A few notes on the below:
- These opinions are mine and only mine.
- It is okay for us to have different opinions. No one is right or wrong, just different.
- Do not compare yourself to others.
Here’s everything I read, watched, and listened to during the month of March.
The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood
This is Atwood’s first novel. I think my experience reading this novel was soured by having already read a lot of Atwood’s later works. I was expecting an experienced Atwood’s storytelling and writing style, but that obviously wasn’t the case here. It took me about a month to finish reading because I kept getting more interested in other books. All this said, it was still good. Atwood has always been a talented writer who creates sharp characters and knows how to tell a poignant story. Everything she writes feels intentional. I will continue to read and reread her novels forever.
All’s Well by Mona Awad
I love a good unreliable narrator, but this one comes with mixed reviews. Like Awad’s previous novel Bunny, All’s Well is a dark and wry story about a woman’s inevitably unraveling. There are riffs on Macbeth and All’s Well That Ends Well (the book’s namesake). Our main character suffers from debilitating chronic pain until one day that all changes, thus prompting the out-of-control spiral. Throughout the book, she ventures through a definitive (if not predictable) character arc that was somewhat satisfying as the reader. Awad is a master at writing unreliable narrators that you feel an awkward mix of compassion and resentment toward. I think having read Awad’s previous books made this one feel somewhat predictable.
Here’s what you need to remember going into a book written by Awad: You’re entering a dark and imaginative world with unreliable characters and a plot that would only make sense in her writing style. Enjoy!
Winter by Ali Smith
This is reread for me, but it was so long ago that it felt like a fresh read. Smith’s novels both hit and miss for me. Her careful poetic language can’t be ignored. She’s a talented writer. Each of these novels takes a look at climate change, political events, or social issues—usually her characters and plot embody some combination of the three. There is subtle humor and a play on words that I enjoyed. The story is told in a very stream-of-consciousness format, which is sometimes hard to follow. At times, I grew tired of the puns and quirky characters. Other times, the statements she was trying to make felt heavy-handed. I have a mixed relationship with Winter despite really enjoying Autumn.
Telex From Cuba by Rachel Kushner
Wow, Kushner can set a scene. She takes her time in the first fifty or so pages to establish the characters and place. Her descriptions of Cuba were spot-on. Kushner’s use of similes sometimes felt overbearing, but her use of descriptive language whisked the reader away to the Cuba she’s building on the page. She fictionalized the experience of the Americans living on fruit plantations in Cuba during the 1950s, loosely inspired by her mother’s own experiences. The book follows a lot of characters on both sides of the conflict: the Americans running these plantations and rebels living in the nearby hills. As with many books with a huge cast of characters, I found myself more interested in some than others. Kushner clearly knows what she’s doing.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
DNF. I read a bit over 100 pages, but found too many things that were problematic to continue. Our main character is unbelievable. She is smart, beautiful, and loves to cook—the perfect package. Her “flaws” are the cute, quirky, and often fetishized traits of people on the spectrum, but she deals with none of the challenges that come from being on the spectrum. She becomes an expert rower after just a couple attempts (which impresses all the boys) after the author made a point to stress how difficult it is to learn to row. She has a traumatic experience in the first 50 or so pages that is never addressed again. There was nothing interesting or compelling happening. Not a single bit of it was believable.
Milk Fed by Melissa Broder
I’m on a roll this month for unreliable/unhinged narrators. This felt like a very personal novel. Now having read two of Broder’s novels, it’s clear that she has a certain type of character she specializes in writing. These are female characters who are somewhat unhinged, blunt about their desires, insecure, and fumbling their way through the world being driven by impulses. I felt similarly about this book as I did about All’s Well. Having read Broder before, the execution of this story felt somewhat predictable.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
For such a short book, Homegoing accomplishes a lot. It’s short, with several generations of characters to follow, but I was invested in each and every one. We follow the split narratives of two half sisters: one is sold into slavery and one is married to a wealthy white man. Over the next 300 or so pages, we watch as their respective generations evolve through to modern day. It’s been a very long time since I’ve read such a precise narrative. Gyasi pulls her readers into a complex web of causes and effects without keeping them at arm’s length. I, like basically everyone else who has read this book, was utterly impressed and I loved it.
Kiki’s Delivery Service
It was cute. Like all Studio Ghibli movies, Kiki had a message at its core that came to fruition in the end and was propped up by charming music and heart-warming characters. I was in the mood for a cozy film to escape and that’s exactly what I got. This wasn’t my favorite Ghibli, but it checked the boxes that a Ghibli movie should.
The Big Sick
I made the mistake of waiting several years after this movie came out to finally watch it. I don’t normally watch romance films, but I adored this one. It was funny and charming and actually felt real (it’s based on a true story). The acting was superb. I laughed and cried. It was a wonderful escape during a rainy weekend. Highly recommend.
Manchester by the Sea
You could argue that Manchester by the Sea is a movie where nothing happens, yet everything happens. A man’s brother dies and he becomes responsible for his nephew. What follows is a complex unraveling of their shared and individual trauma. On the one hand is a boy’s coming of age story as he navigates being a teenager after the death of his father. On the other hand, it’s his uncle’s story as he is forced to grapple with his past after returning to his hometown. There are scenes (that I can’t reveal without offering spoilers) that felt like they would’ve been risks to show, but they paid off beautifully. It’s well worth the watch, but don’t expect any warm and fuzzy sentiment. Manchester by the Sea isn’t afraid of diving head-first into trauma, and doing so in a way where one could reasonably accuse it of being Oscar bait.
No. Sorry, but no. I thought I would love this movie. I enjoyed parts of it, but overall felt like it was trying too hard to be that quirky coming-of-age indie movie. I found the main character to be insufferable, but I do wonder if that was intentional. Still, in the end, it flopped for me.
John Wick 4
The fight scenes make this entire movie worthwhile. Don’t go in expecting great dialog or an intricate plot. It’s your usual box-checking action movie with Keau Reeves playing his usual persona. What I appreciate about this movie (and others that fall loosely into this same category) is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. We’re not sitting down to watch a John Wick movie expecting all around excellence—we want action and conflict and drama. The fight scenes were excellent, but I honestly expected nothing less. I’m not sure how many words Reeves spoke in the whole movie, but it wasn’t much. Most of them were “yeah”—Wick’s new catchphrase.
Triangle of Sadness
In sitting down to watch Triangle of Sadness one must accept their fate. The movie is divided into three parts and it’s entirely unhinged. There is class commentary as an undertone throughout. We first meet a young couple then join them on a luxury cruise before finally watching chaos unfold as they become stranded on a desert island. Not a single thing in this movie felt random, despite the entire movie seeming to take aimless turns of events. All the decisions seemed intentional—right down to the flies buzzing in the background in certain scenes. You kind of just have to go along for the ride… trust the story to deliver a satisfying narrative.