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Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday Mystery: Michael Harmon

For those of you who read my review for Brutal, thank you! The author Michael Harmon read my review and commented. This can all be found here. I want to show you guys the conversation in hopes to clarify some things. The more deeper sense in the book
Michael:
Thank you for reviewing my novel Brutal. Your thoughts and insights are useful, and from a perspective I found interesting and worth a reply to. The novel is indeed about cliques...that's why I wrote it.

Poe is indeed fighting against herself, and she is aggravating. Her irony is the irony of humanity, and as a teen, she's learning while fighting rather than being swept down the path of unthinking obedience.

With the novel being written first person, had I characterized Poe as somehow perfect, the sincerity of the story would have been compromised, and her character, had I portrayed her as all-wise and benevolent, would have been truly aggravating. You picked up on the irony of life, which is that we cannot become something more without having been something less. Poe is searching and finding her own inequities as she's questioning the system...something being a teenager is all about,and something, I might add, that your review defines very well in the sense that our culture oftentimes chastises those who dare stand up, inequities notwithstanding, and challenges authority.

The existence of cliques is a neutral and natural aspect of life, and one that I did not characterize as bad or evil.They inspire individuality, creativity, relationships, and can be very constructive. However, the actions, reactions, injustices and bias our culture sometimes unfairly attaches to them can be damaging, especially when it concerns developing minds. This is what I emphasized, and yes, Poe, as an imperfect human, sometimes is a part of it. To characterize her as anything other would be a disservice to teens and simply a crock of bull.

Perhaps the symbolism missed here is that Poe, once breaking down her own barriers while fighting others, forges healthier relationships with her father, her choir teacher, her choir nemesis, and her mother. She learns that while we cannot escape unfair judgment, often we ourselves lend unfair judgment in the process of our reactions to it.

This review is thought provoking, as it adds to the dialogue we need to have about what our schools symbolize. Though somewhat sarcastic and assumptive in bits and pieces, I very much appreciate your thoughts on Brutal, and believe this review to be outstanding material to discuss.
Sincerely,
Michael Harmon

Yan:
...While I understand your reason for justifying Poe, I feel that as a whole Poe represents the complete opposite of her goal. She herself also forms generalization to people and separates them into groups. She wishes to destroy cliques and blur the line that divides the higher class in the high school hierarchy. But her actions seem almost mockingly as well as her relationship with her father. In some areas I see progression to heal the wound when he left but in others she pushes him away and humiliates him. In her attempt to solve issues she creates conflict--within herself and the people around her. This is what aggravates me. When no one really tries to oppose her or correct her. She basically humiliates people outright in public but gets a dainty slap in the wrist. How far is she willing to do to meet her goal?

With her father I think that the relationship was being decided solely on her. He has no major input to the healing process except for accepting what's being told. You always mention the choir teacher. I lost her somewhere and only saw her again towards the end. By the time I did I noticed that everything is peachy keen between the two.

Anyway about the sarcasm, I feel that I need to apologize. My voice is based on my current mood so I probably wrote this review when I wasn't quite so happy--probably annoyed at something. I do the same thing when I write essays.

Michael:
Well, actually, I'm not a member of Goodreads, but I love the site, find it such a great contribution to the literary world, and find the reviews of all books to be truthful, sincere, and real. Hence, I use my daughter's account sometimes,named after our dog, Izzy.

As for Poe..you are correct in many ways, and that nasty double-edged sword comes into play. As a teen, I fought the system the same way the system fought me, because it was the only way I'd been taught to fight. Poe does the same in some ways, but I must say that Poe doesn't wish to destroy cliques and blur the line that divides the higher class in the high school hierarchy...she wishes to destroy the unfair treatment within those lines and borders. On the other hand, and what with school shootings and such over the last decade, I've seen an unhealthy trend in schools to tackle the clique issue by homogenizing people, which I strongly disagree with. So the question of the book becomes, how does a person maintain individuality, even within a clique, while at the same time fighting the inherent inequities that will arise in the treatment of them? This is a tricky subject, and difficult to portray. She thinks she's a strict individualist, but finds that she's really not, and she hates to think of herself as a victim, but oftentimes her mentality screams victim. These dynamics follow us through life, and only with time can we slowly overcome them. With that said, Poe rubbed you the wrong way in how hypocritical she sometimes was. So be it. That's why teens are so damn irritating in the first place! They're learning, developing, and trying to find out what makes this world work.

Her relationship with her father was portrayed as a one-sided control issue on purpose. His nature; that of a man willing to passively leave his child years before and allow his wife to control his actions, translates to cowardice in Poe's mind, and she jumps all over it, much the same as her mother lives her life. The parallel between Poe disliking her mother's selfish and authoritarian personality while at the same time slowly realizing she herself was doing the same is there. Her father's unwillingness to confront this type of personality follows suit with his manner of solving problems, which is to protect himself through distancing himself while always trying to be amicable. Neither works on the whole, but I did portray Poe's father as weak because I believe he was a weak father, and honestly, Poe's rants and rails against him are justifiable. The role of a good father in our society is still, even after seeing generations of many kids raised without them and paying the unfortunate consequences, is underestimated. With that said, I think he did indeed have a bit to do with the healing process...by showing Poe that open confrontation isn't always the key to making change. His patience and understanding, along with his trust in human nature, shows Poe a different way among many different ways to solve problems. To be cliche', there's more than one way to skin a cat.

As far as getting a slap on the wrist...First off, in that sense, I firmly believe that sometimes, open conflict is the only way to shock people into taking part in the process. And though she is corrected, life dictates (IE our media, activists, extremists, etc...)that those who are overwhelmingly aggressive usually get their way, or are at least avoided. The old adage is that if a 250 pound hunk of muscle gives a person the finger, he's less apt to be confronted about it than if a 100 pound kid with spagetti arms does the same. Poe is SO out of control sometimes that there is a fear factor involved, and if you didn't notice, just like Colby Morris, Poe unconsciously, and hypocritically, uses her father's position at the school to get away with more than the average student would.

As you might tell, and often disagree with, I make it a point to portray my characters with flaws and hypocrisy, because I'm a firm believer in writing stories that reflect how messed up and messy our own lives can become. As I myself didn't graduate high school due to outright rebellion and conflict with my school, I have both shame and pride in the ways I fought a system I felt was unjust. I didn't learn as Poe did, and I paid a tremendous price for it.
As far as sarcasm is concerned, God knows without it the world would be a very dull place! I myself thrive on moody writing!

Anyway, was wonderful writing back and forth on the subject, and again, thanks for the food for thought. I take it as a compliment that within our somewhat divisive convo, you not once referenced Poe as what I consider the bane of my writing existence...unrealistic. She is obviously a confused person, which was my intention, but you've referenced her as...a person.
Best,
Michael
Right now I'm back on the desktop so I'm writing reviews as fast I can now! Up, up, and away!

1 comment:

  1. Wow a tete a tete with an author! Excellent as always, Yan!

    ReplyDelete