Fractured Masculinity in The Salesman (2016) & The Death of a Salesman

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The Salesman – originally titled Forushande – is an Iranian film that took inspiration from the American play The Death of a Salesman. It’s been many years since I read the play but I still think about it to this day. On a corner of the page, past me scribbled: “uplifting and off-putting at the same time” which (I think) perfectly characterises Willy Loman and Emad. Willy searches for the ever so elusive American Dream all his life and dies without ever experiencing it first-hand, and Emad searches for closure and struggles with his identity as a husband (and protector) in a patriarchal society.

The quest for middle class respectability ends with our male protagonists suffering from the hero complex. In The Death of a Salesman, Willy is in his 60’s and still struggling to have a comfortable and easy life and pay off his home mortgage. His sons Happy and Biff are struggling to find jobs. Willy is exhausted and frustrated after losing his sales job. He equates possessing wealth to happiness, freedom and being well-liked. During his lifetime, Willy doesn’t experience these. He forgets about his humanity and works like a slave in a machine that promises riches and acceptance only if you make it to the top.

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Powerlessness is the huge driving force. Emad is a teacher and part time stage actor. His wife Rana and he star in a production of The Death of a Salesman in the lead roles. One day their building (literally) collapses. They find a new apartment which was previously owned by a prostitute and, despite being aware of this, move in. Rana is mysteriously assaulted in the bathroom by a customer of the prostitute when her husband isn’t at home. She goes into shock and tries to deal with the trauma in her own way.

Emad becomes increasingly angry and paranoid. He feels humiliated because he couldn’t save his wife from the violence she experienced. Rana declines going to the police and retreats into a shell, rejecting her husband’s efforts to comfort her. Emad takes it upon himself to find the man who disrupted his peace & family life and seek vengeance. As revealed, the man in question turns out to be a sad old guy who has a wife, daughter and son-in-law. In one of the most tense and pathetic scene in my cinematic life, Emad slaps him. Rana demands Emad to let the man go after he apologises.

When masculinities are threatened, our male characters are driven to an extreme state of action. Willy drives his car into a wall and kills himself. Emad uses physical violence to counter physical violence. He doesn’t feel any less worse after that. He couldn’t singlehandedly defeat the Iranian male gaze. This doesn’t make them bad men though, they are good men who made the decision to act a certain way since society told them to. They conform and don’t want to let down the people they love. Therein lies the misfortune: the gap between reality and their versions of an ideal world. Rana and Linda (Willy’s wife) suffer silently, and they are memorable because of their endurance. They are the opposite of perfect but fully human and utterly horrified at witnessing their husbands disintegrating before their own eyes. The real tragedy is societies that extend false materialistic ideals and toxic masculinity be it in modern day Iran or America.

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Mystery/Thriller Reviews #2: Her Every Fear & Friend Request

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Trashy 3-star thrillers are my jam. A few months ago, my best friend read and hated (or expressed dissatisfaction for) The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson and proceeded to spoil the whole plot for my entertainment. It was silly but I was intrigued anyway, I really wanted to read Swanson. Her Every Fear was marketed as a “Hitchcockian Thriller” and… I was sold. Think, Dial M For Murder and The Talented Mr. Ripley but not as sensational.

The story goes like this: Kate and Corbin are apartment swapping cousins. Anxiety ridden, Kate is somewhat relieved to escape from her nightmarish past in London and live in a new city (Boston). The night she arrives at the apartment complex, Corbin’s next door neighbour Audrey has been found murdered. This novel had the potential to be great noir but Swanson shoots down the suspense fairly early on and the leftover plot is predictable.

Friend Request by Laura Marshall is my more recent read and I definitely enjoyed this more. I might be biased but imho, women authors write better domestic thrillers. Friend Request – as you’d have guessed – involves Facebook. I deleted my Facebook account two weeks ago and haven’t looked back since. It honestly feels good to be rid of it & Laura Marshall is brilliant at describing just how soul-sucking social media is. The blurb on the front reads: “Maria Weston wants to be friends. But Maria Weston is dead. Isn’t she?” YES. The timeline flicks between 1989 and 2016 and is about Louise, a single mother in London, who carries a deeply tragic secret involving her classmate. There were many satisfying twists at the end which I did *not* see coming. A brilliant whodunit!

True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray by James Renner (Review)

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⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Readers, I have fallen deep inside the True Crime rabbit hole! It’s a wonderful land. True Crime Addict is part memoir and part – you guessed it – True Crime about the Maura Murray case. Infamous and eerie, Maura Murray’s disappearance has been an open investigation since 2004. In order to keep the suspense intact, I won’t focus on all the details of her disappearance in this review. Maura vanished without a trace and her story has reached a cult like status for web forums and online sleuths.

James Renner’s obsession with this case is unparalleled. He describes it as being the “first great mystery of the social media age,” Facebook having been launched during the same week she went missing. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Renner’s life story (the memoir bits) though it’s slightly relevant in the end. I feel like his avid interest and obsession with Maura Murray borders on unhealthy territory throughout the book, especially when he exposes his family to the ire he receives online.

As I said, the case is still an open investigation 13 years later. James Renner mentions the strange way Maura’s family and friends act and how unhelpful they are regarding releasing information. There hasn’t been any real resolve to the mystery but endless avenues and theories have cropped up over this time. True Crime Addict ends with more questions than answers – which isn’t a criticism. I enjoyed reading it. This is a deeply interesting case with various scenarios and possibilities: Did Maura concoct a genius plan to run away? Was it a perfect murder? It’s a quick and fun read, if that’s what you’re looking for. 

Thoughts on Reading Lit and Writing: A (Long) Conversation with Mr. A

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A really long post lies ahead… you’ve been warned, unsuspecting visitor! When I began this book blog, my boyfriend (henceforth to be referred to as Mr. A) asked me something along the lines of “Can I be in it?” to which I answered affirmatively. We’ve bonded over stories of different kinds over the months and years. I certainly don’t regret it but I’ve always wondered how different my life would’ve been if I’d studied English in college instead of History. Mr. A had some enlightening things to say about life during and beyond his English Major years:

  • You read a lot as a kid. Which books did you remember reading multiple times and loving?

I remember reading a lot of Fantasy novels. The series I probably re read the most was Harry Potter. I was in the first grade when my parents bought me a copy of The Sorcerer’s Stone and I probably read that book hundreds of times. After the Fellowship of the Rings came out in theatres I grew enamored with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Calvin and Hobbes is a series that I’ll never get tired of either. It’s so relatable and humorous no matter how old I get. My dad always used to take me to Barnes and Noble. After I did my homework I’d be allowed to read for a few hours. He’d always make me read classic novels before I read anything I wanted though. Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, War of the Worlds, Gulliver’s Travels, he made me read all of these before I was even 12. I’d always complain when he first picked out the books, but I simply couldn’t put any of them down.

  • When you were choosing your major, did you have other subjects in mind or was english your one and only preference? Why?

When I was first picking out my major it was a toss up between English literature and History. This changed pretty quickly after I took my first American Literature and History course during my first semester of college. I was bored out of my mind and spent most of the classes playing vs matches of Pokemon on my laptop. I still got a B+ in that class, but it was clear to me I did not want to be a History major.  I also considered Psychology as my major with English as my minor. Learning more about how people thought and acted fascinated me. Then I took some classes and realized that there was a lot more statistics and pedal pressing rats than I cared for. So ultimately, I decided to be an English major with a Psychology minor.

  • I love reading your stories and poems. Besides prompts, what inspires you to write (and when)? Can you share a little poem?

Thanks gorgeous, glad to know you like my writing so much. Different things inspire me to write. Sometimes I use my writing to  express how I’m feeling when I feel like I don’t have any other outlet. Occasionally I’ll think of a line or two and I’ll extrapolate that into a full poem. Other times a character or plot will wander along and I’ll write a little bit of their story. It’s very random and spontaneous, but I really ought to take more time and just write even if I’m not feeling inspired. Also, sharing my writing is a tad embarrassing but I will for you.

Somedays I just want to

Sleep for ten thousand years

Under a blanket of starlight

Dreaming into the future

A vast expanse

Unknowable

Uncountable

To be gone and forgotten

And wake up where no one

Knows me. After the end

In the stark silence

(Side note: Let it be known that, depressing and heady as this poem is, Mr. A’s  romantic poems & stories are absolutely enchanting and scintillating) 

  • You really enjoyed teaching at one point of time but later became disillusioned with it. Now you’re working in sales. How do you feel about that transition?

I find sales and teaching to be very similar in certain regards. Both jobs depend a lot on being able to understand what someone wants and needs. Being a teacher is very rigid in certain ways. You are the authority in the classroom and you need to own that position. Students acknowledge your authority and most will usually do as you say. Sales is different in that you do not start off in a position of authority. You have to persuade the customer to your way of thinking by leading the conversation and controlling the flow. I’m a somewhat introverted person by nature and sales doesn’t really come naturally to me. But I do like how I have to maintain a positive and outgoing attitude to be successful at my job. I feel that I’m slowly improving my skills and that I’m getting out of my shell bit by bit.

  • When you were studying english, what were your favourite or most memorable classes/modules?

While I was studying English, my favorite course I took was the 400 Level Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. Seminar. My Professor was the world’s foremost expert on Oliver Wendell Holmes and we spent the entire semester reading through The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. Although it’s a slim book, the story is filled with an absurd amount of references to all manner of subjects including history, science, mathematics, philosophy, and literature. It’s a difficult book to get through because several of the allusions are quite obscure. My professor himself reflected the novel. He was unyielding, intelligent, and extremely well cultured. He never failed to call us out on our wrong answers, but if he praised you it was genuine and well earned. I learned something new and interesting in every one of his classes. The book was not annotated at the time I took the class so every homework assignment required a good amount of research. For our final project we were each given 20 pages to annotate. It’s the most amount of work I’ve ever done for any class and I spent a good 40+ hours on my portion of the project. In the end it was completely worthwhile and rewarding, our class had done something that had never been done before. The annotations are actually the first result on Google for “The Annotated Autocrat.” 

  • Do you think that critically analysing and deconstructing a text takes away some of the enjoyment from the story?

Yes and no. I think that the first impression you get from a story is very important. In some ways it’s fun to shut off your brain and consume a piece of media. You take in the story and let it pull you along its trajectory. Not knowing the plot ahead of time can allow you to enjoy the twists and experience the development at a natural pace. You can enjoy the flash and pizazz of the surface appeal. On the other hand, critically analyzing and deconstructing a piece of work lets you enjoy the deeper workings of the story. It allows for multiple readings and interpretations, almost like getting a different story each time. You develop an eye for technique and skill. You begin to look at how the story was put together piece by piece. By taking in a story without thinking about it you’re allowing yourself to feel as the author intended. By analyzing the story, you begin to look at how the author makes you feel what you do.

  • What are you favourite genres and themes in novels and why?

I’m a big fan of Fantasy and Sci-Fi. I like stories that explore the impossible and the improbable, that stimulate your imagination and takes you to wonderful places that could only exist in your imagination. I also enjoy stories that are heavily character driven, that really delve into a person’s motivations and desires. I always want to know why someone acts the way that they do, and media is a great way to explore that.

  • Final question – Can you address your beef with Charles Dickens? 😛

Haha. I don’t really despise Dickens as much as I say in our personal conversations. I just don’t enjoy reading most of his work. His novels are often great character studies and wonderful snapshots of the time he lived in. They can also be very dry and a slog to get through. My big issue is that there’s a lot of filler that could be cut out to make for tighter stories. The man was literally paid by the word so he had incentive to milk out stories for all they were worth. I don’t like padding for the sake of padding. Not going to lie, I do like A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist. Who doesn’t?

American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse (Review)

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American Fire is a strange book about a fascinating topic: arson. That’s a sentence I never thought I’d string together but it’s true! I remember being obsessed with True Crime documentaries on YouTube when I was younger and having horrendous nightmares afterwards. But I never stopped watching them, stupidly. Cue to me having bloody nightmares over and over again. More recently, Mindhunter (which is literally everything and more) has made me very interested in criminal psychology. If you haven’t watched Mindhunter, you’re missing out!

So, the topic that Monica Hesse broaches is probably a well known case in America but I had no prior knowledge of it. While reading it, all I could think was “is this real life?” because honestly, Non-fiction books aren’t supposed to be this entertaining. Hesse examines the story of two arsonists in love named Charlie and Tonya and specifically analyses why and how they burned down 80+ buildings in the county of Accomack, Virginia.

“… the fire itself is the motive. An act that becomes its own purifying absolution, its own reason for being.”

It’s a terrific page-turner. Monica Hesse’s exploration of Accomack’s rise and fall in the economic sphere and its changing topography is done excellently. This leads into the discussion about crazy love and crazier crimes, how both Charlie and Tonya created a hell on earth to deal with their everyday problems and emotions. American Fire is a book I’ll keep thinking about because even though it’s not about some gruesome murderers, it is equally frightening (in a different way). What I really appreciated in this book was how succinct the writing is: it grabs your attention right away and doesn’t clamber for attention. Read it, read it, read it!

Autumn Readathon: Update

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Challenges completed: 4 (out of 4, with 2 bonus challenges)

Books completed: 2, total pages: 573

Enjoyment level: 100% (of course)

Interestingly, the weeklong Autumn Readathon began on a Sunday. Most of my Sunday was actually spent reading books for the Dewey’s 24 hr challenge. On Monday, I started The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James on my kindle. It was a bit slow so I continued reading it until Thursday! It completed the challenges 1 (read a spooky or gothic book) and 4 (read a historical novel). Review here.

Cheekily, I thought I’d count this same novel for challenge number 3 (read novel set in a cold location) but it was set in England during the summer. So, there was no snow. Next, I read American Fire by Monica Hesse and devoured it within two days. I need  m o r e  true crime nonfiction in my life. I have ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Copote on my shelf and I’m super excited now. Anyway, American 🔥 fulfilled two more challenges: 2 (read a non-fiction book that is ‘autumnal’) and 3 (book set in cold location) because Tasley, Virginia gets really cold during winter when the story is set. Review to be posted here soon. 

I’m really happy with how I spent my week. I’m still undecided about participating in Nonfiction November (hosted by Olive and Gemma). I have no idea if i’ll commit to it a whole month! It’s a noble reading challenge though. I’ve gone on a tangent now, forgive me! 

Happy Reading, bookworms! ☕❤︎

The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James (Review)

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This was a lovely little read! The Haunting of Maddy Clare is a historical paranormal-romance set in England during the 1920’s. Maybe I’m overreaching but I’ll use Simone St. James’ novels as palate cleansers in the future as her other works sound just as cozy and easy to get through as The Haunting of Maddy Clare… I don’t usually pick up paranormal novels but I do love ghost stories, especially at this time of year.

Sarah Piper is a young woman looking for work in London. Through the agency she works for Sarah is hired as an assistant to Alistair, a self proclaimed ghost-hunter. He writes and investigates ghost hauntings around England. The village of Waringstoke beckons them with the strange case of Maddy Clare, a servant girl who ‘lives on’ as a poltergeist. They (along with Matthew, Alistair’s other assistant) investigate Maddy’s past, as something clearly tragic occurred. I won’t spoil one certain aspect that I loved in the plot, but I felt like Simone St. James was paying a nod to Daphne du Maurier.

I loved the atmosphere – small village, secrets, the forest – and of course, the relationship between Sarah and Matthew is swoon-worthy. I also enjoyed reading the descriptions of Alistair’s and Matthew’s experiences as soldiers during WW1. Now these are aspects of the book I didn’t vibe with: the “mystery” was quite an easy one to solve and during the ending, Sarah got very close to ‘damsel in distress’ territory. Despite these minor flaws, I enjoyed reading The Haunting of Maddy Clare immensely!