Posts Tagged ‘delay’

Several years ago, I took Gallup’s Strengths Finder Quiz, and one of my strongest points is what they call Deliberative, which means that I take a long time to decide things. I spend a lot of time foreseeing problems, and while many people see it as a sign of morbid anxiety, it can actually be considered a strength. Bring me a decision, whether in personal or public life, and I can tell you all the ways it can go wrong so that you can prepare for every eventuality. More spontaneous people could get frustrated at my reluctance to commit to any course of action until I have all the information necessary to decide, and I need more information than most.

Paula Power, ingénue, is just such a person. Her father’s preacher gets angry because she won’t become a Baptist, but she needs something more than “It’s my dead daddy’s church” to make the commitment. Similarly, when she meets George Somerset, she likes him, but she won’t let him know how much. It’s kind of important at that time, because back then people got married within a few weeks of kissing someone. A girl meets a charming boy, and she may not know that he’s an alcoholic gambler until she’s made a lifetime commitment and given him all her assets. But throughout the book, people try to force Paula to do and be what they want, and she has to keep fighting for her right to make her own informed decisions.

A lot of this perspective comes from having finished the book – for most of it, she’s enigmatic because she won’t commit herself in words. Most of the book comes from the point of view of the men around her. The first is Somerset, a young architect who comes around to study her castle. Her father is a railroad millionaire who bought the castle shortly before he died. The hereditary family is still in the area, and Miss Charlotte De Stancy becomes Paula’s best friend. Her brother is the second suitor. Captain De Stancy finds his desires for women irresistible, so he generally shuns female company. Back when he was eighteen or twenty-one, he produced a bastard whose mother died, so he’s had the boy raised in secret. The kid is now eighteen or twenty-one himself, and determined to see his father married well. True to the tradition of literary bastards, William Dare uses all the dishonest means at his command to advance his plans, and his lack of ethics leads to his plans’ frustration. As the Captain tells him later, it would have been successful if he had just left things alone.

The heterosexual pairings in this book seem kind of odd, because at the beginning, Hardy seems to push for homosexual possibilities. Somerset sees Paula for the first time by peeking in a church window, which he only does because he’s distracted by the boys fetching water. And, when he first meets Captain De Stancy,

He was in truth somewhat inclined to like De Stancy; for though the captain had said nothing of any value either on war, commerce, science, or art, he had seemed attractive to the younger man. Beyond the natural interest a soldier has for imaginative minds in the civil walks of life, De Stancy’s occasional manifestations of taedium vitae were too poetically shaped to be repellent. Gallantry combined in him with a sort of ascetic self-repression in a way that was curious. He was a dozen years older than Somerset: his life had been passed in grooves remote from those of Somerset’s own life; and the latter decided that he would like to meet the artillery officer again.

And on the part of the ladies as well:

“You are her good friend, I am sure,” he remarked.

She looked into the distant air with tacit admission of the impeachment. “So would you be if you knew her,” she said; and a blush slowly rose to her cheek, as if the person spoken of had been a lover rather than a friend.

But these homoerotic possibilities are ignored as we get pressured into the heteronormative narrative. It feels like the story gets squeezed by Victorian narrative constraints. I may be thinking that because Hardy himself was constrained at the time; he was ill when he wrote this story, and believed himself to be dying. Most of the book was dictated rather than handwritten by the author. This leads to a certain clarity of style he doesn’t often adopt. Shorter, more intelligible sentences. But he didn’t die; he lived another forty or fifty years, so this is not even close to the end of his career. I’ve got five or six more novels to read, then a boatload of short stories and poems.

I know that I generally have a lot more to say about the books I read, but I’m nervous right now. I’m starting to apply for jobs, and it reminds me of being an adjunct professor who applied for full-time work and doctorate programs for four years without any success. One does what one must, but I make myself too vulnerable, and I take rejection hard.

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It’s hard to know what to say about You Suck that I didn’t already say about Bloodsucking Fiends. A lot of it is very similar, just as a sequel should be. One of the most important differences is the difference between 1995 and 2007. When BF was written, HIV was a huge cultural issue, particularly in San Francisco, but by the time of YS we had collectively calmed down about it. The people who got HIV in the 1980s had either died of AIDS or figured out how to manage the condition, so even though YS begins at the exact second that BF ends, it’s a different world. No one’s talking about AIDS, everyone has cell phones (this happened somewhat miraculously while I was gone to Brazil, 1999-2001 ish), and Tommy’s grunge look (T-shirt and flannel) can no longer pass without remark. This means that there’s less drama and even more comedy.

All of the characters who didn’t die in BF are back, which is almost all of them, actually. The Animals are a little more clearly defined, Steve has a slightly larger part, and Tommy’s a vampire in this one. The real news is the new characters: Blue, Jared, and Abby. The Animals went to Las Vegas and blew all their money hiring a blue prostitute. They drive her back to San Francisco in a rented limo and try to talk Tommy into “boning a Smurf.” She’s more than they bargained for – finally someone has the predatory instincts that the old vampire has been searching for, only she doesn’t have the training or good sense that he does. Jared is a gay Goth teenager who doesn’t fit with his weirdly suburban family, and Abby is his best friend. We met her briefly in A Dirty Job, written between BF and YS but covering a wider time frame and including the detectives and The Emperor. Abby becomes Jody and Tommy’s minion and a part-time first-person narrator, where she absolutely shines.

So I got Chet out of the stairway of the old loft and was carrying him kid-style when I saw the two cops from before – the ones the Countess said helped blow up Elijah – so I went up to the Hispano-cop and I was all, “So, what’s up, cop?”

And he was all, “You need to get home, and you have no business out at this hour, and we should take you to the station and call your parents and blah, blah, blah, threat, threat, disapproval, and fascist dogma all up in your darkly delicious grille.” (I’m paraphrasing. Although I do have a delicious grille as I had to wear braces for three years when I was a kid, and now my teeth are like my most acceptable feature. I hope my fangs come in straight.)

And the big gay cop was all, “What are you doing here?”

And I was all, “I live here, bone-smoker, what are you doing here? Aren’t you guys homicide cops?”

And he was all, “Let’s see some ID blah, blah, bluster, bluster, Oh My God I am so full of shit.”

And I was like, “I guess you wouldn’t have to deal with this shit if you had properly blowed up that old vampyre when you stole his art collection.”

So all of a sudden the Hispano-cop and his big gay partner were all, “Whaaa – ?”

And I’m like, “Just so we know where we stand. How long you bitches going to be here?”

And they were like, “Just a half hour or so longer, miss. We need to interview some witnesses and go clean out our boxers where we have just completely shit ourselves. Do you need a ride somewhere?” (Again paraphrasing.)

Yeah, she’s a perky teenaged Goth, so she’s into Hello Kitty and Anne Rice. She tries to crush her perkiness to fit the Goth stereotypes better, but you can’t keep a good optimist down, and it is the internal conflict between the Gothiness and the perkiness that makes her so very delightful.

Here’s one of my favorite funny bits:

“Hi,” Jared’s father said.

Tommy had expected a bit of a monster based on Jared’s description of his father. Instead what he saw was a bit of an accountant. He was about forty-five, in pretty good shape, holding a little girl on his lap who was coloring a picture of a pony. Another little girl, who looked about the same age, was coloring on the floor at his feet.

“Hi,” Tommy said.

“You must be the vampire Flood,” Jared’s dad said, with a bit of a knowing smile.

“Uh. Well. Kinda.” It showed. He could no longer hide among the humans. It must be because it had been so long since he had fed.

“Sort of a weak ensemble, don’t you think?” Jared’s dad said.

“Weak,” repeated the little girl without looking up from her pony.

“Huh?” Tommy inquired.

“For a vampire. Jeans, sneakers, and flannel?”

Tommy looked at his clothes. “Black jeans,” he pointed out. Shouldn’t this guy be cowering in fear, maybe begging Tommy not to put his little daughter in a sack for his vampire brides?

“Okay, I suppose times change. You know that Jared and his girlfriend went up to Tulley’s on Market to meet Abby, right?”

“His girlfriend, Jody?”

“Right,” said Dad. “Cute girl. Not as many piercings as I expected, but we’re just happy she’s a girl.”

An attractive blond woman in her late twenties came into the room carrying a tray with carrot and celery sticks on it. “Oh hi,” she said, dazzling a smile at Tommy. “You must be the vampire Flood. Hi, I’m Emily. Would you like some crudités? You’re welcome to stay for dinner. We’re having mac and cheese, it was the girls’ night to pick.”

I should drink her blood and put her kids in a sack, Tommy thought. But his vicious predator nature was overcome by his Midwestern upbringing, so instead he said, “Thank you very much, Emily, but I really should be going if I’m going to catch up to Jared and Jody.”

“Well, okay then,” said the woman. “Girls, say good-bye to the vampire Flood.”

“Good-bye, the vampire Flood,” the girls sang in chorus.

“Uh, bye.” Tommy bolted out of the room, then back in again. “Where’s the door?”

Everyone pointed through the kitchen, whence Jared’s stepmonster had just come.

He ran through the kitchen and out the door, then stood with his back against the minivan in the drive, trying to catch his breath. “That was fucked up,” he gasped, then realized that he wasn’t out of breath from exertion at all. He was having an anxiety attack. “That was really, really fucked up.”

The love story in this installment is less rom-com than it was in BF. It’s more like Act II of The Fantasticks, when things that were magical are revealed to be cheap tricks and the childlike lovers have to face real life. It may seem logical that to assume that after Jody turns Tommy into a vampire, their relationship struggles are a lot simpler. After all, that was the problem, that Tommy couldn’t understand or even relate to what she was going through. But Tommy’s experience as a vampire is as different from Jody’s as were their experiences of being human. As a petite redhead in a big city, Jody felt like she was always in danger. Considering the statistics for rape and domestic violence, she probably was. As a vampire, she feels powerful and unafraid for the first time. For her, vampirism is about new senses, new abilities, and new strength. Becoming a vampire gives her the freedom to be herself for the first time. Tommy’s a teenaged writer from the Midwest; he sees the world as a safe place where people will take care of him. It makes him a little naïve and gullible, but he has never experienced the type of fear that has defined Jody’s existence. When he becomes a vampire, he doesn’t see himself as stronger; he sees himself as weaker. His hunger has become the most important aspect of his personality. He doesn’t read novels or write stories any more. Jody lost her internal obstacles, but Tommy loses his internal supports. Even though they care deeply about each other, they want different things from life and from their relationship. There’s a breakup looming in their future.

I’ve run into something sort of similar here in my real life. I moved to a new town two months ago, and I met someone. We’ve gone out a few times, but things are cooling off. Physically, we work together very well, but emotionally, we’re never going to be in love with each other. He needs someone who can keep up the other end of the conversation better than I can; I need someone who finds my silence restful, and can share in it. He needs someone who will join him in the closet when out in public; I need never to be in the closet again. I can respect his decision intellectually, but pragmatically, I’m going to forget. When I want to kiss a guy, I don’t stop to check whether anyone is looking or not; I just do it. I need someone who is out all the time, not just to himself and a select few friends.

Speaking of the select few friends, there’s a small circle of gay men here who seem to have pretty fucked-up relationships. They’re hung up on guys who aren’t hung up on them, and when I explain the details to myself it seems like high school drama and not a group of grown men ranging in age from early 30s to mid 50s. There’s a refusal to face reality that can be hard for me to comprehend. To elucidate: There are a couple of guys in the last few months that I have had feelings for, but I know that they only want to be friends. We’re not going to live happily ever after, ever. So I accept their friendship, that being what they have to offer, and I don’t try to force them to feel what I do. If I do sleep with one of them, I’m not going to interpret that action as proof that my seeds of love are beginning to bear fruit; I’m going to think that we’re both lonely people who need to be physically touched and can tolerate each other’s company for an evening. And as I change my thinking about them, my feelings will eventually change to fit, I hope. For one of them, they already are. But I know that not every feeling is worth pursuing, and that it is sometimes kinder to conceal romantic feelings for someone who can’t return them. I believe that one day I will find a romantic relationship with someone who loves me intensely and whom I love in return; I’ll get what experience I can until that happens, but I’m not going to put a lot of emotional work into someone who will not return the investment. That’s just preparing myself for a big disappointment.

Jody and Tommy know that this relationship is not going to work out. At least, she does, and maybe she’s convinced him. But the key to novel-writing is successfully delaying what the reader knows is going to happen, and Abby is so determined to keep them together that they don’t manage to break up by the end of this book. It’s okay; there’s a third.