novel

The Essentials: A Manifesto by David Tromblay

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By Alex Carrigan

Manifestos are dangerous in nature. They’re principled declarations that can tell you everything you need to know about the author, but they also threaten to force that person to commit to their point of view. When one writes a manifesto, they are hoping to immortalize their beliefs at the time and leave a statement for future generations to absorb and consider when facing various situations. Manifestos are tricky in nature, and they require a lot of thought behind them.

In a new book from Whisk(e)y Tit, David Tromblay’s The Essentials: A Manifesto presents a manifesto that has emerged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and imagines what could come from a world following it. In a near-future setting, the world population has surpassed 10 billion, and attempts to control the population growth have led to worldwide attempts to revalue life. Borders are closed, property is seized, people are relocated, and medicine is commodified even more than before. The novel follows Jonathan Shaddox, a courier for a medical company as he and a nameless runner drive around Duluth delivering supplies, with Shaddox educating the youngster about the world before everything changed.

The novel alternates between conversations between Shaddox and the runner and news reports of major events since the world changed. The conversations are about various facets of the world around them and Shaddox’s own personal history, from his early years on a reservation to his time in a war to his current family situation. The conversations discuss matters like income inequality, the environment, democracy, and more as they’ve all radically changed over the last several years. News reports show how these changes occurred, from the seizing of national parks to use as resources and land development to the dissolution of the National Bureau of Veterans Affairs following “the Desert Wars.”

Tromblay’s writing is fascinating in that the reader is kept detached from the story so they can take all this in objectively. Aside from the news clips having the same detached tone as any modern piece of journalism, the parts with Shaddox withhold setting descriptions and use action minimally. The dialogue doesn’t even use quotation marks, making it somewhat hard to keep track of who’s talking at certain moments. Even the way they talk can blur at times, as both can alternate from critical and cynical to hopeful and curious at other times.

While this does mean the reader can focus on the manifesto aspect of the tale, it does mean that it can be a bit harder to feel the world around it. We’re told the world has fallen apart and that things are way worse off in the future because Shaddox and the news reports say so. We’re told the world is so bad that people will throw themselves in front of Shaddox’s truck and that he’s so numbed to it that he’ll keep driving when they do. But The Essentials keeps the reader at almost too much of a distance at times to where it’s difficult to really absorb the state of the world and fear that our world could become like it. We’re presented with ideas and commentary as per the manifesto, but the tale itself could have benefitted from allowing the reader to experience it rather than be cramped in Shaddox’s passenger seat. Part of this may be due to some reveals towards the end of the book, but those aren’t as effective due to the detachment that lessens the impact of those reveals.

The Essentials has some good ideas, and the writing is compelling and current enough that readers will probably walk away considering if we’re already in the handbasket that’s being lowered slowly into Hell via fishing line. However, the story loses a lot of its impact because it ties itself so hard to the manifesto aspect that it may not be as effective as a statement as it could be. Of course, the story does set out to make a statement, and it is commendable that it did analyze issues that may not have been at anyone’s forefront, so while it may not be the most effective statement, it is one that would be harder to scrub off the walls.

You can find the book here: https://whiskeytit.com/product/the-essentials/

Alex Carrigan (@carriganak) is an editor, writer, and critic from Virginia. He has had fiction, poetry, and literary reviews published in Quail Bell Magazine, Lambda Literary Review, Empty Mirror, Gertrude Press, Quarterly West, Whale Road Review, “Stories About Penises” (Guts Publishing, 2019), “Closet Cases: Queers on What We Wea” (Et Alia Press, 2020), and “ImageOutWrite Vol. 9”

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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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Kim by Rudyard Kipling

kim

By Ray Greenblatt

          Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was an author of many poems and as much prose. He lived many years in India as a journalist , so he knew the inner workings of the country, even speaking Hindi. Receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, he seemed to evolve into something different and grow to believe in the White Man’s Burden as he aged. However, we are not concerned with politics or economics. Our goal is to illustrate how Kipling blends his poetic skill into his unique early novel Kim (1901).

                                                                     Poetic Style

          Let us immediately analyze Kipling’s poetic approach. Afterwards, we shall observe how these poetics bring his characters and India itself to life. He the author sometimes interrupts the omniscient narrative to step forward into the scene. “There was a whirr and the voice stopped—as voices must if you ram a thrice-doubled coat on to the wax cylinder and into the works of an expensive phonograph.” (151)

           At times he makes it sound as if a report had actually been written about Kim’s spy work after he graduated from the St Xavier School. “The report in its unmistakable St Xavier’s running script, and the brown, yellow, and lake-daubed map, was on hand a few years ago (a careless clerk filed it with the rough notes of E. 23, second Seistan survey).” (170) As in poetry, inversion is used. ”Followed a sudden natural reaction.” (185)

          Kipling finds a series of phrases emphatic. “Bone by bone, muscle by muscle, ligament by ligament, and lastly, nerve by nerve. Kneaded to irresponsible pulp.” (275) Sometimes simple nouns: “Decked, brow, nose, ear, neck, wrist, and ankle with heavy native jewelry. When she turned it was like the clashing of copper pots.” (177) Repetition, even of clauses, plays a role:  “Because they knew and loved the Lama, because he was an old man, because he sought the Way, because he was their guest.” (195)

          That last paragraph contained a simile using “like.” Another is “gurgling, grunting hookahs, which in full blast sound like bull-frogs.” (71) His metaphors are prevalent too: “With the gait of a bogged cow.” (160) And how Indians speak like the British: “the tinny, saw-cut English of the native-bred.” (84) Often sight images like “watching the throat-muscles quiver and jerk” (180) blend with hearing imagery, “he caught the well-known purr and fizzle of grains of incense.” (179) The onomatopoeia is acutely used.

          Kipling’s poetic devices are numerous, so I will close this section with the imaginative use of verbs, such as “the Lama jibbed at the door.” (27) Gerunds: “with strivings and yearnings and retchings and agonies.” (288) Participles: “full-fleshed, heavy-haunched, bull-necked, and deep-voiced.” (225)  “Northern folk . . . swearing, shouting, arguing, and chaffering in the packed square.” (17) You can see all of these methods at work throughout the novel.

                                                                      Kim

          Kim, a half-English, half-Indian boy, we see grow up from ages 13 to 16 at the height of the Raj. He is bright and loves all aspects of life. He can blend in with a crowd, dressed like them and speaking their language. Kipling describes that phase of life as “years of indiscretion.” (2) If he is offended Kim is apt to tell a person off. “Consider for a while, man with a mud head. Think you we came from the nearest pond like the frog, thy father-in-law.” (60) And yet, Kim has a good heart, calling India “the great good-tempered world” (34) and “this broad, smiling river of life.” (61)

          After many adventures the ever-healthy Kim becomes ill. Usually his sleep was deep.  Noise “did not even weave a dream through his slumbers.’”(140) But now “his soul was out of gear with its surroundings—a cog-wheel unconnected with any machinery.” (282) As he heals he says, “I remember that the days and nights passed like bars of white and black, opening and shutting.” (276)

          However, the wise old Lama inspires him. “The cross-legged figure, outlined jet-black against the lemon-colored drift of light.’” (287) “The Lama was his trove, and he purposed to take possession.” (12) The Lama taught him to think deeply, beyond the common world of men. “Kim watched the stars as they rose one after another in the still, sticky dark.” (193) He practices meditation. “His mind drifted away from those heights with the rush of a wounded bird.” (185) He “threw his soul after his eye across the deep blue gulfs between range and range.” (233) The boy loves the Lama very much perhaps because Kim was an orphan. I see him following in the wise man’s footsteps not as a priest but as a teacher.

                                                            The Lama

          The Lama was old: “He turned his head like an old tortoise in the sunlight.” (6) Kipling describes “his thousand-wrinkled face.” (10) He often feels tired: “The Lama dropped wearily to the ground, much as a heavy fruit-eating bat cowers.” (66) “The Lama shrugged and shrunk into himself, a dingy, shapeless mass.” (33) But he has a quest to discover the river Buddha found to cure all ills. He is often unsure: “The boat of my soul rocked upon the waters of illusion.” (260) Yet, the people loved him for his holiness: “The Lama was a great and venerable curiosity.” (38)

          With Kim’s constant aid and love, he can energize himself: “It pleased him to curl himself up into the sudden sleep of old age.” (193) Then refreshed his “voice boomed like a Tibetan devil-gong.” (244) We see the Lama “speaking truth to chance-met people.” (16) He is sympathetic to all castes of individuals. “’And they likewise, bound upon the Wheel, go forth from life to life—from despair to despair,’ said the Lama below his breath, ’hot, uneasy, snatching.’” (54)

          He has learned to endure: “My spirit sits above my bones, waiting.” (212) The monastery in the mountains of northern India is where he calls home. To reach there and show Kim his country along the way becomes his goal. “With steady, driving strokes from the loins he strode upwards.’”(230) “The first freshness of the day carried the Lama forward with long, easy, camel-like strides.” (51) “He set his ivory-yellow face, serene and untroubled, towards the beckoning Hills; his shadow shouldering far before him in the dust.” (229) The Lama will learn that his magic river is anywhere that he is contented.

                                                         People

          At many moments in the novel crowds dominate the scene. “A solid line of blue, rising and falling like the back of a caterpillar in haste, would swing up through the quivering dust and trot past to a chorus of quick cackling.” (62) “The crowd drew a long, quavering breath.” (48) “A wall of uncertain darkness speckled with little flames and alive with half-caught forms and faces and shadows.” (71) “They scattered like frost on south eaves of a morning.” (259)

          Different characters occur then disappear. “A wild-eyed, wild-haired Sikh devotee in the blue-checked clothes of his faith, with polished-steel quoits glistening on the cone of his tall blue turban, stalked past.” (61) An evil holy man looks at the Lama: “The priest looked at him sideways, something bitterly—a dry and blighting smile.” (49)

         Kim meets a spy disguised: “Ash-smeared, ochre-barred, dusty-haired Saddhu . . . luminous with insolence and bestial lust.” (204) On another occasion the same spy is disguised so that two Russian agents refer to him as “the nightmare of a Viennese courier.” (239) His real intelligence is shown when he says: “To discuss medicine before the ignorant is of one piece with teaching the peacock to sing.” (218)

          The Lama becomes fast friends with an old soldier– the man, not his former profession. The soldier thinks of his long life: “It is to me as a river from which I am withdrawn like a log after a flood.” (57) But with the Lama’s ministrations he begins to recall: “”Last night broke up the fountains of remembrance in my so-dried heart.” (51) The two old men form a diptych as they nap: “The old officer’s strong-cut head pillowed on his arm, the Lama’s thrown back against the tree bole.” (55)

          A rich old woman who nurses both Kim and the Lama back to health springs vividly to life in the novel. She is a talker: “They could hear the old lady’s tongue clack as steadily as a rice-husker.”(75) She even screams: “She trotted forth to raise a typhoon off the cook –house.” (278) Yet she can be happy: “She chuckled like a contented parrot above the sugar lump.” (214) Although her language can be rough: “She paid Kim compliments that would have flung European audiences into unclean dismay.” (214) But her nursing shows her skills: “Have I shifted thee and lifted thee and slapped and twisted thy ten toes.” (277) Kim kiddingly admires her old face: “a Moon of Paradise, a Disturber of Integrity.” (75)

                                                          India

          Kipling can describe cities, like Lucknow. “She is the center of all idleness, intrigue, and luxury.” (120) “The house-lights scattered on every level, made, as it were, a double firmament.” (148) Some stores were weird like a tobacco shop: “Those who know it call it The Bird-cage—it is so full of whisperings and whistlings and chirpings.” (177) Kipling can depict a simple decoration: “The patterns on the gold-worked curtains ran up and down, melting and reforming as the folds shook and quivered to the night wind.” (71)

          Yet some buildings can be sinister as Kim encounters sounds and smells: “ The room was full of things that smelt like all the temples of all the East. A whiff of musk, a puff of sandalwood, and a breath of sickly jessamine-oil caught his opened nostrils.” (149) This description even approaches horror: “There leaped out from the walls a collection of Tibetan devil-dance masks, hanging above the fiend-embroidered draperies of those ghastly functions—horned masks, scowling masks, and masks of idiotic terror.” (149)

          Kim and the Lama traveled into the country. ”Mid-days in the dun-gloom of kindly oak-forests.” (269) “The smoke-scented evening, copper-dun and turquoise across the fields.”  (214) “The frogs were busy in the ditches, and the moon slid to her setting.” (220) “The solemn deodars, climbing one after another with down-drooped branches.” (146) “They walk farther north: “Golden, rose, saffron, and pink, the morning mists smoked away across the flat green levels. All the rich Punjab lay out in the splendor of the keen sun.”  (31)

          They longed for the silence and restorative air of the mountains. “The long, peaceful line of the Himalayas flushed in morning-gold.” (225)  “A thousand feet below lay a long, lazy, round-shoulder bank of mist, as yet untouched by the morning sun.” (254) “It was like sitting in a swallow’s nest under the eaves of the roof of the world.” (258) Those stupendous heights, “all day long they lay like molten silver under the sun, and at evening put on their jewels again.” (231)

          For the Lama his religion was an integral part of the landscape and its people. “Buddhism, overlaid with a nature-worship fantastic as their own landscapes, elaborate as the terracing of their tiny fields.” (232) “The easy, uncounted Eastern minutes slid by.” (188) “The soft, smoky silence of evening in India wrapped them close.” (287) Kim and his Lama had found fulfillment.

          By today’s standards Rudyard Kipling’s poetry is old-fashioned. However, some of his fiction remains powerful; from the short stories The Phantom Rickshaw and The Man Who Would Be King to the novels The Light That Failed and Captains Courageous. But for me Kim, employing diverse poetic effects, is the pinnacle of his success.

You can find the book here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/93144/kim-by-rudyard-kipling/

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).

The Likely World by Melanie Conroy-Goldman

world

By Alexis David 

In Melanie Conroy-Goldman’s novel, The Likely World, Mel lets a drug called “cloud” spread over her mouth and wrap her in a state of forgetfulness. The story is told in a braided narrative between the years 1988 and 2010. Mel is a woman whose mind has been fogged by substance abuse and is boggled when a man she doesn’t recognize shows up at her house. A single mother, she struggles with whether or not she should revert back to her addictive, pre-sponsor (Emily) behavior, or if she should adapt to a modern definition of pure motherhood, one where she tucks herself into a neat little drawer and her child becomes her new drug, her happiness, her everything.

In The Likely World, Conroy-Goldman has created a fictional drug that explores why, we as humans, want to forget parts of ourselves. Mel’s job is working for a man named Lew who asks her to create a tidbit of narrative that entices the viewer to click on a pornographic image. Once the viewer does, code is embedded into the computer and is able to replicate itself. This is similar to the drug Mel is using. That need she has, that we have, to forget, to smooth ourselves out, to become ideals of ourselves, to become the people in porn, which isn’t sex but the likeness of sex, the false beautification of sex: perfect people in perfect images whose entire objective is to arouse the viewer. Technology mimics real life but falls short. Isn’t the use of drugs always an attempt to either flee or enhance the actuality of perception? Drugs are an escape, a way out, a glossing over of all the problems we have: “a drug like that, it could smooth you out. All the awkward moments, all the missteps, cloud could fix all the times you got it wrong” (33). It sounds perfect, right? Except for one thing.

In The Likely World characters become ghosts of themselves. They show up to meetings missing hands, missing personalities, becoming people unable to recognize one another’s faces, unable to remember moments of their own past, always living in some kind of strange forgetfulness; their brains are always trying to piece together the whole story.

Conroy-Goldman’s postmodern novel beautifully speaks to the complexity of real life and addiction. Similar to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, it’s a novel about addiction with an affinity for the strangeness of modern life, an investigation into modern brains, which are treated as computers with intricate and complex webs of synapses. Infinite Jest takes a capitalistic look at the future and creates a book with an encyclopedia of citations and endless references: paths that follow paths to more paths to more information, i.e. the internet. He reinvents the form of what a novel can be. Melanie Conroy-Goldman challenges the form of “novel” by writing one with a hole in the center: Mel is a character looking for Juni’s father, the boy she went to camp with, Lew’s video, and a man who came to her house in a SUV.  There is an overwhelming sense throughout The Likely World of trying to get at the center of something. Mel’s daughter, Juni speaks in a type of gibberish, common to babies born whose mothers used cloud. Juni becomes a misfiring computer. The inability of her daughter to speak in real words is another hole, another post-modern stylistic choice: nothing, no one is whole.

This novel is ghostly and strange to read now, during the pandemic, during the post-Trump years, during our technological explosions. After reading it, I felt triumphantly happy for real life. I went to a picnic for a friend and saw that no one there was using their cell phones. I was elated to remember the faces of my friends and how they look in real life, outside, in the natural world, not on zoom, not on photographs on the screen. Perhaps Conroy-Goldman is commenting on our modern lives: put down your phones, give up your addictions, rebel against the attention economy and engage in the actual, real world: the one that already surrounds you. 

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Likely-World-Melanie-Conroy-Goldman/dp/1597098086  

ALEXIS DAVID is a poet and fiction writer who holds a BA from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, an MA in Education from Canisius College and an MFA from New England College. She published a chapbook called Animals I Have Loved. Links to her published work can be found here: https://alexisldavid.wixsite.com/alexis/writing

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Paula Regossy by Lynn Crawford

By Jim Feast

While in writing Lynn Crawford has veered between realism (as in Shankus & Kitto) and near sci fi (as in Fortification Resort), her new book, Paula Regossy, combines elements of both by mixing contemporary reportage into an imaginative novel  of spies and fairy tales.

The founding premise is one familiar from espionage fiction. The lead characters all work for an unnamed NGO, which is discreetly commissioned to bust crime. “We are contacted and hired by the few in the know. Our fees are high.” The operatives primarily investigate people who work for companies that balance on the knife edge between philanthropy and skullduggery. “Our marks are wealthy companies that wreak wide-scale damage yet contribute. For example, they authorize toxic dumps in waterways and launch and fund charitable and arts foundations.” Most of the chapters describe the experiences of Regossy and agents she has trained.

(Let me mention that in an email exchange with the author, Crawford said she sees these trained agents as aspects of the main character. She writes, “The book is titled Paula Regossy and is, in fact, a portrait of her. … No piece is ALL of her. Each one is PART of her. What we end with (in my head) is a picture of SOME of her but, of course, not ALL of her.)

Unlikely as this may seem, what is fundamentally a crime story is structured so as to allow Crawford a chance to display her knowledge of the Detroit arts scene. The title character has broken a rule of the agency by getting emotionally involved with a suspect and so has been reassigned to Detroit where, while getting her priorities back on track, she takes as her cover identity that of a Bohemian art maven, who supplies the reader with descriptions of the budding, bubbling creative community.  A note at the back of the book tells us that Crawford was inspired to compose this book by her viewing of a number of gallery shows, including some described by Regossy. She tells us, “Each chapter in this book is my personal (but faithful) response to works by various Detroit-based artists and spaces.”

In this way, the author grounds the cloak and dagger narrative in a world she knows well. However, if she gives it a realistic edge here, in other sections, she lets the story lift off into wild reaches of the imagination.  For instance, in a story that explains how Joan became an individual whose skills proved very useful in sleuthing, we learn of Joan’s devastation when her brother dies tragically in his youth. After this trauma, she develops odd physical symptoms. “For a while, I stopped growing. Then I shrank.” Next, her changes get even less explicable. “Another thing happened: my new body stopped respecting gravity. I was permanently airborne, hovering or flying. And I emitted a sound, a buzz.”

So far, I have dwelt on the novel’s extremes, from the most matter-of-fact depiction of art openings to the most fantastic, an agent moving from one species to another; but this might provide a slightly distorted picture as most of the book centers on more novelistic stories of the genesis and activities of agents. Most of these crime-busters have been touched early on by violent deaths, which oriented them to pursuing law enforcement careers. A few of these stories are almost procedurals where the detective explains how she or he nabbed a criminal, usually by employing unorthodox methods.

Another attribute of these agents touches on themes found earlier in Crawford’s Fortification Resort. There (with some tongue in cheek moments) she describes the activities of personal assistants, gym trainers, party curators, travel guides and others who work directly with a refined upper class clientele. This is a world slightly in the future where the hyper-sensitive services carried out for the elite have been enhanced. As I wrote, reviewing this book in Rain Taxi in 2005, Crawford’s “language is modeled on—and quietly spoofs—upscale New Age promotional writing, fluff that would extol a spa, new skin enhancer, Pilates program or other psychic or physical rehabilitation. Crawford never voices open criticism of the group, but offhandedly skewers the pretensions, muffled cruelty, and sometimes downright wackiness of her characters.”

The link to the present book is that this type of hyper-sensitive modulations of the self are not carried out for the elite but have become regimens used to attune agents to their jobs. Paula’s morning routine, for instance, is made up of “EXERCISE, BATHE, MEDITATE, EAT, DRESS, SOUL BUILD.” Each of these routines is precisely and subtly geared to her professional duties. As to her breakfast, “Morning meals vary, depending on what lies ahead. Desk days it is quinoa with butter and syrup. Push days usually mean a circle of nuts around something vegetarian.” She adds, “TANGENT: I do sometimes use nuts, usually almonds, to kill.”

While this theme links this book to the former novel, there is a perspectival shift. While Resort is a cutting, low-key satire on the New Age-y fads of the upper crust, in this book the trendy treatments are used to sustain and strengthen the principled fighters against abuse and corporate malfeasance. On this note, it might be suggested the novel is partly science fiction because at this point it nearly takes an alternate reality viewpoint to imagine an NGO facing off so resolutely (and effectively) against the corporate/governmental machine that is polluting the waters and air while killing off irreplaceable animals and plants. Paula Regossy is one of those creative works that reimagine social justice and ecological thinking. It is a vision within a forward movement, a forward movement that takes us backward to the world of indigenous, ecologically oriented   civilizations, where people were more in touch with Nature and willing (through prayer and ritual) to right the wrongs done to her.  

You can find the book here:  https://mocad.myshopify.com/collections/all/products/paula-regossy-by-lynn-crawford

Jim Feast is the author of the just published (August 2020) and long-titled poetry book A Strange Awakening of Light that Takes the Place of Dawn: Poems for Lady Bunny, Chicago: 1972-1975.

The Bear by Andrew Krivak

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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.

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.