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Old 06-21-2020, 12:45 AM   #31
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Why include Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, for gosh sakes?
Why? Because they were very much a part of Treasure Island of the time. I know you hated this book, but this, at least, shouldn't be held against it.
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Old 06-21-2020, 09:47 AM   #32
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The map thing threw me a little the first time around, but by the end it became obvious (I thought) that it was introduced so the reader would be ready for the "magic" at the end of the story. As a concept, the map thing seemed both unlikely for a "witch" and a bit common-place for science (if you read enough sci-fi some variation of folded space crops pretty regularly), so I'm not surprised she didn't expand on it.
Yes, softening us up for the other magic seemed to be the only reason. But with the painting magic being needed for the story, why not instead mention it in some subtle way, instead of suddenly using it as a deus ex machina?

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Why? Because they were very much a part of Treasure Island of the time. I know you hated this book, but this, at least, shouldn't be held against it.
But what did they add to the story? They were one more tangent. In a short work, every word and scene should be focused to serve the story being told. This novella should either have been stripped down to a short story about the romantic painting and the revenge on an art dealer, or expanded into a larger book that could explore the various characters' lives and backstories, and the San Francisco setting, to a greater degree. As it is, the book is some kind of hybrid that doesn't work.
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Old 06-21-2020, 10:50 AM   #33
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The problem, as with so much writing advice, is that it's a matter of opinion as to whether any word or scene serves the story. Even identifying what the story is, may be a matter of opinion*. Part of the writer's art (with some help from a good editor) is in their choice of what matters to the story they are telling**.


* Some years ago I saw an ultra-short animation clip on YouTube that cut Lord of the Rings down to essentials: the hobbits hitch a ride with some eagles and drop the ring into Mount Doom - the end. And why not? If you view this as an adventure about destroying a ring then cutting out everything that doesn't directly serve that end leaves you with something like that clip. It's like saying every such tale is a variation of the Hero's journey. It might be vaguely true but it's not all that helpful. No one wants to read tales couched in such terms, we want the excess words and scenes.

** As opposed to the story you might rather be reading
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Old 06-21-2020, 11:11 AM   #34
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Thank you, gmw. Could a different writer have made this story longer or shorter. Probably, but then it would have been a different story. Certainly, Ms. Klages is unlikely to have written it longer -- she seems to tend towards shorter works over longer ones. But irregardless, this is the writer's choice, not the reader's.
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Old 06-21-2020, 11:19 AM   #35
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The problem, as with so much writing advice, is that it's a matter of opinion as to whether any word or scene serves the story. Even identifying what the story is, may be a matter of opinion*. Part of the writer's art (with some help from a good editor) is in their choice of what matters to the story they are telling**.


* Some years ago I saw an ultra-short animation clip on YouTube that cut Lord of the Rings down to essentials: the hobbits hitch a ride with some eagles and drop the ring into Mount Doom - the end. And why not? If you view this as an adventure about destroying a ring then cutting out everything that doesn't directly serve that end leaves you with something like that clip. It's like saying every such tale is a variation of the Hero's journey. It might be vaguely true but it's not all that helpful. No one wants to read tales couched in such terms, we want the excess words and scenes.

** As opposed to the story you might rather be reading
Just what story was Klages telling? I'm not the only one who's said it was unclear. Is this fantasy, historical fiction, romance, mystery, what? The blurbs even mention it's inspired by the pulps, screwball comedy and film noir! (Don't see the latter two at all.) It's all over the place, and that's fine for a long, detailed novel, but in a novella, it's WAY too much. It's like having too many styles, patterns, colors, and textures in a small room; it's a mess.
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Old 06-21-2020, 11:21 AM   #36
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Thank you, gmw. Could a different writer have made this story longer or shorter. Probably, but then it would have been a different story. Certainly, Ms. Klages is unlikely to have written it longer -- she seems to tend towards shorter works over longer ones. But irregardless, this is the writer's choice, not the reader's.
And I'm reacting to the writer's choice, and saying it was a poor one. That's my choice as a reader.
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Old 06-21-2020, 11:44 AM   #37
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Just what story was Klages telling? I'm not the only one who's said it was unclear. Is this fantasy, historical fiction, romance, mystery, what? The blurbs even mention it's inspired by the pulps, screwball comedy and film noir! (Don't see the latter two at all.) It's all over the place, and that's fine for a long, detailed novel, but in a novella, it's WAY too much. It's like having too many styles, patterns, colors, and textures in a small room; it's a mess.
Indeed, I agree that what the story is, is unclear - especially first time through. I don't agree that it's a mess. Even on my first reading I was pleasantly surprised how - after some serious reservations earlier - it all came together at the end. For me, the strange nature of the story is part of its appeal. I like that it's not definitely one thing or another, I think that that is part of what makes it work (for me). It made it a story that stuck with me much longer than it might have otherwise.
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Old 06-22-2020, 12:19 AM   #38
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It is, after all, titled "Passing Strange".
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Old 06-23-2020, 12:10 PM   #39
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Agreed. Well, not much has changed lol; each book seems to provoke some of us and bring enjoyment to others. I didn’t mind that it touched lightly on several genres; leaving things unexplained added to the ephemeral quality. It’s a short, light read, and I had a sense the author was deliberately flitting from one genre to another and having fun with that. I took the deus ex machina ending as tongue in cheek humour. That said, I can see how it fits the critiques too.

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Old 06-23-2020, 04:24 PM   #40
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There isn't a single book that everyone will like.

Overall, I liked Passing Strange. Though I would have liked more about the magic.
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Old 06-23-2020, 04:36 PM   #41
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There isn't a single book that everyone will like.

Overall, I liked Passing Strange. Though I would have liked more about the magic.
And for me, the magic was totally peripheral. It was the love story that was the central theme for me, and the interesting part was primarily the historical context. I loved reading about a city I know moderately well, but only in the modern context. Interesting to see how very far it had to come from to reach it's modern context as a mecca for the LGBTQ community.
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Old 06-23-2020, 04:47 PM   #42
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And for me, the magic was totally peripheral. It was the love story that was the central theme for me, and the interesting part was primarily the historical context. I loved reading about a city I know moderately well, but only in the modern context. Interesting to see how very far it had to come from to reach it's modern context as a mecca for the LGBTQ community.
Alas, I believe the aforementioned Tales of the City does a much better job of that. It is still very problematic in some of its treatments, but I appreciated it a lot more as a true snapshot of LGBTQ life in the Bay Area.
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Old 06-23-2020, 04:58 PM   #43
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Alas, I believe the aforementioned Tales of the City does a much better job of that. It is still very problematic in some of its treatments, but I appreciated it a lot more as a true snapshot of LGBTQ life in the Bay Area.
Absolutely, it's a quite accurate snapshot of the SF LGBTQ community, pre-AIDS. Which means, of course, that there ARE issues because there were issues. And while I'd agree that we can hold Ellen Klages to a higher standard of awareness, even though she is writing about an earlier era, I don't think we can expect Armistead Maupin to be other than a product of his time and place.

ETA: Tales of the City originated as serialized stories starting in 1974, in the Pacific Sun and then the San Francisco Chronicle. It wasn't pulled into a book until 1978. (And is the first of nine books from Maupin's columns. For more, I suggest this article in The Guardian. )

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