A Door That Shouldn’t Be Opened

SPOILER warning!

I finished Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris a couple weeks ago, which is the first fiction book I’ve read in a long time. The only reason I’d give it even 2 out of 5 stars is because I was so desperate to read fiction that it seemed excellent. Kind of like when you’re really hungry and even that cardboard-like leftover pizza from five days ago is wonderful.

Anyway, Behind Closed Doors is the typical domestic violence thriller, pitting husband against wife. Grace is a 30-something woman, and her younger sister, Millie, has Down syndrome. Grace is finding it difficult to get a decent guy who accepts her and her sister. Her dreams appear to have come true when Jack Angel appears out of nowhere, dances with Millie at the park, then asks Grace out. Of course, is the perfect guy: good-looking, intelligent, and makes a ton of money as a highfalutin lawyer who defends battered women. Naturally, Grace falls for him, and in a matter of only three months, he asks her to marry him. She accepts. Her life becomes hell.

My first thought upon learning that the villain’s name was Jack Angel was “well, that’s a screamingly obvious technique to reveal that a seemingly good guy is in fact the bad guy.” Turns out that Jack is not actually his real name but a “clever” alias he developed for himself after he murdered his own mother. Classy guy.

I found it a bit unbelievable that Grace would end up marrying Jack in the first place. She supposedly had a lot of experience with dating, so you’d think she would know the warning signs, or her “creep radar” would start going off. But if you read the literature about psychopaths, which Jack revealed himself to be in short order, you know that they are initially charming and adept at fooling people. The entire time I was reading the book, I was picturing Jack looking something like Ted Bundy.

Behind Closed Doors is the kind of book in which you want to reach inside the fictional world and and kill the character yourself. It was also the kind of book that makes you feel uncomfortable the entire time you’re reading it, because you’re waiting for the next horrible thing to befall the protagonist. I didn’t particularly care for that kind of suspense vibe because everything that happened to Grace was just plain sick. Jack ended up wanting to get to Millie because she would be easier to scare (being that she had Down syndrome), and he apparently lives off the feeling of fear that he invokes in his victims. Fortunately nothing happened Millie, but just the thought that Jack would hurt her was very off-putting, like the author was making a cheap shot at people with disabilities.

Most suspense novels are incredibly fast paced and don’t have much description of settings and characters. Both applied to Behind Closed Doors, which I finished in less than 24 hours. Because there was so little description, it was hard to picture anything beyond Ted Bundy in an immaculate house torturing Grace, who I vaguely imagined to look like Gwyneth Paltrow. At a couple points in the book, the characters traveled to Thailand, but I couldn’t picture it at all from the author’s (lack of) description.

Other reviews have made comparisons to The Girl on the Train, but Behind Closed Doors was not as good or as memorable. What would have been more interesting is if the story had been written from Jack’s perspective; I would have liked to know more about his backstory. I suspect he was lying when he told Grace that he killed his mother. It is also rare to read a book from the perspective of the villain, especially a book in this genre.

Basically, I’d recommend this one if you have a few hours to kill or if for some reason, you want to feel very uncomfortable. Other than that… stay away from it.

The Last Jedi But Not the Last Star Wars Movie

Caution: SPOILERS.

The Last Jedi was a lot of fun. The adventurous spirit of the Star Wars saga was maintained well; the movie was full of action sequences, lightsaber battles, and even some wisdom from the old Jedi Master Yoda. But those traits might have also been the movie’s downfall—it was an awful lot like every other Star Wars movie, which is what some critics have complained about. That didn’t really bother me.*

One of the hallmarks of the Star Wars series has always been the complexity of the relationships between the characters and how they affect the series. The relationship between Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker is reminiscent of the relationship between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi back in the first three episodes: we have a very angered young man, strong with the force, who feels a pull to the dark side, and a Jedi master who is powerless to stop him.

I also feel as though the relationship between Kylo Ren and Rey could become similar to the one between Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader and Padmé/Queen Amidala. The “ship” of Kylo Ren and Rey is already pretty contentious among the fans because many are still convinced that the two are related by blood,** which would make a potential relationship incestuous. I’m a sucker for villains/bad boys, so I’m hoping that Kylo Ren and Rey end up in a relationship, and she is able to “turn him” to the light side as she predicts. However, other fans see this as a potentially abusive relationship and damaging to the movie’s image of the “strong woman.” That would be reminiscent of Anakin and Padmé because Anakin turned to the dark side, became Darth Vader, and even used the Force to choke Padmé while she was pregnant with Luke and Leia. (But was Padmé a “weaker” woman because of that? I don’t think so.)

Is there enough of the light side left in Kylo Ren that he can be changed? I think so. There’s still not enough explanation for why he turned to the dark side and became so angry, and his anger still seems more along the lines of teen angst/mood swings and not truly justified. Because his anger is so petulant, he may very well be able to turn to the light. He’s not as steeped in darkness as Anakin was, and in my mind, he doesn’t have a good enough motivation to keep toward the dark side, especially since his mentor, Supreme Leader Snoke, has been killed.

Some critics were complaining that the movie was essentially a left-wing spiel about left-wing values, like feminism and diversity, but I don’t agree (or at least, I don’t agree that this is something new). Females were always given powerful roles in the Star Wars series, and by virtue of being a space opera and taking place in planets all over the galaxy, the characters had to be diverse. It only makes sense. Star Wars characters have been diverse from the beginning of the saga.

Would I recommend the latest Star Wars? Absolutely. It is quite long (about 2.5 hours), but it doesn’t feel like it’s that long because it’s 100% pure fun from the first moment to the last.

*There is really nothing wrong with The Last Jedi being like every Star Wars movie because God knows, in real life, situations repeat themselves, humans make the same mistakes twice, and that lineage of error affects entire generations. I do hope that there is closure in the ninth episode in the saga (supposed to be coming out in December 2019) and that Kylo Ren turns to the light side simply as a reversal of what Anakin/Darth Vader did in the first three episodes. Reversals do happen in real life, too.

**I’m really hoping that they’re not blood relatives, but at the same time, I feel like Kylo Ren lied to Rey when he told her that her parents were “nobodies.” At least one of her parents has to be somebody important. She’s spent so much time wondering about her parentage that it seems weak to just leave it at “they were nobodies who sold you for drug  money.”

The Wonder of Being Different

This post may contain SPOILERS.

Wonder is a lovely movie that hit theaters at the end of 2017, which was a turbulent, hate-filled year for many. Watching Wonder will help you remember that not everyone in the world is evil and bigoted, and it will give you hope. It’s based on a children’s/middle-grade novel by R.J. Palacio, and it follows Auggie Pullman’s journey from home school to a private middle school. Auggie has Treacher Collins syndrome, a genetic disorder that is characterized by facial deformities. Kids in middle school are needlessly cruel, so naturally, they all pick on Auggie without seeing who he really is: a courageous and intelligent young man.

Warning: Wonder is a tearjerker. Do not watch it without having tissues close by. Somehow the writers and director also managed to make it a tearjerker without making it corny or cheesy. They also divided the movie into several viewpoints, so we get the other characters’ perspective on being the sibling, friend, or parent of Auggie.

I have very little to complain about with this movie. My only issue with it is that the Pullman family’s dog, Daisy, was put to sleep close to the end, and I don’t see what that really had to do with the plot except to emphasize the fact that life still happens when you’re fixated on your own issues. I also believe that was part of the movie’s message (aside from the obvious anti-bullying theme): Life doesn’t revolve around you. When you think your problems are insurmountable, there is always someone who has bigger problems, and there is always something to focus on aside from your own problems. It’s a good message for the self-focused world we live in.

tl;dr: If you want something different from the gazillions of superhero movies and don’t mind shedding a few tears, you will love Wonder.