Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Thing Inside Me

Review and analysis of Lish McBride's novel Hold Me Closer, Necromancer...
as part of my graduate coursework in Young Adult Literature. 

Now, here is a book I would rather have watched than read. I'll come right out and say that "fantasy" is never my first choice of genre, so I am not the audience for this book at all. However, I wish I could've seen this book more. I never could quite visualize exactly how necromancy works, despite all the circle stuff, and I feel like maybe I just tuned it all out in order to service the things I did like about this book.

I do indeed like a great deal of it. I really like the things it has to say about an area of development I'm not sure I've read before...that moment post-high school when you have no idea what to do with your life and the pasts of your parents starts to become abundantly clear. This age, 18-20, is often not explored, and I really like that this book takes that on. For me, it was the toughest part of my life, one where I felt aimless and did many things I shouldn't have done. It is where I found out truths about life and my own past that hit me hard, that made me quickly become and adult. (Does that make this book the only true Bildungsroman in our little grad school YA book club? Hmmm... ) It also has some interesting thoughts on death and violence and friendship...the last couple chapters of this book are super sweet and hopeful, and I love that.

Unfortunately, the book fails to truly dig into that and opts instead for a last act magic war that reads like a breeze but has about as much heft. I hardly even remember any of it. It is just forgettable as fantasy-action goes. It all feels done before and done a decade ago...on TV shows like True Blood, which also suffers from some of the problems this book does, or the Twilight nonsense (sorry, not sorry!). It also wants so badly to be rock 'n' roll what with all those famous song lyrics and titles all over the thing in its title and chapter titles. The problem needs to be a movie, so we can hear all these songs on the soundtrack. It could grab me that way, with that alone. This thing is ripe to rock out, but the words in between the chapter titles don't quite find that beat or match that groove.

Lacanian Psychoanalysis, Masculinity, and A Book NOT for Middle School

I suppose I'll start by responding to Robert Trites and her discussion of poststructural pedagogy and the general idea of the most natural theory, as far as English Education (my concentration) is concerned, Reader-Oriented or Reader Response Theory. This forms the basis for all reading instruction. We certainly "help engage and enact the adolescent reader." This is why I chose this theory as a focus for my Lit Theory Workshop. It is what aids me most in my life as a middle school ELA teacher, a situation where discussions of the deeper elements of poststructural theory (Deconstruction--Psychanalytic--Feminist, etc.) can be touchy and difficult. We can graze them through Reader Response. When I think of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, I see a book that isn't a teaching tool for the secondary classroom. I see a silly fun thrill ride that could, however, open up some interesting discussions in a high school age lit circle or friendly book club format.

Maybe it's because I just became a parent for the first time (my boy is now 10 months old and on his way to language and the Symbolic Order), but I was most drawn to Trites' discussions in Chapter 3 of the role of parents (present or absent) in adolescent literature. I see Sam as torn between in loco and in logos parentis due to his place on the true verge of adulthood. He is also without a father. Jonathan's look at this book through, specifically Lacanian, psychoanalysis was quite engaging. The idea of the "Name-of-the-Father" which Jonathan discussed and Trites works with as well, in Chapter 3, is really strong in this novel. Sam is "fragmented" and "lack"ing not only because of his lack of a father but also because of the absence of purpose in his life a the beginning of the novel. He is at that age I mentioned in my first post that is so crucial and hardly at the center of our favorite stories...the post-high school screw ups that come with striking out on your own. Not having a father, not even having an identity in name to even cling to, Sam is more lost than most. His remembrance of Haden and the zoo (89) hits this "lack" head on. He had someone to call Dad and that's the name he wants.

Jackelyn's questions in her handout in relation to Masculinity Studies are really strong. I feel a strong connection to this thread on fathers and sons in the novel and how that relates to Trites chapter on parental authority. Kevin, Sam's biological father, has nothing to do with him and never did. He represents a normalized masculinity that is all too common in life and literature. I teach in a high poverty district with uncountable amounts of boys without father figures. It is heartbreaking. The chapter title that deals with this, "Papa was a Rolling Stone," is so apt. It's about a father that can't set his roots down. But in relation to this novel, it doesn't quite work, which speaks to the wish for rock 'n' roll that this book doesn't quite get to. For Kevin Hatfield, that name Sam doesn't want, it is about the "difference" that lives inside Sam. Sam's magic rings out to Kevin as a man of normalizing masculinity would consider "queer." It causes him to flee and start over...for a more "normal" family.

Also to this question of masculinity, I do also want to touch on sexuality in the novel, the sort of male fantasy that Brid represents. Jackelyn's question about female displays of masculinity. In reading some other initial responses to this novel, I know there are a few issues with the sex scene. I don't have an issue with it. Brid is representative, in my mind, of the type of freeing sexuality, or "agency," that Trites speaks of when she writes about "female power" in her last chapter (151). Brid is powerful and forward in her need to release her sexual energy. Now, is the scenario of being locked up with a sexy woman who desperately needs/wants you a male fantasy? Yes. Does this book glorify that? I don't think so. Brid and Sam have a reciprocal attraction. They have each other's backs all the way to the end. Sam, in the midst of violence, after killing a man for the first time, notice Brid: She "was the only point of stillness in a sea of motion" (310). In the end of the novel, Brid is there to make sure Sam knows that they will continue to be there for each other. They have been linked by magic.

I really dug the last paragraph of Trites' book. It hearkens back to how I started this particular second post. She states, "I am not afraid of anyone getting theoretical in the high school classroom" (152). I am with her, and I think we also can have this fearlessness in the middle school classroom as well. We have to approach touchy subjects when we read literature, and we have to know our students and allow them the right amount of freedom to dig deep into critical, theoretical thinking. We talk about death a lot in my 8th grade classroom. We consider what it means to kill through our discussions of The Outsiders and "The Most Dangerous Game." The discussions are tremendous. When I asked my students to talk about their favorite moments from the school year, they overwhelmingly agree that our debates and discussions and Socratic Seminars are the standouts. Our greatest hits are always the times the conversation goes deep and the things inside us come out to enrich our understandings of ourselves and each other.

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