“Brother” will chill even the bravest of readers

With Halloween fast approaching, horror novels have been flying off the shelves. One of the most provoking novels comes from Ania Ahlborn, author of “The Bird Eaters” and “Within These Walls.” Titled simply “Brother,” Ahlborn takes us on a journey to backwoods Appalachia, where our young protagonist Michael lives with his twisted family. This novel is not for the faint of heart by any means, and takes you on a terrifying adventure through the darkest corners of the mountains.

Released on September 29, “Brother” is a brand new piece, and it makes Ahlborn’s previous works look tame. As a baby Michael is picked up from the side of the street by a deranged family, and at nineteen years old, he desperately wants out. He is constantly tormented by his older brother Ray, who goes by the name Rebel, and he feels completely trapped in his West Virginia life.  When Michael meets Alice, a young girl from a neighboring town, he thinks he has found true love. However, his family is not shy to put him back in his place.

The novel is extremely creepy and sometimes gory, as Ahlborn notes some of her literary inspirations as Joe Hill, Stephen King, and Gillian Flynn. This is apparent throughout “Brother,” as it emulates the horror and dread of some of the greatest shock novels. The book has a peculiar air about it that will make you not want to put it down. The suspense is just one facet of the piece, and there are so many absurd plot twists you will just be dying to know what happens next. Again, I say that “Brother” is not for faint-hearted individuals. You will need a strong will, a strong mind, and even a strong stomach to be able to get through this entire chiller.

Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” falls short as a sequel

Many a student has had the pleasure of having Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” as a part of their high school curriculum. A novel that promotes acceptance, tolerance, and persistence, it has acted as a tour-de-force for decades. However, Lee’s follow-up novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” fails to match up to the standards of her previous piece.

Initially written before “Mockingbird,” “Go Set a Watchman” was a piece thrust away for years and just recently published. It focuses in on an adult Scout, now going by Jean Louise, and the perils that follow being a supporter of civil rights in the deeply racist South. Now the edited final product succeeds in literary style and panache, but has a spotty storyline.

Acting as a sequel to her first novel, it is peculiar that Lee does not draw many ties from the prior novel. Several iconic characters, like Boo Radley and Miss Maudie Atkinson, are not even a part of the piece. The main focus of “Watchman” is Atticus Finch — and his racist tendencies. Atticus, a character who was such a champion for civil rights in “To Kill a Mockingbird” is portrayed as a crabby old white supremacist for the majority of the novel. While the focus of Jean Louise and her story of developing moral ideals stays in tune with her character, many scenes of this book are inconsistent with the characterization of Maycomb County in “Mockingbird.”

A truly disturbing chapter of the piece shows Jean Louise finding a pamphlet called “The Black Plague” and spying on her father attending an extremely racist hate speech. The Atticus Finch we have all grown to know and love as a truly objective and open-minded individual has been reduced to a Southern stereotype with little dimension. Yes, Jean Louise is the main character of the novel, but Atticus helped shape her into who she is.

Alone, “Go Set a Watchman” is beautifully written, telling the story of a young woman learning to deal with a racist neighborhood after coming back from living in New York City, but as a sequel, it is disjointed and confusing. As a fan of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I can say I was disappointed. Even though “Watchman” is a fantastically written piece, the plot had holes that did not match up to Lee’s initial goal with the books.

“The Vagina Monologues” returns to Chatham for annual performance

On Friday, February 13, the Chatham University Drama Club staged their annual production of Eve Ensler’s episodic play, “The Vagina Monologues,” based on Ensler’s interviews with 200 women about relationships, sex, violence against women, and—of course—vaginas.

Just after 7:00 p.m., co-director Catherine Giles took the stage at Eddy Theatre to welcome everyone in the nearly full auditorium to the 2015 production.  She noted that the performance would be supporting the organization POWER (Pennsylvania Organization for Women in Early Recovery), which assists women in overcoming drug and alcohol addictions.

As usual, the production ranged in tone from hilarious to tragic.

Probably the most well-received monologue was junior Phoebe Armstrong’s performance of, “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy,” about a sex worker who works exclusively with women. Armstrong’s lively demonstration of a range of the types of moans women let out during sex—including clitoral moans, vaginal moans, bisexual moans, and college moans, to name just a few—had the crowd in stitches.

Also relatively lighthearted and definitely entertaining were performances by seniors Jenny Schollaert and Skyler Wilcha.

Schollaert took the stage as a woman who became acquainted with her vagina in an enlightening vagina workshop.  Her passionate performance clearly communicated the rush that comes with getting to know one’s own body, and her liveliness kept the audience engaged and amused throughout her performance.

Wilcha performed a monologue about the, “not politically correct,” way a woman came to love her vagina. As she communicated via a staged telephone call to the production’s narrator, sophomore Indigo Baloch, Wilcha’s character came to accept herself by seeing her body through the eyes of an adoring man.

Wilcha’s conversational delivery and her descriptions of the entirely average man who helped her appreciate herself garnered much laughter from the crowd. The biggest laugh she received probably came from her line about the character’s first impression of this man: “I didn’t particularly like Bob,” she said.

These scenes were in stark contrast with two of the most heartbreaking in Ensler’s collection of monologues.

The first was, “They Beat the Boy Out of My Girl…Or So They Thought,” about the struggles of living as a transgender woman, performed by first-years Maya Carey and McKenzie Gordon, sophomores Baloch and Maggie McGovney, and junior Kelly Nestman.

The ensemble’s perfectly timed monologue was an emotional roller coaster. It addressed the childhood bullying that those who do not comply with “gender norms” face, the need that the bullied feel to hide their true identities for their own safety, the happiness and hopefulness that comes with finding people who are accepting of your true identity regardless of the one society assigns at birth, and the tragedy when a partner is killed simply because of their association with a transgendered woman.

Photo Credit: Catherine Giles

Photo Credit: Catherine Giles

The second harrowing scene was junior Rachael Owen’s rendition of, “My Vagina was My Village,” a story from the perspective of a victim of rape as a war tactic.  She detailed the emotions that arise from rape and how this violation can be so destructive to a woman’s relationship with herself and her body. The character—who was violated with objects, including the barrel of a gun, and then gang raped—likened this heinous act to the pillaging of a formerly happy village between her legs.

“They invaded it, butchered it, and burned it down,” recited Owens.

After both of these affecting scenes, as well as several others, audible sniffles could be heard from the audience.

Many of the monologues dealt with issues with which much of the audience could either identify or empathize.

The audience reveled in Lyons’s profanity-riddled monologue called, “My Angry Vagina,” in which she bemoaned all of the horrible things vaginas have to put up with, including uncomfortable tampons, unnecessary cleaning supplies, and unpleasant exams.

Senior Bertie Yarroll performed a monologue based on one woman’s story about how her ex-husband forced her to remove her pubic hair, though such hair is natural and purposeful.

First-year Bethany Bookout gave an impassioned performance of a monologue titled, “My Short Skirt,” stating that wearing a short skirt is not an invitation for scrutiny or forced entry; it is an entirely personal experience.

Bookout’s final line encapsulated a sentiment that most contemporary American women have, at one point or another, wanted to scream at the top of their lungs: “My short skirt—and everything under it—is mine.  Mine.  Mine.”

Sophomore Tahmina Tursonzadah ended the show with an earnest and emotional execution, “My Revolution Begins In the Body.”  The revolution of which this monologue speaks is one against patriarchal thinking and all of the barriers that the women depicted in Ensler’s play face.

There are things for which it is worth standing up, like gender equality, the end of violence, and the teaching of self-worth. Chatham University Drama Club’s annual presentation of, “The Vagina Monologues,” serves as a yearly reminder to, indeed, stand up.

Waiting for Intermission: Review of Blackhat

Set in the developing world of cyber terrorism, “Blackhat” starts out with a nuclear plant explosion in China. In America, not long after, the Mercantile Trade Exchange gets hacked. With the only leading evidence fried in the heart of the nuclear plant, Chinese and American agents collaborate to bring incarcerated cyber criminal Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) to the game.

What reason do they have to take the convict out of prison? To get inside the mind of the criminal they’re trying to take down. However, even with the watchful eyes of the FBI guards and his shiny ankle bracelet accessory, would you trust Hathaway to do the right thing if you give the unlawful genius your computer?

As the film progresses, there’s no clear reason as to why Hathaway is there, or what he had done to be thrown into the American slammer in the first place.

During a quiet conversation, Hathaway states that he did a little hacking, but no one explains what exactly he was hacking. As for why he was brought to the FBI’s attention in the first place, was it because he was friends, roommates, and brothers-in-computer-arms with Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang), a military officer of China’s cyber warfare unit?

Later on in the film, it seems as if the reason for Hathaway to stay with the project is for Dawai’s sister, Chen Lien (Tang Wei). Why would Hathaway risk his life to help America and China defend themselves from a faceless yet powerful villain?

Somewhat obviously, Hathaway makes a deal with his American captors: if he gets the cyber terrorist, he goes free. Yet there’s no explanation as to why Hathaway isn’t already allowed to walk the streets a free man. After some tension between the FBI agents, the young military officer, and his sister, the FBI reluctantly agree that Hathaway is an asset, and ultimately, they let him run the show. Traveling from America to China, Indonesia, and Malaysia, the plot seems to make more sense as more and more people keep dying.

Even with the unsteady camera shots and the (nauseating) movements of cuts, I enjoyed the film. The character introductions and backstories left me wanting to know more about the people I should care about in the film, but I felt that I could focus more on why the characters were together.

The love connection between Hathaway and Chen Lien was a little obvious to me, but it didn’t detract from the main point of the film. The plot kept me guessing–not about what was going to happen next, but why. Why were the antagonists killing people and destroying governments? And, unlike most action films I’ve seen, I didn’t know the real villain of the story until the very end. Straight to the action and slow to the point, I feel that the film “Blackhat,” directed by Michael Mann, is a good film to watch more than once.