Tag Archives: Olimpia Rea

Disney, Disney, Let Down Your Hair!

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Seriously.  Just let it loose.  Merida had an unruly mop of red hair.  Snow White’s hair style has since moved far from the short pixie-bob.  And Elsa pulled her bun out to let the braid cascade in one side over her shoulder. Disney’s heroines are letting go of their inhibitions and rising to the challenges in a new era of fantasy film making.  And they are fast becoming epic.

Usually I do book reviews on my Corner Cafe, but my recent splurging into high-tech, computer-animated Disney musical fantasies have compelled me to make an unexpected turn here.  I want to explore the concept of how far we’ve come with fairy tales in the last two centuries. How gutsy our princesses have gotten.  How true to life their story lines are starting to align with ours.  I’m not just talking princesses here. Let’s call them what they’ve become; heroines. A personal calling to act with courage in the face of fear (often time to defend others) and to stand ground in defiance of any threat that looms. The heroines in Disney’s fairy tales have been letting their hair down…literally. Then they’re mounting their horses to gallop off in their mission to save the day.

From Merida wielding a sword against her father Fergus to protect her mother, to Snow White leading the Duke’s army to wage combat against Ravenna, to Rapunzel’s heavy-handed, cast-iron frying pan and Queen Elsa’s marked ability in cryokinetic ice-blasting, the women are pulling their weight, ripping out their hairs pins, whisking off those tight elastic bands, and shaking  those enviable tresses to lay siege.  Just watch any movie. Observe Queen Elsa sing her heart out in “Frozen” and run her hands through her hair in the most memorable ascension to liberation and personal catharsis in film history. Caution; spoilers follow.

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Let’s start with Tangled. The original version told by the Brothers Grimm in the early nineteenth century showed us Rapunzel openly obliging the prince when he commands her to let down her hair so he can climb the tower. Never mind that she doesn’t know him, has never even met him.  No wonder women were disillusioned.  Old fairy tales led us to think there was nothing wrong in letting in a perfect stranger.  Not even preparing us for the inevitable disappointment when he turns out to be a jerk.  But modern fairy tales are now being filled with cads.  Unprincipled scamps. Many of whom give the princesses a run for it.  And the prince no longer comes from a castle.  He’s now the nice, reliable guy you’ve come to trust, the one you’ve been blowing off for that other guy; you know the one; the unprincipled scamp who’s turning out to be a jerk.  In today’s Frozen, Kristoff questions Anna’s judgment…  “Wait, you got engaged to someone you just met that day?”  That’s how far we’ve come.  We actually make fun of the old stereotypes of fantasy storytelling.

Yet the Grimm’s Rapunzel willingly and naively lets him up. In the re-imagined tale told through Disney’s Tangled, Flynn Rider doesn’t get in that easily, not without having to answer for it. After stealing the tiara of the Lost Princess from a nearby Kingdom, he climbs Rapunzel’s tower while trying to flee from the Captain of the Guards. Little does he know what awaits him. Two hundred years later, Disney introduces us to a fiery and playful young woman. He’s single-handedly knocked unconscious by a vigilant and vivacious blonde haired teenager, who, upon his awakening, reveals that she’s confiscated his satchel (containing the tiara) and will only return it to him if he promises to take her to see the floating lanterns. Rapunzel is not only bold and spirited, but a competent and clever negotiator.

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Then there’s Snow White.  The original princess damseled herself guilelessly into biting a poisonous apple handed to her directly from the Queen, disguised as a peddler. In Snow White and the Huntsman, Snow White, (okay, she does bite the apple, but that’s only  because the queen disguised herself as her friend William) is far from naive, and stands in blatant opposition to the Queen.  After being imprisoned by the Queen Ravenna for several years, escapes the palace only to return with an army, her own horse, and in military pursuit to take back her family’s castle.  She never begs the huntsman for her life, and allies herself to him in a strategy of survival.

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Queen Elsa, shedding the legal and moral constraints that have bound her, liberates herself by ripping out her hair clip, running her hands through her hair to loosen her military bun, and magically phasing-out her high-collard conservative apparel into a curve-hugging, shimmering gown (embroidered with the most exquisite detail any fashion designer, or girl, would envy) topped with a leg teasing slit to the knee.  It is a character taking ownership of her true self and embracing an inner talent she was shamed into hiding from the world.  Later, when Hans leads a search into the North Mountain to recover Queen Elsa, they find her in an ice palace, ready to forge a defense against their onslaught. As the Duke’s men attempt to surround her, she unleashes her cryokinetic powers on them, creating crystalized boulders and weapon-ed shards of ice to fend them off. Her sister Anna later does an impressive show of bravery when she throws herself in front of her sister so that Hans sword doesn’t reach her as he attempts to harm the Queen.

But these achievements in the rising heroines belong not only to the women.  They belong to humankind.  Because these characters are really dealing with something that is larger than them.  The lessons teach us fortitude and expression of the human spirit. It’s epic fantasy at its finest.  The kind that I hope we can see more of in the future.

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The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

What an amazing debut for a novel.  It was written with a style of simple prose and yet packs a powerful punch.  Something that gives rise to a new awakening in literature.  In the wake of a family tragedy, Rachel, a biracial girl and the lone survivor of a horrendous fall from an apartment building, moves to Portland to be with her paternal grandmother after her hospitalization. There, in her new town, she develops an awareness of categories of black and white, (divisions that weren’t as seemingly evident where she previously lived in Europe) and where she tries to contend with how she fits into this new society that deigns to define her (and everyone else) by race. As a lone survivor to the preceding distress in her life that wipes her family out, she is separated from her mother and siblings.  This book was chosen by Barbara Kingsolver as the winner of the Bellwether Prize for best fiction because it ‘takes on’ issues of social justice.

On February 12, 2011, my husband and I had the amazing opportunity to meet with Heidi in person at an indie bookstore, RJ Julia, in Madison, CT. where she made an appearance for a reading.  In person, she’s sweet, petite, lovely and with a flowing ease spreads a generous warmth to her faithful readers who’ve travelled from near and far to meet with her.  Not to mention shrewdly intelligent.  I was, to the say the least, very impressed with her, both as an author and an individual.  She is more than happy to share her inspirations for this novel, and off the path, the journey she’s travelled as a writer that landed her to this point as a New York Time’s Bestselling Author.  RJ Julia set her up in the front of the room on a comfortable chair where she proceeded to give a reading.

Now, as we continue our story:  Rachel’s mother, Nella, was a Danish woman, whom (deigning to protect her children) we later come to discover had her own issues to battle with that would later come inflicted upon her family, and that her father, an African-American GI who, although he watches over her recovery in the hospital, ultimately leaves Rachel in the care of his mother.  Abandoned twice, Rachel must wrestle not only with her newly acquired social status (which as a young girl, she handles remarkably well) but she must also face the issues of her past that had torn apart the very fabric of her family.

Realize now that this is a ‘coming-of age’ novel.  Something we’ve all gone through, regardless of what our own personal experience of that issue entailed.  When we go through that God-forsaking period of life (it seems to grab us during adolescence, sometimes right into highschool) where we catch the identity crisis bug.  That pivotal epoch of life when we are challenged to define ourselves to our peers.  We are tyring to figure out who we are, where we belong and who our friends should be.  A time where we have to make up our mind on our own distict individuality and where it ranks us in the world.  In highschool, these ranks are clearly defined in social heirarchies that we refuse to be relegated or pegged into, (though some are content to resign to whatever classification they’re thrown into) since we’d rather make that choice for ourselves.  Remember the ending quote in The Breakfast Club from little geek Brian Johnson who wrote with an incomplex honesty to the principle, “Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong.  But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is “a brain”Andrew Clark: …”and an athlete”…Allison Reynolds: …”and a basket case”…Claire Standish: …”a princess”…John Bender: …”and a criminal”…Brian Johnson: Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.”

For those of you who came from this era, I’m just trying to make a point that there is a common thread between this novel and many of the classic films we’ve seen growing up during the cottage industry days of so many teen dramas.  The point of which was to make us realize that there is something more to each of us then our stereotypes (brought on by the flavor of our ‘not always well-received’ images) suggest.

For Rachel, she finds herself tangled between two worlds; on the one hand, she has light skin and blue eyes and therefore she is not black due to these contrasting features.  On the other hand, she is not exactly white either because her skin is dark enough that gives enough alert to her biracial identity.  Rachel has much to contend with as a young girl and Durrow handles this story gracefully and with unflinching and open honesty, showing no fear in addressing what could be a thorny topic.  Whether you’re able to associate yourself with her situation of biracial identity or not, there is still a feel for the ‘familiar’ in her plight to ‘fit in’. Alienation is not just exclusive to race. Many children and adolescents don’t fit in with their peers for a number of reasons. The story addresses issues of race and class, family tragedies, told easily, gently and delivered frankly from each characters’ personal observation. To be honest, Durrow simply writes fearlessly.

I could not put this book down. It touched me so deeply. It’s a refreshing read in a novel of this sort. There is no anger, no judgment, no ill will. Just forgiveness. And a willingness to find an inner courage. Rachel is threatened in that her social economic class and a painful past, patronizes to define her and her future. But Rachel is a character that knows her worth runs deeper than the vagaries of the world. Durrow encapsulates it all so eloquently when she delivers the lines of her lead protagonist, “I’m not the color of my skin. I’m a story. One with a past and a future unwritten.”

Throughout the book, we get a peek, small glimpses into Rachel’s past told by alternating points of view from each contributing character, each chapter climbing to that final, climactic build up in the story where the most profound incident of Rachel’s life is finally revealed. I was just so stunned when I read it. Yet in spite of it all, Durrow brings light into the storyline through Rachel’s strength and forgiveness. So there is hope delivered in its final pages. This is one novel I would strongly recommend that readers not miss.

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Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin

I’m a huge Emily Giffin fan and have read all her books.  I just absolutely love her writing style.  It’s easy, free-flowing, conversational and well, honest, unpretentious and forthcoming.  She transcends conventional literature, making her characters relatable where the lead heroine reveals the deeper part of herself in such an honest, assured way that reminds us we’re ‘not alone’, we are all humanely flawed, and in so being, share company in whatever ‘issues’ we’ve faced.  Whatever the dilemma, Emily Giffin’s characters have been there too, and they’re more than happy to take you on a tour of every bitter emotion, happiness and fear that only make them all the more intriguing. 

More importantly, I finally got to meet her on  May 13 in New York at the New York Look.  The interesting thing is that when you finally meet Emily, you feel you already know her.  And if you’ve spoken to anyone standing in line, you’ll find that many of her readers feel similarly connected to her and speak of her as if she’s a friend.  She’s adjoined herself to her readership in such a way as to amass a huge following.   Yes, I was one of the first people there, waiting, (I bought a nice pair of earrings showcased in the glass window – hey, I was early), then later had a glass of wine with my husband at a little bistro across the street until the hour of her arrival– when all her fans started excitedly piling up outside the door.  When she finally stepped in, she sauntered through, energetic, smiling, eager to see her fans, in a pretty dress fitting to her petite frame, camera in hand, and snapping photos of her long line of readers.  That’s a first!  But that’s Emily reaching out and connecting with her fans.  Up close, sitting beside her on the couch where each reader was invited to have his or her book signed, she’s sweet, pretty and disarming.  On a glass table in front of the couch are custom-made miniature pink and blue pins, scattered about and filling a glass vase with SOBO and ‘eg’ printed on them, celebrating Emily and the movie that is currently in production.  I point to my husband, sitting across from us on another chair, and we both turn to look into the lens to smile as he snaps our photo.  And you don’t want to leave the moment while you’re in it.  But alas, you must, to make room for the next reader in line who, like you, travelled just as far to see her. 

Readers have often compared Something Borrowed with every other book in the genre that has followed in its wake.  It was a fun, refreshing read, addressing infidelity from a unique, sympathetic and at relative points, comical reference.  Each character evoked some kind of emotional response from you, and you found yourself talking and venting about Darcy, Rachel, and let’s not forget Claire, as if they were real people part of our inner circle.  If you’ve read this book, opinions ran pretty deep; you discussed these women as if you knew them personally and shared the same alma mater with them.  I often found myself thinking about their situation years after reading the story.

Well, get ready to make room for another novel that will spin you in a whole new direction, but will find itself setting the standard once more.  This time, the tone has changed from her other novels, Giffin competently proving again her ability to foray into new territories of fiction and story-telling the very flaws that trademark her stories and the characters who inhabit them into being so utterly relatable.  In Heart of the Matter, she tackles infidelity once again, but from a perspective told more soberly and in alternating points of views; the wife and ‘the other woman’, allowing readers for the first time ever to obtain a thorough, if even reluctant understanding for both grievances.  Each finds herself facing disheartening circumstances that merge and radically abort their lives in a way that neither ever expected.  Tess and her pediatric-surgeon husband Dr. Nick Russo are celebrating their seventh wedding anniversary when he is paged to the hospital unexpectedly, cutting the evening and the celebration short for husband and wife.  The call is in response to an incident regarding a six-year old burn victim named Charlie.  While caring for him through Charlie’s process in healing in rounds of surgery and skin grafts, Nick eventually becomes emotionally attached to Charlie’s mother, Valerie; a single mother, hard-working lawyer, who’s been raising Charlie on her own.  Abandoned by the biological father of her son so many years back, cut off by her friends over a minor disagreement, and feeling somewhat isolated from the snob society of her son’s peers, Valerie has been dealing with loneliness far too long, and Nick, over stepping the boundaries of his oath as a doctor, allows himself to get a little too close to mother and son.  And Valerie, worried sick over her son’s unfathomable misfortune that no child should ever endure, becomes emotionally and faithfully dependent on her doctor’s ability as healer.  His presence in their life is a stark reminder for the void of both father and spouse that Valerie and Charlie are understandably aching to fill.  But is our empathy so great that it’s at the cost of a greater sacrifice from another family? 

Here enters the complexity of omniscience when we see all sides.  Tessa, against her mother’s advice, walked away from her career to commit herself as a stay-at-home mother for her two children, is now having serious doubts.  Unaware of Nick’s growing attachment to Valerie, she now feels a distance growing between herself and her husband, and doesn’t know what to ascribe it to.  The book is deep, serious, and at unexpected moments, heart wrenching as we find ourselves sympathising with the plight of both women, rooting that a resolution can be found for everyone involved without more suffering going any further than need be.  Heart of the Matter bravely approaches the uncomfortable territory of forgiveness, the consequence that a choice or a chance meeting can irrevocably put into effect.  We also are reunited with Rachel and Dex, Giffin’s way of bringing both reader and vintage character together in a casual reunion, allowing us to get a glimpse of where they are today long after the final page of Something Borrowed was closed.

So where does this leave Tessa after the sacrifice is made?  And an unforseen consequence that is un-rewarding follows?  Whatever choice Tessa makes in the end, in reaction to this dilemma, I’m with her.  This is the first time I’ve read a novel where I found myself suspending judgement, where no one earns the rank as villain and where objectivity takes a front seat to emotion; or maybe it shares the same place, since empathy allows this to be so.  I support Tessa in whatever decision she makes.  Feel for both women in their plight. 

In which case we come to learn that sometimes there is no right and wrong, situations aren’t always absolute (particularly with infidelity), and that forgiveness isn’t just a choice but a process we have to work through.  But above all, that the best choice we can make is the one we can live at peace with.  I strongly recommend this book to both new readers and veterans of Giffin’s books alike.

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