Black Juice and Shameless

Black Juice

The very first story in Margo Lanagan's collection Black Juice blew me away. I loved her novel Tender Morsels and had high hopes for the stories but even so they surpassed my expectations. Singing My Sister Down, the first story, is a beautiful and heart wrenching story about what happens to a family when one of them transgresses against their society. Her crime may have been horrible, but not nearly as horrible as her punishment. The story is told from the point of view of her younger brother, who is straining to behave like a grownup and not shame his family.

Every story in this collection is exceptional. Most, if not all, could be stories I found in a year's best collection. It's no real surprise that Black Juice has won several awards, including not one but two World Fantasy Awards, it's a Michael L. Printz Honor Book, and it was nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards for best short story. Ms. Lanagan tweets about her writing process, spending a great deal of time on rewrites and it shows in this carefully crafted book. From stories set in a desolate future to stories set in a disturbingly different now, her imagination takes us on journeys that are uncomfortable and magical.

Shameless

A remake of the UK show Shameless debuted this past week on Showtime. The very beginning of the pilot was familiar to this viewer as the voiceover was used extant in the trailers. William H. Macy, who plays Frank Gallagher, the father of the family featured in this series, introduces his children one by one. He has quite a few and I have to wonder how he ended up in charge of them. I get the impression that mom has split but I don’t know why she didn't take the kids with her. Emmy Rossum plays Fiona, the eldest daughter who, like many older children in disordered families, has taken on the role of the mother and takes care of the kids as best she can. Dad spends his time drinking and carousing, with a side order of lying on the carpet in a drunken stupor.

Younger brother Lip is making money tutoring (money isn't all he gets from tutoring; one of his clients is turned on by science) while Ian works in a store (and is having a fling with his male coworker). The three younger kids are Carl, (who is pretty scary judging by what little I saw of him), Debbie, who collects for charity while skimming, and little Liam, the baby of the family.

Most, if not all, of the characters are out of control. Obviously dad has some pretty serious problems. Fiona is split between trying to be responsible and acting out. Carl is torturing animals and Lip and Ian are involved in relationships that aren't the healthiest. (The father of the girl Lip tutors wants to murder him and Ian's boyfriend is married and a coworker. That's two strikes against him if we go by my playbook.)

The acting is solid all around. You know you’re always going to get a fun, quality performance when you see the name William H. Macy but again it's a lady, Emmy Rossum, who steals the show. She is fantastic as the complicated, prideful Fiona. Kudus to Justin Chatwin who plays Fiona's possible love interest Steve, who either has a fabulous stunt double or performed some amazing gyrations in a nightclub scene where he tries to stop a creep who just stole Fiona's purse.

Parts of this show are pretty funny but overall I can't help worrying. I grew up in a poor family with eight brothers and sisters and I know what it's like to scramble for the necessities. My dad's career wasn't drinking but things were always kind of touch and go. I wonder how many other viewers watched the show and were grateful they've moved on to a much better situation.

You can watch episode one here: http://www.sho.com/site/order/preview.do#/Shameless_s01_e01

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Barftastic who wrote in to say, "Freak the Freak Out by the Victorious Cast is everything that's wrong with pop music in one small song. Giving someone crap for having ADD? Fanfreakingtastic." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.