Obsessions #9: Adam Scott's Innie
Everything I read, watched and listened to in April
Hello and welcome back to Why’s World! You might have noticed this newsletter has been a bit quieter over the past two months. In the past, I’ve stuck to a relatively rigid schedule of posting every two weeks, but I haven’t been able to keep up with that recently. Since I have other projects on the go right now, the schedule of this newsletter is going to be more relaxed and at my own pace.
I am also introducing a tip feature. Writing this newsletter is fun, but it does take time for me to do. If my recommendations and reviews add value to your life, I would really appreciate a small tip if it is within your financial means. If it is not, I completely understand. You can always support me for free by liking my posts, adding a comment and most importantly sharing this newsletter with people who you think will enjoy it.
This is Obsessions, a monthly newsletter-within-a-newsletter highlighting all of the things I’ve been reading, watching, listening to and generally obsessing over for the past few weeks.
What I’ve Been Reading
Spring has sprung and my reading slump is officially OVER! Sometimes you just have a put on a hold on everything at the library and see what sticks. Reading is also such a habit-driven activity and I definitely fell off my usual routine. I made a goal to get back into it and was rewarded. This month I read three books that were all great, including one of the best novels I have read in months.
Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin (Nightfire, 2022)
I’ve been anticipating Manhunt for quite a few months now, seeing it appear frequently in Twitter discourse. Written by horror and self-described “filth” writer Gretchen Felker-Martin, the novel is set a few years in the future in a dystopia where most men have transformed into feral, violent monsters due to a virus.
Unlike other gender-based apocalypse stories, however, Manhunt is told from the perspective of two trans women as well as a trans man they meet in the wilderness. Most of the plot focuses on their avoidance of an army of TERFs who have gained political control and try to kill anyone who isn’t a “real” woman.
If that sounds brutal, it is! This is one of the most violent and terrifying books I’ve read in a while. Although it was quite long, I finished it in a week and had a hard time putting it down. Despite the fact that I found the characters a bit thin at times, I found it a very original and compelling story.
I also thought it was written in a way that was very scene-focused and cinematic. I was able to really picture the whole terrifying world that Felker-Martin created in my head. If you are into queer dystopic action thrillers and think you could handle this, give it a try. But a word of warning: it’s definitely a LOT to stomach.
Run Towards the Danger: Confrontations with a Body of Memory by Sarah Polley (Penguin, 2022)
Another new release that’s a compelling read but features difficult subject matter is Run Towards the Danger, an essay collection by Canadian filmmaker Sarah Polley. I’m a big fan of Polley’s (her 2011 film Take This Waltz is one of my all-time favourites), so I was really excited to dive into her nonfiction work.
The essay collection is split into six pieces, each tackling a difficult event in Polley’s life. One of the most affecting is “The Woman Who Stayed Silent,” an essay in which Polley reveals that she was assaulted by Jian Gomeshi as a teenager and describes the emotional pain she felt for not coming forward publicly during his trial. Other essays tackle Polley’s high-risk pregnancy and concussion, in addition to her negative experiences working as a child star in the film industry.
The collection is definitely heavy thematically, but Polley writes in a very clear and empathetic way that makes the book digestible. I really liked it and would suggest it if you’re a fan of essay collections written by women.
Monarch by Candace Wuehle (Soft Skull, 2022)
I’ll say it now: Candace Wuehle’s Monarch is the best novel I have read in months. It’s wordy, weird and niche, so it won’t be everyone, but it was definitely for me.
The novel is told from the perspective of Jessica, a pageant girl in the ‘90s who realizes that she was programmed to be a sleeper agent by an offshoot of Project MKUltra called MONARCH. The first half is an exercise in language, with Jessica pondering the fractured nature of her identity and self. The second half is more plot-driven, with Jessica seeking revenge on those who programmed her.
In addition to the psychological themes, there are tons of ‘90s pop culture references. It’s also an interesting example of a queer novel where queerness isn’t the main focus of the story. It’s kind of a blend of To Die For and Drop Dead Gorgeous with Don DeLillo. It is very heady at times though. I understood maybe 70% of the book at most, but I still loved it.
What I’ve Been Watching
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (Jane Schoenbrun, 2021)
Speaking of niche art with teen girl protagonists that won’t work for everyone, I saw We’re All Going to the World’s Fair last night and I’m still reeling. I heard a lot of buzz about this low-budget horror movie from critics, as well as from friends on Letterboxd. This 89-minute feature follows Casey, a high school girl alone in her bedroom, who decides to take part in an online game called the world’s fair challenge.
Although it won’t be for everyone due to its understated nature, I thought this was a really fascinating film. It’s less of a traditional horror movie and more of an emotional study of how terrifying it feels to be isolated. It completely nailed how it feels to be a weirdo teenage girl looking for connection online. It reminded me a lot of both Eighth Grade and Inside by Bo Burnham. Mash the two together and you get this film.
Jerrod Carmichael: Rothaniel (Bo Burnham, 2022)
On the subject of Burnham, he directed this latest special by comedian Jerrod Carmichael. In Rothaniel, Carmichael performs a cathartic one-man show with authentic interaction with the audience. He explores the lies told in his family, as well as the truth he’s concealed about himself publicly for years.
It reminded me a lot of Nanette by Hannah Gadsby and Career Suicide by Chris Gethard, in that it feels like watching a therapy session from someone who happens to be a comedian. In addition to the bravely honest subject matter, Burnham’s direction is beautiful and raw, making this one of the most visually stunning specials I’ve ever seen.
Severance (Dan Erikson, 2022)
I know I’m slightly prone to hyperbole, but please believe me when I say that Severance is one of the best TV shows I’ve ever watched. Created by newcomer Dan Erikson, Severance is a workplace dystopia series that follows Mark S., played by Adam Scott, a man who voluntarily receives the “severance” procedure following the loss of his wife, Gemma.
The procedure completely separates his work life at mega-corp Lumon Industries from his private life. When he is at home, his “outie” has no memory of what he does at work; when he is at work, his “innie” has no memory of his home or family life. That is until he gets a tip from an old colleague that not everything at Lumon is what it seems, prompting him down a rabbit hole and an absolutely wild season of TV.
Adam Scott is incredible in this dramatic leading role, but the show’s supporting cast of John Turturro, Christopher Walken and Patricia Arquette makes it rise above and beyond. With its dense mythology and puzzle-box mystery, it reminded me a lot of watching the first few seasons of Lost. The strength of the characters and social commentary on the alienation of capitalism and work is outstanding. Watch it!
What I’ve Been Listening To
Mystery Show (Gimlet, 2015)
I wrote about how much I loved the podcast Dead Eyes in my last Obsessions newsletter. In one episode, host Connor Ratliff interviews Starlee Kine, a radio producer and writer who was the host of the 2015 podcast Mystery Show. Although it was declared the best new podcast of the year by iTunes, it was canceled by Gimlet after only one six-episode season.
The premise of Mystery Show is that Kline must solve a small mystery without using search engines, leading her to track down information in person instead. Although the show is off-beat and silly, it’s also surprisingly illuminating and empathetic. I listened to all six episodes in one day, devouring them like candy.
There are two episodes that stood out, both of which revolve around celebrities. In “Britney,” Kline tries to track down Britney Spears to see if she actually read a novel she was photographed with in the 2000s, which leads to an unexpectedly beautiful phone conversation with a TicketMaster customer service agent.
In “Source Code,” Kline tries to find out Jake Gyllenhaal’s real height, which leads to a surprisingly flirty phone conversation with Gyllenhaal himself. Listen to these episodes and if you enjoy them, binge the rest of the series too.
PUP - The Unraveling of PUPTHEBAND (Little Dipper/Rise, 2022)
Toronto’s most neurotic pop-punkers are back with their fourth studio album. The Unraveling of PUPTHEBAND was written and recorded during the pandemic. It features a doubling-down of the heavy emotional themes of 2019’s Morbid Stuff, which I wrote about for Also Cool, but new sonic experimentation that finds the band bursting out of their six-chord comfort zone.
PUP have made three great albums now, so it’s par for the course that one would be a stinker. However, The Unraveling of PUPTHEBAND shines just as brightly as the rest of their work, in spite of its dark themes. I don’t listen to a lot of new punk music anymore, but PUP will always have a special place in my heart.
Confidence Man - TILT (Heavenly Recordings, 2022)
Confidence Man’s TILT is a complete surprise banger. My boyfriend, who writes about new music for Ottawa Life, discovered them on Bandcamp while searching for releases for his column. He immediately forced me to listen to “Feels Like A Different Thing,” which had us both going completely nuts in our apartment.
The band is an Australian electropop four-piece making dance bangers that sound like they were ripped straight from the soundtrack of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Combine the party camp of the B-52s with the dance grooves of Scissor Sisters and Deee-Lite and you have a guaranteed good time. TILT has been on a non-stop loop in my brain for the past few weeks and I can’t get enough!
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