BONE GAP by Laura Ruby

Bone Gap is a quiet and masterful tale of two brothers living in a small town whose lives are changed by the mysterious appearance of a beautiful Polish immigrant. Roza is a friend and beacon of hope to 18 year old Finn, known for his dreamy, absentminded behavior – and a spark in the heart to older brother Sean, who gave up his dreams long ago after their mother abandoned them. Just as suddenly, Roza is gone again – abducted by a stranger Finn can’t describe.

The town of Bone Gap puts its head together and murmurs – was it foul play? Did she abandon them too, fly away as fast and thoughtlessly as their mother? Does Finn know more than he’s letting on?

I don’t want to spoil it – but let’s just say this book was not what I expected. It was wonderful, which I did expect, but it was always unusual and spell-casting in a way I’ve not experienced in another book. Simplistic moments merge easily into surrealistic moments. The two brothers are memorably brought to life – the barn animals, the goats and horses and chickens – the eccentric neighbors, the beekeepers daughter, the best friend, the bullies. The writing was lyrical and yet sparse, never lingering too long anywhere, always moving the plot steadily forward through the corn fields.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – A MEMORABLE READ – MAGICAL REALISM AT ITS FINEST.

RATING: FIVE STARS

Title: Bone Gap
Author: Laura Ruby
Originally published: March 3, 2015
Genre: Young adult fiction

 

BURNING (2018) – a meditation in isolation

Burning, a Korean film starring Yoo Ah-In, Jeon Jong-Seo, and Steven Yeun, is a bleak, atmospheric examination of the modern man. And by man I mean mankind, both men and women. It’s based on the short story Barn Burning from The Elephant Vanishes by author Haruki Murakami.

Yoo Ah-In, one of my all time favorite Korean actors, plays a young man who is struggling. In every way imaginable. He struggles to find work. He struggles to come to terms with his upbringing. He struggles to relate to people. He struggles to piece together sentences. You can almost hear the wheels creaking as he struggles to form his own thoughts. It’s ironic that he considers himself a writer, even though there is little evidence of this aspiration around him. Yet perhaps it is most telling that he yearns to find a way to express himself, as this seems to be the insurmountable task of life.

He meets Jeon Jong-Seo’s character, who grew up in the same poor neighborhood as him and is now also struggling in the big city. Though our writer has no memory of this girl, she seems to remember him vividly and drags him into her life. She is also struggling – with money, with work, with career aspirations – but she seems more engaged in trying to articulate the emotions inside her. They feel vast and universal through her portrayal: the search for meaning in the world. She’s found cultural examples of this longing to express an unseen need and actively seeks them out. Pantomime. African rituals and dance. She goes so far as to leave the country to attempt to find the expression she needs, but it seems to elude her. She comes back empty handed, with only a fleeting memory of the setting sun over a vast expanse of nothing and a new man in her life – that seems as disconnected to her as the dreams she’s trying to articulate.

The new man is played by Steven Yeun. He’s American. He’s wealthy. He’s well spoken and confident. He doesn’t seem to struggle with anything at all, so it’s a surprise to our writer that he is interested in keeping company with our poor dreamer girl. There’s a baffling casualness to him, an indifference. Above his easy smile are cold eyes.

Without spoiling the story – let me just say this is a very slow paced film about isolation. The director takes great pains to convey the sense of loneliness and isolation of our main character. He has no friends. He has no family. He has no coworkers. His phone rings but there is no one on the other end of the line. He’s caught it in his own trap – seemingly unable to change his circumstances. He can’t seem to talk when others are around… and when he does, he says the wrong thing.

All three of the characters are isolated – though how they express this is different. Our writer is withdrawn. Our poor girl is animated and talkative, but fails to really communicate with others. Our rich American is surrounded by friends and family and moves easily through life unobstructed, yet his sterile apartment and his secrets show that he is also alone.

There’s a lot you could talk about with this movie, but when I woke up this morning I just thought about how real it all was. Though the class distinctions between the characters is jarring and apparent, they all seemed disconnected. The wealthy people met for cocktails and went dancing and had dinner parties – but they too seemed unable to really connect with each other. Their interactions were shallow, surface level. None of our main characters have anyone meaningful in their lives – and so they’re all reaching out towards these ideas – to be a writer, to find the right modality of expression, to secretly light fires – hoping to find something that matters, that they can connect to. They do not, however, reach out for each other.

In my opinion, the two men in this story were the ones, ultimately, who were able to connect to each other. They tell each other secrets. They see past the surface and examine one another’s lives. They are, fatefully, able to see each other.

I loved it.

It’s so different from the typical film that it can be a challenge. The slow pace. The long sequences without dialogue. The frustrating awkwardness of our characters. I think as moviegoers, we are accustomed to escaping life – to seeing people being witty and beautiful and interacting seamlessly and it is disorienting to watch people on screen be so vague and uncomfortable together. From the opening scene, focusing on the back of a truck while puffs of smoke appear from the side… evidence of our main character tantalizing and withdrawn. It takes it a few beats past the normal reveal, making you wait… and then it forces you to follow after him, crowded and lagging behind. The whole movie is like this. Director Lee Chang-dong is a master. Purposeful. Intentional. And profound.

It’s just beautiful art house cinema.

RATING: 4.5 STARS

THE EMPEROR OF ANY PLACE by Tim Wynne-Jones

 

The Emperor of Any Place is about men. Specifically, the Canadian son of a draft dodging American, his military grandfather, and two soldiers shipwrecked on a mysterious island from opposing sides of WWII.

It deals with growing up, grief, responsibility, fathers and sons, male mentors, and male friends. There’s a nice mystery that baited me enough that I actually finished the book, even though I was only halfheartedly invested. The author went on and on about things I found tedious and boring (constructing forts, shelters, miniature boat models). There were tangent plotlines that felt irrelevant, mainly the bits about the grandson, his band and his friends. But there were also very intriguing elements – the diary of the two men on the island, for example.

The author did a excellent job of capturing the language construction of a Japanese soldier and his diary entries were generally the most interesting. The other interesting thing was the island itself… home to restless ghosts, monsters, and other strange beings. It’s not presented a fantasy though, merely a place where Japanese mythologies and folklore exists… and it’s as baffling and terrifying to the two men shipwrecked there as it was to me, the reader. In fact, the men on the island knew no one would believe what happened to them, thus their years of secrecy and the heart of the mystery.

My favorite weird plot element was the concept of each man’s lineage were unborn spirits… existing as ghostly children waiting to be born. And that the men could tap into these memories, of their unborn selves following their ancestors… well, that was fascinating.

Still, it just didn’t do it for me. I don’t generally like historical novels or mysteries, so this just isn’t my cup of tea. 

RATING: THREE STARS

Title: The Emperor of Any Place
Author: Tim Wynne-Jones
Originally published: October 13, 2015
Genre: Fiction