Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Safest Hands

My wife said that if you told her that the Captain America movies would be her favorites among Marvel's offerings five years ago, she'd punch you in the face. She isn't a violent person, so this kind of surprised me, but she said that she would have taken the assertion as a kind of jab in itself. A 'hahaha, you like the boy scout,' kind of deal. On the face of it, he does seem dated and boring. But you know what? The Captain has had the best solo films in Marvel's Cinematic Universe. Civil War makes a hard case for being my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe film, (jockeying against Winter Soldier; another Cap flick). It also holds the distinguished honor of being the best Avengers film. Some spoilers to follow.

Marvel's comic universe has more than a couple problems, but the most serious deficiency is a lack of compelling bad guys. Netflix has done a remarkable job with William Fisk, Kilgrave, and the Punisher. The first Avengers flick also gave Loki a lot more personality than he had in the comics. But deprived of Spider-Man's rogues (who are themselves, hit or miss), and Magneto (Marvel's best antagonist) the MCU has had to scrape for credible and compelling threats. Therefore, turning the good guys against each other is one of the best calls you can make from a narrative perspective. The actual bad guy (because there must be an actual "bad guy") is also refreshing, in that he is not a man trying to conquer the world, but a human with a very credible vendetta, willing to use very human forms of manipulation, subterfuge and cruelty to accomplish his goals.

The movie's centerpiece, an all-out six-on-six slugfest, is the best superhero fight scene I've seen to date. It's a love letter to capes and tights comic fans; an unapologetic nerdgasm captured on film. Reality shattering choreography that shame simple combos like Wolverine's Fastball Special. It's funny too. Great quips between laser blasts, giant punches, telekinesis and webslinging. It's the best Avengers film because the ensemble shines brighter than the other two flicks. There are so many characters that it seems impossible for everybody to get the screen time they deserve, but the personalities are there, and they work the same way they do in comics. I find it interesting that so many people were surprised to find themselves on Team Cap and that they were so bitterly opposed to Iron Man. To begin with, it's Cap's movie; that should give you a big clue, no matter how much you like RDJ's portrayal of Tony Stark. Secondly, Steve Rogers is a paragon of justice while Tony really isn't. He's a juvenile on-again-off-again alcoholic with a god-complex. And, in the Civil War comics, he becomes a straw-man for post 9/11 politics. An avatar of security-over-liberty fascism.

In the movie, his position actually struck me as much more believable. He has a crisis of conscience that echoes the one he had in the first movie; in other words, his actions are coming from the most heroic part of himself. And when he goes full-villain in the last fifteen minutes, his motivations seem perfectly understandable on an individual level. "He killed my mom," is pretty peerless when it comes emotional payloads. I wouldn't have backed the accords in the first place, but if I found myself face-to-face with the black ops bastard who killed my parents? You bet your ass I would try to tear them apart, whether they were brain-washed or not.

My one disappointment with the film echoes the big problem with the Civil War comics. It seemingly sets out to tackle one of the greatest ethical/philosophical problems with superheroes as a concept, and never really articulates a resolution. What can humans do to protect themselves from demi-gods, or at least make themselves feel better about their apocalyptic interventions? The truth is, Marvel can't go there because the answer is very, very dark: we're screwed. Plain and simple. Steve demonstrates that he could sign all the papers the U.N. Security Council wants, but at the end of the day, if one of the good guys decide to go rogue, there is fuck-all we can do about it. Save for Natasha and Clint, he is also the least 'enhanced' individual on the team, and he STILL overcomes everything the world's governments and other heroes throw at him. (Though the movie plays very fast and loose with his speed, strength, and endurance). But image how little we could do against Vision. Or Wanda. Or Thor. Or Hulk.

Super powers are inherently unfair. And the heroes who wield them don't break laws so much as they ignore them. The consequences are laughable. To quote the good season of True Detective, they are "the bad men to keep other bad men from the door." And we love them, because they get to be bad for the 'right' reasons. Their unfair powers empower us, because when we read, we aren't the screaming masses in Manhattan, we're the rule breakers. I know these aren't terribly novel observations, but they feel important all the same.

I also can't help but wonder if there is some form of accountability that doesn't boil down to "my superhero can beat up your superhero; may the best demi-god win." Of everything I've read, Gotham Central is the comic that comes closest to dealing with this issue, because it illustrates that police (and by extension, governments) would be stuck doing damage control rather actual policing. Again: dark. But delicious food for thought if you take this stuff too seriously like I do. I understand that's also the premise of Powers, which I am curious to try.

Back to lighter stuff, Spider-Man was great in the film, and I feel much better about his next outing knowing that we are skipping past Uncle Ben's death, the radioactive spider bite, etc. I was also amused by the deliberate lampshading of Aunt May's uncharacteristic hotness.The humor is there. He belongs in this universe, and his absence was much more keenly felt than the X-Men, or Fantastic 4. Black Panther was also good, but his powers seem a little bland (indestructible suit, martial arts, and retractable claws). Then again, I said the same thing about Cap, so I'm curious to see where they go with him.

There is a special place in my heart for Dr. Strange and they seem to be taking an Inception/Matrix mind-fuck approach with his flick, which is my particular brand of catnip, so I'm sanguine. Whitefacing the Ancient One bruises it, but hopefully the rest of the movie rises above troubling trends.

So yeah. I'm as surprised as you are. I expected to be done by now. But I'm still having fun.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Family Matters

My first encounter with Greg Rucka was reading Gotham Central. Then, I wasn't familiar enough with his work to tell his voice apart from Ed Brubaker's, but now that I have read four volumes of his Image book, Lazarus, I have a clearer idea of who he is as a writer, and I am a bona fide fan. His world is complex, nuanced, and invites social commentary and speculation without ever being hamfisted. The best adjective for his dialog is 'no-bullshit.' That's not to say it's not flavorful; jargon comes into play organically and each character has a distinct voice, but the execution is the exact opposite of Bendis' obnoxious back-and-forthing. It gets to the point clearly, without any fluff.

 So what the hell is it about? Well. Dial up wealth inequality to truly dystopian, thought-experiment levels. In Lazarus certain Families have become so wealthy that the government and economy have collapsed and we have reverted to a feudal system on a global scale. These Families are absolute monarchs with territorial borders spanning entire continents. And if you look at what assholes like the Koch Brothers are doing to this country, you can see why that would be a problem. The Hunger Games' rich district verse poor district system seems clumsy, quaint, and dated by comparison.

Everybody who isn't a member of a Family is considered a Citizen, a Serf or Waste. Citizens have been acknowledged by Families and are fairly well-off, while almost all Serfs are scraping by in a state of perennial destitution. They are still better off than Waste though, who range from starving scroungers and wanderers to Fallout or Mad Max motherfuckers with less bondage gear and fewer spikes, (presumably because the whole world hasn't been reduced to desert yet).

It's a highly political set up, but Rucka favors narrative-driven machinations and lots of delicious violence instead of belaboring "The Issues" (a style I think I will refer to as "Throne Gaming" henceforth). The series title refers to the champions of each Family; genetically enhanced, functionally-immortal killing machines. It's also a reference to the fact that certain Families have anti-aging serums allowing them to live near indefinitely.

Our main character is Forever Carlyle, or Eve for short. She has been genetically and chemically conditioned to unquestionably obey the orders of her Family (and her father in particular), even though none of her relatives actually consider her a sibling. Which is technically true, as she was built to spec in a lab. She fights with a variety of firearms as well as a long carbon fiber-blade, as dismemberment is really the only way to incapacitate another Lazarus. The first issue opens (small spoiler) with Eve getting shot to death, getting back up after a couple seconds, and brutally dispatching her assailants.

Eve is a brilliant heroine, with her indomitable physical strength and martial prowess held in check by very believable, human vulnerability and tenderness. Daddy Issues don't begin to describe her relationship with her father, who has systematically withheld approval throughout her life, only doling it out just before she reaches her breaking point. The drugs she takes literally addict her to his praise. Since her every waking hour has been devoted to training and killing enemies of her family, she has a childlike personality in regards to socializing with adult needs and wants. A winning combination that makes her profoundly uncomfortable with her own femininity and sexuality. Sure, the warrior woman who is more comfortable in Kevlar than a ballgown is a well-worn trope (deliberately lampshaded at one point), but it's well-executed here.

Naturally, Eve begins to suspect that her beloved family is even more sinister than they seem, and an anonymous entity nurtures her doubts with cautionary text messages. And this happens just as politics between (and within) the Families become increasingly hawkish.

If the series falls flat anywhere, it's the very beginning of the secondary narrative surrounding a serf family beleaguered by the Families oppressive rule. It recalls the Grapes of Wrath without making any salient political points beyond "Shit sucks, yo." Righteous-yet-impotent anger and squalor can only carry a story so far. But even that narrative eventually blossoms into something more intriguing.

While Rucka's is approach to a complicated world is fairly straightforward, he does do some interesting things with form as the series progresses. Volume 4 introduces some epistological elements; journal entries and 'letters from the front' kind of stuff. The boldest thing the series has offered so far is an issue-long duel between Lazari, with only a couple pages spared to set up and conclude the fight, and it is savage, gorgeous, and riveting. It's a refreshing alternative to both the three page fights that pepper most western comics, and the interminable planet-shattering match-ups you see in manga.

Michael Lark brings the world to life with meticulous line art featuring elaborate shadowing, wrinkles, and cracks. All those little details manage to convey the world's roughness and ugliness without being either rough or ugly. And the slick covers look awesome.

This is one of my favorite on-goings. If you want something action packed that is much smarter than your average cape and mask book, and more grounded than something like Saga, you'd be hard pressed to find better.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Town Where Only I am Missing

I realized I cap a lot of my reviews in with a standard "If you enjoy this, you will like this," qualifier. Sometimes it's laziness; a reductive clammy handshake of a recommendation. Other times its because enjoyment of the thing is predicated on a familiarity of a genre or form. Kill La Kill works better if you know a bit about shonen anime. The Unwritten will be better loved by bibliophiles.
But that's not the case with Erased. It's been a while since I can give an unqualified, "everybody should watch this" endorsement, but that's what this show deserves. You should watch it even if you don't give two shits about cartoons. In fact, if you want to convince people that Japanese animation is something more than big eyes, bigger boobs, giant mechs, and magical girls, and people shouting at each other as they fight, you would be hard pressed to find a better example this side of Studio Ghibli.
In fact, its plot is in many ways less ambiguous than many of Miyazaki's films, which may make it more appealing to Western audiences. Many anime emphasize the journey over having a satisfying conclusion or strict continuity, but Erased is immaculately plotted with a very clear arc. Its 12 episodes cut to the credits to deal maximum anxiety damage to the viewer. Waiting week by week to find out what would happen next was torture. A friend described watching the simulcast best when he said "I die every Thursday." That tension was so core to my experience of the show, in fact, that I'm not sure it will have the same impact if you consume it in one go.
So what is it about? Well. It's a contemporary fantasy, but far more grounded than something with lots of swords and dragons. In the first episode, it looks like it's going to rely heavily on a supernatural time loop gimmick, but it quickly morphs into something much more earnest and relevant: a timid man traveling back to his childhood to try and stop a serial killer. But instead of some elaborate mental chess match or physical showdown, the main character tries to beat the bad guy by being a good person. Displaying courage, friendship, and curiosity.
It's a tender, familiar tale to be sure, one that tugs the heartstrings hard enough for a career cynic to balk. The oft-beaten drum of "relying on your friends" gets a couple more dents. But I went in with my knives out, and its intrigue disarmed me by episode 2. After episode 3, the characters had picked away all my jade.
I don't think I've ever seen a stronger cast of female characters in an anime, including the original Full Metal Alchemist and Brotherhood. But I loved all the characters really. They felt real, and ran me through an emotional gauntlet. The voice acting is also fantastic. Putting aside standard sub versus dub snobbery, this is something special in it's native language, and Crunchy Roll's localization is on point.
About midway through the series I encountered a brutal spoiler, the kind of thing that can wound a story, but it wasn't enough to temper my enthusiasm at all. That said, I'm gonna cut this short. Every time I try to talk about something more specific, I worry about giving something away, or warping expectations, when I went in without any myself.
When the show wrapped up last night, I asked my wife why she was crying, and she explained "It's all over and I don't even want any more." Sending someone away in tears while completely satisfying them is a mean feat.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

To The Dark Tower Came

Well my two post a month streak is broken, even with a leap day to help me out. Been very busy with off-hours projects. Last night I took my first stab at leather working. The card game is a gateway to a world where time passes in the inverse fashion of Narnia. And of course, editing my book has taken the lion's share of my life. But in light of today's announcements regarding The Dark Tower films, I wanted to talk a little bit about The Gunslinger.

Spoilers abound.

I heard it on audio with my family as we drove up to Mammoth. The beginning of the book was an extremely surreal experience, hearing about the endless expanse of desert described as we drove through a very similar, if slightly less barren setting in the middle of the night. Also humbling to read a rougher, earlier King, whose remarkable talent is already evident. He runs a little verbose at the beginning of the book, but it's the difference between 'good' and 'great,' with long stretches of 'excellent' interspersed.

Knowing as little as I could of the series, I was initially nervous about the amount of backstory present, fearing that most of the series would dwell on the past as opposed to moving forward. My fears were assuaged by the ending, by which point it is apparent the subsequent books will grow things equally in both directions. And while I have an aversion to flashbacks in general, learning about Roland's childhood was remarkably compelling, even though you know where he stands in the present. Each memory works as complete stories in their own right, as each section of the book does. You can tell it was a fix-up, strung together from serials, but it is no poorer for it.

Roland's "Trial of Manhood," is the best fight scene I have ever read, bar none. Creative weapons. Cunning strategy. And uncompromising brutality, both physically and emotionally, which always elevates violence to something meaningful. It's made all the more riveting by the build up. You have to wonder if Roland's motivations for taking the test early are wise, or the result of blind anger, and that adds a desperate, cerebral dimension to the duel. Even after Cort is down for the count, you can't exhale until you know whether Roland will immediately try to murder Marten for what he is doing to his mother.

If there's a part of the book that bothers me, it's definitely how King handles female characters and sex. The women who we actually meet are all magical temptresses, victims, or at best, well-meaning slatterns who lust after our hero. I know it's meant to speak of the world, but it stinks of the epic genre's least appealing qualities. I hope this will change as the series progresses. We don't get to learn much about Susan, save that she was burned (or was that just a vision?), but I suspect she had some heroic qualities.

Despite the heavy dose of exposition at the end, the world's cosmology is still very much in question, and I've had to fight the urge to wiki-binge. As always, I'm most curious about how magic works. How Randall reanimates the dead, and Roland reloads his guns. Presumably he can conjure bullets out of nothing, but the book implies he has to work the mechanics of the chamber. What about Jake's Shining-like ability? Are there people with Carrie-esque powers? The references in those last questions are pertinent, because the Dark Tower is supposed to be the lattice on which all of King's other works grow.

I am very curious to see how the film will handle what happens in Tull, which I found extremely harrowing. Hard to read (or even hear) given our rash of mass shootings. Here you have your epic hero, literally killing an entire town with a pair of pistols and limitless magical ammunition. The same epic hero who literally pumps a woman for information and mercy-kills her, before moving on with a bare minimum of remorse. This is your "good guy." The last good guy at that.

But that's what makes Roland so compelling. He subverts the image of the noble, laconic gunslinger, while bringing readers closer to the reality of a determined hero. If a person really were trying to save the world; if the multiverse was really at stake, and he fully appreciated that burden, he would be a terrifying individual. That grail question comes before everything and everybody. You expect him to save the damsel. You expect him to save the boy. And he is the death of them both. He moves forward, burying regrets that would break most characters. Honestly, it takes some real courage to write that character. To go to the very dark places. And that may be King's greatest gift.

I think Idris Elba is an excellent choice for Roland, and fans have literally clamored for Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black ever since True Detective came out. So the film seems to be on the right track. Readers who've read the books: what do you think of the leads? Do you have any hopes for the adaptation? Dreads?

Looking forward to continuing the series. Hoping my glacial pace can stay ahead of the adaptations.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

God's Perfect Idiot

So the consensus is in and it's already old news: Deadpool is good. I agree, and we could leave it at that, but being your friendly neighborhood Marvel Nut, I figured I would weigh in with a little more detail anyway.

I suspect that most people are surprised by Deadpool due to its content. The extreme, Looney Tunes meets Tarantino violence. The excessive profanity, black humor, and boobs. Such things are not seen in screened superhero fare, even DC's grimdark epics, or Marvel's edgier Netflix offerings. Those things were actually exactly what I expected, but the execution was far better than I dared hope. After the broad-spectrum, hyper-irreverent marketing, I expected a good flick, but a mainstream smash hit? A record breaking opening? Approval from established critics? All from a freshman director? Holy shit.

And of course, not even a week after release, Fox announced an R-rated Wolverine 3. The machine is already trying to make a mould out of something original. Which is an ass-backwards take-away. This movie represents a tremendous, refreshing willingness to take risks. An untested director. Controversial content. A character without mainstream recognition. If the studios want to turn anything about Deadpool into a playbook, I would say that this proves there is still warrant to using entertainment marketing campaigns. Sure, there is a demand for 18+ superhero movies, and it's about time the suits figured that out, but slapping gore, gutterspeak, and softcore into your flick will not automatically make a hit of it.

Some have pointed out that Deadpool comics are actually tamer than the movie, which is one of the reasons I found it so gratifying. A lot of Wade's more risque behavior is left between the panels in the comic books. Here it's front and center. The character has fewer boundaries here than in the source material. The movie contributes to the character's development rather than merely adapting him to new audiences. At worst, Wade Wilson is a juvenile 'lolsorandom' jackass. Spastic annoyance made manifest. At his best, he is post-modern pagliachi with a katana and hand grenades. This movie captures both ends of that spectrum, and goes further in both directions than anywhere else.

The other thing that made this silly movie such a pleasure was that it was a breath of fresh air from the two main flavors of superhero movies in the past ten years. Grimdark, like Man of Steel and the rest of Fox's X-Men franchise, or Disney's lighter-hearted action-packed romps. When watching the X-Men Apocalypse trailer, and the Dawn of Justice trailer, I didn't feel hyped. I felt fatigued. Even Civil War, which is supposed to introduce Black Panther and Spider-Man and maybe kill off some crucial characters filled me with a sense "Oh. This again." Deadpool was the opposite of that.

But once again, I'm wondering how far this superhero streak will stretch. Especially since a new power is rising. As fellow nerds are succumbing to capes and tights fatigue, Star Wars is sweeping in to fill the void (Disney currently has a film in theaters, a film in post, one shooting, and another that's casting). That well won't run dry for another decade, maybe longer given the franchise's fanatic base. I'm thinking that anime will be the next big thing.

On the one hand, it's kind of gross. Nerd is no longer a dirty word, but the mainstream strain of the culture has been reduced to slavishly lapping up the latest installments in mega franchises. On the other hand, yes, I do in fact want to see how the Rebels stole the plans for the Death Star.

Friday, January 22, 2016

2015 Recommendations in Review: Lifeline and Her Story

Last year, my friend Steven Wong very generously purchased two iOS games for me and requested I weigh in on them: Lifeline and Her Story. It has taken me a criminally long time to do this, and I am rectifying this oversight now.

Lifeline is really an extended SMS conversation with a fictional astronaut named Tayor, stranded on an alien planet. Periodically, he or she (gender is never established), asks you for advice and you get to pick between a couple options. It's a very basic form of interaction, but the constellation of cause and effect is enormous, and the lack of art and mechanics allows for even greater storytelling variance than Tell Tale Games' offerings. I mean look at this flowchart!

Well. Don't look too carefully if you haven't played and don't want spoilers. It was a fun little trip with a few minor issues. The writing wasn't really my style; Taylor's voice would frequently stray into excessively quirky/zany territory to keep things from getting too heavy (and rarely garnered a laugh). There's also a built in waiting period between texts, which contributes to realism, and makes is very suitable for mobile play play, though I found myself more thoroughly engaged at the end of the story, when the waiting periods were shorter. Still, there are some very original elements to the story, and it is a strong proof of concept for a format: decision-tree storytelling with an SMS wrapper (as opposed to something like Twines which tend to run more verbose).

I was a bigger fan of Steven's second recommendation, Her Story. In the game, you have been given access to a police database case file containing 271 video clips of a woman being interviewed. Each clip is the answer to a question you can't hear, and the archive must be searched based on the words her responses contain. It's a murder mystery, and while the culprit seems fairly obvious from the start, the specific circumstances surrounding the killing, and your role in the story, are pretty novel and open to some interpretation.

The writing here has a creeping sordidness with a cryptic delivery that requires you to read between the lines; much more to my liking than Lifeline. It has garnered a bunch of awards for writing. I think some people have given it best of 2015 accolades for writing, which seems aggressively plausible in the App space, but it really doesn't compare to the masterful quality and colossal breadth of the content in say, Witcher 3 (which I swear I will write about one day; for now,I will just say that it is my GOTY for 2015).

My only quibble is that you can missing out on most of the game's content and solve the core mystery fairly quickly by asking astute questions....but is that really a problem? The creator of the story, Sam Barlow, set out to make a better detective game than LA Noir, and in terms of actually 'solving' a mystery using your own powers of deduction, he succeeded. In Noir, you essentially steer an avatar through an interactive maze that leads to heavily scripted choices to interpret a case. There are points where you can get ahead of Cole in the core case, which, in detective novels, is a sure sign that something went sideways.

That said, I like the idea of pairing Her Story's archival mechanic with Noir's facial recognition interviews and crime scene investigation sequences. If you need to check the boxes for driving and combat (which both feel like part of the detective experience, but also a knee jerk compulsion for video game adaptations), I would replace the open world shooting and driving in Noir with something like the QTE combat in Wolf Among Us. I know some people at GA Tech who might lynch me for suggesting as much, but Tell Tale has convinced me that well timed button-pressing has its place in narrative-driven games.

Many thanks to you again, Steven! Again, if anybody else recommended something, or wants me to weigh in on something from last year, lemme know and I will try to do a write up.

2015 Recommendations in Review: Marbles

Been a while since I posted any kind of review or discussion, but over the next couple days I will be catching up on recommendations from people I received in 2015. First up is a graphic novel called Marbles by Ellen Forney which my cousin Alaina loaned me. We never got to discuss it, so I thought I would share my thoughts here.

I love comics and go through about 3-5 trade paper backs a month. These days, every comic trade is called a graphic novel (which is stupid) because there are books like Maus, Persepolis, Seconds, and Marbles that live up to the title as a format. At its core, Marbles is the story of a bohemian artist being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and coming to terms with what that entails: managing periods of mania and crushing depression, social stigmas, and hardest of all, medication.

Parts of the book really resonated with me. Forney's musings on the relationship between artistry and mental instability echo some of my own inner monologues. She likens her diagnosis to joining a club, whose esteemed members include Van Gogh, Cobain, and dozens of others. There's a there there. Creativity often walks hand in hand with craziness, or wave to each other fondly on two sides of a narrow path. Of course, that romantic cache amounts to little when weighed against the reality of living with a disorder.

That said, I didn't really enjoy the book. It took me a while to figure out why, and I have yet to completely articulate my misgivings, but it boils down to a few factors.

I should confess that I haven't had as hard of a time with bipolar as the author. I was diagnosed with ADD when I was 6, put on meds immediately, and diagnosed with bipolar disorder (which may have been 'activated' by my ADD meds) in high school. The net result is a lot of practice dealing with medication. I learned what to look for as I grew up. If I were diagnosed now, just as I feel like I've found and forged an identity, I imagine it would be much harder to cope with. Despite that acknowledgement, I was annoyed by Forney's crushing despair. Which is kind of terrible of me.

By nature, depression is overwhelming and irrational, and you cannot will yourself to get over it. Blaming somebody for depression is as callous as telling a paraplegic to "walk it off." Stupid trifles are enough to ruin your week, and nothing will make you feel right. Being labeled a borderline insane person is no mere trifle, either. At first I thought it was because she reminded me of my own periods of depression, but one particular panel from the book sticks out in my head: Forney tearfully shares her diagnosis with her mom, and her mom's reaction is to cry in turn and say "why couldn't it be me!" like it's cancer. Something about that pissed me right off. Sure, telling somebody to "walk it off," or even "just take your damn meds" is not productive, but I think melodramatic sympathy can be just as damaging. It enables a kind of victimhood, which might be the most poisonous mentality a person can have.

In similar vein, she is so scared of people's reactions to everyone learning she's bipolar when in my experience, nobody gives a shit. Especially if they already know you. The most severe reaction I've received is "You? Really? No way. You don't seem bipolar," which is meant as a compliment but kind of douchey. Should I encounter somebody who stigmatizes me for a chemical imbalance in my brain, that person is an asshole and I am better off without them. She herself discovers that people don't really mind, but to me, it begged the question of how she perceived people with bipolar disorder prior to her own diagnosis.

The other weird thing is, the central existential threat for Forney is inverted for me. She is (rightly) terrified that drugs will inhibit her creativity and happiness, whereas I am (legitimately) terrified I will one day have to stop taking the drugs that keep me stable and productive. We are in accord about the horror of adjusting medications: it will fuck you up like you cannot believe, and there ain't no side effects like psychoactive side effects (especially lithium. What was her shrink thinking?) It really is an awful process. And like Forney, I've compounded those problems at various points in my life by adjusting my dose on the fly because I thought I knew better than my doctor. So we do have a lot in common. We are members of that same club.

But there's just a fundamental schism in how we react to our 'damage.' My gut reaction is to respond with violence; great vengeance and furious anger. I want to feel like my drugs are weapons I've used to take control of my life, and that I can overcome their side-effects through skillful self awareness in an ongoing battle. Maybe that's juvenile, but it's how I choose to perceive myself, whereas I get the impression that Forney is more of a lover than a fighter. That's not to say she's weak willed. If she were, she just would have let lithium steam roll her, or succumbed to suicide. But her end goal seemed to be peace and dignity despite hardship. Comfort with one's self despite having to fight, versus being comfortable with yourself because you fight. It really is two ways of telling the same story. As an aspiring author, I think that's what bothered me: she told a story that personally resonates in a way that didn't.

I am grateful for the read because my reaction to led to some pretty intense introspection. I would also recommend the book to a couple friends.