Big day today.
It’s the anniversary of the first time I met my wife.
December 23rd, 1997.
(I’m writing on Thursday, as usual.)
Without exaggeration, that was the most important day of my life.
We were young, only 23, and have been together ever since.
(More than half our lives.)
We met as kids, really, and have grown up together all these years.
Through the easy times, the hardships, and the magic of raising a family, Jessie and I forged a steel bond, and I’m lucky to have a soulmate who’s helped me become a better, stronger person.
Yesterday was a big day as well.
Our daughter packed up her desk, leaving her current elementary school for good.
(She’s switching from the Charter school to the public one in our part of town after break.)
Amelie had an awful experience with Zoom school the prior two years in 2nd and 3rd grade. The same teacher, who mailed it in, simultaneously undermined her confidence at every turn.
When a teacher repeatedly implies a child is dumb, (because of undiagnosed dyslexia,) it eats away at her self-esteem, day by day.
I’m glad Amelie is moving to a healthier environment, (she’s amazing,) but it wasn’t just the education.
She’d known most of her classmates since pre-school; navigating the same social environment since before she could speak. These girls knew how to push each others’ buttons; they knew all the weak spots.
(Is that a mixed metaphor?)
Sometimes, we need a fresh group of friends, because the bonds we make when we’re young aren’t really based on who we are.
Or at least, they’re not based on who we’ll become.
Every now and again, you do run across people who are still besties with their childhood mates.
Some of my female friends from school remain a tight-knit group, supporting each other through all of life’s twists and turns. (Shout out to Chrissy, Michelle, Brooke, Mandi and Caroline!)
Occasionally, our teen-aged, angst-ridden, poetry-writing phase lines up with our friends’ trajectories, and we walk life’s path together.
It does happen.
If you think my musings were random today, you’re wrong.
Sometimes, the rant takes off on at a frozen airstrip in Antarctica, and lands in the sunny, moist jungle outside Cancun.
But not today.
I just finished looking at “Between Girls,” by Karen Marshall, published this year by Kehrer Verlag in Germany, and as you’ll soon see, my intro was on-point.
The book is very well-produced, to give it props, as it interweaves black and white documentary imagery from NYC in the 80’s, with diaristic text, video stills, contemporary imagery, and QR codes, while also switching paper stock several times, when the text rolls around.
Cool cover too.
Design-wise, I’d give this book an A+.
As to the narrative, I found it flawed, or at least, more about style than substance.
The story, at first, follows some NYC hipster high school kids, and they bop around the Upper West and East sides.
They describe hanging out downtown.
They talk about boys.
We read bad poetry, (no offense,) but then again, if I ever shared my High School poems with you, you’d laugh longer than the Covid testing lines in NYC, late December 2021.
The documentary photos are good, for sure, and after a few images, we can tell Molly from Leslie, but I’m still not sure if there was one Jen, or two?
This is the part of a book where traditionally I’d like to feel a connection develop with the protagonists, as I build empathy and connection as a viewer, but that didn’t really happen.
Soon, (spoiler alert,) we learn that Molly has died, but we don’t find how how or why until the end. (Car crash on vacation in Cape Cod at 17.)
Given the age, and emotional fragility of that life phase, I’d assumed she committed suicide.
Later, cool-looking text blocks tell us several of the women have backyard chickens.
The girls have grown up to become mothers.
They go to work.
They live their lives.
I can’t fault the visual structure, nor the quality of the photographs.
But I found myself wanting to care more.
I wanted to be moved.
To have my soul touched.
(In the words of “Succession’s” Cousin Greg, “Boo Souls!”)
To me, a book like this screams out for vulnerable, honest, first-person text from the jump.
(Instead, the opening prose was intentionally inscrutable.)
I want to hear from the artist, right away, to tell me what I’ll be looking at.
If I know Molly soon dies, as I’m perusing those first few pictures, it’s so much more poignant.
And then I want my heartstrings pulled by the surviving friends, to push it even further.
Hell, I might have cried.
(It’s happened before, in books about loss.)
But it’s still a job well done for the artist and the production team.
I’m just a tough critic.
See you next week!
If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at email@example.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review.