novel review

The City of Folding Faces by Jayinee Basu

the city

By Nicole  Yurcaba

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Jayinee Basu’s The City of Folding Faces explores a multitude of themes relevant to our own current American society. Mara, the novel’s main character, is an everyperson of sorts. Her struggle as a Ruga—a subculture composed of those individuals who have uploaded themselves into a conscience-expanding system that defies human limits known as Roulette—to communicate to her non-Ruga boyfriend, Arlo, provokes the reader to think about the discrimination of transgenders in the military and the workplace as they appear in day after day in our own world. For example, at one point in the novel a news release states that “Belgium has proposed a bill banning Ruga individuals from being employed in governmental positions” (66). This ban effects Hanne, Arlo’s one-time lover and a Ruga who suppresses her dimensional dysphoria by using a nasal spray she developed, who left Belgium but eventually decides to return. More importantly, the fictional ban echoes the Trump Administration’s 2019 transgender military ban of nearly 15,000 transgender troops serving in the military, as well as the subsequent follow-ups by military academies to ban transgenders from enlistment, all of which cited gender dysphoria as a reason for the block.

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Hanne’s character in the novel opens the discussion regarding what lengths people go to in order to conceal or deny their identities, a discussion that is more and more important in American society where discriminatory public policies regarding transgenders and others of the LGBTQ+ community often force people into emotional, even mental, seclusion. Though the novel does not focus on Hanne’s struggle with her Ruga identity, it alludes to the struggle, since the reader sees Hanne utilizing a nasal spray that she developed in order to suppress her Ruga tendencies, and the reader experiences, along with Hanne, the painful effects of identity suppression. At one point, in an attempt to help Mara, Arlo asks Hanne to give him access to the nasal spray, though the spray has not been federally approved for public use, and Arlo is unaware of Hanne’s Ruga identity and her use of the spray.

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While Hanne makes the choice to return to Belgium under dangerous and hostile conditions, Mara makes the choice to undergo a radical, figure-changing surgery that modifies her face in order to express the inexpressible. The surgery, nonetheless, has consequences: Ruga are increasingly ostracized, discriminated against in the workplace, and ultimately banned from the rest of society. Mara also grapples with the loss of her relationship with her boyfriend, Arlo. Again, an informed reader might think of the Trump Administration’s transgender military ban. Theoretically, under the Administration’s ban, those transgender individuals who have already enlisted and serving can stay in the military, as long as they are out and have a diagnosis. However, many transgenders—much like the Ruga in Basu’s novel—fear promotion denial, deployment denial, or forced discharge.

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At a turning point in the novel, Mara leaves Arlo to live with not only a group of Ruga, but also the creator of Roulette, who struggled with dimensional dysphoria and desired to create a safe place for Ruga members. For awhile, it seems that Mara and Roulette’s creator will form a creator-creation romance. What happens is a shock: Mara eventually returns to Arlo, after stealing her memory files from Roulette’s creator, and Arlo becomes a character that many might see as the antithesis of American society’s attitudes towards those who choose otherness, a different or new identity, etc.: accepting, welcoming, and progressive in his attitudes: “Some people grow steadily, like a tree. Others are like volcanic rock, the accumulated sediment of serial eruptions. Arlo was an analog vine creeping along the violently digital protrusion of her existence” (98). Thus, Arlo, in one person, represents the many Americans and citizens of other nations who have opened their homes, their hearts, and their lives, to love and acceptance, such GLAAD and other local and national support groups for those who are transitioning.

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Basu’s novel is brief, sparse, and open, and the openness allows the reader to interpret and engage with the novel at superficial, metaphorical, philosophical, and even spiritual levels. The City of Folding Faces allows readers to enter a society radically similar—maybe even radically prophetic—yet different from our own, where the issues and choices those of otherness face are real and every day. The novel also implicitly asks the reader to search within themselves to find the answers to difficult questions posed by the acceptance of otherness, as depicted by Arlo’s eventual acceptance of Mara’s Ruga identity, and society’s eventual tailoring of itself to meet individual needs. At both the figurative, the personal, the universal level, The City of Folding Faces asks “What’s next?” When interpreted through the current lens of American social and political issues, The City of Folded Faces becomes a must-read for those engaged in discussions regarding identity, fluidity and even race.

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You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07PVCW7FS/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i1

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Nicole Yurcaba is a Ukrainian-American poet and essayist, who teaches at Bridgewater College and serves as the Assistant Director to the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival. Her poems and essays have appeared in The Atlanta Review, The Lindenwood Review, Whiskey Island, Raven Chronicles, and many other online and print journals. While her poems often focus on Ukrainian culture and the Ukrainian diaspora experience, her essays primarily focus on US Army Special Forces. She lives in West Virginia, and she holds an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University.

Venusberg by Anthony Powell

venus

By Ray Greenblatt

Anthony Powell (1905-2000) is primarily known for his 12-volume series of novels A Dance to the Music of Time. It took him some twenty-five years  (1951-1975) to develop this massive work covering fifty years in the lives of his many characters. From its publication came fame, riches, and a BBC series. After reading this accomplishment, I grew curious to know what he had first written in the 1930’s.

I chose to read Venusberg (1932) to see if Powell’s style had changed over the years. Indeed it had: before the high seriousness of the Dance series, he had used comedy as his major device.

I –Characters

Since people are the mainstays of any novel, let us meet them first. Powell sometimes tosses a number of characters at the reader; however, his acuity in  defining them helps make each person memorable. Lushington, a journalist, is our protagonist. “He was a serious young man with a pink and white face who believed implicitly in eventual progress on a scientific basis although he had had Anglo-Catholic leanings in his City days.” (5) Powell sees religion as just one of the many interchangeable traits that make up a twentieth century person. “An almost absolute business inability and perhaps some hereditary flaw in his character had led him to journalism and being ambitious he hoped one of these days to become dramatic critic on a paper with a decent circulation.” (5) People seem to stumble into jobs pretty much by chance.

Lushington’s friend Da Costa, working in the Venusberg embassy, was the man Lushington was going to visit. “A dark young man with a greenish, horse-shaped face, stood beside him, also watching the sea, his mouth a little open as if at any moment he were going to laugh.” (37)”Da Costa like Lushington was shy. But whereas Lushington’s shyness took the form of creeping about rooms pretending that he was really not there at all, Da Costa’s manifested itself in shouting loud and laughing and upsetting things to counteract this feeling of personal inadequacy.” (5)

Pope, Da Costa’s butler, nearly steals the novel for his eccentricities. “Pope had an unhealthy complexion, strangely discoloured, mineral rather than flesh, and hair so fair that it was nearly white.” (38) “Pope always found difficulty in leaving a room expeditiously. Undisciplined, he gave out vitality in such wrong directions as Da Costa with enormous force.” (67) In a moment of extreme tension, “at the other end of the line Pope gobbled in a kind of ecstasy of fright and refinement, at intervals making a sort of clucking noise as he poured strings of unconnected, ingratiating words into the transmitter.” (136)

Many of the minor characters are also intriguing. Waldemar is a captain in the army and friend of Da Costa: “Waldemar, regarding him as a typical Englishman and as such prepared for the worst, was a little afraid of him. Waldemar himself was a quiet, studious young man whom circumstances rather than taste seemed to have brought to the high calling of arms. He was shy and his tunic was a great deal too tight and whenever Da Costa asked him whether or not he would eat a certain dish he always said ‘Perhaps’ as a polite method of throwing the onus on Da Costa.” (44)

Powell can also depict the nature of children well. Little Panteleimon is a five- year-old:  “Little P’s face was large and round and he stood there, leaning, with all his weight on one leg, gazing in front of him with an expression of convinced and dogged cynicism. “ (93) Then Powell goes more deeply as the mother confronts him: “Little P fixed her with his fishy wide eyes and moved away slightly, crossing one leg behind the other and pointing his toe in the First Position. He was an elderly, world-weary child dressed in the travesty of a sailor suit.” (93)

II – Humor

Already we have been getting hints of humor in the way Powell expresses himself. Some of the humor borders on pathetic often with a comic double punch line. Da Costa was going to take a job with a relative but “his relative, as it happened, retired soon after his arrival but this was due to a personal whim and was unconnected with Da Costa’s shortcomings.” (7) “He had never been in love before, except slightly with one of his first cousins, who was already engaged to a man in the Treasury.” (6) “But she was a girl who felt that life should be full of meaning and she broke with her second husband, a film producer, because he adapted one of the minor classics too freely.” (10)

Many of the people are just downright silly. The French minister’s wife: “She came from Rennes and almost all the fun she got out of life was being rude to the German minister whose surname happened to be of some international significance.” (64) Lushington has been having an affair with a German woman:

“’I do not know,’ she said. ‘Perhaps you will remember me when you see your English girl again.’

‘But you are coming back with me to England.’

‘Oh yes. I forgot.’”

Play on words is another device Powell uses effectively:

“’Woman has become her own master.’

‘And very often someone else’s mistress.’”(118)

At an embassy dinner the American minister says:” ‘Isn’t this party great? It takes you back somehow. The pictures, the armour, the old paneling. Even the dresses and the uniforms. Why we might be at the court of Catherine the Great or the Roi Soleil. Don’t you get me, Lushington? See how I mean?’

‘This sandwich takes me back further than the armour.’”(130)

And there are physical moments: “Da Costa, all legs and arms, sitting in an armchair, as if his limbs had been thrown there without arrangement.” (56) “His wife, whose immense proportions seemed as if they might at any moment evade the neo-classic creation she was wearing.” (125) “His overcoat hung on him quite loosely as if it were suspended from a hook somewhere beneath his neck.” (75) “There were two doors at the entrance, one of them so heavy that only very strong people could get into the hotel at all without help and even those who managed to push it open, unassisted by the hall porter, were often swept back into the street at the very moment when they had seemed on the point of gaining admittance.” (35) “

Other moments of humor are more sarcastic, ironic: “Her father, a captain retired from the Marines, who had lost his wife’s money by judicious investments, lived in a bungalow on the south coast with his eight children and this used sometimes to make him appear a discontented man.” (10) “The girls at the next table were not interested in Waldemar either as they and the manager were equally familiar with the rates of army pay.” (47) “The American minister, who with the help of the German leading-lady was energetically lowering his country’s prestige at the far end of the room.” (49) “Baroness Puckler, who said that in the days before the war when anarchists were an adjunct to any public function of any importance, no royalty would have dreamed of taking so much trouble to remain alive.” (87) Even a couple deaths at the end of the novel did not suppress the humor.

III – Style

Anthony Powell’s novel is only 152 pages long with 37 chapters, which averages four pages per chapter; some of those chapters are one paragraph.  These techniques blend to make the plot move quickly.  Strangely enough, the title Venusberg is never used in the book; we must conjecture that that foreign city is where men and women are searching for love.

He employs vivid participles to good effect: “A group of cavalrymen stood behind him, leaning romantically on their sabers, mopping and mowing at their friends in other parts of the hall and assisting the room’s chiaroscuro with a solid background of red breeches.” (124) He often juxtaposes opposites in one sentence to subtly demonstrate the vagaries of life: “The boat was small. It smelt of cocoanut oil and was to call at Copenhagen on the voyage.” (24) Sometimes he totally omits details, as we do in life: “’To speak of morals,’ said the host, ‘have you heard the latest story about Madame Gomez?’

It was a good one.” (71)

And Powell’s run-on sentences capture life’s awkwardnesses: “Art and letters exhausted, Pope began to roam among the litter of his personal reminiscence, exploring the cramped furtive lanes of memory, winding this way and that through the tinsel by-ways of his past, petting and cosseting his ego, warming it at the glow of innumerable self-congratulatory episodes that had, it seemed, lighted the road.” (74)

But for me metaphors are his most powerful stylistic tool, assisting to convey his humor. Regarding people, “His presence, slowly getting to work like the warming up of an engine.” (41) Lushington gets a job: “But there was a circumstance that gave to the appointment some of the tang of a stale joke, a flavour used-up but at the same time forceful and disturbing like a tune running tiresomely in his head.” (5) “She looked at Lushington under her heavy lashes and he became aware of contact with her. She dropped her eyes suddenly, like pulling down a blind with a snap.” (20) Sometimes the image becomes an abstract artistic one: “The younger one turned and looked at him too and in profile her cheek bones and long, blacked eyelashes made an angular pattern against the varnished walls of the dining room.” (18)

Things and places also come into three-dimensional focus. “This last person carried a heavy instrument as for jacking up a lorry. With this contrivance, which proved to be a survival from the early days of printing, he stamped all the passports which he considered to be in order.” (34) “The food and wine in the restaurant were like the decorations, heavy and pretentious.” (45) “Ortrud and Baroness Puckler were there wearing all their coats and scarves and standing beside a cairn of suitcases.” (33) The start of a day: “Shrill voices that jarred against the thin atmosphere of morning.” (134) The cleaning of a room: “The atmosphere, the fumes of sweat and disinfectant, was midway between an operating theatre and a corner of the monkey house.” (139) A newspaper office: “Lushington went down the stairs which were of stone like those of a prison or lunatic asylum and were, in effect, used to some considerable extent by persons of a criminal tendency or mentally deranged.” (4) “The North Sea, an engrailed tract of sheet iron, heaved a little.” (14) Whether it be metaphor or simile, the image is unique and forceful.

IV – Philosophy

Through his characters Powell has little positive to say about ocean voyages: “The sea was calm and the hard clearness of the night limited the illusion of space and accentuated the claustrophobia of sea-travel. The sea seemed shut in closely by the waves and the bright wastes of stars.” (26) “What’s she like? Well I imagine you know more about her than I do. You were almost alone with her in an open boat for several days. For all the privacy there is on those boats coming out here one might as well be on a raft.” (49)

Embassy life is constricting too: “I met one of their secretaries the other day at a tea party. We were both lodged in a corner and he thought I was an American engineer on his way out to some mines in Russia and I thought he was a French author on his way back. They have invented an entirely new form of boredom, like the worst moments of being in the boy scouts at one’s preparatory school.” (40)  “All around him was the used-up atmosphere of the end of a party.” (132)

Powell has a chance to highlight some American traits: “Lushington shook hands with Cortney who said with a conversational burr as sweet and low as the vox humana of some mighty cinema organ . . .”(43) “They give their best diplomatic posts to business men who need a rest or lawyers who have flown a bit near the wind in their own country. They send publishers to the more important capitals but the people here have to put up with smaller fry.” (41)

The view of policemen is also jaundiced: “There were two gendarmes at the entrance to the block of flats. These, stage policemen out of a knock-about farce, stopped him shaking their heads. They stood in front of the door, grunting and intransigent, making signs that he could not go in, their expressions that of highland cattle.” (137) However, death is feared and respected: “Here then was that rather astonishing mystery about which so much had been said that when the fact itself was there no further comment was possible. For the moment no near at hand formula seemed at all adequate. This was something well-defined and at the same time not easy to believe in.” (138)

Anthony Powell opened his novel with a mystical view of the city where ships somehow meld with the houses: “There were streets and houses among the docks and looking between these it seemed that ships were moored in the thoroughfares of the town itself.” (34) And he concludes: “This was the last outpost of the unreal city and, prodigally dramatic, a soldier was standing on one of the bastions of the central tower leaning on his rifle, humped out by his helmet and pack into a gargoyle against the snowy castellations and pale stars.” (146)

Anthony Powell’ A Dance to the Music of Time considers so many major areas of life: politics, the military, history, business, the arts, etc. All of this is done in a very somber manner which does not detract from its power. The earlier writings were after something else: the comic adventures of a young man. Our author succeeded in this venue as well, joining the ranks of P.G. Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, and the also young Aldous Huxley.

You can find the book here:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/p/anthony-powell/venusberg.htm

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.

 

 

Nobody Move by Philip Elliott

nobody

By Charles Rammelkamp

Philip Elliott’s prizewinning 2018 flash fiction chapbook, Hunger and Hallelujahs, features a junkie mendicant in search of her soul; the sequence ends up in Los Angeles, the city of so many broken dreams. As if picking up where he left off, in his new noir novel, the main character, Eddie Vegas who, as his name suggests, is a small time criminal, is likewise influenced by a hazy idealism that, in his case, leads to his undoing. Criminals need to be ruthless, as Eddie’s buddies, Floyd and Sawyer, remind him, but Eddie is moved by “love” – his love for Dakota, a woman he meets at a strip club.  She’s come to LA to find her long-lost sister.

There’s an almost Sophoclean dynamic at work here, too, because halfway through the novel, we learn that Dakota, the object of Eddie’s devotion is the sister of a woman he murdered in cold blood at the start of the story, a witness who had to be removed, simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Remember how Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother but doesn’t realize it? Eddie is no King Oedipus, but when he understands what has happened he, too, realizes his irredeemable mistake with that agony of self-awareness. All he can do is hope Dakota doesn’t find out, but of course she does.

At the novel’s end, when Eddie is in San Quentin serving a thirty-year sentence for his crimes, we find him in the prison theater group playing the role of Casca in Julius Caesar.  “…those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me….”  In a noir novel featuring unequivocally bad characters all over the place, Eddie’s ambiguity makes this tale more than crime fiction. Of course he’s responsible for all the horrible things he does, but we want to forgive him, if only because his devotion to Dakota seems so pure.

Likewise, where the noir genre never features “good guys” – Nobody Move is full of sketchy, scary, contemptible characters, from Eddie’s small time partners, Floyd and Sawyer, to their sadistic boss, Saul Benedict, the mysterious killer Diego (aka, The Puerto Rican), Gay Larry, a shady porn mogul who owes Saul big time, Mandy and the other “dancers” at The Pink Room strip club, and the over-the-top serial killer Rufus Kane, brother of the original murder victim, Bill Kane, whose death gets the whole drama rolling – this novel features a heroine, Alison Lockley, LAPD detective, a force for justice. If we feel ambivalent about Eddie, there’s no mistaking our positive reactions to Alison. She stands up for women in the face of sexism. But even “justice” has its limits when she puts her job ahead of her son.

The genius of Nobody Move, though, is in its relentless action. If the term “page-turner” ever applied to a novel, this is it. Elliott juggles the different stories focusing on Eddie, Alison, Rufus and other characters to reach a breathtaking climax. Like something out of a Coen Brothers movie, the novel begins with the grisly murders and the slapdash burial of  Bill Kane, one of Saul Benedict’s “clients” who is late on a drug-business payment, and Dakota’s sister Kaya White. The bloodbath continues throughout, with a huge shootout during a bank robbery and a bloody car chase that makes the one in Bullitt look like kiddie cars.  “Nobody move, nobody get hurt,” Floyd advises the customers in the bank at the start of the robbery, which is  where the novel gets its title; it doesn’t work that way, of course. Certainly not as slick as Robert De Niro in Heat, to which Floyd aspires.

One of the potent themes of Nobody Move, indeed, is the movies. This is LA, after all. Indeed, one of the novels epigraphs comes from Quentin Tarantino: I steal from every single movie ever made.  From the murders to the car chases to the robberies and more, so many of the scenes feel “cinematic.” When Eddie is the airport stashing a duffel bag full of cash into a locker – also a film noir cliché – he cons a young model who is at LAX to catch a flight to Prague. Eddie lies and says that’s where he is going too. When asked why he is going there, he says he spun the globe and pointed with closed eyes and his finger landed on Prague.

“You Americans,” the girl exclaims, “you are all so dramatic. Everything is like a movie to you.”

“You know,” Eddie replies, “that’s probably the truest statement I’ve ever heard.”

Dakota is similarly a movie buff and has modeled her accent from the voices she’s heard on the big screen.

Elliott places the action in the real world of Donald Trump’s America, in which violence is always bubbling just under the surface all the time.  At the makeshift graves in Angeles National Forest where Eddie and his cohorts have dumped the bodies of Bill Kane and  Kaya White, Alison speaks with Mike, one of the cops at the scene. “Criminals are getting dumber these days,” Alison notes when he describes the sloppy work Eddie and Floyd and Sawyer did in hiding the bodies.

“Dumber or bolder,” Mike says.

“Both,” Alison says. “Like our dipshit president and his bullshit wall.”

You go, Alison!

You can find the book here: https://intothevoidmagazine.com/product/nobody-move-by-philip-elliott-print/

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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. An e-chapbook has also recently been published online Time Is on My Side (yes it is) http://poetscoop.org/manuscrip/Time%20Is%20on%20My%20Side%20FREE.pdf

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The Gospel According to the Son by Norman Mailer

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By Samantha Seto

Norman Mailer’s The Gospel According to the Son is written as if it were an  autobiographical account of the narrator, Jesus, who presents a firsthand coming-of-age story. The novel traces the linear trajectory of Jesus’ life story. Mailer, writing in the 20th century, is mindful of the original, historical Jesus and his story in the Bible. The novel has biblical verses embedded into the narrative that reflects the progression of Jesus’ life as related by the authors of the four Christian gospels: Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John. Mailer adapts Jesus’ unique voice by using a persona. Jesus’s first-person narrative voice creates a distinct account that retells yet perceives the series of events that compose the gospel differently. Mailer uses an analytical lens to make his point within the religious context of Jesus’ story. He provides keen insight into the role of character of Jesus. He gives the reader a glimpse of the good morals in Jesus that build the power of highest good from God. The good in Jesus is a noteworthy attribute because it contrasts the evil that God also tolerates. Mailer’s novel provides insight into the gospel by establishing Jesus’ presence and great impact that made all the difference in the world.

The novel portrays Jesus, who is the Son of God, making a very significant mark in history. Jesus was once a child gifted with divine power and a genuinely good heart. Jesus prefaces his retelling by relating such events not found in the Bible as a memory of his father, Joseph, “I could still see the strain on his face on the day he told me that he was not my father” (23).[1] Mailer takes creative license that varies from the original account of the Bible. I think Mailer needs to take creative liberty to create an effective story. By taking creative liberty, Mailer has made this book his own. He imagines Jesus to have thoughts that spark deeper feelings within him. Jesus precisely has a distant relationship with his father Joseph. Mary always fears for the life of her son. She listens to a still small voice that belongs to God. The character of Jesus parallels the Scripture because he has moral and altruistic qualities who is also the Son of God. He also befriends John the Baptist, son of Zechariah. John the Baptist baptizes young Jesus in the river and they remain friends until the day John dies. His character symbolizes the light and good of the world. Jesus travels throughout the lands and his disciples, or followers, express great faith in him. Mailer’s choice of narrating from Jesus’ point of view allows readers to empathize with his great struggle to obey God’s commands and walk in the righteous path of the Lord. The reader can visualize the pain that this human soul endures. He is just one heartbeat. Jesus obeys the word of God because he puts his trust in the Lord. Jesus can walk on the water too. He sets the example for his disciples to have a strong faith in God. For instance, Moses obeys God and parts the Red Sea in order to lead the Jews out of Egypt. Abraham almost sacrifices his son Isaac for the sake of his great trust in God. Jesus claims to be the Son of God but his teachings are banned by law according to King Herod’s men in Judea. In fact, the rabbis do not believe he is the King of the Jews or the Messiah and regard Jesus’s teachings to his disciples at the temple upon a hill as treason. Yet the disciples sacrifice and devote their days to follow Jesus. The disciples’ view of the world is quite interesting. Their walk with Jesus is profound evident in the record of life events that provides input for the Bible. On the journey to obey the word of God, Jesus performs miracles such as turning water into wine for people at a wedding or splitting bread to feed the Jews. The wedding captured my attention due to Mailer’s detailed portrayal of Jesus finding the vase-like jars, walking to the fountain to fill them with water, and then miraculously having red wine at every table. The passage states, “Indeed I could feel an angel at my side. In that instant, the water in the jars became wine. I knew this. It had been accomplished by no more than the clear taste of one grape and the presence of one angel.” (61) It is simply a beautiful image of God’s wrath to grace people with good and peace on earth. Jesus describes that he feels “near to the Kingdom of God” as the beauty of the miracle occurs. The reader is in awe of the miracle that brings Jesus to a divine, amazing sight.

The story is a fairly good, interesting read. Mailer offers a unique perspective. The novel refers to the Gospel of Luke as it directly quotes the angel of the Lord who says, “Mary, thou hast found favor with God. Thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a son. Call his name Jesus. He shall be great and he shall be called the Son of the Highest.” (Luke 1:30-32).[2] The narrative surprised me at times such as when Mailer puts words into Jesus’s mouth. I did not imagine Jesus to have thought in the same way. Mailer clearly takes creative license by writing this story from the point of view of an omniscient narrator that knows the mind of Jesus. Jesus argues with Satan in an epic of good triumphing against evil. Mailer invents the dialogue from his own imagination. Jesus speaks of God, “He is all-powerful. The heavens and the earth, the stars and the sun, bow before Him. They do not bow to you.” (48)[3] Jesus’s firm belief in God might be so, yet he puts-down the enemy. Jesus further indicates, “your words are poisonous,” which is directed to Satan. (53) The self-evident truth remains that Mailer lived after Jesus, thus we can never take this story as fact but rather a fiction. The subjectivity which Mailer introduces to Jesus’s familiar narrative arises in Jesus’ deeper internal state during his lifetime. Jesus narrates, “but according to my mother, the angel said little” (25).[4] Sorrow dwells in his heart. As a reader, I sense Jesus’s melancholy in part due to his solitary walk in life. Joseph is not Jesus’ biological father. Mary cares deeply for Jesus and considers him to be different from the rest. This may allude to God taking the role of the Good Father. Mailer identifies with the narrator’s predicament because he feels that he must “give my own account” and “yet I would hope to remain closer to the truth” (13).[5] Thus, Mailer invents his own point of view of Jesus, which characterizes Jesus in new, compelling light. The novel is centered around Jesus’s life such as his resilience against the struggle he faces. Since Mailer focuses on Jesus’s character, it gradually molds into a story rather than simply presenting a fact of history.

Mailer’s story accurately reflects the history of Jesus’ life in the gospel and follows a chronological order. It begins with Mary, a virgin from Nazareth, and Joseph, a poor carpenter, before Jesus is born. Jesus remains the true narrator throughout the entire novel. The angel appears to Mary to declare that she will conceive a baby in her womb who will be the Son of God. The white dove in the blue sky represents the Holy Spirit. Joseph thinks that if the Essene priests knew, “Mary could be stoned to death.” (13) Although she is innocent, the strict law would never allow her to be pregnant without a husband. A passage states, “Mary, however, went to visit her own cousin, Elizabeth, who lived in the hills to the east, for Elizabeth was six months pregnant” (26-27).[6] The historical reference is quite accurate and parallels the biblical story. Elizabeth is also pregnant even in her old age with John the Baptist. Jesus retrospectively explains, “‘only when Elizabeth saw me,’ she liked to say, ‘was John able to quicken in the womb.’” (29) Elizabeth’s dialogue remains very close to the Scripture. The narrative mirrors the Immaculate Conception by illustrating the history of Mary’s life during the times that she is pregnant with Jesus. The Lord’s presence allows Joseph to listen to God’s word, “And while Mary was gone, a voice came to Joseph in his sleep” (27).[7] As Mary conceives the baby, three wise men, or magi, are sent to find the Messiah. The three wise men set out on a journey to follow the North Star. The baby is born in Bethlehem. The baby’s name is “Yeshua,” which in their “rough dialect” means “Joshua” and translates in Latin to Jesus (27).[8] Jesus essentially retells the truth of his birth. One passage states, “Mary was now heavy with me but willing to travel for three days from Nazareth to Bethlehem…it is also true that I was born in a manger by the light of a candle.” (15) On the night Jesus is born, the three wise men bestow gifts to Jesus: gold, myrrh, and frankincense. King Herod of Israel comes to know of a holy birth in Bethlehem from the shepherds. I anticipated the angel who appears on the clouds proclaiming, “‘this day is born Christ, the Messiah of the Lord.’” (16) King Herod is mad that the baby might be a threat to his reign. A baby watched over by a guardian angel may become a king. He orders for all the first born sons in Bethlehem to be killed. The Roman soldiers invade the city walls. The light from their torches contrasts the heavy rain pouring from the dark clouds in the sky. The soldiers violently slaughter every first born son. Blood pours from their bodies as they lie dead on the ground. Mothers weep into their son’s damp clothes. The sons of Bethlehem were no more. God’s delivers love and guidance to Mary and Joseph as they set out on a journey. They walk over sand dunes. God is with them. Jesus lives.

Mailer points to the traditional miracles that Jesus supposedly gave yet the narrative is filled with suspense and fear, making the novel a real page-turner. The suspense builds in the steps taken to perform the miracle. Mailer creates Jesus’s actions in real time that contribute to the miracle. I take the side of the protagonist. At times, Jesus faces a problem in which the good of the people is at risk. God never fails to bring the cure or solution. I fear will he make it? My heart races knowing that the good always wins yet I cannot help but doubt it. Jesus even brings a dead child who is sick back to life by means of a miraculous, powerful healing. The narrative perfectly describes the way in which Jesus breathes a person back to life. Mailer writes, “I held her hand and recited words I remembered well from the scroll of the Second Kings, saying: ‘When Elisha was come (came) into the house, behold, the child was dead, and he prayed unto the Lord. And he lay upon the child and put his mouth upon the child’s mouth and his eyes upon the child’s eyes and his hands over the boy’s hands, and he stretched himself upon the child and the flesh of the child was now warm, and the child sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.’” (98)[9] The heroic character saves the sick and poor in spirit to restore his vast creation. Jesus dearly shows compassion. His compassion is evident in his kindness and care for others. Furthermore, Mailer provides a researched, historically accurate backdrop to the stories recorded in the Bible, describing to his readers how strict Jewish laws against preaching the word of God to masses of people stood in the way of the disciples sharing the gospel. The strict Jewish law is comparable to the historical fact of paying taxes to the king. Meanwhile the city of Jerusalem undergoes turmoil like a wave that spreads, creating tension. A rabbi recites a prayer at the temple upon a hill to the nation of Israel.

The author Norman Mailer won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969 (The Armies of the Night) and 1980 (The Executioner’s Song) for his literature.[10] Mailer’s books were nominated for the National Book Awards and he received a lifetime achievement award. Yet, this novel seems more ambitious compared to his earlier works. He uses a primary source, the Bible, to establish the basis of his story. The gospel that supposedly contains the truth about Jesus was created before Mailer’s time. The novel is derived from the classic roots of the Bible. In the Christian tradition the four gospels are the canonically recognized accounts of the life, words, and deeds of Jesus, but Mailer clearly adds his own interpretation to these Biblical accounts. Mailer interprets the Scripture in his own way. He projects his own unconventional view of the gospel in the first-person narration. The characters of the epic story in the Bible are transformed into humans with common attributes according to the emotions that drive their character. Mailer presents Jesus without flaws in his character, which is a quality reflected in his sound mind, voice, and thought. Jesus’ traits reveal his identity. In the end, Jesus is sacrificed on the cross for the sake of humanity. Jesus precisely gives readers hope of salvation from his death and resurrection. God the Father created the world knowing that mankind would fall and needed a savior. Jesus’s sacrifice is part of a plan ordained by an omniscient God. The power of God has worked through Jesus Christ for people to inherit eternal life and enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The traditional story of the gospel through the eyes of Jesus combines history with the psychology of the human mind. Jesus must have a been an active thinker in addition to experiencing feelings during the time that he lived on earth, which is evident in the role of his character. In the Current Era notation, history is measured according to the year of the Lord. Scholars separate dates in history according to the term B.C. referring to “before Christ” and A.D. meaning “after death.” The story brings the reader’s attention to the character of Jesus. I recommend The Gospel According to the Son to readers interested in the human mentality and emotional state of Jesus, who may appreciate this work of fiction.

To conclude, I desire to pay tribute to Mailer’s novel. I read this novel on the train that took me to and from Penn Station in Baltimore, Maryland and Union Station in Washington, D.C. I did not mind the long chapters. Mailer essentially invents the character of Jesus to present him in a new, favorable light. Yet, Mailer remains accurate in his portrayal of the gospel. The author has done his research using valid sources. He conveys a story that is strongly rooted in the Scripture even when he adds his own interpretation. Therefore, readers should not shy away from a novel that has a fresh lens. It may take a leap of faith. Nevertheless, I trusted Mailer from the very first page of the novel. I was interested to read this famous writer’s view of Jesus in the gospel. I turned each page believing that Mailer reflected on Jesus in his own way. Mailer fashions his novel with a new perspective and establishes the narrator’s voice to share the good news of the gospel. Although it is not possible for Mailer to know the mind of God, I praise this novel because Mailer’s intuitive sense is so powerful. He imagines it this way to offer a story, rather than retelling the historical fact presented in the pages of the Bible. I have learned a great deal from reading this story that I may have never thought of otherwise. Mailer’s story gives rise to contemporary writings that derive from timeless pieces of literature. Most love stories written in the 21st century have minor details that allude to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and so forth. The novel keeps the message of the gospel alive.

You can find the book here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/106285/the-gospel-according-to-the-son-by-norman-mailer/9780345434081/

[1] Mailer, Norman. The Gospel According to the Son.

[2] The Holy Bible. New International Version (NIV).

[3] Mailer, Norman. The Gospel According to the Son.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer. The Pulitzer Prizes.

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Samantha Seto graduated with a B.A. as a Writing Seminars major and History of Art minor at the Johns Hopkins University. She is a third prize poet of the Whispering Prairie Press. Samantha has published in many journals including Ceremony, Soul Fountain, Black Magnolias Journal, Scarlet Leaf Review, Breadcrumbs, and Chicago Literati. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Follow the Sun by Edward J. Delaney

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By Lynette G. Esposito

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Paul Harding, author of Tinkers and Enon says Follow the Sun by Edward J, Delaney is just plain fantastic.  I agree.

The seven-part, 287 page dramatic story explores a family’s trials, tribulations and daily life experiences in its quest to find both answers and resolutions in its search for its missing parts. This search leads the reader to a deeper understanding of family and what family represents.

The lead character, Quinn Boyle, has “bugs” in his head from the first line of part one. While the author clarifies the bugs are lobster and the location is on the lobster docks and boats, the relationship of psychological issues is crystal clear. His brother, Robert, who takes time off to visit the local bar, again gives a clear relationship for the need of psychological relief even if it comes from a bottle. Daily life is depicted in a realistic way  for these fictional characters who live on the edge of poverty.

The story line addresses contemporary issues of not being able to make a living and still have to pay child support; problems with drug addiction, and despair when few options are left in making life choices. The locations in which these decisions are made do not take place in upscale homes and fancy places but on lobster boats, in prison, newspaper offices and  local bars.  The despair of the human journey for the hard working but  poverty-stricken brothers leads one to his supposed demise and the other on a quest for truth.  The family legacy becomes an analysis of the burdensome past, the acceptance of the present, and a questioning of the future.  For example, Robbie muses:

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There’s too much in the space between then and now, an entire

continent worth of unanswered questions.

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The lead character makes some of his own problems as he struggles to survive and yet Delaney represents Quinn as a man who believes he can leave his problems behind and start a new.  Quinn believes he can make himself  “not remember.” The dialogue is realistic and the characters are believable.  Delaney uses contemporary language as if he  has listened to real people conversing and transformed their conversations  into this piece of fiction. Quinn says

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“I guess people can make themselves see what they want to see.”

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While this phrase fits well into the story, one hears it in real life all the time and the reader understands the truth of it.

The book is a good read with its clear language and characters who try to make their lives  work but cannot always reach their goals just like most of us.

Delaney is an award-winning author, journalist and filmmaker. Besides Follow the Sun, he has published Broken Irish and Warp and Weft as well as a short story collection, The Drowning and Other Short Stories.  He has also directed and produced documentary films including The Times Were Never So Bad: The Life of Andre Dubus and Library of the Early Mind.  He edits the literary journal Mount Hope.

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Follow the Sun is available fromwww.cbsd.com and published by Turtle Point Press: www.turtlepointpress.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.  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 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.

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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Hap & Hazard and the End of the World by Diane DeSanders

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By Lynette Esposito

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Hap & Hazard and the End of the World by Diane DeSanders is a 286 page novel written from the viewpoint of a young girl trying to understand the adult world around her.

Set in Texas during the 1940’s, innocence is challenged by situation, choice and misunderstandings.  The observations of the young narrator draw a clear picture of how a youngster can see but not understand the mysteries of adults, their issues and the choices they make.

It is difficult to sustain the strength of the storyline when it is presented from the viewpoint of a juvenile but DeSanders does an adequate job for the most part. She is creative with her chapter titles which serve as guides to the points made and symbolic messages suggested. For example, Lone Star Oldsmobile and Cadillac is the first chapter title and the situation involves a car ride with our narrator in the backseat and her father driving. In the chapter, I Call Him Nathan, the narrator details a friendship with a boy who is a foster child whose choices are not very good and the adults who choose to turn him out.  In the final chapter, The Bullfrog, our young narrator tries to interpret the frog’s situation allegedly trapped in a chlorinated swimming pool and relate it to her understanding of reality.

 DeSanders places the narrator in family situations where, while she is present, the adults do not really notice her and talk more at her than to her. The young girl details the happenings to the reader without realizing the complexities of what is going on.  It is as if the reader is in the room and is reviewing, with the narrator, the mundane family happenings and the stark loneliness\ of some of the characters. The characters exhibit much psychological pain in their reactions to every day life and our young narrator is confused as to why the adults around her are acting as they do.

Although this is not a novel about solutions, it is a novel about situations that are common to the majority of average people who have hopes and dreams often unrealized.It is a novel about the vulnerability of childhood and all of us.

DeSanders is a fifth generation Texan and a history buff.  This is her first novel.

She also has an active interest in the theater arts and sings in New York. The paperback is published by Bellevue Literary Press. For information on their titles go to 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.

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