The Mere Wife Review

I’ve been perpetually struggling to keep up on my reading even as I double down on work and writing. Last week I read The Mere Wife, a novel (affiliate link) by Maria Dahvana Headley, and I found it quite interesting.

To borrow from the blurb on Amazon:

New York Times bestselling author Maria Dahvana Headley presents a modern retelling of the literary classic Beowulf, set in American suburbia as two mothers—a housewife and a battle-hardened veteran—fight to protect those they love in The Mere Wife.

I’d say that this is a bit of an understatement, but it’s a good summary of the book in the sense that you should get an idea of what it is so you can decide whether you’re interested in checking it out further.

If you’re not sold, however, I strongly suggest that you check it out. It’s an interesting, compelling read.

Image courtesy of Amazon and Macmillan.

The whole novel is told in this delightful style, something that falls nicely between stream-of-consciousness and more traditional styles. The result is a book that is occasionally confusing, but only so much so as the complications of reality are to its characters’ minds.

Most of the time, it manages to combine the sort of crisp and clear imagery that one rarely finds outside of epics; I found myself frequently thinking of Homer and Beowulf as I looked at the language and deep descriptions, which are tremendously indulgent but have a sense of action to them, something that you see with many works that belong to an oral tradition.

As far as craft goes, I don’t think I can recommend it enough. It’s rare to get such a great glimpse into characters’ heads,

Thematically, it’s heavy. Many of the themes discussed relate to PTSD, family drama and infidelity, and violence. It’d get a nice graphic R rating if it were made into a movie.

However, while The Mere Wife may occasionally veer into the realm of the grotesque, it does so no more than sacrosanct myths. Where it resorts to vulgarity it does so to depict life as it is, and while I wouldn’t be passing it out on a middle-school reading list, I’d definitely recommend it to a mature reader, especially one who has already become familiar with Beowulf.

Indeed, one of the things that struck me as I read The Mere Wife is how close it manages to feel to that epic. The three act structure is maintained, though it is different, and the characters are all closely drawn from the original myth, but given their own life and meaning.

Honestly, even if you haven’t read Beowulf, I can still recommend The Mere Wife. The protagonist, Dana, is based off of the character of Grendel’s mother, who is barely a footnote in the original epic but comes to life throughout the novel as a tragic figure.

The tragedy plays deeply into the American consciousness, but also in general to the world of the 21st century. The loss of mysticism, digital panopticon, paranoia in the war on terror, and racial tensions of our day all are developed into themes and touched upon, questions that are answered, unanswered, and explored.

Universally, The Mere Wife puts us into the shoes of its characters. Loathsome or ennobling, each gets a fair shake, and we are left feeling sympathy for all of them. It lives up to the legacy of sagas and epics, and I was able to get through all 320 pages of the tale in just a couple days, finding every excuse possible to read it.

I really cannot recommend the book enough. I will conclude with the first paragraph of the novel; it was all the preview I needed to be convinced that it was worth checking out:

Say it. The beginning and end at once. I’m face down in a truck bed, getting ready to be dead. I think about praying, but I’ve never been any good at asking for help. I try to sing. There aren’t any songs for this. All I have is a line I read in a library book. All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

I Need a New Belt

I’ve fallen off of posting for a while, but I’m still planning to continue uploading my short story collection up here.

Today, however, I had another great weight loss milestone. I was wearing pants that I have to wear a belt with, and throughout the day I noticed that my belt was a little loose despite being configured as tightly as possible.

Long story short, my belt is no longer doing a great job of keeping my pants up, though I discovered this at home and not by having a tragic wardrobe malfunction in public.

I guess getting a new belt can be added to my list of things to do this weekend. I’m a little happy about this because I’ve been worried about not having as much gym time as I would normally get this last week and a half.

My next big focus has to be on getting rid of some of this belly fat. I’ve made really good losses elsewhere, but I’m not as concerned about them for health reasons and otherwise.

I’m thinking that some good core exercises will help, but I’m a little bit of a procrastinator, so I’ll start tomorrow.

Getting more disciplined with exercise overall is a good idea. I’m pretty disciplined (though not perfect, by any means) with my diet, but my exercise routine is anything but.

God as Provider Against Fear

One of the things that has been a repeated source of God-centered conviction in my life is my own struggles with anxieties and fears of what lies in store for my future.

I have no doubt that many of these fears constitute a spiritual weakness of mine, a failure to appreciate what I have been given and a blindness to the charity of Providence. Although I deserve nothing, I fear that my comforts and worldly position will be lost, when in reality these are the least of my treasures.

Foremost among all fears is the fear of death. Other than fears of inadequacy and questions of our own identity, nothing can drive us more than the question of what will happen once we die.

God gives us eternal life because God provides the tools to resist any fears. We can overcome anything with the right help, and God will provide for our needs. It’s not that we should focus on the concept of eternal life because of what it offers us; having an eternity with God is pointless if you don’t have a now with God.

The role of eternal life is to give believers a reminder that we have a relationship with God through Christ that cannot be ended by any worldly force. It is only by choice, by the intentional rejection of God, that we can lose our salvation.

The degree to which one has to act in violation of godly principles to lose salvation is unclear. God is love and forgiveness, even when it is not deserved. Merely sinning is therefore likely insufficient to jeopardize salvation, but a lifestyle of depravity illustrates priorities that lie outside God’s kingdom, and it would be foolish to live in such a way that virtues extolled by God and the saints are lacking and expect to have one’s name in the Book of Life.

Paul’s famous musings on this matter in Romans come to mind:

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?”
*Romans 6:1, NASB*

One of the things that I’ve noticed in my faith walk is that many of my fellow believers worry about their salvation; this is not necessarily always wrong, but I think that it overlooks the main point of life.

God wants us to succeed, but to do so in accordance with His will.

We may not appreciate those successes, since they do not always follow the paths that we want to follow. However, this development leads us to improved character, and from there we find ourselves bettered by God’s plan, so long as we follow the direction of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

When we are following God, we are earning our salvation; even though we will have moments of worldly weakness, we can strive to work toward our goals. An analogy for this is the notion of industry: not everyone can be successful, but people who strive for it are much more likely to do so.

Certainty can come in the form of an industrious pursuit of God.

If we do this, we will not automatically enjoy worldly success. This is a common heresy that has spread throughout the modern church, especially in America. However, as we follow faithfully we deepen our relationship with God, the loving Father, who will reward us with an eternal connection to Him. We also learn right principles of action from the virtues that come from that relationship with God, like self-control, being a good neighbor, and loyalty.

While these are not enough on their own to ensure worldly success, they are things that are important to have to avoid bringing destruction down upon oneself.

God’s support for us is found in both boldness and tranquility. We need fear nothing, for we are His children and servants. Through our service we can shine the light of the divine in the world, and while we may never have wealth or worldly success we can count on the auspices of God and trust that we will never be tested beyond what we can bear by the trials of the world. These difficulties do not come from God, and with the omnipotent Creator at our side not even death can take our hope.

Dream big and follow boldly.

Music for Today: Tobias Lilja’s “There Is No Other”

Since I’ve been writing about classical music here from time to time, now it’s time to go and ruin that by choosing entirely different sorts of music.

One of the more interesting musicians that I’ve found in my various musical dalliances is Tobias Lilja. He has an interesting mix between electronic, industrial, and just plain weird styles that I find incredibly appealing, not the least because of the incredibly deep layers of sound and the mix between dichotomous harmonic and heavily distorted/natural and synthetic sounds.

I find that the music that Lilja makes is both compelling and primal. It succeeds in running the gamut from highly intense to the surprisingly somber, and in his Medicine Sings Triptych he manages to create a driving, almost hypnotic experience with both incredibly intense elements and at times serene and wistful lyrics and instrumentation.

The particular song that I find myself revisiting most often, however, is “There Is No Other”. This was the song that I discovered Tobias Lilja from, in the form of a trailer for the roleplaying game Degenesis, which I’m including below.

However, I think the real strength of “There Is No Other” comes in the way that it showcases a mixture of intensity and sort of mystical, surreal tone. It opens one’s mind to wander, but also drives one forward, almost triggering a physiological response to the intensity of the effects.

You can find the original song on Spotify or on SoundCloud. Lilja also made a special mix for Degenesis, a tabletop roleplaying game, which can be found on SoundCloud, and another remix is available at his BandCamp page.

I think that listening to and comparing the different versions is very interesting as a highlight for the different ways that Lilja can use the same elements with different dressings to create an engaging listening experience.

Diet Milestones (Again)

One of the things that I worry about as I diet is that I could forget the reasons why I went on a diet in the first place and what the weight loss has brought me.

Just this week, I had two things happen to me that I hope to remember if I ever get the temptation to ease up and fall off the wagon.

First, I was stretching out one of my legs and I reached down to grab my ankle/calf region and felt nothing but muscle and bone. Admittedly, I never had a whole lot of fat around my ankles, but feeling that as opposed to having the little wiggling and jiggling I was used to was really sort of a “I did it!” moment.

The other thing that happened to me is that I was getting ready in the morning and I put on a belt (I typically wear business casual attire, with my shirt untucked: needing a belt at all is simply a consequence of losing enough weight that my old pants don’t fit me as well anymore), only to find that I was adjusting it to the smallest possible size.

The particular belt I had is one that I got just a few weeks into my diet, when I discovered that I had already become too small for my other belts.

I guess I’m going to need to replace it soon.

I’ve been a little put off recently by the lack of any visible weight loss, especially in my belly area, but apparently I’m still dropping some pounds, and that’s a good feeling.

You Should Know: China’s Gulags

“When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

A lot of people don’t have a good grasp on China. With the changes in its relationship and public branding, it’s easy to forget that it’s still a totalitarian Communist regime, not all so different from the Soviet Union with the exception of the fact that its market liberalization has saved it from economic ruin (though, perhaps, not entirely).

However, what a lot of people aren’t aware of is that China is perhaps the greatest human rights abuser in the world. Between its treatment of the Falun Gong and other religious and ethnic minorities, it’s no secret that rights in China go as far as the state permits them to.

However–and this should not surprise the astute reader–China goes beyond mere crimes against handfuls of citizens, and has turned portions of one of its provinces into gulags worthy of the Soviet era.

Why is this happening, and why isn’t it all over the news? The Chinese government has been regularly imprisoning its Muslim Uighur population, and it would likely be a surprise to the average citizen of the world.

The only answers can–and must–be cynical ones. The simple truth is this: our society doesn’t want to change, even if it’s necessary for evils to be ended. China exports cheap, relatively-well made consumer goods and other “necessities” of the modern age, and the cost of any significant action would be the loss of these comforts.

Even more cynically, it could be said that we don’t care because it’s outside our cozy daily lives. The atrocities of China are not blood on our hands, after all. We are not the ones building the fences, pulling the triggers, manning the crematoriums.

We are not Uighurs, but we are human. Every one of us must be conscious of the fact that with every dealing we have with China, we are being part of the machine that promotes what now appears to be heading toward not mere suppression and brainwashing but outright ethnic cleansing and genocide.

I’m not advocating military action against China, or anything like that. I believe such a thing would do more harm than good. However, we must be unflinching and unyielding in doing what we can to raise awareness. Our dependence on Chinese products is a major source of the problem; so long as we are chained by our dependency, we cannot stand up to the evils that we are facilitating.

One way to do this is by limiting our use of Chinese products. While this is likely difficult, as there may be no easy way to guarantee that products have not been fabricated at least partly in China, despite labeling, having even a little vigilance can help to choose alternatives to Chinese-made products that can limit the financial resources of its tyrannical regime.

I’ve also written to my Congressional representatives on this matter, and I suggest that each reader go to their government officials and demand an answer from them. We are permitting the worst evils of the 20th century to be repeated in the 21st century. Demand accountability.

A Great Deal on “The One Ring”

Any Lord of the Rings fans who are also tabletop roleplayers might appreciate the fact that Humble Bundle currently has a substantial offering from the One Ring product line for $15.

This is half off of its regular price on DriveThruRPG, and includes a whole bunch of stuff. If you just want the core rulebook to test it out, you can find it for a paltry $1.

My review (of a slightly older edition, though I believe it’s still the same mechanics) is duplicated below:

The One Ring lives up to its impressive source works; providing an epic amount of quality and more in a game that is built to work with the feel of Middle Earth.
Everything about this game feels right; the art, the writing, and the mechanics blend together into a marvelous product that feels very much like the original books by Tolkien. The game takes very few liberties with the setting, and feels very much like picking up one of the original stories in terms of how play and characters work; I personally saw a major relationship between The Children of Húrin and this work, at least in terms of how the adventuring bands work, though the same link goes for any of Tolkien’s tales.
Anyway, I will say that this is one of the best fantasy games out there, and as a fan of Tolkien I’d throw my support behind it 100% as a top-notch and accurate game which sticks true to the feel of Tolkien’s work.
The closest thing to a gripe I have with this is the gimmicky Feat Die, which has a potential to roll a Gandalf or Sauron rune, but it makes the game flow quicker and adds interest, so I’ll concede that it’s actually good (especially given that you can use a standard d12 and just modify the results slightly).
Quick Summary: Content: 5/5 (A great look at Tolkien’s world and making adventures within it; it’s built well) Art/Typesetting: 5/5 (I’d say that this is one of the highest quality games I’ve ever seen in terms of design) Writing: 5/5 (I’ve never had a gripe with Cubicle 7’s quality, so I see no reason to start now) Awesome Factor: 5/5 (I’m biased because I’m a Tolkien fanboy, but this gets it right!) Interest: 4/5 (Not perhaps the most interesting part of Tolkien’s sagas, but a good one) Maturity: 10+ (There’s not really anything in here I see that warrants a content rating, other than heroic violence) Value: 5/5 (You get a lot in this pack; the Loremaster’s and Adventurer’s Guides, and two maps [one for each], so the asking price is great)

Review of The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild (2011 Edition)

Alternatively, I’m buying it myself, so you can take that as a ringing endorsement if you want.

Music for Today: Arvo Pärt’s Symphony #4

Today’s music that really spoke to me was Pärt’s Symphony #4. It’s a great piece that really shows off Pärt’s minimalist style.

I’m pretty sure I’ve written about Pärt before, but he’s one of my favorite composers, and certainly my favorite contemporary composer.

What I really enjoy about his work is the way that he can send one’s mind off in contemplation without relying on forceful compositions. Sometimes somber, sometimes uplifting, Symphony #4’s restraint comes in spite of its incredible power.

With a master composing music, there is no need for bombastic showmanship. I am not trying to say that these things cannot be good (after all, I love a good Tchaikovsky piece when I can get one), but rather that the slow, deliberate movements and restrained use of complex harmonies that forms the core of Pärt’s distinctive style can be incredibly intense in ways that would surprise those used to some of the more “meaty” composers out there.

You can listen to the symphony on Spotify and on YouTube.

Reflections on Weight Loss

As of this week, I’ve hit my original goal weight when I started dieting. I’ve still got some distance left to go before I’m at an ideal weight, but I’m a lot healthier and happier than I was before I got here, so that’s a good plus.

A few things I’ve noticed that I want to quickly reflect on before I forget them on this are:

  1. I’ve gotten a lot more deliberate in what I eat. No more sides at restaurants unless they’re something I actually want.
  2. Letting myself have an occasional indulgence as part of a planned, regular occurrence (AKA cheat day) makes it a lot easier to resist those temptations during the rest of the time, since I’m not developing a “Woe is me, I can’t have donuts” complex.
  3. It’s required me to change the way I view my actions. No more blaming the junk food for my choice to eat it. Developing the ability to resist temptation is important, and one of the reasons my prior efforts have failed.

I think it’s a little telling that despite the fact that I eat less, and generally a little more austere fare than what I ate before I went on my diet, I’m still pretty happy with what I’m eating.

In fact, I think I might actually rate my overall satisfaction from the food I eat as higher than I would have before my diet. There are a few things that go into that, of course, since I’m not getting as much carbohydrate-induced spikes in hunger, but I think some of it is getting rid of the things I used to eat just to have something to eat.

Now that I just eat primarily protein and greens, with fresh fruit as an added element, I find meals more enjoyable than I used to because they don’t have any associated feelings of overindulgence (and guilt) or potential pain down the road in the form of indigestion.