Hello strangelings! (Honorary and otherwise)

Three lovely things:

  1. Did you finish Sorrowland? Did you love it? ME TOO. No worries if you gotten to it yet, because there are no rules in the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club. But I’m going to open it up for discussion here and on the Fantastic Strangelings Facebook page if you want to talk about it because personally I have questions and I suspect someone smarter than me will have answers.
  2. If you’re a member of the Fantastic Strangelings (THANK YOU! YOU ARE KEEPING US IN BUSINESS!) you’ve already gotten my email about this month’s book but in case you missed it or are an honorary member…here is this month’s choice:

It’s The Chose and the Beautiful and it is divine and on the way to you as we speak.

June was a hard month (in the best way) because there were SO MANY amazing books to choose from.  I read 11 and was having a hard time picking the best one because I really adored several but then Elizabeth slipped me The Chosen and the Beautiful.  It didn’t seem like my type of book…a reimaging of The Great Gatsby?…because I’m one of those few people who sort of thought The Great Gatsby was overrated, but then I looked a little closer.  A reimagining from the viewpoint of Jordan, as a queer, Vietnamese adoptee…where magic literally exists and infernal pacts with the devil, cursed parties and drinking demon blood is just par for the course?  And add to that the fact that the author (Nghi Vho) writes in the most gorgeous prose…honestly, I know some people will call it sacrilege but I think this retelling is so much better than the original.  (And you don’t have to have read the original to enjoy it.)  It’s a lovely, quick and decadent read.

3. I always pick an optional bonus book for those of us who need a few to pass the month and this month I can’t recommend enough The Ugly Cry by Danielle Henderson, a memoir equal parts hysterical and achingly poignant. Want more? My pleasure! Here are some of the June books I loved: Girl One (Orphan Black meets Margaret Atwood in this twisty supernatural thriller about female power). Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch: A Novel (Historical fiction about a society and family undone by superstition, hysteria and fear). The Wolf and the Woodsman (inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish mythology, this book follows a young pagan woman with hidden powers and a one-eyed captain of the Woodsmen as they form an unlikely alliance to thwart a tyrant). Sidecountry: Tales of Death and Life from the Back Roads of Sports (Stories from alligator hunting to wingsuit flying to downhill skiers caught in an avalanche. I don’t like sports but this book was amazing.) Rabbits (A deadly underground game might just be altering reality itself. This book freaked me the fuck out. But in a good way.) The Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot (The sweetest book. An extraordinary friendship. A lifetime of stories.  You’ll probably cry but it is 100% worth it.) The Maidens (Dark and twisty psychological suspense). A Sitting in St. James (Three-time National Book Award finalist Rita Williams-Garcia masterwork explores the interwoven lives of those bound to a plantation in antebellum America —empathetic, brutal, and entirely human—and essential reading for both teens and adults grappling with the long history of American racism).

4. I know I said there were just three things but I don’t know how to turn off outnumbering so I’ll just say that I know some of you were sad that we ran out of spots this month to join the Fantastic Strangelings because you tried to join and it wouldn’t let you but actually that was just a technical glitch that I think has been fixed so if you want to join there is no better time. You get a kick-ass Fantastic Strangelings pin just for joining and then we send you a book a month. And most of the time the cover price of the book is higher than the $25 a month so you’re actually saving money while supporting an indie shop. And the books coming up later this year are SO GOOD. I’m not naming names yet but be prepared for a fascinating memoir next month and a Shirley Jackson-esque mystery in August and book in September that ripped my heart out and put it back in me again.

PS. My take on Sorrowland is in the comments. Happy reading!

12 thoughts on “Hello strangelings! (Honorary and otherwise)

Read comments below or add one.

  1. Man, I don’t even know where to start on this book because there is so much to unpack.



    Okay, first off, I loved how similar it was in some ways to Mexican Gothic…the mushrooms are the most obvious but also the way it explored race and subjugation and misogyny and a million other things that are both obvious and subtle.

    I loved the idea of the fungus as rebirth…and of the fungi allowing Vern and the others to speak to each other through the underground mycelia. The way the author explored how past generations touch each other through pain and joy but in such a present way made me look at how we each touch each other through life in ways we don’t always see and how we are haunted by the past, even if it isn’t our own past.

    Someone once told me that all cemeteries are connected underground and that stuck with me. This story seemed to tell that story in a way…that what people need to live and grow is other people. We are all connected and that can create such harm or such compassion depending on how we use that power.

    I loved how Ursula L Guin’s words were used to echo this: “I hope you live without the need to dominate, and without the need to be dominated. I hope you are never victims but I hope you have no power over other people. And when you fail and are defeated, and in pain, and in the dark, then I hope you will remember that darkness is your country, where you live, where no wars are fought, and no wars are won, but where the future is.” Phew. So good.

    I thought the way the author explored the long history of governments using their power to experiment or subjugate others was really effective. There were a lot I was already aware of…Tuskeegee, Project MKUltra, but others mentioned made me take a deeper dive into other issues, like the forced sterilization of Native American women in the 60’s and 70’s. It’s hard to read about this stuff but without being aware of the past (and of what is happening even now) we can’t make changes. So, hard to read? Yes. But important.

    I thought it was interesting how Ollie ended up being around for over 90 years by taking advantage of Queen, as it was an interesting way of showing how those in power in the past have in many ways kept the power and passed it on to themselves by way of their descendents over and over.

    I loved and hated that every person in the book was flawed in their own way because I wanted to shake each one of them when they made terrible decisions but I think that’s the mark of a good book…when you are so involved you want to save people from themselves over and over.

    I loved that the book ended with hope even after such sadness, although I can’t imagine that Vern would be allowed to live freely after the military realized her power. So my first question is…what happens next? Do she and Gogo and the kids go live in the woods? Do they use Vern’s power to right the wrongs? Obviously there aren’t answers to this (unless the author comes out with a sequel) but it’s a complicated ending that made me think long after it was over.

    Here are the questions I have that I think there are probably answers to but that I just missed or aren’t smart enough to have picked up on. First off, why did the cult worship Cain? Was it because he felt that he was persecuted by God and maybe they did too?

    And second, why did the military kill everyone in the cult? If this was a government experiment and they knew that they’d had “success” with Queen and Vern then why kill the other people who they might also be able to use? Was it because they found out that Queen still had her own willpower even after being tortured and realized they could be overpowered, or was it because they were afraid that Vern would awaken the power within the other cult members if she got there first? Was the sedation that the cult members all used there to keep the “passengers” in check and it grew large with Vern because she wasn’t given the drugs to slow it?

    Sorry, I’m rambling. Just lots to unpack and probably lots I missed.

  2. Worshiping Cain … perhaps just another way of isolating the members from others and presented in a way that appealed to their mindset.

    I suspect the military killed off everyone in the cult because they now had a better understanding of the exact DNA that worked with their experiment. Much easier to just locate genetic bloodlines through hacking medical records (swapping babies at birth and all that sort of thing). Vern was a perfect match, just as Queen was. The others were affected, but not thoroughly.

    I smell a sequel. Vern’s sons were born with ‘it’ in their systems and are probably all the more likely to evolve into something even more advanced (?) than Vern.

  3. Hey – I’m not a member of the book club, so this comment is totally off point. But I do love your blog so I’m posting anyway. I’m struggling right now. I have fallen into a pit of depression. I’d love to make a funny joke right now, but mostly I just want to cry. I’m putting one foot in front of the other and I hope I make it out of the pit soon. I know you understand. And all my fellow stranglings get it. So – happy reading. And hello from the pit. See you on the upside soon, I hope.

  4. There was something in the book that said why Cain was chosen (first of all, he wasn’t Jesus, in whose name so many atrocities have been committed), but I don’t remember exactly what it said. I BURNED through this book, it was sooo good, and I didn’t stop to examine all the threads that needed more attention.
    I think the government killed everyone at the compound as damage control. They didn’t want witnesses being able to speak about the injections or experimentation. They could spin everything that was on video as Vern being the bad guy, when there is no one to back her up. I really thought that was where the ending was heading, since without anyone else to say so, they could have blamed all the killings on Vern too (she opened the locked door, but they could have said she killed everyone and then locked the door since no one saw the killings happen and the soldiers were gone when the other group opened up the temple). I was glad that wasn’t what happened in the end, but I did expect it. I guess I’m pretty cynical. I think they were also trying to remove any kind of allies Vern might have (on the compound anyway, since she still had Gogo). That would not be the case after Vern brought everyone back, but they had no way of knowing that she was capable of something like that on that scale.

    Had she not brought everyone back, the government would definitely not leave them alone, but since she did? That leaves a very open ending. What will the the compound become? What will happen to all those people without the injections? I like to think that Vern, Gogo, Bridget, Howling and Feral will all go live in the woods somewhere and try to leave the outside behind (but that is my unreasonable need for a happy ending). Maybe Howling has her DNA and will also develop a passenger when he reaches adulthood? Maybe it will be Feral, since he also had albinism, which seems to be one of the factors that contributed to to Vern’s development as well?

  5. I work at a library, and looks like my checkout list is *always*, what you have just recently read!!! Sorrowland is due in a few weeks, so I should be finishing it up in a few weeks and am so exited that you liked it. It’s a good sign when you give good reviews, bc apparently we love the same things!


  6. P. 278-279 when Vern confronted the hunters and wondered what made them that way connected with me so much. I stopped and read it aloud to my husband. Then I marked the page because I wanted to remember to ask the book club if this part stood out to you as well. I feel like it really captured a lot of what I’ve been feeling the past several years. How did we become so terrible?

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