Black Beauty – Anna Sewell. Reread of a childhood – not quite favorite; it was just that in the process of going through every entry in the library catalog that came up under the keyword 'horses' in three separate libraries, I was eventually going to end up reading Black Beauty; I resisted from what I recall and turned my nose up at it repeatedly, but eventually I gave in and liked it at least enough that I think I read it more than once. This is not saying much of a horse book.
This held up better than I expected in terms of nineteenth century literature; there is the awkward comprehension as an adult of exactly what “Darkie” means in that context, and that bizarre moment where Lizzie naturally can't ride a nervous horse despite being described repeatedly as an excellent horsewoman because she is a woman; but overall I was surprised by the lack of horribleness to make me want to pitch the book across the room. Sewell seems to have deliberately taken pains to make it obvious that relative abusiveness of Black Beauty's owners has nothing to do with class, and the moment when Jerry (I think?) comments that the cab drivers would have Sundays off if they organized a strike for it was a good surprise.
It is also somewhat less miserable than I had the impression from other people who'd read it more recently, with relatively little deliberate sadism from owners – as opposed to ignorance and apathy and alcoholism – and cruelty usually implied and covered quickly in summary rather than lingered over. Then again, I have a pretty high tolerance for that kind of thing.
Corona – Bushra Rehman. The summary you'll find online is something like, after bisexual Razia Mirza is excommunicated from her Muslim community in Queens, she goes on a road trip. This is somewhat misleading; what Corona actually is is a collection of nonlinear microfiction that covers much of Razia's childhood and early adulthood; the road trip appears in exactly one piece; and rather than being “excommunicated,” she's disowned after her parents find out she's dating someone (male) and she refuses to remedy the situation by immediately marrying.
There are moments of this that I felt were well done, or enjoyed in that almost painful way of recognition – it is so rare to find characters who are in that awkward place of half-speaking to parents without forgiving them that most of my social circle is – but overall I was disappointed. A lot of the pieces have the impression of wallowing in misery for shock value (eg. was that thing with the kitten really necessary? speaking of which, content warning for animal death), and I found the romance with the most attention paid for it thoroughly unconvincing. True, you are supposed to be unconvinced – they break up – but in order to convince the reader that your protagonist is not being an idiot, you should usually give the relationship you are going to have tragically fail some positive aspect at the beginning. Having Razia state that she felt like she was losing her mind and so did all of her friends did not help; it just made me want to scream 'yes, you are, what the fuck are you thinking?' at the book.
In addition, I think the decision to do this non-linearly hurt it. Even as there are pieces that seem to wallow in misery, a lot of the actually difficult pieces of the story I was invested in are completely skipped. As an example, the pieces focus mostly on three time periods – childhood to teenager years; her time careening between temporary living situations in a wildly precarious position after her parents disown her for refusing to get married; and her adulthood which appears to involve relative financial stability, a social circle of other queer South Asians, and an awkward truce with her family. There's no real picture of the transition between these points. The view of Razia being disowned is indirect, told in retrospective with no detail; the details of how she clawed her way to financial stability and ended up on speaking terms with her family again are totally absent. There's an abusive partner who shows up in one, maybe two pieces of microfiction – the boyfriend she left her parents with – and then vanishes and is never referenced anywhere else. Her one girlfriend on page similarly shows up once. Microfiction over the course of a life can work, I've seen it done wonderfully, but the decision to avoid almost all important or decision making moments did not work, here. I have to wonder whether that was deliberate, or from a place of feeling unable or nervous about writing those moments well.