north of oxford novel review

Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau

mary jane

By Charles Rammelkamp

Narrated in the first person by a 14-year-old girl in 1975, Mary Jane isn’t so much a coming-of-age novel as it is a coming-into-consciousness novel, which may be a quibbling way of saying the same thing since “coming of age” is ultimately all about a character’s self-awareness, but over and over again in this charming, often laugh-out-loud-funny story, the protagonist, Mary Jane Dillard, notices things for the first time, such as her parents’ racism and anti-Semitism, and comes to conclusions about what things are actually valuable and meaningful in a person’s life, as if she is waking up from a long, long sleepwalk.

Mary Jane is the only child of a conventional Republican father and a humorless, church-going homemaker mother. A framed color photograph of Gerald Ford hangs on their dining room wall, visible over her father’s head as he sits at the head of the table reading the newspaper while his wife and daughter serve the meals. Mary Jane has been hired as the summer nanny of the five-year-old daughter of Richard and Bonnie Cone, a psychiatrist and his wife who likewise live in Roland Park but are the opposite of her parents. (Bumper stickers declaring, IMPEACHMENT: Now More Than Ever are plastered on a door.)

The child’s name is Izzy. (“Our neighbor, Mrs. Riley, had told me her name was Isabelle. But I liked Izzy better, the way it fizzed on my tongue.”) Mary Jane immediately takes to the child. Like Izzy, another only child, Mary Jane has no real friends, feels awkward around girls her age and has absolutely no interest in going to sleepaway camp with her contemporaries. “When I did have to socialize with kids my age,” Mary Jane confides, “I felt like I was from another country. How did girls know what to whisper about? Why were they all thinking about the same things?”

In contrast to her own orderly home – a place for everything and everything in its place – the Cone household is chaotic, books and clothing piled everywhere, food rotting in the refrigerator. Bonnie is not a homemaker, and her shrink husband is a luftmensch, his head in his work, not his home. Mary Jane will bring order to the household over the course of the summer, but the more relaxed and loving environment of the Cone family will have a profound effect on her as well.

Later in the novel, Mary Jane reflects, “In my own house, each day was a perfectly contained lineup of hours where nothing unusual or unsettling was ever said.” By contrast, the Cones are loud, intense, emotional, and Mary Jane always feels a little afraid. “But along with that terror, my fondness for the Cones only grew. To feel something was to feel alive. And to feel live was starting to feel like love.”

When the story starts, Richard Cone has cleared his calendar for the summer to care for a recovering rock star, Jimmy Bendinger, lead singer of Running Water, who has a heroin addiction. He is accompanied by his celebrity wife Sheba, known all over the world for the popular television variety show she’d hosted with her brothers called Family First! Jimmy and Sheba are in Baltimore incognito, and in one of her first acts of rebellion, Mary Jane doesn’t let her parents know about them. While Bonnie entertains Sheba and Mary Jane runs the household (eventually she takes over the grocery-shopping, cooking and cleaning duties), Dr. Cone and Jimmy do their work out behind the house, in a garage converted to Dr. Cone’s office.

Blau’s characters are as quirky as Anne Tyler’s memorable Baltimore characters, though not as complex, but then, they are seen through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl who still sees things in black or white and either/or terms. There’s Beanie Jones, the nosy neighbor who keeps popping up in comic relief but who precipitates the climactic therapy scene on the beach, whose conclusion provides the novel’s real surprise plot twist. The Cones and her parents are vivid in their own ways, the parents for being so conventional, uptight, anti-Semitic and racist. But the real bigger-than-life character is Sheba, the former TV star celebrity bombshell. The story lights up whenever she’s around.

There’s also plenty of humor in Mary Jane, much of it involving Mary Jane’s ignorance and squeamishness about sex, her fear that she is a “sex addict,” even though she is a virgin who has never even kissed a boy. She overhears Dr. Cone use the term and it sticks in her head. She wonders if there is something wrong with her for seeing a penis when she sees a cucumber. It’s like a running gag through much of the novel, and part of Mary Jane’s “coming of age” is resolving this issue at the group therapy session on the beach.

All of the women, Bonnie Cone, Sheba and Mary Jane, have “mommy issues,” conflicts with their mothers about their social roles and behavior.  Bonnie’s mother is horrified when Bonnie marries a Jew; Sheba’s mother continually slut-shamed her daughter when she was growing up.

This mother-daughter tension is especially spotlighted in Mary Jane’s case. We’ve seen that her mother and father are cold, distant, but her mother can also be mean.  When Mrs. Cone and Sheba enter the kitchen after Mary Jane and Izzy have cleaned out the refrigerator, “Mrs. Cone leaned in and kissed the top of my head. No one had ever kissed me like that. Not my mom and not my dad.” Mary Jane remembers an incident when her mother caught her drinking milk from the carton, slapped her head, which caused the milk to spill, and ordered her daughter to mop the kitchen floor. Her mother provides specific instructions for buttoning a blouse, to ensure her modesty. When Mary Jane gets her period, her mother supplies the napkins and belt but does not discuss any of it.

But at the end of the summer, after Mary Jane’s deceptions catch up with her and the double life blows up in her face, she is able to resolve her conflicts with her mother (her father remains remote), but we saw that coming all along. Mary Jane is the real “adult” in Mary Jane, truly a heroine. This novel is such fun to read!

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Mary-Jane-Jessica-Anya-Blau/dp/0063052296

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

Dovelion: A Fairy Tale for Our Time by Eileen R. Tabios

dovelion

By Ray Greenblatt

          This novel swirls with philosophies: historic, societal, militaristic, aesthetic, tribal . . . But its essence is a love story. Elena has had many difficulties in life. Meeting Ernst, an artist, allows her to find her way by support and caring. The author uses many poetic devices that we will see in the following sections: Writing, Love, Objects, and finally Abstractions.

                                                              I – On Writing

          Two major poetic devices loom early in the book. The title itself -–DoveLion—is strong symbolism. Elena learns through love to be humble as well as assertive, the yin and yang of human nature. DoveLion is also the name of her homeland where the peaceful are being besieged by the cruel.

          The author also employs repetition to emphasize certain feelings:
          “Once upon a time, I thought Poetry is a fairy tale . . .”(1)
          Elena, the main character, is a poet who did not think poetry could encompass all aspects of life, only the ideal.
          “Once upon a time, Elena approached a grey building . . .” (39)
          This is the moment she meets Ernst who forms her first real relationship.
          “Once upon a time, an emerald island laid upon a blue sapphire ocean . . .” (117)

          This is Elena’s homeland that she remembers as being very beautiful until a dictatorship took power, driving her away.

          These three essential elements in her life are repeated many times throughout the book to have us remember what drives and shapes her.

          Since the author is a poet, as is the character Elena, what is said about poetry carries extra weight. “As often occurs in poems, the words left behind the poet’s intention.” (88) The poet knows that each word holds a certain meaning; sometimes the meaning is lost if the words are not accurate.

          Sometimes the poet has to speak the words out loud to hear if that is what she really means: “Silently mouthing it as if to sense the words’ physicality against my tongue.” (222) In this case the words were sour. As a reader Elena escaped into poetry: “Living through words she read behind covers of cracked leather.” (295)

          Tabios uses delicate personification: “The empty page longs perpetually for its lover.” (2) In a way the writer lovingly adorns a sheet of paper with words.  “The pages seemed too fragile to hold their burdened past.” (209) As she rereads her journals, Elena recalls the pain she has encountered.

          “I am writing this along the infinite cave wall of my mind.”(263) Often a poet dredges up a thought out of the deep unconscious that every human has evolved through one’s life. We must even explore the tiniest of places to find ourselves: “So much wisdom exists in footnotes.” (33)

                                                  II – Elena Searching

          Elena has experienced so much sorrow as an orphan for so many years that she is often startled by an event. “My warm breast swiftly chilling against cold porcelain.” (11) Her fears “turned my scalp into a tundra.” (212) Her major release was crying:  “Crying is cathartic. It lets the devils out before they wreak all kinds of havoc.” (194)

          Sometimes everything depressed her.” The world looked as grey as her trench coat.” (86) “Greeting mornings as an exposed nerve.” (281) She expands this feeling to include all needy people through marvelous alliteration:  “We pockmark the planet.” (240) And sadly, “I forgot how one can sag into night.” (283)

          She often found herself uncertain. “Speechlessness allowed me to harness my scrambled wits.” (192) A glimmer of belief would appear then die: ”I graffitied a temple against my skin though I did not yet know where to place my faith.” (193) Then she would hide again. “I burrowed within its walls. I chose an apartment that could cocoon me.” (192)

                                              III – Elena Emerging

          Finally, these two good but hurt people meet. “It’s always interesting, they knew, when fallen angels meet each other in their human forms.” (52) They were very gentle with each other: “Their tone was the softness of cotton laundered over a thousand times.” (74) Having sex seemed to unlock their feelings: “Full lips which need only pout to unlock a bank vault.” (28) Elena had found an emotional island in which to rest: “She surrendered her fingerprints to the universe.” (81) This sentence uniquely defines her feelings of openness.

          Ernst’s main psychic wound was being deceived as a child by the lies of his father whom he adored. Now the lovers inched their way toward one another. “Each inevitable stutter of love.” (88) They mutually feel that “I forgot you were the altar that made me stay.” (157)

          Elena was being cured by love. “My cracks soldered with the Kintsukuroi gold of sun, light, lucidity.” (196) That Japanese word defines the art of mending broken pottery with gold threads. Lucidity for Elena and Ernst was the honesty between them. A sea metaphor stands for her emergence: “She was wading across a sea floor as she walked across the carpet. The algae of memories. The coral of possibilities.” (21) Even those sentence fragments reinforce her slowly cohering emotions. She has attained her goal: “My footsteps dancing away from youth into courage.”(281)

                                               IV – Things Touchable

          Tabios has the skill to bring objects to life, whether miniscule or cosmic. Let us first look at the building in which Elena and Ernst meet. “A building that looked like a grey egg. I cracked it open.” (19) This simile suggests the birth of something significant.  “The building’s multiple reflections encouraged the thought of parallel universes.” (33) Inside this structure all types of freedom of expression waited for her. Through direct address she challenges her fears: “”’I am not small and anonymous like you, Basement!’” (31)

          Her views of nature are truly poetical.  On the beach “she felt sand lick a cat’s tongue against her ankles.” (27) “Rock arches and a hundred caves presented an eyelet pattern whitened by sea salt over the years.” (255) And she remembered her Asian homeland: “The rice fields, sometimes melancholy at dusk.” (283)

          She uses strong verbs, as poets do today instead of resorting to strings of adjectives: “One road grappled north, the other south.” (271) And her descriptions can run almost to the comically absurd, as this one about a nose: “Hers tipped up unexpectedly for a bewitching endnote.”  (211) Those last two words are both uniquely vivid.

                                                    V – Things Intangible

          Some things clearly cannot be touched or at most can indirectly touch you. ”When sky turns blue, it becomes as physical as an organ.” (282) Or “when I stepped inside the sun continued to accompany me.” (18) When we see butterflies, we just want to observe their beauty, not touch them: “Silver butterflies who appeared from nowhere and lingered over her smile.” (75) Likewise, “a breakfast of rain.” (284)

          These are what we may call indirect senses. More so, flowers play a very special role in our lives and picking them is not foremost. “Inhaling their promiscuous scent, she admired the red, waxy petals.” (40) Notice that powerful adjective that suggests so much more than just smelling. “The door always opened to the scent of magnolias.” (286) Finally beauty unto itself: “The wisdom of flowers.” (168)

          Dance, also on one level, is physical for the dancer. However, the viewer has an entirely different sensibility. “The arm work in flamenco, unfolds with resistance—the arms move through air that seemingly has become physical resistance, like quicksand.” (44)

                                                     VI – Abstractions

          Let us conclude our discussion of DoveLion first with some comments about painting since Ernst is an artist. Like a poet writing words, an artist often had a wild compulsion to paint: “He kept painting the tango on a panel of the sidewalk.” (271) Almost a laughable situation, perhaps even to the artist himself. “The regret of crimson, the futility of pink, the astonishment of brown.” (280) Elena teasingly tells Ernst, “Your favorite color was water.” (280)

          Through Elena, Tabios’ philosophy is very far ranging. From the minor worth of a name: “Amy? So benign. Not sufficiently fraught with various significances.” (92) To power: “When one is powered only by power, joy becomes irrelevant.” (143) “To be poor is inherently to receive cruelty.” (216) And a clever play on poetic parentheses about misogyny: “Not perceived or articulated such that it often lapses into the parenthetical.” (221) A closing irony: “Ignoring reason is often a luxury for the privileged.” (191)

          Not much has been said about the author’s moments of comedy.
          “Capturing light through algebra.” (284)
          “Anthologies of glass.” (285)
I am not quite sure what the above mean, but I find them delightfully whimsical. Only a poet can say!

You can find the book here: https://www.acbooks.org/dovelion

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).
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The Bear by Andrew Krivak

bear
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By Lynette G. Esposito
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In a short poem, Robert Frost posed the question, how will the world end–in fire or ice?Dylan Thomas in his famous villanelle Do Not Go Gentle in That Good Night called for us to rage against the dying of the light. Andrew Krivak, in his novel, The Bear, published by Bellevue Literary Press (released February 2020) suggests the end of human beings is not the end of the world but more a natural cycle of events: not fire, nor ice nor rage but almost like going to sleep.  He blends mythological understandings with the quiet natural extinction of a species.
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The story reads like an epic poem with images both literal and figurative leading the reader along the path returning everything to nature before humans existed.
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He begins his novel with: The last two were a girl and her father who lived along the old eastern range on the side of a mountain they called the mountain that stands alone.  The setting, the human relationship and the naming of the mountain are all gently symbolic of the storyline. Krivak focuses on how the father teaches his daughter survival techniques handed down from one generation to another interlaced with legendary tales of a bear.  The father begins the training before the young girl is five as if he has a premonition of things to come.  The father is right.
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The father and daughter are well drawn through the educational and protective concerns for the daughter by the father. Krivak’s presentation through the father’s understanding of how to clean and tan a hide, how to weight an arrow, how to make shoes from animal skins and other skills are believable.  When the father is teaching his daughter, he is also teaching the reader these forgotten skills once so important.
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Krivak writes clearly and effectively of a girl’s journey away from and back to the only home she has known. Along the way, a mythical bear serves as her guide even while he is in winter hibernation.  If the reader allows suspension of disbelief to work, the reality of the fable becomes plausible and the storyline more pleasurable.
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The novel is made up of 223 pages and is well paced.   Krivak refreshes an old theme of the end of human existence and its consequences.   The last chapter begins:
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                  In her final years, the old woman spoke to all the living things of the
                  earth between the mountain and the lakeshore, for they came to
                  her without fear or dominion,,,
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The fiction presents a clear appreciation for nature and all life.  The mythological bear works well as a literary device and symbol of continuousness.
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Krivak’s is well skilled in using universal themes such as the symbol of  an animal guide, the journey home, the last one, and belief in all nature’s living things  This is a very enjoyable read.
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Andrew Krivak is the author of two previous novels, The Signal Flame, and The Sojourn., a National Book Award Finalist and winner of both the Chautauqua Prize and Dayton Literary Peace Prize    He lives with his wife and three children in Somerville, Massachusetts.
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The Bear is available from Consortium Book Sakes and distribution: www.cbsdcom and http://www.blpress.org
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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.

ÜBERCHEF USA by Jennifer Juneau

uber

By Charles Rammelkamp

Jennifer Juneau’s debut novel is a real riot.  A mash-up of reality television shows – principally cooking competitions a la Gordon Ramsey, but with a nod to Survivor as well as disaster moviesthe novel also confronts the eternal questions, does art imitate life, does life imitate art, does art imitate art imitating life… or, more succinctly, what is reality? The possibilities seem reflected endlessly back on one another as in a funhouse mirror.  Indeed, the fun, zany plot of ÜBERCHEF USA is exactly like being caught in a funhouse mirror!

Related in the first person by one of the contestants, Greta Gupenheimer, the novel is told in twelve “episodes,” as befits a TV show. In the first, the audition, Greta explains her motivation to Maggie, a waitress at the Corner Diner. Friendless, obviously viewing the other contestants as competition, Greta comes to regard Maggie as a confidante.  (“The Corner Diner had been like a home. Maggie, a mother.”)  In the diner after the audition, Greta confesses to Maggie: “I can’t even cook.”

“Why enter a cooking contest to begin with?”

“Because making a fool out of myself on TV is easy money.”

So true! Remember the free Frigidaire contestants used to get on The Newlywed Game for humiliating confessions about the first time they “made whoopee”?  

“The world would be depressed without television,” Maggie soothes her elsewhere.  Greta is a starving artist, a painter, broke, about to lose her New York apartment for failing to make rent – it’s one of the reasons she’s come to LA to participate. Greta’s specialty? Eggs and toast. Not an auspicious start, but Greta has pluck. Through her eyes we meet the judges and the other contestants.  She has a funny way of sizing things up that makes the reader smile. “Looking at Bud was like looking at a vending machine full of junk food,” she tells us, describing another contestant.

As is true of the format of all “reality” competitions, there are three judges. But these guys are more like the Three Stooges – Slick, Gram (later, “Gramb”) and Chef Crank, who is the “Moe” of these stooges. They are constantly bickering, cutting each other down, belittling the contestants, throwing them curveballs. All that’s missing is the fingers in the eye – and maybe that’s not really missing!

After the ten contestants are chosen, the cookoffs begin with seafood.  Only, the contestants have to go out and catch their fish. Greta observes that her “fish looked like a worn-out tennis shoe.” Then, when they are back in the janky studio to prepare their dishes, they discover that behind the wall of their soundstage, the soap opera that’s being taped on the adjacent set is audible. A woman, Jane, is about to be stabbed “fifty times in the heart” by somebody. John? Of course, the contestants and judges become absorbed in the soap opera as the novel progresses and characters like the wealthy Drina Sanchez appear (“Her voice was like a long, black cigarette holder. Long black gloves.”). Did Jane die? The contestants argue back and forth among each other as viewers of soap operas often do.

“I bet John and his lover are in it together.”

“No, the girl in the hospital bed was an imposter.”

“It’s obvious that John hacked up Jane and flushed her down the toilet.”

“Jane was sucked into some vortex.”

The fact that nobody can actually see the soap opera actors underscores the whole notion of “reality” that’s so potent in this novel. (The epigraph to ÜBERCHEF USA comes from Academy-award-winning director Steven Soderbergh: “Reality shows are all the rage on TV at the moment … but that’s not reality, it’s just another aesthetic form of fiction.”)  Listening to the dialogue behind the wall, they are like the blind men and the elephant in the parable.

The next episode, after the Nurse is eliminated, is a spoof on Survivor. The contestants are divided into two teams and go out into the wilderness with guns. They are going to prepare a dish centered around a yellow-bellied marmot, and they are preparing the meal for monkeys. In episode four, it’s ice cream cones for clowns at a circus.  In episode five they go to Italy. One contestant is eliminated after each episode.

But just when you think you may have the plot figured out, a countdown to the winner, American Idol-style, think again. Just as the three remaining contestants prepare for their next challenge, in episode eleven – preparing the favorite childhood treat of one of the three judges (all dressed as children, Chef even wearing a cap with a propeller) – “reality,” the soap opera and the cooking competition all collide and mix like a spilled plate of spaghetti. Indeed, as Greta observes, “What happened next could not have been more surreal had the scene been an online video definition of the word ‘surreal.’” A group of terrorists from the “real world,” disguised as animals, invades the set…and that’s as much of the plot as I’m giving away.

Along the way, we are introduced to a variety of colorful screwball eccentrics, like the celebrity guests blind Helen and the vegan Agave. The Lighting Director, the Cameramen, Jim and Mike. There are the contestants, Ben Jax whose specialty is tacos, Keri, the precocious thirteen-year-old, and all the others from Bud and Tamara to the Nurse and the Mute, the Zookeeper and the rest.  The sponsors? The makers of the cleaning products used on the show, Klootz, Fick, Peedo and Skuzz.

The reader is never sure what’s coming next, but whatever it is is sure to be amusing. And indeed, what’s coming next from Jennifer Juneau? ÜBERCHEF USA is going to be a tough act to follow!

You can get the book here: https://www.amazon.com/%C3%9Cberchef-USA-Jennifer-Juneau/dp/1948510200/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=jennifer+juneau&qid=1575155925&s=books&sr=1-1

 

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by Future Cycle Press.

Cesare by Jerome Charyn

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By Lynette G. Espositio
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Just in time for 2020 reading, Jerome Charyn gives us a novel of war-torn Berlin and a love story extraordinaire.  Published by Bellevue Literary Press and just released this month, Charyn takes the reader back to a World War II timeline and the dangers and complexities of war intrigues, plot twists and character revelations.
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Before the novel’s first chapter begins, Charyn uses several literary techniques to prepare the reader.  He presents a list of major and minor characters; a glossary of definitions, and a dated letter to set up time, place and situational attitudes.  I like these techniques because it helps the reader have more intimacy with the storyline.  The letter in particular sets the time and situation:  February 11, 1943 from the desk of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Berlin.  The reader is ready for war.
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The 367 pages of intrigue presented in seven chapters moves at a quick but controlled pace.  The reader is introduced to Erik (Cesare) in a Jewish orphanage sent there by a council of whores who, according to the narrator, sent their “little wolf” there for a better life.  The whores subsidize the orphanage.  War changes this.
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So the main character is in an orphanage going hungry, is Jewish and alone in World War II  Germany.  How can the plot twists turn to positivism?  An uncle saves him, his mother reappears, the Nazi movement flourishes.  Great reading as the characters reveal themselves and their survival techniques in troubled times.
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One of techniques Charyn uses to reveal who a character is involves common stress relievers that an average person might employ when dealing with poor solution scenarios.
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One of techniques Charyn uses to reveal who a character is involves common stress relievers that an average person might employ when dealing with poor solution scenarios.
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                              Erik went on fewer missions.  He’d walk the streets
                              at night in his black leather coat, but he could not save
                              the Jews of his own district.
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In a later section he reveals
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                               He’d kill himself, fall under a moving truck, if he had
                               to follow the admiral’s prescriptions.  He’d save entire
                               families or no one at all.
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It is easy to perceive Erik’s anguish and frustration and for the reader to identify with the character and his situation.  But yet, for all his self conflict and remuneration, Erik  survives.

Charyn  presents the journey of Cesare, rescued by a conflicted Nazi, as he finds his way from his Jewish childhood, the loss of his father at two, the disappearance of his mother, to the life of a Bavarian aristocracy through his sister’s brother and to so much more.  The search for self as the self is changed and changed again is clear and well presented.

Cesare who was Erik seems to be living the preverbal nine lives.

There is a love story that propels the storyline forward.  Joyce Carol Oates says of Charyn in a New York Times Review. “Among Charyn’s writerly gifts is dazzling energy—a highly inflected rapid-fire prose that pulls us along like a pony cart over rough terrain.”

I agree. The prose keeps the reader aware and interested throughout the novel. The storyline shows how love does not conquer all but at least gives life meaning.  Cesare is a well-crafted book and well worth reading.

Cesare is available from www.b.press.org and www.cbsd.com

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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.

The Wreckage of Eden by Norman Lock

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By Lynette G. Esposito
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The Wreckage of Eden by Norman Lock has a storyline that includes literary giants such as Emily Dickenson, Thoreau and Emerson. Written in the first person narrative, the reader becomes deeply involved in this semi-confessional fiction
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The pre-chapter introduction uses a love letter to Emily (Dickenson) written to her before she secluded herself.  When the writer (Robert) asks Do You Blush?  He states he hoped for intimacy and speaks of only being welcome in her ante room where the lights are dim.  When the first chapter opens:  After Chapultepec, I succumbed to vainglorious fantasies unworthy of a man of the cloth, Lock has set a complex scene of introspection and observation, pleasure and regret, understanding and confusion into motion.
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Lock uses literary convention and technique to reveal the human side of a man who both admires and loves Emily, the poet and the woman.  For such a legendary seclusionist as Emily, the fiction here is very believable and realistic.  Presented in plain language, the suggestions pop as do questions of how far did this love affair go outside the conjectures of the narrator’s mind.
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Mixed in are references of historical events discussed in letters between the narrator and Emily and in the narration of the story.  The literary convention of letters to and from each other is used throughout the  278 page novel.  The characters of both are revealed as politics and conflicts of the day are discussed with conversations included about Abraham Lincoln, the Mexican War and the Mormon Rebellion.  Lock is excellent at giving detail of time, place and situation. Even though this is fiction, it is artistically presented as real.  Lock uses references that work historically. For example,  he quotes “The day of compromise is past…  There is no peace for the South in the Union?”  decried the Charleston Mercury. He references events in history throughout the book as an  effective tool for place and time.
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In traditional literary technique he uses the “letter” convention.  The novel begins with a letter and it ends with a (post script) letter written, of course, to  Emily.
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             I have wronged you in this effusion as often a I have shamed
             myself. To my mind, one cancels out the other, and by the
             arithmetic of compensation, we are acquitted—you by me
             and I by you.
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It is as if Lock has framed the story with book ends  This novel is both interesting in technique and storytelling. Lock quotes Emily Dickenson::: She dealt her  pretty words like blades– .  Lock does much the same in this novel.
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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review, Bindweed Magazine, Poetry Quarterly, That Literary Review, The Remembered Arts Journal, and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.
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Long Day, Counting Tomorrow by Jim Feast

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By Thaddeus Rutkowski

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Jim Feast’s new novel, Long Day, Counting Tomorrow (Unbearables Books/Autonomedia), is basically a murder mystery, told in brief, nonsequential chapters identified by date. Set during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the fall of 1998, the story follows Raskin Trask, a former drug user (and Wall Streeter) who is undergoing treatment for the virus. Though Rask is not gay, he gets involved in the politics of gay rights—demonstrating, for example, with the group ACT UP. At a crucial point, Rask suspects something is up with the doctor who manages the treatment in a hospice for a AIDS patients. When Rask’s roommate dies of questionable causes, Rask realizes he could be next. He works to get evidence that will implicate the doctor in charge.

Around this storyline, the author (who wrote the book with the editorial assistance of Carol Wierzbicki) brings in a number of other characters, some more important than others. Rask is a member of a downtown New York group called the Neo Phobes, and many of his fellow phobes cross paths and socialize with him. One of the more interesting of these people is the radio personality Mac, who works at the station WPHEW. Mac is described this way:

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There was something about his libido, something that both got him into bad fixes (like the one-nighter that cost him his marriage) and into some of the most indefinably sweet moments of his existence. … More than once, he’d met someone at a party and, locked in the toilet, used the shag rug for … shagging.

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This description of Mac reminds us that there was a time—in the ’90s—when urban youths didn’t think much about risky behavior or the need for recovery from such behavior. It was OK to “wang chung” all night.

Elsewhere, Feast brings us deep into the world of AIDs treatment centers. Here, Rask meets his new roommate in the infirmary, Yardley Chu:

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Five or six bodies—not people, department store dummies—were grouped around one of the beds. … Rask went to the covered shape on the bed to introduce himself, but then stopped in surprise, jerking his head to the left. What he took to be Chu was a seventh dummy, prone on the bed. His new roommate sat beyond the bed in a wheelchair. Hanging over the back of his chair was a minor poet Rask had seen hanging around Mac.

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At first, I took this scene as an example of surrealism, without a realistic corollary. Why would mannequins be set up in and around a hospital bed? It seemed a metaphorical comment on the impersonal nature of hospitals. There is no flesh and blood here. The live person is “beyond the bed,” in a wheelchair. Then, on second thought, I saw the situation as Yardley Chu’s attempt to physically hide from those in power, from the staffers who can—and will—do him in.

There are a number of subplots in this novel—having to do with drug dealing, corporate spying, file stealing—that add to the atmosphere of shadowy doings and hidden motivations. To say that all is explained by the end might be an overstatement. Long Day, after all, is only the second installment in the Neo Phobe Trilogy (the first volume is titled Neo Phobe). The forthcoming third volume promises to provide more excitement, more details, and more answers.

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You can find the book here: https://www.akpress.org/long-day-counting-tomorrow.html?___SID=U

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Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of five books of prose. Haywire won the Members’ Choice Award, given by the Asian American Writers Workshop. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, Medgar Evers College and the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

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