Girl Interrupted

What's the appeal of cults? Why do people drop off the grid to go live in a hovel led by someone who has delusions of grandeur or godhood? What drives people to willfully overlook obvious danger to themselves or others? These questions are all tackled by a book that got a lot of critical praise last year, Emma Cline's 2016 novel, The Girls.

As an adult, Evie Boyd is a fairly isolated woman, who helps look after others rather than living any real life of her own. Some teenagers who barge into the guest house where she's staying recognize that she was part of a cult way back in the '60s, and are curious to know what that was like. The bulk of the book is Evie stirring up all those memories, trying to make sense of her involvement.

Evie had a fairly standard childhood, though her parents are pretty emotionally neglectful. Her dad runs off to start a new life with another woman, and her mom takes solace in hippie nonsense. Evie finds emotional support in Suzanne, a girl she finds endlessly cool and intriguing. Suzanne takes Evie back to a compound where a group of girls scrounge off the land while obeying every whim of Russell, the charismatic leader.

Evie is thrilled to find a place where she's accepted, and gets drawn into the group's charm, rationalizing all of the red flags that begin to pop up with increasing regularity. The cult is soon hurtling towards actions far more alarming than dumpster diving, and Evie is called upon to make serious choices about her loyalty.

People seemed to really love this book when it came out, but it left me a bit cold. I can definitely give credit to Cline for weaving a world of believable decay; I could almost feel the gross conditions of the cult's compound and everyone living there on my skin. She also did a good job in making Evie's journey from standard suburban teenager to cult member understandable. That said, Evie's obsession with Suzanne is somewhat contrived, and Cline's prose tends to be a little too in love with similes and metaphors.

The Girls is one of those books that was definitely worth the read, and if asked, I'd certainly recommend it to certain friends, but is beloved to a degree I don't understand. This is where I'd attempt a joke about cults if I felt more strongly about the book. As it is, it's a pretty good read that may not deserve its reputation, but still has a lot to offer.

The Girls: B

Tri Tri Again

Back when I was talking about the first season of Angie Tribeca, I mentioned that as a cord-cutter, I'd have to bide my time before being able to watch the second one. Well, guess what just dropped on Hulu? Some television shows demand to be watched slowly, the better to really soak up the themes and nuances of each episode. Angie Tribeca is emphatically not one of those shows, and I binged the whole season in the course of a few evenings.

There really isn't much to "review" in shows like these. If you liked the complete zaniness and absurdity of season one, then you're all set. The puns, the visual gags, and the ridiculous situations are all back in full force, and each episode is good for a least a giggle or two, if not a full-throated belly laugh.

One new aspect is the inclusion of an actual seasonal arc, which you wouldn't expect in a show that basically functions as a simple joke delivery system. In season 2, Angie awakens from a coma to discover that Geils is now in a relationship with Dr. Scholls, and complications ensue, especially when her previously-thought-dead partner resurfaces as the head of a shadowy organization.

It all sounds very Alias, until something like a full-sized office desk built out of sand or Tanner in geisha regalia shows up. Season 2 didn't grab me by the funny bone as much as the inaugural season did, but this show's embrace of complete silliness works in its favor, and though it's no doubt a long way off, I'm already looking forward to being able to stream season three.

Angie Tribeca - Season 2: B

Past Imperfect, Future Tense

It's comforting to know that with all the problems plaguing our current society, things have always sucked, and always will. Wait, maybe that's not so comforting to you. But to me, it does relieve the mind a little to know that no matter what point on the timeline of human dominance I was destined to be born in, there was always going to be some sort of obstacle, so it's silly to pine for another era.

This was borne out in a pair of books I just finished, both of which revolved around a war waged to free citizens from tyrannical rulers. However, one was a non-fiction exploration of particular aspects of the American Revolutionary War, and one was the fictional conclusion of a series of futuristic outer space colony wars.

The first was Sarah Vowell's 2015 jaunt through history, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. Students are often given pretty dry information regarding the War of Independence. They learn the names, the dates, the battles. The events were given some nice color (literally) in the Hamilton musical, but that was written more to entertain than to educate. This book strikes a nice balance between the two; as with all of Vowell's books, it adopts a light, humorous tone, but imparts actual information about the Frenchman who devoted his life to securing the freedom of a country across the ocean. What was he like as a person? Why fight for America when France had plenty of its own problems?

I really like it when history is approached in this way. It's still factual information, but the conversational delivery makes it a lot more pleasant to engage with than simple recitation of the where and when. I got a real sense of Lafayette and other 1770s figures as actual humans, rather than just as symbols or names on a park statue. Though it wasn't my favorite of Vowell's works (that'd probably be Assassination Vacation), this book is still a really fun read, and would make a good assignment in a high school history class.

The other book was Pierce Brown's 2016 sci-fi thriller, Morning Star, the final entry of the Darrow trilogy that kicked off with Mars Rising, and continued in Golden Son. I don't believe I've ever said this about any other trilogy before: The second book was actually the strongest.

In this final book, Darrow has been exposed as a Red operative, and he must gather his allies for one last stand against the Gold oppressors. There are some thrilling sequences, but there is also a lot of ticking of boxes to wrap up all the loose ends. Brown is very good at giving this universe a sense of scale (casualties are often counted in the millions, rather than the thousands), but by the same token, the story tends to suffer from the same problem that plagues Game of Thrones: What I call the Paper Doll Syndrome. If life if so cheap as to throw a bunch of them away on every page, how am I meant to get invested enough to care?

Though I sound less than enthusiastic, I did enjoy the series, and can see myself re-reading it someday, which is rare for a trilogy. Darrow is an engaging protagonist with relatable worries about being "the chosen one". His internal struggles are a hell of a lot more realistic than other books I could name. The battle scenes are legitimately thrilling, to the point that I could sometimes feel my heart rate increase.

A movie series is reportedly in development, and if it's done correctly, I can see it working pretty well. With some minor tweaks, this series could have easily been one of my favorite sci-fi works. As it is, it's still pretty good, and though you wouldn't use that as a pull quote on the jacket flap, it's high enough praise to put this above 85% of the other sci-fi I've read.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States: B+
Morning Star: B

(I)'ll Fly Away

Back in the late '90s/early '00s, I was all in for Pedro Almodóvar movies. I had just caught up with his 1988 movie, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and when I saw All About My Mother and Talk to Her, I knew this was a director to watch.

And then I stopped watching, and I have no idea why. Almodóvar simply dropped off my radar. In looking around for semi-obscure titles to continue the ABC Project, I stumbled across his 2013 movie, I'm So Excited!, which seemed like it would make a perfect entry. Would the affinity I had for his movies a decade ago still hold? Would his work have appreciably changed with the passing of so much time?

What I got was one of the wackiest damned movies I've seen in a long time, and which could have easily been irritating and obnoxious in the hands of a less-skilled director. Instead, he manages to make something quirky and charming out of this story of a plane diverted for mechanical problems and whose first class cabin is occupied by: A dominatrix convinced there is a giant political conspiracy against her, a semi-psychic virgin, a financier likely going to jail for massive corruption, an actor trying to iron out past romantic relationships over the phone, a guy smuggling drugs in his ass, a hitman, and three flamingly gay flight attendants who between bouts of lip synching and getting the passengers drunk, make sure to stop in the cockpit to get caught up on the situation and give the pilots a quick blowjob.

Oh, and did I mention that everyone in coach has been drugged and is put to sleep for the entire flight? Yep, that's this movie. But like I said, despite the complete craziness of the plot, somehow it all works without going completely off the rails.

Even with all of the performances and the story being ramped up to eleven, Almodóvar creates characters that you actually become invested in. This may be one of those strange movies that I enjoy myself, but would have real reservations about recommending to others. If you like your movies to follow a certain standard template, maybe stay away from this one. But if, like me, you want your movies to go completely bonkers once in a while, then definitely give this one a shot.

I'm So Excited!: B+


When the first season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend came along, it was such a delightful surprise. It didn't get great ratings, but it was such a critical darling that the CW made the wise and easy decision to renew it. Rachel Bloom mentioned that with every new season, the underlying theme would be different, and this idea has been brilliantly supported by writing an entirely new theme song. The title of this post is how every episode of season 2 kicks off, and it made me giggle every damn time.

If season one was about denial, then season two has been about pure, unadulterated obsession. Now that Josh knows about Rebecca's deep, all-consuming crush on him, she'll do anything in her power to get him into her clutches. Or will she? Because every time he pulls away, she starts thinking that maybe she'd be better off with Greg, after all. As with season one, Rebecca may be the protagonist of the story, but it would be a stretch to call her the heroine. She has good intentions, but her egocentrism and excessive enthusiasm about whatever her current scheme is always threatens to destroy any relationship she's built.

Season 2 wasn't as innovative and genius as season 1, but it definitely had a lot of bright spots. Rebecca has always been pretty selfish in her friendship with Paula, and a fight between them was due. Digging a bit into Rebecca's past to unravel why she is the way she is was an interesting plotline to explore. And the show even found a way to re-incorporate Valencia in a pretty cool way. Aside from that, though, the story beats of season 2 were kind of a disappointment.

And what about the music? The songs of Season 1 were infectious bits of wonder; I still find myself singing "I Have Friends" in the shower to myself. While the songs of season 2 were all pretty good, only a couple reach the heights that the inaugural season did. I really enjoy "The Math of Love Triangles", but the absolute pinnacle was Rebecca's view of how East Coast Jews view life: "Remember That We Suffered".

I have relatives exactly like this, and this song is a perfect encapsulation of their attitudes. So while Season 2 has a bit of a sophomore slump, this show is still really engaging, and is unlike anything else on the air right now. They've already been renewed for season 3, which looks like it's going to have an even darker tone, and I am all in for it. Because if all this wackiness is what ensues when Rebecca has a sunny disposition, imaging what she's going to wreak when she's out for blood.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend - Season 2: B
Copyright © Slice of Lime