24 January 2009

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

I confess to never having seen the film versions of The Stepford Wives and only picked up the novelette a few years ago because of its slimness and relative cheapness. I am immensely glad I listed it for the RYOB Challenge as The Stepford Wives turned out to be a ripping good yarn.

What's the story about? Ostensibly, it is about Joanna, Walter, and their children's move to a twee Connecticut suburb where well-endowed housewives cheerfully polish their husbands' bowling trophies all the live long day. Are these women for real? Or is something sinister afoot? It won't ruin anything to tell you that something sinister is afoot -- the women are all robots and soon pretty little Joanna will be one, too.

For such a thin story, The Stepford Wives raises all sorts of interesting questions and I ended up spending far more time thinking about Joanna than I ever did reading about her.

That said, I think that even if you are an "action" reader who doesn't like "thoughty" or "philosophical" books, you will still enjoy The Stepford Wives. Levine moves the story along at a good clip and doesn't waste a lot of time on description or detail. The questions of identity and social value are all there, but he doesn't deal with them. That's for the reader. He's just telling a ripping good yarn.

A ripping good yarn which was so extremely creepy, reading it gave me the heebie-jeebies even while I laughed at the impossibility of building perfect robot wives in a 1972 Connecticut suburb ...

However, if you think you can replace a woman with a robot, how perfect does she really have to be?

Which raises, in my mind, the "are women human?" question and then I start thinking about the whole philosophy of "women as hollow vessels" and ... I need to have a lie down before I start kicking men in the 'nads and setting them on fire.

RYOB Challenge 2009: Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives (Harper Paperbacks, 2002).

19 January 2009

Everyone Poops, Goshdarnit

In May, The Husband and I are participating in the 2009 Take Steps for Crohn's & Colitis walk on the Wesleyan Campus in Middletown. As post-operative survivors of ulcerative colitis, we want to build visibility and awareness. With one in every two hundred people suffering daily with digestive disease, we really need to get rid of our frankly fucked up taboos concerning excretion. No-one should suffer in embarrassed silence or feel ashamed of their illness, because it isn't "nice" to talk about bowel movements.


I had ulcerative colitis in 1998. It went undetected for too long, my colon went septic (toxic megacolon is not as fun as it sounds), and I ended up with an ileostomy.

Actually, "undetected" is probably the wrong word -- undiagnosed would be more accurate. I knew there was something seriously wrong with me for quite a while, but being an over-achieving college student who lived in her head much more than her body I ignored my condition or wrote it off as stress, anxiety, hemorrhoids, poor diet, change in environment, and a whole lot of other rubbish.

Mostly, I didn't want to talk about how I did or didn't poop. Too embarrassing. Too hard to explain. So I didn't let myself think too much about how I was feeling and, when I did see a clinician, I underplayed my symptoms. In the end, my reticence probably almost killed me.

If only I'd admitted to myself how sick I was. If only I'd told my parents. If only I'd been more upfront with the doctor at the student clinic. Ififif.


I went abroad the summer of '98 to visit my boyfriend (now The Husband) and all my symptoms intensified. I spent the last weeks of my vacation lying in my boyfriend's flat, worried I might be dying, but too sick to articulate how sick I was. Not surprisingly, I went straight into the hospital as soon as I returned to the US. Doctors pumped me full of drugs until I stabilized, and then some very nice surgeons removed my septic colon when it began to crush my lungs.

Almost like magic, I was healthy again.

Three years later, having learned my lesson the hard way, I didn't mess around when The Husband started experiencing gastrointestinal weirdness. Hustled him off to a GI specialist who prescribed manymany drugs. To no avail. The Husband's health steadily worsened until ...

He was supposed to fly out on a business trip. While we were waiting for his plane, he was horribly sick. I remember thinking, when he came out of the restroom, "my husband is going to die." I was absolutely certain that, if he went on that trip, I would not see him again outside a critical care ward.

Needless to say, The Husband did not go on his trip and, not too long after, he also had his colon removed.

And, like magic, he too was healthy again.

So, I am walking in May because we can walk. And, if we raise enough money, maybe someday soon no-one else will have to suffer ulcerative colitis as we did.

If you'd like to donate to our team, click the icon over on the right. If you'd like to walk with us, e-mail me.


[So, what is this ulcerative colitis, anyway?

Are you imagining ulcerative colitis is a bit like the worst stomach bug you've ever had? Hah. You are so silly. This isn't "oh, I'll take a day or two off from work and be fine for Thursday's business trip" intestinal distress, dearie. This is your whole life redefined by the whims of your colon.

Ulcerative colitis occurs when your body (for no reason as yet known to science) decides to start rejecting portions of itself. In this case, the immune system attacks the colon. Usually, the early symptoms are constipation with bloody or mucousy stool. Sometimes, you want to have a bowel movement all the damned time, but very little comes out. You experience a lot of noise while trying to have a bowel movement. Mucousy farts and tootling noises. Sounds like those made by nearly empty squeezable ketchup bottles. Murphy's Law being as it is, of course, the harder you try to repress them, the louder they are. Particularly, in quiet restrooms.

At some point, that all becomes old hat and pain will arrive to liven things up. Sometimes it's only mild cramping. Other times, it's so bad that everything else ceases to exist. It's just little old broken you and the pain. Of course, pain doesn't like to travel alone and so brings along it's jolly friends: severe fatigue, weight loss, lack of appetite, and fever.

If you're "lucky," drug therapy makes your case of ulcerative colitis more manageable. You eventually return to a normal life. If you're like The Husband, you get to experiment with all kinds of drugs before it's obvious that nothing short of an ileostomy is going to keep you going. Me, I got to skip all the drugs and go straight to the ileostomy thanks to toxic megacolon and my own inability to talk about my sickness in a useful way.]

04 January 2009

"honesty is of the utmost importance"

RYOB Challenge 2009: The Bride Stripped Bare by Anonymous/Nikki Gemmell (Fourth Estate, 2003)
Shallow. Overwrought. Unsubtle. Stereotypical. Boring. Badbadbad¹.

Woman marries someone she feels safe with, but is unexcited by. Bored by her marriage and seemingly resigned to that boredom, she stills manages outrage at her husband's possible affair with her sex therapist best friend². Wronged wife commences upon a string of what are supposed to be, I think, extremely erotic adventures, but which seem merely sad and stale. Where is the joy of sexual awakening? Where is the power of a woman come into her sexual self?

The woman becomes pregnant³, is left by her husband, and goes to pieces. Eventually, she reassembles, gives birth, and plays happy family with her returned husband while thumbing her nose at her friend.



¹ I dare you to read the scenes with the cabbies and not laugh.
² Who later sends the wife anonymous love letters.
³ Her husband's baby. This is a conventional unconventional story, after all.

"Why throw away a needful day / To go in search of Yarrow?"

RYOB Challenge 2009: Yarrow by Charles de Lint (Orb, 1997)

Reprint of an early mythic/urban fantasy published in 1986. Set in 1982 Ottawa, Yarrow tells the story of Cat Midhir, a reclusive best-selling fantasy writer who is having problems finishing her current book because she can't dream. Previously, all Cat's writerly inspiration has come from dreams of an Otherworld where she is told the stories of that place by its fey inhabitants. Cat thinks she's just been repackaging those stories in her books and has no craft of her own. So what to do when she stops dreaming? Well, it turns out she hasn't stopped dreaming! Her dreams are simply being stolen by a psychic vampire! But with the help of Old Hippie Guy, Bookstore Man, and the Intrepid Cabbie she will live to write another day!

Can you tell I didn't think very highly of this book? To me, Yarrow seemed more like the outline of a book or series than a work complete in itself. The story lacked depth and the characters were so underdeveloped that they were easily confused with one another. And then the hideously cliché and extremely off-putting sexual violence! Gah!

03 January 2009

Jewish Literature Challenge: 1st Quarter

Read a bunch of books over the holidays, including a few for the Jewish Literature Challenge:

National Public Radio’s Hanukkah Lights: Stories of the Season (DK Melcher Media, 2005)
Hanukkah Lights has been a holiday tradition at NPR since 1990. Every year, Susan Stamberg and Murray Horwitz get together and share a collection of new fiction inspired by Hanukkah and a season of hope and reconciliation. The book Hanukkah Lights was published in 2005 for the radio programme's fifteenth anniversary and contains twelve of the programme's best stories plus a CD four additional stories read by Stamberg and Horowitz. The stories were written by the "best Jewish writers" around and includes pieces by Lesléa Newman (squee!), Harlan Ellison, Peter S. Beagle, Daniel Pinkwater, and Elie Wiesel. Sound tempting? Visit NPR and listen to past Hanukkah Lights shows.
Hedwig & Berti by Frieda Arkin (Thomas Dunne Books, 2004)
The story of the Kesslers after they flee Nazi Germany. They briefly wash up on the doorstep of British cousin Harry, have a baby (Gerda) who seems more a changeling than anything else, wander off to New York, and then later to Kansas ... While I found that characters to be extremely compelling, but the story just seemed a slow ramble to nowhere.
(RYOB 2009 book, too!)
The Jew of Home Depot by Max Apple (Johns Hopkins UP, 2007)
Short story collection which, amusingly, includes "Stabbing An Elephant" from Hanukkah Lights. Did I read the story twice? No, I did not. The title story is blackly amusing with a nice sharp twist at the end, but the one I liked best was "Proton Decay" about a pharmacist who falls in love with (and then rather earnestly schemes to meet) a physicist he sees interviewed on Sixty Minutes. The story was sweet and a little sad, but not in the least bit hokey for all the improbability of it.
The Matzo Ball Heiress by Laurie Gwen Shapiro (Red Dress Ink, 2006)
Surprisingly educational chicklit novel about Heather Greenblotz, thirty-one-year-old heiress to the world's leading matzo company, who (along with most of her extremely dysfunctional family) has quite emphatically gone secular. When Heather is informed that the matzo company is haemorrhaging money and steps must be taken to keep it afloat, she promises to do her part ... little knowing that would mean herding all her family members together for a Passover Seder televised by the Food Channel. Good fun!
Technically, this means I've met the requirements of the Challenge (read "at least 4 books by Jewish Authors or about Judaism") which means I can stop now. But will I? Heck, no. Lots more books to read!

(Hadn't realized I'd missed Jewish Book Month! Must remember for next year).