BLOGGER ON BOOKS – QUICK TAKES V

I do these Quick Takes for books for which I won’t be doing a full review but might still have something to say – this is the 5th 2021 Quick Takes page; for the first, go here and for the second, go here. Go here for the third and here for the fourth. Search Blogger on Books Quick Takes or go to the main page of the respective year for previous Quick Takes.

Passing by Nella Larsen (audio book) – This has been on my TBR for a while and after seeing the promo for the movie based on the Harlem Renaissance era classic, I decided to track down a copy and get caught up before watching the movie. It is a very intimate look at the nuances of passing (which is literally passing from one race, Black, in to another, white, and hiding there) and in this case passing back (because here you have a character hungry to stay connected, trying to move between both worlds), and you feel the tension of that as the reader – knowing it can only end badly; and it does. Very badly. A taut read and not just because of its 90-or-so novella length page run; the story knits its elements in and then steadily pulls the thread to tighten. It does this in-scene (these polite society scenarios weighted by race and class, secrets and desires) and also over the length of the book which very deliberately keeps you in the point of view of the main character as she is beset with envy and suspicion. You know she’s an unreliable narrator but she’s the only narrator you have – and you have a creeping suspicion that a sort of madness is taking her…only maybe she’s right. And in the end it hardly seems to matter. I’m curious to see how tone and tension are handled in the film. Looking forward to it.

The Old Guard Tales Through Time anthology series 6. I read this one pretty quickly. There was more Nile which is good – but it was largely in service to Booker’s story (he seems to be the character of greatest interest to the writers of the anthology series as he’s gotten more attention than probably anyone, except maybe team leader Andy, across six comics – two stories per comic). I did hope this series would delve more in to the past, maybe something of Nile’s personal history, this one though was a moving forward one, with Nile and Andy teaming up for a museum heist, to steal a birthday present for Booker who is still in exile. The present (the doll one of Booker’s sons gave him when he was ‘recruited’ in to the Napoleonic wars) was sweet though and it speaks to Nile’s thoughtfulness and the impact she’s having on Andy. The second story confused me – at first I was hyped as it looked like a Joe story (the character aesthetically looking a fair amount like the comic Joe) but, no, I think it might be a different (hermit-y) immortal. Expanding the universe is good and it was an interesting man in the wild facing down a bear vignette…but Joe got a bum deal from this anthology series.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – a rich and complicated book; lagged in parts but was never dull. The most interesting aspects to me, and the parts where I felt most for these not always likeable characters, were the dual fraught new immigrant experiences of the once and once again Nigerian couple, one in the UK, one in America. The main character is a writer and from Carrie Bradshaw to Ifemelu, I wish the writing gods were as generous in real life as they are in fiction (if only writing a column and/or blogging was so lucrative for others of us)- of course, they have been with the author of this book, an accomplished and award winning, and as such aspirational literary force whose talents are on full display here.

The Old Guard Tales Through Time anthology series 5. The two stories in this one were ‘An Old Soul’ by Jason Aaron with Rafael Albuquerque and ‘Never Gets Old’ by Alejandro Arbano and Kano. Both were Booker themed stories, the third Booker themed story in the anthology series. *rant alert* It’s time (Lykon reference). This anthology series is severely underserving the characters of colour – where is Joe’s solo story? Nile’s? Were there no Middle East and North African writers or artists available? No Black women writers? I mean, I’m right here! Why is a series based on a series that inspired a movie that did such a good job of balancing out the story lines of characters of various races, genders, ethnicities, beliefs, sexualities, and ages so well so readily defaulting to the white male avatar Hollywood likes so much? The source material is right there!! Nothing against Booker, he was an interesting character, but he was one of five supporting characters in a seven character piece (Nile and Andy were the mains); why three Booker centered tales, two in this book alone? The nun orgy, ugh. In Guyana in the 70s, no less, because Jim Jones, I guess. Re-tread of the aging child, ageless parent storyline already seen with Andy in TTT 3, unnecessary and (vague references to the French revolution and Napoleon aside) unspecific. This is just lazy. It makes me even more appreciative of what director Gina Prince Bythewood did with the film. I don’t know how hard she had to fight for the vision I saw on screen but she managed to avoid all the clichés and sidelining when it comes to underrepresented groups while telling a full story that’s not just about representation. A sequel has just been announced, alas not with her at the helm, though she is still on board as a producer and seems to have had a hand in picking her successor Victoria Mahoney (so I’ll have faith notwithstanding the ways the anthology series has disappointed).

The Old Guard Tales Through Time anthology series 4. The thematic connective tissue between the two stories – ‘How to Make a Ghost Town’ and ‘Love Letters’ – in this latest edition of the multi-author anthology series inspired by and set in the world of Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez’s The Old Guard is race and discrimination. Story one revisits the epic love between 6,000+ year old Andromache of Scythia and her all too mortal lover Achilles, formerly enslaved, veteran of the American War of Independence now living quietly in Australia (at least in the original canon). In this one, he and Andy did some fighting and plundering before retiring their weapons and settling in a no-name remote town whose residents it seems only took issue with him because of Andy’s failure to age (the strangeness of it all pinging their radar).

The passage of time in a single well-done panel.

“How do you make a ghost town? First you take a town… Then fill it with ghosts.”

I kind of hate knowing that in at least one possibility things turned out so badly for Andy and Achilles – one of my favourite characters from the original graphic novel series.

The second story is bloody, with a sleeper Nicky infiltrating and killing confederate soldiers during the American Civil War. I wasn’t sure who it was for much of the story though – as the character wrote poetic, Shakespearean letters of the sort I associate with his lover Joe but Joe is a man of colour and the sleeper agent was clearly a white man. It was confusing (for me, at least) but also it means that in at least one Old Guard timeline there’s a Nicky who waxes as poetic as Joe does in the main timeline. The other thing that threw me off is them fighting apart, them fighting in sync was one of my favourite things about the movie, but this is the second story of four in the anthology series where Joe and Nicky are apart, and one other time implied. To be fair most of the anthology stories have been characters on their own or in duos, very little of the found family group dynamics I loved in the original comics and movies.

Of the two stories in this fourth installment, again I found Andy’s more compelling, which I’ve said at least twice before reading the anthology chapters. But feral Nicky was interesting too.

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