of the downward spiral and after re-watching to catch every detail that drew me in, I knew I had to see it.
So I did.
Ironically, I actually teared up. Not in sympathy, but in response to how similar and far too true to life some things were for Arthur Fleck. In fact, in all the reviews, I have yet to see a person with a severe mental illness comment on those very real things. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m not going to spend a whole time summarizing as the trailer and interviews will give you the general story, so lets just skip all that and I’ll tell you what this movie was like for a low-income mentally-ill person and why I think it was amazing.
The story itself is not so much a great triumph of cinema as the acting of Joaquin Phoenix is. I viewed it less as a movie in the general sense and more as an intense character study of the Joker. Once you enter that perspective, you can see the genius of it and it opens you to a point of view you would not often take – the point of view of the “madman.” Most reviews and commentary are highly focused on what was real and what wasn’t and I feel that’s a disservice to the film in general. Everyone is so intensely focused on the madness of Arthur Fleck that they are not focusing on why the madness in Arthur spirals oh so dramatically and intensely.
The message is not about a crazy guy who lost his mind. It’s not about a society on the brink of collapse. It’s not about how the media glorifies violence to the point of desensitization. It’s not even about who is solely responsible for everything that went wrong with Arthur Fleck. All of these things are tools for the real point.
Throughout the film, you are given multiple instances where personal choice is the determining factor in a web of events leading to the “Rise” of Joker. It gives you the illusion of being just a series of random events with a lead character as the focal point. However, the events are not important. It’s the choices made by all of our supporting cast. The not so noticeable background players around him. Here’s the greatest Set Up of all time:
“Ever just have a really bad day?”
Joker opens with an unnamed clown dancing merrily on the sidewalk to ragtime piano. He appears completely out of place and out of touch with the grunge around him. He seems happy even in such a dour setting. He’s there to entertain you. A group of kids steal the sign he’s twirling and make off with it for no discernable reason. Rather than letting the store owner know what happened, our clown chases them down in a cartoonish sequence. In something that would be very comical in most circumstances – our clown is hit by the sign and then kicked and beaten in something straight out of a merry melody or a looney tune. In this, you get the first sense of brutality in the film and what’s to follow our clown. You later realize that the piano player doesn’t report what he witnessed; he chooses to say nothing. The store owner himself chooses to believe our clown stole the sign and abandoned the job rather than a bunch of ruffian kids made off with it in a cruel joke because that sign cost money, and he wants it from somewhere. Further still, our clown’s boss dismisses his side of the story despite having worked with him for years. Thus, you are introduced to Arthur Fleck: the avatar of everyone’s poor choices and lack of personal responsibility.
Whether or not the events in this film are real or all a part of Arthur’s afflicted mind, Joker shows you repeatedly the results of personal responsibility. This is what is all too real about this movie. From his mother never taking responsibility for her illness for the sake of her child to Thomas Wayne knowing a child was in the hands of a delusional, mentally ill woman – having all the power to stop her from hurting another innocent person and doing nothing.
You can ask, “Why is he responsible for what a batshit ex-employee is doing?”
Easy, because he knows that this is happening and has the power to do something about it. He chooses not to… with dire consequences later.
Everyone in Joker has power in some form that would stop the death of Arthur Fleck and the birth of “Joker” from ever happening. There is no responsibility taken by anyone within Gotham. Even the cleric in Arkham Asylum who hears Arthur Fleck admit out loud that he’s committed a crime doesn’t bother to contact law enforcement with what he just learned and the information needed on Arthur’s mother that would lead them straight to him. This passivity shown by all the characters around Arthur feeds into the downward spiral as Arthur relinquishes personal responsibility for himself and his mental illness. And why shouldn’t he? Everyone else has because everyone has their own problems – usually problems they, like Arthur, are not taking responsibility for either.
Joker shows such a batshit scenario that is so scarily true to life for the mentally ill that it’s easy to see how one not so strong can give up and give into their darker urges in order to be seen and heard in a cry for help that often is acknowledged far too late.
This is why I find Joker so fascinating and a work of art.
It’s not the technical aspects – though they play a huge part in conveying – but the storytelling that makes the life of Arthur Fleck as surreal and real as it is. There is no “glorification.” There is no “it was all in his head.” There was no “he was absolutely evil from the start.” There was only the choices and the stomach-clenching knowledge that if you are not the Joker in this scenario, then you are one of the supporting cast who had the choice to stop him and instead, blamed someone else for not doing so.
Bystander Syndrome is a bitch.
That is what made the Joker such a great and impactful display of mental illness, society, and the massive consequences of even the smallest things.
Joker is standing there telling you a really good joke…
And you’re laughing because it’s true.
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So, NaNoWriMo is the pinnacle I’ve tried to hit since I heard of it. That was like in, I don’t know, 2011? It wasn’t part of my writing expectations and I never took it too seriously until it became a habit. At the time, I thought that in order to be a real writer, I had to finish NaNo. Which is and isn’t weird because some of my favorite authors can finish a book in a month or don’t feel like they have to since they have so many other projects. But 50-thousand words in 30 days; how bad could it really be?
Well, I’ve never “won”!
I kept failing at it. Then, they added another month called Camp NaNo, then another. Both were meant to be less pressure with flexible guidelines. Even then I still didn’t get it done and god knows I tried. I would feel that weird sting of failure. It didn’t make sense to me. Realistically, I didn’t give two fucks and a Pop Tart about NaNoWriMo and I’d complete higher wordcounts in a manner of weeks before NaNo ever came into my life. Yet here, I was feeling a sense of dread every April, every July, and every November. Because if I opted out, I’d feel like I wasn’t taking what I was doing seriously. Seeing everyone doing it would make me feel like I’m lazy. So, I would opt in.
Doing it this year though? Tailoring it to one of the projects I’ve been excited for since Camp NaNo July, I realized what exactly the problem was.
NaNoWriMo is poison to me.
Let me explain before you pull out the pitchforks.
When I announced I was doing it, it was with dread, anxiety, and the set expectation that I would not finish it because what the hell is so different about this time as opposed to last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.