novel review

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.

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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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In the Distance by Hernan Diaz

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By Lynette G. Esposito

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The fictional novel, In the Distance by Hernan Diaz, Coffee House Press , offers a unique twist on the old western theme.  The tale is presented in a 256 page book detailing perceptions of a legend-making main character who speaks little English in an English-speaking landscape.
           
The main character, Swedish immigrant, Hakan Soderstom, arrives in America with his brother to begin a new more prosperous life than the poor farming existence they lived in rural Sweden.. The brothers are separated enroute and Hakan ends up in California but believes his brother is in New York.  The irony of “go west young man” is reversed as Harkan struggles to go East. 
 
Hakan is an innocent in a strange land. He has weak communication skills because of the language barrier.  The lingual misunderstandings propel the storyline forward and give logical credence to some of Hakan’s wild adventures.
 
Diaz writes with a controlled stream of conscious that makes surreal episodes blend with reality
 
                After some pounding, the dry sinews from the larger animals split
               into fibers that Hakan separated and used as thread to stitch together
              disparate patches of cured leather with his surgical needles.
 
Imagine a man alone in the wilderness, catching, killing, curing and sewing.  It seems only a character larger than life, a legendary man, could accomplish this to survive. Yet, the image of using the fibers as thread gives such a logical spin to the process that the reader is pulled right into the scene and believes the actions of this character.
 
The story uses the universal theme of one lonely man’s survival in a wicked and dangerous world as he struggles in his journey to find the brother he loves. It is an epic journey in which Diaz presents his main character as a simple man whose adventures lead those around him to perceive him as so extraordinary, he becomes mythical. 
 
The novel is constructed in 24 chapters numerically named.  It progresses forward through telling incidents as Hakan matures from a naïve boy to an experienced man who survives his lack of money and extreme loneliness.  Hakan never loses sight of his desire to find his brother as his journey leads him through life’s many obstacles including love, honor, greed and betrayal
 
This is a good read of a nongenre “nonwestern” western exploring a foreigner’s complicated struggles in a foreign land while searching for a way to reach home.
 
Hernan Diaz Is the author of Borges, Between History and Eternity (Bloomsbury, 2012), managing editor of RHM, and associate director of the Hispanic Institute at Columbia University.
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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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Wolf Season by Helen Benedict

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Reviewed by Lynette G. Esposito

In Wolf Season, published by Bellevue Literary Press, New York, 2017, Helen Benedict reveals lessons in interpersonal relationships of average people who have survived horrific war experiences.  Benedict addresses both the psychological and physical damages as well as changes inflicted on the survivors whose stories stay with you after you have finished reading the book.

Juney, veteran, Rin’s nine-year-old blind daughter, Tariq, son of Naema, the widow of an Iraqi war interpreter, and Flanner, son of a deployed marine, represent the innocent sufferers of wars from which their parents try to keep them safe. Beth, Rin, Naema, Todd, and Louis represent the damaged adults who try to protect the children from the aftermath reality of their complicated war experiences.  All the characters are well drawn and believable.  To accomplish this, Benedict follows the characters’ every-day activities of normal American living and their sometimes extreme reactions to seemingly simple things.

Rin, a widowed war veteran, tries to fulfill her husband’s dream of raising wolves in the woods outside of fictional Huntsville, New York.  Her PTSD and flashbacks from being raped by her comrades contribute to her paranoia and prevent her from normal interactions with other humans.  Naema, a doctor from Iraqi, tries to adjust to American life with her son who has lost his leg to a bomb in Iraq.  Beth, Flanner’s mother, suffers the loneliness of a deployed husband who comes back so changed, she believes he is two people—the before and after.  When a hurricane hits this small community, these characters are whirled in to a crazy soup that only mother nature can cook up.

The novel is divided into four parts each with a title that suggests the focus in each section. The wolves and other animals in the book provide a symbolic backdrop of interdependency on each other and the humans who love them.  Benedict’s use of nature and natural instincts gives readers a deep sense of what it takes to survive and the terrible toll war and loneliness extracts not only on those who go to war but also those waiting at home.

It is a good read and engaging on many levels.  It has a light touch of politics as all war stories do, but the focus is on the consequences to people and their stories of coping when back at home.

Benedict is a professor at Columbia University and is the author of seven novels. She has also written nonfiction and a play.  She currently lives in New York. For more information, visit www.helenbenedict.com .

You can find the book here: http://blpress.org/books/wolf-season/ 

 

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.

Bewilderment by Michael Onofrey

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Review by g emil reutter

Life as they say has many twists and turns. It seems no matter how one moves on from their roots there is always a pull to return. In many instances it is the health of a parent. Michael Onofrey explores this and much more in his novel Bewilderment. A young man who disconnects from his past, the main character Wade Ricky explores the world and more during his thirty years away from his hometown of Los Angeles. A loner by nature, Ricky travels the Indian continent, engages in the surreal world of drugs and voyeurism, works as an assistant to a British expat. Yet in his mind Ricky is always alone.

The first chapter defines the main character, Wade Rickey. He is awkward in the social setting of a Christmas party upon his return home to care for his mother. Rickey checks out the house, views from each room where the party is held. He observes people at a distance, doesn’t socialize for fear he may not remember some of the people at the party after his years away. Rickey listens in on conversations, yet never engages. He leaves his mother sitting in a hard chair, eating her Christmas meal as he walks about, listens and watches others as if he watching a television show. Rickey the loner, awkward, ready to leave when he can.

The chapters alternate between Rickey’s present and his past. This method used by Onofrey brings the reader into the full life of Rickey, allows the author to engage in full character development, even of minor characters in the novel.  The pace of Bewilderment after the first chapter is brisk.

Onofrey is an expert at character development. He brings us the complicated main character Wade Ricky, the sensual German, Herta,  who plays on Ricky’s needs and his awkwardness, the blind British expat for whom he works for two years. There is the complexities of his return home to care for his dying mother and his re-connection with America. Ricky enters into a relationship with a grieving mother who is an artist, yet, Ricky cannot escape his need for solitude.

Onofrey explores reality and self-image and how the two don’t always correspond. Bewilderment is a compelling novel written in beautiful prose and at times reveals the wit of Onofrey. He captures the undying experience and adventures of youth. Rickey, a man who chooses to be a loner burdened with the sudden revelation of how time slips away in this life.

 

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Bewilderment-Michael-Onofrey/dp/0997574208/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter

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