I will fully admit: I am not the biggest LES MISÉRABLES musical fan. I think it’s a rather ramshackle spectacle with a few good numbers and set-pieces. It’s fine. I don’t hate it. I don’t love it, either.
Additionally, I’m not a huge fan of the most recent director to adapt Les Miz, Tom Hooper, despite my endorsement of his version of CATS. If you’ve read about the endless labor he put into his Les Miz adaptation, you’ll probably see that it was a lot of over-exacting bluster. Did he really need all of those terribly sensitive microphones? Nope. The embedded cameras in the set walls? Nope. Especially since they cast fucking Russell Crowe, because no amount of technology could do a damn thing to help that sweaty, ham-fisted job he turned in as Javert. (Even he admits he was ill-suited for the job.)
To quote Lawrence Olivier reprimanding Dustin Hoffman, who endlessly ran to physically wear himself out for his role in MARATHON MAN: “Dear boy, it’s called acting.”
“There was a time when men were kind, when their voices were soft and their words inviting…”
However. I fucking love Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of the fallen woman Fantine, specifically her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream. I endlessly return to it. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. If you aren’t moved by it? Well, sorry to say, but you are a monster. I know some give her grief because of her vocal skills — I’m not the best judge of that — but goddamn, she makes the most of her features, all huge sad and angry eyes and lashes and brows and full-but-cracked lips, and she emotes wildly.
“…there was a time when where the world was a song, and the song was exciting…
“…there was a time… then it all went wrong…”
It’s an absolutely brutal, wrenching number that Hathaway executes perfectly and it tears me up every time I watch it, and almost justifies Hooper’s exacting work as the intensity displayed plays far harder here than in any production of Les Miz I’ve seen.
“I dreamed that God would be forgiving.”
The way she is framed, how she’s essentially housed in an unclosed coffin, the way her hair is shorn; she’s singularly naked, and her fraught voice reflects all of that, a life lost, a life spent, a life overlooked by others, but she’s trying her damndest to give voice to her frustration as well as her resignation.
“…as they tear your hope apart! As they turn your dreams to shiiiiiiiiiit.”
(Yes, I know the actual lyric is ‘shame’, but really. Come on. You know that’s what she wants to say.)
“…life has killed the dream… I dreamed.”
While this post is mostly about I Dreamed a Dream, I’d also like to call attention to Eddie Redmayne’s performance in One Day More. The way he whips the red fabric in ‘One Day More’ is not just commanding, but awe-inspiring, and he does have the necessary voice, all bold and brash and loud. He’s very much a theatre nerd, and that is crystal clear here.
Is this the best Les Miz? No. Is it even a good Les Miz? Beats the fuck out of me! I watched this far too late in my life. This is a musical that one becomes enraptured with in one’s teen years as it’s all emotion, all fraught with rebellion and idealism and being boxed in by higher powers.
However, I keep coming back to it. It is strikingly shot and, while I normally eschew the oh, 20+ years of desaturated colors in film, it makes sense here in that it conveys the grime of France and downtrodden at that time while also letting the reds pop, focusing on the hues of the French flag.
It’s a work that haunts me and it’s worth watching for those few very earnest, honest scenes that encapsulate the hurt, the brutality, the abuse and sacrifices that some have to endure to keep living.
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.
NIGHT IN THE WOODS hits more than a little too close to home for me. This video game from developers Infinite Fall and Secret Lab may, at first blush, look like a cozy and cartoonish narrative-forward exploratory game, but the anthropomorphism and vibrant colors belie a dark tale of deterioration and dysfunction and self-examination.
You play as Mae Borowski, a twenty-year-old cat-like college dropout returning to the deteriorating mining town of Possum Springs, where her parents and high school friends still reside. There’s a darkness in her past, numerous disturbing incidents from her youth, and she’s seen as a blight that’s come back to haunt her dilapitated hometown. While her parents are supportive, they’re also slightly resentful given that Mae was ‘a miracle baby’ and that they scrimped and saved for her to be the first Borowski to head to college, Mae laid waste to that dream. They may end up losing their house due to Mae’s nature. She’s still perceived as a kid; she’s irresponsible and impulsive and selfish and she doesn’t take the world or herself seriously.
I find it hard not to identify with Mae. I, too, am a college dropout although — unlike Mae — I didn’t drop out early, but did so in my final year. Part of it was financial as I simply ran out of money, but part of it was also due to a lack of motivation. I was in film school and realized that while I love film and love setting up shots and positioning lights and breaking down scripts and analyzing and writing about film, I knew I was not fit for the hustle required to make it in the industry. So I abandoned that pursuit, got a low-level tech support job that paid well-enough for a twenty-something and I worked my way up to be a web developer, a position I’ve held for many, many years now.
Like Mae, I was what you would call a troubled youth. I acted out from a young age, which only increased with each and every birthday. There were a number of counselors, a lot of yelling, all sorts of destruction, run-ins with the law, etc. It got to the point where parents refused to allow their offspring to fraternize with me. I got involved with a lot of older folks who were very bad for me, and I was embroiled in more than a few situations that I was far too young for. Like Mae, I didn’t exactly lie to folks, but I knew how to hide matters. There were a lot of surreptitious trips to cities and places no one else knew about. While I could go on, I think you get the point.
To put it succinctly: I have never been invited to a high school reunion, and no extended family members attended our wedding.
I was a real selfish piece of shit, a black sheep, whereas Mae is a black cat.
However, like Mae, I still have supportive friends from my youth, and I still have close family, even if they still remember how fucking awful I was. Those were bridges I never managed to burn, thankfully.
NIGHT IN THE WOODS is an unflinching work and I will say: you do not have to have been a real piece of shit to identify with Mae. She’s smart, she’s quippy, and she has a very unique voice. She just hasn’t found her place yet, but it isn’t Possum Springs — despite the fact that it’s the only place that begrudgingly accepts her.
While NIGHT IN THE WOODS tries to be something more than just an interactive side-scrolling novel — there are a few mini-games, including a Zelda-ish dungeon game and a number of rhythm games that are amazing riffs on JOY DIVISION’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and BAUHAUS’ ‘Bela Legosi’s Dead’, they’re more annoying than engaging. They’re often too fiddly, even if it’s supposed to encapusate Mae blindly playing bass to songs she doesn’t know. There’s an art to controller-based rhythm games that feels lost here, and leaves one feeling frustrated. (That may be appropriate for Mae as a character, but it also resulted in a lot of swearing on my behalf.)
I initially played NIGHT IN THE WOODS shortly after it was released, six years ago. I decided to pick it up and replay it recently because I remember it as being a low-friction game with great art design, a lot of unique personalities, voices, and witty banter.
What I forgot was that it’s ultimately a tale about an existential crisis and psychotic break.
There are a number of hints and allusions to Mae’s actions and behavior before she headed off to college, but it takes a while until Mae ultimately confronts matters and, while I will not spoil them, this tale takes a number of dark turns, culminating with Mae having to reckon with her past, her skewed mind, and her fundamental disassociation with, well, life.
So, despite appearances, it’s a far more soulful work than one might expect. It’s a tale of societal expectations, of guilt, of reckoning, of family, of friends. This is not a lark; it’s a deep dive into how one can fucking completely mess up their life and still manage to survive, but feel endlessly haunted.
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.
(macOS/PC/PS4/PS5/Xboxes) Every gamer has encountered a game that desperately wants to be a film instead. (I’m looking at you, METAL GEAR SOLID 2.) You know the type: long-winded cut-scenes, overly flamboyant camerawork that often gets in the way of interactivity, shamelessly cribbing from other films — usually Tarantino — all with the intent to make the player feel something.
LAST STOP, from VIRGINIA developers Variable State, is one such game.
LAST STOP consists of an intertwined story of three primary characters: John Smith, an aging father who has a precocious eight (excuse me, eight-and-a-half) year-old daughter named Molly; Donna, a teen girl who sneaks out at night to be a bit rebellious with her friends; and Meena, an agent with a nebulous intelligence agency that deals with the supernatural or aliens — that isn’t quite clear out of the gate — but it also leads to some body switching and other high-concept notes.
While ostensibly it’s interactive fiction by way of Telltale’s games (THE WALKING DEAD), the dialogue choices really don’t matter, and most of the interactivity consists of walking to a door or clumsy item finagling, a la David Cage (the ‘auteur’ behind HEAVY RAIN, DETROIT: BEHIND HUMAN, who also desperately wants to create ‘cinematic experiences’ and they often ring false).
When you get to the third chapter of LAST STOP, which nakedly indulges in the trope where a camera circles around a table during what is ostensibly heist planning, well, yeah, it becomes crystal clear that this should just be a film rather than a hackneyed patchwork of filmic gaming experience.
That may sound harsh, but I couldn’t scrub that feeling from my mind and it’s a shame, as their prior game VIRGINIA managed to navigate those interactive narrative waters far more smoothly, partially because it felt more thoughtful and thought-out.
So why am I grousing about it in this blog that’s all about recommending works? It’s because I’m still a sucker for these sort of games; they’re perfect fodder for tucking into on a lazy Sunday. Also, Meena? (See above.) She is one hell of an ice queen and one of the best modern video game characters of our time. However, it’s a far cry from the silent meditative and askew nature of VIRGINIA.
While it’s far from perfect, it is quite playable — for as little that you actually can play it — and while I played, I was quite invested to see where all of the high-concept facets would lead to. Additionally, the visual design and artistry is quite compelling in a LIFE IS STRANGE simple, but effective, way. When the story hits, it lands well; these are complex people living different but vastly similar lives to the way most live.
I’ll note that it is extraordinarily British. One chapter practically feels torn from a Mike Leigh film.
Again, it’s a bit of a misfire and isn’t for everyone, but it is a fun lark and we all need that sometimes.
One nice touch: one of the lead characters has a very visible caesarean scar, perhaps the only time I’ve ever seen that in a video game.
(PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xboxes) If you’ve played any video games released in the past twenty years, you’ve probably encountered a feature that allows you to rotate and zoom inventory items around to scrutinize the fine detailing the art department put into the work. Usually it feels like a bit of fluff, and I rarely take part in exploring the items because I waste enough time on games as it is.
Indie developers Hollow Games — and quality publisher Annapurna — took that conceit and built an entire game around it, and the result is an amazingly poignant and melancholy narrative puzzler experience.
I AM DEAD plainly lays out its narrative conceit: you play as recently deceased Morris Lupton, a longtime denizen of the fishing island of Shelmerston, New Zealand. He’s reunited with his long-lost dog Sparky, who somehow can talk now because it’s initially hand-waved because of the afterlife.
The island has a volcano that’s been dormant for years and years, but has started roiling and rumbling again, and Morris is tasked with finding a ghost who would like to placate it by minding it, replacing the current volcano minder. Sparky helps to guide Morris through finding a suitable replacement through seeking out memories from the living to help sniff out and materialize the ghosts of the past. Even better, the game sidesteps what could easily be a journey of grief and sadness, and instead celebrates a life well-lived.
The cartoonish art design is colorful and pops — it feels like COSTUME QUEST meets THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: WIND WAKER, but don’t let the aesthetics fool you. The game is properly mature and — while there’s no gore or even swearing — it’s about complex folks that may have had a rocky life, and have had their lives taken from them. Yes, you’ll be spending most of your time rotating and zooming items, but I AM DEAD breaks up the flow with an ingenious bit of storytelling that requires you to bring a memory into focus, and not in the usual lens-like focusing that most games attempt.
It is an emotional game, and a fantastical one that features fish people and an assortment of creatures (and even some robots) that wouldn’t be out-of-place in the game NIGHT IN THE WOODS (2017) — but in a way that pulls at your heartstrings instead of pulling your heart out. Also, for an indie game, it’s not your standard four-hours-then-you’re-done affair; it’s extremely substantial — about 10-15 hours, depending on how patient you are — allowing Hollow Games to serve up a multi-faceted world.
I admit, I did balk at playing it for some time, solely because of the potential dread of the title, but it’s a charming item of a game, and one that deserves more attention. (I’ll note that I had a hard time finding many fans of it, much less videos. There’s one folk song that they insert that I really wanted to embed because I love it when a game inserts a folk song as part of the adventure, but alas, it was nowhere to be found.)
(PC/PS4/PS5/Xboxes) Pacific Northwest. Character-forward. Narrative-based decisions. A middle-aged woman computer programmer trying to navigate her life in 1986.
This game couldn’t fit more squarely into my wheelhouse.
While a lot of the game does remind me of LIFE IS STRANGE, this is far cozier than LIFE IS STRANGE’s teenage drama. (Except for WAVELENGTHS, naturally.)
It is absolutely worth noting that this game is little more than a small-scale tale of said woman taking a break from her normal life, temporarily running her father’s mail job in their hometown while finding a more permanent solution. In the meantime, you get to re-familiarize yourself with the locals and, if you’re so brazen, can even attempt to romance them.
(I’ll note that I tried so hard to romance the twenty-years-younger woman running the video store, but that didn’t work out. The dude lumberjack was super into me, though. Not my type so I gently let him down.)
This is a quintessential cozy game. You just drive around, you deliver mail, you drop off packages, you listen to townies grouse, you try to help them out, and at the end of the day you talk to your parents on the phone. Roll credits.
I love it. The town is well-drawn, it involves a frickin’ BBS and ASCII graphics, but that nerdiness isn’t meant to alienate folks; it simply serves to show the prior world that the protagonist — Miss Meredith Weiss — existed in.
I’ll note that, at least the PS4/PS5 version, is buggier than I’d like. For a game that relies on dialog trees, highlighting your responses can be very unpredictable, and there were a few spots where I had to restart the game, and there are a lot of visual hiccups. Heck, even just watching the final credits proved to be a problem as I had to pause them partially through, then had to replay a good chunk of the game to get back to them.
Nonetheless, it’s worth the effort, as this is one of those rare games that feel like a memory without being nostalgia-bait. It’s sweet and earnest and low-key, and so few games provide that comfort.
(macOS/PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox) UNPACKING is an adorably short but impactful indie game from developers Witch Beam that is basically an isometric interior design game. All you do is age and move from place-to-place, from apartment to apartment and so on. It’s one of the few games I’ve played that, while I imagine some 20-somethings might understand, really, it’s all about proper adulthood. The kind that requires a mortgage or, at least, striving to get to a point in which a bank will allot a mortgage to you.
This is a game about aging and compromising and figuring out what works for both you and your partner, and also just enjoying the space you’ll spend the bulk of your time in.
I realize that sounds heavy, but Witch Beam lightens the load for you. You can think about all of that, or you can just mindlessly open boxes and try to find where every object should live, because that is the entire game, and it’s supremely satisfying to do so. The narrative is just the icing on the cake.
The game leans on a lot of 16-bit era tropes, from the pixelated visuals, the isometric viewpoint, as well as the soundtrack, but that works in its favor — at least for me. It comes across as simple and endearing in a soft way, although the audio and sound design? Way better than the days of the SEGA Genesis. Goddamn, I am not one for ASMR, but this is a balm for your ears.
Again, this is a very short — but very fulfilling — game. Is it for everyone? Well, no, particularly if you’re consistently seeking videogame thrills. However, it is very sweet and cozy and amazingly designed and something I think most folks would enjoy.
(If you watch the trailer, pay attention to the pig. That’s all I’ll say.)
If you haven’t experienced any or all of the LIFE IS STRANGE works, normally I suggest experiencing the LIFE IS STRANGE universe in order of release, despite the fact that they jump backward and forward in time and place:
LIFE IS STRANGE: STEPH’S STORY (narratively predates TRUE COLORS and WAVELENGTHS)
However, I’d suggest reading STEPH’S STORY prior to playing TRUE COLORS, as you won’t have the knowledge as to how Steph’s journey plays out, and it will only enhance your enjoyment of TRUE COLORS and WAVELENGTHS. In addition, it doesn’t require any knowledge of post-LIFE IS STRANGE 2 games, and even better, it does a great job of introducing you to some of facets of the future games.
That said, there really is no wrong way to experience these works!
This post features mentions of familial death and spoilers for the first LIFE IS STRANGE game, LIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM, LIFE IS STRANGE: TRUE COLORS and LIFE IS STRANGE: TRUE COLORS – WAVELENGTHS.
Franchise tie-in fictional novels have existed for years, probably most iconically via STAR TREK novels. Fans want more of their favorite characters, more experiences within this universe, and they allow writers a latitude that often isn’t an option with visual mediums or their purses.
I’ve played and penned a lot about the LIFE IS STRANGE series this past year, but was stunned to hear that they recently released a tie-in novel, focused on Steph of all people. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised: there was a LIFE IS STRANGE comic book series several years prior that continues exploring Max and Chloe in Arcadia Bay. (As I haven’t read them, I’m avoiding read any additional details as I’m definitely going to dive into them sooner-rather-than-later.)
LIFE IS STRANGE: STEPH’S STORY (STEPH’S STORY from here on out) — from young adult author Rosiee Thor (FIRE BECOMES HER and more) — picks up with a post-Arcadia Bay Steph, currently living in Seattle with her father.
One difficult thing about adapting an interactive work, especially one like LIFE IS STRANGE where your decisions have major ramifications, is simply laying the foundation for the text. The closing choice in the first game is that you’re given the option to save your best friend, destroying the town and killing many people, or sacrificing Chloe and allowing the town to limp along.
While Thor could have taken a CHOOSE YOUR ADVENTURE approach, instead the novel explicitly notes in the beginning that the events here take place in a world where Max saves Chloe, razing Arcadia Bay. Thor also underscores that the choices made in this book may not mirror your own if you played the first game, but urges you to keep an open mind.
As I’ve previously noted, there isn’t much Steph in the first game. You know she’s a proud lesbian who loves to run table-top RPG games with her best friend, she sells bootleg DVDs, she’s a tech nerd, and that’s about it. You don’t really even know her home situation, apart from her dad being a video editor.
If you’ve played LIFE IS STRANGE: TRUE COLORS you know that Steph now lives in Haven Springs, Colorado and is still very openly queer. WAVELENGTHS sees Steph navigating her new job as the voice and DJ of Haven Springs radio throughout the timespan of a year, neatly broken up into seasons.
With STEPH’S STORY, you discover that Steph was living with her divorced mother in Arcadia Bay. Her parents had a very dysfunctional relationship and stayed together far too long. Her father moved to Seattle while her mother stayed in Arcadia Bay, effectively dooming herself and dying during Max’s tornado. (LIFE IS STRANGE does love to kill family members.)
Steph gets her college diploma from DigiPen, then after a bout of living with friends, finally moves in with her father.
Steph is still struggling with the loss of her mother when she meets Izzie, who has recently been kicked out of her band. The two become fast friends, then decide to start their own band — DRUGSTORE MAKEUP, with Steph as the drummer and Izzie fronting — and in the process they become romantically entangled. The band starts to pick up steam, matters escalate, and the next stage of Steph’s life begins.
There’s a fundamental facet to Izzie that I feel the need to mention, but also feel it could be construed as a spoiler, so you can see for yourself below:
Izzie is a gay trans woman, and rightfully isn’t as open about this as Steph is about being a lesbian.
Again, if you’ve played TRUE COLORS or WAVELENGTHS, we know ultimately where this ends up: her relationship with Izzie ends, she is no longer in a band but still loves music — although she has mostly moved along from punk — and she’s left Arcadia Bay and Seattle behind. However, as with so many stories, it’s not about the destination but the journey.
And what a journey. Even if this weren’t a LIFE IS STRANGE tie-in, I’d still seek it out. It deftly portrays the highs and lows of a tumultuous relationship and one trying to do so while attempting to struggle with prior traumatic events. The prose is crisp and witty, the characters nuanced, and it is an extremely controlled example of building out a world using pre-existing characters.
That noted: this is a LIFE IS STRANGE tie-in, and Thor exceptionally weaves in all sorts of explicit fan-service in a way that feels respectful and rarely pandering and narratively fulfilling. It also contains a lot of clever wordplay and foreshadowing and tiny riffs on LIFE IS STRANGE dialogue from the past as well as Steph’s future. (There’s a lot of talk about choices and their impact, for example. You also learn the backstory behind Steph’s rainbow PRIDE woodblock, which is not as pedestrian as you might expect. Even the summary on the back mentions “different wavelengths”.)
A few quibbles:
While I know that Thor wants us to roll with her decisions, in this world Chloe and Max are romantically involved which feels like shipping to me, as my Max would experiment, but fundamentally consider herself straight. Max — to me — has always felt like Rory Gilmore — someone who is fundamentally reserved and while they may occasionally dip their toes into unconventional behavior, often they snap right back to being rather straight-laced.
Secondly, Steph seems like she’s far more involved and invested in Chloe’s life that doesn’t align for me with LIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM and how Chloe connects with Rachel Amber. There’s really no mention of them being as friendly enough before the tornado hits Arcadia Bay and obviously Steph moved right after that.
Lastly, there’s a relatively vivid description of Izzie’s entwined ring necklace, which 100% mirrors the necklace Steph brandishes in TRUE COLORS and WAVELENGTHS. I kept hoping the book would circle back to that, but it never does. So it goes.
I don’t mind these choices — after all, they’re the author’s choices — as they’ll certainly satisfy those who want more Chloe, but their friendship feels shoehorned in, even though they both overly queer. (Perhaps it’s handled in the graphic novels and, if so, I’ll note that once I inevitably write about those.)
Otherwise, this is a perfect tie-in to the LIFE IS STRANGE universe. It has personality, it’s very gay, it’s character-centric, and it will make you cry tears of joy and sadness. In other words: perfect for any LIFE IS STRANGE fan, or any fan of a young, queer, punk human drama.
I’m not one for sweeping, multi-pronged epics. I like my works short and intense.
Have I read and watched all of GAME OF THRONES? Yes, but that was at the behest of my wife and, then later, to not be left out of the cultural conversation.
That said, I soured on the series around A STORM OF SWORDS but kept reading and watching. I finally drew a line in the sand with HOUSE OF DRAGONS, stating: “I’ve spent too much time in this universe; it’s not good for me and I need to move on.”
(To be fair, I will read the remaining novels, if they’re ever published. Sunk-cost fallacy and all that.)
However, within 100 pages of MY BRILLIANT FRIEND — the first book in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels — I felt my face glow, felt a connection to these characters, to this life and its drama that I hadn’t felt towards a narrative work in years (apart from LIFE IS STRANGE, naturally). I told my wife: “This is my GAME OF THRONES. This is amazing. This is my everything right now.”
I fucking love this series, and I’m so happy others do too.
As I’ve previously stated, I love nothing more than to go out to a bar, have a beer or cocktail or two, and read.
Normally no one recognizes what I’m reading because I read a lot of weird stuff.
Not the case with the Neapolitan Novels. Those who have read them and recognize what I’m reading? Their eyes light up and they’re so over-eager to discuss them, and I’m more than welcome to indulge them.
Let me rewind a bit:
The Neapolitan Novels — originally penned in Italian, but have been translated to multiple languages — are centered around two childhood girls who become women, colloquially named Lenù and Lila. They both grew up in a shitty part of the outskirts of Naples. They’re both exceedingly intelligent and intellectually and romantically compete against each other. One became a successful author while the other …not so much. The entire four-novel series is about them growing, changing, adapting, and their push-and-pull.
I have yet to read the final novel, hence this post, but I revel in every word. Elana Ferrante — whose name I’ll note is a pseudonym as she prefers to not be known — has a quick wit and succinct brevity that I adore. It’s one of the rare times where I wish I could read the work in the original language.
Some have made claims that it’s a dude writing these, and while frankly I don’t care — most of the protagonists I write are women — it feels very genuine and authentic and lived-in. All I’ll say is: respect the author’s intent, especially when they’re serving you something special like this.
I’ll note that these books are famously known for their absurd covers that have absolutely nothing to do with the material they’re wrapped around. Personally, I love them, however I can understand how others might not. Please, do not judge these books by their covers.