New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
It appears that lately I’ve had a thing for the ladies of comedy. A few weeks ago I read (and reviewed) Mindy Kaling’s new book, then last week I bought Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants (which is currently in a box on the slow boat to China) and then today I finished (somewhere 30,000 feet above the flyover states) Rachel Dratch’s new release. I haven’t read Fey’s book, but I do have to admit right up front that between of Kaling’s and Dratch’s books, Kaling wins without a doubt.
Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy Girl Walks into a Bar, there were parts that made me laugh and parts that made me reflect on my own choices in life. I definitely agree with Dratch on her views of baby showers, (I mean, how many tiny pairs of pants can one oooh and ahhh over in the space of a single afternoon?)but overall I think the vast difference in where we are in life makes the book fall outside my range of interest.
Dratch focuses a lot on the fact that she became a mother for the first time at the age of forty-four. She had always wanted kids, but didn’t want to be a single mother and Mr. Right hadn’t found his way in to her life yet. Her world is turned upside down when, well past the time she thought she would have to worry about birth control, she finds out she is pregnant. The father is a man she had been seeing long-distance for several months, but one with whom there was no set commitment.
Before getting to the pregnancy, Dratch does detail the horrors of her dating life. I couldn’t help but laugh at how many crazies came her way over the years. From the married man who flirted like there wasn’t a wife and two kids at home to the one who casually asked her if she ever wondered what human flesh tasted like, she definitely got her fill of the New York dating scene.
The book references Saturday Night Live and its cast and host of characters pretty regularly, so that may be a draw for some. While I went through a period when I watched it most weekends, it has been a few years since I could be counted on to know the recurring skits. (Even when I was watching often, it was pretty much only for the digital shorts and Weekend Update. The rest was pretty hit or miss for me.)
Girl Walks into a Bar was a quick read and I am sure it will be popular with mothers who feel the pain/excitement/horror/joy/fear/blessing of an unexpected pregnancy, but this just wasn’t the queen of comedy book I had hoped for. (Fingers crossed that Tina Fey’s book will fall into the Mindy Kaling category and not the Rachel Dratch one… ) With that said, it was the perfect book for a cross-country airplane ride- easy to read and short chapters that don’t require excessive amounts of concentration. Overall, Rachel Dratch’s Girl Walks into a Bar earns:
What do you get when you mix the New York fashion scene with al–Qaeda? You get a darkly humorous novel that delves into the paranoia that gripped the US in the months and years following 9/11. From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant is just that, as it follows Boyet Hernandez, a Filipino designer who has come to New York to make a name for himself and his clothing line (B)oy.
Boy runs into problems immediately upon arrival in the US. He has big dreams and talent to back them up, but not the funding. Just as he imagines he may never have the backing he needs to make the clothing line he has envisioned, a chance encounter with a neighbor changes his world. What Boy is too naïve to realize is that this new benefactor, with an apartment full of fertilizer, may not be funding his clothing line out of sheer love for his design aesthetic. Boy doesn’t see that he is being used as a front for much more sinister works.
We learn of Boy’s New York exploits as he writes about them from his tiny cell in No Man’s Land, (ie: Guantanamo Bay) where he is being held and interrogated, without having been arrested and without access to a lawyer. On yellow legal pad after yellow legal pad, Boy walks his interrogator (and us) through those early days in the United States. We see how much he loves the US, how entirely focused he is on clothing design and how he was too self-absorbed to realize what was going on around him.
Boyet is a likeable protagonist. He is embroiled in a mess well-beyond his understanding, and yet he tries to make sense of it by pulling forth his own renderings of history, philosophy and literature, usually butchering these references beyond belief. (The footnotes throughout the tale help sort out the points he is trying to make.) My favorite of these ill-guided attempts at allusion is when he tries to make a connection to the works of 19th century Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, saying he particularly liked the one about the idiot, if only he could remember the title! This just puts a stamp on Boyet’s incredible nativity and innocence as he is being accused of the heinous and horrible acts.
I really like that this book breaks out of the conventional novel box. I like that it is Boyet’s own “confession,” written while held captive, bookended by a prologue and afterward by a reporter wishing to make the story known. This organization pushes the reader to imagine how such unwarranted detentions were (and still are) possible in a country where we say we prize freedom and the rule of law, but we are so afraid of terrorists getting the upper hand that those sentiments can be easily swept under the carpet in the name of protecting the homeland. Boy’s story is a fictional one, but it does force the reader to stop and consider how close to reality certain aspects may be treading.
A unique style, coupled with a tale that weaves fashion and ethics together earns Alex Gilvarry’s novel From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant: