novel

Canción by Eduardo Halfon Translated by Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn

cancion

By g emil reutter

Canción is the title of Eduardo Halfon’s latest release. Canción is also the kidnapper of his grandfather during the 1960’s and is the centerpiece of the narrator’s quest to find out why. Yet the story opens in Tokyo at a Lebanese Writers Conference. The narrator tells the story of his Lebanese grandfather, who is not Lebanese but Syrian, for Lebanon did not exist yet. Halfon establishes a bond with his Japanese host, whose grandfather survived Hiroshima. Canción weaves a tale of family, of violence, of fear, of travels, of liberation.

The character development is excellent, such as grandfather; Uncle Salomón; and the sleeping and sick, NoNo snoring. Salomón is reading Turkish coffee grounds when the soldiers arrive at their Guatemalan City Mansion to inform the grandfather that they located one of the men who had kidnapped him in 1967. It is here the narrator begins to piece together the long search to his grandfather’s history, coupled with the violent and fearful past of Guatemala, its civil war, and uncertainty. The violence of the Kaibiles is graphically detailed in the slaughter of an entire village, as well as the role of “Beni,” who is an enforcer for his grandfather. Beni, a Kaibile, was at the village slaughter.

The Halfon families shifting geographical locations from Syria to Europe to New York to Guatemala to Israel and to Japan contribute to the shifting of this story in a positive manner. A family with boundaries, yet without boundaries who maintain their faith and wealth.

Along the way we meet a beauty queen, model-handsome ambassador, bartenders, and characters of the night. Then there is Canción, the butcher, who we hear tales about and yet never meet nor does the narrator in his search. In the end he does find out his destiny.

Canción brings us into the violence of 1960’s Guatemala, not only through the violence of rebels and the government, but through the eyes of a family entwined in the midst of it all. It is a story of violence yet in the end it is a story of redemption.

You can find the book here: https://blpress.org/?post_type=product&p=5063

g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories and on occasion literary criticism. He can be found at: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/ 

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Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

snow

By Ray Greenblatt

Snow Country was written by Yasunari Kawabata in 1934 and translated into English in 1957. It is a story about a passionate affair between a wealthy young man and a geisha in training set in northern Japan. Komako the geisha cannot control her honest feelings, while Shimamura—despite his wife and children in Tokyo—cannot frankly face his deep feelings for her.

I – SCROLL PAINTING

A unique approach by Kawabata in telling this tale is structuring it like a scroll painting. Also, whatever the characters do is emphasized by the use of aspects from Nature. Needless to say, much poetic imagery arises. The author employs short sentences, even fragments, sometimes in short paragraphs to simulate brush strokes; the lack of chapters suggests an unrolling of the scroll itself. Here are some examples:

“ Children of the village were skiing in the fields.

As he started into the part of the village that fronted on the highway, he heard a sound as of quiet rain.

Little icicles glistened daintily along the eaves.” (49)

In many of these passages Shimamura is walking through a landscape of fields, forests and mountains, often covered by feet of snow in winter.

“In front of the cedar grove opposite, dragonflies were bobbing about in countless swarms, like dandelion floss in the wind.

The river seemed to flow from the tips of the cedar branches.

He thought he would never tire of looking at the autumn flowers that spread a blanket of silver up the side of the mountain.” (90)

This was one activity when he was alone where Shimamura could emotionally lose himself in the beauty of nature. Music, as we shall observe, moved him also in that way.

“ Slender autumn grasses grew along the top of an earthen wall. The pale-yellow plumes were at their most graceful, and below each plume narrow leaves spread out in a delicate fountain.

Yoko knelt on a straw mat beside the road, flailing at beans spread out before her in the sunlight.

The beans jumped from their dry pods like little drops of light.” (109)

You can imagine these various parts of the scene placed in a scroll painting that depicts people embedded deeply in Nature.

2 – THE GEISHA AND THE MAN

Komako dominates the novel. She is a very talented young woman: she can sing, dance and play the samisen. Besides being beautiful, she shows intelligence in knowing the history of Japanese theater. Another attribute is her complete honesty and lack of pretension.

Kawabata describes her in so many poetic ways: “In the moonlight the fine geisha like skin took on the luster of a sea shell.” (101) Her hair “glowed like some heavy black stone.” (39) What Shimamura liked best about her physically: “She must be clean to the hollows under her toes.” (18)

Sometimes a Japanese image jars us: “Her skin, suggesting the newness of a freshly peeled onion.” (73) “The bud of her lips opened and closed smoothly, like a beautiful little circle of leeches.” (32) And when she is distressed, “Komako’s face floated up like an old mask.” (168)

She is obviously in love with this man: “The naked heart of a woman calling out to her man.” (34) “Soft and yielding as if she were offering herself up.” (38) “She curled up like a little child, and grabbed at the neck of his kimono with her two fists.” (64) “Then, like a glow that breaks into a flame, the smile became a laugh.” (114) Shimamura saw her in a mystical way: “He was taken with the fancy that the light must pass through Komako.” (54)

However, there is tension between them: “She seemed on edge, like some restless night beast that fears the approach of the morning.” (47) “It was as though a strange, magical wildness had taken her.” (47) She knew how much she was risking: “She folded her arms like a bar over the breast he was asking for.” (35) “She bit at her sleeve as if to fight back the happiness.” (37) “She seemed ill at ease, like a young woman, still childless, who takes a baby up in her arms.” (146)

She gives so much more to him than he can reciprocate:” Like a warm light, Komako poured in on the empty wretchedness that had assailed Shimamura.” (62) “A childlike feeling of security came to him from the warmth of her body.” (146)

“The woman’s existence, her straining to live, came touching him like naked skin.”

(128)

His problem is that he cannot see her as a real person, only a singular image. “But, drawn to her at that moment, he felt a quiet like the voice of the rain flow over him.” (41) “This sighing for the human skin took on a dreamy quality like the spell of the mountains.” (112) He has made her a part of nature; and he loves the music that she makes.

Komako plays for him: “A chill swept over Shimamura. The goose flesh seemed to rise even to his cheeks. The first notes opened a transparent emptiness deep in his entrails, and in the emptiness the sound of the samisen reverberated. He was startled—or, better, he fell back as under a well-aimed blow. Taken with a feeling almost of reverence, washed by waves of remorse, defenseless, quite deprived of strength.” (71)

3 – SYMBOLIC NATURE

Kawabata’s use of Nature can emphasize the most minute aspects such as a  moth: “The wings fluttered like thin pieces of paper in the autumn wind.” (90) Or grasses: “The kaya spread out silver in the sun, like the autumn sunlight itself pouring over the face of the mountain.” (93)

But in this northern region snow dominates: “The sound of the freezing of snow over the land seemed to roar deep into the earth.” (44)  “From the gray sky, framed by the window, the snow floated toward them in great flakes, like white peonies.” (149) “Little needles of frost like isinglass among the withered chrysanthemums.” (76)

Trees play a large part in the scenery since vast forests still abound here. Branches ” looked like stakes driven into the trunk with their sharp ends out, to make a terrible weapon for some god.” (30)”They came out of the cedar grove, where the quiet seemed to fall in chilly drops.” (119) “The house was old and decayed, like the pitted trunk of a persimmon.” (53)

You can see how the author ties Nature into the life of the people: “The innkeeper had lent him an old Kyoto teakettle, skillfully inlaid in silver with flowers and birds, and from it came the sound of wind in the pines.” (155) “The lines of the mountain and of the roofs on its slopes were floating out of the rain.” (38) “The low, dark houses along the street seemed to be breathing as they floated up in the light of the fire.” (170)

And then his view can become cosmic: “The stillness seemed to be singing quietly.” (30) “The light . . . flickered on and off as if crackling in the cold.” (45) “The moon shone like a blade frozen in blue ice.” (77) “The Milky Way came down just over there, to wrap the night earth in its naked embrace.” (165) A scroll painting would exist in a void if it did not have people and Nature combined.

You can find the book here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/snow-country-yasunari-kawabata/1002419138

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 Upright Dog by Carl Fuerst

upright

By Charles Rammelkamp

Structured around the twelve labors of Heracles, Carl Fuerst’s whimsical, Vonnegut-esque novel follows Henry Streator on the “quest” he has been assigned by his employer, Atlas Systems, but The Upright Dog also purports to be Doctor Emily Stebbins’ attempt to set the record straight on the mythological Greek hero. Indeed, after the twelve entertaining episodes in which we follow Henry’s travels and trials, the last quarter of the book consists of the scholar’s clarifying endnotes.

The twelve labors of Heracles were his punishment for killing his family, which he was tricked into doing by Hera, the queen of the Gods, Zeus’s wife. Heracles had gone to the Oracle at Delphi for guidance on how to atone for his sin. There, he prayed to the god Apollo for guidance. Heracles was told to serve Eurystheus, king of Mycenae, for ten years. During this time, he was sent to perform a series of difficult feats, or “labors.”

Henry’s own “labors” come in the form of assignments from Atlas Systems. They feel like mysterious scavenger-hunt clues. “My employer doesn’t care what hours I work,” he tells Dixon, the exterminator (“God, in his wisdom, gave us the fly, but then he forgot to tell us why,” Dixon cryptically recites, part of this novel’s wisdom.) in “The Third Labor: Heracles and the Stag of Ceryneia,” “As long as I complete the tasks they give me.”

Each chapter begins with a precis of the labor that is often a metaphor for that particular episode.   In “The Fourth Labor: Heracles and the Pig,” for instance, Henry’s cellphone buzzes with a text message from Atlas Systems, “Drv Nxh,” which he interprets to mean “Drive North.” Heracles’ fourth labor was to slay the Erymanthian Boar.  When Henry skids into a snowbank and calls it quits for the night, the hotel where he randomly lodges has already received payment from Atlas, as if fated. Henry befriends a pug named Mrs. Biscuits, who mysteriously has a tag around her neck that reads “Property of Henry Streator.” (Another tag around Mrs. Biscuits’ neck reads: “We know this is nonsense, but trust us – when this is all over you’ll see the point.”)

Atlas Systems arranges and pays for a ride to which Henry is summoned by the hotel clerk. He nods off in the cab only to hear an anxious voice on the taxi’s radio announce that she is “Dr. Emily Stebbins of the University of Wisconsin-Algona Astronomy Department” – the scholar behind the scholarly record that forms part of The Upright Dog! Only Henry wakes up, alone in the cab. Mrs. Biscuits is gone. He’s sad, of course, having become attached to Mrs. Biscuits, and a mysterious woman (could this be Dr. Stebbins?), reassures him: “at no point was that actually your dog.” On to the Augean Stables! A tad confused? The footnote is even more mystifying, a quotation from Euripides’ Alcestis. But trust Fuerst – you’ll see the point when the story’s over…or will you?

Not the least of the pleasures of this work, by the way, are these arcane tidbits in the scholarly notes, such as the etymological origin  of the word “karaoke” (“empty orchestra”), complete with Japanese ideograms. The endnotes are full of “Alternate Translations,” from Plutarch and Homer, Aeschylus, Pindar and Hesiod. Indeed, the epigraph to the entire book is from Hesiod’s Theogeny: “We know how to speak many false things, as though they were true, but we know, when we will, to utter true things.”

Do we ultimately see the point? The twelve labors of Heracles are usually cited as the experience of virtuous struggle and suffering which leads to fame and, in Heracles’ case, immortality. The labors themselves are often interpreted allegorically. By clearing out the Augean Stables, for instance, clearing out the mass of dung, he is said to clearing out the foulness that disfigures humanity.

By the eleventh labor – “Heracles and the Apples” – Henry has received a “certificate of achievement,” the kind of honorific “award” (in lieu of money) that organizations universally bestow on employees: “In recognition of outstanding effort at Atlas Systems.” Attaboy! He seems to be on the right road – metaphorically and literally.

In the endnotes, Dr. Stebbins explains to Henry that the Ancients’ concept of work was entirely different from modern views. This lesson is repeated for emphasis in the Epilogue

The “upright dog,” of course, is “man,” you and me and her and him; them and us. Henry is always on the road, driving, his “quest” a never-ending journey, which may be the ultimate metaphor, because “that’s what makes us human, and that’s what makes us gods, and that’s what makes us god-damned dogs.”

The Upright Dog is an ingenious puzzle, enchantingly Nabokovian in its construction (think: Pale Fire), but with a dark humor that, yes, does make one think of Kurt Vonnegut.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Upright-Dog-Carl-Fuerst/dp/B09R3HDX1S

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

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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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