Monthly Archives: December 2011

Review of Matched

In Cassia’s society, everything is dictated by technology and statistics. Food is served in sealed packages that contain what each person needs for individual nutrition. Exercise is monitored to make sure every gets what they need- and that they don’t push it too far. The part Cassia is most anticipating this year, however, is the ceremonial Matching. As each person turns seventeen, they attend a special ceremony where they are Matched with the boy or girl that will give them the most ideal life and offspring. Cassia waits excitedly to see the image of the boy that she’ll spend the rest of her life with and is astonished to find that it is her best friend, Xander.

But this isn’t bad news. Who better to make a life with than the boy she knows best? Xander feels the same, and it doesn’t take the pair long to transition from best friends to an adorable teen couple. One night, Cassia plugs in her microcard that holds her Match’s information, and it’s not Xander’s picture she sees. Another boy’s face appears on the screen, just for a moment, before it goes black- an acquaintance of hers, Ky. When Cassia reports the problem, she’s told it’s a glitch in the system, nothing to worry about. But Cassia can’t help but wonder if she was really assigned the right future.

I’ve wanted to read Ally Condie’s book for awhile, and I’m so glad I finally did. The story is compelling, which is why I finished it within twenty-four hours of getting it from the library. The thing I like best about this story is that while it could easily become cliché, Condie avoids it. Cassia and Ky’s relationship is frowned upon, but not forbidden. Cassia’s love for Ky grows throughout the story, but she’s never the annoying besotted teen. And if Cassia ends up marrying Xander, she’ll be far from miserable. Condie has the incredible skill of slipping secrets into her story that show their importance later, and her dialogue is very realistic. Her characters, too, are well-developed, down to the most minor.

Condie’s book asks some of the important questions that arise not only in life, but in our ever-growing dependence on technology. Is getting what’s statistically the best for you what will make you happiest? Is being happy important? How does one discern between love for a friend and romantic love, and how do you explain that difference to your best friend/future husband? And how far will someone go for a person they love- be it family, friend, or love interest?

I loved this book, especially the interaction between Cassia and Xander- I believed them as best friends and Cassia’s transition from happiness to doubtful is not only believable for her, but for Xander. He’s over the moon about the Match, and when he discovers that Cassia doesn’t reciprocate his feelings, my heart broke for him. Condie creates an amazing world in which things are not as they seem, and even when Cassia discovers an answer, that solution isn’t what it seems, either. At each ofthese discoveries, I was just as shocked as Cassia. Definitely read this book, and then join me in reading the sequel.

Choice quotes:

Outside the door Xander waits for me. It strikes me that this is what is wrong here. No one can ever really come in and when it’s time to let them in, we don’t know how.

Or maybe it’s even more simple than that. Maybe he never wants to touch me. Perhaps to Ky I am only a friend. A friend who finally wants to know his story, nothing more. […] Is falling in love with someone’s story the same thing as falling in love with the person himself?

“The words [of the poem] aren’t peaceful,” Ky says.
“I know.”
“Then why do they make us feel calm?” Ky asks in wonder. “I don’t understand.”
[…] “I think it’s because when we hear it we know we’re not the only ones who ever felt this way.”

Review of Lucky Break

As a writer and also as an actor, I find it impossible to write fiction about the theatre. Perhaps that’s one of the many reasons why I enjoyed Esther Freud’s novel Lucky Break so much. In an interview with the New York Times, Freud says wanted to find some books from which to get ideas for this novel, but couldn’t find any. There wasn’t a single book that “described the tedium of searching for work, the terror of auditions, the grind of rehearsal, the pleasure of cracking a character’s voice or posture, the exhilaration of performance.”

Freud, an ex-actor herself, based Lucky Break loosely on her own experiences at drama school. The novel follows three actors for a decade and a half as they try to make it in “the hardest profession to break into,” as they’re told by their teacher on the first day. Reading this book as an actor, there are many sycophantic words I could use to relay how much I love this book, but there’s one that tops the list: authentic. So many books about actors or the theatre focus solely on the glamour or the lack thereof; Freud covers everything, from being told you’re guaranteed a part, then never getting it, to being cast as the lead in a film, to working with a backstage so small, one can hardly turn around.

When we first meet Freud’s three main characters, it seems easy to predict what their futures will be: Charlie, the exotic beauty, will become a star, and with his looks and talent, Dan probably will, too. Poor Nell, with her freckled face and dumpy figure… well, there’s no hope for her, is there? These preconceptions exist because they’re true, and Freud follows them for awhile. But then Freud adds that element that’s missing from other “theatre novels”- the nature of the business. What goes up must come down (or at least stumble back a bit) and sometimes hard work does pay off, even if it takes more than a decade. Freud spins an absolutely truthful tale with her main characters and doesn’t let her secondary ones off the hook either: talented, feisty Jemma has to choose between motherhood and life of an actor, another classmate finds success in the job he left to become an actor in the first place, and a few that were snidely deemed talentless manage to keep their careers afloat against all the odds.

While this is certainly not Freud’s first work (she’s written six novels previously, one being the acclaimed Hideous Kinky, later made into a film with Kate Winslet), her skill is still staggering. The thing that jumps out most is her incredible ability to sneak in important facts in the most casual of ways. Her chapters leave you hanging, but she lets you wonder whether Nell’s Fringe show will do well while we revisit Dan as he tries to make ends meet despite starring on the West End. Then, in that same chapter, Freud will have another character mention in passing that they saw Nell’s show and she was astoundingly good.

Freud’s characters are also real people. Like the stereotypical actor, they can be overly dramatic, vain, and feel entitled to the world. Like real actors, they can also be incredibly insecure, are constantly worried where their next paycheque will come from, and wonder daily why they hadn’t been sensible and studied business. And like any human being, they make terrible mistakes, succeed beyond their wildest dreams, and everything that falls somewhere in between. The reader cares about the characters even when they hate those same characters.

It’s difficult from my point of view to say whether or not this book would alienate a non-theatre-person reader. Freud doesn’t stop to explain any terms (that includes the British phrases in addition to the theatrical jargon), but the situations clearly outline to what the terms are referring, making it fairly easy. I’m going to take a chance and proclaim that Freud’s talent for writing will allow even a person who has never set foot in a theatre to enjoy this book.

If you’re interested, check out the NY Times article from which I got the quote; it’s a good read.

(Fun and self-indulgent fact: Last March and April, Rachel performed at the same off-West End theatre that Freud toiled in during her acting days.

And, in case you’re wondering, she is related to Sigmund Freud- she’s his great granddaughter.)

Choice quotes:

Charlie understood why it was that actors talked with such intensity. How could you not say “darling” when you’d journeyed through a lifetime with a person, bared your soul, wept tears, exchanged kisses, borne heartache, reached the heights of unimagined bliss? Why would you shake hands somberly when you’d once died in their arms?

The audience were in […] chatting, happy, innocent, not knowing that only yards away there were people suffering in agony for their sakes, and then to Nell’s horror the lights dimmed, the music faded and forgetting everything she’d ever known, even her name, she stepped out into the empty white glare of the stage.

But for all Nell knew, tonight there might be someone in for whom this play would be the bright spark of their lives. Someone changed forever. Set on a different course. As a child, she’d been taken to see a touring production […] and from almost the first scene she’d felt her heart expand until she’d thought it might be going to burst. I’ll do anything, she told herself, as the actors laughed and fought and danced, I’ll dress up in sacking, play an old woman, sweep the stage, if it means I can be like them.

“There’s always another girl,” Charlie said wistfully. “Although, occasionally, the other girl is you.”

Review of City of Bones

 

While at a club with her best friend Simon, fifteen-year-old Clary Fray sees a strange-looking boy disappearing around a corner. Curious, she follows him and finds him in a storage closet about to be killed by three other teenagers. Before her eyes, the boy is slain and the other teenagers inform Clary that he was a demon. They also let her know that she’s not supposed to be able to see people like the teenagers. They’re Nephilim, and if Clary can see them, she must be one as well. Clary doesn’t believe this claim, but is intrigued by Jace, Isabelle, and Alec. Jace offers to introduce Clary to his tutor the next day, but before she can meet him, Clary receives a panicked call from her mother, commanding Clary not to come home. When the line goes dead, Clary immediately ignores her mother’s order and runs to her apartment. There, she finds another demon waiting for her, and though she defeats it, is injured by its poison. Jace takes her to the Institute, where he lives and is educated, for treatment. There, Clary is healed and subsequently learns that she is not the person she’s been led to believe. Not only is she a Shadowhunter like Jace and his friends, her mother and father were as well. With this knowledge, Clary sets out to find her missing mother as well as her own identity. Clare’s book takes the reader on a journey of discovery, romance, and danger, and is quite a page turner.

 This is not the first of Clare’s books that I have read. City of Bones is part of a series called The Mortal Instruments, and it has a sister series called The Infernal Devices, from which I have read Clockwork Angel. I very much enjoyed Clockwork Angel and was surprised when I heard that Clare’s writing was not regarded as the best; I thought Clockwork Angel was very well done. However, now that I have read City of Bones, which was her first published book, I can see where the negative comments came from. Clare’s book is a good length for her story, but within her writing, she can be a little long-winded. She occasionally tells us how a character is feeling instead of letting us find out through their actions, and she’s a fan of the long, complicated metaphor.
Even with all of this, I read the book all the way through and plan to read the others. The writing may not be perfect, but the plotting is well done and well- paced. I will be the first to admit that it is a set-up you’ve seen before, but nonetheless, it held my interest for the duration. Also, as a writer, I respect a fellow composer that grows as her work goes on, and Clockwork Angel shows Clare’s development. I think Clare is an excellent creator of well-rounded characters, and I cared about all of them. City of Bones is an easy, enjoyable read. If you enjoy supernatural suspense and action, definitely check out this series.

Review of In the Next Room, or the vibrator play

Before you second-guess yourself or command that you get your own mind out of the gutter- yes, the title refers to exactly what you think it does. The play, though, is about more than that.

To give you some background of the play itself, it’s written by Sarah Ruhl. This is the first play I’ve ever read or seen of hers in full; before this, I’d only watched my fellow acting students perform a few of her monologues. Even that brief glimpse into her plays made me want to seek out her work and indulge in them; she’s a wonderful writer. Her words flow seamlessly, are dense with meaning, and are sometimes pretty funny, besides. The same goes for In the Next Room. The world premiere of the play was in 2009, at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, directed by Les Waters. It went on to become a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a Tony Award nominee for Best Play.
 I first heard of the play about a year ago when I was snooping around on the website of a theatre at which I would be auditioning. The synopsis intrigued me and I was desperate to see it, but sadly, it ran while I was studying abroad and I had to miss it.

The plot as written on the back of the play: In the Next Room… hovers at the dawn of electricity when enthusiasm for the light bulb gave rise to a handy new instrument to treat female hysteria.

Not very descriptive, so I’ll give you a little more information: in the late 1800s, as well as bit earlier and later, many women seemed to suddenly be suffering from a strange illness. It caused their minds to splinter. They became nervous and overly sensitive. They would cry at odd times. New mothers would refuse to have contact with their babies. Some women were tired, sad, and felt weak (which continued the popular notion of the romantic fainting woman), and others were excitable and, for that time, frighteningly interested in sexual affaires (with their husbands or otherwise.) Nowadays, we have names for all of these “symptoms,” among them depression, post-partum depression, bi-polar disorder, or, dare we say it, just being human. Back then, however, there was only one name for it: hysteria.
Hysteria was hard to pin down. It seemed it took any symptom or no symptom for a woman (and, though very rarely, a man) to be diagnosed. If a woman was passive, she was a hysteric. If she was passionate: hysterical. It was a disorder of contradictions and many experts today deny that hysteria was an actual illness. Whether it was or not, however, there were a good many treatments for such an affliction. One of them was the vibrator.
The idea behind using a vibrator came from the notion that a hysterical woman’s body was holding pent-up fluid and tension and in order to get rid of it, she had to have some sort of release. The vibrator, which back then look more like a farm tool than anything and was operated only by a doctor, was used to give them that release. Ruhl’s play revolves around a doctor’s wife, the doctor himself, and his patients, all of whom have some relation to this new-fangled and strange device.

Catherine, the doctor’s wife (whose lines, sadly, are listed under the name Mrs. Givings; this really distances the reader from Catherine as a person, as alive as she is on the page), is living what seems like the ideal life. She’s married to a successful physician who has a knack for discovering new devices, she lives in a lovely house in a spa town and has a new baby girl. But she’s secretly unhappy: her husband spends more time with the patients than he does with his wife, and when he’s finished work, he goes to his club or to lectures on electricity, his fascination. Catherine adores her child, but Catherine is unable to produce enough milk to fortify the baby and is terrified that her child will starve. Through one of Dr. Givings’ patients, she hires a wet nurse and is heartbroken when the baby becomes attached to the nurse.
Ruhl does a wonderful job of making the patients stand-out characters, as well as the patients’ significant others. The first one to be seen is Mrs. Daldry, who can hardly walk or stand to see bright light, so advanced is her state of hysteria. Her husband cares enough to bring his wife to a specialist, but confesses to Catherine that he longs for the energetic, piano-playing young woman that he fell in love with. The rare case of male hysteria is presented by Leo, an artist, who at first seems taken by Catherine, but later falls for Elizabeth, the wet nurse, when he falls in love with her beautiful hands as he paints them.
The relationships between characters is fraught with meaning in the play. Catherine loves her husband and craves his attention; though unaware of what the vibrator does, she becomes jealous of her husband’s private time with Mrs. Daldry and at two points in the show, insists that Dr. Givings use the device on her. When he finally does, he’s alarmed by the passion it stirs in her and refuses to do it again. Catherine develops a friendship with Mrs. Daldry but gets along even better with Mr. Daldry, who allows her to discover who she really is by simply walking in the rain. These are just the beginnings of the intertwined relationships that appear in the play, and Ruhl manages to make even the smallest exchange and touch of the hand mean so much.

The funny thing about finding out about the play when I did is that it just so happened that at the exact time, I was doing research on that very subject for my own full-length play. The subject of vibrators does not, in itself, factor into my play, but it’s impossible to do research on hysteria without reading extensively about this treatment. It also happens that when I studied in England, I took a course called Madness and Medicine in Modern Britain. One area of focus and the topic of not only my sole essay for the class, but for my final exam essay as well? Hysteria, specifically female. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. It’s a fascinating topic, so I’m not surprised that a play about it now exists, and Ruhl does an amazing job with a potentially sensitive or over-sexualized topic. The play is potentially very sexy, but it’s also tender, full of questions, and questions what really means love. It made me cry and it is also funny in parts. If you get the chance to see or read it, do so. It’s fantastic.

A few choice quotes:

MRS. DALDRY: (to Mrs. Givings) This [electric] lamp is extraordinary. It hurts my eyes to watch it go on and off, but I enjoy the pain. It’s a kind of religious ecstasy to feel half blind, do you not think?

MRS. GIVINGS: Oh, to think of never carrying a candle! Not to walk through a hallway at night… afraid of tripping in the dark, starting a fire- it makes one more solemn, do you not think? Or to blow out a candle- how beautiful! With one’s own breath, to extinguish the light! Do you think our children’s children will be less solemn? A flick of the finger- and all is lit! A flick of the finger, and all is dark! On, off, on, off! We could change our minds a dozen times a second! On, off, on, off! We shall be like gods!

LEO: Look- there- another window lit- golden- the rest of the house dark- an incomplete painting. I love incomplete paintings- why do painters always insist upon finishing paintings? It’s unaccountable- life is not like that!

DR. GIVINGS: Was your hand on his cheek?
MRS. GIVINGS: It was.
DR. GIVINGS: I see.
MRS. GIVINGS: And do you mind very much?
DR. GIVINGS: It is odd- for some husbands, such things end in a screaming match or even death, one hand on a cheek… Lady novelists like for it to be a tragedy- because it means that the affair mattered, mattered terribly- but it doesn’t, it needn’t.
MRS. GIVINGS: The writer of Madame Bovary was not a woman.
DR. GIVINGS: He was French, which is much the same thing.
MRS. GIVINGS: You dare to make a joke about the French- at this moment? Most men would be- pale with rage!
DR. GIVINGS: pale with rage, exactly, in a sentimental novel. My point is: this is not the end of a book. You made a mistake that is all […] So why then jealousy? My darling, I don’t mind.
MRS. GIVINGS: Oh.  I had hoped that you would mind.

LEO: I have known enough women  to know how to paint. If I had loved fewer, I would be an illustrator; if I had loved more, I would be a poet.
MRS. GIVINGS: Are poets required to love many women?
LEO: Oh, yes. Love animates every line.

MRS. GIVINGS: Did you dream of love at a young age?
MRS. DALDRY: Yes.
MRS. GIVINGS: And what did you think it would be like?
MRS. DALDRY: I thought it would be- never wanting for anything. Being surrounded and lifted up. Like resting on water, for eternity.
MRS. GIVINGS: And is that what you have found in marriage?
MRS. DALDRY: There have been moments of rest. But as it turns out, the earth rests on air, not water, and the air can feel very- insubstantial- at times. Even though it is holding you up, invisibly.
MRS. GIVINGS: Yes.

Salutations From the Other Half

As Rachel has so kindly pointed out, I am Stuart, the other half of Ambidexteri. I’m excited to be actively pursuing another writing project, especially in the midst of the busyness of the senior year of college since this forces me to write more often. Not to mention that I’m looking forward to working with Rachel again.

Rachel and I have collaborated on a number of projects before, mainly screenplays, which has been a great experience for me as a writer—it’s taught me a number of things about my own writing and how other people function creatively (if you want to know more, you’ll have to stay tuned—we’ll be writing about that later on, which means you should follow us). I started writing in middle school and continued to do so after a great deal of encouragement from English teachers and a few friends, one of whom is Rachel. What I must say is unique about Rachel is her patience with my work. Sure, she enjoys reading what I manage to put out, but she also sends it back dripping in red ink. She doesn’t murder my writing; she loves it in a way a mother loves her child, nurturing but harsh when she needs to be.

A few things about me:

–       Ambidexteri is Latin (more to follow on that)

–       I’m also a senior in college, majoring in Physics and minoring in English

–       My writing is primarily fiction (for adults), poetry, and non-fiction, but I’ve dabbled in screenwriting and a little playwriting

–       I am headed to graduate school to study astrophysics

–       Last month, I ate lunch with Margaret Atwood. Of all things, we talked physics.

–       I recently read Oryx and Crake and have started plugging through The Year of the Flood

–       I love movies—before I hit physics in high school, I was certain I wanted to be a film director and even shot a few movies of my own

–       Some favorite authors of mine: Marie de France, Chaucer, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov

–       Some favorite poets of mine: Shakespeare, Keats, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Seamus Heaney, Louise Gluck, Maxine Kumin, Billy Collins

–       Some favorite playwrights: Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Friedrich Schiller, Tennessee Williams, Tom Stoppard

Rachel has already mentioned a few of our foci. Our hope is that this blog can provide a forum for discussion about the nature of reading and writing good literature.

Coming up next: a review of In the Next Room

Greetings!

Hello, everyone! I’m Rachel, one half of Ambidexteri. I’m excited to start a blog dedicated to writing and to collaborate with Stuart on yet another project!

One of my favorite things to do in the world is write. I’ve been doing it almost as long as I can remember, and it’s a form of communication and expression that I can’t live without. I love creating stories and the characters that live in them. Despite writing for a long time, I’m still very protective of my writing; I’ve only showed it to a few people, ever. Stuart is one of these people. Besides being good friends, he and I are critique partners and it’s lovely, even if he is brutally honest with me all the time (or perhaps because he is brutally honest.)

Some things to help you get to know me:

-Part of the reason this blog is called Ambidexteri is because I am left-handed and Stuart is right-handed.
-I’m a senior in college, majoring in Acting and minoring in Creative Writing.
-As a writer, I dabble in fiction (mainly young adult), playwriting, screenwriting, and magazine writing.
-As a writer, I’m terrified of poetry.
-I aim to be a novelist and playwright as well as a working actor.
-I love movies, plays, and of course, reading.
-Currently, I’m reading City of Bones by Cassandra Clare and as I type this, I’m watching Cinema Verite.
-From January to June of this year, I lived in London, England, and it was one of the best times of my life.
-Favorite authors of mine include Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, John Green, Bill Bryson, and Ian McEwan.
-Favorite playwrights/screenwriters include Emma Thompson, Amy Sherman-Palladino, David Auburn, Sarah Treem, Donald Margulies, and Neil Simon.

In this blog, Stuart and I hope to cover a lot of bases: books we’ve read, writing exercises we’ve done, woes and triumphs in our work, and why we do what we do. What you won’t see are snippets of our work. As budding writers, we’re still honing our skills and as we have been advised, the internet is forever.

I’m really excited to start this blog and I hope you, reader, come back and visit us often. After Stuart writes his introductory post, I’ve got a review of a fantastic play, In the Next Room, coming your way!