Every month at the AE offices, we choose our Pop Culture Picks. It could be an album, a band, a book, a movie, a TV show, a podcast, or anything else we enjoyed over the previous 30 days. Keep scrolling to find out what caught our attention this month!
Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton (Book)
In Short: Dalton uses magic realism and humor to lift up a challenging coming of age story.
Set in the 1980s in Brisbane, Australia, this novel explores the world of Eli Bell. Eli’s stepdad is a heroin dealer, his mum is in jail for dealing drugs, his older brother is mute, his dad is an obsessive-book-reading-alcoholic, and his babysitter is a notorious criminal. Eli lives in a very complicated world.
And while there is a lot of plot in Boy Swallows Universe, the beauty of this book is the writing. Dalton plays with magic realism and post-traumatic stress. Eli and his family lurch from crisis to crisis and without this imaginary quality to the writing, I think the novel would become too heavy. It would turn into one of those terrible true crime novels in the grocery store sale rack.
It’s also a funny coming of age story: Eli’s first love, his first complicated friendship, his developing relationship with his dad, all told with warmth and details that make you smile and remember your own teenage experience.
If you’re a fan of Gabriel García Márquez or Haruki Murakami you’ll enjoy this book immensely. And if you’re already thinking a couple seasons ahead like me, this would be a great novel for your summer canoe trip….
La Traviata (Pacific Opera Victoria)
TL;DR: La Traviata was truly an astounding experience – from the set to the story to the absolutely incredible performance of Lucia Cesaroni, who plays the protagonist, Violetta.
This month I went to the opera! La Traviata is the story of Violetta, a showgirl who loves to party and just live her best life.
Alfredo is desperately in love with Violetta and through some very convincing operatic singing, he convinces her to give him a chance. Cut scene to a few months later and they are both in love and have given up their partying ways.
No good story can have such a quick happy ending though! Cue drama.
Alfredo’s overbearing father meets Violetta and convinces her that she needs to end the relationship for the good of his family…But you’ll just have to go to the opera if you want to know what happens next!
The opera was set inside a spectacular home with a grand staircase and giant windows. Lights behind the windows enabled them to shift the scene convincingly from day to night. The elaborate and beautiful costumes were tailored to the 1920’s when this adaptation to the story is set.
The performers were all excellent, but Violetta, played by Lucia Cesaroni, was absolutely standout. Both her acting and her voice were nothing short of incredible. Her performance is what I will remember most from this magical night at the opera.
I’m heading to Italy next month so this Italian opera put on by the Pacific Opera Victoria was a great head start on that experience…
Russian Doll (TV Show)
TLDR: This funny Netflix original series features multiple universes and a great track by Harry Nilsson.
Russian Doll is a one-off, eight-part comedy drama made for Netflix and starring Natasha Lyonne (formerly of Orange is the New Black). The plot involves a Groundhog Day type scenario with Lyonne reliving her 36th birthday over and over. Time paradoxes and parallel universe aspects provide a captivating storyline, and it’s all held together with great characters dialogue and acting by the show’s main characters.
The plot is superb with the kind of story that has you thinking about the characters and events long after the show has ended. It also prominently features a great Harry Nilsson song that’ll get stuck in your head and which you’ll associate with the show forever after.
Phases by Angel Olsen (Album)
Long story short: Phases is another great album by Angel Olsen.
Shoutout to Annabel for introducing me to this amazing artist! The two of us were driving back from a marketing session in Vancouver when she put on My Woman (2016). My ears immediately perked up, despite the long day of travel…who was this amazing singer?
A few months later and Phases is the only album left that I haven’t played to the point of nausea (yet). So in this month’s pop culture pick, I’m going to return the favor and introduce you to Angel!
Phases came out in 2017 and is Angel’s first compilation album. It is a collection of demos, B-sides, and cover songs recorded over the past 5 years. While you will notice the variety, Phases is still Angel through and through.
If you’ve listened to Burn Your Fire for No Witness (2016), you’ll notice “Only With You” and “All Right Now,” which were both bonus tracks. Oh and, the album’s three covers fit right in; Angel was made to cover Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher than the Rest.”