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The stars blinked kindly; the dusty luminescence swayed above his head. A small fire burned at his feet, blazing around and licking up the deadened logs of ash. The grass was sweet, puckered in the chilled night, and the distant hymns of nightbirds barely rang through the muddied air. A tent was pitched, its patchwork of colors bruised in the absence of sunlight.

He twiddled a stick between his fingers. The bark was coarse and uneven, cold. The humble firelight bumped up on his face and neck, which grew warm from the heat. He was bundled in a thick coat of dark feathers, hoping to defend against the coldness promised by the others. Though, surely, he thought, it would get much warmer.

He pitched himself upon a cliff, a rocking lake below, a forest behind him. The fire cursed, shouting gravely at him, but he paid no attention. The flames’ crusade was beneath him. He had other concerns.

Dew had lain itself upon the grass. The moon—blank, deserted, crumbling—quivered amongst the stars, fearful to be completely extinguished. The waves of willows’ leaves spun in the air and on the ground. The fire acted again, incorrigibly. It was becoming a nuisance.

A reserve of water sat at his feet and he killed the fire. Thick smoke rolled through his nose and eyes, staining his clothes and ears. A violent sizzle fizzled out. The stars grew brighter as another source of illumination vanished into night. The wind in the willows blew around the encampment, and he felt a sudden rush of something. He couldn’t think of it, this emotion.

The words flew about within his head; they were simple, but effective, easily remembered. They only had one destination, and tonight they would be used accordingly. The words possessed much more than he could imagine, and, yet, he was not frightened by this. Or, perhaps, he merely put it out of his mind. He simply hoped nothing would go awry, that no chime of guilt would echo in his bones or blood, make him long for what once was. He needed this.

Sertaqa iza,” he spoke to the night. His feathers elongated, the wings on his back ascended; he flew up into the air to watch the stars die and fall to him.

He watched as, one by one, the kind lights jolted from their atmospheres, where they had so lovingly clung, and tumbled downward in mesmeric spirals. His pursuits succeeded, and he smiled. A wind bellowed. The stars stung the black sky with their array of colors, streaking it. The moon shied away, turning herself into an invisible nonexistence.

The first star bounded to him and he clutched it between his two hands, his fingertips gripping the molten, luminous sphere; it was heavier than he thought. Though seemingly afire, the star did not singe his skin or curl his feathers. He pressed his hands against the star and condensed it, molded it into a slighter, more perfect orb. It burst into color, rapidly transforming from white to a lustrous sapphire.

And with it, he placed the glowing sphere into his mouth. It crackled as it met his tongue, his saliva reacting to such a foreign object. The star tasted of ash, blood—almost putrid, but somehow satisfying. He savored the lingering flavor as the soft sphere coalesced with his body. It found its way through his esophagus and into his stomach. A blistering feeling erupted, and an immediate desire to vomit. Yet, he silenced the urge. As the star swirled, it relocated to his chest, through the lungs, and made residence in his heart. It stiffened and bled out, trickling down into his blood.

A second star met his hands, and he ate it, too. Then a third, and a fourth. Piles of stars plagued the cliff he hovered above. He would continue his meal throughout the oncoming days.

The moon turned around to look at this damned occurrence. She squealed with rage, but sought no revenge. For what could she do? The last of the stars amassed itself upon the bodies of its brothers, scarcely gleaming. He floated down, wings scraping the air, and nestled himself amongst the stars.

A blackness had devoured the sky.

February 2016 – Book Review

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What a marvelous book. I’m not much into science-fiction or fantasy, but I thoroughly enjoyed The Magicians. It’s a grown-up, modernized mash-up of Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, and I loved every minute of it. Quentin Coldwater travels to Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, where he meets Alice, Eliot, Janet, Penny, and a slew of other magicians as they tackle and refine their abilities. Scattered throughout the novel is a series of books set in Fillory where the Chatwin children visit. And, just maybe, Quentin gets to visit, too. A truly great, witty, fun read. Lev Grossman’s prose is a delight to read. I’m so glad there are two more books after this because I never want to leave this world. 4/5

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Anyone who follows me on Goodreads knows that I had trouble with The Devil in the White City. I’m still really quite torn. There were elements I liked and there were elements that left me completely uninterested. The biggest problem I have is that there are two, in all reality, separate stories that don’t really go together. On the one hand, we have Chicago’s World’s Fair: it’s planning, creation, operation, and aftermath. On the other hand, we have the story of H. H. Holmes: murderer. Everything about H. H. Holmes is fascinating. Everything about the World’s Fair is generally boring; I just could not get into it. Unfortunately, nothing really clicked until the midway point, and the only reason I finished the book was because I had already invested so much time into it and so I might as well have finished it (in addition to larger sections dedicated to Holmes). There is a singular mention of Holmes attending the Fair, and that’s it. That doesn’t work for me. That’s not enough. Larson’s writing is good, but even he can’t spin the “connections” between the two stories. I would much rather have read a book just on Holmes, with the World’s Fair simply being the setting. I really don’t have any desire to ever read it again. Though, with a film adaptation coming up, I will say I’ll watch what Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio come up with. 2.5/5

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My Murakami Marathon continues with his fourth novel, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. This novel is wholly unlike any of the previous Murakami novels I’ve read; it truly cannot compare. There are two interlocking stories here. Hard-Boiled Wonderland follows the path of an unnamed man who meets a mystifying Professor and his granddaughter and gets caught up in the “shuffling” of information, discovers his past, and plans for the future, all wrapped around a rather unique mystery. The End of the World follows the path of an unnamed man who is stuck within a walled town, aptly named End of the World, and becomes the Dreamreader, someone who reads information-laced particles of light that emanates from skulls.

Part detective story, part post-apocalyptic utopia (though, of course, utopia it is not), wrapped in post-modern dreams and themes. It’s a truly bizarre book, but Murakami’s strength lies in his description and the juxtaposition of these two connected stories. Every page was truly interesting and captivating, mesmerizing. A seriously good read. 4/5

 

Look for me on Goodreads here.

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Part 1 – Summer 1909

 

Chapter 1

“Ursula, you must not speak such vulgar and irreverent language!” protested Agnes Miller, who promptly giggled in her high register at the surprising embarrassment of Ursula’s disgustingly obscene words. “Your tongue will simply fall off at this very moment; I am unwaveringly sure of it.”

“Oh, contrary to your wanton beliefs, my dear, sweet Agnes, my tongue has never been so supplanted in all of its twenty-three years!” retorted Ursula Poole, “and it shall remain so until I perish from this very earth.”

The two ladies sat outside in the bright summer light around a beautifully carved wooden table; they perched themselves out in the exquisitely manicured garden of Ashton Woods to take in the air and to get away from the men who spent this morning curiously indoors. Rather odd, one would think. The clouds were beginning to appear, if only marginally. The heat was stifling and surprising, especially since there had been an onslaught of rain these past several days.

Around the embellished table sat four other women: Gladys Barrow, Eugenia Mayfield, Poppy Sutton, and Edith Wilby. All were in their twenties as well, though Gladys, that most unfortunate creature, looked to be in her mid-forties (some horrifically scarring accident left her face in irreparable shambles).

Delightfully droll the conversation was, though all but Agnes Miller agreed on that point. Edith Wilby remained perfectly silent, however, as she unquestionably loathed this sort of female gathering she has always been forced to attend; her face gleamed with disinterest. A perfectly light breeze circulated the table, rustling the women’s dresses, napkins, eyes, and conversations.

“Perhaps we should start back again,” suggested Eugenia. “I was off gazing at the lilies—those that only a proper English countryside villa can provide—and completely missed such vulgarities issuing from Ursula’s obviously wretched mouth.”

“You are always off gazing at something or other, aren’t you Eugenia?” questioned Gladys in her unexpectedly low voice (another hopeless circumstance for this poor woman). “What could you possibly be thinking about?”

“Oh, why nothing at all, Gladys. That’s the beauty of it. Pushing out my thoughts is one of my greatest strengths. That and my ability to capture men who have yet to realize their desire for me.”

“You are quite the spider, aren’t you, Ms. Mayfield? Just catching them up like dumbfounded flies in that pink and lacy web of yours,” said Poppy.

“I successfully accomplish two types of speaking, Ms. Poppy Sutton. Only one is less vocal than the other,” replied Eugenia with her natural wit and indecency.

“Why, we are a match made in heaven, aren’t we Eugenia?” proffered Ursula. “I must undeniably be your twin, as we share the very same assets! I feel as if we are sisters who have known each other for eternity.”

“I was one to believe that we were off the subject of your repugnant lips.” Agnes Miller stood up from her chair and sauntered closer to the white lilies Eugenia so longingly gazed at beforehand. They sparkled in the shimmering sunlight, still blistered with morning dew. She took up her pink parasol and it bloomed above her head.

“Come now, Agnes; be reasonable,” stated Gladys.

“It’s so absurdly despicable this morning,” she replied, looking up into the achingly bright light.

“Oh, please be careful, Agnes. Do not spend your time gazing into the sun. It’s killed many a person before, surely. Or at least affected their sight.”

“That would be such a pity, wouldn’t it?” Ursula muttered under her breath.

There was a slight pause in the conversation, a buckle upon the mouths of the women. Though, curiosity got the best of them, and Eugenia repeated her desire: “Shall we start back again, Ursula? I had missed your point moments ago.”

“We’re treading on a troubled track, I am absolutely sure of it!”

“Agnes, please. This shall all be over in one solitary second and then you may rejoin us if you so desire,” Poppy told her. “Look at dear Edith. She’s said nary a word and looks completely at ease.”

Edith aggressively glared at Poppy but remained quite mute; she did not want to pursue this avenue, which would undoubtedly result in an un-lady-like debacle.

“Now, Ursula, what were you about to say?” asked Eugenia emphatically. She leaned in closer with considerable anticipation.

“Such vile, contemptible nonsense,” mumbled Agnes to herself.

“Well, just like a firework—”

 

An ache was forming within his head, as if it were scraping upward toward his skull, searching for a way out but finding an impenetrable barrier in its path, blocking any possibility of escape.

“Come now, Dexter Wilby, sit yourself down here and relax yourself,” spoke Charles Grant to his dear friend. “Have a fag if you are so worried about Purcell’s arrival; surely that would help. Don’t let’s get all excited over nothing, my friend.”

“He really ought to be here by now, don’t you think, Charles?” questioned Dex Wilby. Even though he had been properly dressed by Jennings, his trusted valet-butler, he looked unkempt and worn down, perhaps with worry, as it seemed to be, or something of the unconscious; in any case, it was unquestionably clear as to the state of his current appearance. His dark, shadowy-colored hair, smoothed back mere moments ago, now hides part of his face, making him look slightly crazed. His hands visibly shook.

“Ju-just calm yourself d-down, D-Dex,” stammered William McVeigh. The poor man was affected with a sublime stutter, and thus seldom spoke unless absolutely necessary. He had a strong sense of composure, though, and was usually the one who quieted any sort of storm that may be brewing. He offered the same suggestion as Charles, and Dex leaned over, grabbed a cigarette from his golden case, and lit it with a match.

“This is to be a relaxing weekend in the country, dear boy,” spoke Edward Hall, looking as tall and formidable as ever. “Perhaps get your mind off of Purcell and back to the festivities of this afternoon. We shall all go riding, or hunting, or fishing, or something along those lines. I’m sure your father has it all figured out. Hunting, I’d suppose.”

Ashton Woods, the country villa in which these people are currently stationed, belonged to James Anderson Wilby. His family has owned the estate for several decades after, of course, it fell into the hands of James’s great-grandfather Adam Wilby from some indeterminate legal matter from Lord Edward Ashton that has almost never been brought up in polite conversation. Nevertheless, riches swiftly flowed into the Wilby family, and a more than comfortable life was present at Ashton Woods.

“Yes, I think perhaps a hunt is planned for later this afternoon,” Dex stated glumly. He never particularly enjoyed a hunt, but his father did and so he felt obliged to always partake in such occasions. In any case, the hunt would perhaps be postponed, not only because of Oliver’s tardiness but also the possibility of a storm. The butt of his cigarette glowed a brilliant orange-red color, and the smoke washed away into the darkness of the humid air within the drawing room.

 

Felicity Wilby, a gangly, freckly girl of about twelve years of age, barreled down the bright grassy knoll and through the overgrown meadow to escape to the small, slightly secluded pond, which sat near the edge of Ashton Woods. The Mermaid’s Trench, she called it, was hardly bigger than a standard room, but it cradled a variety of aquatic life, even in its smallest of crannies, and that excited her curiosity immensely.

At the far side of Mermaid’s Trench, bolted down, plunged through the soggy earth, rested a stiffened diving board. Although this pond was small in width, it had a great depth. Felicity would occasionally practice her diving skills, but that would be inappropriate today. It would take her ages to dispose of the clinging water if she submerged today. The temperature wasn’t particularly warm, anyway, and so she decided to simply perch on the diving board and stare into the hazy blue.

Trombone, Felicity’s incorrigible but lovable pet cat—her domesticated “lion”—sauntered over toward her. He had a certain gait, one that made him look as if he only possessed three walking appendages; however, he truly contained all four. Perhaps he was vying for attention wherever he went. It didn’t matter, though. Felicity remained in love with that silly, shaggy beast. Trombone scrunched up his face and sneezed several times in succession. He was allergic to the sun, you see.

Mermaid’s Trench, which usually had a ferocious current of activity, was rather muted this particular summer day. No frogs were hopping or burping or unleashing their tongues upon unsuspecting prey; no dragonflies were skimming around the top of the waters. It seemed almost devoid of any aquatic life. Only once did she miraculously witness a miniscule guppy jump out the water to attempt a fly capture; it failed tremendously. The water lilies lingered on the surface, bobbing slightly if a minor wave swam by. Otherwise, static.

Perchance the pond was cursed, however. Ever since… Sometimes, shadows… But she decided to think on something else.

Felicity said to herself aloud, “Perhaps Oliver would fancy the sight of Mermaid’s Trench?” She knew the answer already and laughed.

Oliver Purcell was a young man who often visited Ashton Woods for several months, beginning in summer. Felicity had known he would like to see Mermaid Trench, as she always escorted him to that little slice of paradise when he came to visit. Oliver was muscular, blonde, and tall—much taller than she—and he usually doted upon Felicity’s older siblings, Dexter and Edith (perhaps because of the closeness in their ages; Dexter was twenty-four, Edith was twenty, and Oliver fell somewhere in between).

Trombone sneezed again. Felicity looked down to see the feline shifting positions and curling up into a furry orb. Her attention diverted back to Mermaid’s Trench. Miniscule ripples floated across the top; she imagined these as horrific wave crashes for the small flying things that usually balanced on the watery surface. She dipped her hand into the bath and then removed it, watching the water form slim lines down her palm and back to its rippled reservoir.

The sun shone on Mermaid’s Trench. It was getting hot, and Felicity knew she should return; she’ll try to avoid the superfluous individuals who were currently spaced throughout the home and garden. She heard their echoes already, and that displeased her. Felicity glanced down to find the cat and noticed a vaguely human figure shimmering on the water’s surface; it looked like her, but perhaps it wasn’t. The little ripples twisted the image just so.

Scooping up Trombone—who jerked and groaned from the viciously sudden skyward movement—Felicity meandered back through the foliage toward the domineering fortress, the antediluvian and colossal trees shadowing the top of her bright, butter mellow head.

 

“See, Agnes, we’ve completely finished that conversation; it shall never be brought up again,” Ursula stated mischievously. Everyone there, including the relatively naïve Agnes, knew the entire conversation would be repeated multiple times over the course of the weekend.

Agnes swiveled around, closed her parasol, and retreated back to her seat. She was not accustomed to this sort of talk. Her mother rejected it, and, thus, so did she.

“Did you hear about Florence Wells? Her terrible cousin is coming for a visit.”

Silence.

The air seemed boiling and any notion of a breeze left the women to glisten with pimples of sweat.

Ursula swiveled around and asked her neighbor, “Tell us, dear Edith, did you have a successful trip in, oh where was it, Barcelona? Such a queer destination for a holiday. Did you ride a mule perchance? If I were a gambling woman, I would undoubtedly bet as much. I’m astounded you did not holiday in Italy. That’s much more fashionable, don’t you agree? Oh, everyone says that Italy is much chicer. I heard that Honeychurch girl holidayed in Florence; she went with her aunt, I believe. You went with your Aunt Briony, is that correct, dear?”

Ursula and the rest twisted their bony necks toward Edith and glared, waiting for a reaction from their taciturn acquaintance.

Edith, ignoring Ursula’s remarks completely, abruptly stood straight up, said, “Excuse me; I suddenly feel quite ill,” and glided back to the house in much haste, her dress swaying aggressively behind her.

“What ever is the matter with her?” asked Gladys. “We’re all roasting out here. At least we have the decency to manage ourselves in uncomfortable situations,” which meant much more than just the present issue. “Cheeky.” She picked up a cucumber sandwich, placed it in her mouth, and chewed rather grotesquely, her morning sweat rolling down her beaky nose onto sandwich, dampening the soft, chewy bread.

 

The grandfather clock sighed some chimes and then promptly shut down, as if that was the only opportunity to make its mark at any given hour; its hands shown noon.

Dexter Wilby sucked in and blew out a controlled puff of grisly grey smoke, which clawed and clambered its way through the air until it disappeared into nothingness. He then sat up, straightening his back and firmly planting his feet down on the oak floor. Glancing at the miniature clock that hung from his jacket, Dex found it to be two minutes past noon and replaced the clock into the appropriate pocket. He inhaled then exhaled, with less control this time.

His unhappiness seemed to breed, and now all the men appeared to be sulking in an unsuitable fashion, considering how glorious this weekend will surely be. Not even McVeigh could surmise an adequately uplifting phrase to lighten the mood. But then Hall offered a suggestion: “How about we leave you to it, Wilby? I think us lads need some fresh air, and those women will certainly need some interruption from their sisterly and holy chats.”

A round of agreeing headshakes flittered about the room, and Wilby responded, “Quite right.” The gentlemen escorted themselves out into the garden and Dex remained in solitude, which was actually preferable due to his present state of mind. They left in a cacophony, leaving a peaceful reticence.

Dex tapped his foot on the floor in rapid repetition, making a heavy clanking sound reverberate throughout the room. Looking ahead, he found the framed painting of St. Jude atop the fireplace; he wasn’t particularly religious, but Dex often found himself glancing at St. Jude, hoping for some sort of remedy. He thought himself a lost cause, mostly because his mother often told him as much. Ophelia Wilby was a dominating force, and she placed such a cycle of hardships on her children that Sisyphus would be grateful of his own constant problems. Her smoky breath drew nightmares in his sleep.

But enough of her. Inhale, exhale; do not overreact, dear boy. You’ve waited this long, Dex. What’s a few more hours of ragged breathing and foot tapping? Dex, stop tapping your foot. What would your father say? Patty and Felicity? Why is the temperature so ghastly infernal today? Such heathens! What grim night visions! The clock is pitter-pattering again. But I shan’t check it again. Worry rears nothing but more worry. Surely—

He grabbed his pocket watch and checked the time once more: 12:12. His foot continued to tap monotonously, endlessly. His fag burned out, and grabbed another; it burned, and he inhaled that ghostly presence.

The vivid, gloomy, sticky light of August broke through the stain-glassed windows on the far side of the room, painting a cascade of harmonious colors upon the floor wooden floor, Dex’s feet and face. He stood up in the middle of the floor, and remained static, not going left, not going right.

He wondered.

 

Trombone leapt from Felicity’s cradling grasp and onto the waving grass beside her. He reviled being carried, though he usually dealt with it. His owner continued to walk at a leisurely pace beside him. Felicity had given up hope that Oliver would arrive on time, though he never had in the past, so her tall expectations were quite unfounded. She walked under Ashton Woods’s ancient trees, their jagged yet strong branches groping outward and upward to the cloudless August sky, catching the sunlight in their hands.

Felicity enjoyed her lackadaisical approach to her walk home. There was no urgent desire to return and spectate amongst everyone else; even the occasional greeting by the elders left Felicity a smidgen reticent. If only her good friend Dolores were here; she would have made everything better.

Nevertheless, she continued down the grassy path with Trombone beside her, who was now chasing after a bee, unaware of any potential dangers that lie in such an endeavor. A horde of ants was piling out of and into their underground burrow, and Trombone hissed his unpleasantness. Gentle birds flitted overhead, their voices cascading into Felicity’s ears; the sound was peaceful and relaxing, and she began to daydream.

It was mostly about her mother, Ophelia. Felicity remembered her mother’s cool, comforting touch, and the way she would say darling whenever she spoke directly to her; Ophelia’s voice, Felicity recalled, seemed crumpled yet sonorous, and always contained a hint of honeyed rasp, a strangely inviting sound. If only she wasn’t stolen away, so many years prior.

Felicity missed her mother desperately. It had been six years—nearly half of her life—since Felicity last saw Ophelia. She didn’t quite understand as to why this was, but she trusted her father implicitly. She would do anything to get her mother back, though. Anything at all.

It soon became breezy; the wind ruffled Felicity’s dress. Trombone looked up at her and rubbed against her leg, meowing affectionately; or, as affectionately as a cat could. She could see the underbellies of the tree leaves above her, and she knew it was about to rain. Her mother told her as much. However so many years ago.

She evaluated the skies and came to the same conclusion.

 

As most would agree, it was harshly unsettling to feel one’s own stomach violently compressing and then lunging ascendant. Edith skirted behind an impeccable stripe of decorated topiaries and vomited rather unceremoniously. Such a rare occurrence caused immense discomfort and distress, and left an acidic bite on the tongue and a curdling shock on the teeth.

Edith suddenly felt deeply morose and unreservedly confounded by this certain predicament. These emotions came rather unexpectedly as there was no forewarning of any sort of illness. Perhaps it was an ill-prepared meal or some other sort of disastrous plague going round the English countryside. She decided to place blame on Ursula, for her sheer annoying personality. And the others as well because, well, why not? Might as well.

Nevertheless, Edith was, and rightfully so, apprehensive. If this condition had not originated from poorly produced food nor the displeasure of her former party, then, perhaps, something from her recent holiday had created this unwelcome circumstance, as she had only been back at Ashton Woods for three days.

Edith recovered herself. She clawed at some luminescent emerald grass and spread it about her production, and she then straightened herself up, checking her clothing for any sort of unsavory residue. Instead of returning to the mind-numbing festivities at the table, she headed back to the house. Along the way she passed the men, who were happily migrating toward the women, smoking their fine cigarettes and howling with cheer. She opened the door, and, upon entering, noticed Dexter in his customary state of being: restless worry, slight panic, wide-eyed surprise.

 

Edith had opened and closed the door rapidly, and, in the beams of the vivid August light, walked over to her older brother. Dexter could tell her mood was changed from mere hours before—when she begrudgingly left with the other girls outside—and decided to transform his own demeanor to compensate, a philosophy he had adapted to long ago.

Dexter had a complicated relationship with his first sister. Though close in age, and a relatively happy childhood together, they had increasingly drifted apart in recent years. Nowadays, their relationship consisted mostly of polite hellos and the occasional mockery of the other, but hardly ever moved beyond that. A full conversation was a rarity and silence was a regular staple whenever congregated.

“Hello.”

“Hello, yourself.”

Edith sauntered over to the couch and sat in the position where her brother formerly presided. “You’re looking unwell,” Dexter told her. He noticed her slightly shaking frame, a quiver upon her lip, a glassy quality to her eyes.

“Yes. Well, the heat was unbearable. And the others, too. They were nearly as intolerable as the sun.” She smiled slightly, let a strained chuckle through.

Dexter laughed himself, as he was in agreement with Edith. He looked at his sister and gently smirked. Still standing, though, he began to pace; a bit of sweat lingered on the shoulder blades, gravity willing it to slink down his back. Silence, their common friend, settled in. Edith gazed up to the ceiling, breathed in, breathed out, watched the black, putrid shadows roaming on the crackling walls, foreign beasts and persons past colorlessly jumping up and down. There was clearly something on her mind, but Dexter held his tongue.

“Oliver, then,” interjected Edith, betraying that swollen silence. “Have you heard anything?”

Of course he would be brought into the conversation; it was a matter of when. His presence was expected by everyone; he was intended to be talked about, almost in mythological terms. “No,” he said bluntly, “but he should arrive presently.” His fingers began playing a tune on his right thigh; nervousness led him to the comfort of music, and thus piano playing in the air tended to soothe that sensation.

This movement was odd but recognizable to Edith, as Dexter tended to act thus when anxiety strangled his nerves. He always had this fretful apprehension, an unending worriness, as far back as she could remember.

When Edith was eight, a Mr. George Ellis was to attend a dinner held by the Wilbys. She was excited, giddy at the fact that someone else would be joining their home, even for a briefest visit. Edith was an explorer, a wondering wanderer, and any new person—interesting or not—was a person who would change the day’s atmosphere, a promising specimen ripe for inspection. Mr. Ellis was a rotund, pompous, arrogant man—not a particularly good role model for such a youth—who travelled the world (an exciting fact for Edith). Dexter was less excited for Mr. Ellis’ arrival. A generally energetic boy, his demeanor changed drastically when George Ellis’ visit was announced; he slowed, moved inward on himself, quieted, began tapping his foot, his fingers; his blue, whispering soul curled round itself, shrunk. Novelty became uncomfortable. Dexter did not glance at Mr. Ellis for the dinner’s entirety. Not once. Edith, however, chatted with him almost constantly, investigating his travels, his life. They got on swimmingly; he inspired her. She wanted to travel with him to uncharted lands, to get out of her chair and see the world (a desire that betrayed her now). Mr. Ellis left that evening after the dessert course. Edith was devastated to see her newfound friend leave; Dexter was exhilarated to return to normalcy. That was the last the Wilbys heard of Mr. George Ellis, who tragically perished in a fire, but left an mbira, a small thumb piano, to her, as he promised her a trinket from his travels.

“He’ll be here soon, Edith. I’m sure of it.”

“Yes, of course,” she responded.

“Have you seen Felicity recently?”

“Hmm, no. She left for Mermaid Trench this morning, but I haven’t seen her since. I bet she’ll be back soon. It’s getting too warm outside and she knows better than to stay outdoors.”

“I expect she’s on her way.”

They sunk back into silence. Their conversation seemed to end. Dexter began playing the air and Edith stared neatly at her knees, her soft, lengthy hair gliding down upon her breast.

 

Felicity realized that she was incurably bored, incapable of finding much interest in anything at all. Not even Trombone, who scampered beside her, could hold her absolute attention.

She was nearing home and thought, again, of her friend Dolores. Felicity often felt her presence around the grounds of Ashton Woods, even though she had been gone for more than a year now. For, you see, Dolores was found dead the previous summer, waterlogged in Mermaid Trench. Felicity’s world was turned sideways, flattened in utter destruction. She collapsed, her bones instantaneously weak from grief; she cried ceaselessly for weeks on end—and for good reason. Dolores was her closest friend, and to hear of her sudden and mysterious death was earth-shattering; to have it occur at her home was just as petrifying. A long spell of nothingness waved over her, and not even Gideon Lark, her favorite groundskeeper, could boost her spirits. The individual responsible for Dolores’ death was never found, though months of rigorous investigation took place. Today her emotions were relatively back to normal, as much as they could be considering the circumstances. She promised herself not to slip into these dark doldrums, and the return of Oliver brought back happier memories, those of laughter and springtime bliss. Nevertheless, Felicity’s thoughts frequently travelled to Dolores. Oftentimes she even believed she had spotted her friend wondering on the grounds, in the shadows of trees or disjointed crooks within her timeworn home; a gleaming specter, a reminder.

Trombone brushed against Felicity’s shins and she gently plucked him from the ground. She arrived at her home and opened the door, dropping Trombone onto the creaky wooden floors. Entering the room, she closed the door behind her and saw her brother and sister. The cat scampered past and out of sight. Dexter looked forward and Edith stood up, both catching sight of their sister.

Felicity ran to them and hugged them individually.

“Hello, monkey,” Dexter said.

“Hello, goose,” her sister told her.

“Are we all here waiting for Oliver?” Felicity asked them. Both of them nodded their heads in agreement. Their eyes flicked between them. An energy was bubbling between their bodies, noticeable to the trained eye.

Echoes of laughter travelled from the outdoors, and then suddenly turned to echoes of shrill discontent.

They all sat down and waited. Outside it began to rain.

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An incessant barrage of rain fell diagonally from the sky, shattering upon the treetops, the lampposts, and the roofs of houses. Glossy streaks swam down the windows. The sun had long since swirled out of sight, and a bright, full moon traversed the inclement horizon, pitching light when given the chance. The dreamers, asleep in their beds, lay silently, paralyzed in restful bliss. Except for one dreamer, who sat at his window staring off into the night, and watched vast puddles grow on the street below.

Calvin Darrow traced the streams of rain as they slithered down the windowpane, unaware that they were following his lead. He often stayed awake late into the night, waiting for a certain occurrence. When he was a boy, roughly a decade prior, he noticed a strikingly clear image fade in and out of focus across the street, under the flickering lamppost that joined Hartford and Canary. It was ghostly in appearance, and so Calvin thought it to be as much. It was a short figure, seemingly opaque in design but with a recognizable dark patch, and carried a briefcase or some other such piece of luggage, as if waiting for transportation. In its other hand held aloft an umbrella to block the downpour. Its face was indecipherable, obscure in a horned mask of nothingness. Or, perhaps Calvin just couldn’t see it properly. Maybe the light fractured the illusion.

But, over the years, he’s developed trepidations; perhaps it was not a ghost, whatever it was. Nevertheless, Calvin promised himself to stay awake during the full moon of each month, hoping to curb his curiosity.

And then, just like magic, a glimmer in the light, a rippling of a ghostly mass formed. He saw the feet first, along with the piece of luggage, and then the rest of the body appeared, opaque but tangible. Calvin blinked to make sure he saw what he was seeing. Yes, he was sure. There was a figure. Calvin threw on a hooded jacket, slipped on some pants and tennis shoes, and quietly raced down to the street.

As he approached, Calvin raised the hood over his head. His shoes squelched in the puddles he carelessly stepped into. The rain soaked through his clothes and onto his skin.

The figure, barely illuminated—the light providing much of its bodily structure—beckoned to him wordlessly, almost as if a thin rope was thrown around him and pulled him toward the ghost. And Calvin complied. Curiosity had taken over, that was irrefutable. The rain, still falling, disillusioned the figure; it became blurry and difficult to decipher, its design compromised and out-of-focus, almost as if a dull, ineffective eraser poorly smudged it out.

The lamppost came into focus, and the light flickered through the downpour. The figure, still in a blur, held out a hand, and, with a lunge toward Calvin, clutched his shoulder with gaunt fingers. The light disappeared from the lamppost; the moon snuffed herself out. Calvin felt a deep coldness upon his shoulder, as if the ghost was drawing his warmth through its fingertips. The rain stopped, and a silence feverishly materialized. A frozen, fiendish chuckle stung the atmosphere.

The rain suddenly stopped and a great mist swirled about the air. And then, with a great staccato crack, Calvin and the figure vanished into nothingness.

There was complete darkness and coldness. Only a silent, fierce wind pulsing through his body was the only identifiable aspect for Calvin. His head throbbed, but he remained steadfast, unwilling to give in to such distress. And just as quickly as the dark and cold rushed through the air, a vast lightness came into view.

The figure formed in Calvin’s eyesight, still clutching the piece of luggage. He closed the umbrella and placed it on the stone floor. He greeted Calvin.

“Hello and welcome to my home.” His voice was cool and solid, thick like an earthy boulder. The figure even smelled earthy, as if he was brought up deep within the woods, amongst the moss and ferns, the dew in the morning light. It was difficult to believe that fiendish laugh came from him.

“Who are you? What’s happened?” Calvin asked, dazed and unsettled.

“Mine is an ancient name, one that only the trees and wind have bothered to remember. However, I am commonly referred to as Roman; you may call me as such. And, as for what has happened, we’ve just gone through a nice little wrinkle. Nothing at all to be worried about. Perfectly normal.”

“A wrinkle?”

“Yes. A wrinkle in time. A tesseract,” Roman said.

“And, what is that?” he asked, a quizzical look upon his face. He heard a sharp exhalation of breath from his acquaintance.

“Have you never read the book?” Roman responded, completely dumbfounded by this boy.

Before Calvin had the chance to shake his head with a pitiful “No,” Roman had spun around, set the piece of luggage down (now easily distinguishable as an oversized briefcase), and walked toward the back wall of this seemingly confined, chamber-like room, where a grand bookshelf overtook his view. That’s when Calvin noticed something he hadn’t before: haunches. Roman’s haunches. Calvin soon came to the realization that Roman was no ordinary individual—as if the sudden rush from one place to another hadn’t tipped him off—but, rather, a faun. The horns Calvin believed were sticking out from Roman’s mask, which wasn’t a mask at all (the light must have wiped his facial features), weren’t an accessory but attached to the top of his head. He gazed in amazement as the slight clicking of Roman’s hooves echoed across the chamber’s stone floor. Calvin had never seen a mythical creature before.

Calvin also came to realize the dark patch he saw before: an inky black star on his left side’s haunches. Curiouser and curiouser.

Roman pulled a book off the shelf and, returning to Calvin, gently placed it in the boy’s hands. “It’s L’Engle’s masterpiece. Exquisite, really.”

Calvin turned the book in his hands, admiring the blue cover with three children floating above a town, huddled beneath a vast winged beast. He considered it thoughtfully, and, trying to win the graces of the only other individual in the room—a captor, or perhaps a friend—Calvin promised to read it thoroughly.

“How you haven’t yet,” Roman said, “completely baffles me, especially with a name like yours. Ah, well, you can’t know it all. Let me explain it to you, as she does: Take a string with an ant on one end; if the ant were to travel the length of the string, it would take the ant some time to reach the opposite end; but if the string is folded, the ant can travel much more quickly. And that is what we did, Calvin. We took the string and folded it, made it a wrinkle. A tesseract.”

“So, we time traveled, then?” Calvin asked, hopeful to be right.

“Yes, we time traveled.”

“Wicked.”

“I know.” Roman gave the boy a look of smug accomplishment. After all, the faun did expedite everything.

Calvin, who had been sitting on the stone floor throughout this conversation, stood up on his wide, flat feet. He placed the book on a table next to him and looked around. The enormous bookshelf stood opposite him, the kitchen to his left, and a small sitting area and bedroom to his right. There weren’t any windows, and the only source of light, and heat, was a small black fireplace carved into the wall. Though, opposite the fireplace was a small pinprick of light that seemed to have no origin; he barely even noticed it on first inspection. A small painting hung above the bed: a mountain at the touch of dawn, a beautiful alpenglow sneaking amongst the clouds. The space was rather quite small.

“Look how curious the boy is,” Roman said, more to himself than to Calvin, rapping his fingertips on the bookshelf, a light rhythm repeating itself.

That caught Calvin’s attention. “I’m sixteen. I’m not a child.”

“Ah, the sweet turns of youthful ignorance where those just on the verge of maturity believe they’ve accomplished such a feat but are, in all actuality, simply not there yet.”

Calvin was taken aback by Roman’s biting tongue, his easy use of such harsh words. “You know, you’re kind of a dick.”

“Yes, but you’ll grow to love me. Everyone I meet loves me.”

“I don’t really see that happening,” Calvin retorted.

“Patience, young one. Patience. Everything will become clear.” Roman went to the kitchen and picked up a large silvery pot, filled it with water with a finger snap, and set it on the stove. Steam rushed from it almost immediately, and the faun took it off the heat, filling two cups with the boiling water. He picked one up and held it out toward Calvin. “Care for a spot of tea?”

January 2016 – Book Review

The first month of the year is over, and I thought it would be fun to review the books I’ve read in January. Here it goes:

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A thin volume with reimagined, modernized fairy tales, along with some original stories by Cunningham. Some of these reimaginings work rather well, and some of them fall a bit flat, unable to conjure up any magic. While Cunningham’s writing is superb–and his ability to humanize previously simple and two-dimensional characters is quite impressive–some of these new tellings feel somewhat short and incomplete. I did, however, enjoy a few of them, including the stories “Little Man,” “Steadfast; Tin,” and “Ever/After.” Additionally, the illustrations by Yuko Shimizu are beautiful. A Wild Swan is good but not great. 3/5

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I saw the film version ofThe Perks of Being a Wallflower when it first came around in 2012, but I hadn’t ever read the novel before. However, I decided, on a whim, to pick up a signed hardcover copy at Barnes & Noble (to treat myself; I do love signed editions) and made plans to read it. Stephen Chbosky’s novel is just as grand as everyone says. I tend to find epistolary novels, though told through letters, to be awkward, but I didn’t find that here. It was very easy to relate to Charlie and travel with him on his journey. I now know why everyone loves this book. 4/5

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I’m sure some people will truly love this book. They’ll find it captivating, interesting, fun. I am not one of those people. First of all, I’m not the intended demographic; I am not a teen, no matter how youthful my appearance may be. (Not that you need to be a teenager to enjoy teen books.) I also don’t read fantasy/adventure novels. I just don’t. I think the last ones I read were The Hunger Games trilogy when they first were published, and then The Hobbit, which was about nine years ago.

So, why did I choose this book to read? Plain and simple, it was the cover. I think it looks pretty cool, and the pages are black, which I’m a sucker for. Once I started reading Six of Crows, though, I got a little flustered. Tons of information and lingo were thrown at me at the beginning, making it rather difficult for me to actually get into the book, the story, and the characters. Once I did pick up the lingo and figure out what was going on–around page 70 or 75–things started to pick up. Now, I do think the characters were generally well-written and fleshed out; each had their own personality and humor, so I do appreciate that. But then it felt like the story just went into a standard/recognizable rhythm, which made the heist seem less exciting/dangerous and more predictable. I also felt a disconnect between the ages of the characters and the occupations of those characters. Sixteen and Seventeen year olds aren’t spies and business owners. Though, I’m guessing these types of occupations are more common for teenagers to possess in this genre (I still don’t like it).

Just because I didn’t necessary care for Six of Crows doesn’t mean that others won’t. (And, in looking at the other Goodreads reviews for it, I’m clearly not in the majority.) For me, it was simply fine, and doesn’t necessarily make me want to read any other (popular) books in the teen fantasy/adventure genre. 2/5

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Last year, I decided to collect all of Haruki Murakami’s fiction writing, including all of his novels and collections of short stories (and now I own all but one, The Strange Library). I decided to do a Murakami Marathon, which is somewhat punny as the author runs marathons (I had a laugh), and this collection of his first two short novels, newly released here after 30 years of being out of print, was where I’d start my marathon. To preface: I’ve read Norwegian Wood before, which is probably his most famous and well-known novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was hoping for the same reaction to these novels. Alas, these really weren’t the same.

Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 were Murakami’s first attempts, and they seem like it. I can only compare these short novels to the magnificent Norwegian Wood, and so I have to say that I wasn’t overly impressed with them (and, apparently, Murakami wasn’t either, which is why they’ve been out of print for thirty-odd years). Nevertheless, I feel as if there are inklings and certain feelings that will emerge in his later works, and I’m excited to see how he builds upon those; and, surely, his work will become more impressive.

Hear the Wind Sing is short and sweet, and did remind me a bit of Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen, which I read at the end of last year. It’s more of a straightforward story, without too many surprises popping up. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but just a little uninspired. Pinball, 1973 is a bit more creative and unusual. I’d classify some spots as “deliciously weird” (though, I think there will be even weirder stuff to come). The whole conversation with Spaceship the pinball machine is probably my favorite bit. Both are good, and I enjoyed them, but not as much as I’d hoped I would. This collection is a good start to Murakami’s much-beloved body of literary work, though. 3/5

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Right after Wind/Pinball, I decided to read A Wild Sheep Chase. It was as if something finally clicked with Murakami. The third novel in the Rat trilogy, A Wild Sheep Chase continues the story of the nameless narrator and his weird adventure that leads him on a wild sheep chase. The novel is a drastic improvement over Murakami’s first works. His writing style is definitive and a complete change from that found in his previous novels. Style, complexity, characterization, and overall storytelling are just leaps and bounds more impressive. There’s just this mystical and inexplicable quality here that’s refreshing; the oddness of it all is so captivating and special. No wonder Murakami took the world by storm with this book. 4/5

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I’m not one for memoirs, unless they’re by comedians (for some inexplicable reason). I bought When Breath Becomes Air for my mom, and I decided to give it a go because I’m currently stuck on reading another book (Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City). I actually connected with Kalanithi’s book more than I thought I would. Perhaps it’s because I also went into college thinking about majoring in English or biology (I chose English, just like Kalanithi, though I have no plans to go into medicine). He is a rather gifted writer; his words are easy to read but they have a weight to them. It’s probably not as “inspiring” as was intended–or maybe I’m just not one who’s easily inspired–but enjoyable nonetheless. 4/5

75 Must-See Films

This was a daunting task. I’m sure I’m forgetting some of my favorites, and this list will need to be amended several times. Plus, I’ll need to add in any new favorites that come along the way. I believe the 1950s was prime-time for filmmaking, and so that decade is probably a bit overrepresented. But, hey, what can you do? I also desperately need to see films by women; that’s something I’ll certainly change this year (starting with Agnès Varda).

I will say this, though: the world would be a much darker place without these fine films. Click on the film title for additional info.

75 Must-See Films

  1. Across the Universe (2007) dir. Julie Taymor
  2. All About Eve (1950) dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz
  3. Amélie (2001) dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet
  4. American Beauty (1999) dir. Sam Mendes
  5. Anatomy of a Murder (1959) dir. Otto Preminger
  6. Atonement (2007) dir. Joe Wright
  7. Beauty and the Beast (1946) dir. Jean Cocteau
  8. Beauty and the Beast (1991) dir. Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
  9. Bicycle Thieves (1948) dir. Vittorio De Sica
  10. Black Swan (2010) dir. Darren Aronofsky
  11. Blue Velvet (1986) dir. David Lynch
  12. Breathless (1960) dir. Jean-Luc Godard
  13. Cabaret (1972) dir. Bob Fosse
  14. Carol (2015) dir. Todd Haynes
  15. Casablanca (1942) dir. Michael Curtiz
  16. Chicago (2002) dir. Rob Marshall
  17. Citizen Kane (1941) dir. Orson Welles
  18. City Lights (1931) dir. Charlie Chaplin
  19. Cloud Atlas (2012) dir. Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer
  20. Day for Night (1973) dir. François Truffaut
  21. Doubt (2008) dir. John Patrick Shanley
  22. East of Eden (1955) dir. Elia Kazan
  23. Eating Raoul (1982) dir. Paul Bartel
  24. Fantasia (1940) dir. Samuel Armstrong, etc.
  25. Fargo (1996) dir. Joel and Ethan Cohen
  26. Frances Ha (2013) dir. Noah Baumbach
  27. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) dir. David Fincher
  28. Gone with the Wind (1939) dir. Victor Fleming
  29. The Great Beauty (2013) dir. Paolo Sorrentino
  30. Hiroshima mon amour (1959) dir. Alain Resnais
  31. Ikiru (1952) dir. Akira Kurosawa
  32. In the Mood for Love (2000) dir. Wong Kar-wai
  33. Jules and Jim (1962) dir. François Truffaut
  34. The Little Mermaid (1989) dir. Ron Clements and John Musker
  35. The Long Day Closes (1992) dir. Terence Davies
  36. The Maltese Falcon (1941) dir. John Huston
  37. Maurice (1987) dir. James Ivory
  38. Melancholia (2011) dir. Lars von Trier
  39. Memento (2000) dir. Christopher Nolan
  40. My Own Private Idaho (1991) dir. Gus Van Sant
  41. The Night of the Hunter (1955) dir. Charles Laughton
  42. No Country for Old Men (2007) dir. Joel and Ethan Cohen
  43. On the Waterfront (1954) dir. Elia Kazan
  44. Out of the Past (1947) dir. Jacques Tourneur
  45. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) dir. Guillermo del Toro
  46. Persona (1966) dir. Ingmar Bergman
  47. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) dir. Peter Weir
  48. Psycho (1960) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
  49. Pulp Fiction (1994) dir. Quentin Tarantino
  50. The Red Shoes (1948) dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
  51. Rosemary’s Baby (1968) dir. Roman Polanski
  52. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) dir. Wes Anderson
  53. Seven Samurai (1954) dir. Akira Kurosawa
  54. The Seventh Seal (1957) dir. Ingmar Bergman
  55. Shame (2011) dir. Steve McQueen
  56. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) dir. Jonathan Demme
  57. A Special Day (1977) dir. Ettore Scola
  58. Spirited Away (2001) dir. Hayao Miyazaki
  59. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) dir. Elia Kazan
  60. Sunset Boulevard (1950) dir. Billy Wilder
  61. Sweet Smell of Success (1957) dir. Alexander Mackendrick
  62. There Will Be Blood (2007) dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
  63. The Thin Red Line (1998) dir. Terrence Malick
  64. Tokyo Story (1953) dir. Yasujirō Ozu
  65. Vertigo (1958) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
  66. Vivre sa vie (1962) dir. Jean-Luc Godard
  67. Wall-E (2008) dir. Andrew Stanton
  68. Weekend (2011) dir. Andrew Haigh
  69. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) dir. Mike Nichols
  70. Wings of Desire (1987) dir. Wim Wenders
  71. The Wizard of Oz (1939) dir. Victor Fleming
  72. Young Frankenstein (1974) dir. Mel Brooks
  73. The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) dir. Jacques Demy
  74. 8 ½ (1963) dir. Federico Fellini
  75. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) dir. Stanley Kubrick

“Carol” – Review

 

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Carol isn’t your nostalgia-tinged, candy-coated, melodramatic, Technicolor dreamland of a 1950s romance. Carol is darker, hazier, more thoughtful, and more particular. Todd Haynes has created a rich, substantial film, and Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara have perfectly illustrated two characters slinking into such a then-forbidden romance, cautious but hopeful to be swept up in it all.

Blanchett plays the titular character and Mara plays Therese, a lowly shop worker; they accidentally meet, and fate twists upon them. Their connection is undeniable, both for the characters and the actresses. I can’t see any other women playing these roles. Blanchett is always mesmerizing, but Mara truly shines here. To contrast Therese with, say, Lisbeth Salander illustrates just how diverse the roles she chooses and (effectively) plays. Their acting is subtle but powerful. It may come off as wooden or unresponsive, but I don’t see that at all. I was captivated by them. I can imagine both actresses earning Oscar nominations (they’ve already earned Golden Globe nominations for their performances). Sarah Paulsen and Kyle Chandler also play important roles, and do rather well with their characters.

Carol is an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt. Highsmith is probably most known as the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley. Now, I’ve yet to read The Price of Salt (something I hope to do in 2016), but it would be interesting to see how Phyllis Nagy adapted it into a script, something that always interests me.

This may sound odd, but I quite enjoyed all the sequences of travel (there are many). The camera usually stays on the outside of the vehicle, remaining on (usually) Mara peering outside, almost as if she’s longing for it. The camera does, however, creep into the interior, and focuses on the passengers’ interactions, their habits, their exhaustion, their happiness. I found this visual motif to be key in understanding Therese’s journey.

It’s interesting to contrast Carol with Far From Heaven, Haynes’ 2002 film which does pay homage, in both aesthetics and script, to Douglas Sirk and his candy-coated, melodramatic, Technicolor dreamland film All That Heaven Allows, starring Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman. It’s almost as if Carol is a foil to Far From Heaven (and many of Sirk’s films). Don’t get me wrong, Far From Heaven is a beautiful and effective movie, too, but it’s such a distinct variation on the same theme, a darker realization that I prefer; they each play together and contradict each other, which is fascinating to me. It would be interesting to compare the two further.

Carol is probably my favorite film of 2015. It’s subtle, dark but hopeful. Blanchett and Mara are perfect, and Todd Haynes has simply stretched out his streak of winning films.

The film was also shot in Cincinnati, where I live, so it was fun to spot certain buildings or skylines and see how they were transformed for the film.