eredien: Dancing Dragon (Default)
Did you live through the endless summer? Do you remember the sound of a furtive modem connecting at midnight? A voice synthesizer module spurting out unmodulated vowel sounds one after the other until they all blended into a string of soothing white noise? Was your first email address--like mine--iterated by a new number each time you got a free AOL disk, because subscribing to dialup was too expensive? 

If you did, you will feel a lovely shock of recognition of the early days of the internet as a limitless, yet strangely limited, social space, within this book.

But it's not just about that. 

I plan to give a copy of this book to people who grow up and can't understand what it was like before Amazon Prime could deliver you anything you wanted in two days; before most people had internet but after most people had seen their first web address and knew it had something to do with computers; back when reading a WIRED article about a cyberpunk-inspired company-sponsored rave in the early days of Silicon Valley made me go home and teach myself to program in HTML for a summer.

I want to give a copy of this book to my parents--my mom who loved King's Quest but couldn't follow onto the byways of the internet; my dad who still can't differentiate between "Google" and "a web browser;" who must've worried and wondered almost as endlessly as I did about the dynamics of a place where I could be good friends with people I've met twice in my life; where I co-wrote novellas with someone on the opposite coast until someone ignored the little sign I put on the phone and disconnected me--but who worried about it without the firsthand knowledge of its possibilities and little oubliettes of esoteric digital knowledge.

Most of this book is a personal memoir; the last few chapters go into a much-needed, deeply felt argument for the return of serendipity to the increasingly commercialized and self-promoting internet.

eredien: Dancing Dragon (Default)
[I'm trying out Dreamwidth's crossposting feature; if you're getting errors on either LJ or DW please let me know.]

The many books which I find to read often change me. The few books which find me to read them change the me who I am.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, is such a book.

Detailed summaries are everywhere, so I'll only touch on the plot: in the late 80's, the main character is fifteen, and her favorite uncle--a gay man semi-closeted by the kind of silent family agreement that with time becomes a silent family dispute--dies of AIDS. The grief in this book is large, and real, with the quality of startling mundanity that real grief has.

The other characters in the book feeling the fact of the uncle's absence from their lives is what creates the character of the uncle, or more accurately the character of the uncle's absence, for the reader. The book's prose and the characters' emotions are the tools that Brunt gives the reader to feel around for the edges of the hole, the space--once filled, and now empty--in the structure of the story. One miracle of this book is that this whole writing structure is totally unforced, almost invisible, effortless and agentless as heartbreak. A second miracle in prose: this theme of negative space is explored literally in the book by the device of a painting, and that doesn't feel forced either: having the metaphor made concrete in the book seems the most natural of devices, evolving solely from the characters' interests, memories, and conversations.

This theme of negative space is, of course, a metaphor for the secret surrounding AIDS and the family's individual secrets surrounding the larger, half-spoken truth of the uncle's life with his longtime partner before his death. Wolves doesn't shy away from using that metaphor with precision and great sensitivity--and even better, eventually drops all metaphor when confronted with such human, impossible, life-changing, grief as AIDS. The grief in this book is gloriously, purposefully, deliberately angry, made political by personal necessity, and so, so valuable for that: the fact that it evokes the political and moral climate surrounding American queer people in the late 80's and early 90's, and the way that it does so, made me remember watching Philadelphia as a closeted 14 year old and realizing at the time that it was considered an act of award-winning cultural daring for famous people with thousands of dollars and corporate backing to act out love in the way I actually loved, or to act out dying in the way I understood that people like me were probably going to die.

I can't imagine what it would have been like to read this book as a straight person, or even as a younger LGBTQ person (as fascinated as I would be by hearing those perspectives), because the angry grief this book contains made me more happy to be myself and be no one else. Even though I was personally done feeling apologetic, guilty, homophobic, or self-hating about coming out and being out as a queer person, I didn't even know that I still felt apologetic, guilty, homophobic, and self-hating over having closeted myself in the first place. Wolves' finely detailed examination of personal, historical, and cultural grief surrounding the AIDS epidemic allowed me to see myself, my choices, and my unhappiness with those choices in context. I'm able, finally, to show compassion to the closeted queer girl I was half a lifetime ago, am amazed that I have such a capacity for compassion and love, and feel thrilled that it's necessary to continue to show myself such compassion.

Wolves, being built around death and secrets, may seem depressing. But this novel is a truly amazing coming to terms with the necessity of life's eventual end and the loss of loved ones, via the recognition that there is so much joy, color, love, art, capacity for self-exploration, and forgiveness bursting out of a merely fictional loss that it gives one immense amounts of hope for the nonfiction of life.

Please, please read this book; I'd love to discuss it with you, my friends.