I don’t know how to make the emoji of a brain exploding but if I did I’d make it here.

Hello!

If you are a member of the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club you should check your email because you just got a special invitation to come hang out online with me and July’s book pick author, Virginia Feito as I ask her a million questions about Mrs. March, including “WHAT TIME IS THIS SET IN?” and “OMG WTF VIRGINIA BUT IN A GOOD WAY?”

I’m opening up discussion for Mrs. March on the Fantastic Strangelings Facebook page but you can feel free to leave thoughts here if you’re not a Facebook person. (I’ll leave my thoughts in the comments and I have A LOT.) And as always, there are no rules to Book Club so no worries if you haven’t read it yet or if you are a quiet lurker. Honestly 70% of the club love this place because it is a true introvert’s delight and you never have to talk to anyone but still get to be part of an amazing community.

Yesterday we thought we’d sent out the email I wrote you about this month’s book pick (plus a small rant about videos games and hallucinations because I am easily distracted and my emails are ridiculous – sorry) but turns out we accidentally sent that email to the members of our new romance bookclub, whose logo makes me giggle like a 12 year old every time I see it…

…and it was probably very confusing to them, but there’s a lot of overlap of people in both clubs (FUCKING BLESS YOU, YOU GLORIOUS OVERACHIEVERS) so I guess it wasn’t confusing to those people but probably will be when they get a second email from me and wonder if I’ve been drinking more than usual and am stalking them.

So if you’re an honorary member or you haven’t opened your email yet, do you want to see this month’s pick?

I think you do because it is gorgeous in every way and you are invited into a very special story:

It’s The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova.

It’s a lush mystery filled with magical realism and Ecuadorian roots.  Here’s a little summary:

“The Montoyas are used to a life without explanations. They know better than to ask why the pantry never seems to run low or empty, or why their matriarch won’t ever leave their home in Four Rivers—even for graduations, weddings, or baptisms. But when Orquídea Divina invites them to her funeral and to collect their inheritance, they hope to learn the secrets that she has held onto so tightly their whole lives. Instead, Orquídea is transformed, leaving them with more questions than answers.

Seven years later, her gifts have manifested in different ways for Marimar, Rey, and Tatinelly’s daughter, Rhiannon, granting them unexpected blessings. But soon, a hidden figure begins to tear through their family tree, picking them off one by one as it seeks to destroy Orquídea’s line. Determined to save what’s left of their family and uncover the truth behind their inheritance, the four descendants travel to Ecuador—to the place where Orquídea buried her secrets and broken promises and never looked back.”

I loved it and it reminded me a bit of Ray Bradbury’s From the Dust Returned mixed with The Umbrella Academy.

Oh, and I always give you an optional bonus book or two for those of us who need several to get us through the month.  This month’s book choice was actually really hard for me because there was another book that I LOVED but I was worried it might be too dark for everyone so let me just say that if you love horror, Native American #ownvoices, strong female leads and amazing storytelling you 100% need to order My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones right now.  It’s a love letter to slasher films on the surface but it is such a deep, and well-written book on race, gentrification, class, family and more.

Some other September books I loved that you may want to check out this month?  Archer by Shruti Swamy (coming-of-age novel set in 1960s and 1970s Bombay), Shelf Life: Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller by Nadia Wassef (a memoir about the women who founded the first modern bookstore in Cairo), Ballad for Sophie by Felipe Melo (a graphic novel exploring the cost or success and rivalry and flying pianos), The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward (a psychological thriller with so many twists you cannot put it down), How to Wrestle a Girl by Venita Blackburn (short stories exploring race, queerness, community with the most beautiful prose), Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo (“The Fast and the furious but make it gay and Southern Gothic”). So many good ones.

Happy reading!

PS. You are always welcome to join (or rejoin) the Fantastic Strangelings and all new members will get this month’s book and some lovely gifts. Come read with us.

18 thoughts on “I don’t know how to make the emoji of a brain exploding but if I did I’d make it here.

Read comments below or add one.

  1. CAUTION. HERE THERE BE SPOILERS:

    My thoughts on Mrs. March are….I mean. My brain exploded all the way through it and I don’t even know where to begin. I have so many questions, but I mean that in a good way because the unanswered questions made this story stick around in my head for weeks and each time I reread it (three times so far) I picked up something new and I desperately wanted to discuss it so let’s go!

    So first off, when was this set? I was thinking 50’s or 60’s but the last time I read it I started looking up which years things were invented and the latest one I saw was her son’s rubik’s cube, which wasn’t released in the US until 1980. So…? So my thoughts are that either it actually does take place around 1980 but Mrs. March is perpetually stuck in the past emotionally, or was this done on purpose to make us feel unsettled and to make us question Mrs. March? Like the way that Hitchcock filmed things slightly slanted…not enough to make it obvious but enough to make the viewer subconsciously on edge and uncomfortable to add to the suspense?

    Although it wasn’t set in modern times I kept looking at so many of the references that made me think of all the bright and shiny, curated instagram lives of influencers who trade the real for what they think looks good. Like when she got rid of all of her stepdaughters Mickey Mouse toys and princesses and changed them out for “plain old fashioned ones” like an antique wooden sled or first editions of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Or how she bought magazines to leave out that were ones she wanted people to think she’d read. Or how she tossed the throw on the couch a dozen times until it looked perfectly like she’d just casually tossed it aside after reading. And speaking of which…did she every fully read the book her husband wrote? Because she said she did but she also said she didn’t, which makes me wonder if she read it multiple times but kept repressing it.

    Second, why is it that Mrs. March is only ever called by her first name at the very last line of the book? My thought is that she’d defined herself so much by her husband rather than herself that she was only sort of allowed to think of herself by her first name after she’d murdered her husband. Or is that she felt so jealous or overpowered by the character he’d created she could only become real again by killing him?

    Third, is this bitch just a straight psychopath serial killer? Because first off she seems incapable of true emotion other than narcissism and there are all these little clues I didn’t pick up on the first time. Like, you know how she kept biting her maid (Alma) when she was little? That was disturbing enough, but then the maid sort of disappears and later when Mrs. Marchs’ sister is visiting and says that Mrs. March had to go to a child psychiatrist Mrs. March waves it off as “Apparently I used to bite the maid HAHAHA” but then the sister is like, “Uh, THAT IS NOT ALL THAT HAPPENED, CRAZY” but Mrs. March changes the subject or blocks out whatever it was her sister says (in the same way she later refuses to admit to herself that she’d killed her husband). Also when thinking about Alma, Mrs. March says she had worked hard to forget the whole thing and now wondered if she’d imagined the whole thing because “after all, she was such a docile adult.”

    Then during the book party she considers poisoning everyone there with arsenic as a revenge for imagined slights and how much peace she’d feel “stepping over their bodies in a stunned daze.” There was also the part where it’s implied that she may have been sexually assaulted by some old guy in Spain when she was a teen but when rereading it she doesn’t really say that straight out and really says that whatever happened became a cautionary tale that happened to someone else. So…is it possible that she murdered that guy and that’s why she keeps having flashbacks about him?

    She also kept seeing things that no one else saw including cockroaches. Remember when she squooshed a roach and spent way more time than necessary scrubbing where it had been and then muttered “Out, damn spot” while a fluttering laugh escaped her lips, surprising her? It’s the same line Lady Macbeth mutters when she can’t stop washing her hands because the imaginary blood on her is guilt from the murders she’d been involved in.

    Also, when she goes out to solve the mystery of Sylvie it ends with her dancing with the boyfriend (who she has major suspicions about) as the bar closes and then immediately she’s back home. It seemed jarring at the time but maybe she killed him too? She even says right after that it seemed so hard to believe that she surely must have dreamed that she’d danced with the man who was a murder suspect. And then she says that there would be more victims because “someone who commits such an act develops a compulsion – she knew that much.” And even when she thinks her husband is a murderer she fantasizes for a moment about becoming his partner in crime and selecting and trailing his victims for him.

    The Kiki aspect (her sort of invisible twin who is maybe actually an alter personality?) was such a weird but fascinating addition. I’d see Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring but I looked up the painting that Mrs. March said was of Kiki and it is sort of unsettling. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Study_of_a_Young_Woman I read that some critics think the lack of idealized beauty of the subject was supposed to show loving acceptance for what is flawed (the very lesson Mrs. March never learns) or that it was odd looking because it was of an imaginary woman (like the person in George’s book and Mrs. March’s representation to the world of herself). The multiple personality possibility also echoes in the Russian nesting dolls that Jonathon plays with…”the lady inside another lady” who becomes lost. Mrs. March seems to murder Kiki several times but is it that she’s murdering the flawed girl she hid inside or is she murdering the Kiki who was assaulted or who was a murderer? Or is she murdering random people and that’s why she keeps losing time and not remembering where she’d come from? It’s interesting that when she reflects on what happened with the man in Spain she says “The devil got inside her that night” and was somehow working his way into her home. Is that referencing the assault that is haunting her because she never dealt with it, or is it referencing that that was the first time she killed someone and that soon she’d end up killing someone in her own home?

    I don’t know the answer. I just kinda got Three Faces of Eve and My Sister the Serial Killer vibes from her, but maybe I’m reading too much into it.

    And also, have you ever read Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson? It’s a very weird novel that reminded me so much of this one for a few reasons. Both follow the psychological and moral growth of a young woman, and in both the protagonist successfully intrigues an older man who assaults her outside (if Mrs. March’s recollections are reliable) and in both the protagonist convince themselves that it never happened. The protagonist of Jackson’s novel though goes in another direction entirely and almost feels like a character study for who Mrs. March could have become. (Also, an interesting aside is that Hangsaman was inspired by a true story of a missing young woman whose disappearance was never solved.)

    I thought it was an interesting choice that you didn’t entirely know what Jonathon had done to that little girl that got him suspended. (Unless I missed it.) Mrs. March just keeps flashbacking to her childhood of biting people and giving death threats to kids. Is Jonathon’s behavior just acting out just to get attention of other adults to they can rescue him from his mom or is he also showing early signs of being a murderer? I get the feeling that his mom hates him but maybe less for possibly being a psychopath and more because of the hints that he might be gay, which for horrible Mrs. March would probably be more devastating.

    One of the strange themes running through the book that I thought was fascinating was the idea of consumption…of consumer consumption of all the material things she thought were more important than anything else but also the recurring mention of eating or biting. Like when she first meets George he says, “subdue you appetites my dears” and she thinks it’s a cheeky little thing but really it’s a quote from Nicholas Nickelby (Subdue your appetites, my dears, and you’ve conquered human nature) pointing out the hypocrisy of the well-fed telling the starving needy to just not want food while stuffing themselves. She says she feels like “mutton dressed as lamb”…both foods to be consumed. They talk about force-feeding geese to enjoy the patê. She talks about the many diets of herself and all of her mother’s girlfriends (“their diets weighed heavily on them, like eternal penances”), and it’s almost as if the women try to disappear (“So much of one evaporates through the years, she mused.”) And when they’re snowed in at home she wonders “whether she and George would be capable of eating their own child in order to survive, or whether George and Jonathan would turn on her.”

    Another time George talks about his father’s diabetes and about how “they just started cutting away at him, little by little” and then he gently nibbles off her hangnail (going back to the idea of disappearing little by little). She later hallucinates that he’s a devil who ate her ear. They talk about “the silence of male hunger” and how women fill their stomachs with water and how Mrs. March would only take a bite when her sister would.

    I just keep going back and forth about whether Mrs. March has always been a serial killer or whether she was molested and this is her brains way of dealing with the idea that she was consumed or ruined by a man since she was never able to get help. I think you can read it both ways and I think that’s what it makes it so interesting. Is she a victim? Is she a villain? Is she both?

    Although it wasn’t set in modern times I kept looking at so many of the references that made me think of all the bright and shiny, curated instagram lives of influencers who trade the real for what they think looks good. Like when she got rid of all of her stepdaughter’s Mickey Mouse toys and princesses and changed them out for “plain old fashioned ones” like an antique wooden sled or first editions of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Or how she bought magazines to leave out that were ones she wanted people to think she’d read. Or how she tossed the throw on the couch a dozen times until it looked perfectly like she’d just casually tossed it aside after reading. And speaking of which…did she every fully read the book her husband wrote? Because she said she did but she also said she didn’t, which makes me wonder if she read it multiple times but kept repressing it.

    Holy shit, I will shup up now. Sorry.

  2. This runs a risk of being caught by a spam-catcher, but emojipedia.org is my favorite place to look up and copy emojis that I don’t know how to find, or figure out what emoji someone just sent to me that doesn’t load on my computer at all.

  3. This book was so well written and drew me in so much that I actually had to stop reading it 75% of the way through because I felt like I kept losing touch with reality (and not in the good way that books usually make me feel) I found I was starting to have trouble thinking through things in real life. It was the weirdest feeling!! I ended up skipping forward and reading the last 2 or 3 chapters because I really wanted to know where it was going.
    About halfway through I started wondering if Mrs. March was schizophrenic. Her thoughts and actions seemed like what I would imagine schizophrenia to feel like. It was unnerving but also really interesting.

  4. I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK. Totally what Shirley Jackson would have written….and that is my utmost compliment. SO trippy and weird. Kind of deliberately slow, in a good way, and then there would be these GOTCHA sentences. I loved the writing and look forward to more by this wild author. Your comments kept going…and going….and I was cracking up. Plan to go back and read them later tonight when I’m done packing for a trip (leaving tomorrow.) Thank for for the Strangelings, and opening me to so many books like We Ride on Sticks (Quan Barry) and Grady Hendrix (have read all his books now) AND THIS ONE. Loved. Mrs. March!

  5. The September book sounds sooooo good. I can’t wait to get it and read it.

    As for Mrs. March … I’m STILL not sure what to think. I had so many thoughts, but I think it all boiled down to the following …

    Mrs. March is a case study in what can happen when you’re left alone with your thoughts for too long. She just couldn’t let go of that one seemingly innocent comment … that her husband based Johanna on her. It took over her entire being and led her down a really dark path. I mean, she killed her husband for crying out loud.

  6. I am dying to read The Last House on Needless Street! ( And I really want y’all to do a YA club)

  7. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this book since I finished it. And while my first question was, of course, about the time period, I was also curious how many people she ACTUALLY killed. I think she killed Sylvie (which is why she was trying to “be” her and was talking to her family) and I also think she killed George’s editor, which is why she felt OK staying in his cabin in Gentry. She definitely killed the guy in Spain. The thing is, you don’t just out of nowhere kill your husband that brutally and nonchalantly leave him there a few days. There’s a history leading up to it, and I agree she was a serial killer.

  8. Any thoughts on doing a YA book club too? Totally understood if that’s just ONE too many but I would be all for that!

  9. The book was fascinating. At first I thought the author was doing a retelling of Rebecca from Rebecca’s POV. And if she was she was doing a fine job. Then the more I read I found it was kind of a trick of the light if you will, the same way we were kept off kilter of the time period.
    What you said about Hitchcock rings very true here. Excellent choice Jenny and thanks for the Shirley Jackson title I’m off to read that next. xxoo

  10. MORE…Hangsaman, YES! The first thing I thought of when Mrs. March was “maybe” molested by an older guy early on was. “This is JUST like Hangsaman.” [“Oh dear God,” thought Natalie,”Is he actually going to TOUCH me?” and the next day she wakes up and says to herself, “NO – it didn’t happen.”] Creepy as hell. Did the molestation start Mrs. March down the crazy path?

    You brought up some interesting points. I just thought at the end she snapped and killed her husband. I never thought she was killing people all along (though she wanted to poison everyone with arsenic – again, very Shirley Jackson…We Have always lived in the Castle.) Maybe she did kill Sylvie, the guy in the bar, etc. all along the way. I will have to re-read this again and ponder over that. anyway, GREAT choice…I just requested Last House on Needless Street and The Inheritance of… from my library…and I have My Heart is a Chainsaw ready to read next. Love your book choices!

  11. what kind of books will your romance book club read? with they be only contemporary romances?

  12. I loved this book. Could not put it down. Made me feel like I was bat shit crazy – several cringy moments. Beautifully written.

  13. I also really loved this book. I thought the time was probably the 50’s or 60’s but I didn’t even think about the Rubik’s cube! In the beginning Mrs. March reminded me of Betty Draper from Mad Men with an adolescent mindset and obsession with appearances. Of course she’s an unreliable narrator so it’s hard to tell what is real and what is her fantasy. I thought she was assaulted as a teenager but I didn’t even think about her killing the guy. I never thought of her as a serial killer. I thought of her as an ineffectual woman, narcissistic in some ways and obsessive in other ways. Who eats olive bread every day?! She has a way of compartmentalizing what she doesn’t want to think about but then loses her shit when the emotions can’t be repressed any longer, like the way she tore George’s book apart. Honestly though I don’t think she killed George. I think that was her fantasy. I think he left her to be with his mistress and she put that unwanted thought in a little box and stored it away. It made her feel better to believe he was gone because she killed him instead of his leaving her to be with “a temp!” Or maybe she did kill him and then clean up ALL THE BLOOD and hide his body in the bed, and get the apartment and herself ready for the party while she was completely dissociated. That scenario seemed unlikely to me but maybe I’m way off because everyone here seems to think she killed George and who knows how many others. This discussion has left me with more questions and has me questioning my own sense of reality! That’s part of what makes this book so great. I plan to read it again soon. Also can’t wait for your interview with the author!! You must make her answer all our questions!!

  14. I need to read this (the new Zoraida Cordova). I loved her Brooklyn Brujas trilogy.

  15. By the way if you want an “Archer” that is completely hilarious (in a totally equal-opportunity-offender non-PC to the max way), watch the FX animated series Archer. Just saying.

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