Sunday, May 28, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews BREATH, EYES, MEMORY

Breath, Eyes, Memory
Edwidge Danticat
Vintage Books

Ms. Hen read this novel because she had read another book by this author, and she enjoyed it. She found this at Commonwealth Books in Boston, a little bookstore tucked away in an alley, which sells rare books and prints, and sometimes there’s a cat lurking around the place, but she wasn’t there the day Ms. Hen went in.

When Ms. Hen started to read this, she thought it was a very typical novel about a black woman coming of age. But as she read, it became a little different. The young girl, Sophie, lives with her aunt in Haiti. Her mother moved to New York to make money, but did not take her daughter because she didn’t know how life would be in the United States. Her mother sends for the daughter, and Sophie goes on a plane to New York.

Ms. Hen has read many novels about black women, which are somewhat similar. Everything by Toni Morrison, and others like her. A lot of the time, the woman gets raped or molested, or something to that effect. This book was like that, but not quite the same. Sophie never becomes close to her mother, and the results are that they have a fight and do not talk to each other for years.

This isn’t just a novel about a woman’s sexuality. It is about coming home, and finding family, mothers and daughters, being a fatherless child, and women. There is a lack of male characters in BREATH, EYES, MEMORY; the men are in the background. They are shadow characters.

Even though this novel was disturbing to Ms. Hen, she found it beautiful to read. The words danced on the page, music sang from the sounds of the words, and even though it upset Ms. Hen, she found it a pleasure to read. She decided that this is a book that could not be read straight through, she had to take pauses to stop and reflect, to think about what happened, and weigh the characters’ lives and situations.

There are several chickens in this novel, since portions of it takes place in a rural area in Haiti.  Sophie and her mother are on the plane coming back, “She picked at the white chicken they gave us for lunch, while I gave Brigitte a bottle.” Sophie tells her mother she developed bulimia after she had her baby. Her mother doesn’t understand why she would do that when thing are so plentiful in the United States.

Ms. Hen thinks this is a sad novel, but a powerful one. She understands why this is important, but it makes her uncomfortable. She likes being made uncomfortable, but not too much. Sometimes she just wants to read a book and not be disturbed by the problems of the world. She prefers to find joy in reading, not by reading about people who are happy, but about people who can laugh at themselves. There is nothing to laugh at in this book. It’s about the sadness of the world, which can be heavy, but it exists, and we should acknowledge it.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews LITTLE SISTER

Directed by Zach Clark

Ms. Hen knew nothing about this film before she watched it. She watched it because it was recommended to her on Netflix, and this film gave her déjà vu of something she has seen or lived before.

This is a movie about a young novitiate nun, Colleen, aka Sister Joan of Arc, a member of the Sisters of Mercy order in New York City. (The Sisters of Mercy are also a post-punk band from the eighties and nineties. Ms. Hen thought this was funny, and she decided it was meant to be funny, as she continued to watch the film.)

The story propels when Colleen get an email from her mother to tell her that her brother is back from fighting in Iraq, and his face is disfigured.. Colleen thinks she needs to go home to see her brother, so she asked the Mother Superior to let her borrow the car.

One of the funniest scenes in the movie is in the beginning, when Colleen goes to a club to see a friend perform. She’s a nun in a club, and coming out of the bathroom some women try to talk to her. One of the other humorous pieces in this film is when Colleen is trying to cheer her brother up by lip-synching, “Have You Seen Me?” by GWAR. Ms. Hen doesn’t remember the last time she was so dazzled by a funny moment in a film.

This is a story about a dysfunctional family that loves each other no matter what. Ally Sheedy as the mother is brilliant, she is unstable, smokes pot, and disturbs her daughter and her son, and the son’s fiancée. Colleen is confused by her mother’s behavior, but Colleen cannot do anything to change her, because she has found God, and has to do her work.

This is not a film where the protagonist finds love and lives happily ever after, rather it’s about finding the love of her family. She loves her brother, and she wants him to be happy. In between the story, there are bits of home video of the two when they are young and having fun, making up stories and playing.

Ms. Hen got the idea that if this film was made in the 1990s, Winona Ryder would play Colleen. It’s exactly the type of role that she would play, a young woman who is lost, but with a dark sense of humor. There were parts of the film in which the actress, Addison Timlin, reminded Ms. Hen of Winona Ryder’s character in BEETLEJUICE.

Oh, and the chickens! There are some fabulous chickens in LITTLE SISTER. There are two points in the film where Colleen sees chickens, and when she goes to a farm, she exclaims, “Chickens!” Ms. Hen’s favorite chicken scene was when Colleen is driving and has done drugs and hallucinates that her brother’s fiancée was a chicken sitting next to her in the car before they crashed into a tree.

Ms. Hen doesn’t think nuns are positively portrayed in American films these days. She does like CALL THE MIDWIFE, but that’s British, and it's television. Ms. Hen thinks this film could bring a new light to nuns in America. Ms. Hen has known some nuns; most of them are strange, and singular-minded, but kind.

Ms. Hen thinks this film is excellent, and she is happy she watched it. She thinks there might be hope for American independent cinema after watching this. She doesn’t like a lot of American films, because they can be so formulaic, and homogenized, but this film is not. Say yes to LITTLE SISTER, and understand why Ms. Hen loves it.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews WHITE TEETH

Zadie Smith
Vintage Books

Ms. Hen has heard about this novel for years and years, and she has meant to read it for a long time, but it has always slipped her mind. She understands now what the hype is about, it’s an amazing novel, and she will do her hen best to do justice reviewing it.

This novel is about three families, told from different points of view throughout the novel. It’s mainly about Archie and Samad and their journey from fighting in World War II together, to becoming husbands to younger women and fathers later in life.

Many cultures inhabit this novel: Samad and his wife are Pakistani, Archie’s wife Clara is from Jamaica, and the Chaflens are part of the English middle class. Smith takes such care in describing each culture because she seems to know them all, and the voices of the characters speak distinctly from each other in a way that Ms. Hen has not read often in a novel before. It’s difficult to capture a voice of a character, but the author brings each one to life with vivaciousness.

Another aspect of this novel that Ms. Hen notices was the historical depth that encompasses the story. Turn the novel one way, and it’s about Bengal, and turn it the other way, and it’s about genetic advances in science. Ms. Hen was surprised by the way this novel twisted and turned and kept becoming something else. It’s mainly a novel about families, but the unique life within each family is what gives it its beauty.

The women characters are well written, but Ms. Hen was impressed by how well the male characters are well drawn as well. This is not a women’s novel, by any means, the men involved can be rough and disconcerting, but Ms. Hen enjoyed that aspect.

There are several mentions of chickens in WHITE TEETH, but Ms. Hen’s favorite passage was when Joshua Chaflen and Irie have a discussion about animal rights and chickens:

            “Do you know how battery chickens live?”
            Irie didn’t. Joshua explained. Cooped up for most of their poor chicken lives,
            in total chicken darkness, packed together like chicken sardines in their
            chicken shit and fed the worst kind of chicken grain.

Ms. Hen thinks this might be one of her all-time favorite chicken quotes from a novel. She knows that these facts are true, and it makes her a depressed hen, even though she does eat chicken at times. Blaspheme! She knows. But she’s just a purse.

A motif of teeth runs through this novel. It makes Ms. Hen think more about her teeth, and how she should take better care of them. She doesn’t want Irie to grow up to be a dentist, but she thinks it’s inevitable.

Ms. Hen thinks this is one of the best books she has read so far this year. She doesn’t know why it took her seventeen years to read it since it was first published, but the world is full of books she hasn’t read. A hen can dream of reading all the great books of the world, but there are eggs to lay and coops to fly away from, and time is precious, but limited.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews Iceland


Ms. Hen doesn’t know the exact reason she went to Iceland. It might have been because the airfare and the place she stayed was inexpensive, or it might have been the fascination with the movies she watched and music she listened to. Or it might have been the fact that she’s never been so far north in the world. Anyway, she went, and she came back. She survived nine nights alone in Iceland, which she thinks is a little too long to stay in a foreign country by herself. During her last two days there, she pretended that she lived there, she did ordinary things that a hen would do if she were home: she did some writing, she walked around, she went out to lunch.

Ms. Hen thinks that not everything about traveling is wonderful. Her first day in Iceland, the gentleman who owned the Airbnb where she stayed, told her that the shower had an odor. He told her that the water comes from the ground and you can take a shower for as long as you want because it never runs out. When Ms. Hen took a shower, she was appalled by the fart-smelling water. She knew it was sulfur, but she thought it was disgusting! Every day, she took a shower, and hurried up to use her Lavender and Honey body wash to get rid of the stinky smell. Some days, she gagged when she first smelled the water.

The hot water in the sink smelled, too

But that was the only bad thing Ms. Hen experienced in Iceland. She went on some tours: The Golden Circle, The Game of Thrones tour, which you may have read about, and a trip to the Secret Lagoon, with dinner and a northern lights hunt. She thought the Golden Circle Tour was touristy, but she liked the geysers the best, because she had never seen any. And she saw the Northern Lights! Ms. Hen was lucky because it rained most of the week, and the night she went on the tour the sky was clear. She went swimming in the hot springs and she loved being in the hot water. It was about 40 degrees F outside when she went in, but the pool was like going in a hot bathtub.

Ms. Hen at the geyser

She thought she would have been better off having a car, but since Ms. Hen is driving impaired, and she always takes the subway and walks at home, she didn’t feel comfortable driving there. The only rude person in Iceland was the bus driver who wouldn’t let her on the bus because she didn’t have exact change. After that, Ms. Hen gave up on the bus. She knew there was a way she could pay with her phone, but she is a hen who doesn’t like to get too technical.

A cute truck parked at the hospital, which Ms. Hen walked by

So Ms. Hen walked around the city the days she didn’t go on tours. The city is full of art and murals. And it’s also full of gift shops and hotels. There are so many tourists! Ms. Hen thought the food she had was good, but it was expensive. She ate in a lot to save money. She ate a lot of fish and chips when she went out. She also ate Thai food twice, since those places were near where she was staying. One of her favorite restaurants she went to was called Vinyl, which was an all-vegetarian cafe that also sold records and featured a gramophone.

Ms. Hen at Vinyl

Ms. Hen tried to understand the Nordic way when she was in Iceland. The Icelandic people are soft-spoken, polite, and don’t let things bother them. One example of how things work in Iceland: when Ms. Hen was on the shuttle bus to the airport on the way home, one person on the bus had a ticket for the wrong bus company, but the driver said, “Don’t worry, we don’t kick people off the bus. We’ll get you to where you need to go.” Ms. Hen was amazed by this. If that happened in the U.S., the person would be booted off the bus. But Ms. Hen admired the Icelanders for being kind and genuine.

Ms. Hen had a wonderful time in Iceland. She would recommend going there to anyone. She would have liked to see more of the countryside, but she thought what she saw was beautiful. She is an adventurous hen, and enjoys flying out of her coop sometimes.