A Home at the End of the World

Book I

Two young boys grow up together in Cleveland as best friends. One is dealing with the trauma of family members’ deaths. The other with an awakening gay sexuality. They smoke pot & drop acid (it’s the 70s) and have sweet, young sex.

Book II

The boys, now young men, reunite in New York after spending the early years of their adulthood apart. One has gone to school, come out, and become a journalist. He lives with his new best friend. The other has apprenticed as a baker, opened a restaurant that failed, and has come to New York to start over. They live exciting lives until the baker and the roommate began to have sex. The gay man flees.

Book III

The gay man’s father dies and the three go to the funeral. Back in New York they decide to form a family and buy a house in the country. They raise their child as three parents. Eventually they take in the gay man’s former lover who is dying of AIDS. The roommate leaves with their child, disappears. The two friends stay at the home together caring for the dying man. The book ends with the three of them standing naked in the freezing water of a lake under the beautiful sky.

I loved this book.

Butler: Themes Post-Exogenesis

Reading the Exogenesis series (DawnAdulthood RitesImago) I made a non-exhaustive list of themes running through Octavia Butler’s novels.

—–

  • Empathy, feeling what others feel, suffering through what you do to them in your own body.
  • Valorization of sexual pleasure, bisexuality, polygamy.
  • Privileging group, social unit over the individual without subsuming individuality or individual freedom; there’s no binary.
  • The ongoing threat of slavery, the ongoing threat of racism, especially the dangers presented by white people and white men, dangers that are entrenched enough to appear innate, biological.
  • The evolutionary threat (and dead end) posed by patriarchal masculinity, a dead-end that is named explicitly in the narration and played out explicitly in the narrative.
  • Inquisitive, intelligent, and empathetic (but always rational) women are the protagonists after the first Seed to Harvest novel.

—–

When I made this list, I’d read (but not necessarily logged) the Exogenesis series, Fledgling, and the Seed to Harvest series.

But now at this point, I’ve read everything Butler’s published except a bit of the short fiction. I’m not sure though what to write about what I’ve read.

Butler’s fiction is alarmingly topical and the clarity of her prose is simply overwhelming: it’s difficult to imagine how someone writes her sentences and then uses them to muster the narrative energy she brings to bear novel after novel. What I see clearly is that she makes structural choices vis-à-vis narration and point-of-view that enable a fluency and a diction that are spare and beautiful.

My take-away is that Butler is an extraordinarily talented and smart novelist.

Nus Masculins

A 1954 film by François Reichenbach restored and presented by the Cinémathèque française that I found through a blog post by José Arroyo. I can’t find a way to make the embed video link from the original site work, so you can watch it hosted by the Cinématheque here.

A Taste of Honey

This fantasy novella recounts a gay, interracial, intercultural love story. Two young men — one the son of a low-ranking aristocrat, the other a soldier accompanying an imperial delegation — secretly begin a sexual relationship and fall in love over the course of eleven days. The story is set in a place where gay men are impaled alive and left on display. So when the two are found out by the aristocratic youth’s older brother, he is held captive by his family until the soldier leaves to return home.

The story of this brief relationship is told in alternating sections with the story of the young aristocrat’s later life as the husband of the king’s daughter, a life in which he seems to have chosen to live in hiding by passing as a straight man. However by the book’s end, it is revealed that the technologically advanced geneticists worshipped as “gods” have, as a favor to his wife, erased his memory of the eleven-day love affair. In other words, the man has not passed; he has been trapped in self-ignorance and been made incapable of discovering the reason for the sadness and loss he feels throughout his life.

Combined these two stories are pretty bleak: the beautiful moments seem designed to set off the cruelty and ugliness of the surrounding culture. This is of course a political effect, and point taken. Homophobia sucks, especially for people born in a place dominated by its most overt and violent forms.

However, this clarity is thrown into chaos by the novella’s completely unexpected final pages. There, in a surprise twist of the sort I always dislike, the curtain is pulled back, revealing that nothing except the first ten days of the men’s relationship is true. What actually happened, is that at the end of that day, the two men fled to safety together. In the decades since, they have lived in what amounts to a loving marriage that includes family. The terrible homophobic story we’ve read, is just a vision of an alternate life, a “what if” offered up by a magical/advanced-tech being who is responding to a question posed by the curious and no-longer-young aristocrat.

This feels like a cheat. If the tragedy of the protagonist’s life isn’t real, why wallow in its ugliness rather than showing me the happier world he built with his lover? Erasing the cruelties of a terrible world with the narrative equivalent of “Surprise! Just kidding!” seems dismissive of the very real resonances between this fantasy’s horrors and the real world of some readers.

But perhaps, that’s me being dogmatic. And in the days that followed, I did see how if you’re a geeky queer kid reading the book from inside a situation that looks like the world of the young aristocrat, it might be liberating to discover after a long gaze in the book/mirror that this/your world is just “an alternative.” And perhaps focusing on the bleak world and leaving the geeky kid to imagine what a alternative might look like is empowering. Or at least, I can see how this might have been the case for me if I’d read this book in my early teens when I was dreaming (for reasons I couldn’t quite understand) of someday living in Atlanta or New York.

Whatever the case, the flipping narrative makes this book a complicated piece of writing that I have trouble deciding what to do with. Theoretically that complication is a good thing, but in practice and given this story’s chosen stakes, it doesn’t sit well with me.

UPDATE: or maybe the audience is non-queer fantasy fans, giving them a picture of how crummy the traditional world can look to the queer kids they live with (even if they don’t know they live with them)? In which case, that final twist shows that things can be different, that there are alternatives, and that maybe they could help makes changes?

Lie With Me

Philippe Besson’s short novel tells of two young men in a small village on the French border with Spain who begin a sexual relationship in the winter before they graduate from high school. They are frank with each other and beautifully open and generous, yet everything occurs in secrecy. It is 1984, AIDS looms, and this is the countryside. Still, both are, in the private spaces they make for themselves, happy. 

Graduation arrives, and Thomas understands that his lover, Philippe, will soon go away to school and begin a life elsewhere. So to avoid heartbreak, he flees to Spain to toil on a family farm without saying goodbye.

In 2007, Philippe, now a writer, sees a man in a cafe, thinks he is Thomas, then realizes he must be Thomas’s son. They speak, and the son tells him of Thomas’s adult life as a married man. Nine years later, Philippe and Thomas’s son meet again, and this time Philippe learns of Thomas’s divorce and his relationship with a new lover, a relationship that fails because, as he had with Philippe, Thomas demands it be kept a secret. He also learns that Thomas has committed suicide and receives a letter, written by Thomas in 1984 but never sent, that he appears to have left where it would be found and delivered to Philippe after his death. The final words of the novel are the words of this letter.


The novel presents itself as an autobiographical fiction: the photograph on the cover of French edition is the photograph Philippe takes of Thomas the last time the boys see each other; the dedication is to “Thomas Andrieu (1966-2016)”; and the novel takes pains to include the exchange in which Philippe asks for and is granted permission to tell his and Thomas’s story. In these and myriad other ways, the novel insists “This is true, it happened.”

The story is not, however, idiosyncratic, and the boys’ story of a first gay love is a familiar one. I’ve lived it and reading through this account of their stumbling successes and bright failures, I heard myself sounding back the tune from my own memories. But reading it, I also heard the external echos of all the many accumulated movies, stories, TV shows and novels that have today recounted that same experience as affirmative, popular fictions. From them, I know how this story should go. And yet I also know that, for the story to go as it should, the boys and the men they eventually become would need more self-assurance and more support than I ever had when I was living through similar events. And they don’t have it. So what I know from my past life and what I know from my past reading butt against each other, the one never quite matching the other. This happened enough as I read to make the popular fictions I love begin to ring false, or as a wish. 

By the time the men’s story reaches its tragic finale, the tension between what happened and what I knew I should wish for framed my sadness. I came away from the last pages thinking, “the book should have done this” or “the characters should have done that.” Eventually though, these frustrations fell away and I saw that, yes, these characters — these people — probably should have done things differently. But also and more importantly, they should have been allowed to do things differently. They weren’t, and my frustrations with that fact aren’t about the book or how it’s written. They are about the world. 

So I come away from the book seeing that my sadness had become — because the book has made it so — a measure of the gap that still remains between the way things are for young queer people and the way we tell ourselves that they are (or will soon become) in our fictions. The gap is real.

Ink Master, Season 1

I’ve seen clips of later seasons and found them mesmerizing. So with lockdown wearing on me one day and looking for a short, easy lunch-break something to watch, I clicked “play” for season one.

It seems clear to me that no one filming this show knew if it was going to amount to anything or not, and there’s clearly some confusion about the basis for the competition: is it a pure skill test or is there also a social element to the game. The result is a very distanced, mercenary sensibility: the artists are here to win 100,000$ and never quite check into the show itself. They disagree with the judges at every moment, grant them zero credibility, and more or less think they (the judges) can go fuck themselves.

What I was surprised by is how macho the world of tattooing is. These people are aggressively cool, touchy as hell, and ready to fight. Very chill, very understanding people had done my few pieces, and I had automatically assumed most other tattooists were like that as well. So I was genuinely caught off guard by the general vibe of the world.

J. A. Martin, Photographe

Set in the late 18th century in Quebec, a wife finds people to care for her children and sets out with her husband as he makes his yearly rounds to take portraits of local people. The wife loves her husband, desires him physically, and feels lost and alone in the daily work of housekeeping and childcare. The film records their rediscovery of their love for each other after fifteen years of marriage. 

This film, shot almost exclusively under overcast skies, is quiet and sombre. People rarely speak and most seem to live miserably. But the protagonist insists on forging some kind of happiness with the man she still loves and Monique Mercure finds genuine depth of feeling by inventing a strong personality that plays against crushing external constraints. 

The movie ends with the couple glad to be back home and surprised by how beautiful this ordinary place they had grown to resent looks. In the final shot, the two embrace in bed, and immediately the baby begins to cry from another room. They decide to ignore it in order to stay with each other, agreeing that it will fall to sleep soon.

Of note: over the course of a long sequence involving three different locations and at least a day of story time, the film shows miscarriage as it happens. We see it’s onset and development without knowing what it is, and then watch the mother suffer through the fausse couche. The sequence ends with the father taking the handful of remains, which have been wrapped up by his wife in some old cloth, and walking off with a shovel to bury them. Ironically, this miscarriage is the first sign we have confirming that the couple are now having sex.

Star Trek: Discovery

I lost track of the Star Trek series early on in Voyager. So aside from the three film reboots, I’ve been a bit disconnected. Recently though, I decided to give Discovery a try, and as I started the first episode, my hopes soared. Without a doubt, the opening credits and theme are the best to appear since the original series and The Next Generation. “This show,” I thought, “has figured out how to update the right way.” 

Unfortunately, our contemporary moment is quite ugly, and I’m not sure Roddenberry’s show survives the contact.

An Ethical Objection

I’ve only seen the first season at this point, but Discovery is, in important ways, not Star Trek. Not really. Instead, it’s like a half-bizarro Star Trek. The characters wear recognizable uniforms, the ships are discs with wings, and the Federation, Klingons and Vulcans are all there. But the utopian ethos that defined the earlier series is absent.

In Discovery, every room is dark enough to be gloomy, paranoia is normalized and horror elements abound in the cinematography and montage. Torture and violence are foregrounded and often sexualized. The emotional range of the narrative is also extremely constrained. People here are angry, afraid, desperate, resentful and confrontational. Thinking back, I can’t remember any character feeling a single moment of joy or happiness. This emotional constraint is signalled by the capacities of the show’s empath: no Betazoid, he can only sense fear and danger. Given the narrative, that’s enough. (Full disclosure: he’s also the character I find the most sympathetic.)

More troubling, however, are the many ways that the earlier series’ utopian commitments to non-violence and co-existence are absent. Phasers here are never set to stun. Violence and aggression are continually presented (by Vulcans no less!) as the best and most logical path toward peace. And all of this seems to be kind of okay because, in another dimension, things are even worse and because, in the end, the Discovery’s crew don’t act as bad as those really really bad guys. Go Federation! 

As a kid I aspired to become Nemoy’s Spock, and as a young adult, I (along with so many other nerdy boys) saw Stewart’s Picard as a role model. This show feels like a repudiation of their peaceful convictions.

Geeky Nitpicking

On a less fundamental level, there were Trek-fan things that bothered me too. Science has always been “science” in Star Trek, but Discovery jumps squarely into the realm of magic, eliminating basic spatial and temporal limits fundamental to good storytelling. Basically anything can happen here at any time and problems are problems only until someone activates a teleporter or releases blue glowing spores. Is this bad writing or a symptom of the shift from physical to biological science?

Speaking of bad writing, I also found the dialogue to be surprisingly weak. To cite only one example from the pilot, the Vulcan trained (and top of her class) first officer is on a space walk near a binary star and speaks about what she sees. Apparently thinking she’s on a home-reno show, she reports that “the only word to describe it is ‘wow.'” To which I can only say:

And yet, hope…

Despite all of this, I find it hard to say the show’s terrible. I’m not sure I liked it, but it’s well made and coherent within the bounds it sets for itself, and I’m definitely going to watch the later seasons.

My problem with it is that it more or less rejects the socialist, cooperative utopia of Roddenberry’s Star Trek, a legacy it evokes to lay claim to my attention and which, therefore, sets the horizon for my expectations and judgments. Watching the show from within that field, I can’t ignore how far the series has fallen from the original’s admirable hopes for our future.

My own hope for the future of the show is that there will be a course correction, that the whole spore drive business will go away and that this “Federation” will rediscover the value of cooperation, of ethical inquiry and of peaceful contact (and coexistence) with the unknown.

Because I want to love Star Trek.

True Detective

My brother loved the first season of True Detective. My sister-in-law loved it too. So did my mother. It stars Woody, and both his and the show’s reviews were pretty great. So I gave in and watched it.

Why did I hesitate at all? Because crime fiction gives me nightmares. Few things do, but crime fiction does. Almost always.

Still, I watched, and the first season of this show is absolutely great television: beautifully shot, tightly written, well acted, and everything felt purposeful and controlled. I genuinely loved it.

And then the nightmares set it. They were bad, started immediately, and kept me from sleeping for days. They also set off my sleepwalking (alas, it’s a thing I do) which meant the Beav wasn’t sleeping either. It was miserable.

Things only went back to normal when, after a few days of rain, the skies cleared and the wind warmed up enough to feel like the beginnings of spring rather than the remnants of winter. I worked in the garden, I ate by the river and then I lounged in the grass under the sun. In short, I spent the day outside reminding myself of all that is right in the world. And that night, finally, I slept.

So are the rest of the seasons of this show as good as the first?

Maybe. But I promise you that I will never know.

The Patternist Series

I read these novels in the omnibus edition which arranges them according to story time. I don’t usually read books outside of publication order, so doing it here was eye opening.

The novels in the series, listed in publication order are Patternmaster(1976), Mind of My Mind (1977), Wild Seed (1980), and Clay’s Ark (1984).

Patternmaster offers a very simple plot: boy arrives at a bad place at the wrong time but escapes, runs toward safety, but is caught and must fight to survive. That’s it, that’s all. Yet the seed of each of the other novels is present.

Mind of My Mind explains the origins of “the pattern” introduced in the first novel, identifying it as the product of a centuries long breeding program by a dangerous and seemingly immortal being named Doro. The novel also introduces Doro’s counterpart, a mysterious black woman who cares for young telepaths in a community she has built and maintains in a black neighborhood in a late 20th century city.

Wild Seed tells the story of this same woman, beginning with her early life in Africa centuries before during the first years of the European slave trade. Immortal like Doro but gifted with powers very different from his—she’s a shapeshifter and healer—she finds his breeding of telepaths that he then feeds upon cruel and inhuman. The two are at odds for centuries before he relents and agrees to limits she establishes on his behavior. (Wild Seed was written one year after Butler completed the research for and published Kindred. It shows and the novel is richer for it.)

Clays’ Ark reconnects the now elaborate history of the Patternists back to the post-apocalyptic future of the first novel. This novel tells of a world torn apart by climate change and explains how an alien infection that transforms a farm community into something strange and bestial escapes into the population at large.

Of course, the order I’ve described the books is not the order I read them in. In the omnibus, I’ve read the third book first (Wild Seed), then the second (Mind of My Mind), then the fourth (Clay’s Ark) and only then, at the very end, the first novel that launched the series (Patternmaster). Which means that until I was nearly done, I was reading prequels, which made for a strange experience. The books work in story order, but I see in retrospect that moments of excitement and suspense in the first books I read were only partially visible to me because I didn’t have the ironic positioning created by knowledge of what was coming in the last book I’d read.

This didn’t ruin anything. In fact, it made the final two books a fairly disorienting set of surprises. I had no idea I was headed to a vision of the future that would remind me of, in different ways, both Fury Road and The Dragonriders of Pern. And I really liked these books. But wow, order matters.

Les Confessions

On a whim and fed up with pointy eras and spells maybe, I picked up Rousseau’s Confessions last week. I read the first of the two books which covers his childhood and youth.

Rousseau, the man on the page and voice conjuring him up from memory, is a charismatic figure, compelling, seductive and also annoying. He reads as very much alive and so I can’t keep myself from wondering if I’d have liked him if I’d know him. I can’t decide, mostly because I’m not sure he would have been available to be liked or not. He seems drawn to rough sorts of men in a way that, of all things, made me think of Jean Genet. (He’s not Genet, but their Romanticisms are of a similar kind regarding this point even if wildly different in their intensity and extent.)

I’m walking away from the book with two favorite moments. The first involved a Moor being converted to Catholicism alongside Rousseau. This Moor, after touching and kissing for days, finally attempts to have sex with him. Rousseau refuses but documents the man’s ejaculation and a priest’s insistence, when Rousseau tells him what happened, that he’s only revolted by the possibility of having sex with the man because he imagines it will hurt, which it won’t. Fascinating stuff.

The second is Rousseau’s confession that he’s been saved from becoming a degenerate by his peculiar perversion: a childhood punishment by a woman he adored had made him desire above all else to be spanked by a woman, something he could never bring himself to ask for even with the most compliant of women. And so throughout his life, he claims to be awkward and restrained around women. Although he admits that for awhile at the age of sixteen or seventeen, he would moon women on the streets and in the gardens and then run off. Again, fascinating stuff.

The Goblet of Fire

I found this movie pretty boring, but again, there’s so much going on in the book that there’s barely time to hit the essential points. Nuance and color isn’t going to survive even a two and a half hour adaptation.

I will say this though: there is joy in the source novel stemming from Harry’s struggles and successes in the early stages of the tournament which make its tragic conclusion—Cedrick’s death—that much more devastating. Worse, learning that the Death Eater impersonating Mad-Eye Moody has been cheating for Harry, which suggests the early joy was a cheat as well, feels like betrayal. It’s a bitter discovery to add to the already devastating finale.

In the movie however, the tournament struggles to make any sense at all, and so, to hope that subtleties of character and situation will survive is foolishness through and through. But with these subtleties gone and the tournament reduced to three action set-pieces—they’re all race-or-chases— the early joy goes out the window too. The thing is that I see that joy as the last truly pure, truly childlike happiness Harry experiences in the books, and I missed it not being there.

All that said, I have two principal take-aways from the movie:

  1. Robert Pattinson is a Hufflepuff. This explains everything.
  2. The scene in book in which Harry deciphers the second clue by bringing the golden egg to the pool in the prefects’ bathroom seemed to me when I read it to be very much—and very awkwardly—about Harry’s nakedness. Watching the movie, I now know that I am not the only one to have understood this to be the case, and for the record, I’m relieved.

The Prisoner of Azkaban

Columbus’s first two films offer a realist portrait of a magical school. Cuarón’s film offers a magical portrait, both gothic and expressionistic, and that makes all the difference.

The cost of the elevation in style is paid in plot, which is here reduced to something like a sketch that’s so vague I wonder what someone who didn’t have the original novel in their head would make of the thing. But ultimately, the source novels are so densely plotted cuts were inevitable. At least here they are made in the service of something other than distribution constraints.

However beautiful this film, it marks the point in the series where my experience of the novels and their adaptations diverge. The choices this movie makes don’t coincide with my narrative interests. So I wound up slightly annoyed with what was and wasn’t shown and deeply annoyed with how this affects our sense of the characters and their relationships. (Lupin is better than this!)

This annoyance is a problem I’m certain is only going to get worse as I work through the remaining films.

Harry Potter: Stone & Secrets

So after finishing the books, I decided to watch the Harry Potter movies. They’re fine but not interesting enough for me to log one by one. If I tried, I’d just run out of things to say.

As far as the first two movies go, they do a great job of showing the stories and characters in live action, and the choices they make address limitations of space and the absence of discursive narration. They are also very much movies for children and are satisfied with capturing the most basic sense of the excitement of going to school to learn magic. (School would be awesome if we were learning magic!) All of this is fine, but I’ll never need to see either of them again.

One thing has been settled though: as I was reading the series I kept wondering how many of the movies I’d seen, and now I know I had only ever seen the first. All the images I had in my head of the others came from the trailers.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The Half-Blood Prince ended in tragedy and the first full-scale battle in the war that’s been brewing since The Goblet of Fire. This book picks up with a brilliant set piece: an elaborate plan aiming to move Harry to safety at the exact moment his protections there fail and he is able finally to move secretly because of his age. The chase that ensues is frightening and exciting. The patronus that drops from the sky only a few chapters later, interrupting a wedding and sending Harry, Hermione, and Ron into hiding sets the pace (breakneck) for the double quest that will follow: find the horcuxes and find the hallows.

Because it’s the final book, I was ready to make judgments as I read and they came fast and fiercely. I don’t like Ron: he’s a brat and the fact he turns out okay is because his family is great and that sticks. I also find it very hard to like Harry: he pouts and is too quick to judge and I kept feeling like he’s a bit like a best-case-scenario jock who could easily go wrong. What saves him is that he loves his friends and tries (when he’s not pouting) to do right by them, even when it costs him dearly. Hermione is my hero and I love her through and through. Ron should count his lucky stars she even puts up with him, much less loves him.

Snape is a genuinely noble and tragic figure, damaged by the angry emotions and choices of youth, marked by them (literally and figuratively), but strong enough to see those choices through to the end, and he saves the day because of it. Dobby, the free elf, risks everything to save the boy who set him free, dying for it, but also saving the day. And then there are Neville and Luna, my two favorite of the students at Hogwarts: when Neville, in an echo of the Chamber of Secrets pulls the sword of Gryffindor from the sorting hat and destroys the final horcrux—like Snape and like Dobby, saving the day—my heart sang.

So now the series is done, and I feel like Harry in the final chapter: older and apart and looking back on a past time. (Incidentally, the bit-like-a-jock Harry didn’t go wrong, he went bourgeois-boring. Which is fine. But still, surprising.)

All said, it’s a genuinely great series of books and I’m really happy to have read it simply for the pleasure of it. But I’m also glad because I’ve discovered that most of my students have read them as well and they love them and so we now share a wealth of references and analogies that we can use to discuss and make sense of things in class. And most importantly, because my students read the books as kids, references to them don’t read as “teacher trying (and necessarily failing) to be cool.” They are simply a shared, fun and useful reference allowing better communication.

Grace à dieux

Ozon is a filmmaker I’ve followed consistently if not carefully for twenty years. So I was surprised to see him making a film about the sexual abuses of catholic priests. There’s so much opportunity for audiences to confuse homosexuality and pedophilia that I was surprised to see him wandering into the morass. And yet, he’s made his film, and I’ve seen it, and despite myself, I think it’s quite extraordinary.

Why does it work? Because he’s brought to bear every single aspect of his previous filmmaking in order to make it work. This is a film made by a melodramatist, who uses his sensitivity to form and to the moral implications of form to construct a non-melodramatic account of a group of victims’ discovery of the possibility of and their decision to pursue political-legal action. It is a film made by a sexually playful and campy gay man, who shows the temptation and the fall of a priest who could have loomed as a queer monster but who instead appears in his final scenes to be a disturbed man, an ill man who has a same-sex (rather than heterosex) object of desire. It is a film made by an actors’ director who is working with artists cast exactly into the correct roles.

The film is long. It is troubling. It is even difficult. But most of all, it is moving.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This book is Snape’s and Dumbledore’s, and it ends like it began: with an exchange of words that do not mean what they seem to mean, but only exactly what they say. In both cases, the novel invites us to misunderstand Snape’s meaning and intentions, and to a large extent, we don’t really have any choice. The narrative, which is Harry’s, takes the apparent meaning as real, and if we refuse it, it’s from instinct and from faith in the integrity of an underdog.

In the long stretch between Snape’s two damnations, Harry stumbles along damaged and, yes, angry, although less so than in the previous book in the series. If in that book growing up meant that Harry needed to discover and to accept that things would not work out the way he wished regardless of his feelings, in this book, it requires he learn that his enemies are people rather than monsters, a simple, fundamental and difficult lesson. The device Rowlings contrives for permitting this discovery—and for motivating extended, digressive flashbacks—is the pensieve, a bowl for collecting and reviewing memories that immediately became one of my favorite magical objects of all times ever.

I’m writing this post after finishing The Deathly Hallows, and so, I can say without question that the Half-Blood Prince—the book but also the enigmatic off-stage Snapes—has won my heart. Here the dangerous, mysterious adult world that first came knocking on the door of Harry’s childhood in The Goblet of Fire and then came crashing through it in The Order of the Phoenix, takes on a life of its own, independent of the narrative we’ve been reading, and sets Harry’s story into perspective, revealing its purposes and limits. Here, Dumbledore has a story. Snape has a story. Voldemort has a story. And we discover for the first time that the actual tragedy of the series—and yes, the intersecting stories of these men, especially when viewed from the perspective of the boy caught at their crossroads, is indeed tragic—is that the men’s stories cannot be reconciled, cannot be resolved, and so they cannot permit anything like a happy ending to emerge. At most, we can hope for resolution.

This is the hole the final book must get out of without being able to get out of it without failing.

Aquaman

Unexpectedly, incredibly, this film has jumped to the top rungs of my informal list of favorite superhero movies. Visually and narratively, there’s no predicting what comes next. It’s insane. Also everyone is swimming all the time. And Aquaman talks to the fish. Patrick Wilson is present.

In short, this film is hitting a lot of buttons I didn’t realize I had but that, now that they’re activated and flashing green, I cannot deny.

I’ll be watching this one again.