Dogears: Magic, Bullies, Noir Fiction, and the Secret Lives of Wait Staff
Full Fathom Five is the third book in Max Gladstone’s amazing Craft Sequence which takes place in a world where magic and religion go hand in hand, though not in the way you might think. Believers sign contracts with their gods, gods can be killed and resurrected as the law demands, souls have monetary value, and priests are very much like what you and I might call accountants and insurance agents. It is an incredibly unique take on magic and fantasy that people continually try, but fail to categorize.
In Full Fathom Five, we meet Kai, a priest who tries to save an idol from death, Izza, a street urchin, and Margot, a poet, all of whom are mysteriously bound to said idol. I read this as part of my first ever read-a-long and enjoyed the process of delving more deeply into a story with questions as I went along. Moreover, each book in the series always has a mystery to solve, and, as we learn more and more about the world, it’s impossible not to spend a good chunk of time speculating and theorizing, only to have Gladstone surprise the reader with something else entirely.
Diversity in science fiction and fantasy is often a struggle, but Gladstone proves that it really isn’t a difficult concept. The main protagonist in his first book, Three Parts Dead, is a young PoC woman, and the main character in Full Fathom Five is transgender. They are not anomalies within the series. This is the world they live in. And oh what a world. Each book has taken us to different parts of the realm and at different times. The chronological order of events is hinted at in the titles of each book in the series. Though related, each book stands on its own, but as a whole, it is all very impressive.
It’s taken me forever to read Yaqui Delgado Want to Kick Your Ass but it’s been on my radar ever since it came out. I get a special sort of glee purchasing books for my library’s Teen section that could be considered scandalous by people for whose opinions I have no time for. Every LGBTQ book? Books with too much teen sex? “Ass” in the titles? Bring it, I’m ready.
So it’s sad that I didn’t read Yaqui until now because it’s so lovely and true. Everyone who has ever been picked on or bullied in the slightest will commiserate with Piddy Sanchez. She’s just transferred to a new school and within a few days a Mean Girl Minion comes up to her and utters the titular phrase, “Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass!” Piddy is confused and scared–she doesn’t even know who that is! With the help of her her few friends she discovers Yaqui is her worst nightmare. Soon Piddy is pretending to be sick and skipping school. She’s a good student but her grades start to drop and the only person who seems to understand is the boy from her old apartment complex. As they fall for each other, Yaqui jumps Piddy after school and she really feels like she can’t go back looking so defeated and bruised.
Medina’s writing is clear with a musical quality. Music, in fact, plays a big role in the story. You really feel Piddy’s desperation as she talks Yaqui. Piddy’s mother and her mother’s best friend Lila are really strong characters who rally around Piddy once she finally decides to open up to them. I also really appreciated that the story resolves in a realistic way. There’s no magical happy ending where Yaqui is punished and realizes that she was being awful; they don’t become best friends at the end. That wouldn’t have rung true for the story. Piddy also doesn’t get to skim over the consequences for skipping too much school. You never really know definitively why Yaqui decided to made Piddy’s life a living hell, but isn’t that the way sometimes? Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass is a well-told, heartfelt story that rises above the simple “problem novel” trope of teen books about bullying.
The latest in Feminist Press’s “Femmes Fatales” imprint, which resurrects pulp fiction classics written by women, Stella Dallas is a fascinating melodrama about class, sexism, and motherhood. The eponymous Stella Dallas is an ambitious working class woman married to an up-and-coming lawyer, but when the marriage falls apart, Stella causes a scandal when she decides to raise her daughter, Laurel, alone. Despite her obvious love for her daughter, the “vulgar” Stella is gradually shunned by the judgemental Boston community, which has dramatic repercussions for Laurel and leads Stella to make an incredible sacrifice.
Originally published in 1923, Stella Dallas was an enormously popular novel that spawned a radio soap opera and was filmed three times (Stella has been played by Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Midler) but has gradually fallen out of pop culture memory. The Feminist Press deserves recognition for the reprint of the novel because it’s no less vital today, nearly 100 years after it was written. This is a four-hanky novel, complete with a melodramatic ending worthy of a Douglas Sirk film, but Prouty’s prose is nuanced enough to stop it from becoming kitsch. Stella herself isn’t portrayed as a victimized martyr, but a recognizably human woman who can be bitter, flighty, or even frustratingly clueless, and yet still capable of intense love. Prouty is surprisingly sympathetic to all her characters, even Stella’s ex-husband and his new wife, Helen. Pop culture’s endless supply of wicked stepmothers had me expecting the worst when Helen and Stella finally meet, but in a subversive twist, the second Mrs. Dallas turns out to be Stella’s greatest ally. In a society where women are routinely judged for their manners, appearances, and the sacrifices they make for their children, Stella Dallas argues that the best protection can be found when women protect each other.
The Waterside Cafe, where the protagonists of After Hours work, is one of the city’s top restaurants, but like so many other high-end restaurants there’s a world, hidden behind the kitchen doors, that most patrons never see. I worked in a number of nice restaurants throughout university, and I can definitely attest to some crazy nights out and enough drama to fill a book of my own one day.
But the staff at the Waterside Café have brought their post-shift drama to another level with a game called Tips. The rules of Tips are rather simple – everyone buys in, a name is drawn, and that lucky person is challenged to a dare. If they manage to complete the dare they win the entire sum of cash.
Everyone has secrets and their own reasons for playing Tips. And some characters you can’t help but root for. Like Xavi, who is stuck busing tables, when what she really wants to do is wait tables, save money and get out of town. She works hard, and is determined, but between Tips and their sleazy boss, is forced to constantly ask herself how far she is willing to go to achieve those goals.
While Xavi’s problems felt real, other staff members felt more like characters from Gossip Girl or Pretty Little Liars. Their stories were more scandalous and over the top. They were still fascinating to read about, but it got harder and harder to shake the feeling that I was reading a teenage soap opera and as a result it became almost impossible to immerse myself into the world in the same way I had at the outset.
After Hours is a fun, sometimes sexy, often scandalous read and one day it could make truly excellent TV show. But when Tips is over and all the secrets have been revealed there isn’t much more to it than that.