Remember in January when I mentioned the Ice Man? Well, after that, I kind of went down a rabbit hole of ice mummies. The concept used to absolutely terrify me, after I learned about it in school via one shoddy paragraph and a horrifying photo of the preserved, leathery corpse. Now, how the tables have turned! Otzi (the “Ice Man”) is interesting and had a pretty badass existence. Before his death, he killed TWO people with ONE arrow and retrieved it both times. Bruh.
But the ice mummy that has truly stolen my heart is the Siberian Ice Maiden. Her story is fascinating, from her tomb to her tattoos to the Altai people’s fight to bring her back home to rest. There’s a mythological, almost-tragic-yet-triumphant glimmer in the Ice Maiden’s story, and I can’t get enough of it (nor can I stop retelling it to anyone who will listen…). Which brings me to the first book I finished this month, Ledi by Kim Trainor.
Ledi is a book of poetry– really, more like one book-length poem– that weaves the story of the discovery and disinterring of the Siberian Ice Maiden (called Ledi, meaning Lady, in the book) with the story of the author’s lover who died by suicide.
I love this. I finished it in one sitting and then went right back into it for a second read. It flows so well, and captures both the myth-like aspects and the humanity of the Ice Maiden. Emotionally, this book felt ghostly and resonant. The author also definitely did research, including visiting the mummy and the site of her discovery. There were so many details woven into this book that I hadn’t known about before.
Now, the second book I read this month….
Um. Well, I tried.
I know, I know, only the second month in and already I’m missing the mark on my 2020 goal. But I opened, started, and subsequently quit so many books this month that there wasn’t time to finish one all the way through. For some reason, every novel that I cracked open this month seemed to have the same situation at its center: two girls (sometimes actually grown women, but most often they meet as teenagers) who become best friends, except one of them is Cool and the other one is not, due to her more shy, bookish nature, or whatever.
Maybe it’s all my fault for being suckered into picking up all these stories– like, am I just the target demographic? I, after all, was definitely the shy, bookish teen, and perhaps in some ways am still the shy, bookish adult. (Or am I? I mean, even when I’m trying to be low-key, I end up becoming known as “the bird girl” and “the bone collector” and “oh lord what is she doing”.) But regardless of why I picked up a whole dang pile of these stories this month, my questions remain:
Why are these stories so common in fiction? And why are they always told from the perspective of the shy girl? To me, it almost feels like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, except this would be, like, the… Manic Sexy Dream Frenemy. Or something.
I’m not trying to rip authors a new one over something I don’t like, but it did kind of bother me. I mean, obviously– I couldn’t finish even one of them. While reading, I kept thinking about the Cool friend of the duo, and how she obviously was dealing with some shit of her own, which is sometimes the plot of the book. In several, the Cool one is “troubled” and that’s what makes her so edgy; in others, the Cool one is effortless, popular, or rich– but still has ~secrets~. Oooh. So spooky.
There’s always passages like: How we lie. How we were once wild and now are grown up. Frenemies. Friends closer than lovers. Opposites and mirror images. Molding ourselves to become like the other. Toxic and beautiful.
Blah, blah, blah.
I mean, we’ve all (?) had some kind of experience where we can relate to a story like that, buuut… can we at least get a new angle? And maybe I’m just becoming hyper sensitive to this, but despite these books being written by women, a bunch of them are kind of male gaze-y. Or at least they heavily romanticize the Cool character, even at parts in the story where shit gets real and maybe it would have benefited from less stylizing. At points, it’s like reading a music video. And I’m a slut for cinematic music videos, trust me– I just don’t think it’s as good in fiction, especially fiction that could have dug deeper into reality, but instead floated on the wavy, shimmering surface.
So, if you have any suggestions for a book portraying real, complicated female characters in real, complicated friendships, please leave a comment! I would love to check that out.
Bonus footage of when I drew some of the Ice Maiden’s tattoos on myself with blue eyeliner and then went out. Honestly I think I pulled these off pretty well. 😉