Wednesday, December 19, 2012

(Not a) Review: Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

Chopsticks by Jessica Rodriguez and Rodrigo Corral

I had intended to write a post reviewing Chopsticks, but then I realized that since I'm not even sure what happened in the novel (after several readings), I'm certainly not qualified to write a review.  Still, the book is so inventive and unique and confusing that I didn't want to say nothing about it.  I'll begin with the trailer...

And now let's have a little plot summary...

Glory is a teenage piano prodigy.  Frank is the boy next door.  The two fall in love and have a whirlwind romance, complete with late-night message chats and mix CDs.  Chopsticks is their song.  Just as their love begins to flourish, Glory heads out on a tour that takes her to world-renowned concert venues, and away from Frank.  Before long, the stress of performing and her longing to be with Frank consume Glory and lead her to breakdown.  She'll be on stage performing and then, without warning, will begin playing Chopsticks.  Her father takes her off tour and checks her into a mental health facility.  She escapes.

But that's just the surface story.  Because, you see, this is an interactive novel.  The pictures and the words, when read carefully tell a different story.  A story that conflicts with the story being told.  A story of a young girl's descent into madness.

I would have marked this post as having spoilers and leave a bunch of space, but since I'm not entirely certain what was real and what was in Glory's mind and since it only really takes about 30 minutes to read the entire book and/or go through the entire iPhone app (which, incidentally, was named "App of the Year" by Media Bistro), I'm just going to go ahead and write about the book.

If you've read it, please comment with your thoughts and opinions!  If you haven't read it, go buy the app or read the book (it seriously won't take long at all), and then come back after you've typed in or clicked all the links and carefully gone over the details on every page.  I have a pretty strong sense that in billing this as an "interactive" novel, the publishers weren't just envisioning the reader interacting with the text and images, but also with other readers.

So here are my questions:

Q. Is Frank real?
Possible A: The first time I read the book, I was positive that he was a real person, and that Glory's dad hated him because her association with him drove her to madness.  Then I read it again and talked about it with friends. I don't think he's real. That's why her dad hates "Frank" so much; Frank is a delusion.  He's the face on the wine bottle, and she created him in one of her drunken fits of madness.  If you look at Glory's wall of art towards the end of the book, you'll even see that those pictures her drew for and of her...are signed with her name.  Not his.

Q: But what about the chat messages?
Possible A: Heck if I know.  I can't explain how she can chat with a made up person. I guess this means my answer to the first question is wrong, but it's all I've got.

Q: So what is real?
Possible A: Glory is a piano prodigy.  She has an obsession with Chopsticks. She has been institutionalized.  Several times.  Her mother is dead from a (self-inflicted?) motorcycle accident.  Her father wants her to be well, but isn't sure how to save her.  He enlists the help of a friend and says "I don't want to lose her too."

Q: What else is there?
Possible A: I'm sure I've conveniently forgotten about images that conflict with my version of the story. Haha. Oops.


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  1. I'll chat with you...if you want. Was intrigued and read Chopsticks this morning.

  2. So...What's real? And what's lunacy?

  3. I'm typing my notes at the moment and will paste them here in a few. Short answer to the immediate question: it looks like there're three different levels of reality...

  4. My comments are LONG, so I'm dividing them into parts. Here's part 1:

    Notes on Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral (2012)

    Overall, this book reminded me of the books Liar by Justine Larbalestier and I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier, and the movies The Usual Suspects, Inception, Pan's Labyrinth, and Pulp Fiction.


    1. A picturebook (which Chopsticks arguably is) can be thought of as a duet between pictures and words. Like a musical fugue - or M.C. Escher's birds-and-fish pictures (like this one: - the words and pictures often take turns being the figure (=the main part you notice) and the ground (=the background).

    2. Alicia describes Chopsticks as "interactive," but I think a more specific term would be "hypertextual."

    3. Many images are shown in dual focus: first in a larger context (as if taken with a wide-angle lens) and then up close (as if zoomed in on). (This technique is probably used most famously by Clement Hurd in Goodnight Moon.)

  5. part 2:


    1. When we first see the picture of Frank's school, I had the impression that I'd seen that image before. And I noticed that the place where the school name should go was strangely hard to read. But I didn't give it a second thought at the time.

    2. Same when both Frank's and Glory's moms are into wine - and are both affiliated with the same wine company. I just thought it was an interesting similarity between them.

    3. What *turned around the way I read the book* was the brochures for Golden Hands Rest Facility. To understand the *shiver* I got from this image, you have to know the song "Giants in the Sky" from the musical Into the Woods. (If you don't know the song, listen to it here:

    In the song, the music that goes with the words "A big tall terrible giant at the door/A big tall terrible lady giant sweeping the floor" is a little odd for those words...but since it's background, you pretty much ignore it, figuring it's the words that're important. But when this same music is repeated on a very different line later in the song, it leaps into the foreground - *because now, suddenly, it MATCHES the words.*

    That's how I felt about the image of the *golden hands* that so far that just been one more detail on the stationary from Frank's school. It positively *leaped* out of the background and made me say, hang on a minute...

  6. part 3:

    4. Which was when I started the process of noticing, flipping, noticing more, and flipping back that characterized the hypertextual way that I read the rest of the book. At first I thought that the school was run by the same company that ran the asylum. But, oddly, they had the same address! And, wait a second...the letter from the asylum was signed by the name that's also the name of the school (Willard Dunn) - and *none of the school letters are signed at all!* And then more things started coming up...

    - Glory paints the dandelion picture that Frank supposedly painted.
    - The drawings and paintings that were signed by Frank earlier are now signed by Glory.
    - I also realized where I'd seen the image of the school before: in the newspaper article showing the asylum.

    So I started to go with the idea that Glory has been making Frank up.

    5. I also noticed a lot of Usual-Suspects type repeated images and words (that is, items from Glory's "real" life that, in the Glory's-making-it-all-up interpretation, she's incorporated into her story). These include the Frank-named label on the wine bottle, the stuffed unicorn, the birthday wine (that we first see as 1991 but later as 1963), the musician who's performing at the asylum, the stickers that Frank theoretically sticks on his mother's Julio Iglesis CDs, the CDs themselves, and lots of others.

    6. Glory is homeschooled (see her schedule on the refrigerator) and therefore might be lonely, and is also under a lot of pressure from her father. So between those, and her mother's death (which, Alicia, I didn't realize almost *had* to be a suicide until I read your notes), it's understandable that she's imagining a much more satisfying inner life for herself.

    7. The image where Glory and Frank are brushing their teeth was *unnerving.* The spine of the book cuts the image directly in half, with the two people on opposite sides of the page - not touching at all, but *staring directly into each others' eyes.* It's as if Glory (if you believe that she's the real one of the two) is looking into a very, very strange mirror. (Then I started looking for other images like this, but only the one on the previous page, where they're having a glass of wine, comes close.)

  7. part 4:

    8. I don't think Glory's father necessarily hates Frank. I think it's more likely (again, under the Glory-is-making-Frank-up-out-of-elements-in-her-real-life story) that her dad "hating" Frank is a convenient excuse for the two never to meet.

    9. Under this interpretation, Glory's making up the texting conversations entirely.

    10. F and G are the discordant notes Glory plays (according to what? just the meta-text, like the blurb on the back, or somewhere in the text too?). But, as we see on the fire hydrant (and in various places where they sign their just initials in notes to each other), they're also Frank and Glory's initials!

    11. I loved the level of detail in the photography, like the texture of the carpet. (Did that remind anyone else of the opening set of scenes in the movie Inception?)

    12. I thought labeling a piece of sheet music as "Chapter 1" was odd...until I realized that *all* the chapter numbers were hidden as part of internal-to-the-story documents. I had trouble finding some of them (in one case, I suddenly found myself in chapter 8 without noticing a chapter 7), but I eventually found all of them...up to chapter 10. (Is there a chapter 11?)

  8. part 5:

    13. Question: what is Glory doing with the sewing stuff near the end? She seems to be doing something to the letter S on her robe, but that letter looks (from what we can see of it, anyway) intact when we "later" see the the beginning of the book. (That's what I mean by hypertext, and the need for constant flipping!)

    14. Explaining the book/movie comparisons in my first sentence that I haven't gotten to yet: Chopsticks is like Pan's Labyrinth because a girl in an ugly situation might really have an alternate life...or might just be taking refuge in an elaborate fantasy. It's like Pulp Fiction in the way it wraps around itself, making the beginning into the ending and vice versa. It's like I Am the Cheese because...well, if you haven't read I Am the Cheese, I'm not going to spoil it for you!

    15. Like in Liar by Justine Larbalestier, just when I think I've got it all figured out, there's one more twist. The sewing magazines that Glory reads are called "Golden Hands." So **is the asylum itself made-up-from-parts-of-real-things too?**
    ---> That would be some neat nesting levels of reality there - again like Inception
    ---> Which begs the question: why stop at three? Could there be even *more*?

  9. p.s. I'm emailing you a somewhat-improved version of the above.

  10. Great review! Here's mine if you don't mind:

    Thanks and have a nice day! :D