Review: PRETTY THINGS
Nikki Richard's "Pretty Things"
Vera moved into a foster home out in the country. She knew nobody, trapped in a house surrounded by only woods and fields. As a stranger to this unknown place, her heart had tightened at first, distrustful of genuine relationships, avoidant. Then she began to know their family’s son, Isaac, through his dog.
She didn’t distrust people because she was a terrible girl, even though she was raised to believe she was only bad. She had been condemned by the violence-cycle of her father, by the silence of her mother, an endorsement of abuse through non-action, retreat and remarks of her own ugliness.
After leaving her life for this new location, she always had a reminder of her suffering, a visibility to her trauma: the burn across the side of her face. But as she learned about her new, uncertain self in this country, she was confronted by the remnants of her father. He manifested in spirit, taking on the flesh of a redneck boy in the woods, a resemblance of his hatred for her, a justification in his violence.
Only now, she must reclaim her identity, choosing between a path of annihilation or self-acceptance. Will she perpetuate what her father had done to her, destroying her mind as she destroys others? Or will she learn from a child who had embraced her, who listened when nobody else would?
Magic is a story about identities, told with humor and unflinching honesty. From the perspective of a wife who married a transgender person, her former husband is now transitioning into a female.
The protagonist learned the truth about her partner when her spouse attempted suicide. After their struggle to deal with this new stage in their marriage, through love and time and friendship, they have accepted each other (despite the pressures to conform). Now, they’re attending a work-related party, some of its members knowing their truth, some not.
These characters are confronting a multi-layered notion of identity in the contemporary world, where under an illusion of tolerance, people are still consumed with prejudices and misconceptions, fears and biases.
This couple must grapple with the judgments of their peers and family. They must deal with a society that condemns them for existing authentically, for being together, while that same society conditions those who judge them with arbitrarily defined values of “essential” gender roles.
Furthermore, they will learn about the evolution of their relationship: how they will relate to their physical/emotional/sexual/hormonal changes, how they will understand each other for who they are, who they are going to be – not only as a couple, but while in the dreary moments of alienation.
OUT OF THE PARK:
When a white dropout begins to sell weed and pills in the south, he feels like he’s got no hope left. His mother once worked long shifts to support him, lecturing him on the values of Jesus and Christianity. She even bought him a baseball bat, wishing that he would play school sports rather than slipping into crime.
Then she died of cancer. After she died, only the protagonist’s childhood friend (Millie) was there to truly support him, to console him in his grief. Soon, though, just as Millie’s family owes serious cash to loan sharks, she’ll leave for the safety of college. But as the events of these characters’ lives intersect, they are forced into an alternative way of life, not far from the violence of their neighborhood.
“No one has to be good at love. You only have to be willing to stumble through it.”
An alternative world exists. Vampires are second-class citizens. They must register for blood packets, if those packets ever do come. They are outlawed from draining the neck veins of humans. If they do kill, their punishment is execution. But those vampires who exist in a society where they are diminished and rejected, who adhere to laws that punish their kind, are only allowed to live as alienated beings, apart from the humans.
Isaac is a high school grandmaster. He has accepted an offer from a vampire, one which follows the stipulations of the law, where he cannot be harmed. They meet in mystery, a scent of lavender and rot on her skin. She is attractive, her dull eyes, her young and light body, one that opens to him and then closes as an enigma. She wishes to play him, to be against him on the board. But as he beats her in chess, she offers him another game, one more uncertain. They will play three rounds, one each night. The winner will know one secret from the loser. And if not a secret, then the loser will have to grant a favor. Isaac agrees to this as his face reflects in her irises. As their moves begin and end, he learns more about her past, her sufferings. He cares for her plight. Then she tells him, voice weak and low, about her starvation, about how her blood packets have withered into gone. She cannot eat him, no. But there is another move for a pawn.
“She tasted like liquor, and he could finally breathe again.”
Jonah wandered on a road of drugs, tattoos, music. He loved an artist, one who filled his flesh with the ink of his blackouts. He knew her, her sex through highs, his kindness in drink. Then she overdosed and died. She died and he left, gone from band, from booze and pills, from everything he knew. He went to sobriety meetings, trying to burn those addictions to nothing, trying to become another man. Then those meetings led him to church, first as a gig and then as a community. But within Jonah, there were still the traces of his addictions, his pulling, striving to discipline his spirit against his primal impulses. He worked toward his recovery, searching for an ideal of religion, how he could change from ending all his rotten habits. Then he met the preacher’s daughter.