Review: You, by Austin Grossman

images>>Published: April 2013

>>Finally got around to it: June 2013

Immediately I heard the sound of combat down the hall. Was something off? I’d run this section a dozen times. I ran down the hall, this time passing only dead and dismembered guardsmen. The halls were silent. I reached the main hall, where a goblin king should have been sitting, a bound maiden at his feet. Instead, the hall was a sea of dead bodies. The king who couldn’t be killed lay dead in front of his throne. Far at the back of the hall, I saw two figures fighting, and in a moment one was dead. The other was my sister, a black sword in her hand, and there was a moment when she turned, ready to go for me, and I felt an irrational panic, like very little I had felt before in a game. The eerie, substanceless mannequin approached, her black pixel eyes swelling to an inch wide on the screen, and all at once her death animation began. She arched her back and then threw herself violently to the stone floor. Like any dead creature in a game, she spawned her inventory, a few coins and the sword, which promptly disappeared. Before I could stop myself, I shut the computer off, all the way off, powered down.

I booted the computer back up and ran the editor. Both the king and the woman were flagged immortal. I ran the level again, three more times, with no trouble.

It was remarkable, terrifyingly remarkable, and deeply uncanny, the way a broken simulation always is; something about it suggested a brain having a stroke, an invisible crisis in the machinery. It had lunged up momentarily from the depths of the code base, a flash of white fin and gaping mouth seen for an instant, then gone again.

***

Russell is having a bit of an early mid-life crisis. Dissatisfied with the button-down, expectation-laden life he’d been pursuing, he tosses aside the future in law he’d been working towards for a chance to reunite with some of his former high school friends at Black Arts Games—a ragtag group of video game-coding misfits and eccentrics. Does Russell belong in game design? Well, no, not necessarily, and his lack of feel for the industry is readily apparent. But because of his history with Simon and Darren, the co-founders of the studio who were once his nearest and dearest friends, Russell is given the opportunity to join the small team of coders behind the award winning Realms of Gold fantasy role-playing game franchise.

The leadership of Black Arts Games, however, is splintered. Some time before the start of the story, Simon died. And soon after Russell joins the team, Darren, wanting to create another company for himself, abandons the studio, dismantling the in-place power structure as he departs (in cocksure fashion, no less). As a result, the newly acquired Russell is thrust unexpectedly into a position of power he neither understands nor is ready for—project lead on the new Realms of Gold entry, Realms VII: Winter’s Crown, detailing the Third Age of Endorian history, as outlined by Simon during his youth, when the studio itself was still only a fledgling idea.

As Realms VII enters production and Russell slowly gets his industry wings, a mystery surfaces: an accursed black sword known as the Mournblade appears in the code. At first thought of as a software bug, the mystery of the Mournblade’s existence and its unstoppable killing power takes Russell, Darren, and Lisa (the final member of their fearsome high school foursome) through to the most extreme ends of Simon’s designs and the original code he created for this series. And the closer they get to understanding the nature of the Mournblade’s existence, the closer they are to unearthing the truth about Simon and the circumstances surrounding his death.

I wanted to like You far more than I did. Set at an interesting point in gaming’s history—the late-90s era where 3D is just beginning to pick up steam and some semblance of  “mature” storytelling is finally seeing the light of day—Grossman positions Black Arts Games as a studio in flux, caught between what gaming was and what it hoped one day to become. The Electronic Entertainment Expo had not yet hit its zenith, nor had the public embraced gaming to the level it has today, where everyone and their uncle has at least a game or two in their pocket at all times, thanks to smart phones. But similar to its position between two epochs of gaming history, You can’t quite decide which way to swing its sword. It attempts to cater to both seasoned gamers for whom conversations about the narrative merits of Doom versus those of Star Wars and Moby Dick will resonate, and newcomers for whom the spectacle and cope of E3 would likely marvel and confuse. Unfortunately, trying to cater to both sides equally means the novel never achieves its potential in one direction or the other and the narrative loses steam about two thirds of the way through, experiencing a crisis of voice from which it never recovers.

This crisis of voice is never more apparent than in the gradual filtering in of Black Arts’ back catalogue of games—previous entries in the Realms of Gold series as well as other titles in different series, like Clandestine. From an allegorical standpoint, the effort is interesting, and occasionally works to impact valuable character information, like small details about Simon’s troubled upbringing:

The boy’s father was dead, but the boy was too young to take the throne. His mother ruled as regent, so in the afternoons the prince played idly in a walled garden at the heart of the palace with Zara, daughter of the castle blacksmith. His mother soon married again, to a much younger man who despised the young prince. To be fair, he didn’t look like much of a prince, just a boy dressed in a sec of cut-down royal robes.

One day his mother came to him and explained that he would have to leave. His stepfather could no longer stand the sight of him, and wished to put his own son in his place. The following day he was to be sent away to a castle on a far coast.

As the novel nears its conclusion, and the mystery of the Mournblade is revealed, the inside-the-game portions of the narrative overwhelm the story and diminish any interest I’d developed in the characters. They felt near the end as if they were there to push the narrative within the narrative along, but to not actually be apart of it or be affected by it. Indeed, the final third of this novel is a slog. The only place where the gaming aspects of the narrative are truly effective, where they don’t distract from the characters, is in the coda at the end of the novel, but by then the emotional resonance is too little too late. To put it bluntly, the in-game elements just aren’t interesting enough to carry even portions of chapters, let alone some of the largest chapters in the novel.

Apart from the gaming and the mild industry politics and perceptions filtered throughout, You is a story about Simon and what his friends are able to learn, through his work and the worlds he created, about his troubled upbringing and inner turmoil. It’s about saying goodbye to a friend and to a shared dream. Sadly, the details surrounding these themes are suffocated by characters and worlds within worlds that simply never come together.

Review: Shadows & Tall Trees: Issue 5, Summer 2013

S+TT5-FRONT-ONLY-193x300>>Published: April 2013

>>Finally got around to it: June 2013

Afterward, when Father found her, and the moon had returned to its orbit, and the hill was empty, and everyone pretended that the city had been in the grip of some kind of temporary collective madness, Alia refused to talk about what happened, where Mother had gone. About Mother on the top of the hill, where she stood naked and laughing with her hands outstretched toward the moon’s surface. About how she was still laughing as it lowered itself toward the ground, as it pushed her to her knees, as she finally lay flat under its monstrous weight. How she quieted only when the moon landed, and the earth rang like a bell.

***

Shadows & Tall Trees is an annual journal of weird and dark fiction published by writer Michael Kelly. The Summer 2013 issue contains nine stories from a range of authors, each one exploring a more personalized response to typical horror genre tropes such as monstrous creations, ghosts, and death and loss in general.

In Gary Fry’s “New Wave”, the first story in the collection, a single father must address the possibility that his young son is presenting similar physical symptoms as his late schizophrenic wife. “A Cavern of Redbrick” by Richard Gavin is a ghost story expressed through a young boy’s eyes as he discovers the murderous truth about his grandfather’s extra-curricular activities. D. P. Watt’s “Laudate Dominum (for many voices)” is an unexpectedly disturbing tale of creation as a mad Mechanical Music Museum curator is caught harvesting human organs for the construction of a Frankenstein’s organ that emits human vocal sounds instead of base musical notes and tones.

Several of the more dominant themes make recurring appearances throughout the collection. Claire Massey’s “Casting Ammonites” and Ray Cluley’s “Whispers in the Mist” both deal with memories of love lost and/or forgotten, while Karin Tidbeck’s “Moonstruck” and Fry’s “New Wave” both deal with, in subtle and overt ways, issues of mental illness and fears therein.

The one non-fiction entry in the collection, V. H. Leslie’s “A Woman’s Place: Topography and Entrapment in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’” stands out as an intriguing deconstructionist look at women and their literal and allegorical positions within the horror genre. It’s especially prescient given the strong focus on mothers, daughters, female lovers, and their impact, even in absence, in the stories “New Wave”, “Casting Ammonites”, “Whispers in the Mist”, Daniel Mills’ “The Other Boy”, and “Moonstruck”.

Speaking of “Moonstruck”, Tidbeck’s entry is the strongest in the collection for the quality of the writing as well as the depth of its ideas and imagery. It shares the same fearful tenor as “New Wave”: an astronomer mother grows obsessed with the moon as it appears in the afternoon sky and gradually descends, coming closer and closer into contact with the earth. This strange event, which even more strangely has no ramifications to the planet’s tides, happens alongside the mother’s twelve-year-old daughter Alia receiving her first period. The layers in this story are obvious, but nevertheless effective: Alia’s mother’s inability to accept her daughter’s entry into adolescence, and with it her own impending inessentiality; Alia bidding farewell to her childhood and learning how to cope with life apart from her mother; and as previously mentioned, similar to the first story in this collection, there are unavoidable cues leading one to assume some form of mental illness is constricting the mother’s rational behaviour, pushing her away from her daughter as she enters womanhood instead of drawing her nearer. The ending of this story, which I’ve quoted at the beginning of this review, is far and away my favourite piece of writing in the issue.

Not every tale in the collection captured my undivided attention; I struggled to find a foothold of interest with “Casting Ammonites” and the final story in the collection, “Widdershins”, by Lynda E. Rucker. That being said, my first Shadows & Tall Trees experience is brimming with ideas and authors not afraid to take a soft-focus approach to otherwise predictable genre conventions. As mentioned in the Editor’s Note in the beginning of the journal, Shadows & Tall Trees is currently in a state of flux, and the format will be undergoing a shift from Issue 6 onward. Whatever its upcoming state of being, this is most certainly a journal worth checking out.

Review: Children of the Jacaranda Tree, by Sahar Delijani

16130324>>Published: June 2013

Maman Zinat did not respond. She seemed too upset to speak. Aghajaan too fell silent, drinking his tea in one angry gulp. Leila turned her gaze away from her mother and father and let it glide on the large chunky wardrobe that no longer contained any clothes, only blankets and covers for the three children. She had never understood why her sisters had kept on fighting even though the revolution was over, a war had taken its place, and everyone was first struggling to make a new beginning and later to ward off death. But Simin and Parisa fought on, along with their husbands. They threw leaflets over walls, held secret meetings at home, read outlawed books, watched the news and jotted down how many times the name of the Supreme Leader was mentioned and how his name was taking over everything, growing louder, omnipresent, and how their own political presence—along with all the others not part of the regime—was being scratched out, their existence denied, stifled, washed clean, like a stain on a tablecloth. They sat there in front of the television screen, pens in hand, putting into numbers how they were slowly vanishing, purged from the collective memory of the country, buried alive. They were now the enemy, the anti-revolutionaries. That was shortly before their arrest, when the process of being undone came to its last strike.

***

Sahar Delijani’s debut novel Children of the Jacaranda Tree is a deeply personal web of connected narratives detailing the lives of three generations of men and women—husbands, wives, grandparents, parents, and children—irrevocably affected by the Iranian revolution. The events of the book earn their narrative weight from the summer of 1988: nine years after the revolution, which installed the Islamic republic to the head of Iran, the country’s prisons were purged. Many were killed, including the author’s uncle, and the author herself was born behind bars.

The novel opens in 1983, in Evin Prison, Tehran. Azar is incarcerated as an anti-revolutionary. She’s interrogated harshly, and as the Iraq war enters its third year, she has neither seen nor experienced life in the city of Tehran for months. She is also pregnant, giving birth to a young daughter, Neda, in a prison hospital, away from her husband Ismael, who has also been imprisoned for anti-revolutionary crimes. They fear the Sisters and the Brothers—their guards, uninterested in the safety or wellbeing of their charges. Together with several other prisoners, Azar takes care of little Neda, fearing the inevitable moment her daughter will be taken away from her.

The novel’s second section, taking place in Tehran in 1987, is from the perspective of family members of jailed anti-revolutionaries. We see through the eyes of a young woman named Leila how one person’s fight for freedom is another’s selfish act—because “Anti-revolutionary sisters meant an anti-revolution family.” The novel is quick to humanize those interned and those still free by showing both equally capable of error and selfishness, depending on another’s unshared perspective.

In the third section, taking place from 1983 to 1988 in the Komiteh Mochtarak Detention Center, introduces Amir, a twenty-something detainee sentenced to six years for a litany of crimes: “Founding a Marxist group, participating in a Marxist group, planning a coup, planning the overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Iran, atheism…” Amir’s wife and new-to-the-world daughter are safe outside of the prison, though their interaction is minimal. Amir passes his days in hope, fashioning a bracelet for his daughter, Sheida, from a small nail pulled from a wooden box in what passes for a prison washroom, thread pulled from socks, and collected date stones.

From this point forward, the novel marches on in years, jumping back in time occasionally to detail the relationship between Sheida’s mother Maryam and Amir, but for the most part progressing through to 2011 as it tracks the movements of the children and family members of anti-revolutionaries lost or forever changed by their time in prison.

In many ways, Children of the Jacaranda Tree echoes the structure of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. The novel is a pyramid, beginning with one set of individuals, then branching off into another, and another still, until it begins resolving the other halves of the lives previously introduced, the narrative gradually winding its way around again to the story of Azar and Neda in the final section. What differs from the beginning of the pyramid to the end is the perspective: nearly thirty years have passed, and Neda, the child born in Evin Prison, is living now in Turin, Italy, and is in control of how her story will end.

The titular jacaranda tree is symbolic in many ways, both subtle and overt. While it is referenced several times throughout as a focal point of happier memories—days gone by, what once was and never will be again—it is also representative of the many paths the individual stories take as they divert, sometimes unexpectedly, down one branch of family history or another.

I appreciated the slight non-linearity to Children of the Jacaranda Tree and its altogether well managed structure. The manner in which Delijani resolves the novel’s many disparate plots to tell a singular family’s wide reaching and often-tragic tale is more than satisfying. There is in the final section a six-degrees-of-separation-moment with Reza’s father and Neda’s mother that mars the otherwise quite believable nature of the story being told. However, because so much of the novel’s detail has been culled from true events in the author’s life and the lives of several members of her family, I’m not going to say it is impossible that things happened the way they are written, merely that given the likelihood of such an event, acceptance requires a small leap of faith.

Delijani’s writing is confident, though I felt it occasionally wanting in the area of physical detail; a greater visual sense of place and environment would have helped with the sometimes fragmented structure of the novel as it shifts quickly from one life to another.

On the subject of lives, it is Sheida and her relationship with her mother Maryam that provides the novel’s strongest narrative and emotional hooks. The ramifications of the 1988 purge are especially strong when seen through the eyes of a young woman grasping at a thinly veiled truth—one that will change for the rest of her life how she sees her father.

Children of the Jacaranda Tree is disturbing and heart wrenching, yet at times unexpectedly beautiful. The resilience on display in the face of startling inhumanity is moving and effective—all the more knowing that many elements within the narrative are pulled from true events. Recommended.

Review: Gun Machine, by Warren Ellis

images>>Published: January 2013

>>Finally got around to it: June 2013

Scarly folded her arms. Leaned away from Tallow. Everything about her, in fact, seemed to Tallow to be closing up. “This ain’t getting solved, Detective.”

“You think?”

“If this guy was gonna be caught,” Scarly said, “he would have been caught already. You know what you did when you put a hole in that wall? You interrupted the career of a genuine fucking bogeyman, some crazy-ass ghost-dog serial killer who filled a room with his fucking trophies to jerk off over. He’s never going to go back there. And you know what else? He’s going to start killing again, probably more and more quickly than before, so he can generate another trophy room slash jerking pit. Not only is this not getting solved but more people are gonna get killed because of it, and we won’t catch him after those either because this guy is just too damned good. All you did, Detective, is find the home address of the Devil in New York City, and now he’s moved someplace else.”

***

Detective John Tallow is having a shitty week. Upon answering what should have been a pretty routine call, a screaming naked man with a shotgun managed to paint his partner’s brains all over the wall of an apartment building stairwell. In taking the assailant down, Tallow accidentally uncovers a locked apartment filled floor-to-ceiling with guns, carefully, deliberately arranged.  Further inspection reveals the disturbing truth: each of the approximately two hundred weapons has been used in an unsolved murder within the city. These weapons, their true purpose unknown, have been ritualistically collected and stored—to what end is the question Warren Ellis’ Gun Machine attempts to answer.

Gun Machine is a fast-paced mix of noir and police procedural thriller. Tallow feels like a man a bit torn between the two ends of the spectrum. At first he’s your classic rough-around-the-edges cop, but with a soft, nougat-like centre (see: “the hooker with a heart of gold”). When he loses his partner, he’s thrown headlong into what’s deemed at first an unsolvable catastrophuk of a case, which quickly becomes the one and only thing in his life worth caring about. Why? Because it’s entirely possible he’s stumbled upon the weapon’s cache of the greatest unknown serial killer in history—who may or may not be responsible for the stratospheric rise to power of several New York City power players and captains of industry.

The killer himself is only ever referred to as “the Hunter” (a wise decision which retains his bogeyman-like status, even when stripped of his more surrealistic elements). He’s a possessive creature who embeds his work with a degree of false symbolism, comparing what he’s doing to the construction of a living memory, not unlike a Native American wampum belt—crafting a modern footprint of capitalism-cum-colonialism. The Hunter’s mission, as he sees it, places him within a society he’s forever removed from—something alien, unnatural, created in a lab. To this effect, his fascination with Native American history, and the history of New York, informs his very being.

The hunt for the owner of the gunroom is only a small portion of Gun Machine’s appeal. What really sells the book is the banter between Scarly and Bat—the two crime scene investigators assigned (condemned) to aid Tallow in his search for answers. These two fiercely intelligent individuals—a self-proclaimed autistic lesbian with possible fidelity issues and a technologically inclined shut-in with questionable people skills—are laugh-out-loud hilarious without ever feeling forced or put in position for the sole purpose of adding a little levity to the proceedings. Case in point:

“No,” spat Scarly. “It got handed off to us. Which makes perfect sense, because what you really want on a job like this is as much confusion in the evidence chain as possible. And I guess me and Bat hadn’t eaten our ration of crap for the year. So here I am, with a career-ending job and a working partner with the magical talent of making guns shit themselves in his face.”

Without question, Ellis’ greatest strength as a writer is his ability to write genuinely funny/sarcastic/quick-witted dialogue that never feels out of place alongside the story and world that have been pieced together. The chapters are, for the most part, short and very visual, and a strange collection of New York City history and rumours litter the book with a colour all its own—as blood soaked as any respectable noir, but seen through a light historical lens not often used for such a tale. Police scanner chatter is used to backdrop the openings and conclusions of several chapters, in essence white-noising the terrible nature of the Hunter by depicting a city so cruel, so vile that the Hunter’s more direct killings, which lack the considerable collateral damage of so many of the other crimes we see rattled off, seem positively clean by comparison. And when one of the Hunter’s crimes does find its way into the scanner chatter, it doesn’t stand out as particularly cruel or gruesome—just another act of violence within the borders of an already red-drenched city.

If I had any complaint about Gun Machine, it would be that we’re told over and over again what an asshole, what an unmitigated pain in the rectum Tallow is, and how much his lieutenant would love to string an unsolvable case around his neck just for the excuse to put him out to pasture, yet we never see it—we never get more than a glimpse at the supposed dick Tallow is or has been in the past. We get little bits here and there referencing how and why he was paired with his specific partner, but Tallow honestly feels more sympathetic than practically any other character in the novel, save for Bat. It’s a bit of narrative dissonance that only slightly mars what is otherwise one of the better thrillers I’ve read over the past year or two. The overarching mystery itself won’t turn any heads for its originality, but the language, interaction, and pacing make Gun Machine a fun and worthwhile way to lose track of a few hours.

Review: Someday, Someday, Maybe, by Lauren Graham

images>>Published: April 2013

>>Finally got around to it: June 2013

“Just about every actor in this city who’s worth a shit has something on their résumé that I don’t have. And I’m not stopping until I get it.”

“What’s that?”

“A part on a show that I can one hundred percent say I’m right for.” She takes a deep breath and narrows her eyes and says, slowly and deliberately, “I won’t quit until I get something on my favorite show: Law and Order.”

You’ve never been on Law and Order?” I say, surprised. “But you’re perfect for it…”

“I know. I’m even Irish and Italian. Who knows cops and criminals better?”

“So, why? You haven’t auditioned for them, or…?”

“People known for being on the most ridiculed talking animal show of the last decade sometimes have a hard time being taken seriously.”

“But that was eight years ago!” I say, indignant.

“Funny thing about this business,” she says a little sadly. “It’s hard to tell ahead of time what they’ll forget and what they’ll remember.”

***

January 1995: with six months left on a self-set three-year deadline, Frances “Franny” Banks needs to get her life in order. Franny’s an aspiring actress desperate to kick her bad habits to the curb and do something with her career beyond basic commercial work and waitressing a day a week at a club where she’s neither valued or respected. Following a semi-successful showcase performance, Franny is approached by two very different opportunities for representation: the shiny, illustrious Absolute Artists (and their difficult-to-read associate Joe Melville), and the past-his-prime Barney Sparks—a relic of a showman from a different time, when an agent’s boisterous delivery could be swapped with a used car salesman’s.

Of course, one already knows Franny’s decision long before she even makes it. She has some early success with Absolute Artists, but as is often the case with artistic endeavours (and coming-of-age tales), early success gives way to a startling, depressing lull in which one begins to question whether or not they’re a fluke (perfectly exemplified by the amusing calendar inserts between certain chapters that go from being nearly empty, to quickly overfilling with meetings and possibilities, to being near empty again, filled instead with nervous scribblings of horses and balloons and Franny’s own name and signature written any number of ways). And like the most successful artists out there, it’s only once the shine of early excitement has worn off and the dull, dead eyes of reality are again staring down at Franny, her self-imposed deadline inching ever closer as love and career pitfalls become increasingly apparent, that she is able to eschew expectations and see clearly what she needs to do if she’s to find success.

Someday, Someday, Maybe hits all the notes of your standard romantic comedy—love triangles (and quadrangles), misplaced affections, learning that special someone is right under your nose the whole time but you just don’t want to admit it!—but its strong lead character and often-comical self-awareness separate it from the competition in what is an admittedly crowded playing field.

Author Lauren Graham (best known for her seven-year stint as Lorelei Gilmore on Gilmore Girls) does a great job peppering the landscape of 1995 New York with enough timely identifiers—such as Reebok Hi-Tops, Dep hair gel (holy crap I used a lot of that gunk in high school), fax machines, and cassette-based answering machines—without overwhelming readers with a litany of “remember when” moments. Her biggest stumbling block as a writer comes from an overuse of adjectives to tell us what’s happening instead of allowing the language and events to say what needs to be said. The result is a book of split-confidences: high confidence in her knowledge of the world on display, but not enough confidence in the characters and their actions.

Speaking of the world on display, this is where Someday, Someday, Maybe really comes into its own. From the very beginning it’s clear Graham is having a fantastic time sending-up your basic film- and television-industry stereotypes: from neurotic casting directors and over-the-top agents, to peacocking classmates desperate to seem so completely and utterly perfect for every part in order to build a résumé that will get them noticed by the public, the media, and decision makers alike. The most enjoyable of these personalities are the aforementioned Barney Sparks, who stops just short of shouting “I’m gonna make you a STAR!”, and one of Franny’s classmates, Charlie, who exudes a little too much Tobias Fünke for his own good (though, thankfully, without the unsettling sexual double entendres).

As one might expect from a former Gilmore Girls actress—and indeed from almost anything Graham’s done—the banter is often the star of each scene. For the most part it is hit and miss: Franny’s back-and-forth with her father is always spot-on, but her conversations with her best friend Jane felt, even in the very beginning, to be a bit stilted and overly manicured for cleverness, as if a wall had been erected between the two friends but neither one was willing to acknowledge its existence. The awkwardness between Franny and Jane never came across as competitiveness, but more as if their friendship was something that had naturally run its course.

My primary complaint with Someday, Someday, Maybe, beside the previously mentioned overuse of certain language, is that many of the beats felt telegraphed from a mile away: which agency Franny chooses in the beginning, knowing full well that she’ll find her way to the “right” one in the end; how Dan feels about her and where that relationship is likely to head; James and his effed-up priorities. However, in spite of these quibbles, Franny’s push for stardom won me over. Part of that, I’m sure, is that I felt a certain kinship with her. For a year now I’ve been pushing to survive entirely as a freelance writer and editor. Giving up a regular, reliable paycheque to follow a dream is a terrifying, frequently nauseating, but also exciting thing that I’m still getting a feel for. And when the money coming in isn’t on a specific day, when you’ve got to push and push for any job that might give you a paying opportunity while balancing all that with the work you need to be doing both for your soul and the career you truly desire, it becomes easy to ignore the sheer amount you’re getting done and to look instead only to what isn’t happening. And like with Franny, it’s the people surrounding you in those times who can help point at all you’ve accomplished and get you to take a breath and appreciate how far uphill you’ve managed to climb that make all the difference in the world. In that sense, it was difficult for me to feel anything but affection for this overly neurotic hopeful.

Someday, Someday, Maybe doesn’t do anything to reinvent to rom-com wheel. It relies on a formula that is never offensive and often predictable, but redeems any lacking structural originality through a realistic, sweet, and very relatable protagonist—one you desperately want to succeed. And of course you know she will, somehow, in some way. That knowledge, that assuredness, is why I appreciate Graham’s ending most of all—because it stops just short of finishing that journey and giving Franny her stardom with unbridled success and love and everything you’d expect this sort of story to truck out in the end. Graham instead exhibits a wonderful bit of restraint, leaving the end on a slightly ambiguous note—like a singer taking in a deep breath just before her solo is about to begin.