Reading: Genre, Magic, and Memoir

I’ve been extremely busy: 1) Trying to become a better person; 2) Helping a friend downsize from a large home on three acres to a condo with a shared common area, and; 3) Running into people I haven’t seen in a decade or so in order to facilitate conversations the Universe is sending so that I can get on with 1 (see above), which, by anyone’s measure, has taken entirely too long.

All of this has cut into my reading time, so, only four books so far in November. I promise to be brief. And, FML, WordPress has now made it impossible to do anything but compose in their supposedly improved format — WHICH I DESPISE AND WHICH MAKES COMPOSING ABOUT A MILLION TIMES MORE DIFFICULT.

Deep FreezeDeep Freeze (Virgil Flowers #10), John Sandford, Hardcover, 391pp, October 2017, G.P. Putnam’s Sons

I am a fan of series, and John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers and Lucas Davenport series are reliably what they are: well plotted, fast paced, familiar characters and quirky guest starring new folk, hip and tough but tender-hearted hero who straddles lines of moral ambiguity now and again to make the world a little safer. Until the next installment. I have to say this was not my favorite. High school trauma and unrequited attraction, long held on to, results in murder, and more murders for covering up purposes and, well, it seemed a bit called in, the characters less developed than shorthanded, and because of that, kind of confusing to track. I really didn’t care who died next. No shade, I’m awestruck by anyone’s ability to write one book, let alone deliver the dependably entertaining output Mr. Sandford has achieved.

dangerous to KNowDangerous To Know (Lillian Frost & Edith Head #2), Renee Patrick, Hardcover, 304pp, April 2017, Forge Books

This was a library-browsing pick-up, chosen because it was blurbed by a number of authors whose writing I admire and love. I had not read the first installment, which was the one to which their blurbs referred, and so I came into this cold. It featured a lot of well-known names, none of whom, obviously, could be the killer. There were Nazis and FDR and movie stars and I thought it would be a lot more exciting than it was. I wanted Carole Lombard and Myrna Loy levels of sophistication and wit and madcap, black and white fun. This wasn’t quite it for me.

rules of magicThe Rules Of Magic, Alice Hoffman, Hardcover, 369pp, October 2017, Simon & Schuster

I bought this — which is a lot, because I deliberately live a very simple life, below the poverty level, and buying a book (albeit, with gift cards I hoard) is a big decision and something I do only for authors whose work I know I want to keep on my shelves, as part of the definition of who I am. Alice Hoffman came to Frederick a few years ago for a signing and library sponsored talk and she was delightful. I’ve read a number of her books, including Practical Magic, to which this is a prequel, and I have watched the film of Practical Magic over and over, and although it is very different from the book, I love it because Dianne Wiest, Stockard Channing, Nicole Kidman, and the only movie in which I have ever liked her, Sandra Bullock.

practical-magic-the-auntsI liked this book. The three main characters, siblings Franny, Jet, and Vincent, were all sort of what I have come to think of as Alice Hoffman trademark difficult, but ultimately loveable, beautiful souls who sometimes behave in ugly ways, magical folk out to slay the dragons of fate and the inevitable disappointments that accompany the joys of being alive — in other words, despite their supernatural powers, these are human beings with all the ups and downs and complications and pleasures that label promises. We meet Gillian and Sally of Practical Magic in the last few pages, after the first 300 full of tragic loves, bad decisions, all sorts of loss and gain and growth and denial and fear and light and dark, written in wonderfully skilled, flowing prose.

I like that Alice Hoffman faces sorrow without compromise. It’s a fact of life that people die, that sometimes love takes away as much as it gives, and that we all have to make choices and sometimes, among those choices, there are not perfect options — we all hurt people, we all get hurt, and being alive and having a happy ending doesn’t come for free. That’s not a fairy tale, it’s a grown up story. Alice Hoffman writes deceptively deep and thought-provoking fiction in a fable-like format.

And so, I bought this. And I’m not sorry.

**********

Interstitial moment of explanation: This was going to be a blog blog post today, rather than a reading blog post, because I haven’t blog-blogged in a while. Here’s why: A year ago, November, a horrible thing happened. We are still, daily, suffering its reverberations, and its aftermath will scar and upend and damage us for decades to come. Anger and grief and disbelief and sorrow took me over in an eviscerating way, which, now, it seems, has done me some good. There is light in every darkness, I suppose, cliché as that is to type, but, truth. It became clear to me in these months that while I can do little to change the hearts and minds of the sixty-million or so bigot racist misogynist homophobic faux-christian white-supremacist fascist sympathizing hellhounds who voted for that sad, silly, stupid, soul-less man, I can make the worlds of those people I do know or come in contact with or speak to on Twitter, a little better. I can practice peace, embrace, acceptance, understanding, faith, and share light by NOT indulging my anger, by not being distracted from the job of being human by the shit-show that is politics and news these days. This isn’t about denial, it’s about making a conscious effort to focus, too, on all that is right with the world, all that is good in the universe, and to foster those things and those connections which affirm the Love and the Light. We change the world one person at a time and my resources are not financial, or power, or physical: what I have are my words, and my actions, in person, on-line, to spread a little love, a little light, a little normal.

So, I’m holding back on the blog-blogging for the same reason I’ve cut back to one cup of coffee in the morning, and started having tea I brew myself; for the same reason I’m limiting my Twitter time to about fifteen (okay, maybe thirty) minutes a day; the same reason I don’t watch the news; I need to stay centered, I need to be strong in my standing in the Love and the Light, and I need to ration those things that detract and distract from me being the best me I can be. I can’t ingest and be subjected to things that make me shake, that alter my ability to take deep breaths without pain.

We need people to offer us peace in the midst of this spiritual, social uproar. I am not a warrior. I am a healer. And so, I am here, being strong, staying calm, when you need me. Because we all need — as all of this is going on — to keep reading.

Now, that said, back to books.

**********

spoiler alertSpoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, Michael Ausiello, Hardcover, 320pp, September 2017, Atria Books

Michael Ausiello’s partner of 14 years, Christopher “Kit” Cowan, is diagnosed with a particularly virulent form of cancer, and while describing the eleven months from diagnosis to death, Mr. Ausiello takes the reader on a journey through two lives, thirteen years of a love with its ups and downs, and managing to live those lives as fully as possible while facing death.

There is a lot of snark and dark humor here; the couple were unafraid to speak harsh truths in biting and profane terms, and Mr. Ausiello does not hold back on details I’m sure many readers would consider to fall in the range of TMI. Not me. If your voice is one comfortable with talking about loss of control of bodily functions, who tops and bottoms when and how, the size of your partners genitalia, well then, I say go for it. However, I think I would have held back about my Smurf-obsession, but that’s just me.

I laughed and I cried and I asked myself, “WHY DID YOU READ THIS? YOU KNOW HOW YOU ARE?” It’s not easy. And it’s not particularly uplifting. But, if you’ve watched someone you love, ravaged by disease, die, you will know whether or not sharing someone else’s story is for you.

**********

So, that’s it. Four November books from genre series reads to heartbreaking memoir and, in between, some magic. Not such a bad two weeks, right?

Don’t forget to like my reviews on Amazon and GoodReads so I can be an influencer in the literary world.

And, my friends, here I am, going.

Reading: 2 Books, 2 Very Different Killers

In this post I discuss two novels featuring murderers made by childhoods spent with flawed mothers, both killing (or, trying to) in an effort at mercy. The first of these novels is by seasoned, treasured, much awarded author, Alice McDermott, and the second is a debut novel by Ali Land.

The Ninth Hour, Alice McDermott, Hardcover, 256pp, September 2017, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

In the early part of the twentieth century in the Irish Catholic community in Brooklyn, a man’s suicide leaves his pregnant wife to make a life alone for herself and her daughter, the as yet unborn Sally, around whom the remembered story is built. Sister St. Saviour comes upon the scene of the gas oven suicide and resultant fire and begins her efforts to live up to her chosen name, from trying to hide the cause of death so the dead husband might be buried in hallowed ground, to finding work at the convent for the pregnant widow, Annie, who ends up in the laundry room as assistant to curmudgeonly Sister Illuminata, who, along with the other nuns, helps raise Sally from an infant asleep in a basket in the laundry room to a young woman who thinks she hears the calling to serve as sister herself.

There is no question but that Alice McDermott is an author prodigiously gifted at vividly rendered miniatures, delicate, detailed captures of circumstance, character, reality, and emotion that coalesce into a panorama of the human heart. Too, her facility for prose bordering on poetry combined with sentences of such shocking accuracy and truth one nearly gasps with recognition, make for a reading experience akin to literary love-making. Listen:

 

While Annie and Sister Jeanne knelt, Sister St. Saviour blessed herself and considered the sin of her deception, slipping a suicide into hallowed ground. A man who had rejected his life, the love of this brokenhearted girl, the child coming to them in the summer. She said to God, who knew her thoughts, Hold it against me if You will. He could put this day on the side of the ledger where all her sins were listed: the hatred she felt for certain politicians, the money she stole from her own basket to give out as she pleased — to a girl with a raging clap, to the bruised wife of a drunk, to the mother of the thumb-sized infant she had wrapped in a clean handkerchief, baptized, and then buried in the convent garden. All the moments of how many days when her compassion failed, her patience failed, when her love for God’s people could not outrun the girlish alacrity of her scorn for their stupidity, their petty sins.

 

That is undeniably beautiful writing, possessed of a rhythm and music, a few sentences, sculpted into the story of a woman’s soul and life. By the same token, Alice McDermott can sketch with one short sentence everything we need know about a character, as she does about the less introspective, more rigid Sister Lucy:

 

All joy was thin ice to Sister Lucy.

 

That is laugh out loud funny. Especially if one has spent any time in one’s life with nuns. There are the Sister St. Saviour variety and the Sister Lucy variety and Alice McDermott limns both and the experience of the devoted Catholic life with expertise, sympathy, insight, and wisdom. In particular, especially in The Ninth Hour, she explores the conflict between the tenets of the faith as taught by the church, and the challenges of real life, where circumstances sometimes render the commands of the church impractical to impossible to cruel. Alice McDermott explores the compromises made by the faithful and the cost of believing, the burden of sacrifice, and the malleable nature of the definition of right and wrong, what, exactly — or more aptly, inexactly, defines sin.

I don’t want to spoil the plot, so I’ll only say characters struggle with that existential moment when murder becomes mercy and whether or not the act can ever be forgiven, excused, justified.

All of the qualities Alice McDermott brings to her work make it always worth reading, and The Ninth Hour is no different. However, I found its structure to be problematic. The time jumping as the narrator told a tale passed down through a few generations made it difficult to keep track of characters, who was what to whom when, and the perspective wavering between reverie and documentary was jarring for me. A mosaic is a beautiful thing, and I appreciate the technique, but I felt there was a lack of clarity in the voice because of the piecemeal way the story was told, by which I mean I think the framework made the through-line more difficult to follow than was necessary.

Good Me Bad Me, Ali Land, Hardcover, 338pp, January 2017, Penguin Books Ltd

From Alice McDermott and her Catholic milieu to debut novelist Ali Land and her adolescent mental health mise en scene is less a leap than one might think; this novel also deals with a child brought up in unusual circumstances who is faced with a moral quandary.

Let me begin by saying that the absence of a comma in the title of this novel near drove me to distraction. Then, about three-quarters of the way through reading the book, it came to me that perhaps the author insisted that the point of the story was that there was no clear delineation between the good me and the bad me and so to place a comma in the title would be a betrayal of the gist, the heart of the story. Maybe, maybe not or should I say maybe maybe not?  Whichever, I’m going with it.

Annie, 15, has been re-named Milly and placed with a foster family to be therapized before the trial of her serial killer, sexually abusive mother who Annie/Milly turned in for the murder of nine children to which she was witness. Milly’s foster family — psychiatrist dad Mike, overseeing her therapy, and his wife, Saskia, who turns out to have troubles of her own, and their mean girl daughter, Phoebe, who makes it her business to torture and bully Milly, about whose true identity she knows nothing when Annie/Milly arrives — need therapy of their own, plagued by problems Annie/Milly is likely to make worse with her presence.

This is a thriller, one of those page-turners where the past is presented in teasing drips and drabs, and the reader is given to fear along with Annie/Milly whether or not she can escape her mother’s influence, damage, and genetic contribution to who she is, who she might become, and whether any of this will be found out by those in her life.

This is a dark, twisted, creepy tale, compellingly written, very fast-moving, with what sounds a very authentic troubled-adolescent voice which one assumes can be credited to Ali Land’s work as a child and adolescent mental health nurse. Which, like the missing comma in the title, bothered me, because in a world which is currently so full of horrors, hatreds, and monsters, I worried and wondered just how much of the story could be all too real, based on abhorrent, abominable, tragic real-life stories Ali Land was exposed to as a mental health nurse.

So, there it is: a fast read but more than a little disturbing. If you, like me, are given nightmares by child-in-danger stories and ambiguous endings, this is not the novel for you. If you, on the other hand, are not sensitive to that sort of thing and enjoy nothing more than a fast, what’s next, bet I can guess, ohmygod read, this is the book for you.

***************************

And there we have it my friends, my two latest reads which — as is so often the case — were somehow connected in theme, all without my knowledge or planning; they both happened to come up on my library hold-list at the same time.

I’m heading into non-fiction next, it’s been too long and the book was recommended by a trusted friend, so, when I return I will be talking about The Woman Who Smashed Codes, which I’m beginning as soon as I finish this, bake a cake, and make Sunday dinner for my mom and sister. So, those things are not going to take care of themselves, thus, here I am, going.

P.S. SELF-PROMOTION: I’ve jumped up 10,000+ spots in rankings at Amazon as reviewer to 21,927! [CLICK HERE]! Only last week I was 33,000-something! If you like my recounting of my book reading, and my respect for the art of writing and publishing, it would be great if you could LIKE my Amazon and GoodReads reviews. Too, liking books on Amazon helps the author, helps their numbers and rankings in the mysterious algorithm that is Amazon sales and promotions. So, help the literary world out. Like me. Like books. Now, really, here I am, going.

 

 

 

Reading: “Unforgivable Love” (and a forgivable absence)

Thanks to Glenda Burgess and Paula Garner, I’m back. What’s that? You didn’t notice I was gone? Well, I was, and I read quite a few books since last I book-blogged on September 17 — thirteen. While I didn’t write about them here, I did so on my GoodReads & Amazon accounts. (Click HERE for my Amazon Profile link, where all my reviews can be found.)

But, before I get to how Glenda and Paula brought me back from the depths, and my thoughts about my latest good-read, Unforgivable Love by Sophfronia Scott, I want to briefly discuss and link to my full reviews of the highlights from those I’ve read while not blogging.

First, the 5th installment in Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope Mysteries, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante. (Click HERE for my full review.) I love this series. I love Susan Elia MacNeal’s writing. I love the way she manages to weave history into compelling plots, using characters I have grown to love, and, too, skillfully addressing modern issues while remaining true to the World War 2 period during which Maggie lives. If you’ve not read these, please do, and start at #1. There are seven so far and while I have numbers 6 and 7, I’m rationing. Or, trying to.

Next one worth a look is Christodora by Tim Murphy which was recommended by Garth Greenwell, need I say more? Maybe a little. Hopping in time from the 1980’s at the beginning of the AIDS crisis to the 2000’s and the lives of those left, and, too, those who barely register the horror of the epidemic’s beginning or the strides made because of the work of those activists forged in fury from the struggle. Moving. Wrenching, even. (Click HERE for my full review.)

And, too, a five-star work of real brilliance, John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies. This book has it all. Beautiful prose, breathtaking sentences, incisive emotional landscaping, laugh out loud wit and subtle satire, and such intricate, page-turning plotting. It really is quite fantastic. (Click HERE for my full review.)

Finally, for a sweet, fast, heartwarming read, I recommend How To Find Love In A Bookshop, by Veronica Henry. A daughter inherits her father’s labor of love bookshop and from near ruin comes many a happy ending for nearly every character. You’ll feel like you’re part of the village in which it takes place, and you’ll smile. That’s more than enough nowadays, don’t you think? (Click HERE for my full review.)

So then, 400 words later, here I am, going on to the book I finished just last night.

Unforgivable Love; A Retelling of Dangerous Liaisons, Sophfronia Scott, Paperback, 528pp, September 2017, William Morrow Paperbacks

First, only fair to admit, I love unto the point of obsession all iterations of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, although I’ve not read the 1782 French original (and if you have, well, touch you) and lean rather more toward the 1999 re-telling,Cruel Intentions,  featuring Ryan Phillippe’s ass and his uncovering of the gay-sex between the characters played by Eric Mabius and Joshua Jackson.

Ryan Phillippe’s ass

Eric Mabius and Joshua Jackson, in bed, being blackmailed by Ryan Phillippe in CRUEL INTENTIONS

Thus, when I read about this novel in People Magazine, its premise of Dangerous Liaisons re-told in 1940’s Harlem appealed to me, promising to be something I’d eagerly devour. Of course, I’ve been fooled before. Like a junkie, I read the book pages in any magazine I can get my hands on, and while I’m not a fan of People — and that sentence is another blog entirely — my sister subscribes and I tear out the book page and read all the quick-synopses, frequently suckered in by a good press-representative spin. All too often I then find myself starting one of these books and saying, WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY TALKING ABOUT/WHO PAID THEM OFF – THIS IS AWFUL!

Luckily, with Unforgivable Love, that was not the case.

Sophfronia Scott’s writing vividly brings to life a period, a Zeitgeist, a social milieu, and emotional landscapes with attention to detail in scene painting and the interiority of characters’ thoughts, all contributing to a portrait of a historical time, place, and people whose lives and behaviors resonate in the now.

The story is told in close-third, from the point-of-view of four main voices, Mae Malveaux, Val “Valiant” Jackson, Elizabeth Townsend, and Cecily Vaughn.

Mae Malveaux is the reincarnation in this tale of the original’s Marquise de Merteuil, a character who can easily come off as irredeemably loathsome and cruel. In this retelling, she is given a backstory which means to explain her cold as ice manipulations and calculated ruination of others, but, in the end, the author allows the character to remain unlikable, her malevolence grounded in her psychoses but never excused; the reader feels some empathy for her but not sympathy, which is as it should be. As one character says, “I don’t know what good can come of anything that woman does….Still,….she is family and so I pray for her.” What is refreshing in Sophronia Scott’s version is that Mae is not demonized for her embrace of her sexuality. Her easy carnality is not portrayed as a character flaw, as is so often the case when writing about women (or, people, but, mostly, women) and it is not that which leads to her ultimate downfall.

Val is the tale’s iteration of the original’s Vicomte de Valmont, and here he is far more sympathetic from the beginning than he is in other tellings of the tale. Despite his being an inveterate and unapologetic hound with a sketchy past and income from illegal sources, who uses and tosses aside women like chattel, he is early on imbued with a conscience and questioning of what it is he has done, is doing, and what it does to others. Though he plays at faith as a tool of seduction, it reaches him, touches him, and manages to change him by opening his mind to ways of thinking he’d not previously explored. More than any other character, Val arcs and grows.

There is a great deal of faith in the story, the church and its ministers play a role in the story, especially in the denouement, but there is nothing preachy or pontifical, rather, Christian faith and community are central to the lives of some of the characters.

The most faith-driven of the main characters is Elizabeth Townsend, who might have been a minister had her world been different and had she not been raised to cede control of her life to first her father, then her husband, Kyle, a civil rights lawyer who is largely absent from her life and the narrative as he is off fighting fights in the deep South. Val is challenged by Mae to seduce and corrupt the faithful and pious Elizabeth, she who has not ever fully explored nor embraced her own truth, her true desires — desires on all levels, ambition, emotion, and sexual. It is in pursuit of a victory in overcoming Elizabeth’s reluctance to live and feel that both Val and Elizabeth are permanently shaken, altered, brought to awarenesses that have the power to destroy them.

Mae also sics Val on her young relative, Cecily, whose sexuality and self-awareness are nascent but bubbling to the surface, craving release. Val aims to corrupt her, part of Mae’s plot of revenge against a past lover who considers Mae unfit to wed, and has managed to get the virginal Cecily pledged to him, enraging Mae.

With so many seductions and so much scheming, this could easily veer into cheesy-soap-opera territory, but it never does. The sex scenes are sensual, lusty without being vulgar (though I have NO trouble with vulgar, licentious sex scenes) and at 506 pages, this is a longish read but it moves quickly in relatively short chapters and, despite my familiarity with the framework of the plot, there was a great deal of tension and suspense as I read, waiting to see how the characters would end up and by what method.

******************

So, there you have it; four weeks and thirteen books later, I am back to blogging, and for that I am grateful to my Twitter friend and accomplished author and blogger, Glenda Burgess, as well as Twitter pal and accomplished author (I know a lot of accomplished authors on Twitter), Paula Garner, who both managed on one of my low-down-lonely-blues Saturday nights to raise me up and out of my funk with their lovely and kind praise of my writing about books, words which made me miss doing this blogging thing, words that made me think maybe I had something worthwhile to add to the discussion. So, thank-you Glenda and Paula.

And now, here I am going.

 

‘Tis a gift to be …

Although I am on hiatus from Twitter (mostly) and writing this blog, having promised myself I would refrain from babbling on until I’d met certain conditions, finished a few things I’ve been putting off, figured out the questions to a few of my answers; some things demand breaking your promise. This is one.

Sissie, my aunt, was a glorious human being. In the days before internet and world connectivity, in a small, rural setting, she managed to give me Broadway, literary fiction, the Algonquin Round Table and Bloomsbury Group, Evelyn Waugh, and a sort of magic belief that though we lived in middle-of-nowhere Maryland, we were really, truly Bohemian, sophisticated, erudite, fashionable, elite Manhattanites.

She gave me just enough snobbery to save me from complete collapse as I entered the real world of school where I was surrounded by people who did not get me. That’s what she spent her life and love trying to convince me of: there was nothing wrong with me, it was those in the world who couldn’t see me as Miracle Charlie who were flawed. No matter my failures — and there were many — or mistakes — of which there even more — Sissie never saw me as anything but the biggest Broadway star best-selling genius author best dressed most beautiful smartest greatest most deserving of love person ever born.

If you’ve ever had anyone who believed in the nth of you, the shiniest, glowingest aura of you, then you will understand what I’m about to say.

Each year when Sissie’s birthday came round, I struggled and worried and agonized over what to get for or do for Sissie, someone who meant so much to me, who was foundational in my life, who I loved with such intensity it seemed beyond my capacity to convey it.

Of course, she didn’t want anything. She’d say, “The gift is you, being in my life.” Although, she didn’t mind a nice box of Godiva chocolate and/or a bottle of smooth bourbon.

Now, confession. I have struggled all through the month of September trying to come up with a birthday gift to give another someone who is foundational to me, who means the world to me, who sees the shiniest, glowingest, snuggly rascal, sweet-hearted, tender-love me; my dearest, most holy and beloved, Her Grace, Duchess Goldblatt.

Finally, today, I realized that I should do for her what I ended up doing for Sissie; trying to say it in writing. (And, if I could manage to get to Crooked Path, where Her Grace resides, I’d also send chocolates and bourbon.)

This, then, is that.

Duchess Goldblatt, proudly non-corporeal yet wonderfully human; without anatomy in physical reality and yet able to bestow the warmest and tightest of embraces; intangible of flesh yet palpably, stunningly carnal, brings such light to my life, shining her loving wisdom and determined optimism into the dark corners of myself, where I hide and wallow in doubts, fears, and self-hatred, and with her gentle guidance and unshakeable belief in what is best in all of us, she makes me the most me I can be — that me Sissie believed in.

Duchess Goldblatt is the Sissie to all of her catechumen, admirers, followers, and loves. How she manages to give solace and hope to so many, asking so little in return, is phenomenal, and, I must believe, exhausting. She shares with Sissie a selflessness of spirit, a wondrous and spectacular insistence on not dwelling on the losses on cosmic balance sheets, but, rather, concentrating on what’s been gained.

Though I long ago was dubbed by a loved one, Sissie in fact, a Miracle, MiracleCharlie, there would have been no such miracle without Sissie, and that which has sustained me, in large part saved me these past few very difficult years has been another Miracle, one who truly deserves the title, the Miracle of Her Grace, Duchess Goldblatt and the community — no, the FAMILY she has made of all of us who follow her, who love her, who believe her more real than anyone we know and touch and see.

You are the world to me, Your Grace. Please accept this, my humble gift to you, my continued respect and adoration and all the light I have to give and the deepest of love. And, I hope, in doing this, to return to you some small portion of all you’ve given me and so many others.

Happy Birthday month, my dearest.

Is this the end . . .

Julia Murney is helping me say a couple of things because I have lost my song and voice and so, I’m borrowing hers to say, for a while, goodbye.

How did we come to this?

The day after the inauguration I noticed the red splotches on my upper right arm, splotches which, within a few months, spread down that arm, then covered the left arm in the same way, top to bottom, next appeared on both legs, top to bottom, soon after painting my torso and back, and here I am, nine months and countless doctor visits and insurance humiliations and additional symptoms later; still sick, having spent Monday and Tuesday of this week mostly in the bathroom, much of Tuesday in tears, feeling a bit better and hopeful yesterday except so fatigued every time I tried to read I fell asleep, and this morning I woke with stomach cramps again, my right heel hurting each step I take, three fingers of my right hand throbbing as if I had spent all night sleep-cleaning with my hands in bleach, and my knees aching so much I was afraid I would trip and fall down the steps on my two trips carrying the pups I’m watching to their morning constitutional, treats, and breakfast, and I feel so disheartened and disgusted and despairing I can’t bring myself to go to the effort to get the thirty or thirty-five new (repeat, mostly) blood tests and chest x-ray ordered by the latest doctor who has, in essence, like all the other doctors told me the other doctors were wrong and she doesn’t know what I have and like all the other doctors, doesn’t think she’s the right one to treat me and all I can think is, any day now, I’ll be losing my insurance anyway because of the inauguration nine months ago and the hateful, idiot bigots who live in and run this country and imagine how I’d be feeling if I lose the ability to get my Wellbutrin.

Yes, it’s a run-on sentence but this past nine months have been a run-on cluster-fuck in my life and the world. And last night, one of my vices slapped me in the face with more ugly reality. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I watch Big Brother. For those of you who have more sense and spend your time more wisely than do I, Big Brother is a reality show where fifteen or so strangers move into a house together and spend a few months trying to be the last two left in the house, at which point the last nine who’ve been voted out by one another become a jury deciding which of the two played the game the best and most deserve half a million dollar prize.

Only, last night, just like in January, a freaking idiot who’d done next to nothing to deserve the title of Winner, won, because the bitter jury members couldn’t stand that the person who deserved to win by virtue of playing the game brilliantly, had outplayed them all — so they denied him the win.

That was bad enough, but that was only five morons so foul and vile they voted for a loser just because they couldn’t be the winner. Still, it bothered me. A lot. What bothered me even more came next.

There is a consolation prize called America’s Favorite where fans call in and vote for the house guest they most like. Over fifteen million people voted — or, there were fifteen million votes, many people doing the vote stuffing thing that happens on these call-in reality/popularity contest shows (perhaps this, too, was Russian interference?) — and only one of the top three was in any way deserving of any admiration, the other two being scum or worse, and the one who won was a misogynist, nasty, hyper-masculine, near-sociopath who’d had NOTHING nice to say about anyone and considered himself morally superior to all of them. A real pig, not unlike the idiot who was inaugurated in January.

I dissolved into breakdown sobs.

Granted, I don’t feel well. Nine months of not feeling well exacerbated by a week of intense to moderate discomfort which is a continuation of these months of never feeling 100% and not knowing from day to day how I’m going to feel or what is going to hurt or not be functioning and having been calling senators every damn day to say “Please don’t take away my healthcare” and then, those Big Brother results, again victory for two undeserving, awful men, awful men rewarded for their lack of talent and humanity; I lost it.

I sat on the couch, a pup on each side of me, a larger dog at my feet, and a cat in my lap, weeping to them, “I don’t belong in this world. I don’t understand this world. There is just so much I don’t get that I thought I got and I will never get and I just am too tired. I can’t fight anymore. I can’t win in a world where these are the choices people make.”

I remember when I believed the world was kinder. And I miss it. I miss that. I miss believing I might be loved, happily ever after, someone to see me — and now all I can see is a world where the majority of people are full of admiration for people who hate and win dirty and ugly and I just, I’ve lost my song, I can’t sing, and I miss the colored lights.

I love Julia Murney. Since I’ve lost my song, she’ll speak for me here. I think it’s time for me to close this blog. It is read less and less by fewer and fewer. Who do I think I am? I know, truly I do, it’s not just me; everyone who has a soul is in existential pain of their own right now. And if after all this time I haven’t managed to find my place, find a partner, find an income, find my health, and worse, have lost my song and lost my writing voice and —well, I can’t keep up with the rules, clearly, I never knew them, or, they change them every time I get close to a win. I am tired. I am lonely. I am defeated. I am broke. I am about to be uninsured. I don’t know where I’m going next. I don’t exactly know where I am now, and so, if I can figure out how to back all the entries up, I think this is going to go away. This will no longer be where I am. Going.

 

 

Medical Updates – not important

SORRY to the people who come here for book-blog. I didn’t want to have to tell the story of my latest adventure in the nine month slog through medical mysteries to a bunch of people so I’m posting it here. Feel free to skip. After nine months of it, I wish to hell I could just skip it too.

Okay my friends, today was another in the misadventures on Charlie’s medical journey.

The day started badly because I was up every hour last night, gave up at 4, my stomach was a mess again today, but I had determined a few weeks ago I would not skip the gym no matter what. Well, I changed my mind today while at the gym. Long story I’m not telling but it became clear that I am delusional about my age and abilities and place in the world. I think I’ll be skipping the gym for a while.

When I got home, I waited until 9 when the rheumatologist’s office opened because I had not gotten a call reminding me of appointment, nor gotten anything in the mail (the one who was canceled because of my insurance coverage — or lack — had sent a 35 page questionnaire) and I called them, explained I wanted to verify I had an appointment at 11:15. The fellow said, “Yes, didn’t you get my message?”

No, I didn’t.

“I told you that you need to bring your lab results or have your doctor fax them.”

I never got that message.

“Isn’t your number 301-471-1251?”

No, it isn’t.

“Oh.”

I gave him my real number and he said I had to have the lab work, doctor notes, etc. I explained that I could NOT drive to Hagerstown, pick them up, and get to Gaithersburg in time for the appointment. And that the doctor had said WEEKS ago when appointment made that they would send them. Keep in mind, this is the doctor who gave them my wrong number — or, they took the number down wrong — who knows.

SO,  called Hagerstown and explained and asked if they had ever sent the info as they’d said they were going to. Turns out they had not. This information after I’d been on and off hold for fifteen minutes. SO, she then comes back on line and says, “Well, we’ll fax it now, but for future reference, you need to come in here and sign a release — but we’ll do it this time because you have an appointment.”

I semi-lost it. I said, “YOU made the appointment. YOU told me you’d send the information and did NOT ask me to sign anything. I’ve already SIGNED a release there allowing you to have and disseminate and get my information — and if that was NOT enough then you should have CALLED me and told me IMMEDIATELY that you were NOT going to do what you’d TOLD me you were going to do — AND I MIGHT ADD, this was all after you had first referred me to a doctor who did NOT take my insurance despite specifically saying you had checked that they did thus putting this appointment off by a month.”

She hung up on me. I assumed the info would not be sent. But, it was.

I get there. Fill out more forms. The doctor comes out to get me. She is very nice but it turns out the reason I could get in on such short notice is because she just opened this practice. Every patient there was new.

Needless to say, as with every other doctor to which I’ve been, she hadn’t read my file. Had no idea the history or why I was there. In her defense, she hadn’t been SENT the file.

SO, I had to explain everything. English is not her first language. We had some difficulty understanding one another. She asked me the same thing over and over — and like the dermatologist had at first, she fixated on thinking the Wellbutrin had caused the rash — I had to explain three times before she finally got it that the rash started BEFORE the Wellbutrin and was why I originally WENT to the doctor NINE FREAKING MONTHS AGO. The day after the inauguration. By which point I had been crying, daily, sick with fear and horror since November 9. TWO FREAKING MONTHS.

She then proceeded to read my file OUT LOUD while I was sitting there. She does NOT think I have lupus. She said they did NOT do all the tests they should have if they thought I had lupus. She said she doesn’t think they should have ruled out cancer yet. She said they were wrong to tell me to stop taking Vitamin D while on Plaquenil, that she has had plenty of patients on Plaquenil who also take D.

Then she starts with the, “So, you don’t have Hepatitis, any of its forms, no HIV, almost all your blood tests are normal.”

I have been told MANY times what I do NOT have, and I am grateful I am as healthy as I am. Really, I am. BUT I’VE HAD THIS RASH ALL OVER MY BODY FOR NINE MONTHS and now, the last few, on and off muscle issues, joint pain, return of digestive problems, concentration issues. I mean — THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG.

She explained to me why she doesn’t think it’s lupus. She tested my muscle strength — resisting her push/pull — uhm, SHE’S TINY, lol, I could have lifted her.

She too, like EVERY OTHER DOCTOR, asked me over and over, “And it doesn’t itch?”

NO FFS IT DOES NOT ITCH.

Anyway, she was clearly stymied, too. She wrote up an order for 30 more blood tests and a chest x-ray and said get those done and come back in a week. BUT HERE IS THE TOPPER — she said:

“If I were you, I would get to Johns Hopkins and start in the dermatology department because this doesn’t look or present like anything I know or your other doctors have known.”

My insurance BARELY covers her. I doubt very much it’s going to happily send me trotting to Hopkins.

She said something about I don’t have inflammation of cells from biopsy results but I do have separation of cells or something — I have no idea, by then when she’d freely admitted she had no idea what it was and was going to run all the blood tests over and some more and ADDED BONUS some urine tests, too, and I had quit listening.

She also said, “Your blood pressure is a little high.”  It was 140/90. It is USUALLY 120/80 but at every doctor visit it soars. I told her this. She said, “Yes, you’re probably tense with all this.”

YOU THINK?

Look, she was perfectly nice. I’m sure she is probably a good doctor. And I’m near sure that no one is ever going to be able to tell me what I have.

So, that’s it. I have an urge to get into my bed, under the covers, and not come out for a few days — but, I can’t. Which is probably a good thing. But, I will have some free time because I am not going back to gym — for now — I need to re-evaluate many, many things and consider carefully the delusions in how I see myself and what the hell I’m doing and why I have wasted my life.

One good thing — I was able to pick up my copy of Hillary Clinton’s WHAT HAPPENED at Curious Iguana, and just walking in there made me feel whole and healed for a few minutes.

Love to you all —

not-so-miracle Charlie

Not Knot. Who’s There?

Sundays when I was young began with hunger; we were Catholic and we couldn’t eat before mass so as to be purified to accept the body and blood of Christ at communion. After church, I was most often left to spend the day with my aunt, Sissie, who lived with and cared for my grandparents: Mom-Mom who suffered from early onset senility, and Pop-Pop who suffered in silence. These were the parents of my father who had died when I was seventeen months old.

Sissie and the house in Libertytown were my sanctuary, the place where Miracle Charlie was born. Sissie offered refuge, a safe place where I could explore who I was, I could be whoever and whatever I dreamed without fear of being judged, belittled, condemned, or disowned. Sissie and Libertytown and Sundays were unconditional love.

Sissie and the house in Libertytown were comfort in a world where I often felt out of place, targeted, ridiculed, and in danger, while at the same time I also felt as if who I was and what I was worth were not seen, not understood, not respected, and not valued.

Sometimes, still, I admit I allow that NOT consciousness to overtake me, become my focus, weaken my sense of who I am and upend my peace; in those sorrowful times I look to others I admire and project onto them their disapproval and dismissal of me.

They’ve nothing to do with this, you understand. I understand. But in those times it feels to me as if they — that amorphous community of shiny, glowing, better / prettier / smarter / richer / stronger / braver than me’s — are purposely dis-including me, having parties and conversations to which I am not invited, from which I am actively left out. Sometimes they do this with — I imagine — a snort or a sigh or rolled eyes amongst themselves and the, “Oh, there he is again, when will he get it that we just don’t want him around.”

Sometimes it feels as if I have proof. For example; not having checked into Grindr for a while, to return and find I’ve a message and to discover the message is not from any of the fellows with whom I’ve attempted liaison-ing, but, rather, from a firm offering liposuction.

Yes. That. Desired, wanted, pursued on Grindr — a space specifically invented for hooking up? Is that my experience?

Not.

Or, to have been in a Twitter conversation, commented, and had the shiny-brights promiscuously hearting and commenting on one another’s responses but not mine, or, better, their party of delighted agreements with a dissenting riposte to my opinion. Included? Joshed with? Responded to on Twitter — a space specifically invented for making community with the like-minded? Was that my experience then?

Not.

It is then I get the feels (as the kids say) about all I am not.

Not.

The election in November took me to a scary NOT place. A feeling that this was a country where so many people considered me and all the things in which I believed, the ways in which I thought we ought to behave, as NOT.

But, then, Secretary Hillary Clinton is a miracle. She has been vilified, discriminated against, slandered, belittled, ruthlessly attacked, lied about, and yet survived attempt after outrageous attempt to destroy her, always behaving with dignity, grace, and continued faith in the fundamental goodness of humanity despite an abundance of loathsome, repugnant people seemingly determined to convince her otherwise.

She not only survived the election being stolen from her, she came through with honor. Did she go low, weep and whine and worry about whether she was adequately loved and rewarded for who she was and what she’d said and done?

Not.

She knows who she is. She has followed her heart and her conscience and so, what others think of that or do with that is not in her control. She accepts that and keeps living her truth.

And here I am, a person who wastes life energy getting upset when people dis me on Grindr or don’t heart my Twitter posts.

Is that who I want to be? Is that who I am?

Not.

Today, and lately, too often lately anyway, I have begun in hunger brought on by this knot of not. I am not sharing this not to shame myself nor to solicit sympathy or “love you’s” — but, rather, as a reminder that NOT is not about lack in our lives, it’s about how we look at our lives.

When I am feeling unloved, living in lack, eventually I remember to open my eyes and look at all the abundance in which I live, the opulence of love with which I am daily embraced, the wealth of tender kindness, attention, affection, devotion, and selfless, whole-soul companionship with which my life has been blessed.

When I am feeling overcome by NOT, eventually I remember to remember how I am not alone in feeling this way, to remember how difficult is the world right now, how stressed and pulled and in need of comfort and snuggling and affirmation is everyone — and just as I don’t have the energy or time or fortitude EVERY MOMENT to comfort and lift others, neither do others have the resources to make sure my delicate constitution isn’t upset by their imagined slights.

This isn’t to Pollyanna say there aren’t people who dismiss you, snobbish elitists who can’ be bothered by those they judge not of their class or import, or mean rednecks wanting to wipe you off the face of the earth, or nasty gaybois who think you’re old and fat and not hot enough so it’s okay to go out of their way to tell you so. Yes, the world has plenty of people who will behave horribly and, for whatever reason, treat others badly.

They’re not my business. Not.

My business is me. My business is to continue to cultivate my own personal faith in which it is not necessary to live in hunger nor to practice martyrdom nor to measure sin and wrong; but, rather, a faith in me, in knowing I have (almost always) followed my heart and done my best to be good and kind and affirming to others, to keep living my truth.

And so, whatever anyone else does with that, whatever anyone else thinks of me, however they respond to me, to whatever degree they do or do not Twitter-heart me, or Grindr-respond to me, it is out of my control. Is any of that to do with me?

Not.

Beautiful Sunday, dear ones. Best energies to all those in the path of these storms. Much love and light and courage to live your truths and count the plus, rather than live in the minus. And here I am, going.

Moontans … an excerpt from “Libertytown”

I am feeling the need to re-visit old blogs & writing. This is from my unpublished novel, Libertytown, and I first posted this in June of 2015.

here we are going

Having been informed by my physician that I’ve a vitamin D deficiency, I have been trying to take more sun. But, it’s the night I love. Tonight, the lightning bugs are painting glorious blasts and bursts of light in the backyard, it’s quite magic. I was sitting, watching, and came to mind my old life and a section of “Libertytown”, my un-published novel, inspired by my love of the energies of the night sky, and what one man in my life made of that love, did with that love, how he ruined me by knowing what it was I loved and how to use it against me. So, here, from “Libertytown”, some Moontan.

LIBERTYTOWN (an excerpt)

After the EVITA load-out, I’d, in essence, lost him. We’d talked on the phone just those four times but never had we discussed my touch, his explosion, as if none of it had ever…

View original post 3,690 more words

Reading: Mrs. Fletcher (No, it’s not a Murder, She Wrote satire)

Mrs. Fletcher, Tom Perrotta, Hardcover, 309pp, August 2017, Scribner

I read Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers in 2012 which I know only because I use Goodreads to track my reading history and I check when entering a book to see if I’ve read other works by the author.

The first thing that earlier novel has in common with Mrs. Fletcher is I was enticed by its blurbs and synopsis. The Leftovers was all about what would happen to those left behind were the biblical rapture to actually occur; an irresistible fantasy for a lapsed-Roman Catholic-agnostic like myself. Mrs. Fletcher‘s promos promise a “feverish turning of pages” through a  “hilarious, provocative … joyride” by a “smart, fearless … wet-your-pants-funny satirist” as he explores what seems a fascinating premise about up-to-the-minute issues facing the world today, like parent-child relationships, on-line persona versus real-life person, and the various comings of age one now goes through in a world of much longer lives with many more options for personal relationships of varieties both deep and shallow, erotic and platonic; irresistible for a lapsed real-life personality who lives behind various on-line personas like myself.

The second thing The Leftovers and Mrs. Fletcher have in common is the promise of the premise was not — for me — kept.

In all fairness, it started with the title. I couldn’t divorce the name, Mrs. Fletcher, from years of the same-named mystery-solving-novelist character played by Angela Lansbury on Murder, She Wrote.

That aside, Mrs. Fletcher — here named Eve — is divorced, director of a senior center, and her only child, Brendan, is leaving the comfort of his upper-middle-class suburban, popular-jock-boy life for college. Brendan is expecting to continue his partying and privilege at an elevated level, while Eve is dreading what she fears will feel like abandonment and loneliness. The conflict and comedy(?) come from the expectations of each one’s expected experience more or less happening to the other.

Eve is drawn into online porn portals, begins unusual and unexpected friendships and pursuits, and revels in her new privacy and life, at the same time Brendan becomes a pariah at college and suffers agonizing loneliness. Eve is affected by sexual text-messages from unknown and shockingly inappropriate (to her mind) people, while Brendan’s attempts to alter things with his texting fail, distancing him further and further from what he desires. This reversal of expected fortunes extends to Brendan’s one sexual escapade, which reveals him (to himself and others) to be a near-predator rather than the skilled stud who buys condoms in bulk he thought he was, while  Eve’s multiple forays into new erotic territories reveal her to be far more open and sensual and attractive than she’d considered herself before.

Other characters in the novel are also grappling with loneliness, sexual desire and identity and need, and — to one degree or another — hiding parts of themselves, channeling life-energy into who they imagine themselves to be as opposed to actually being those people; as if everyone in the novel is living a double-life: the civilized, following the rules of polite society persona presented to the world, and the fantasy-self, the daring, boundary-free, get what they want, be fully who they dreamed of being self. It’s Life-porn — that best self, what if, yes I could if only scenario we have running in our heads when imagining what life could be.

And this novel — and most of Mr. Perrotta’s work is, essentially, just that: Life Porn. He specializes in almost but not quite satirizing and exposing the flaws and foibles of the middle and upper middle class suburbanites and communities about whom and which he writes. And he writes well with a hip kind of mass-market-faux-literary-fiction rhythm and just enough cynical judgment to let the very people about whom he writes nod in agreement that they can see their neighbors in his stories.

It’s a frustratingly fence-straddling lack of commitment to real social satire, the “isn’t this awful” combined with “aren’t we cute” thing that rankles and disturbs. And judges. Eve toys with exploring sexuality, but, without spoiling, reverts to suburban-polite-society-republican conformity.

In a novel that seems to aim for wanting to explore the effect of new ways of communicating and the availability of all sorts of connections, and too, the numbing effect of same, no one seems much changed by what goes on. There is never really anything at stake.

And that’s fine. Mr. Perrotta has every right to write whatever he likes; and it’s skilled story-telling, fast reading, and interesting enough. BUT, there is so much more gift there — in the possibilities of the story, the richness of the subject matter, and in the author’s clear intelligence and emotional insights — one can’t help wishing he’d gone further, deeper, beyond the expected and more into the boundary-free, behind the public persona, Life Porn reality that lots of us are living today.

Reading: Fall-ing out of August

In this post I visit Katherine Heiny’s Standard Deviation; Andrew Sean Greer’s Less; Carys Davies The Redemption of Galen Pike; Ross MacDonald’s The Wycherly Woman; and Liz Nugent’s Unraveling Oliver.

Impeach The Motherfucker Already. Me, modeling my pussyhat and ITMFA pin, made for me by my dear Twitter pal, Dierdre.

August is coming to an end, a time when I usually remark about how quickly the year has flown and look forward to my favorite season, Fall. Not in 2017, I’m afraid. It seems since January we’ve suffered through at least a decade, every day bringing a new horror, abomination, defilement of decency, and a lowering of the bar as to what constitutes acceptable behavior, all thanks to the sociopathic buffoon who somehow managed to ride a wave of hate and deceit into the highest position in the land, surround himself with racist, misogynist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, classist, fascist  toadies, bigots, and hypocrites of every stripe, all of them determined to chip away at all that is good and kind and right about this country, to reverse the progress we’ve made toward equality and peace, and move the world backward to a time when only old heterosexual white men claiming to be christian had any power or say.

I wake every day with only a few seconds of joy before I remember what’s been done and being done to this country, to this world, and I am filled with fear and sorrow.

So, I escape into literature. As much as I can. Here then are the last few with which I filled my end of summer days.

Standard Deviation, Katherine Heiny, Hardcover, 336pp, May 2017, Knopf

From the accretion of telling, penetrating details in episode after sharply, wittily drawn episode Katherine Heiny builds a hard to describe but fascinating whole in her debut adult novel, Standard Deviation.

Graham Cavanaugh divorced his first wife, the outwardly staid, stable, and sturdy Elspeth, to wed his second, the unbound, unfiltered, and unafraid Audra, a union which produced Matthew, a son whose results on educational and emotional tests fall outside the standard deviation, resulting in a diagnostic label of Aspberger Syndrome. How these four characters interact with others and navigate the confusing, noisy, complicated modern world is the landscape Katherine Heiny uses to map many varieties of love, leaving, and loss in ways insightful, humorous, touching, poignant, and ultimately eloquently revelatory.

Katherine Heiny manages the sleight-of-prose trick here of using humor — and this is funny, indeed in a sophisticated, sly, dry way — to explore the unknowable distances and secret, private spaces in all relationships, even the most loving, tender, and treasured. Autistic Matthew is hardly the most emotionally reserved and touchy of the people here; all have their own manner of arms-length-ing others, an observation the author elucidates subtly through action. One is taken by surprise as one comes to the end of what started off feeling like yet another light-hearted, near-sarcastic take on the dilemmas of the privileged but has turned into a moving examination of what love is, what it takes, what it does, and how it grows and goes and sometimes, makes for wisdom.

Less, Andrew Sean Greer, Hardcover, 272pp, July 2017, Lee Boudreaux Books, Little Brown and Company

One of the many pleasure of reading is discovering an author whose voice speaks to your soul and realizing, “They have a backlist!” So it is for me with Andrew Sean Greer and his most recent novel, his sixth published work, Less.

There are novels with indelible opening lines, for me, the ideal being Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays:

What makes Iago evil? some people ask. I never ask.

It has stuck with me since the first time I read it. Of course, it’s followed by another 200-some wide margined, amply spaced pages of exquisite genius during which Joan Didion manages with her precision of language and laser focus what most novels — no matter the page count — never even hint at.

Point being, I remember Play It As It Lays not just because of its opening line — which is brilliant — but because what follows is equal to the opening.

With Andrew Sean Greer’s Less, the order is twisted: when you reach what seems the inevitable, only possible final line, the preceding 250-some pages — which might have seemed twee or gimmicky in less skilled literary hands — feel earned and right and have that heft of, “Oh, I’ll always remember this.”

And what more can one ask of a book but that it gives you something you will always remember?

So, perhaps I ought synopsize rather than babble. Our hero, Arthur, a self-defined failed (or failing) author about to turn 50 receives an invitation to his boyfriend of the past nine years wedding. To someone else. Desperate to avoid the ceremony without saying no and seeming broken, he accepts a motley deluge of invitations to literary events and opportunities which will take him around the world, making it impossible to attend his long-loved one’s nuptials to someone else.

On the trek which takes him through Mexico, Italy, Germany, Morocco, India and Japan, he falls in love (maybe) and suffers humiliations real and imagined and faces his fears about and the realities of being a gay man alone, turning 50, which equals being a corpse in the youth-oriented world of modern gay life and hookups. Listen:

Arthur Less is the first homosexual ever to grow old. That is, at least, how he feels at times like these. Here, in this tub, he should be twenty-five or thirty, a beautiful young man naked in a bathtub. Enjoying the pleasures of life. How dreadful if someone came upon naked Less today: pink to his middle, gray to his scalp, like those old double erasers for pen and ink. He has never seen another gay man age past fifty, none except Robert. He met them all at forty or so but never saw them make it much beyond; they died of AIDS, that generation. Less’s generation often feels like the first to explore the land beyond fifty. How are they meant to do it? Do you stay a boy forever, and dye your hair and diet to stay lean and wear tight shirts and jeans and go out dancing until you drop dead at eighty? Or do you do the opposite — do you forswear all that, and let your hair go gray, and wear elegant sweaters that cover your belly, and smile on past pleasures that will never come up again?

It goes on, even more eloquently, in ways that made this 50-something, aging gay man with no role models, none of the cohorts I knew when young having survived (in life, or in my life) to show me how to age, especially how to age alone; and age alone here, in a location where the gay community is of limited scope, limited imagination, and just as youth obsessed as the WB network. So, there, on page 22 of a novel mostly funny and warm and comforting, I cried in recognition.

There are so many funny, touching, glorious, beautifully structured, recognizable moments in this skillfully, artfully written novel, I could spend pages and pages quoting, but that would waste the time you ought to spend reading this remarkable, moving novel in which the angst of aging, regret, and self-delusion are described full-blown with humor and warmth and compassion. This novel is uplifting without being saccharine and I could not have loved Less more.

The Redemption of Galen Pike, Carys Davies, Paperback, 176pp, April 2017, Biblioasis

I’m fascinated by good short stories and many of the ones in The Redemption of Galen Pike are very good, one or two bordering on great in the manner of Paul Bowles, Flannery O’Connor, or Elizabeth McCracken. While the settings of the stories vary widely, most of the primary characters are located in the same place: lonely people, living in the empty chasms of unknowingness between people, the spaces between. Some are trying to bridge the abyss, others are resigned to their solitude and sorrow. The prose is deceptively simple while managing to contain depths and shadows and layer after layer of meaning and surprise — there are many twists, unexpected gasp-making and/or tear-inducing reveals.

Piece of advice: You’ll want to read them all, right away. Don’t. It takes away from the impact. They should be savored and spread out, because reading them together gives them a sense of sameness they don’t really deserve nor benefit from. And if you MUST read them all at once in the first go-round, then go back and read them again, slowly, one a week or so, when you’ve time to savor the language and the emotional construction.

The Wycherly Woman, Ross MacDonald, Paperback, Bantam, January 1073, Bantam

I was turned on to Ross MacDonald by Eudora Welty. or, rather, by the collection of their correspondence, Meanwhile There Are Letters, which I love and adore. Too, once I knew I had to sample his work, I hied it to the local used bookstore and picked up a few mass market Bantam paperbacks from the late sixties, early seventies for $3.98 each, all of which posted original cover price of $1.25. Discounting the problem that print this small is something I try to avoid now in deference to my weary six-decades-of-heavy-reading eyes, I love the look and feel  of these paperbacks, they hurtle me time-machine-heartwise to my protected, rural youth where the only place to buy books was the Read’s Drugstore in Westminster, which had a wall full of books, every one of which it seemed imperative that I have. I got my allowance on Saturday, and, usually, we went to “the city” that day and I would blow my $2 on a book and a comic book; I was a sucker for true love and heart-throb and romance comics, an addiction which was disapproved of by my mom, who refused to buy the comics for me, so I would take them to the checkout myself, when no one was looking, and all hot and tingly with shame, knowing I was again doing something I wasn’t — as a boy — supposed to be doing,  I would usually get (or imagine I was getting) a sneer of disapproval from the clerk. How early we learn shame.

But I loved those comic books, the intensity and the colors and the style. And, in the same way, I love my Ross MacDonald paperbacks, now browned at the edges, brittle, aged. Except for the writing which is as fresh and vibrant and sharp as ever it was. The clipped noir dialect. The snarked snaps of hard-won wisdom from the rode rough and put away wet, been there, done that, hard knocks, hard-headed, soft-touch, iron willed, bloody knuckled hero, Archer, are brilliant. I mean that — brilliant.

I’d tell you the plot, but, it isn’t the plot you read these for. It’s the style. As is often the case in MacDonald’s Archer series there is a screwed up family, someone missing or dead, lots of wrong turns and detours and misdirection and deception and good intentions gone bloodily, homicidally bad.

Loved it. Not unlike one of my old family reunions, albeit with a few more bullets and knife wounds.

 

Unraveling Oliver, Liz Nugent, Hardback, 272pp, August 2017, Gallery/Scout Press

Full disclosure: Let me begin by saying that I’ve a personal connection to this book. That’s right. I’m in the acknowledgements. Well, okay, maybe not technically, but, Liz Nugent does say:

Thank you to Duchess Goldblatt and her loyal devotees, ….

You only need read my title page to see I have LOOOOONG identified myself as a devoted catechumen  of Her Grace, Duchess Goldblatt. So, see there? I’M IN THE ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS OF A GREAT BOOK. Life goal = check.

Now about this book, Liz Nugent’s fiction debut which was named Crime Novel of the Year by the Irish Book Awards — it’s a WOW! Don’t pick it up unless you have a stretch of uninterrupted time in which to read because you won’t want to stop — may not be able to stop.

Bestselling children’s author, charmer, and sociopath Oliver opens the book by saying, “I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.” He’s just brutally beaten his wife. His sick reasons for the attack and the truth of him are subtly and surprisingly revealed, strand by horrifying strand, clue by riveting clue, through short chapters in alternating first person voices from the people who have known him throughout his life — or, thought they knew him.

Liz Nugent has a great gift for tessellation, the colorful and grippingly intriguing pieces of the mosaic of Oliver’s life compellingly meted out in fast-moving plot and prose. Wonderful read.

**********

So, there we have it, my last five reads of August and a paragraph or five of my rage let loose. I am truly grateful for the gifts of literature and the work of authors — past and present and future — which serve to help me escape, and to elevate and educate and illuminate. Thank-you writers, thank-you editors, thank-you copy editors, thank-you agents, thank-you publicists, thank-you indie booksellers, and thank you Twitterati, who enrich my world in ways indescribable, incalculable, and unbelievably loving and light-giving and peace-making.

Love to all, even those buffoons and bigots I now think I hate but am working to see the light in, and so, here I am, going.