When Everything Feels like the Movies by Raziel Reid

When Everything

When Everything Feels like the Movies

Review by Paul Xylinides

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Review of When Everything Feels like the Movies by Raziel Reid

by Paul Xylinides

From Intimations of Literary Immortality to Recollections of Marlon Brando

Sometimes this book reviewer’s inclination is to throw up his hands and simply quote the entire work under consideration. Since that simply will not do, copious references will have to serve instead as a means of securing a potential reader’s commitment to adding Raziel Reid’s novel to their inner library. Winner of Canada’s Governor-General’s Award (2014) for Children’s Literature, When Everything Feels like the Movies transcends age categories in the same manner as does Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and it also marks a new level of maturity in today’s literary culture of a significance perhaps last seen with the judicial acceptance of Lady Chatterley’s Lover of all books. Reid’s language displays an immediate insouciance that carries throughout the narrative and is its identifying literary tone:

“I would’ve gone down for a pair of Louboutins (I think they call that ‘head over heels’), but the closest I ever got was kissing the feet of celebrities in tabloid magazines.
“My mother’s closet was basically a sex shop. It was full of costumes and shoes which she wore to work. That’s ‘work’ in the original sense, although she werked for a living.”

Easy comparisons to a free-thinking, disillusioned Holden Caulfield don’t serve here. Where The Catcher in the Rye’s hero distances himself in the face of a lack of authenticity in the adult world, Reid’s young transsexual protagonist effectively engages and disrupts those about him in complete disregard of the dangers to himself. People do not so much posture in their lives as inhabit limitations that he refuses to accept for himself:

“… My mom was in the kitchen, burning pancakes. She’d just gotten home from work and was still dressed like a slutty nurse.”

“The thing with my family was that we always seemed the most abnormal when we were doing the normal things.”

His unrelenting strategy is to insist upon the prerogatives of his own consciousness and, if this be cinematic in its conception, then so be it. He is merely precocious in his understanding that “all the world is a stage.” And there are more than enough villains where society’s regard is so antithetical, even annihilating, to his true nature. Any reader who has enjoyed an iota of awareness in their youth as to the various straitjackets intended to bring one into social conformity should recognize this coping mechanism. Every romantic, rebellious soul knows that the world is to be created through the sheer force of imagination:

“I loved the graveyard. It was filled with so many flowers — it was like the Elysian Fields. Whenever I was there. I’d imagine I was a god walking around in ten-inch hooker keels. Or, depending on my mood, just a hooker.”

“I walked to school, but imagined I was in L.A. I turned the bungalows with snow piled on decaying shingles into Beverly Hills mansions … I zigzagged down the sidewalk, slipping on ice and pretending it was the Walk of Fame.”

Distinct from Salinger’s hero and his contempt for the phoney, and in order to be true to himself, Jude Rothesay finds freedom in whatever manner that presents to his talent for artifice. A film always offers up the good and the bad. Its very inclusiveness validates and its imperatives provide a philosophy:

“I loved lies because when you’re a lie, you’re anything, you’re everything.”

He is hardly alone among his competitive peers in the effort to make sense of and not to yield that essential narrative wildness of human nature however reckless is its youthful expression:

“Angela took Polaroids because she thought they made her bohemian, which is the same reason why she smoked cigarettes and had unprotected sex.”

“She wore glossy red lipstick that made her lips look juicy, like she had just sucked on a tampon, which I’m pretty sure she did once just to get her YouTube channel more views.”

So-called anomalous persons in the human community, who have a stronger sense of what life has handed to them, become easy targets when they threaten the consensus of what isn’t right and doesn’t fit. The transsexual Jude Rothesay does not compromise the space that he occupies in others’ consciousness however antagonistic this might be:

“I wanted them to hate me; hate was as close to love as I thought I’d ever be.”

Readers will find elegant symbolism and sharply rendered images:

“Blood streaked down my face like I’d been punctured by my crown of thorns as I lay upon a spike of asphodels.”

His is not a phase that will eventually pass but an inborn sense of himself:

“All I wanted for Christmas was a sleep mask, but my grandma said Santa thought I was already too dramatic.”

Whatever the violence that comes to him, he turns it to his imaginative advantage and remains free and untouched in the consciousness of the world he has created for himself:

“Blood dripped from my nose, giving me red geisha lips. I didn’t feel the pain. I just felt the silk kimono that in my head I was wearing, with its obi trailing behind me as I ran. The wind whistling in my ears was like the strings of the shamisen. I was running for my life, but in my mind I was dancing like I was available for the night.”

In a TV interview (CBC News — The National), Reid exhibited rightful dismay at charges of possible pornographic intent. This reviewer could find no such instances. Rather a raw honesty informed every page of this narrative especially toward the young and socially disenfranchised:

“I could Facebook stalk Luke Morris. He still hadn’t accepted my friend request. I jerked off to my favourite picture of him which he’d posted from his family’s cabin during the summer. He was standing on a dock, and his swim trunks were wet. If you looked closely, you could see the outline of his crotch. That did it everyday. Usually more than once.”

If the author’s depiction of consummated homosexual love reprehensibly turns on the reader, then he/she is already a sick puppy. Here is the most extreme instance of Reid’s graphic flourishes whose cool flatness of expression does not diminish but, at a critical juncture, sustains the insouciant tone of the whole:

“If my asshole hadn’t been brimming with his spit, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

Shocking, yes, but one would be mistaken to ascribe a puerile intent to what is humorous and, in its succinct attention to detail, disarmingly literary. “Brimming” would be le mot juste, n’est-ce-pas?

If anything, the young hero’s assertions of the self are inspiring while at the same time they bring recollections of the attitudinizing Marlon Brando in so many of his films such as The Wild Ones or On the Waterfront:

“When I came to, the park was empty, and the blood was pooling in my nostrils. I told myself it was a performance, and I was up for an award — I was up for all of them. I tried to stand to make my acceptance speech but got dizzy and fell back down.”

And,

“When I looked back up at my reflection, everything was blurred. I batted my eyes and tried to give my best face, but it was so faded, I looked like a grainy paparazzi shot. I punched the mirror and the glass cracked, falling to my feet like lost scenes.”

Final words to the author when interviewed:

“I’m not promoting a culture, I’m depicting one — and I’m doing it with the graphic language that culture uses, and with the themes that culture is consumed with: fame, drugs, sex, and selfies.”

“For my generation, a (Facebook) Like has replaced physical warmth and affection. This has created a nihilistic society obsessed with ‘instafame’ and instant gratification. As a result, youth are facing a deeper isolation than ever before. I wrote this story so that readers can understand lost teenagers like my narrator Jude Rothesay.”

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