When I saw video from the Japanese tsunami, it struck me how badly Hollywood gets it wrong when it comes to depicting disasters. Hollywood always showWhen I saw video from the Japanese tsunami, it struck me how badly Hollywood gets it wrong when it comes to depicting disasters. Hollywood always shows bystanders standing in awe or running away hysterical, while the Japanese video showed people looking so sad at the sight of ocean waves flowing through their city streets. It’s that kind of emotional realism that drives Zazen, and what sets Vanessa Veselka apart from other novelists setting their stories in post-911 ‘life during wartime’-style landscapes.
The novel is from the point of view of Della, a invertebrate paleontologist working as a waitress who is obsessed by cases of self-immolation. Living under the anxiety of a pending war and bombs going off around the city, Della asks store employees to page her sister (who died years earlier) and starts calling in bomb threats to places around town. It’s a bent view of reality the novel creates, and you never know how much of it is Della’s creation. (Veselka is remarkably gifted at showing a warped world anchored by emotional realism.)
The bombings create a sense of community, though less with among the victims than those responsible, and after falling in with a crew of Baader-Meinhof type radicals, Della is pulled in different directions: alienation in one extreme and and connectedness in the other. She is also ineffectual at almost everything she tries, whether it’s leaving town or convincing the person on the other end of the phone that her bomb threat is real.
It’s a novel that reads like a tightly wound rock ‘n’ roll record, its world comes across like a Twilight Zone episode that keeps getting weirder and weirder, and ultimately, it’s a story about how hard it is to set yourself on fire....more
I'm the writer behind this book, so naturally I think it's a five-star novel. Don't take my word for it. Here's what others are saying:
"Happy Talk isI'm the writer behind this book, so naturally I think it's a five-star novel. Don't take my word for it. Here's what others are saying:
"Happy Talk is a ribald and fantastic act of literary derring-do. Richard Melo has written a delightful throwback, an absurdist romp in the tradition of Terry Southern, that is sure to challenge and reward its readers."
–Jonathan Evision, author of 'The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving' and 'West of Here'
"To read 'Happy Talk' is to crash a party as vivid and surreal as Felini’s 8½. It’s the business of show business, the American dream, told by a chorus of Americans locked just outside of that dream, outside of the United States, relegated to expatriate status on the shores of Haiti. Melo paints a version of Haiti that’s an interior landscape perhaps even more than an externalized place. This Haiti is a plan, a memory, a morphine-drip fueled dream out to bond its inhabitants forever."
--Monica Drake, author of 'The Stud Book'
"Often one finds surprises in a novel, but it is rare to find a novel that is a surprise. Richard Melo's 'Happy Talk' is just that. It is like a collision of William Gaddis, M*A*S*H and The Beguiled. It is a Haiti I could never have imagined and will not soon forget. These nurses are crazy and I wish I knew them."
--Percival Everett, author of 'Assumption' and 'I am Not Sidney Poitier'...more
On the surface, Roger Real Drouin’s ‘No Other Way’ is a tale of two men -- one a nature photographer obsessed with capturing on film a bird thought toOn the surface, Roger Real Drouin’s ‘No Other Way’ is a tale of two men -- one a nature photographer obsessed with capturing on film a bird thought to be extinct, and the other, a park ranger committed to preserving a protected forest in Idaho -- who find a connection in their interests. Simmering below are important questions about the connectedness people feel to nature and the lengths they will go to protect it. Drouin writes with an earnest, eyes-wide-open writing style, and his lyrical descriptions of wildspaces in Florida and Idaho -- as well as scenes describing bird photography -- are breathtaking....more
"My first thought when I started reading Jokerman 8 was, 'Damnit, why didn't I write this book?' Then I set to work trying to figure out how to plagia"My first thought when I started reading Jokerman 8 was, 'Damnit, why didn't I write this book?' Then I set to work trying to figure out how to plagiarize it. Finally, I had sit back & give in to its crazy brilliance--which is all its own and unstealable. Written with love for all of us babies blinking in the silent home movies of the 60s and 70s, Jokerman 8 reminds us of who we meant to be and how we intended to live in this wack-ass world."
--Ariel Gore, author of Atlas of the Human Heart
"Like the Dylan songbook its title invokes, Jokerman 8 is freewheeling and deeply felt, moving and cymbal-crashing funny. It is also that rarity: an angry, politically-minded work of exuberant high spirits. A great first novel."
--Andrew Lewis Conn, author of P the Novel
. . . . . . .
Alix Ohlin in the September 2004 Believer:
[The Jokerman 8:] "are, in fact, the sweetest, most loving, most purely moral collection of characters on the planet. Born in the late sixties, they are heirs to all that's best from that time: the belief in social change and the spirit of rock and roll."
. . . . . . .
From the Portland Oregonian, November 21, 2004:
"'Jokerman 8' moves from voice to voice in an easygoing style and storylines are merged as Melo moves from the 1960s to the 1990s. U2 fans will enjoy Melo's subtle references. It's a wonderful book with rich, unforgettable characters and carries the message from beginning to end: Live happy."
. . . . . . .
From The Portland Mercury:
"Melo has a way of making the most preposterous event seem plausible, and Jokerman 8 avoids melodrama and never loses its carefreee spirit. In his first novel, Melo produces a work that is sweet and stirring, like taking a long weekend furlough in the Siskiyou Forest before setting some SUVs on fire."
. . . . . . .
From Cosmik, by Erick Mertz:
"Portland author Richard Melo has tapped into that consciousness with his sprawling novel of eco-revolutionaries, Jokerman 8 a work filled with ciphers and secrets and more than a few trap doors. The preoccupations of Melo's work evoke images of a handful of authors, most notably Edward Abbey, Jack Kerouac, Ivan Doig and Ken Kesey, luminaries of rollicking humor and keen observation."
. . . . . . .
From Resonance, Issue 43:
"Melo has the rhythm and grab-bag ambition of Tom Robbins."
. . . . . . .
"Richard Melo manages to pull it all off. Music ties the adventures of the eco-saboteurs together, from the Beatles and a daughter named Jude to U2's Joshua Tree, complete with a several-page analysis of "With or Without You." The lyrics and allusions in Melo's prose made me want to run out and listen to these albums."
. . . . . . .
This is one of those books that you read and you know you’ll be returning to in the future. I had to put it aside near the end because I couldn’t bear the thought of it being over. It’s that good.
The Jokerman 8 are kids of the sixties, young people roaming the back woods and liberal arts campuses of the 1980s, united by a love for nature and a despair for the values of modern culture. They believe in laughter, possibility, randomness, and the essential rightness of the universe. They are what today we would call eco-terrorists: they drive spikes into trees, they disable bulldozers, they sink whaling ships. As Melo explains in his manifesto-like introduction, they are the jokers in the deck of the Green movement.
Our narrator is a shadowy figure at the edge of the group. He introduces us to a cast of instantly likeable characters. Jude, the former track star, the quiet TS, the sad but determined Eleanor Cookee, all seem like people we might once have known, or perhaps met once and never saw again. The sense of time and place is flawless – Melo offers perfect descriptions of Oregon’s Kalmiopsis wilderness, as well as a passionate defense of U2’s Joshua Tree album. The story of the Jokerman group veers from farce to tragedy to adventure to the thrills and disappointments of real life, lived fully.
All this is very nearly beside the point. The remarkable thing about Jokerman 8, the thing that makes you want it to go on forever, is Richard Melo, his voice and his philosophy. He’s got a wise innocence, or what the Zen folks call “crazy wisdom”. He embraces the world with all its thorns and fights negative with positive. His characters transcend themselves again and again. The lyrical joy and optimism of his prose calls to mind the best passages from writers like Tom Wolfe, Tom Robbins, and Kurt Vonnegut, but Melo is at once tougher and more gentle than these writers.
The real surprise, to me, was putting down this beautiful, life-affirming novel and finding myself shaking with rage. Without fanfare, hyperbole, or rhetoric, Melo has brought forth the story of the rape of our natural world by forces who have always known exactly what they are doing. He writes with sympathy toward working loggers, sailors and crane operators, but makes no apologies for his conclusion : if we destroy ourselves as a species, all the “legitimate” issues of liberal politics (civil rights, international relations, poverty) don’t mean a damn thing. We are literally tearing away the ground beneath our feet.
A passionate protest, a moving examination of all different kinds of love, a wilderness adventure to beat the band, Jokerman 8 deserves to be read and reread by everyone who has ever been outdoors. - CK...more
I enjoy this book all to pieces. For the uninitiated, it's known as a difficult book. There's no shame in using a reader's guide and there is an excelI enjoy this book all to pieces. For the uninitiated, it's known as a difficult book. There's no shame in using a reader's guide and there is an excellent free one at williamgaddis.org. For me, I was less engrossed by the many historical references to religion and painting. What makes me love the book is first its comedy and its satirical portrayals, but it also acts as a defining narrative on the struggle between the authentic and the counterfeit, which is a far more relevant thematic area than it might have seemed when you read those words just now. Not that I hope to ever find myself on a desert island, but if I do and could only take one book with me, this is the one....more