Anagrams, Lorrie Moore

Cover art for Anagrams by Lorrie MooreThere are more puns in Lorrie Moore’s Anagrams than I have heard in the whole rest of my life combined. During the weeks I spent reading this novel, I became an obsessive word play spotting machine. One of the teachers at work was creating a homophone matching game with index cards. I completely lost control. Be and Bee. Night and Knight. See and Sea. Meet and Meat. Fare and Fair. I actually uttered the explanatory phrase, “Feet like feet, and feat like a ‘feat of daring do.” I may or may not have punched my fist into the air as I said that. Bazaar and Bizarre. I couldn’t stop myself.

Anyway (or, as Lorrie Moore’s main character would say, “anyways….”)

Anagrams tells the story of Benna and Gerard. Sometimes friends, sometimes lovers, their relationship is profound and difficult to pin down. The novel begins with three chapter-length vignettes. In the first, Benna is a night club singer, Gerard her near-beer guzzling, secretly admiring neighbor. Then, Benna is a geriatric aerobics instructor in a troubled relationship with Gerard. Then, they are a separating couple holding a garage sale (Sale and Sail). Through it all, Benna’s best friend Eleanor offers a funny if sometimes slightly disturbing counterpoint–cheating with Gerard, selling an old skirt and neglige at at the garage sale.

Then, abruptly, the short stories give way to a broader more novelistic approach. In all her incarnations, Benna a character terrified of movement, change, relationships, and connections. In this version she’s stalled out somewhere just short of her doctorate, retreating into a fictional life. Benna is a widow, a struggling poetry professor at a less than prestigious junior college who spends her days hanging out with a cheerful semi-alcholic lounge singing Gerard and fantasizing about an imaginary daughter and best friend (Eleanor, again).

In my reading of the work, it’s this longest section that is the true one, or, at least, the most true. Partly, this is simply because it is the longest. Also the most depressing. But more importantly, this is the part of the story that offers some explicit meaningful symbolism,

some clue to what it’s all about.

Midway through this longer, more novelistic section, the main character recounts the story of her separation from her late husband, a few months before his suicide. The couple are brushing their teeth side by side the morning after a big fight. Her husband says, “I never want to see you again,” but she hears “I want to see again” and a confusing and embarrassing discussion ensues. Benna reflects,

“When I was little, I didn’t understand that you could change a few sounds in a name or phrase and have it mean something entirely different…I thought Bing Crosby and Bill Cosby were the same person. That buddy Holly and Billie Holiday were the same person. That Leon Trotsky and Leo Tolstoy were the same person….Meaning, if it existed at all, was unstable and could not survive the slightest reshuffling of letters. One gust of wind and Santa became Satan. A slip of the pen and pears turned into pearls.”

The anagram metaphor, this idea of twisted reality–the same but different–lies at the center of Moore’s story.

While this novel is, like all Moore’s work, clever, poignant, and stylistically excellent, it’s not my favorite. As a reader, I became distracted and occasionally even bored. The concept behind Anagrams is fascinating and the execution is strong, but when you get right down to it, not much happens in this novel. I can only spend so long peering over the shoulder of an profoundly disassociated character as she drags through her days. Even the best writing in the world can only carry something like that for so long.

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Aimee Bender

Cover art for The Girl in the Flammable SkirtThere’s really nothing bad I can possibly say about The Girl in the Flammable Skirt. I honestly really loved it. Bender strikes a delicate balance between whimsical, eccentric content and constrained, precise prose, juxtaposing magical realist fare against a clear, open voice, threaded with subtle humor.

These short, surreal tales are difficult to summarize, and they probably sound more fantastical in descriptions than they feel when you experience them. A woman watches her lover experience reverse evolution, transitioning from man, to ape, to sea turtle, and beyond; a mermaid and an imp hide out in high school; a girl follows her one night stand down a man hole; an orphaned boy develops a gift for finding lost things; a stolen ruby ring turns the ocean red.

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt reminded me of a lot of things. A darker, starker, and more modern Francesca Lia Block; a more feminine George Saunders; a Melissa Bank who writes of people with giant holes through their abdomens, instead of people with cancer. But that’s not to say it isn’t original–Bender definitely stakes out her own spot on the post modern magical realist chick-lit-leaning continuum.

I’m looking forward to reading more of her stuff.

Skippy Dies, Paul Murray

Cover image for Skippy Dies by Paul MurrayFINALLY! I finished Skippy Dies! And I only had to renew it three times and pay $4.90 in late fees. I probably could have saved money by picking up a used copy, but frankly I don’t need my own; I won’t be reading this book again.

Not that it’s not good, exactly. It’s just, in some fundamental sense, not genuine. A bit too cute and a bit too ironic. Also, about 250 pages too long. This book says nothing in 661 pages that couldn’t have been said in 400. Easily. And possibly more compellingly.

Skippy Dies is a medley of interconnected narratives concerning the students and teachers of Seabrook College, a Catholic boy’s school in Dublin. At the center of the story is Daniel “Skippy” Juster, a sweet, nerdy 14-year-old with a troubled inner life and a huge crush on the beautiful Lori (a.k.a Frisbee girl), a student at the neighboring girls school. The complete strata of the high school universe is represented in frequently sympathetic, always slightly mocking terms–the geeky science nerd, the frustrated over-achiever, the bully/nemesis, the goofy friends, downtrodden teachers, and blow-hard faculty.

The book is skillfully constructed and structurally sound–a great technical achievement. Murray’s gift for dialog is on display throughout, especially in the alternately funny and earnest conversations between the 2nd year boys, and the Dickens-esque rants of the school’s acting principle, the “Dominator.” The work is also thematically strong–all the disparate elements are tied together in sometimes surprising ways, and the conclusions are all hard “earned,” as we used to say in writing workshop.

It may be this perfection that, in the end, leaves me cold. The whole thing was just too stylistically self-conscious to allow for the kind of absorption I, personally, look for as a reader. I just can’t handle this insipid hipster shit anymore. Even in a diluted Dubliner version.

This Month in Recreational Reading: Deanna Raybourn and Francesca Lia Block

Although I do sometimes make fun Cover illustration for The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybournof Deanna Raybourn’s over-the-top Gothic stylings, I freely admit that I snapped up her latest, The Dark Inquiry, the day it was released and finished the thing in about a day and a half.

The mystery portion of the plot is not quite so dark as in previous installments–no elicit sex, no incest or mummy babies–no tigers even. The solution is, however, a bit more difficult to predict, largely because the investigation remains unfocused for much of the book, leaving readers uncertain of what to watch for, and because the author withholds a key piece of information about one of the characters until the heroine’s own moment of realization.

Raybourn has a gift for continuing the romantic storyline even after her hero and heroine have moved past the tortuous and drawn out will-they-won’t-they phase of the relationship–a very rare trait among writers if any genre. Her characters are married and ostensibly living happily ever after–but they still fight. And they fight about real things. Then they make up again, without necessarily resolving the underlying issues–almost like a real relationship. This underlying honest streak counterbalances the more ridiculous aspects of her work to some extent, making for surprisingly touching and serious moments in the midst of what is at heart escapist fiction for English majors.

Cover illustration for Necklace of Kisses by Francesca Lia BlockIs there an arty chick under 40 who doesn’t have a certain soft spot in her heart for Francesca Lia Block–especially the Weetzie Bat books?

The first new addition to the Dangerous Angels series since 1995, Necklace of Kisses picks up with Weetzie at 40. After 20 years together, Weetzie and Max have somehow managed to loose each other in a haze of work and depression. So, Weetzie packs a bag full of her favorite clothes and goes to stay a pink hotel where she meets a spectrum of eccentric artists and struggles to heal and to find herself again.

This follow-up focuses on the relationship between Weetzie and her Secret Agent Lover Man, but readers will be glad to see all their old favorites–Coyote, Dirk and Duck, Ping and Valentine, Raphael and Cherokee, Witch Baby and Angel Juan (my personal favorites), and even the evil Jane Mansfield-style witch Vixanne.

The story isn’t as compelling and original–or as cohesive–as many of Block’s other books. Indeed, echos of Weetzie and Max’s separation in Weetzie Bat (1989), the first book in the series, may give long-time readers a slight feeling of de ja vu. However, there is enough new material here to keep readers interested and engaged, and the conclusion of the novel is, as always, enormously satisfying. It’s a comfort to know that, even twenty years later, love and art still save the day.

Escapist Fiction Swallows June: Cory Doctorow and Emma Bull

Cover illustration for Little Brother by Cory DoctorowIn Little Brother, Cory Doctorow tells the story of Marcus, a 17-year-old San Franciscan computer wiz caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the wake of a terrorist attack on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, Marcus and his friends are picked up by Homeland Security and imprisoned, interrogated and terrorized for several days. After his release, Marcus sets out to take down the agency, protect the city’s rights of free speech, assembly, and privacy, and save his friend Darryl, missing since their arrest.

Little Brother is the first technophile novel I’ve actually semi-enjoyed (i.e. finished). It’s long-winded and a bit preachy and it seems to draw an inordinate amount of inspiration from Hackers and Season 2 of Jericho. And, like all techie writers, Doctorow spends easily half his word count explaining what things are and how they work, which, for the plot enthusiasts among his readers, isn’t exactly the best use of time and descriptive prowess.

Little Brother is, however, a fast, entertaining read, a great resource for reluctant readers, especially boys, and (within the limited world of YA fiction) it offers a valuable alternative perspective. Still, I’m left wondering–is there anything Neil Gainman won’t endorse these days?

Cover illustration for Bone Dance by Emma BullI’ve loved Emma Bull since I first moved to Berkeley and the fabulous gentleman in The Other Change of Hobbit recommended War for the Oaks, a book I have pressed on pretty much everyone I know who’s likely to enjoy a modern urban fantasy featuring a hot guy who dresses like Prince and long descriptions of the main’s character’s band. So, I’ve been slowly acquiring her books for a few years as they come in and out of print and show up from time to time in the Green Apple annex.

Bone Dance is, like most of Bull’s work, well written and skillfully developed, structurally complex, and completely, fascinatingly bizarre, but (alas!) secondary to her one book that’s actually famous. (Isn’t it usually the opposite?)

Set in a post-apocalyptic, post-climate change version of Minneapolis, Bone Dance is told from the perspective of Sparrow, a genderless media enthusiast and technologist with mysterious origins. Our hero makes a living hawking classic films to wealthy collectors and mixing for a local nightclub. The rest of the time, Sparrow just tries to act normal and keep acquaintances at as much distance as possible. But lately Sparrow has started loosing time–waking up in the middle of nowhere with no memory of the night before, running into strangers who seem to have a bone to pick, and getting truly creepy tarrot readings from the friendly neighborhood Vodou priestess. The whole thing is very mysterious, but it just may have something to do with the Horsemen–psychic warriors capable of possessing, or “riding,” other people (like a horse, get it?).

Bull doesn’t hold her readers’ hands. There’s not a single pronoun relating to Sparrow in the first 3/4 of the novel (this could not have been written in the third person); she throws slang around, names people and places without explaining who or what they are, and expects us to catch on. After a while, we do, becoming acclimated to the unusual linguistic structure and the odd mix of eclectic classic movie quotes, noir references, vodou magic, and body-snatcher-style possession.

Incidentally, this one also features an endorsement from Neil Gainman (yep, he’s a whore…)

Room, Emma Donoghue

Cover illustration of Room by Emma DonoghueEmma Donoghue’s Room (2010) is longest 300 pages of mostly-dialog I’ve ever read. I think it literally took me six weeks, from my birthday in mid April to now, at the end of May, to work my way through this one. I actually considered putting it away without finishing, something I almost never do.

Not because it isn’t good. It’s actually pretty amazing–creative, insightful, revelatory in this incredibly sneaky, deceptively simplistic way, an incredible piece of craftsmanship. It’s good the way Schindler’s List is good; well done, but mostly not enjoyable.

The story is narrated in the first person by five-year-old Jack, a child raised entirely in Room, an 11×11 foot backyard shed where he and his mother are held prisoner by a man Jack knows only as Old Nick. At the beginning of the story, Jack feels safe and comfortable in Room–his daily routine includes meals and exercise, reading and chores, play time and no more than two television shows. But the realities of his situation are beginning to show through the safe world his Ma has created for him. At night, after Jack has gone to sleep in Wardrobe, Old Nick comes. Some days Ma is “switched off”–she stays in bed all day, and Jack is allowed to watch all the T.V. he wants. When Old Nick begins experiencing financial difficulties and providing fewer supplies, their situation becomes even more desperate.

In constructing Jack’s voice, the author gives herself some latitude, but her characterization is true to the narrator’s age overall. Like most five-year-olds Jack argues with his mother and has occasional tantrums. He experiences and expresses curiosity, anxiety and fear in authentic and believable ways. His constant one-on-one time with his mother has given him an advanced vocabulary as well as reading and math skills several years ahead of his real age. His emotional development, however, is complicated by the fact that he’s only really ever known one other person. This makes for an interesting juxtaposition and leaves plenty of room for growth later in the novel. My only complaint is that Jack always seems to know why he does things. In my experience, this is not the case with most children–or many adults for that matter. His capacity for self-consciousness and analysis is probably pretty unrealistic.

This is a well written, thoughtfully constructed book well worth reading. It’s harrowing and difficult, but it does end on a hopeful note.

Slammerkin, Emma Donoghue

Cover illustration for Slammerkin by Emma DonoghueOh, yeah, I have a blog. It’s funny how I forget that until there’s something pressing I should be doing elsewhere. I finished Slammerkin over three weeks ago and never wrote a word, but now that I’m trying to avoid writing a mere hundred words on effective virtual communication for my library management course message board, I will happily write as much as I can here instead.

Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin is a gorgeous, stark, startling book, and possibly the most convincing piece of historical fiction I have ever read. Donoghue loosely bases her novel on the surviving scraps of the life of Mary Saunders, a true story (turned morality tale chap book) of a servant driven to murder by her lust for “fine clothes.” Donoghue’s story is rich and complex, though several of the plot points do in fact turn on Mary’s passion for the finer things, its really a story about class and ambition, ownership and control.

Donoghue has clearly researched the period exhaustively, but her work is free of the long, boring explanatory paragraphs that plague so much historical fiction. Much is implied through context; the rest we learn along with Mary as she is inducted first into the world of London’s prostitutes, then into the seamstress’ trade.

The early sections of the novel are somewhat rushed and not quite so compelling as the rest of the work. The story begins in 1861, with Mary, poised on the edge of her teen years and eminently dissatisfied–her home with her mother, stepfather and half brother is squalid, school is prescriptive and dull, and she’s both curious about and envious of the brighter, easier, more glamorous lives of the St. Giles whores she sees all around. Her fall from grace is abrupt and somewhat predictable; she agrees to trade a peddler a kiss for a single beautiful red ribbon, and ends up trading her virginity as well. In the course of a few pages, Mary is pregnant and cast out of her mother’s house to fend for herself on the streets on London, where she’s repeatedly raped and beaten, and, finally, rescued by prostitute Doll Higgins.

And this is where is starts to get good.

The two become close. Mary and Doll lead a wild, reckless, exuberant life. As whores, they roam the whole city with a liberty and abandon not open to “decent” women. They take pleasure in drinking and partying, in their gaudy clothes, in being together. The work is grim, but the girls are practical.

But when Mary develops a lingering, dangerous cough, she goes to the Magdalen Charity Hospital to recover–maybe even to straighten out and leave whoring behind. There, she becomes a skilled seamstress. However, the oppressive religious and moral demands of the place soon send her back out into the city where she stumbles into a fight and ends of fleeing for her life. With all other options exhausted, Mary heads for the village of Monmouth, her mother’s hometown, and talks her way into a job as a servant to her mother’s old friend, seamstress Jane Jones.

This is where it gets really good.

With Jane Jones, Mary finds the kind of companionship and mentorship that she clearly craves; the two become friends, almost family. Yet Mary is still ambitious and driven, she still longs to be more than a servant, still aspires to wealth, ownership, a life of ease, control over her own destiny–and she’s still willing to sell herself to get them.

This Month in Trashy Books

Cover illustration for River Marked by Patricia Briggs  I found myself seriously in need of some escapist fare this month, so I abandoned all pretense of reading actual literature and instead entertained myself with Patricia Briggs, Michelle Tea, and Deanna Rayborn.

As excited as I was for the March 1 release of River Marked, the 6th installment of Briggs’ uber-popular urban fantasy series staring Mercy Thompson, it took me quite a while to work my way threw this book. The story opens (inexplicably) when our heroine pays a visit to her friend Stephan and finds him doing less-then-well. From there, we move on to Mercy’s wedding to long-time love interest Adam, a planned elopement which turns into a surprise wedding and reception, followed by a sex-filled camping trip/honeymoon. It’s sweet and satisfying, but again, not especially relevant. This may serve the series as a whole, but it makes for a rather rambling and plot-less opening to this installment. The actual story begins about 20% of the way through the book, when couple discover a monster in the Columbia River.

Even though these are the books that have really put Briggs on the map, the series has just become too much for me…especially when I consider that all five volumes have supposedly taken place over the course of just 18 months. This poor character gets beaten and maimed almost to death in every book, not to mention raped and coerced in #4. I mean, how many bad things can happen to one woman in a year and a half?

Cover illustration for Rent Girl by Michelle TeaAs a follow-up to Valencia, I decided to check out Michele Tea’s Rent Girl, a collaborative graphic novel style memoir about the author’s years as a prostitute in Boston and, briefly, San Francisco. I loved the style and aesthetic of this book (even though a bizarre number of the illustrations were just pictures of Tea in various outfits, facing the viewer with this “let me tell you how it is” look on her face).

The prose was stylistically similar to Tea’s other work, but more focused on the topic at hand. The author spends little time discussing her own emotions, thought processes and even her own life outside work and the people she worked with. This book is interesting not because Tea offers compelling characters or a fully developed life story, but because she explains frankly and unabashedly what prostitution is like.

Overall, it was a good read, but not as absorbing as some of her other work.

After devouring the Julia Grey series back in November, I thought I’d check out Deanna Raybourn’s newest offering, The Dead Travel Fast, an atmospheric mystery/romance staring Theodora, an aspiring novelist who travels from Edinburgh to, yes, Transylvania to visit an old school friend. As the guest of her friend’s noble family, she meets all the characters you might expect–the darkly romantic and super hot count, his mistreated and ailing mother, the strangely hostile maid servant, and the friendly local physician–and stumbles into what may (or may not) be a series of supernatural murders.

I can no longer accuse this author of writing predictable mysteries. The conclusion to this one took me completely by surprise. Ann Radcliffe like, Raybourn creates a Gothic horror story, and then, challenges it with the most mundane explanation imaginable (given the circumstances). Personally, I find Julia Grey a more compelling character, but I enjoyed this novel.

The Monsters of Templeton, Lauren Groff

Cover illustration for The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren GroffI found The Monsters of Templeton (2008) on the free table in the 5th floor lunchroom at my old job, left over, probably, from somebody’s book club. I loved the cover, so I picked it up.

Lauren Groff’s debut is a complex and humorous family saga tracing the lineage of one prominent small town family back through seven generations. Stanford PhD candidate Willie Upton returns to her upstate New York roots after a devastating affair with her older married professor. On the day she arrives back in Templeton (a stand-in for the author’s own hometown, Cooperstown), the corpse of a prehistoric monster surfaces in Lake Glimmerglass. That might seem like the jumping off point for a whimsical adventurous story about, you know, monsters. But in fact, the dinosaur serves as more of a metaphor–the actual “monsters” are still to come.

The story really begins when Willie’s eccentric mother, Vi, tells her a secret–Willie’s father is not, as she has always been told, one of several San Francisco hippies from her mother’s commune days, but someone from their own community. Vi refuses to tell Willie exactly who her real dad is, but after some nagging she does offer up a clue: Vi herself is related to town founder Marmaduke Temple on both her mother and her father’s sides through two different lines of decent, but Willie is descended from him through three lines. Apparently, Willie’s father is related to Marmaduke too, through “some sort of liaison at some point in the past.”

Armed with this information, Willie sets out to research the family history, locate the missing branch on the family tree, and identify her father. The novel follows Willie’s experiences with her mother, her best friend back in San Francisco, and her former high school classmates during her 2-3 week stay in her ancestral home, but the real focus of the work is her research into her family’s secretive past. Through letters, diaries, and a few unexplained monologues, we become acquainted with the Temple clan one generation at a time. We meet Marmaduke’s slave mistress, Hetty; Sy Upton, who married into the family and brought the baseball museum to town; Jacob Franklin Temple the famous novelist (a cipher for James Fenimore Cooper); his youngest daughter Charlotte, an uptight old maid raising her “nephew”; and many others.

The result is strong, but uneven. Each anecdote is engaging and enjoyable in itself, but the stakes aren’t very high for the reader, and it can be a little difficult to keep track of the various characters, how they are related to one another, and which ones are having affairs (there are a lot of affairs in this book).

In a sort of random fling at post-modernism lite, Groff also includes contemporary alternative narrators, including the Running Buds, a group of cheerful middle aged men who jog together everyday and narrate in the first person plural (we), and the monster itself. There isn’t a lot of plot to be gleaned from these sections of the novel, and they do add to the overall impression of confusion, but I enjoyed them quite a bit as isolated pieces of writing.

Overall, the novel is a good one, a promising start for a young writer–someone with a lot of creativity, a lot of ideas, a great capacity for detail, but issues around mechanics, pacing and structure still to work out. And, hey, she’s already a bestseller.

I’ll end with a quick shout out to Guenet Abraham, the designer of this book–the novel is greatly enhanced by Beth White’s photos and illustrations of the various ancestors rendered in appropriate historical style, as well as by the several versions of the family tree annotated by Willie and updated periodically as additional information is uncovered. It’s a nice touch, quirky, fun and entirely appropriate, and it has the added benefit of helping the reader keep tabs on the various story lines. Rock on!

New Year, New Whatever: Recent reads from Robin McKinley and April Lindner

Cover illustration for Sunshine by RobinMcKinleyOn the lighter side of the reading scale, I kicked off this month with cult hit Sunshine, from everybody’s favorite feminist fantasy author, Robin McKinley. I read (and adored) McKinley’s 80s classic The Blue Sword, as well as her slightly obsessive multiple re-tellings of Beauty and the Beast, Beauty (1978) and Rose Daughter (1997) while still in high school, so I fully expected to love this book. Meh. It was okay. I’m going to try to sell it to Green Apple.

The story takes place in an alternative modern day America in which the various things that go bump in the night are all real, and the landscape has been ravaged by a recent inter-species war. The action begins when twenty-something baker and title character Sunshine is captured by vampires and offered up as a snack for a vampire prisoner, Constantine (no joke). Luckily her fellow prisoner refuses to eat her. When Sunshine’s latent magical abilities help her to escape, she decides to take Con with her as a sort of thanks-for-not-eating-me gesture. The two form a tight bond, and decide to face their captor together.

Cover illustration for Jane by April LindnerI’m a sucker (no pun) for modernizations of classic literature (“Cruel Intentions,” “Clueless,” how could you go wrong?), so I couldn’t quite resist this one. That, and this Jane goes to my alma mater, Sarah Lawrence (woo!). It’s a fun read, and fully lives of up to the legacy of–well, new movies about old books, more or less.

Minus the Lowood school and TB, the plot is virtually identical to Bronte’s Jane Eyre, right down to the wife in the attic–sure, Mr. Rochester is a middle aged rock star and Jane has an neglectful mother rather than a hateful aunt, but same dif. Despite the parallel plot line, however, author April Linder has managed to strip the story of it’s pathos and urgency, leaving behind only a rather charming romance.

Bronte’s Jane Eyre is an enormously effective Gothic mystery and a compelling romance–but it’s also a novel about self-respect, strength of mind, character, faith, and (though its anachronistic to use the term) feminism. It’s that deeper, richer portion of the novel that gets lost in translation–along with a certain amount of the logic behind the story.

In this modernization the need for secrecy surrounding Mrs. Rochester’s mental illness is unconvincing, nor does it seem that she’s better off locked inside all the time, unable to see or interact with anyone but a drunk maid, than she would be at a high class institution. Likewise, Jane’s struggles in leaving Thornfield loose their significance, and River St. John’s offer lacks force.

Truthfully I’m not sure it’s possible to translate Jane Eyre into a modern-day American context. The stakes in the modern world just aren’t high enough. The major plot points cannot retain their original emotional significance in a culture without either a true aristocracy or a powerful homogeneous faith, where women have more equal rights and opportunities, where premarital sex and divorce are both common, and where insane asylums are no longer glorified prisons. The story might play better set in a society with more rules and a more formalized class structure, like India or Iran. To achieve the emotional effect of Jane Eyre in a modern-day American novel, you’d have to tell a very different story.