Movies: Ruby Sparks & The Catcher in the Rye*.

As I have written over the past week or so, there are many ways to interpret Ruby Sparks, whether as a commentary on the indie movie phenomenon of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl or the abusive nature of protagonist Calvin and title character Ruby’s relationship.

But I also picked up on the use of Catcher in the Rye as a sort of metaphor for Calvin’s tortured soul and his equally tortured relationship with Ruby. The intertwining of Calvin’s obsession with the way people perceive his dog, Scotty, and thereby perceive him, is made all the more symbolic in the scene where Calvin comes home late to discover Scotty’s trashed his room, peed in his bed and eaten a copy of J.D. Salinger’s seminal work.

It’s not really until the end of the movie that all the subtle references to the book come together as pieces of the puzzle. For those of you who have read Catcher in the Rye (I would assume everyone has, but those who I’ve spoken to about the movie in the hopes of getting their thoughts on the inclusion of the book as a theme have been unenlightened as to Holden Caulfield’s story), it could be interpreted that none of what Holden describes throughout the novel actually happened, as his mental capacity is questionable. Calvin is akin to a modern day Holden Caulfield, if only in terms of mental health, in that he sees a shrink (though in the creative world, who doesn’t?), has skewed views of what women should be and literally imagines his dream girl into existence.

This calls into question the turn of events depicted in the movie. Did Calvin imagine Ruby and their whole relationship? Did he black out around the time he met her, wrote about her and, reading back over his work, doesn’t remember how he met her, thereby making himself believe that she came to life from his writing? We know his family met and loved Ruby, but could that be a construction of his imagination? Holden concludes Catcher in the Rye in a mental facility; is that were Calvin tells his story from, too?

To further support the notion that something’s not right with Calvin’s account of his relationship with Ruby, his shrink, Dr. Rosenthal, asks him if he’s sure Ruby’s not real…

To employ the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope here, too, Ruby initially functions as a female version of Calvin to somehow narcissistically improve his existence. That he writes her to be depressed, then euphoric, then back again, and looks at her with pity when she expresses these extreme emotions could be seen as Calvin dealing with his own emotional ups and downs.

I don’t have the answers and there’s a good chance that I’m overthinking Ruby Sparks too much, but from my point of view there are endless realms of possibility the film could be taken in to.

What do you think?

Related: Ruby Sparks & the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Ruby Sparks & the Abusive Relationship.

*Blanket spoiler alert for both Ruby Sparks AND The Catcher in the Rye.

Image via The Thousands.

Book Review: My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike by Joyce Carol Oates.

 

My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike had me at hello its first two sentences:

“Dysfunctional families are all alike. Ditto ‘survivors.’

“Me, I’m the ‘surviving’ child of an infamous American family…”

My favourite book being a fictional account of the O.J. Simpson murder trial, Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne, I’m a sucker for true crime and conspiracy theories.

My Sister, My Love is the fictionalised account of the JonBenet Ramsey murder of Christmas 1996, a story that has captivated me since it hit the newsstands some fifteen years ago.

It is written by the awesome Joyce Carol Oates, whom I’ve never read in novel form before, but whose articles I have come across online. Since its publication in 2008, I’ve longed to read it, and serendipitously came across it in a secondhand bookstore earlier this year. It has taken me since then to read it!

But coming in at 562 pages, it’s not exactly light reading, both in size and subject matter.

The book focuses on the life of Skyler Rampike, brother to child ice-skating prodigy, Bliss Rampike (nee Edna Louise Rampike), and he and his parents’ struggle to come to terms with her murder.

The book is somewhat longwinded, but thoroughly enjoyable. Some parts before and after the murder could have been spared, but it’s all part of Oates’ effort to build the story and the characters within it.

The story is written from Skyler’s perspective, but switches rapidly from first- to second- to third-person narration, which can be jarring at first but ultimately lends itself to the insight we get into the twisted and troubled mind of Skyler.

Oates also borrows from other high-profile pop cultureisms, like the Simpson murder (Skyler’s boarding school for troubled/famous children girlfriend is most definitely supposed to be Simpson’s daughter), Wicked (“Popular! In America, what else matters?” [p. 152]), and The Catcher in the Rye, with Skyler calling faux snow “phony-looking” (p. 319). In fact, I think Oates’ key inspiration was probably J.D. Salinger’s most famous fictional outing.

It’s hard to separate the fictional Rampike family Oates has so expertly crafted from the real Ramsey family, which has fallen to pieces since JonBenet’s murder. As in real life, mother Betsey died, and father Bix remarried. But what do we know of Burke Ramsey, whom Skyler was based on? Nothing much.

And that’s where Oates saw an opening: to tell one of America’s most fascinating unsolved murders from the perspective of the person who, by a lot of peoples’ accounts, is the prime suspect.

Related: Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

Book Now, Bendigo.

Stacked.

It’s All About Popular… Lar, Lar, Lar, Lar.

The Ten Books I Wanted to Read This Year But Didn’t.

Event: Clunes Back to Booktown.

Last weekend I went to Clunes for their annual Back to Booktown event, encompassing more than 60 booksellers in almost every store on the main street, plus churches, historical buildings and marquees erected especially for the weekend.

As I’ve blogged about here and here, I’d been wanting to attend for the past two years, but the lack of public transportation and friends willing to drive there (as I don’t have a car nor a license) meant this was the first year I could go.

My friend Andrew and I trekked the two hours from Melbourne to the country town located somewhere between Ballarat, Creswick and Maryborough; a town so small it defaults to Ballarat when looking it up on a weather website. (It was sunny and 11° on Saturday. Brrr!)

Honestly, I was surprised by the sheer amount of booksellers. I was expecting a couple of old buildings and trestle tables and that was it. Granted, the town is small, but there’s a reason people flock from far and wide to Clunes for a weekend in May.

I managed to unearth a couple of Bret Easton Ellis books for under $10 each, a copy of The Catcher in the Rye for $12.50 (steep for a secondhand copy, but c’mon, it’s J.D. Salinger!), and Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. I also saw a copy of Perfect Murder, Perfect Town by Lawrence Schiller on the JonBenet Ramsay murder, but I wasn’t sure I could commit to a book that thick on a subject I already know a lot about. Plus, I already have Joyce Carol Oates’ My Sister, My Love ready to go after I finish The Great Gatsby, which is a fictional account of the crime. Alas, when I decided to go back for it it had already been sold. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.

There were also some fabulous food stalls at Clunes, with baked potatoes and Dixie cups, but I was most impressed by Widow Twankey’s Lolly Shop & Ice Cream Parlour, which sold the cheapest lollies and cakes in town (or most towns, for that matter!). Of course we stocked up on Red Skins (the racist lolly of the masses), Fantails, boiled candy and Toffee Apples. Yum!

While I was planning on picking up a few more titles than I did, I will definitely be making an appearance again next year, and I urge you to, too. Book lovers will feel like they’ve died and gone to heaven.

Related: Go Back to Booktown This Weekend (2011).

Go Back to Booktown This Weekend (2010).

Elsewhere: [Back to Booktown 2011] Homepage.

[Widow Twankey’s] Homepage.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

 

The perils of pants-less ladies.

Does Gossip Girl care about women in politics?

Bryce Corbett in defence of Nicole Kidman:

“… it seems to me that Nicole Kidman is engaged in what must be a most dissatisfying unrequited love affair with her homeland. She flies to Australia to pimp her country on Oprah. She makes a film with Baz Luhrmann which (whatever you may have thought of the final product) was a massive shot in the arm for the local film industry and a two-hour love-song to her country of birth. She fronts up to G’Day USA every year to flog the myriad wonders of Down Under. And following the Victorian bushfires, she donated half-a-million dollars of her own money to the Red Cross relief fund. What a cow.”

“Sexual Assault & the Super Bowl.”

Anna Chong, a designer from the London College of Fashion, has re-imagined Lady Gaga’s most popular get-ups into Barbie-sized outfits. But she’s not the first to do it

“Why is Captain America Ruling Our Screens & Not Wonder Woman?”

Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes as modern-day hipster fashion icon.

The New York Times profiles “nice-guy blogger” Jared Eng on his “cheery, quotidian, Britney-goes-to-Starbucks” blog, JustJared.com.

Also at The New York Times, The Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield is un-relatable.

Jacob Lambert on “The Paper-Reader’s Dilemma”:

“No longer are books being pitted against pixels; pointing out that paper isn’t reflective either seems very 2007.  The war is now between tablets, as if the book never existed at all.”

Yet more dispelling of the Nicole Kidman vitriol, this time in a vintage (2008) article on Girl with a Satchel.

In the same vein of “17 Arguments Against Gay Marriage & Why They’re Bollocks” and “10 Things You Need to Understand About Asylum Seekers”, comes John Birmingham’s defence of Sandra Reynolds, via MamaMia.

I’d been searching for this article for awhile to reference in a few Lady Gaga musings, and finally came across it again last week and re-read it in the bath. Bliss. A fine example of quality journalism.

Reblogged from Fuck Yeah, Gender Studies, Rachel Hills runs a post on the question of “Who Sexualises Children?”:

“God, it doesn’t even make sense—HOW can a child be sex vixen? When I look at a child, I see a child. Regardless of costume. Dressed like Mary Poppins or dressed like Britney Spears, a kid is a kid! If you see something sexual, the problem is with you.”

I haven’t been shy about my hatred of Charlie Sheen (I know hate is a strong word, but honestly, he is a despicable human being), especially when he gets a free pass because he happens to be the star of TV’s most successful show, while Lindsay Lohan’s career is in ruins. Jezebel reiterates this:

“In recent years no stars (with the possible exception of the oddly lovable Celebrity Rehab cast members) have had their problems with addiction more publicized than Charlie and Lindsay. However, the way these stars are treated by the media and the public is vastly different, mainly due to the double standard for female celebrities.

“The scorn for Lindsay is particularly strange because compared to Charlie, she’s only hurting herself. Let’s review some of Lindsay’s biggest tabloid scandals: Two DUI arrests, four stays in rehab, missing numerous court hearings, going to jail for failing a drug test, battling bulimia, battling her father, and breaking up with her girlfriend. As for Charlie, he’s been in and out of rehab for years, he “accidentally” shot fiancee Kelly Preston in the arm, he was named as a frequent visitor to brothels owned by Heidi Fleiss, he’s dated numerous porn stars, he ODed on cocaine, allegedly shoved Denise Richards and verbally abused her during their marriage, and was arrested for domestic violence against Brooke Mueller, but avoided jail time due to a plea deal. Lindsay has never been married and has no children. Charlie has been married three times and has five kids, four of whom are under the age of 10.”

Taking a Leaf Out of Amazon’s Book: Bad Customer Reviews

Jeanette Demain recently wrote for Salon.com an article on “amateur critics” bemoaning the plotlines of her favourite books, most of them canonical.

At the end of her Amazon search-related compilation of readers’ negative comments on classics from “The Grapes of Wrath to 1984”, she urges readers to peruse Amazon’s customer reviews of their favourite books.

So, I thought I might take a stab at this, and compiled my very own list of attacks on the books that “changed my life forever”.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

One of the finest pieces of modern American literature, I was hard pressed to find bad reviews on this one. The harshest was from three-star-rater Jane A. Marshall, who said To Kill a Mockingbird was “a good book but not as good as the movie. The exact ending as to how the attacker was killed left too much doubt as to who actually was the killer—I don’t think this was a good way to end the book.” Mmm, good, good, good. And more good.

Seriously, though, for my money Harper Lee crafted one of the best endings of all time. So much so that I defaced my copy by highlighting the passage for easy retrieval when I want to marvel at the beauty and power a good writer can wield.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

One Amazon discussion thread was titled “Catcher in the Rye should be banned”, and continued with “not because it’s obscene or perverse”—ever read Bret Easton Ellis, my friend?—“but…because it’s a lousy book.” Eloquently put.

The general consensus in response to that thread was a) who are you to judge whether a book should be banned based on it’s lousy-ness, and b) we are not in favour of censorship. My sentiments exactly.

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann.

While I will agree that this book is somewhat fluffy compared to the others on this list, I wouldn’t say that it was “a huge disappointment,” according to A Customer. They go on to say that, “I have loved the movie version of Valley of the Dolls for a long time. Admittedly, it is a BAD movie, but its camp sensibility and generally over-the-top style make it a classic of the ‘bad movie’ genre.”

Put a different way, Wayne M. Malin calls it a “silly soap opera that follows three women… [through] death, suicide, lesbianism, cancer, marriages, tons of drug abuse, institutionalisation, etc…” Yes, but isn’t that the appeal of the thing?!

I will agree on one of the most common allegations, that protagonist Anne Welles “ is perhaps the dullest character ever created,” said QueensGirl.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

The author of this book, whose “plot unfolds through three points of view—a 16-year-old girl in search of her father who disappeared into vampire land in 1972 and reveals himself through letters to her, the father who was searching sixteen years earlier for his abducted thesis advisor who secondarily reveals himself through a trail of letters, and the thesis advisor who was searching for Dracula through historical research,” has apparently “committed an act of such brutality that it rivals any atrocity that Vlad Tepes [aka Dracula] ever committed,” reviewer Carlos asserts. (Thanks for the plot summation, William J. Meggs!)

Meggs goes on to say that “if you would enjoy the tedium of being an historian digging through old libraries, you might enjoy the tedium of reading this book.” I would, and I did, thankyou very much!

Tietam Brown by Mick Foley.

It was difficult to find a bad review for this novel, “because only wrestling fans read it.” Which is probably 90% true, but even non-wrestling fan reviewers found it a struggle to comment negatively on it.

But lo and behold, I found the diamond in the rough in A Customer’s (again—take credit for your opinions, people!) response: “The dialogue is painfully bad, I’d rather be stuck in the ring with Mick for ten minutes than be subjected to reading another ten minutes of this book.” With Foley’s trademark barbed wire-encased baseball bat and thumbtacks? That is a fate worse than death.

Harsh.

Watership Down by Richard Adams.

Mostly light-hearted fun-poking to be found in the Customer Reviews section for this book. Caraculiambro says, “I suppose my threshold for silliness for books with talking animals (particularly bunnies) is The Wind in the Willows. Anything more sophisticated than that is preposterous, I think… on the whole, it’s hard to take it seriously unless you’re a pre-teen girl. But if you are, good luck with the language.” Touché.

Much in the same vein, Lucy the Bargain Hunter says, “this book is really boring, but since there was no bad language or sex, I didn’t have any excuse for not trying to get through it.” She then goes on to ask, as I have many a time after ploughing through a Jane Austen or Stephenie Meyer, “everyone else loves this book. Maybe there is something wrong with me[?].” To borrow a phrase from the late Brittany Murphey’s Tai in Clueless, “everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, a’ight?”

A Lion’s Tale by Chris Jericho.

Again, another WWE alumnus’ tome, so it is geared towards a very niche audience with mostly glowing reviews. The most damning assessment comes from Sean M. Hurley, who says the autobiography doesn’t live up to that of Mick Foley’s debut, Have a Nice Day, or even “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels’ ghost-written memoir. “My main gripe with the book is that Chris doesn’t get as personal with the reader as one would have enjoyed. Mick really exposes himself and allows himself to be vulnerable, while Chris still seemed to be holding back…” he says. Funny, as I found A Lion’s Tale to be on par, if not better, than Have a Nice Day

Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne.

Dredging through page after page after page of one star reviews hurt, as this is my absolute favourite of all the books on this list.

To dig the knife in even further, A Customer says “I had to rate the book at least one star for the review to be kept. Actually, it’s worth zero.” Show your face, nameless hater!

Next week, the positive reviews! Yay!

Elsewhere: [Salon] Amazon Reviewers Think This Masterpiece Sucks.

Welcome!

Hi, my name is Scarlett Harris and I am the creator and administrator of this blog.

I have been wanting to start a blog for over 12 months, so what better time to start it now that I don’t have to commute to and from work every day?

I live in Melbourne, Victoria, and in 2008 I completed a Bachelor of Arts in Professional & Creative Writing from Deakin University, with a double major in Media & Communications. I have also done work experience with Cosmopolitan magazine and the RSPCA.

My passions are reading, writing, pop culture and social commentary, which this here blog will primarily focus on.

My favourite authors are the late Dominick Dunne and Mick Foley (yes, the professional wrestler! Check out any number of his memoirs, children’s books and novels; he’s actually a brilliant writer.). Book wise, my favourites are To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (come on, who doesn’t?) and A Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (likewise).

Keep in mind this is a small blog, starting out with basically no readership and not many media contacts, so any suggestions or constructive criticism is welcome. Please, if you like what you see, recommend the blog to friends!

Enjoy!