I first encountered this work via the 2022 film adaptation featuring the marvelous Lesley Manville (PHANTOM THREAD) and while that adaptation is exceptional, I only want to focus on the novel and what it means.

Paul Gallico’s novel MRS. ‘ARRIS GOES TO PARIS (‘ARRIS from here on out) is about wants and needs, but most importantly? It’s about anchors and goals and the lengths others will go to selflessly assist one in realizing them.

To summarize: widow Ada Harris is a London charwoman (essentially a housecleaner) who sees a Dior dress and becomes utterly and completely infatuated with having one of her own. She scrimps and saves for years, and when she finally has what she feels is enough money, she flies to Paris to acquire her fixation. (I won’t spoil the rest, but it’s an amazingly endearing and warm tale.)

I’ve never been someone who has been well-off. There have been points in my life where I was dead broke. Rent went unpaid and excuses were made. Despite the fact that my wife is ensconced in fashion, and despite the fact that I try to pull off looks, I’ve always been reluctant to spend much on presentational matters. If you have been broke, you know the feeling; it’s a fear, a fear of over-spending, a fear of losing not just comfort but a fucking roof over your head, a fear that you aren’t worth extra expenditures. I’d say it’s financial hoarding but let’s face it: you can never have enough money.

Consequently, when I first saw the film adaptation, I admired its warmth and compassion and understanding exactly what garments mean to people. (My wife has crafted more than a few wedding dresses and I was often tasked to take photos, so I’ve seen how folks glow when they feel they look their best.)

The novel does a better job at drawing out just how much of a struggle Mrs. ‘Arris goes through to get a Dior dress. It’s far more protracted, far more strained, the act of saving becoming a similarly unsatisfying routine effort as her charwoman work. Consequently, the payoff as to when she hits her financial goal hits harder than it does in the recent film. (I’ll note that there is a prior adaptation which features Angela Lansbury, although I have yet to see it, but that’s some amazing casting right there.)

I’ve never felt justified to spend that much on my own presentation until relatively recently. I’ve said many times that I will never, ever shut up about Harley Fuckin’ Quinn. In a prior post I touched on the fact that I would get a tattoo that would somewhat recreate her wraparound band, a band that very infrequently appears in the texts and the BIRDS OF PREY film because I have my reasons.

It took a bit of time but when it suddenly snapped into focus as to how and why Harley is who Harley is and what the character — her abuse and trauma and recovery — means to me, I knew I wanted that argyle pattern in my skin. I know it’s dumb. It’s super dumb. However, once you realize what you want to look like and why you want it, you can’t shake it off. If you don’t see it through you will always hate yourself.

Like Mrs. ‘Arris, I was absolutely, completely fixated. I latched onto the idea like a lamprey. Like Mrs. ‘Arris, I scrimped and saved because large tattoos are not cheap. Also, you do not want to get a bad tattoo artist, and good ones are hard to find and are worth every penny. (I lucked out and got an absolutely amazing one thanks to the recommendation of a friend.)

My tattoo took a few sessions and even for what I paid, I feel like it should have cost more. (Also: fucking tip your tattoo artist, even if they’re the owner of the outfit.) I’m still amazed that I actually went through with it, but now I can’t imagine myself without it.

After the final session, I was all wobbly and discombobulated, but still managed to endlessly thank the artist for his work and patience and graciousness. I know it was just a job for him, but it meant the fucking world to me, just like Mrs. ‘Arris sitting in on a Dior showing.

What’s great about ‘ARRIS is that it recognizes all of this internal desire in the most gracious, most welcoming ways. Fashion and general presentation — including hair and tattoos — are how we show ourselves to the world. They speak for ourselves before we can speak. When you find what and how you want to look, when you find a visual identity before you can acquire it, you will sacrifice so very much to attain it. We all want to be seen for how we see the best of ourselves.

Thankfully, ‘ARRIS’s world is a benevolent world, one that understands that need, even for those who are considered lesser folks because of their class or stature or looks.

It is worth noting that the ultimate message of ‘ARRIS is absolutely none of the above, but to say why would spoil matters. However, her journey up until the end is something that I think would wildly resonate for anyone.

It is a magical novel, one that encapsulates the wonders of the world and the potential grace of humanity.


Traditionally for my birthday I go to a local bookstore and buy myself a mess of books. I didn’t do so this year because of reasons but last year I was floating down the very stacked aisles of Ravenswood Used Books and Elizabeth Strout’s AMY AND ISABELLE caught my eye.

Given that I loved OLIVE KITTERIDGE and THE BURGESS BOYS, I nabbed it, and it sat on my ‘to read’ shelf for about a year. I didn’t realize that it was Strout’s debut novel. All that mattered was it was penned by her, and she has a certain sensitivity and New England sensibility that is catnip to me.

I usually prefer to go into books blind, especially from authors that have penned works I appreciate but, for whatever reason, this time I read the back cover copy. I won’t quote it, but it gave the impression of a late 1960’s staid mother (Isabelle) pushing against a burgeoning teen daughter (Amy) leaning into a queer life.

I was gravely wrong. This is a work about how men abuse anyone they can.

AMY AND ISABELLE is a slice of life about living in a turning point of America, of women being in the workfield, of being mothers to daughters, of daughters taxing their mothers, and simply just trying to endure their hardships, to live the life they’re handed, the life handed down to them. I know that description sounds too vague, too nebulous, but I can’t describe it any other way.

Thirty pages in, I could already see Amy’s trajectory. Fifty pages in, I was telling myself: “You really should not be reading this. You know this hits too close to home for you.” One hundred pages in, I asked myself: “Why the fuck do you persist in reading this?” It came to a head around page 118. I was reading this one chapter on a bus after returning from a rather stressful cross-state trip. I read the words, read Strout detailing how the daughter Amy was taken advantage of, and my fingers curled, gnarled around the cover and pages. I tried to keep reading, but instead thrust it into my bag. If I were at home, reading it while rocking in my chair on the porch, I would have thrown it to the ground; not out of disgust, but because it cut too close to the quick.

It’s the mark of a great author that can recreate traumatic scenarios that, to others, may seem endearing, but also to those who have lived through these experiences, rather harrowing. That’s what Strout manages here, in a way I’ve never read before.

That said, I fucking hated it. I hated reliving it through her words.

With texts, you can sit with words. You can put the forward momentum on pause. If it’s a positive piece of prose, you can revel in it. If it’s a negative piece of prose, you can either beat yourself up about it, or curse the creator.

When you’re dealing with something that you wish you’d never read? You do not want to read further, but you can’t put the full piece on pause; the unwanted part resonates in your mind.

I kept going, just like I keep living.

Amy and Isabelle endure, just like the luckiest of us, but both are left haunted. This is a brutal gut-punch of a novel, something I was not expecting, something I didn’t want, but it resonates so loudly.

I write far too much about how artistic works emotionally impact me, I know, but I will never, ever apologize for it. That’s what works like AMY AND ISABELLE do; they affect those who feel seen, but also impart a worldview to those who haven’t lived those experiences, and to help placate those who have, even if they can’t forget.

ENTITLED: Life Isn’t Easy When You’re a Book

Whenever I travel, I always make it a point to pop into a bookstore — hopefully a used bookstore — and buy a paperback. It’s the perfect souvenir: they’re light (hence paperback versus hardcover) so you don’t have to worry about it taking too much space or weight, and I always remember when and where I buy a book. Simply looking at the cover will cause me to reminisce. I also have the added bonus of …well, a new-to-me book. Sometime it’s even signed!

Cookie Boyle’s debut novel ENTITLED encapsulates the feeling of discovering the world through books and travel. At first blush it reads like ‘Toy Story for book nerds’ and, well, yes, that’s a succinct pitch, but ENTITLED is so much more than that.

ENTITLED does anthropomorphize books. They can talk to each — taking on the affect and disposition of authorial intent — and they even have very limited mobility. They can toss themselves off of shelves and unfurl their pages. When read, they actively impart their words upon their Reader. (Please note: I’ll be using ENTITLED’s use of capitalizing labels from here on, including: Book, Reader, Writer, and Author.)

There’s also a sex scene between two books. That’s a sentence I never expected to write, but the scene is pretty fantastic, as is the emotional fallout.

The protagonist of ENTITLED is a book entitled THE SERENDIPITY OF SNOW (SNOW from here on out), penned by Tessa MacDonald. It’s about a 19th century Minnesotan woman who escapes her abusive husband and embarks on a new independent life.

As you might imagine, this copy of SNOW that seems to go by she/her — it seems the books go by the pronouns of their author or protagonist, although that part is left rather nebulous — traverses the world. She first starts in a bookstore in San Francisco, then is purchased by a Parisian woman who wants to improve her English language skills because she’s fallen for an American while visiting California for a few months. Then SNOW ends up in the hands of as Londoner — trust me, these locales are on the cover so I’m not spoiling anything — who is an aspiring writer, and then is inspired by SNOW (and other circumstances) to push SNOW forward.

I’ll refrain from describing the rest, but I will note that as someone who absolutely loves overanalyzing adaptations, this book hit every one of my quadrants.

ENTITLED easily could have coasted along on its premise alone — just books talking to other books through a myriad of locales, hoping to find a home or, better yet, to finally meet their Author (yes, their God/Goddess) but instead it’s an endearing work to all of those who literally feel for books. Instead, it’s a surprisingly uplifting epic that, while certainly indulges the literary nerds out there, is also emotionally resonant for those who aren’t as fond of physically handling or cracking open books.

As the hoary adage goes: do not judge a book by its cover. Give each book a chance.


I’ll note that my wife bought this for me, rightfully thinking that it seemed like it fit in my wheelhouse. She also bought me a used copy, without realizing the significance of that, of how SNOW travels from hand-to-hand, shelf-to-shelf, as we as people all often do with relationships.

The books in this world fear being scarred, either by dog drool or teeth, by coffee stains, by wine or water. They feel bruised when tossed into a satchel or when dropped from a table. Given that I was reading a used copy, this affectation made me hurt a bit, as I’ve always taken pride in having well-worn books. To me, a well-worn book means a well-appreciated work. A paperback with a pristine spine essentially declares that it’s a book unread, but yet in this world, the action of breaking the spine to read further is painful to them, and not in a pleasant way.

The dichotomy of wanting to be read, but not being damaged by being read, is a fascinating facet of this novel to me, and one that I don’t feel it quite reconciles. Perhaps upon re-reading it, I’ll discover more. (Although that’d require more bending of the spine, sadly.)


My wife and I have a running joke — or as she puts it: a running conversation — that we’ve maintained for years. To set up the joke: I’m a 6’ 2” male-presenting person, which is practically the perfect height for someone like me. It’s tall enough that most people will refer to you as ‘tall’. People often have to look up at you to hold a conversation. On the other hand, you aren’t so tall that you’re bumping your head on lighting fixtures or doorways. Like I said: the perfect height.

My wife, while taller than average, is shorter than I am. However, she mock-refuses to embrace the fact, even when I have to reach for something on her behalf. She insists that she is so tall, taller than I am. Truth be told, in many ways she is, just not physically.

It’s not a good joke, but like with many relationships, it’s part of our history and something we find to be cute (even if no one else does).

The protagonist in Fay Weldon’s THE LIFE AND LOVES OF A SHE-DEVIL (SHE-DEVIL going forward) is Ruth, a 6’ 2” woman who, given the nature of a world built around men, does not fit because the world expects women to adhere to a specific mould. She is deemed too tall, too gangly, too plain — she has four moles on her face, three of which sprout hairs — and is simply too much for society to bear. She is married to an accountant named Bobbo, to whom she births two children — Nicola and Andy — after which Bobbo quickly loses interest in Ruth, ultimately leaving her for one of his clients: Anne Fisher, a romance novelist, who literally is a beacon of light for Bobbo, living in a repurposed lighthouse.

Upon being scorned, Ruth sheds her house, her children, and begins a new life that includes ruining the people and systems that brought her misery, all while literally reshaping herself into the physical shape that society will embrace.

While it’s tempting to consider SHE-DEVIL as a vengeance tale — and yes, there’s definitely a lot of vengeance being sown here — Weldon noted that it’s more of a tale of envy. That much is undeniable, as Ruth uses her wiles and smarts and coercive abilities to shine a light on male oppressors, corrupting them while also using them to turn herself into the visage of someone who will be embraced by a patriarchal society, even if it means enduring endless indignities, pain, and suffering to become the image of someone the world accepts.

Yes, there’s that undercurrent of envy, of wanting to be the perfect woman who can get by without friction in a man’s world, but it’s executed in a way that subverts each-and-every column of said world; from religion to science to the medicinal. Ruth considers herself a she-devil — a fallen woman — and while men would consider her to be a villain, she’s doing a hero’s work, even as she castigates herself to do so, to an extent that becomes body horror.

SHE-DEVIL is a very complex work, and I’m somewhat shocked that it’s mostly been forgotten. (I’ll note that there was a BBC mini-series adaptation of it in the mid-80s, and there was a late-80s film version starring Roseanne Barr — both of which I’ll address in future posts.)

Sadly, Weldon passed away earlier this year at the age of 91, leaving behind a great number of feminist novels, so if you want to remember her in the best way possible, pick up a few and start turning those pages.

HEX (2020)

RachelSimons is dead.

Rachel was accidentally poisoned by her own hand as part of her botanic poison research and using herself as a test subject. Consequently, her death leads to the dissolution of her research department, including protagonist Nell Barber. Nell becomes obsessed with continuing Rachel’s research, which includes cultivating monkshood and castor beans, while still being infatuated with her mentor Joan, an older, prickly academic married to a bloated, gregarious man named Barry. When Nell isn’t spending her time mooning over her research or Joan, she hangs with her beautiful best friend Misha and shittalks about her gorgeous-but-vapid ex Tom.

In other words: There’s a lot of academic incest going on.

Rebecca Dinerstein Knight’s second novel HEX examines the fallout of Rachel’s death with brilliantly inventive prose that ducks and weaves through the lives of five individuals as they all desperately flail around seeking some sort of comfort, if not in their studies, then in each others arms.

It is very tempting to call HEX a botanist version of THE SECRET GARDEN as the two share a lot in common: both circle around a dead body, academia, and a severely dysfunctional group of high-minded adult students and scholars that are absolutely the worst for each other. However, unlike THE SECRET GARDEN, you don’t get the same sense of family camaraderie. From the get-go, there’s an immediate friction between everyone, and there’s a lot of toxic interplay and back-biting.

Initially I balked at writing this recommendation, solely because Dinerstein Knight’s prose is so inventive, so evocative that her words easily trounce whichever words I would utilize to pen this piece. She’s that good, and any attempts on my behalf to try to convey that would be — well, are — middling at best.

However, it’s too good to refrain from recommending as the construction of Nell’s interior thoughts are so delicious, and the tension between their fraught clique is so familiar but also very heightened, and the slow-burn is expertly doled out. It’s a wild ride, and one worth signing up for.

HEX can be purchased via Bookshop.


I haven’t covered the entirety of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels — in fact, I only wrote about the third — and I kind of expected to leave it at that, as while each novel is remarkable, the first three are rather remarkable in the same way: they’re all about the push-and-pull between two friends growing up together in Naples and their power dynamics and their multi-faceted journeys through life.

Consequently, I didn’t expect the final novel in the series — THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY — to stray much from the path, and I certainly didn’t expect to be penning this, but here we are.

THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY escalates matters far more than the prior novels. Time passes rapidly. Lenù and Lila age significantly. The undercurrent of the mafia bubbles up to the surface. Technology becomes foregrounded. Families are ripped asunder. Stagnation sets in for some, while others find solace in wildness.

This is a true epic of lives lived, and as always Ferrante deftly handles it bluntly, but also artfully. Ferrante’s prose is so succinct and exacting; she is so dialed into the inner voice of Lenù that you feel like you’re inhabiting her as the scales fall from her eyes.

While I feel that Ferrante could have drawn all of this out further, going more in-depth about Lenù and Lila as they navigate their older years, this seems like a fittingly spry end to their tale. It’s satisfying, poignant, melancholy, and often even angry. In other words, a perfect encapsulation of the Neapolitan novels.


THE SEVENTH MANSION is the debut novel from Maryse Meijer, who has previously penned the acclaimed collection HEARTBREAKER STORIES (as well as another collection of shorts with RAG, and the novella NORTH WOOD), and if you’re a member of any counter-culture you will find a lot to love about this. If you aren’t, well, you can at least appreciate the intentional and interior and effective fragmented prose.

THE SEVENTH MANSION centers around Xie, an extreme vegan/naturalist who has been moved by his divorced father Erik from L.A., mostly due to an oil spill that Xie couldn’t physically or mentally tolerate. They relocate to a rural Southern town and Xie is quickly singled out, mostly negatively by most of his school, but positively by two very rambunctious queer girls: Jo and Liam. They see a kindred spirit in his lassitude and rebellion and environmental badges such as ‘TAKE NOTHING. LEAVE EVERYTHING.’

All three of them decide to take their environmental activism to the next level and liberate a number of caged minks waiting to be skinned, but only Xie is caught via their activities.

It doesn’t help that Xie — someone whose friends unknowingly chastise him for being celibate and asexual — has a thing for bones. As in actual skeleton bones. He steals the remains of a saint from a church — St. Pancratius, the patron saint of youth — and matters escalate.

I’ll note that Xie’s father is one of the rare depictions of a positive, understanding father in fiction. He legitimately wants to help Xie and he’s supportive and listens to him, even when Xie shuts himself away.

It is a slow, twisted burn of a ride and full of fragmented thoughts and feelings and sensuality and builds to one hell of a climax in more ways than one.


Goddamn, I love 90s chick-lit, even though I fucking hate the term chick-lit, but really: there is no better way of describing works like THE CIGARETTE GIRL. Carol Wolper’s novel is something singular, something special; it’s all about a woman trying to make her way as a action screenwriter in L.A. and she’s super horny.

Seriously. She can barely go five pages without mentioning a blowjob.

This is quintessential 90s feminism. The cover is a woman, smoke-stained, enveloped in bras from head-to-toe. It’s meant to be lethal, but is it? Really?

Nonetheless, it is a hell of a novel, one that doesn’t pull its punches. While it’s horny, it has a purpose and that is to be taken seriously and I love every bit of it.


As a fan of Linda Holmes — a mainstay of the delightful media discourse NPR series POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR — I’d been meaning to get around to reading her first novel EVVIE DRAKE STARTS OVER and her latest novel FLYING SOLO.

It wasn’t until I saw Linda Holmes reply to a tweet extolling her description of a library as a church, a spacious place to worship words, that I felt the need to immediately prioritize FLYING SOLO.

In my youth, I lived close enough to our local library that it was a five-minute walk. I’m not exaggerating: it would’ve taken longer to drive there than to walk.

For many years, it consisted of a small cottage house, wall-to-wall shelves with books crammed up to the ceiling. It was comfortably cramped, and it was overseen by a woman named Susan Overfield, who was the exact image of what you’d expect her to look like: short in stature, unkempt salt-and-pepper hair, but so passionate about books and knowledge and she knew exactly where everything was and would always give you recommendations for texts you never knew you needed. Essex, Vermont’s patron saint of libraries.

I’d walk out with an arm full of books and come back a week later to return them and repeat the process.

Time passed and it was suggested that the library had outgrown the cottage, so they decided to move to a more spacious building. I fretted when I heard the news, worried that they would move as far as possible from my home, fearful that it’d disrupt my weekly pilgrimage.

Instead, they moved into an abandoned church, on the same corner as the old cottage and, as Holmes alluded to: if you believe in a higher being, books get you there. If you don’t, well, consider it a temple to unbound delights.

(I’ve since learned that libraries moving into churches is pretty common in New England, so it’s nothing exclusive to my town.)

This is a very long-winded way of saying: I feel very seen by Holmes. Not only did I prioritize FLYING SOLO because of the library :: church bit, but also because, well, it’s right there in the name: flying solo. While, yes, I’ve spent more of my life entangled with people than not, I’m a loner at heart. I love solo walks and I love reading by myself and watching films by myself and I absolutely love traveling alone.

Again, all of that is rather antithetical for someone who has been partnered up with folks for longer than not, but it’s true. Introversion and anxiety is a hell of a bad combination, not to mention a delicate balancing act, and I see that all over the protagonist of FLYING SOLO: Laurie, the sole daughter who grew up among three brothers.

FLYING SOLO centers around Laurie, 39-going-on-40 (yes, actually — it’s not an ‘I’m always 39!’ joke), whom is tasked with returning to the small New England hometown she left for the Pacific Northwest to sort through her dead great aunt Dot’s house and clean it out. She stumbles over two objects of note: 1) a wood-carved duck carefully preserved and hidden amongst Dot’s belongings and 2) the sweet ex she broke up with because she knew she wanted a life elsewhere and he did not.

While I thought FLYING SOLO would mostly focus on the will-they/won’t-they of the latter facet, it leans hard into the first. It turns out that the duck may have been crafted by a famous artists, and Laurie unknowingly offloads it before realizing that it may be worth quite a bit. What follows is essentially very soft heist, the softest, but it’s still quite fun and beguiling, and then matters unfurl.

I’ll note: this is a very specific book, despite straddling a number of genres. It’s all about the nerds and weirdos and misfits. It’s not a traditional romantic novel — Holmes draws that line in the sand very quickly — but it traffics in all of the comforts of everything from rom-coms to melodrama to thrillers to action — however on a much smaller scale.

It’s a fun and substantive ride, and the end payoff with Dot and the duck is expertly handled. If you are one who keeps people at an arm’s length in a warm way, this is for you.

BIG SWISS (2023)

Everyone knows the saying: “Never judge a book by its cover.”

Yeah, fuck that saying.

I’ll never refuse to read a book because of a terrible cover — I just bought a used Muriel Spark book that features an extremely off-putting cover, however I’m sure I’ll love it because it’s fucking Muriel Spark — but I will often buy a book solely because of a sharply designed, well-executed cover.

Jen Beagin’s BIG SWISS was one of those books. I mean, come on, scroll back up to the top of this post. I saw the cover, refrained from opening it, balked at reading the inscription in the slipcover and thought to myself: “I don’t know what this book is about, but I know I need it.”

I’ll note that I saw that one of my favorite media critics, Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, wrote the best take on this novel — which I read well after reading the novel — please: read her words! Similarly, we both were won over on the cover alone.

BIG SWISS is a whirlwind of a novel, all focused on a capital L Literary take on queerness, therapy, interloping, trauma, power dynamics and middle-aged insecurities. It’s about a 45-year-old fuckup of a woman falling in lust with a far-younger married woman and the cavalcade that comes with that undertaking, all while also trepidatiously straddling the trauma that both women have endured. It moves at a breathless pace and features some absolutely filthy notes that I have no idea how will be adapted in the forthcoming TV series. (Apparently it was optioned by Jodie Comer (KILLING EVE) a good year before it was even published.) That said, I certainly appreciate that they exist in the actual text. It also hedges way too close to home for me, something I never predicted based on the cover.

I read this while visiting family and couldn’t stop blushing, but also couldn’t stop reading it. It’s an exhilarating swing of a novel, one that is naked about its approach.

(Oh, I forgot to mention: there are a lot of bees. Way too many bees, and I’m someone who was told at a young age: “Don’t let a bee sting you” and I later rode a horse that trampled over a hornet’s nest and they took it out on me and also proceeded to ride a lawnmower over a wasp’s nest and they also took it out on me so I should kind of be dead by now, and I should feel a bit more affected by this material, but oddly I am not. Also: yes, I realize honeybees are completely different from wasps and hornets, but their stinger threat is still similar.)

You can purchase BIG SWISS via here.