Hunger Games Ch5

I grit my teeth as Venia, a woman with aqua hair and gold tattoos above her eyebrows, yanks a strip of Fabric from my leg tearing out the hair beneath it. “Sorry!” she pipes in her silly Capitol accent. “You’re just so hairy!”

And it’s another stupid frivolous woman. Why, book?

Why do these people speak in such a high pitch? Why do their jaws barely open when they talk? Why do the ends of their sentences go up as if they’re asking a question?

Wow, writing fail. If their voices all go up like they’re asking a question, it would have been a good idea to actually put question marks at the end of the statements. So more like “Sorry?” she pipes in her silly Capitol accent. “You’re just so hairy?” or possibly ?!. The reader notices the weird question marks, then the following paragraph explains it. Instead, the paragraph complaining about the weirdos who end all their sentences in a question is the string of sentences ending in a question.

Odd vowels, clipped words, and always a hiss on the letter s . . . no wonder it’s impossible not to mimic them.

You know, I don’t even care that you can sort of make it work by saying they’re not in contact enough with the Capital to pick up cultural norms, because on reflection, it’s the bad option to take.

A major signifier of there being a certain class of people in charge, crushing everyone else beneath their jackbooted heels, is the crushees thinking jackboots are awesome. Katniss having a deep, knee-jerk reaction that the people of the capital are just somehow better than she is would make this whole sequence so much better. The conflict between rationally hating them and subconsciously thinking they’re superiors should be a big part of this – and it’d help justify how the kids all seem to fall into the pattern of playing along so easily.

Venia makes what’s supposed to be a sympathetic face. “Good news, though. This is the last one. Ready?”

Why can’t she actually be sympathetic about this? She’s already doing a stupid painful thing to Katniss because they think prettiness is more important than her comfort, is it really that big of a problem for her to be slightly sorry Katniss is miserable about it? She’s surely had her legs waxed plenty of times, it’s not hard to be sympathetic in her position.

“You’re doing very well,” says some guy named Flavius. He gives his orange corkscrew locks a shake and applies a fresh coat of purple lipstick to his mouth. “If there’s one thing we can’t stand, it’s a whiner. Grease her down!”

Hey, first asshole guy. And he’s a stereotypically feminine fashion guy.

The three step back and admire their work. “Excellent! You almost look like a human being now!” says Flavius, and they all laugh.
I force my lips up into a smile to show how grateful I am. “Thank you,” I say sweetly. “We don’t have much cause to look nice in District Twelve.”
This wins them over completely. “Of course, you don’t, you poor darling!” says Octavia clasping her hands together in distress for me.

Yes, book, I get it, they’re stupid and frivolous. Anyway, this is another example of playing along. It doesn’t even seem necessary, since the only one she has to suck up to is the actual costume designer.

It’s hard to hate my prep team. They’re such total idiots. And yet, in an odd way, I know they’re sincerely trying to help me.

…I don’t know, this just bothers me.

The fact people care about frivolous things doesn’t mean they’re just naïve. Some are, but there are plenty of people where if you say “People are hurt,” will respond not with, “Wait, really?” but “Yes, and?”

In this case, I don’t buy that they’re innocent. For starters, they’re the primary audience of the childmurder games. They know she’s going to be put on live television, and considering the odds with twenty-four kids all fighting, they know that she’s going be dying on live television.

They’ve just seen her naked, and we hear over and over again how hungry she’s been. She’s going to be stunted and far too thin – she’s currently trying to stuff herself with food in part in the hopes of gaining a couple pounds, because she doesn’t have any fat reserves. She likely has well-muscled arms and legs, which is only going to make the rest of her skinnier because muscle means you need even more energy to function.

There is no way they can look at her and not know she’s spent her life in miserable conditions. It isn’t simply “I live in the boonies where I don’t have time to primp and wax”. There is no way they could look at her and think she’d look fine if she took better care of her nails.

I left her blue dress and shoes on the floor of my train car, never thinking about retrieving them, of trying to hold on to a piece of her, of home. Now I wish I had.

I find this really hard to believe too. She’s only got a couple outfits and she even pointed out how extremely special the dress was to her. She’s not the sort of person who would just forget about something valuable and rare, because she can’t afford to.

I can sort of see this justified by her being so stunned she’s not thinking clearly, but again, just because you can make an excuse for something doesn’t make it a good writing choice. Kind of like the show/tell conflict of her insulting the government out loud, having things work out so she just happens to behave in a way more commonly seen in people of completely different circumstances strikes me as lazy. The book’s quite heavyhanded with how deprived she is, it’d be nice to see that reflected in her behavior more.

The door opens and a young man who must be Cinna enters. I’m taken aback by how normal he looks. Most of the stylists they interview on television are so dyed, stenciled, and surgically altered they’re grotesque. But Cinna’s close-cropped hair appears to be its natural shade of brown. He’s in a simple black shirt and pants. The only concession to self-alteration seems to be metallic gold eyeliner that has been applied with a light hand. It brings out the flecks of gold in his green eyes. And, despite my disgust with the Capitol and their hideous fashions, I can’t help thinking how attractive it looks.
“Hello, Katniss. I’m Cinna, your stylist,” he says in a quiet voice somewhat lacking in the Capitol’s affectations.

Oh come on.

She just happens to get the one person who’s legit attractive instead of icky fake attractive. Because niceness directly correlates with prettiness as long as they’re the right kind of pretty. And he doesn’t even have the accent, despite this making absolutely no sense. And stop calling it an affectation! People can have different accents and dialects without it being faked!

Also, note we have yet another good guy. What do we have for women so far? Well, we have the bit about Katniss’ mom not being totally to blame for being pathetic, weak-willed and useless, and the mayor’s daughter gave the pin, but that was metatextually more of an apology for being wrong. And there was the stylist woman who called her a “poor thing” who’s talked about like she’s not even a person. So, basically Prim is the only decent female character, and she’s the stereotypically useless girly girl.

Turns out Cinna’s a new stylist.

“So they gave you District Twelve,” I say. Newcomers generally end up with us, the least desirable district.
“I asked for District Twelve,” he says without further explanation.

…that’s something that needs explanation, book. Right now it seems like all it is is just shorthand for “see, Cinna is awesome and a good guy and not like all those other icky jerks”, and I’m not that easily swayed.

The top splits and from below rises a second tabletop that holds our lunch. Chicken and chunks of oranges cooked in a creamy sauce laid on a bed of pearly white grain, tiny green peas and onions, rolls shaped like flowers, and for dessert, a pudding the color of honey.
I try to imagine assembling this meal myself back home. Chickens are too expensive, but I could make do with a wild turkey.

Oh for fuck’s sake. No.

It’s true that chickens are generally kept for eggs, not meat. But half the new chicks each year will be male, and the nice thing about chickens is you don’t have to feed them, they can forage for their own food. So there should be male chicks growing up every year and being slaughtered. A broiler chicken is going to be far smaller than a wild turkey. There’s no “make do with”. Turkey is generally considered the higher quality bird and even if the meat itself isn’t valued more, the fact it’s several times larger would make it a easy trade.

I’d need to shoot a second turkey to trade for an orange.

Hey, you know what’s awesome about oranges? That they transport well. I’m not saying they’re going to be cheap, but they should be among the cheapest imported fruits. There’s lots of fruit that really is terribly expensive to ship. Oranges are not.

Goat’s milk would have to substitute for cream.

If by “substitute” you mean you can get cream from the milk.

We can grow peas in the garden. I’d have to get wild onions from the woods.

Yeah, about that Katniss. Why don’t you seem to have figured out that you can grow wild plants on purpose? What’s stopping you from transplanting a bulb to your own garden, or for that matter, clearing areas in the forest to keep gardens?

I mean, I suppose there’s the problem of getting raided by other poachers, but they don’t seem to have touched your blackberry bushes, your strawberry patch, or the fishing poles. By all appearances you and Gale are the only people in the forest.

I don’t recognize the grain, our own tessera ration cooks down to an unattractive brown mush.

It’s probably just rice. Come on, rice is a staple good, they should have it.

Fancy rolls would mean another trade with the baker, perhaps for two or three squirrels.

The first valid point, and even then it feels like she’s making a huge deal of it. When we first see bread brought up, it’s a loaf her friend traded for a squirrel. Later they trade away some fish for more. This is something she does already.

As for the pudding, I can’t even guess what’s in it.

…it’s milk, cornstarch or flour, plus either caramel, honey or syrup for flavor. Maybe some gelatin or ager too, or egg whites, to stiffen it up. Basic pudding isn’t a complex recipe, and she should know all about pudding, even if she probably lacked the sugar to make the sweet version. This really smacks of someone who’s only familiar with pudding as something you buy in cups.

Days of hunting and gathering for this one meal and even then it would be a poor substitution for the Capitol version.

Oh, bullshit. Even going by her melodramatic version, the meal would require two turkeys, peas from the garden they already have, easily harvested wild onion she already eats, milk from the goat they already have, and three squirrels. Most of that is food she’d already be collecting and eating on her own, and the only substitution is a wild turkey for the chicken, which as I said should be an easy trade. The part she can’t replicate is the rice, which doesn’t make sense, and the pudding, and that’s apparently only because she doesn’t know what pudding is. The expense of traditional pudding has more to do with how long it takes to make and how easy it is to burn, not that the ingredients are impossible. (Also, as a sidenote, the original puddings were meat dishes. Katniss should, if anything, not recognize the dish as pudding, because she should be familiar with the meat versions as the meaning of the word.)

And the resulting meal would probably be a lot bigger than the one she’s eating, since it doesn’t say there’s even a whole chicken’s worth of meat, let alone a turkey’s worth, and it’s not loaves of bread, it’s just rolls of bread which are much smaller than the loaves she buys.

Really, if that’s “days” of hunting and gathering, no wonder they’re on the brink of starvation.

What’s irritating is this could have been a perfectly good point if, for example, the author had any real understanding of seasonal food or was aware that there’s other plants than oranges you can’t grow in temperate areas. Katniss isn’t able to make any meals that involve ingredients from different parts of the year because she can’t freeze or even refrigerate it and it’s not sold in shops either, and plenty of warm-weather plants will be off the menu completely. Just showing her out of season cherries should be a miracle – assuming they even grow cherries in her area, since they’re way too much effort to ship in.

Anyway, she goes on to talk about how effortless food is here, and what do the people do with their time. You know, I call shenanigans again. She’s a hunter-gatherer because no one’s working, but most of the people in her area buy their food with wages. There’s been no sign people in the capital don’t work, and in fact, at every meal so far there’s been servants giving her food.

I look up and find Cinna’s eyes trained on mine. “How despicable we must seem to you,” he says.
Has he seen this in my face or somehow read my thoughts? He’s right, though. The whole rotten lot of them is despicable.

Cinna continues to inexplicably say exactly the right thing to come off as a good guy. Also, come on, they’re not despicable because they’re able to eat food. She doesn’t seem to have made any connection to the food being there because they take it from the districts, it’s just straight up jealousy that they have food and she doesn’t.

For the opening ceremonies, you’re supposed to wear something that suggests your district’s principal industry. District 11, agriculture. District 4, fishing. District 3, factories. This means that coming from District 12, Peeta and I will be in some kind of coal miner’s getup. Since the baggy miner’s jumpsuits are not particularly becoming, our tributes usually end up in skimpy outfits and hats with headlamps. One year, our tributes were stark naked and covered in black powder to represent coal dust. It’s always dreadful and does nothing to win favor with the crowd.

Then why would they do it?

I can see the kids getting dressed in humiliating outfits if it’s what the people want, but why would they dress them in humiliating outfits people don’t want? Why would the local fashion designers completely misjudge the crowd like this, and why on earth would next year’s designer do the same thing after the crowd hated it, and then the next one, over and over again?

It’s not like it’s hard. You can represent coal with a black outfit. It can be soft black or shiny. Coal turns into diamonds, so add those as highlights. There, we’re done. If it’s got to be fancy, maybe string up lights all through the black costume like mining lights.

Or, since I doubt anyone really cares about accuracy, decorate them with bits of shiny obsidian. And if you want to do something bizarre and artsy, dressing them all in white and then painting their exposed skin black is more interesting and less lazy than just dumping dust all over naked kids.

(Also – District 11 is agriculture? Unless it’s huge, they can’t possibly be growing a wide enough variety of plants for the capital to have whatever they want. I guess you could get away with a bit if you had extensive greenhouses, but there’s also going to be plants that don’t grow well unless it gets extremely cold.

(I suppose it’s possible that things are actually worse than they seem, and even in the capital a lot of foods we have today aren’t available, but there’s no sign of that.)

Anyway, Cinna points out the obvious that the whole coal miner stripper outfits have been done, and he wants people to actually remember this year’s costumes.

“And what do we do with coal? We burn it,” says Cinna.
“You’re not afraid of fire, are you, Katniss?” He sees my expression and grins.

Well, that’s another obvious option. I can’t really be impressed because I can’t shake the issue of why no one else every thought of this.

Also, why is this all about exceptions? First they managed to convince their mentor to sober up and try to help them, now they’re getting a good designer after years of their tributes being dressed in humilating stripper clothes. The bad shit is happening to other people, unnamed people. Katniss is using their outrage here to get sympathy, but she’s not actually experiencing it herself.

Show/tell again.

She gets dressed up in a black outfit with a fluttering cape made of streams of orange, yellow, and red . Because that’s not over the top enough, the cape is then going to get lit on fire.

“It’s not real flame, of course, just a little synthetic fire Portia and I came up with. You’ll be perfectly safe,” he says.

…what the fuck is synthetic fire? Artificially made fire? Fake fire? I’d assume fake fire except it’s stated he’s going to actually light something with the fire.

My face is relatively clear of makeup, just a bit of highlighting here and there. My hair has been brushed out and then braided down my back in my usual style.

Because what’s important is whether or not your prettiness is fake. Katniss is getting legitimately pretty by not wearing makeup, so it’s okay to make a big deal of how good she looks.

“I want the audience to recognize you when you’re in the arena,” says Cinna dreamily. “Katniss, the girl who was on fire.”
It crosses my mind that Cinna’s calm and normal demeanor masks a complete madman.

I realize this is probably meant to be comic relief after all the grimdarkness, but it’s really more distracting. And I don’t see the point in wasting time trying to set Cinna up as a Good Person who notices how much things suck when he’s still spending his time making stupid outfits and caring about that.

everyone is absolutely giddy with excitement over what a splash we’ll make. Except Cinna. He just seems a bit weary as he accepts congratulations.

Really, book, where the hell are you going with this? Is Cinna supposed to be a secret double-agent or something? I mean, he’s not doing the best job of it because if he is he should try to be more gung-ho, but we’re established YA can’t really be expected to handle subtlety well.

She sees they’ve dressed Peeta in the same sort of outfit and figures it means he thinks it’ll work.

He should know about fire, being a baker’s son and all.

Except she, and probably just about everyone else in her town, cook using fires too. So everyone should know about fire.

Anyway, she and Peeta talk and are convinced they’re going to get horrible burns. Apparently he was just going along with it because he was too scared to argue with the stylist, or he did argue and they stuck him in it anyway. Why didn’t anyone demonstrate this to them? I mean, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that kids are going to be a bit nervous about this part.

Cinna appears with a lighted torch. “Here we go then,” he says, and before we can react he sets our capes on fire. I gasp, waiting for the heat, but there is only a faint tickling sensation.

Fire doesn’t work that way. And no, calling it “synthetic” doesn’t explain anything, he’s using an actual torch here, what the fuck how does that work.

He lets out a sign of relief. “It works.”

He didn’t test it?

Wait, no, this makes even less sense than him not testing it. He and the other fashion designer apparently came up with the stuff, so they’d have had to try it out in the process of inventing it.

Also, Cinna is apparently a dick who decided the risk of horribly burning the kids was worth it for everyone to notice him

At first, I’m frozen, but then I catch sight of us on a large television screen and am floored by how breathtaking we look. In the deepening twilight, the firelight illuminates our faces. We seem to be leaving a trail of fire off the flowing capes. Cinna was right about the minimal makeup, we both look more attractive but utterly recognizable.

So it’s okay to look pretty when it’s Katniss.

I lift my chin a bit higher, put on my most winning smile, and wave with my free hand. I’m glad now I have Peeta to clutch for balance, he is so steady, solid as a rock. As I gain confidence, I actually blow a few kisses to the crowd. The people of the Capitol are going nuts, showering us with flowers, shouting our names, our first names, which they have bothered to find on the program.

Really, why do they keep playing along? They’re not even being heavily coached half the time this happens, playing nice with the people just seems to come naturally. And Katniss never seems to think about how she’s doing exactly what they want when she does this.

I notice a lot of the other tributes are shooting us dirty looks, which con­firms what I’ve suspected, we’ve literally outshone them all.

Once again, it’s okay as long as it’s Katniss doing it. When the other districts are getting attention, it’s so unfair. When she’s the one in the limelight, all’s fair in love and war.

Anyway, Peeta compliments her.

A warning bell goes off in my head. Don’t be so stupid. Peeta is planning how to kill you, I remind myself. He is luring you in to make you easy prey. The more likable he is, the more deadly he is.

Mm, this is actually rational now, I’d say. He’s acting more friendly toward her now as the games approach, her being paranoid about it makes sense. The only issue is that she keeps treating it like everyone is out to kill her personally – I don’t think it’s been acknowledged even once that some people might be trying to convince people not to kill them without it being part of a strategy to murder those same people. Getting people not to go after you is a pretty good idea in itself.

But because two can play at this game, I stand on tiptoe and kiss his cheek.

Finally. A much saner gesture than dumping the cookies. The survivalist response should be to take everything given and play along without actually committing, not throw a fit about not accepting it.

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