The Things We Do | Book Review: Things Are Against Us by Lucy Ellmann

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August 29, 2021 1:00 AM

A call to be angry, very very angry, with the way the world is taking shape around us

Anti-American sentiment rules in Lucy Ellmann's book, and the Afghan crisis just drives the point home (Verified UGC via AP)Anti-American sentiment rules in Lucy Ellmann's book, and the Afghan crisis just drives the point home (Verified UGC via AP)

Someone is furious.

We get it.

There’s a lot to be angry about. Climate change, poverty, hunger, disease, inequality, racism, sexism, terrorism, autocracies, war, rape, exploitation… and Trump.

Ah, Trump. Such is the extent of frustration with the former president that author Lucy Ellmann gives her adjectives for Trump numbers to “tone down the verbal abuse”. “Trump, for instance, is a 15, 17, 3, 12, 13, stone-cold loser, 18, and the 19, 14, 16 o.” 15 is dumb, 17 is clueless, 3 is third-rate, 18 is phoney, and so on. You get the drift, right?

And while Trump might be a bygone, hopefully, the entire American population gets a massive thumbs down in Ellmann’s new book, Things Are Against Us. And, does the author vent! Sample this: “Americans are acutely unaware of the past and the future. Also, the present… Are they just undereducated, indoctrinated, chronically indifferent, hypnotised, or too busy damn busy makin’ a buck? Consumed by consumerism they wallow in army fatigues and self-regard, coveting the next dynamite Apple doodad or an AK-47, plasma screen and some Nikes. They have worried everybody and ruined the earth, all so that they can prance around, effect insouciance, drink beer… guzzle Sloppy Joes… and choose a new euphemism for excretion yearly.”

In a twisted kind of way, many would chuckle along with her description of America as a “hellhole of bombast and hamburgers and opoid addictions and cardboard-box houses and pretend ideas”. With the Afghanistan crisis unfolding, many would say she’s hit the nail on the head.

Most essays in the book have been previously published, save for three. The book begins with the best of them, Things Are Against Us. Who would not agree that “things” ARE against us. From drawers that stick to clothes that shrink or rugs that fade or matches that won’t light, things are out to get us. “The obstinacy, the indifference, the incorrigibility of THINGS! The recalcitrance of THINGS. So many disobedient and unbiddable THINGS. THINGS deceive you. THINGS perplex you. THINGS run out on you.”

And while none would have a joke to crack about the current pandemic or find humour in the situation, Ellmann drives home the absurdity of it all by questioning, “What better proof the spitefulness of THINGS than a viral pandemic? Viruses aren’t even alive, in any sense that we can understand.”

Refreshingly honest, searingly sarcastic and furiously angry, the author is out to challenge many givens. A poor reader planning a vacation will get a very bad telling off for even daring to think about travelling. The average teen opening her eyes to social media first thing every morning is called out to be the “most unhappy people on the planet”, defining the self-absorption of humans brought to saturation with the advent of cellphones. There is a chapter denouncing electricity even, blaming it for the stagnancy of the human hand. “It’s capable of a lot more than just texting, gliding a mouse around or separating Velcro”.

If the reader is not venting along, she surely is enjoying this tirade a lot. And it carries on. Meaning is found where most would never have found it. For instance, the film Spellbound is deemed to be a MeToo movie from 75 years ago. Most of the characters in the Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck starrer, in the author’s view, are “out of their minds” and the real craziness buried in the film is misogyny.

Ellmann’s take on some things would find immediate resonance with many a reader who find themselves a misfit in the prescribed notions of normalcy. Like feminity. Something as small as a bra gives much food for thought. “Men have managed to eroticise bras, but THEY DON’T HAVE TO WEAR THEM”. How it uncovers the many layers of female behaviour, and the divisions among them. There is a camp given in to vanity, where image and appearance dictate life choices and behaviour. Call it the sexy wired bra, high-heeled camp for stereotypes sake. Then there is the other side, a much larger one, where the call to glamour has been suppressed by the toll of daily routine and the effort of it all. Are they less beautiful, the plain Janes? Less feminine, less desirable, less woman? Who decides that?

Which brings us to anger. Anger is a misfit. Anger is not normal, or so we are told. The toll it takes on our lives, our health. There are anger management courses. No surprise the number one app of the year recently was ‘Calm’. We are not supposed to be angry. Oh no no no.

Outrage is not for ‘us’. Let the few out there carry on with it. They have been labelled anyway. Like Ellmann, who gets trolled as being ‘ignorant’, ‘an asshole’, or even told by readers: “I was done with Lucy Ellmann…”

But can we be done with outrage, especially in the times we live in? The answer is pretty clear.

Things Are Against Us
Lucy Ellmann
Picador India
Rs 499, Pp207

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