9 Complicated Female Narrators Who Will Surprise You

The debate around what it means to call a female character “unlikable” best crystallized in a 2013 interview in which novelist Claire Messud confronted the interviewer’s point about not wanting to be friends with her grim protagonist Nora: “For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus?”

The women in these nine books aren’t here to make friends. Their ethics are compartmentalized, their relationships transactional. They destroy towns and lives with a twitch of the finger. They grapple with trauma without sugarcoating it. And not only are they compelling, but their existence is a reassurance and a recognition—they are, in the words of the words of Attack Surface’s protagonist Masha Maximow, “the secret, seething, silent majority.”

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That Random Guy In the Batman Costume Could Be Michael Keaton

If your first Batman is always your one true Batman, Michael Keaton is that Bat for a lot of us. On Jimmy Kimmel Live last night, Keaton neither confirmed nor denied that he might appear in the upcoming The Flash as Batman. “We’re having discussions,” was all he would say, joking with Kimmel that “all 127” Batmans (Batsmen?) would appear. Keaton also correctly identified himself as the best Batman.

But does he ever slip into something a little less comfortable, you know, wear the Batsuit around the house? Put on Prince’s Batman soundtrack and do a little Bat-dance?

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Growing Up in Narnia: The Pevensies as Young Adults in The Horse and His Boy

Last week marked the 70th anniversary of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and the first anniversary of this column! Many thanks to everyone for creating the wonderful and interesting community that’s been building around the comments here over the last year.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe tells us in the final chapter that our main characters—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy—grew to be adults in Narnia, and lived their lives as kings and queens. This all takes place in the space of a few paragraphs, and though it’s referred to often enough in other books, the “Golden Age of Narnia” mostly unfolds between the stories recounted in the books, not within them.

Except in The Horse and His Boy, where we see the siblings (save Peter) as royal adults in Narnia. It’s a fun and inventive bit, giving us a little flavor for what we missed of the larger stories through our former heroes’ generous cameos in this tale.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Lovecraft Country: Happy Endings, Discomfort, and Investigating White Privilege

Having just finished the season finale of Lovecraft Country on HBO, I found myself underwhelmed by the last installment (and only the last installment). I should start by saying that Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel of the same name is one of my favorite books ever; certainly the best book I read in the decade in which it was published. And despite that high bar, almost without fail, Misha Green’s TV adaptation has been the novel’s superior in many ways—it takes the source material and adds additional nuance, thoughtfulness, and a gut-punch humanity to the book’s relatively dispassionate remove. I can only surmise that, in addition to Misha Green’s (and her cast and crew’s) incredible talent, some of the reason for this brilliance on top of brilliance is that the series was created, written, and directed by a a largely Black creative team and Matt Ruff, though extremely talented and insightful, is a White man.

But this last episode hasn’t sat well with me, and I have been looking both at why that might be, and also at why I might be wrong about it. Spoilers for both Green’s show and Ruff’s novel follow.

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Do Not Touch! Announcing Face, the Debut Novel by Joma West

Tordotcom Publishing is delighted to announce the acquisition of two books from debut author Joma West! Face and an untitled second novel were acquired in a deal negotiated by Tordotcom’s Executive Editor Lee Harris and Joma’s agent Robbie Guillory of the Kate Nash Literary Agency in a worldwide deal. Face will be published in early 2022.

Face asks: In a world where touch and physical intimacy is considered abhorrent, is it possible for family—and by extension, society—to function, and can we ever break free of the assumptions we make about race and class, and how those tie into the way we view our own humanity?

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A Reminder to Please, Please Vote!

Today, we’re exactly two weeks out from Election Day here in the U.S. Whether you’re voting by mail, in person, or absentee ballot, your vote is so incredibly important, and we’re asking you to please do everything you can to make it count—and encourage everyone you know to do the same!

If you’re eligible to vote, you can find all the resources you need—including instructions, deadlines, voting guides, and personalized ballot information—at VOTE411.org, a nonpartisan website brought to you by the League of Women Voters Education Fund.

As always, thanks for reading, and thank you for making your voice heard this November 3rd!

Proof of an Iron Will: Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda

Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda (translated by Polly Barton) collects a set of linked short stories reimagining Japanese folktales in contemporary settings, shot through with exceptionally witty societal critique. Silent house-callers who watch over the babies of single mothers, lovers who must be scrubbed free of river mud each night, awkward but eerie saleswomen hawking lanterns, and vulpine shapeshifters to name a few feature in these tales… but rather than vengeful ghosts out to punish the living, Matsuda’s apparitions are complicated people in their own right with histories and interests.

Matsuda writes these tales of spirit(ed) women and dispirited men with impeccable comedic timing and a deceptively urbane tone that also carries biting commentary, while Barton’s translation maintains the rhythm of her prose with grace. The book is described as exuberant on the back cover, and the same word kept occurring to me. Wildness is dangerous but exuberant; these monstrous ladies are the same. At turns each might be kind, stubborn, careful, or cruel—but so might the living people they engage with and the world outside with its pressures around gender, respectability, class, and relationships.

[A review.]

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