Only two titles selected this week because my love for them knows no bounds, and, frankly, I don’t want them to have to share the spotlight. It’s my prerogative, yo!
Well before Betty Draper was slinking across our television screens clad in flowing nighties and tangible ennui, Betty Friedan was digging into housewives’ misery and giving voice to “the problem that has no name.” The Feminine Mystique should require no introduction; indeed, it is an introduction to modern feminist thought–a window, now, onto the experiences and epiphanies that shaped a generation of women and subsequent generations of feminists.
As canonical now as it was groundbreaking at its publication in 1963, this book is a must-read for burgeoning feminists (not all of Friedan’s ideas hold up five decades later, but we can, thank goodness, attribute some of that to progress!) and a critical touchstone to be revisited by those of us whose feminist identity is long since established. And if you’re not sure about this feminism business, or you’ve heard yourself saying, “I’m not a feminst, but…” you would do well to start here as you try to make sense of it.
My first copy of The Feminine Mystique is ratty and dogeared. The copy I keep on my desk is headed that way. I can’t resist picking up this gorgeous new edition to keep on my shelves as a reference, reminder, and inspiration.
It’s a beautiful thing when a writer figures out what she is meant to do and does it fearlessly. Karen Russell arrives at that most glorious point in this new collection of short stories. Russell’s work has always been strange and atmospheric, the kind of stuff that makes one wonder what it must be like to walk through the world with a brain that sees such previously unimaginable things. She gave us glimpses of the depth of her weirdness in St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Swamplandia!, and she has never been better than she is in these stories, which reveal a writer who has found her purpose and fully embraced the weird.
The title story, which opens the book, is literally about two vampires who live in an Italian lemon grove and have trained themselves to live on juice sucked from lemons rather than blood sucked from people. Then there’s the one about the evil businessman who turns girls into human-silkworm hybrids, where they release threads from their fingers and submit to a Machine that skeins their output. Seagulls ruin lives and steal objects from the future. Spectators gather to watch krill attempt to prolong their lives before their inevitable death-by-whale. Settlers in the American frontier struggle against the elements and against dangers they’re not even really aware of. Creepy things happen. (Or as fellow Rioter Jenn told me, “Shit is fucked up.”)
These are stories about monsters–the ones we fear will come for us one day, and the ones we are secretly certain live inside us–and darkness, and deeply bizarre happenings. They border on horror but are filled with humor and humanity. No word is extraneous, and no step is out of line. Here, Russell (who was criticized in some corners for pacing issues and unevenness in Swamplandia!) is consistent, and consistently terrific. This is what it feels like when a writer is working at full throttle, and it is so, so fulfilling.