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The Concept of “Social Thriller” in Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives

Whilst reading The Stepford Wives I was reminded of Get Out, a film I’d previously watched and absolutely loved. Lo and behold I find out Jordan Peele was indeed inspired by the 1972 novel by Ira Levin, which was then made into a film and shot to cult classic status [1]. It is interesting, to say the least, because The Stepford Wives and Get Out are dressed up as horror/thriller stories but that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Jordon Peele labelled Get Out as a “social thriller… inspired by movies that are creepy but humanity is the creepiest part at the centre of it [2].” It intelligently critiques ‘Post-racial’ America – which is the idea that prejudice and discrimination no longer hold sway. Cough. In the movie Chris, who is black, is dating a white woman named Rose. Such a delicate name. Spoiler alert: Rose lures unsuspecting black men to her family so they can brainwash and periodically transfer white people brains into black bodies. Why, you ask? So that white people can live forever in genetically-gifted strong bodies.

The white characters in Get Out are not repulsed by blackness, no. They admire and envy instead [3]. The film doesn’t jump straight to the chase like I did. It gradually transforms into a dark and creepy story. Peele was also inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and the opening scene invokes the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Get Out paints insensitive white middle-class liberals as the true villains. Chris is visibly uncomfortable in every scene, at every insidious comment. Daniel Kaluuya is a fantastic actor and  the film score was brilliantly crafted too boot [4].

The Stepford Wives can also be interpreted to revel a hidden meaning. Socially aware and politically driven, Ira Levin’s story is about a family who moves from the city to a suburb called Stepford. Joanna, our main protagonist, finds the housewives of Stepford to be rather odd. They are uniformly good-looking, Barbie-like, and spend all their time cooking and cleaning. Turns out, the husbands of Stepford run a secret society and transform their wives into submissive robots.

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And Joanna is next. She fears there is something in the water that makes all the housewives so but it is soon revealed, evil lurks in her own house, and her own husband. Joanna is fiercely independent, sexually confident, ambitious – the product of second-wave feminism – and is frightened at the possibility of losing power and control. Ira Levin is also pointing fingers at modern commercialism and technology, which can be easily manipulated by malevolent forces, in this case misogynistic, murderous husbands.

I believe that allegorical storytelling allows hysteria and paranoia of the main characters to blend into the background and bring into focus real-life political issues such as feminism and civil rights. The real enemy is not the devil or the monster, it is society and in it, patriarchy and racism are the horrifying elements. A carrier for contemporary ideas: these stories convey anxieties of marginalised groups over loss of their identity and power.

[1] Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yh9yM00r9JQ

[2] Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yh9yM00r9JQ

[3] In one disturbing scene, Walter the groundkeeper (aka Rose’s grandfather) runs in the garden at night. He never got over the fact that Jesse Owens beat him at the Olympics.

[4] Opening credits and songs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qA-ONNTBteE

 

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Review)

“Black life is cheap, but in America black bodies are a natural resource of incomparable value.”

Between the World and Me is a powerful piece of work.  Ta-Nehisi Coates, a journalist by profession, deconstructs black consciousness in a series of letters to his son Samori. Reading this text was truly heartbreaking. And I don’t know how to begin talking about this subject, but here goes anyway. It is important. Ta-Nehisi Coates charts the brutality and inhumanity of slavery, the absence of control and power for black people which has been the only consistent thread since the seventeenth century to present times.  Ta-Nehisi Coates refers time and time again to the severe regulation and curtailment of the black ‘body’ in America. He is referring to the black individual, and the larger collective. Blackhood in America is an essentialism and rightly so, it is unique and exclusive to American history and the way race relations in tandem  with the American Dream unravelled in it. Ta-Nehisi Coates is relentless in recounting the ritualised violence on black bodies – “the essential below” – from plantations to twenty first century streets and prisons. Everyone should read this book.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐

Lets play a little (bookish) game of two truths and a lie:

1. I will read anything Ruth Ware writes.

2. I am running out of space on my bookshelf.

3. I don’t buy pretty covers.

If you guessed right, #3 is the lie! 😂 The Lying Game is a psychological thriller that had me on my toes the entire time. I was hooked within the first sentence. Ruth Ware’s writing is absolutely fantastic. I fell in love with the eerie, mysterious tone and setting of her debut novel ‘In a Dark, Dark Wood’ and the sense of dread and claustrophobia in her second novel ‘The Woman in Cabin 10’. I felt that the plot in Cabin 10 wasn’t the greatest but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

The Lying Game is about Isa Wilde and her three friends who share a secret, one that comes back to haunt them seventeen years later. It ticks all the right boxes for me: girls boarding school, small town, gossip, mystery and tension. I had a few problems with the main characters though: I didn’t like any of them. Isa is an emotional mess and she’s constantly putting her 6-month old daughter in danger. Thea never seemed to have grown up. Fatima’s character felt like forced diversity. Despite that, I got on board with the slow-burn plot. Ruth Ware is filling the Gillian Flynn hole in my heart.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (Review)

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(Mild spoilers)

Fates and Furies has been steeping in my mind for a little while now and I don’t know how to feel about it. It was a roller coaster of emotions! The blurb caught my attention right away: “the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets.” The story is about Lotto and Mathilde and their perfectly perfect marriage. It is split into two sections for each character that felt like two separate novels to me in terms of pacing and tone.

Lauren Groff knows how to write delicious sentences. The writing in Lotto’s half is memorably flamboyant. I loved it. Whenever I put the book down I was itching to get back to it. Case in point:“Hurricanes of entitlement, all swirl and noise and destruction, nothing at their centers.” 

In the start of the novel, we are introduced to Lotto and Mathilde honeymooning on a beach. They had met at a college party a few weeks ago. R e d f l a g. There is a seemingly innocuous third narrator who appears within square brackets throughout the novel, who (I believe) is marriage personified.

Lotto is six feet six, an heir to a fortune, an aspiring actor, later a playwright and Mathilde… well, we know nothing about her background until the last 150 pages. And it is seriously messed up: I’m talking Lady Macbeth having a love child with Amy Dunne. The terrifying questions this novel made me think about were a) how well do you really know someone close to you? b) are omissions or silences untruths?

Do I recommend Fates and Furies? I would, but with some caution. It is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

English Animals by Laura Kaye (Spoiler Review)

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⭐⭐⭐

SPOILERS AHEAD!

I wanted to love this. I mean, look at that cover! Before I talk about why English Animals didn’t work for me, here’s a little summary of the plot: Mirka, a 19-year old Slovakian girl, goes to a little English village to work for a couple named Sophie and Richard, presumably as an au pair. We soon learn that she’s to assist Richard in his taxidermy business and other minor jobs helping around the farm. Mirka forms a wonderful bond with Sophie and starts to secretly fall in love with her.

Now, going into spoiler territory, I’ll discuss what worked and what didn’t in the story. The writing… hmm. On one hand it was simplistic and a breeze to get through, but on the other hand, I felt like the author didn’t really have a ‘style,’ if that makes sense. I don’t want to sound too critical right away so here is a list of things I enjoyed about English Animals:

  • Quick, easy read. Took me two days to finish.
  • It’s relevant in a post-Brexit world. Mirka meets some rather conservative folks (they are British AF) who have an issue with her Slovakian heritage.
  • The lesbian relationship between Mirka and Sophie was well written I’d say. I haven’t read anything quite like it yet. I loved how well Mirka got along with Richard as well.
  • TAXIDERMY. The descriptions about taxidermy were creepy and fascinating to say the least. I found it quite funny when Mirka went into pristine detail about her “scenes” like rabbits at an office party or hamsters watching Netflix. She gave them personalities too!

Stuff I didn’t particularly enjoy about the novel:

  • We all know the relationship couldn’t last forever. But at least it could’ve been handled with more sensitivity. Richard finds out about their illicit affair but isn’t pissed off since Mirka is just a girl and not a threat. WTF?
  • THE AMOUNT OF ANIMAL KILLINGS. Okay. I know, taxidermy. But hear me out: I have never read animal shooting scenes in such cringe-inducing detail before.
  • Richard was always drinking and/or high. His taxidermy skills weren’t  the greatest, understandably. I still find it hard to believe that Mirka, in just a matter of months, is a bonafide genius. How?

This review is longer than I expected. I’d like to end by saying that I’d love to read the next book Laura Kaye writes because I can see a glimmer of talent and promise.