Love and Money: Eugenides’s Fresh Complaints

Jeffrey Eugenides’s Fresh Complaint serves to fill that large, aching gap between his novels. Most of the stories in the collection were lifted from The New Yorker or plucked from literary journals, with publishing dates spanning anywhere from 1989 to 2017. It’s like a retrospective. Readers have the benefit of watching Eugenides develop as a writer while getting a sense of major themes that run throughout his work.

Eugenides fans will enjoy revisiting characters from his other works. Mitchell, from “The Marriage Plot” (2011), shows up in “Air Mail” to fight a bout of dysentery in the Gulf of Siam, and Dr. Luce, from “Middlesex” (2002), appears in the aptly named “The Oracular Vulva,” on a research mission in the jungle.

Both of these narratives focus on travel, a topic that has fascinated Eugenides throughout his career. After graduating his BA, Eugenides spent a year travelling across Europe and volunteering with mother Teresa in Calcutta. “I began trying to write about these events at the time I was experiencing them, way back in 1982,” Eugenides tells The New Yorker. “I tried again many times over the years”. No doubt, Fresh Complaint is part of Eugenides’s effort to explore the meaning of travel and what happens to an individual, spiritually and intellectually, when placed in alternate contexts and challenged by the unfamiliar and unforeseen

Mitchell and Dr. Luce aside, characters in this collection tend to face common dissatisfactions, i.e. money, love, friendship, aging, though their idiosyncratic behaviours and atypical life decisions transform familiar grievances over life’s greatest drags into fresh complaints.

The collection is filled with fathers who wish to do better by their families financially, but lack talent, luck, or the right combination of the two, to do so. In “Great Experiment,” Kendall, once praised as a gifted poet, enters middle age as an underpaid editor at a publishing house. In order to raise the funds to renovate his family home, he hatches a risky plan to evade taxes.

In “Early Music,” Rodney, father of two, also faces the disappointment of broken ambitions and tight finances. Rodney comes to terms with his lack of musical talent, while trying to stay true to his passion for music. He defends himself against debt collectors who threaten to claim his clavichord.

“Sometimes you thought you heard the music,” thinks Rodney, “especially when you were young, and then you spent the rest of your life trying to reproduce the sound”.

Rodney’s sense of longing prevails throughout the collection. Ideal beginnings are complicated and tarnished by time. Relationships break apart. Wives reject adulterous husbands. Friends turn away from friends. In the particularly memorable “Baster,” poor Wally, deeply in love with the glamorous Tomasina, must watch as she becomes pregnant with a donor’s sperm.

Reducing these stories to single sentence summaries makes them seem all doom and gloom, but if there is anything that unites these characters, it is their optimism in the face of life’s travails. In “Find the Bad Guy,” Charlie reflects on his broken marriage: “we found each other so long before we lost each other”.  The glass is always half full. Eudgenides’s characters maintain steadfast beliefs in their capacity to fix things.

Like all Eugenides books, Fresh Complaint is compulsively readable. Characters are equal parts misguided and insightful, determined by circumstance and self-determining. Collectively, they express the comedy that hums through life’s tragedies.

Review: Tales of Endearment

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In 2017, style blogs are a dime a dozen.

This is merely fact, neither a good nor bad thing until interpreted by those in the fashion community. (Bad news to the magazine industry, good news for brands looking for free advertising.)

In a city such as this one, you’ll find folks everywhere who have their own blog. The writer of this article has one, for example.

And out of all the blogs and YouTube channels and personal branding has come an influx of deserved and undeserved book deals. This has often been the way for many a franchise: conquer one medium, find another.

In 2010, however, this was not the norm, as Natalie Joos points out in an introduction to her book, Tales of Endearment: Modern Vintage Lovers and Their Extraordinary Wardrobes. That year, Joos created her blog of the same name, a vintage-focused tour through the lives and passions of friends and strangers. The site launched in the pre-blogging-blowout years and became hugely successful. Now, seven years later, Joos has compiled stories of some of the most captivating vintage-lovers she has come across in her travels.

The book itself is beautiful, which is something I would expect from Joos based on her website design and her eye for photography alone. The photographs accompanying each story capture their subjects in their homes, outside, formally and candidly. Joos shoots areas of their home, beloved pieces from their wardrobe and other things that can be more intimate and revealing about a person than any answer they can give to a question. And many of those wardrobe pieces (I’m thinking of the completely mind-blowing closet of stylist Catherine Baba) are just to-die-for. If I’m ever feeling a bit down, looking at beautiful vintage clothes is a pretty easy way to cheer myself up. If you’re the same way, this is an ideal coffee table book to have on hand.

Joos writing style is that of the blogger: casual, anecdotal and familiar, like a friend recounting an encounter to you over Eggs Benedict, instead of something you’re reading from a book penned by a stranger. Part of Joos’s charm comes from her ability to take these larger-than-life characters and make them more relatable.

And these characters are strange. They are international, diverse, unrelated except for their collective love of vintage clothing. It makes me wonder how Joos finds everyone she features, and above all I commend her for featuring the style secrets of Dee Hilfiger, Maxine Ashley, and Greg Banks in the same book. Seeing their stories back-to-back is fascinating and provides endless style inspiration for whatever persona you are inhabiting in that moment.

I believe this to be one of Joos’s strongest points, and my favourite part of the book. Within its pages, she tells the stories of an incredibly varied cast of characters, each one as endlessly fascinating as the last. It’s the people who populate Tales of Endearment that make it great. While Joos’s writing and photography convey their stories in a pleasant way, something also needs to be said for finding so many different perspectives on the same topic and giving each perspective space to come across genuinely.

Reading the book has turned me into a fan of the blog, which I did not read regularly before. It’s a bit of a wonder, isn’t it, that publishers turn to books as their next conquest after finding success on the Internet. But people like books, the same way the stars of Tales of Endearment like vintage clothing. It has a weight to it, a meaning and intent that isn’t found in its faster, modern counterparts. These days, it feels like a choice.

I’m going to recommend this one to every vintage lover, fashion lover, anyone who likes a good short story, and anyone who likes meeting new and interesting people. Like me, I think you’ll find yourself endeared.

Tales of Endearment will be available in Canada starting November 21st. You can visit the blog here and follow Natalie Joos on Instagram here.

Honey Potion Renewing Antioxidant Hydration Mask with Echinacea GreenEnvy Review

Honey Potion Renewing Antioxidant Hydration Mask with Echinacea GreenEnvy

Supporting ethical brands is something that is important to me. Farmacy is a unique brand, that started in New York, which uses powerful superfood ingredients within their products. The Honey Potion Renewing Antioxidant Hydration Mask with Echinacea Green Envy ($75), is packed with highly concentrated ingredients that leave your skin feeling its best.

What exactly is this product?

To start things off, this mask has a base of honey. Honey moisturizes, cleanses, exfoliates, fades scars, treats acne, brightens and protects skin from environmental damages. The honey they use is all harvested from their farms where the bees pollinate from their echinacea plants. So naturally, the honey is highly concentrated with echinacea, which also has various skincare benefits. Echinacea is anti-aging, fights acne, and soothes the skin (fights redness and heals irritations). The two ingredients together work quickly on the skin to leave your skin highly moisturized, glowing, clear and nourished- in as little as two weeks.

My Review:

I’ve used countless skincare products on my skin, many of those being different kinds of masks. There was something different about this mask that called out to me. To start things off, I like how the brand uses fresh ingredients with high antioxidants in it. In the jar, the mask seems to look similar to a jar of honey. The jar includes a spatula that is magnetized so you never lose it. When you scoop the product out of the jar, the mask appears to be thick like honey, but as you apply it to the skin it completely changes consistency. The mask turns white and becomes very smooth and creamy. It also warms up on the skin which feels amazing. Another thing that I like is that you don’t have to leave the mask on for too long, 10-15 minutes is all. My skincare routine is long enough, the last thing I want is to leave a mask on for ages. After leaving it on, the mask was super easy to remove. A little bit of warm water did the trick. What my skin felt like heaven afterwards is what made me fall in love with this product after a single use (I legit want to buy their entire line of products now). My skin felt so soft, clean and hydrated that I kept rubbing my cheeks, completely obsessed with how it felt. The next day my skin still felt just as amazing and my makeup slid on like a dream. It was as if I’d gone to a spa and had an intensive treatment. If you’re wanting your skin feeling as amazing as mine did, you’ll have to check this product out.

This product is available online from Sephora as well as the Farmacy website.

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Drawing the Line: A Review of Ruben Östlund’s Palme D’Or Winner, The Square

Ruben Östlund’s The Square, winner of this year’s Palme D’Or, satirizes the world of modern art and its empty commitment to progressive social ideals. It is a series of comical, often surreal, sketches, with all narrative threads leading back to Christian (Claes Bang), the handsome curator of Stockholm’s X-Royal museum of contemporary art.

At the start of the film, Christian is pickpocketed in the centre of a public square. Together with a co-worker, he tracks his stolen phone online. Genesis by Justice blares in the background as he drives his Tesla to the apartment block where the phone is located and, in this moment, enmity is born under the guise of right. Once Christian reaches the apartment, he slips accusatory messages into each unit’s mail slot in hopes of reaching the criminal.

Just as all of this strange personal business is going on, Christian acquires an artwork for the museum called “The Square”.  It is a small space cordoned off by four light-up lines with a plaque that reads: “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within its boundaries, we all share equal rights and obligations.” In an interview, Östlund compares “The Square” to the crosswalk; it is a “humanistic traffic sign,” meant to remind people of their role as fellow human beings. Passionate about the piece, Christian argues for the strength in its brute simplicity. But once ‘The Square’ is introduced, its meaning hangs heavy over Christian; it clings to the character as a leech, slowly deprecating his moral pretensions until they are laid bare.

Östlund’s art world in is dominated by ego, wealth, and the claim to be cutting edge. ‘The Square’ captures something of its hollow charm. Four lines delineate a space of social obligation but its emptiness stands in stark contrast to Stockholm’s sidewalks, filled with the homeless and the hungry. The art world is vacant; it aims at nothing; its obligation is solely to itself. In the other exhibit, piles of gravel sit before a sign that reads: “YOU HAVE NOTHING”. It seems as though the art world takes pleasure in being reminded of its impotency, and humble servility to its own nothingness. When a janitor accidentally sweeps up some of the artist’s gravel, we recognize the absurdity of it all.

Still, Christian is not a bad guy, although his intentions are steeped in ego and ignorance. Östlund doesn’t condemn the artistic enterprise altogether, but aims to illustrate just how complicated intentions and artistic expressions can be in a world where we do not all share equal rights and obligations. He brings a series of moral questions to the fore. What is one’s role as an actor? Who is one responsible to?

He forays with confidence into these age-old queries, but his answers seem to change based on the time and place of their asking. In one scene, a man with Turrets yells obscenities at an artist being interviewed at the gallery. Speakers and audience members strain to remain tolerant; this is, after all, a “neurological disorder” and certainly this man deserves respect. But on the street, this same demographic feels no need to go out of their way to accommodate those less fortunate. Each day on his way to work Christian ignores the woman that stands in a public square, asking over and over again: “Do you want to save a human life?”

Östlund also examines the way power can alter feelings of obligation. Christian is a dominant figure. He sleeps around without much concern for his bed partners and acts unselfconsciously, assuming that others respect his every decision. But power is not a static force. It shifts between individuals. When Christian condescends to buy a sandwich for a homeless woman, he assumes the role of a kind, socially conscious citizen. But when the woman responds with a demand, she will have a chicken ciabatta, no onions, the balance of power shifts. Christian is taken aback by her assertive attitude. Is she not embarrassed? Grateful? Christian quickly attempts to restore his position of power by refusing to grant her request for no onions. The comedy of the scene almost camouflages its thematic significance, the way these two figures negotiate power and how that negotiation determines their lines of commitment.

Östlund concocts a variety of scenarios to test his characters, to reveal their obligations and the factors that pollute them. The Square is lengthy, the sort of film one thinks is about to end at least four times. Eventually it does, but it offers no real conclusion, no closure. Still, one cannot accuse Östlund of despair.

“The Square” looms heavy but not only to illuminate Christian’s moral weakness. Östlund takes the Levinasian view of social obligation. His characters understand that they enter the world always already responsible to those around them, and they search for meaning in that responsibility and the impossibility of escaping it. They realize that there is no autonomy, no pure, unsullied interiority, when they live, breath, and perform before the eyes of the Other. “The Square” dares to meet that gaze; it dares to think it possible.

Music Review: PONY & the Ok Ok’s

‘Small Things’ by PONY:

A page torn from a dusty Lisa Frank binder tucked away on a shelf in your childhood home. It is at once scandalous and self-aware. Oh, the feels this song will give you. FYI: PONY is a garage rock trio from the 6ix. The single is catchy, the vocals are clear, the drums are too cool for school, and the guitar breathtaking. What’s not to love? Well, aside from the guy or gal you don’t actually ‘love, love.’ Skip the line: “You look so cute, pretending not to care. I don’t want you — I just want somebody there.”

‘British Columbia’ by The Ok-Ok’s:

Have you ever kicked yourself, or attempted to, while thinking, “Man, I wish I discovered so and so before everyone claimed to know them on a first name basis?” Well, ladies and gents — here is your chance. FYI: The Ok-Ok’s is an indie rock band from Pennsylvania. The single, immediately transports the listener to the storied realm of first-listen utopia. I’m almost speechless, in terms of how stunning the vocals are — controlled, soulful, and legit bankable. Skip the line: “But you’ve got, what you want; but you’ve got, what you want. Inside of me. In your face. And screwed me right. You robbed me twice and fooled me once.”

Text: Toni Styles

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