koren zailckas

Starting out 2014 is Mother, Mother, the deliciously twisted fiction debut from Koren Zailckas, whose critically acclaimed bestseller, Smashed, may already be familiar to you. I picked this book up after reading an essay Zailckas had published in Glamour, discussing growing up in a household where her own mother played extreme favorites with her younger sister and often pitted the girls against one another. The footnote mentioned this new novel, citing that it explored deeply disturbing emotional abuse from the people you’re supposed to be able to trust above all others, and I took the bait. 

Boy, am I glad I did. 

Mother, Mother takes place in a granola, nature-loving town in upstate New York where the Hurst family is trying to deal with the fallout of an argument that lands middle child, Violet, in the local mental hospital. Told alternatively from the viewpoints of Violet and her twelve year old brother, Will, the reader is presented with a story explored at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Will, recently diagnosed with Aspergers and epilepsy, spends all day adoring their mother, Josephine, who left her teaching position at SUNY to home school him. Josephine is obsessed with image and always being right, and mothers Will to the point that she is bathing him, picking out his outfits, and conspiratorially joking with him about his father Douglass’ alcoholism. Will loves this, and Josephine, with a fawning admiration of every little thing she says and does. Josephine walks on water in his eyes. 

On the other side of the situation is Violet, who at sixteen has shrugged her mother’s overbearing Christian identity and chooses to study Buddhism among other things. Violet is constantly under attack from Josephine, who wishes she were more like the eldest Hurst child, Rose. Adult Rose is perfect in Josephine’s eyes– at least as perfect as can be when you’ve run away from home and severed all ties.

After an argument between Violet and Josephine leaves Will with a severely sliced up palm, Josephine has Violet admitted to a mental hospital while considering if she will press charges against her. During this time, Violet begins receiving letters from Rose and the two begin a sort of kinship, fueled by their hatred towards their mother. As Violet goes through the motions of therapy, CPS visits the Hurst house and finds the Leave it To Beaver-style of perfection created by Josephine and Will odd to say the least. After being visited by one of the CPS workers at the hospital, Violet begins to question the details that led to Rose’s abandonment of the family and what it means for each member involved. 

And that’s where the story really gets good. I’m not going to say anything else because I don’t want to ruin a truly fantastic set of twist and turns, but I’ll leave you with this: I have never wanted to smack the shit out of a character more than Josephine Hurst. And that includes Professor Umbridge. 

Chick Lit? You Mean Lit?

For the last three months, I’ve only read books, poems, and short stories penned by women. I made the decision after reading the same beatnik-esque “a young white man finds himself, feels numb, and hooks up with a manic pixie dream girl” story line for the 107th time.

As an English major I read JD Salinger, Shakespeare, Jack Kerouac, Vonnegut, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dickens, Faulkner, and EE Cummings until my eyes bled, however I never felt as if I connected with these books and the experiences they presented to me, because these books did not take me into account. They were not created for me. I’m an outsider looking in, trying, so hard to understand the author’s genius, but failing. They are written in a language I will never understand; one I do not have access too, one that centers around masculinity and the rejection of femininity. 

Often male works are misogynistic and narrow minded, and if I had to read one more novel with a flat female character, I was going to DIE.

So, I began to delve heavily into Chick-Lit. No, not romance, or sappy story lines, but real chick-lit. Books written by women.

I haven’t read a novel written by a man in three months and I accredit this as the reason why my skin has cleared and why my blood pressure has lowered.

In celebration of International Women’s Day here are some of my favorite works written by women (all summaries are from GoodReads):

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit- Jeanette Winterson

Winner of the Whitbread Prize for best first fiction, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a coming-out novel from Winterson, the acclaimed author of The Passion and Sexing the Cherry. The narrator, Jeanette, cuts her teeth on the knowledge that she is one of God’s elect, but as this budding evangelical comes of age, and comes to terms with her preference for her own sex, the peculiar balance of her God-fearing household crumbles

Half of A Yellow Sun- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

With effortless grace, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960s. We experience this tumultuous decade alongside five unforgettable characters: Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo, a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the professor’s beautiful young mistress who has abandoned her life in Lagos for a dusty town and her lover’s charm; and Richard, a shy young Englishman infatuated with Olanna’s willful twin sister Kainene. Half of a Yellow Sun is a tremendously evocative novel of the promise, hope, and disappointment of the Biafran war.

Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood- Koren Zailckas

With one stiff sip of Southern Comfort at the age of fourteen, Zailckas is initiated into the world of drinking. From then on, she will drink faithfully, fanatically. In high school, her experimentation will lead to a stomach pumping. In college, her excess will give way to a pattern of self-poisoning that will grow more destructive each year. At age twenty-two, Zailckas will wake up in an unfamiliar apartment in New York City, elbow her friend who is passed out next to her, and ask, “Where are we?” Smashed is a sober look at how she got there and, after years of blackouts and smashups, what it took for her to realize she had to stop drinking. Smashed is an astonishing literary debut destined to become a classic.

Persepolis- Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming–both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.

You Deserve a Drink- Mamrie Hart

Since launching her YouTube channel “You Deserve a Drink” in 2011, comedian Mamrie Hart has built an intensely devoted following of more than half a million viewers. Like her bawdy and bacchanalian show, Hart’s eponymous debut pays tribute to her boozy misadventures with an original cocktail recipe accompanying each hilarious tale. From the “Leaves of Three Martini,” commemorating the hookup to whom she accidentally gave poison ivy, to the “Bizzargarita,” in honor of the time she and a friend were approached by two uber-Republican couples who wanted to “swing” while on vacation in Mexico, You Deserve a Drink is as useful as it is entertaining.

The Awakening- Kate Chopin

When first published in 1899, The Awakening shocked readers with its honest treatment of female marital infidelity. Audiences accustomed to the pieties of late Victorian romantic fiction were taken aback by Chopin’s daring portrayal of a woman trapped in a stifling marriage, who seeks and finds passionate physical love outside the confines of her domestic situation.

Women, Race, and Class- Angela Y. Davis

A powerful study of the women’s movement in the U.S. from abolitionist days to the present that demonstrates how it has always been hampered by the racist and classist biases of its leaders.

The Bell Jar- Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath’s shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity.

Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.

Happy Reading! 

PS: Try the “Read Only Female Authors in Your Spare Time” Challenge for 2016. It’s soooooo worth it and it totally decreases the manic pixie dream girl characters you read by 82%*

*according to a scientific study+

+this scientific study was not scientific and instead conducted by me while laying in my bed reading over the span of three months

That’s the thing about social drinking: In the end, it’s the drinking that creates the scene, not the other way around. You grow to relish the buzz, regardless of the situation. Once you’re there, really there inside that moment, with its neighbourly warmth and conversation, it’s hard to tell what’s responsible for producing emotion. What’s responsible for the light-headed feeling? Is it the Molson, or the boy who’s running his fingers through the ends of your hair? Are you chatty because you’re drunk, or because you’re connecting with someone on a level that you have never before experienced?
—  Koren Zailckas, Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood
Dış görüntüm mükemmel değil ama sağlıklıyım. Hiçbir zaman merdivenlerden düşmedim ya da elimi araba kapısına sıkıştırmadım. Hiçbir yerime dikiş atılmadı. Bileğimi burkmaktan daha fazlası başıma gelmedi. Asıl saklamak istediğim içim. Kendi kendime biçimimin bozulduğunu hissediyorum. Hiçbir cerrahın düzeltemeyeceği budanmış ruhumdan utanıyorum. İçim teşhir edilse çocukların gözlerini dikip bakacaklarını yetişkinlerin de gözlerini başka yöne çevireceklerini hissediyorum
I will never stop trusting extremes. I will always believe that anything worth having is worth having in excess. The good things are worth hoarding until you have a cookie-fat ass, sex-aching loins, joy that fires through you like popping popcorn, or love, the weakness at the sight of some boy that makes your chest ache. If it’s good for you, it ought to be good for you in any amount, and you should track down every available bit of it. And even if its toxic, if it makes your stomach flop, or your mind ache, or your personality contorted, you still shouldn’t buy the bullshit about temperance.
- Koren Zailckas

#37: Smashed by Koren Zailckas

I don’t like criticizing memoirs because I think it’s kind of an asshole move to talk about how you were bored over someone’s very personal and unfortunate story of alcoholism…but I was bored. I found it to be pedestrian and reminiscent of at least 5 other books I’ve read in the same vein as an addiction memoir. (I really wish it had been a memoir about heroin because “same vein” would have been an incredible accidental pun.)

As a girl, after all, you are taught to be fearful when you’re alone. In the park or at the drugstore, you’re a target. You can be abducted, scooped up by any number of unforeseen dangers, molested, tortured, left for dead. But in a group, you are taught to feel stronger, like the sum of your parts. Gradually, you forget your anxieties and reservations. You practice “The Buddy System.” You falsely believe that tragedy cannot single you out.
—  Smashed, Koren Zailckas
By the same token, I think it’s time that we allow ourselves to experience real anger as women. And I don’t mean that passive-aggressive dance that we’ve employed for too many years. It’s not real anger if it is implied or a few degrees removed, if it takes the form of whispering, or cold shoulders, or silent treatment. Real anger is what popular culture would have us be afraid of, based on the fact that it is not courteous, elegant, or feminine. Since I’ve stopped drinking, I am perpetually angry.
—  Koren Zailckas, Smashed
What I'm reading

So I think I am going to start documenting what I read with some short reviews, because I can and because reading is pretty much the best thing ever. 

The last three books I read:

Fury by Koren Zailckas:

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I read a memoir called Smashed by this author when I was younger. This book is an interesting look at anger as a positive emotion, although some of it is a bit airy fairy for me (lots about homeopathy & some other methods I am not very interested in).

The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz:

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This is a book primarily about a Dominican boy called Oscar, but it also delves into his family history etc. There’s not much to say about this week without ruining it but it is a very good history of a family and a very impressive read.

The No nonsense guide to global finance by Peter Stalker:

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This is a good introduction to the workings of financial institutions including banks, credit unions and a good introduction to the global financial crisis which we have heard so much about. I haven’t actually finished this book yet. I had about a chapter to go when I misplaced it.

I am currently reading:

The little prince by Antoine Saint-Exupery translated into English

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I read this in French when I was 14 for a class, so it’s nice to read it in a slightly more familiar language.

I grow certain there’s someone in my life who doles out injuries under the guise of gifts, who does not and cannot love me in the way I need to be loved, who seems to have no use for me if I’m not obliging them, absorbing their criticism without comment, stroking their ego, writing, striving, achieving. I suspect this person taught me that I couldn’t be loved if I was sad, dependent, emotional, furious. They taught me to reveal only what is expected of me.
—  Fury by Koren Zailckas