Rene Denfeld has written a compelling novel regarding the moral question of capital punishment in her novel The EnchaThe Enchanted: Living in Darkness
Rene Denfeld has written a compelling novel regarding the moral question of capital punishment in her novel The Enchanted. Denfeld is an author who writes what she knows. She is a death penalty investigator who works on cases of the condemned, reviewing their cases to assess whether an inmate's sentence was properly imposed. Her findings may lead to a new trial for her clients. Or an inmate's conviction may be upheld and the ultimate punishment may be imposed.
Not only does Denfeld address the lives of those on death row, she reveals the darkness of prison life. Those inmates, not on death row, but who are the "shot callers" on the prison yards, brutal human beings her exercise power over those weaker than themselves. Here are the inconvenient truths of prisoners improperly classified, thrown in with more hardened men who repeatedly use the weak for their own sexual pleasure. Corrupt guards who turn a blind eye to violence and male rape. The receipt of heroin and marijuana into prison populations. Corrupt administrators who become rich by promoting the trafficking of those drugs.
In such a nightmarish world, one does not expect to find the beauty Denfeld is able to depict through the narration of a nameless inmate, a fallen priest who administers to the condemned, and "The Lady," an unnamed death penalty investigator. But it is here. There is a terrible beauty that permeates this painful story of broken individuals. Yes, there is enchantment here, as hard as it is to conceive it might exist. It is a world of imagination, especially portrayed through the eyes of the nameless inmate who words alternate with chapters devoted to the work of "The Lady" and the Priest.
This is not an easy read. It can be an especially painful read. Denfeld, without resorting to lengthy legal descriptions of the arduous appellate process in capital cases, portrays the hopelessness of inmates on death row. There is York, to whose case the Lady has been assigned. York has lived on death row for so long he has lost any hope. He prefers that the Lady not pursue his case. He is ready to die. The certainty of his death is more comforting to York than the interminable passing of time.
We witness the progress of The Lady's work on York's case through her exploration of York's past. As in many cases like York's, evidence of his damaged childhood might have been presented at his trial during a sentencing hearing. However, the comptetency of his appointed lawyers, nicknamed Grim and Reaper, represent those lawyers who rarely delve into an inmate's past that might have lead to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Alternately, the nameless inmate, listens to The Lady's conversations with York, revealing a multidemnsional picture of the investigative process. This inmate's reality is distorted by his escapes into his imagination, his perception of a fantastical magic, yet whose observations are unerringly true. The tragedy of our nameless narrator is he is incapable of speech.
The reader should never think that Denfeld perceives her clients as blameless, or innocent. It is clear from her very balanced portrayal of death row inmates that, indeed, as John Steinbeck said in East of Eden, "There are monsters among us...and to the monstrous, the norm is monstrous."
This is a book that deserves to be read. Even though its contents may challenge your core beliefs. The Enchanted is a book that remains with the reader long after turning the final page.
Is this a book for everyone? I think not. I do not recommend it for survivors of victims of violent crimes. I believe it just might be too hard to take. It is a work that is capable of challenging anyone's emotions and beliefs.
This Reader's Personal Reflection
For almost twenty-eight years I was a career Prosecutor. The most terrible duty I was charged with was to try Capital Punishment Cases. I am among those lawyers whose job is not addressed in Denfeld's novel. I found that surprising. Yet, I am mindful of the reasons Denfeld wrote this book and the manner in which she chose to tell it.
Death Penalty cases, over the years in which I tried them, became a danse macabre. In many ways it is an arduous responsibility that diminishes the spirit of the Prosecutor and takes an emotional toll that we in that profession rarely speak of. These are cases of hypertechnical issues that result in an eerie pavane of dance steps that must be made.
At the same time, we live with the hearts and minds of the shattered survivors of the victims. Those left behind by the brutal murders hold on to the belief that justice will bring closure in a reasonable period of time. It never does. As I write this, a Defendant who murdered his son the day before the child was to be christened on Easter Sunday, remains on death row after sixteen years. I was the lead trial lawyer in the second trial of that case many years before. The child's mother and other family still deal with a baby's death more than twenty years afterward.
Over the years since I have retired in 2006, The United States Supreme Court has issued multiple rulings on various issues regarding capital punishment cases. Decisions changing previous precedents. The result has been a killing of the imposition of the death penalty by inches. Rather than biting the bullet and having the political courage to end Capital Punishment in America. You see, the Death Penalty is a very political issue that is too hot to handle. It is an issue that reflects on political partisanship by members of a United States Supreme Court shaped by the appointment of Justices during Republican administrations.
The costs of enforcing the death penalty now outstrips the cost of keeping a convicted inmate in prison for the rest of his natural life. So for me, one the outcome of the Presidential Election of 2016, will be who fills the current vacancy on our Supreme Court and any future appointments.
Surprising thoughts from a man who devoted his professional life to prosecution of our criminal laws? I think not. None of us should be unaware of the presumably guilty on death row who have been found innocent by means of DNA evidence and other means. It is time we reconsidered whether the death penalty should be preserved any longer.
Some enchanted evening You may see a stranger, you may see a stranger Across a crowded room And somehow you know, You
Bird in a Cage: In a Bleak Midwinter
Some enchanted evening You may see a stranger, you may see a stranger Across a crowded room And somehow you know, You know even then That somewhere you'll see her Again and again. -Oscar Hammerstein II, 1949
Ah, what could be a more enchanted evening than Christmas Eve in Paris? Albert Herbin has returned to the city after an absence of six years. To the home in which he grew up. But it is lonesome there for his mother has died. Were she still alive they would have spent Christmas Eve in their normal fashion. At home. A celebration over a dinner of roast chicken and a bottle of champagne.
Albert leaves the silence of his old home in search of life and happy memories of his childhood. Entering a small shop he buys a Christmas ornament, a little sequined bird in a golden cage. He decides to have dinner in Chiclet's, a fine restaurant which he had never entered before, though he had often dreamed of it.
Yes, and in that crowded room he sees a young mother dining with her small daughter. He is drawn to her. So like another young woman he had once loved, but lost. On such a night is it not possible for a man to experience love at first sight? And is it not possible this young woman is as lonely as Albert and he should be invited back to her home on such a lonely enchanted evening? After all, she has been estranged from her husband for years. Her husband Jerome pays no visits to his wife or his daughter.
But what Albert finds at this young woman's home is the body of her husband. Dead from a gunshot to the head. A pistol lies on the chest of the corpse. The police must be called. Inquiries must be made.
If you are looking for a story with a happy ending, this is not it. For Frédéric Dard has written this dark little tale. Dard, one of France's most prolific writers of thrillers and classic noir literature.
In just one hundred twenty three pages, Dard has written a dark novel of clever twists and turns that will keep the reader enthralled from first page to last. Both Albert and the young mother have secrets that each will learn about the other on this Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. As Albert learns they are birds of the same feather. The question is whether one or both of them will end up a bird in a cage by the turn of the final page. Was her husband's death a suicide or the perfect murder.
No. There is no happy ending here. This is noir fiction, a novel of the night. As Otto Penzler, editor of The Mysterious Press has said,
Look, noir is about losers. The characters in these existential, nihilistic tales are doomed. They may not die, but they probably should, as the life that awaits them is certain to be so ugly, so lost and lonely, that they’d be better off just curling up and getting it over with. And, let’s face it, they deserve it...
The noir story with a happy ending has never been written, nor can it be. The lost and corrupt souls who populate these tales were doomed before we met them because of their hollow hearts and depraved sensibilities.
The Summer That Melted Everything: Sympathy for the Devil
The mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven. Book One
The Summer That Melted Everything: Sympathy for the Devil
The mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven. Book One, 254,255, Paradise Lost by John Milton
Tiffany McDaniel has written an exceptional debut novel, The Summer That Melted Everything. This young author combines fable, allegory, a heavy dose of Paradise Lost, and an unmistakable homage to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird to address the age old question of what is the true nature of good and evil. McDaniel kept me completely engaged throughout the course of this imaginative, clever and and three hundred twenty page story of the long hot summer of 1984 in the small southern Ohio town of Breathed. I venture to say that any reader who delves into this novel will be just as absorbed by McDaniel's novel as I was.
On the surface of things, the plot is quite straightforward. This is the story of the Bliss family during that summer that melted every thing. The family patriarch is Prosecutor Autopsy Bliss. A word about that name to come. Mother Bliss, the maternal glue that binds the Bliss family together, Grand Bliss, the older brother who excels in whatever endeavour he attempts and Fielding Bliss, the narrator of the story, told in flashbacks when Fielding is a man in his seventies who has no delusions about the bitterness of life left in the wake of that summer.
Autopsy Bliss? Well, yes. A bit bizarre choice of name. Yet, Bliss is the consummate lawyer, comfortable in his daily uniform of shirt, tie, and three piece vested suit. He is the logical man always conducting a post-mortem of whether he has accomplished justice. To this reader, comparing him to Atticus Finch was not a difficult stretch. The names of these two literary lawyers each having the same number of syllables, leads me to compare Autopsy to Atticus Agonistes, in recognition of McDaniel's repeated allusions to the work of John Milton.
At the heart of McDaniel's engaging novel is Sal who appears in Breathed during early summer. Sal arrives in tattered overalls, a young black teen, Fielding's age. Believed to be a runaway, Sal is taken in by the Bliss Family as the local Sheriff seeks to find Sal's real family.
Sal quite simply states he is not a runaway. He is The Devil, with a capital "T." Sal has responded directly to an invitation posted by Autopsy Bliss in the local newspaper. Sal's discussions of the nature of God and his description of Hell reflect knowledge far beyond the mind of a young man of his apparent years.
Over the long summer 0f 1984, a series of accidents are attributed to the Devil living with the Blisses. The people of Breathed are whipped into a frenzy by Mr. Elohim, the town's "Steeplejack." Interesting. Elohim is Hebrew for God. And this "god" is bent on the destruction of the Devil in their midst.
McDaniel captures the atmosphere of the "Eighties." She tackles the hard issues of racism, the choice of the individuals' sexuality, domestic violence, and child abuse. And she does so deftly. She is a writer to be watched.
By the end of this novel, the people of Breathed are forever changed. As is the Bliss family. This is a book that leaves the reader with a visceral punch to the gut regarding the nature of good, evil, the possibility of redemption, and the necessity of forgiveness. There is no spoiler here in saying this story ends in tragedy.
By all means, lay hands on a copy of The Summer that Melted Everything. McDaniel will lead you from laughter to tears leaving a sense of heartbreak and leave you reflecting on the message of this work for a long time afterward.
In the end, perhaps the message McDaniels leaves us is that neither gods are demons are necessary to find the cause of man's inhumanity to man. It is the nature of humanity that the roots of good and evil lie sufficiently within ourselves. We have no need for cosmic excuses, though we might find more comfort in them. McDaniels work brings back the words of John Milton. “Innocence, Once Lost, Can Never Be Regained. Darkness, Once Gazed Upon, Can Never Be Lost.”
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable
The Luminaries: What Hath Eleanor Catton Wrought?
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.-Macbeth, Act Five, Scene Five, William Shakespeare
Eleanor Catton remains the youngest woman to have been awarded The Man Booker Prize. Her novel, The Luminaries, logging in at eight hundred thirty four pages, is the longest novel to have received the award. Ms. Catton is one of only two New Zealanders who has won this distinguished literary prize. These interesting tidbits of information do not address, nor should address the literary merit of this massive novel.
Having quoted Shakespeare's "Macbeth," I do not intimate that The Luminaries should be considered a tale told by an idiot. Oh, no. Catton has artfully crafted a complex behemoth of a tale of the Gold Rush of 1866 in New Zealand. This is a work that carries great promise. The scope of Catton's cast of characters intimates she has done her research on the New Zealand gold fields. The ultimate question is whether Catton's tale, artfully crafted or not, leaves the reader with the satisfaction of having completed a work that leaves a lasting impression, or at least some semblance of significance.
The Luminaries is replete with diggers, businessmen, politicians, Chinese miners and dispensers of opium, ladies of the evening, to use the appropriate Victorian vernacular. The plot winds through time, conveying the reader through the perceptions of a dozen characters. It stands to reason that while the perception of an individual may constitute reality to that particular person, the perceptions of twelve different individuals definitely does not constitute a reality the reader may recognize as accurate.
Careening through Catton's convoluted plot, her players strutting upon her literary stage never develop substantive form. They are incomplete shadows. We never develop a true sense of who these people are.
This novel has been called a parody of the Victorian novel. The reader is tempted to resort to the term Dickensian. The name Wilkie Collins has also been bandied about as a writer whose style Catton so ably captured. However, what is obviously Catton's cleverness in the construction of this novel, leaves this reviewer with the impression of having been told a joke overly long that concludes with a punchline that did not merit the length of the telling. And, so it goes....more
Welcome to Jarlath Street, Dublin. 1967. And there lives Agnes Browne. Thirty-four years old. Catholic. The mother of seThe Mammy: Agnes Materfamilias
Welcome to Jarlath Street, Dublin. 1967. And there lives Agnes Browne. Thirty-four years old. Catholic. The mother of seven children, from Mark, age fourteen, down to Baby Trevor. The tot with the face of an angelic cherub who smiles and greets strangers with a distinctly understood "Fuck off!" Ah, at least he says it with a smile.
Agnes Browne, nee Reddin, is widowed young. Her husband, Redser, is struck down by an errant driver. That is Agnes' lot in life as we meet her. Keeping home and hearth together with the loss of her husband's income will be no easy thing. There's the widow's pension, of course. Then there's the sparse income from Agnes' fruit and vegetable stand she shares with best friend Marion Monk over on Moore Street. But it's a hard life keeping seven children in food, shoes, and clothes.
Though the street on which Agnes lives was named after a Saint, it is not a bit of Heaven, but a maze of tenement houses. Those who live on Jarlath Street call it the Jarro. There is no easy solace to be found on such a street except in a good pint pulled by the Publican and the degree of faith you find in your Catechism. The reality is it's a rough place, where rough people live, and those who live there are no strangers to violence.
Agnes is accustomed to violence. During her marriage to Redser, she was used to the backhand slap of her husband. Identical to the slap delivered to her by her Father when she was a wee wan. It must be a common school for louts who learn to treat women hard to keep them under control.
There's enough alcohol on the breath of those who live in the Jarro to seemingly allow anyone to escape from the reality of life lived there. Brendan O'Carroll could easily have written a bleak and hopeless look at life had he chosen to do so. But he did not.
Sure there is sorrow and sadness here. There are instances contained within these pages to bring any reader with a heart tears. Yet, there is also great humor here. It is that artful mix of joy and sadness that makes The Mammy the memorable read that it is, just as all life is neither all laughter nor all tears.
O'Carroll is a talented writer with an ear f0r dialog. He has spent many years telling the stories of Agnes Browne and her children. The Mammy was published in 1994. Three other volumes about Mrs. Browne and her children have followed. I will read them all.
One of the highest rated BBC Series is O'Carroll's show, "Mrs. Brown's Boys." It is an enjoyable watch. However, with O'Carroll himself playing Agnes Brown, understand the emphasis on television and in the movies O'Carroll has written is humor. It's in the perfect prose of O'Carroll's writing his true mastery shines. Read this. And join me as I read the remaining volumes. The Mammy is a true gem to be treasured. ...more
The Power of the Dog: A Most Different Western Novel
Montana, 1925. Brothers Phil and George Burbank own the biggest cattle spread in the state. They hThe Power of the Dog: A Most Different Western Novel
Montana, 1925. Brothers Phil and George Burbank own the biggest cattle spread in the state. They have shared the same room since they were boys. Phil is the man the cow hands admire. George is the quiet one, a bit of a bore. But a cruel streak runs through Phil. The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage creates an unnerving tension in the opening chapters of the novel.
On the surface, Phil Burbank is a successful rancher. He is a man's man. In the ranch crew's bunk house all the younger hands seek to impress him and aspire to emulate him. Phil excels in all things required of a trail boss in the harsh and unforgiving world that comprises the Burbank empire .
Phil is the brilliant brother. The tough one. In the ranch house, the young cow hands seek his favor, his attention. They aspire to emulate him. Phil Burbank possesses all the toughness required to run a cattleman's empire. Weakness is a quality he will not tolerate in anyone. Not slower, more cautious brother George. Not even his own parents, "The Old Gent" and his mother the "Lady."
Why the elder Burbanks came West from the Bramin world of Boston is something of a mystery. They have never fit in with the surrounding ranching community. Mr. and Mrs. Burbank left the ranch in the charge of their two sons in 1900, taking residence in a Salt Lake City hotel.
George failed at college, while Phil excelled there. George is Phil's frequent target for barbed sarcasm, and thinly veiled insults of what Phil considers George's inferiority, inappropriate for any Burbank. Yet, George complements Phil's presence at the ranch by handling the business end of ranch management.
Thomas Savage's tone grows increasingly dark through the careful plotting of this story. Though not overtly chilling in a relentless sense, there are moments so meticululously crafted that Savage is able to raise the short hairs on the back of the reader's neck. In viewing the story of these two brothers one cannot help but think of Cain and Abel. Yet Phil emerges even more calculated in his callous view of life.
The innocent foils to Phil Burbank's acid tongue is the Gordon family in nearby Herndon. John and Rose Gordon are decent people. Gordon is the town Doctor. He and Rose have a rather effeminate son, Peter. Phil Burbank sneers at the Gordon's, all of whom he considers weaklings. His berating Gordon and Peter, whom he labels a sissy lead to Dr. Gordon's taking his own life.
Rose, the Widow Gordon, is left to run a small hotel and eatery, The Red Mill. Peter is her right hand, an excellent cook, and co-host with his Mother. Ironically, it is George, in all ways decent, who comes to court Rose. She accepts him, not knowing that George's brother Phil led her husband to commit suicide.
It is Rose's marriage to George that propels the plot of The Power of the Dog. Phil sets out to destroy the marriage. George, oblivious to Phil's tactics, is unaware that Phil secretly torments Rose to the point of keeping her in a constant state of terror.
Young Peter becomes a pivotal character in Savage's enthralling novel of psychological insight. Peter can see what George cannot and will become his Mother's protector. At the same time, Phil becomes more impressed with the young man's willingness to learn the rigors of life on the range leading to an unlikely bond between the older man and the younger.
Savage keeps the reader on the edge of his seat throughout this taut character driven novel. Originally viewed as a western novel upon its publication in 1967, clearly this is a much deeper and complex story than one of sibling rivalry. Rather this is a masterful story of repressed sexuality. And it is Phil Burbank's homophobic behavior that is his own cloak of self denial that leads to the stunning conclusion of this novel.
For those drawn to novels of great characterization and nerve wracking plotting, The Power of the Dog will be an irresistible read. Track this one down. Prepare to be mesmerized....more
1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: An Indispensable Guide
Of course, I didn't read this 960 page behemoth in one day. As a matter of fact, the se1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: An Indispensable Guide
Of course, I didn't read this 960 page behemoth in one day. As a matter of fact, the selected edition is the second of two copies in my library, my personal one, and the one I share with my dearest reading friend and partner, Lynda.
Rather, this is my indispensable guide to broadening my literary horizons. The pictured edition is that published by Cassell in 2012. However, my first edition was the first published in 2006.
I emphasize that this is an evolving series. As such, as successive volumes have been published, some works have been removed while others have been added. My first edition was rather a comfort to me. For it reinforced my selection of books I had read over the course of my life. Let's say the initial volume was "Anglo-centric." Here were the classics of American and English Literature on which I had cut my bookish teeth. The usual suspects are here. Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, William FaulknerErnest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck.
As the series has progressed, the 1001 have taken on a decidedly international flavor. That is an exceptionally good thing. For I have begun to read much further abroad than English and American Literature. These major revisions have occurred in the 2008 and 2014 editions.
This series should not be dismissed as simply another "List of Books." It is far more than that. This series comes with the Literary Chops of Editor Peter Boxall a professor of English in the Department of English at the University of Sussex. He works on contemporary literature, literary theory and literary modernism. The series is further advanced by the work of innumerable scholars, specializing in the works of included authors.
Some readers may well be put off by a book of this scope. Many readers always take exception to works included and excluded. Yet, it must be accepted that Literature is a constantly changing way in which the world is viewed: historically, philosophically, politically, and socially. Otherwise Literature would not have the impact on us as readers it undeniably does.
Those who may be dismayed by the exclusion of beloved works previously included in earlier editions should be assuaged by knowing that most works excluded in later editions are works by authors who have had multiple listings in previous editions. By example, at one time Charles Dickens and J.M. Coetzee were the writers with the most entries; ten for each. Those have been reduced to make room for authors of significant works from different cultures and eras. That suits the mission of this series.
For the Bibliophile, each edition has been a treasure trove of artwork from contemporary editions of the works reviewed. The accompanying artwork for each entry makes this an entrancingly beautiful book on, well, the beauty of books and their wonderful graphic design.
If one were to make a comparison of the various editions in this series, it actually lists in excess of 1300 Books You Must Read Before You Die.
It is quite doubtful I will ever read each and every volume listed in this all encompassing series of books. However, it is a work I return to time and again in looking for that next book to be read. On the other hand, I have frequently said, tongue firmly planted in cheek, that the key to immortality is a stack of unread books. "Wait, wait, Death. I'm not done here."
Yet, this guide has led me to books I might not ever have read otherwise. This series has pushed me beyong the limits of my usual literary comfort zone. For that, I'm exceedingly grateful.
Should you decide to embark on this magnificent Literary Exploration, you, too, may find this your guide for volumes to increase your library for years to come. Oh, I highly recommend delving into this series. It is a joy.
“There isn’t one kind of happiness, there’s all kinds. Decision is torment for anyone with imagination. When you decide, you multiply the things you might have done and now never can.”-Nenna James, Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald
Offshore, First Ed., Harper Collins, United Kingdom, 1979
Full review to follow. In the utmost brevity, if you have found the mere thought of reading Middlemarch too dauntiMiddlemarch: A Study in what Matters
Full review to follow. In the utmost brevity, if you have found the mere thought of reading Middlemarch too daunting because of its sheer length, it is time to cast the fear aside and take your copy down from the shelf and begin to read. Find yourself immersed in a world of saints and sinners in rural England of the 1830s. George Eliot's novel breathes of life on every page. Joy in it. Revel in it. Do not think of it as a book from which the dust of a distant past must be blown, that means nothing today. It will bring much to you if you simply open it and begin to read....more
“But that’s what kismet is. It makes us careen off in odd directions from which we learn not only what life is about but what it is for. This journey may be nothing less than your chance to discover these things.”-The Captain, Homer's wise employer
On the surface of things, this is the tale of a great American road trip from Coalwood, West Virginia, all the way to Key West, Florida, in 1935, in the midst of the great depression. The travelers are Homer and Elsie Hickam, the author's parents. The purpose of the trip is to carry Albert home. Albert the alligator, a wedding gift from Buddy Ebsen, whom Elsie had known in Orlando, Florida, before Ebsen decided to journey to New York City in search of stardom as a dancer.
Albert represents something decidedly different to Homer and Elsie. Elsie viewed Albert as a gift solely to her from a handsome young man who became a star, the possibility of a love that might yet be fulfilled. She hates the West Virginia town of Coalwood. She wonders whether she should be married to coal miner Homer Hickam.
For Homer Hickam, Albert represents a competitor for his wife's affections. Buddy Ebsen is a phantom he cannot fight. Homer knows he is a coal miner, that he will never be a star, that he cannot even dance. When Albert clamps his toothy grin on Homer's pants leg, Homer issues an ultimatum. Either Albert goes, or he goes. To his dismay, Elsie thinks about it a week before she agrees to give up Albert, but only if Homer carries Albert home to Florida. With Elsie, of course, who never wants to return to Coalwood again.
What follows is a series of adventures and misadventures of epic proportion through great depression America. With $100.00 borrowed from the coal company and a 1925 Buick Touring Car, Homer doggedly drives south towards Florida. Albert rides in the back seat in a wash tub, showing his approval by his happy sounds of "Yeah, yeah, yeah." A mysterious rooster flies through the window to either perch on Albert's head or Homer's shoulder. Neither Albert nor Elsie ever understand why the rooster is there. Perhaps, it's pointed out by more than one person they encounter on the journey, he's a guardian angel, or spirit.
And perhaps there's more to this journey than the simple purpose of carrying Albert home. Both Homer and Elsie have a lot to learn about themselves and each other. Sometimes the point of a journey lies not in the destination but journey itself. Isn't that the perfect allegory for what we call life?
So, it should come as no surprise that Homer's attitude toward Albert should begin to change. How many alligators can stop a bank robbery? Nor should it come as a surprise that Elsie increasingly notices Homer's dependability in doing what is necessary to take Albert home.
“So, you met Steinbeck,” mused Hemingway over his port after the women had left. “It is a fateful peculiarity that you might meet him and me at virtually the same time. To what do you attribute that, Homer?” “I don’t know, sir,” Homer answered. “Just the way it worked out, I guess.” “Don’t you believe it. There are no coincidences in life. Although the big God of the Hebrews might be the greatest of them, I believe there are small gods who watch out and sometimes determine our fate. I believe they also like to have a little fun with us from time to time. Kismet. You heard of it?”
This is tall tale telling at its best. Hickam weaves his story in the loom of family legend. Each of us have similar stories passed down within our own families. These tales are the ones we cherish and serve as the glue that blesses the familial ties that bind. As the little man Michaleen Oge Flynn said in John Ford's The Quiet Man "Homeric! Impetuous!"
A story that's almost true? I believe every word of it.
Ebsen showed up in NYC in 1928 with $26.75 and his sister, Vilma. Ebsen took a job in a soda fountain. Both he and his sister were dancers and began their professional career in Broadway chorus lines. He broke into films in 1935. Ebsen signed with MGM at $1500 a week. Not bad for the great depression. He was set to star as the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz." The aluminum makeup made him seriously ill. Throughout his life he referred to Oz as "that damned movie." Ebsen pulled out of the cast.
Ebsen is best remembered as Jed Clampett. But he was also Doc Golightly, Holly's much older husband in "Breakfast at Tiffanys." After the run of Beverly Hillbillies, Ebsen put in eight seasons, nearly 180 episodes of "Barnaby Jones," from 1973 to 1980.
Ebsen was married three times. He died in 2013. His exact net worth is unknown, but he died a multimillionaire.
Rich? Depends on how you define wealth. I put my money on Homer, Sr. and Elsie.
Buddy Ebsen, Promotional Photo, Circa 1928
Buddy Ebsen as the Tin Man
The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935
The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane is the strongest and most intense hurricane to make landfall in the United States and the Atlantic Basin in recorded history. The second tropical cyclone, second hurricane, and second major hurricane of the 1935 Atlantic hurricane season, the Labor Day Hurricane was the first of three Category 5 hurricanes at landfall that the United States endured during the 20th Century (the other two being 1969's Hurricane Camille and 1992's Hurricane Andrew). After forming as a weak tropical storm east of the Bahamas on August 29, it slowly proceeded westward and became a hurricane on September 1. Northeast storm warnings were ordered displayed Fort Pierce to Fort Myers in the September 1, 9:30 AM Weather Bureau advisory. Upon receipt of this advisory the U. S. Coast Guard Station, Miami, FL, sent a plane along the coast to advise boaters and campers of the impending danger by dropping message blocks. A second flight was made Sunday afternoon. All planes were placed in the hangar and its door closed at 10:00 AM Monday morning.
The 3:30 AM advisory, September 2 (Labor Day), predicted the disturbance "will probably pass through the Florida Straits Monday" and cautioned "against high tides and gales Florida Keys and ships in path." The 1:30 PM advisory ordered hurricane warnings for the Key West district which extended north to Key Largo. At around 2:00 PM, Fred Ghent, Assistant Administrator, Florida Emergency Relief Administration, requested a special train to evacuate the veterans work camps located in the upper keys. It departed Miami at 4:25 PM; delayed by a draw bridge opening, obstructions across the track, poor visibility and the necessity to back the locomotive below Homestead (so it could head out on the return trip) the train finally arrived at the Islamorada station on Upper Matecumbe Key at about 8:20 PM. This coincided with an abrupt wind shift from northeast (Florida Bay) to southeast (Atlantic Ocean) and the arrival on the coast of the storm tide. Eleven cars were swept from the tracks, leaving upright only the locomotive and tender. Remarkably, everyone on the train survived. The eye of the storm passed a few miles to the southwest creating a calm of about 40 minutes duration over Lower Matecumbe and 55 minutes (9:20 - 10:15 PM) over Long Key. At Camp #3 on Lower Matecumbe the surge arrived near the end of the calm with the wind close behind. On Long Key it struck about midway through the calm. The waters quickly receded after carving new channels connecting the bay with the ocean. But gale force winds and high seas persisted into Tuesday, preventing rescue efforts. The storm continued northwest along the Florida west coast, weakening before its second landfall near Cedar Key, Florida on September 4.
The compact and intense hurricane caused extreme damage in the upper Florida Keys, as a storm surge of approximately 18 to 20 feet (5.5–6 meters) swept over the low-lying islands. The hurricane's strong winds and the surge destroyed nearly all the structures between Tavernier and Marathon. The town of Islamorada was obliterated. Portions of the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway were severely damaged or destroyed.
Soon after the clouds had cleared, leaving a crystal blue horizon, the dead were counted. Between 400 and 600 people perished. What made this storm all the more tragic was that among the dead were 265 World War I veterans. At the height of the Great Depression these veterans had been sent to build a road on the low lying islands of the Florida Keys as a part of the Public Works for Veterans programs. While working, they were housed in inadequate tent-like structures provided by the Roosevelt administration. When the National Weather Bureau issued warnings for a hurricane they were not evacuated.
Shortly after the natural disaster had occurred, writer Ernest Hemingway was contacted by the editors of New Masses to write an account of the storm from an insider's perspective. Hemingway's response was the article, "Who Murdered the Vets?: A First-Hand Report on the Florida Hurricane," published September 17, 1935, just weeks after the event. Although billed as a personal account, in reality it was an outraged demand for accountability for the needless death of the veterans.
A hostile tone was established within the first few lines. "Whom did they annoy and to whom was their possible presences a political danger?" Hemingway asked. "Who sent them down to the Florida Keys and left them there in hurricane months?"
Hemingway presented the veterans not merely as murdered but almost as though they had been assassinated for someone's personal political gain or simply that they were disposed of as an unnecessary burden to the public after courageously serving their country.
Hemingway continued by pointing out that the men in charge certainly knew the possible consequences of being in Florida during hurricane season, let alone in insufficient shelter.
The writer of this article lives a long way from Washington and would not know the answers to those questions. But he does know that wealthy people, yachtsmen, fishermen such as President Hoover and Presidents Roosevelt, do not come to the Florida Keys in hurricane months.... There is a known danger to property. But veterans, especially the bonus-marching variety of veterans, are not property. They are only human beings; unsuccessful human beings, and all they have to lose is their lives. They are doing coolie labor for a top wage of $45 a month and they have been put down on the Florida Keys where they can't make trouble. It is hurricane months, sure, but if anything comes up, you can always evacuate them, can't you? By making these statements Hemingway was not only making an argument that the government was ineffectual; he was also stating that class distinctions had played a major role in the disaster. Not only had the government failed to save its veterans, officials had felt the veterans were disposable. Hemingway went on to illustrate the experience common to most Floridians preparing for a coming hurricane in a pre NOAA, pre Weather Channel era. His account reinforced to non-coastal readers the reality of hurricanes with which coastal residents were familiar.
Hemingway's anger at what happened was palpable on every page:
It is not necessary to go into the deaths of the civilians and their families since they were on the Keys of their own free will; They made their living there, had property and knew the hazards involved. But the veterans had been sent there; they had no opportunity to leave, nor any protection against hurricanes; and they never had a chance for their lives. Who sent nearly a thousand war veterans, many of them husky, hard-working and simply out of luck, but many of them close to the border of pathological cases, to live in frame shacks on the Florida Keys in hurricane months? After making the argument that the veterans had no business being sent to build a road on a narrow low-lying island during hurricane season, Hemingway turned to the aftermath of the storm.
The railroad embankment was gone and the men who had cowered behind it and finally, when the water came, clung to the rails, were all gone with it. You could find them face down and face up in the mangroves. The biggest bunch of the dead were in the tangled, always green but now brown, mangroves behind the tanks cars and the water towers. They hung on there, in shelter, until the wind and the rising water carried them away. Hemingway's ability to ask questions while simultaneously and subtly pointing fingers throughout the article stimulated public discussion. Though Hemingway later refused to admit that he had purposely written the article to instigate political change, his account helped stimulate vigorous debate. The article in particular drew attention to the issue of class, raising awareness of inequities between the upper and lower classes.
Hemingway ended "Who Murdered the Vets?" with the final questions, "Who left you there? And what's the punishment for manslaughter now?" The first question was officially answered privately behind the closed doors of politicians. The second went unanswered. No person was ever formally charged with the neglect of the veterans. But one result of the tragedy was that the public began to demand that in the future government leaders had to be careful not to be careless with other peoples' lives.
Brute in Brass: A Cop on the Take and an Innocent Man on Death Row
Paperback issue of Brute in Brass
Lieutenant Mark Ballard is a dirty cop. Works ViBrute in Brass: A Cop on the Take and an Innocent Man on Death Row
Paperback issue of Brute in Brass
Lieutenant Mark Ballard is a dirty cop. Works Vice. Knows where it is, but doesn't take it down. What he does is live high for a cop. It takes brass to live like Ballard. Driving a shiny Olds 98. Wearing tailored suits. The regular guys on the force don't see the inside of his apartment. There's wouldn't compare to his, put togetther by an interior decorator.
When an honest cop is down on his luck, Ballard is the go to guy for a loan. Wife's in the hospital at Christmas? All the bills come due at the same time? Your three kids need Christmas? Santy Claus ain't gonna come on your honest cop's lousy take home pay? Ballard will spot you. You'll feel like less of a man. Maybe he'll pause, look at you, make you spell out your problems before he opens that shiny wallet and takes out two crispy fifties. You promise to pay it back. But Ballard says that won't be necessary. No, it won't. But it don't make you feel any better.
Maybe Ballard was a good cop once. Like his Dad was. But wearing the Badge got his old man nothing. Nothing but a grave. And Ballard. When Ballard made Vice, Ballard tried to bust the rackets. But the higher ups they protected the rackets. The guys in the suits that went to the same church on Sunday. Played Bridge in the same club on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Busting the rackets was a no go.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Say, Luxtro, he's one of the biggest. He wants a man on the inside. One with all the scoop, the low down. Take Luxtro's money. Get somewhere. Drive the Olds, wear the suits, live in the decorated apartment. But don't get close to nobody.
Take Hilma, she looks good. Good in bed. Put her kid in private school. Drop a hundred a month for her private apartment. Visit when the itch needs scratching. But now she's whining about a gold ring. That's a no go. Every visit is a fight. It's not worth it. Easy enough to go to a whore house. What's the difference. He's paying Vilma. It's expensive snatch.
Then there's this poor shmuck Earl Walker. Calls Ballard up to the Pen where his clock is ticking down on Death Row. Going to sizzle for offing a high class call girl. But the guy says he's innocent. Well, don't they all. Jesus Christ, the guy cries. Damn, how he hates it when the dumb shmucks cry. And Walker says he's prayed for Ballard to come see him. Don't they all pray the closer it come s to sittin' in the chair.
Walker says, "You was the only one decent to me. Treated me like a human being. Didn't beat out of me what you wanted to hear."
The look on Walker's face when Ballard told him he was nice to him because he just didn't give a shit about him. Didn't give a rat's ass about anything anymore. And you don't, when you been through everything Ballard has and seen how the whole damn system stinks. Why care. Take what you can while you can.
Then Walker's wife Peggy comes to visit. Peggy with the pert breasts filling out the gray dress she chose to make an impression. Peggy who's not like all the other little hausfraus down at the super market. Peggy who's been a good girl but obviously never known what it's like to be with a real man. You know, maybe Ballard maybe should look into this Walker case more.
Damned if Ballard doesn't go and fall in love with Peggy Walker. And where Harry Whittington starts off spinning a yarn with all the trappings of a classic Noir tale, the trolley slips the line. Because Ballard starts doing the honorable thing no matter the cost. Jesus, he believes Earl Walker is innocent!
BUT IS IT NOIR?
Which brings us to the point to talk a little about just what Noir Fiction is about. You can't get a better definition for my book than Otto Penzler, the founder of The Mysterious Press. As he has so aptly defined it, Noir fiction is about losers, not P.I.s, or in this case Police Detectives. Their motives are greed, lust, jealousy, or, as Penzler puts it a form of alienation. See Noir Fiction Is About Losers, Not Private Eyes, Otto Penzler, Huffington Post, Books, 08/10/2010, updated May 25, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/otto-pe.... My grandmother would have said, "He just doesn't look quite right out of his eyes." Think of The Killer Inside Me.
So, what we end up with here is something of a hybrid Noir-Hard Boiled Detective Novel. Without giving away too much of the plot, let's just say Mark Ballard, with all his faults, having fallen in love, strikes out on a path to redemption.
Otto Penzler tells us, "The characters in these existential, nihilistic tales are doomed. They may not die, but they probably should, as the life that awaits them is certain to be so ugly, so lost and lonely, that they’d be better off just curling up and getting it over with. And, let’s face it, they deserve it." Ibid
Don't get me wrong. Ballard has no easy time getting to the end of Brute in Brass. The tables are turned. The cards become stacked against him. The odds are high. The corruption of Luxtro's rackets extend all the way to the Office of the Police Commissioner.
Harry Whittington: King of the Paperbacks
Harry Whittington (February 4, 1915 – June 11, 1989)
Born in Ocala, Florida, Whittington wrote over eighty five pulp novels, sometimes writing as many as seven a month. You'll find many of his titles in the original Fawcett Gold Medal Editions that sold for 25 cents a copy. His most influential titles are his hard-boiled and noir titles appearing in the 1950s and early 1960s. However, he wrote 200 novels under nearly twenty pen names. He was also known as a writer of westerns. Among his screen credits is the Lawman television series airing on ABC from 1968 to 1972.
Brute in Brass: The Verdict
This is a quick, entertaining read. Whittington holds your attention. 3.5 Stars out of 5. For those interested, Mark Ballard returns in Any Woman He Wanted. The action takes up four years after that of Brute in Brass.
Don Winslow has written the epic "Dope" novel in The Power of the Dog. It is a mean, dirty story where it is not always easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys.
This is not a mere cop and crime story. Winslow goes much deeper than that. While not strictly historical fiction, because Winslow tends to change the names to protect the guilty, and omit the names to blur which Presidential Administration particular acts may be attributed to, consider this a sweeping look at "The War on Drugs" from the founding days of the Drug Enforcement Administration in the mid-1970s to the end of the Nineties.
Winslow's protagonist is Art Keller, a Vietnam Veteran. More fitting for having been an intel operative in the Phoenix Program during the Vietnam War, the program for the assassination of suspected Viet Cong leaders. Keller is not regular army. He is CIA.
When the Drug Enforcement Administration was founded in the Seventies, many former Vietnam vets found themselves recruited into DEA ranks, including former CIA operatives. They found themselves on the outside, at odds with other law enforcement who had not been recruited from the Vietnam experience. Known as "Cowboys," they were spurned by their civilian counterparts and locked out of intel and operations when possible.
Art Keller finds himself "Locked out" by his supervisor Tim Taylor who has stationed him in Mexico to shut down the heroin trade. But Keller has something going for him Taylor hasn't counted on. Keller's mother was a Latina. Essentially abandoned by his gringo father as he grew up in the barrio, Keller understands what it means to be Mexican. By apparent luck he finds himself in the boxing ring as the sparring partner of Cesar Barrerra, managed by brothers Raul and Adan. Keller is accepted. And wouldn't you know it, Tio, Uncle, Miguel Angel Barrerra, is a ranking Mexican police official who leads Keller to credit in shutting down the heroin traffic in Mexico and killing the heroin kingpin.
Here's the complication. Tio has a motive. Keller was actually a tool. Tio Barrerra establishes a Federacion to distribute cocaine the up and coming drug to the streets of the United States. Enter the Columbian Drug Cartels. Enter the Mafia Connection. Oops. Enter the Contra Connection. Uh-oh. Enter the CIA support of the Contras who are under indictment for Trafficking Cocaine.
Faster than you can say Ollie North, here portrayed as Major Scott Craig, Art Keller finds himself caught between the CIA and the Barerras fighting the good fight in the war on drugs. However the Barrerras are always just one step ahead of him.
The key to any good narcotics investigation is the development of intel. Best source? Informants. However, now one tips on the Barrerras. It will get you killed. Keller gets antsy and practical. Following Tio Barrerra, he discovers Tio has taken a young lover and an apartment as a secret love nest. In a "Say it ain't so Keller" moment, Art plants an illegal bug. The intel is golden. On the basis of information received from a "reliable confidential informant" Keller begins to do serious damage to the Barrerra Operation.
Keller has two partners, one, Ernie Hidalgo, kidnapped by the Barrerras. Hidalgo is brutally tortured to discover the identity of Keller's informant. Of course, Hidalgo doesn't know. In the process of the torture Hidalgo dies.
What results is the ultimate vengeance tale. Keller is out to get the Barrerras. The Barrerras are out to get Keller. At the same time there are forces at work to shut Keller up as well. For reasons having nothing to do with his mission to avenge the death of his partner.
Winslow will keep you on the edge of your seat. He provides you with a cast of characters and story reminiscent of The Godfather, but with the intensity of Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone.
This is the thinking reader's dope novel. It is a novel of morality, ethics, and the ease with which those essentials may be lost. Save us from the power of the dog.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
19 But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.