Dear Bobby, Yesterday my new Captain Miller, ordered me to go with the new
...moreFLANDERS, Patricia Anthony's Lost Novel of WWI
April 2, France, Reserve Area
Dear Bobby, Yesterday my new Captain Miller, ordered me to go with the new subaltern...After an hour's pleasant stroll, we came upon what looked like a crude bar ditch, with a few soldiers lining one side and peering off across an orchard.
Right then the lieutenant throws himself down, yelling, "Four in! Four in!" The Tommies lining the ditch begin to shout "Hed doon.!" And then I heard wasps buzzing.
The Lieutenant waved frantically. "Yer bloody ignorant Yank! Fritz is four in!"
I dived headfirst into the ditch. Soldiers and packs and curses were propelled every which way. When we got untangled, I saw that the lieutenant was ordering me to ready my rifle, which I did. There were only a few Boche and they were lurking about the trees in the apple orchard, plinking at us haphazardly. My first shot dropped one, an outcome which took me by utter surprise. I saw the helmet sail off the German boy's head. I saw him go down. Regret so overwhelmed me, I nearly vomited...
Early issue German Helmet, WWI
Can't you hear an old man telling Travis to stay home? I can. I can see a grizzled veteran of the American Civil War talking to him, telling him he can't know what war is, but the old man knows. He's seen the Elephant.
That old man has crossed fields into volleys of rifled musketry. He has seen the lines of men disappear in the enfilading fire of canister. Some say old men forget. This old man does not. But not even he can know what waits in Europe, how efficient man has made weapons. Not even the makers of the weapons know how quickly and precisely these new weapons can kill so well, so completely, to destroy a regular army in less than six months of war. But it will happen. And once more, once the truth comes out, the world will be shocked and amazed. In this war they will wonder what happened to a generation, simply gone, dead, forever absent.
All the generals, the adjutants, the staff, will follow tactics far outstripped by modern weapons. And they will not understand how that could happen. They never have. They never will. It's the men you know. They hesitated. They did not push the advantage. That's it isn't it? That is what the battle reports will say. That is what they always say. What they say when the dead are counted. It was a rum show, wasn't it? Oh, yes. A bad show.
I can hear him talking to Travis. I can tell Travis isn't listening. Can't you? You ask God if there's not something to stop it. Then you ask where is God? This old man is not the creation of Patricia Anthony, but mine. These images in what I have labeled the Prologue are all images that Anthony has stirred in me. Anthony and the men I have known like that old man whose voice I hear whispering in my ear, those few from the war to end all wars, the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. I wonder if I will live to know more old men from wars not yet fought. But I doubt I will, for I am growing to be among the old. It may well be that men younger than me will one day tell me, "Old man, you do not understand."
Welcome to the war, Travis Lee Stanhope, faithful writer of letters to younger brother Bobby back home in Harper, Texas. You're a good boy to write home and let the folks know you're fine. Couldn't wait to get to the war, could you? Couldn't wait until Uncle Sam pointed his finger at you and said he wanted you. Well, Son. I guess you weren't the first. You won't be the last. Too afraid it will all be over before you get there, aren't you? But you could have waited. It's going to be a long war. Won't be too many apples on those trees too long.
Flanders after artillery bombardment--these orchards bear no apples
Funny, isn't it? That German boy you dropped. Yes, a boy. Just like you're a boy. Wouldn't be surprised if he was fresh off the farm just like you. Except, he don't wear the same uniform you do. Got that funny spiked helmet that you sailed off his head.
Well, son. You're good with that rifle. Those Brits will make a sniper out of you. You've got plenty of killing ahead of you. You remember old Nathan Bedford Forrest. Well he was right. War means fightin' and fightin' means killin'. I worry you don't have the stomach for it. I think you're figurin' it out pretty fast. But they're not gonna let you go home.
On August 4, 1914, the German Army invaded Belgium. The territory included the former country of Flanders. Generally known as Flanders Fields, the primary battles fought there were First and Second Ypres, and Passchendale. British and French forces rushed to repel the German invasion. Fighting in the area lasted almost to the end of the war in 1918. Over one million men died on these fields.
What happened here is commemorated by the well known poem by John McRae, "In Flanders Fields." It has stood the test of time in portraying the restlessness of the dead who lie under row after row of crosses and stars of David.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie, In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.
Poppy Fields in Flanders, where they shall not sleep though these flowers grow
Yet for all critical acclaim achieved by Patricia Anthony, the book was a commercial failure. It tanked. If it had been theatre, the advances would have been "We bombed in New Haven."
Perhaps Patricia Anthony's novel Flanders was doomed from the beginning. Anthony had been known as a science fiction writer. Ace was her publisher. On a perfectly beautifully designed dust jacket, the ACE SCIENCE FICTION imprint was prominently displayed on the spine. Perhaps science fiction readers picked up copies of Flanders flipped through it, said, "Huh?" and put it back on the shelf. Readers of historical fiction do not make their selections from the science fiction shelves.
Ms. Anthony, in Flanders wrote a masterpiece of historical fiction concerning trench warfare in World War One. It is probably one of the most curious books on the shelves of my library. It is a first printing, first edition, and it is signed by Ms. Anthony. It is worth practically nothing to the book collector. For this remarkable novel never found a reading audience. But I consider it a treasure that was lost, that I found.
The strange thing is this. Anthony was hailed by critics as one of America's newest and strongest writers. Flanders was almost universally acclaimed. Critics most often compared it as a novel equal in power to All Quiet on the Western Front.
Born in San Antonio, Texas, January 3, 1947, Ms. Anthony spent several years in Brazil as an English teacher. Ms. Anthony was teaching creative writing at SMU in Texas when Flanders was published. I happened to catch her on The Today Show. It was a remarkable interview. Published in 1998, it was a NYTimes Notable Book. Critics praised it to the skies. But nobody read it. As a seller, it was a flop.
It is a sad thing when a book this good cannot find a readership. I can only chalk it up to pure damned bad marketing. Pat Barker was fortunate to have written the Regeneration novels in Great Britain published by a House that had the good sense to market it as it should have been.
The Book Report
This is an epistolary novel. It consists of letters written by Travis Lee Stanhope to his younger brother Bobby back home in Texas. One of the first ones is quoted above. Like many Americans, Travis Lee volunteered to fight with the British Army before America went "over there."
Travis Lee is no Texas cowboy. Nor is he a West Texas Cotton Farmer. He's educated. He was attending medical school. He could have avoided the fracas. But he volunteered to go. I guess that's one way to see Europe. In Travis' mind the war would be short, perhaps six months at the most.
Travis Lee finds France beautiful in the spring of 1916. Away from the trenches, it certainly is. However, Travis Lee finds a different world once he's on the front lines. It is Hell. It is madness. It is day after day of useless deaths.
Travis Lee's skill is as a marksman. He is a sharpshooter. In other words, he is a sniper. And he is very good at his work. But he doesn't like what his duties require him to do.
Sleep is a constant nightmare for Travis Lee. At night his dreams are filled with the faces of the men he has killed and his comrades with whom he served who have been slaughtered in senseless attacks through barbed wire into nests of entrenched machine guns. Anthony's description of his dreams are hallucinatory, swirling episodes of horror. Death is a pretty girl in a calico dress wandering through a cemetery.
That Anthony portrays death as a supernatural figure should not be considered unusual. Men on the field witnessed visions. The war created an entire mythology of folklore. It was a time when British forces could say that Angels hovered over them during the retreat from Mons in 1914 and it was completely accepted.
Even more bizarre were the outright fictions, such as the ghosts of the archers of Agincourt who put themselves between their modern brethren and loosed arrows into German troops. Mysterious arrows that left no wounds. That little gem was an outright fiction published in a magazine as "The Mysterious Bowmen," by Arthur Machen. You might remember him as the author of "The Great God Pan" and a number of other horror and fantasy stories.
No, Anthony did not merely insert a "ghost story" into Flanders as Ace promoters announced. Anthony, in my opinion had done her research. She could read The Great War and Modern Memory as easily as I can today. Paul Fussell wrote it in 1975. This is another layer of authenticity that Anthony produces within the pages of this book.
As in all wars, there are men with whom Travis Lee serves, who revel in the killing. Pierre Le Blanc, a mad French Canadian represents that category of soldier. Le Blanc is not content to kill the enemy but even civilians in nearby villages. But it is Stanhope who becomes the suspect because of his bouts of binge drinking when even he is unaware of his actions. But it's the drinking that helps him forget the faces of the men he's wiped from the face of the earth, the faces of his dead comrades.
When sober, Travis Lee recites Keats and Shelley for his Captain who loves poetry as well, but he is an officer despised for his Jewishness. Travis Lee is caught in a quagmire of war, incapable of escape until the last bullet is fired.
What of Patricia Anthony? Previously the author of six acclaimed science fiction novels, Anthony broke with Ace following Flanders. After three years at SMU she left her post to become a screenwriter. Although on several projects, not one has been greenlighted. Anthony completed an eighth novel in 2006. She hasn't found a publisher. Perhaps she feels her life did not turn out as she planned it.
Her science fiction novels were:
Cold Allies (1992) Brother Termite (1993) Conscience of the Beagle (1993) Happy Policeman (1994) Cradle of Splendor (1996) God's Fires (1997)
James Cameron bought the writes to "Brother Termite" in 2003. The project has never gotten off the ground. There was even a screen treatment written for Flanders with a "small" producer. Nope. Didn't happen.
Yet, When Anthony left science fiction behind with Flanders she didn't return to the genre. Greg Johnson who frequently reviews for the SF Site and The New York Review of Science Fiction wrote:
"The only connection to SF is the Ace Science Fiction imprint on the cover, and the author's previous work. Conventional publishing wisdom would suggest that what Anthony is doing here is the equivalent of career suicide. Science fiction readers, they would say, won't read Flanders because it isn't science fiction. Mainstream readers will stay away because the author has been identified with SF. The result would be a book that falls through the cracks, and fails to find an audience."
While this magnificent book fell through the cracks,I beg to differ with Greg Johnson. Anthony may have signed an agreement with ACE, Anthony didn't commit career suicide. Was she under contract to ACE, effectively barring her from seeking another publisher? I don't know. I've not found the answer to that question. Of some small note the subsequent publication of Flanders in paperback appeared under the Berkley imprint. Sales improved. However, sales never matched critical acclaim.
Now, Flanders is a print on demand item in the Berkley catalog. That's a shame. This is one of the best overlooked books of the 20th Century. Find it. Read it. You can pick up a first edition hardback with dust jacket for as little as $1.00. Send Ms. Anthony a letter thanking her. She might appreciate it. Flanders is a lost American classic. It is time it was found.
ADDENDUM: I am sad to report that Patricia Anthony died on August 2, 2013. This review was edited and updated for members of goodreads group "Around WWI" This group has been established in observance of the Centenary of World War One. Should you be interested in joining the group, simply e-mail me of your interest. I serve as a group moderator in the company of Kris Rabberman and Kalliope. Any of us can assist you in joining this group.
"THE LAST OF THE JUST," Andre Schwarz-Bart's novel of remembrance
As an under grad at the University of Alabama, I often spent my time between classes...more"THE LAST OF THE JUST," Andre Schwarz-Bart's novel of remembrance
As an under grad at the University of Alabama, I often spent my time between classes at a college bookstore, Malone's, or at The Alabama Bookstore. Malone's was ultimately gobbled up by their competition. However both stores offered shelves of literature that frequently caught my eye and my meager funds.
The Last of the Just by André Schwarz-Bart was one of the many books I bought during my college days. I skipped lunch that day to buy it. I was skinny then, too, had hair, muscles, and the world on a string. I still have my original paperback copy, boxed away, but readily obtainable. This is a book I remember as clearly today as when I first read it, too many years ago.
It was a visit to my next door neighbor last night that prompted me to review it today. As I have mentioned before, my neighbor is one of my former psychology professors. We raid one another's bookshelves on a regular basis.
Old Uncle Howard, as he calls himself to me, is something of a father figure. And I have officially been made a member of the Miller family. Howard is Jewish, but considers himself so culturally, not spiritually, as he will tell you in a heartbeat. "Not since nine, have I believed!"
"How can you know," I asked him. He grunted. "Occam's Razor, remember your history and systems of psychology course."
"But there had to be some initial causation, wouldn't you say," I retorted. "From a standpoint of intellectual honesty, the only thing we can say within reason is, 'I don't know.'"
The Millers lost a son to cancer a year or so before I became their neighbor. Sometimes I think I may have become "adopted." Of late, when I visit, I have dined with them. My place is set between them, Old Uncle Howard at the head of the table to my right, his wife to the left.
Interestingly, although claiming to be a non-believer, Howard says Kaddish for his son each year. He has shown me his yarmulke, his brother's and his father's, which he keeps carefully packed away. His Hebrew flows as a song. During Hanukkah, the Menorah was in view and Howard bought a Hanukkah table cloth.
It was around that time I borrowed The Complete Mausby Art Spiegelman from him. I had never read it, though I was familiar with it. I was stunned, as I previously indicated in my review of it.
When I returned "Maus" to Uncle Howard, we discussed it, as we always do about our reading. I mentioned that Art Spiegelman had published MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus. Howard's response was two eyebrows archly raised, punctuated by an enthusiastic and curious "Really?" His wife always shares in our talks. She is as voracious a reader as many of us are.
A few days later when I popped over to check on them, Margaret said, "I have to show you something." She excitedly opened a box from Amazon. It was MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus. "I saw the look on Howard's face when you were telling him about it." She's very observant. smile
So yesterday, I ambled over to take them a whopping big bowl of hopping john, collards, and southern cornbread--that means no sugar in the bread, thank you very much. Sugar in cornbread is an abomination. You want sugar, eat cake.
So, I told him. Today, I write to tell you about it.
Mystical Hasidic Judaism as well as other segments of Judaism believe that there is the Jewish tradition of 36 righteous people whose role in life is to justify the purpose of humankind in the eyes of God. Tradition holds that their identities are unknown to each other and that, if one of them comes to a realization of their true purpose then they may die and their role is immediately assumed by another person:
The Lamed-Vav Tzaddikim are also called the Nistarim ("concealed ones"). In our folk tales, they emerge from their self-imposed concealment and, by the mystic powers, which they possess, they succeed in averting the threatened disasters of a people persecuted by the enemies that surround them. They return to their anonymity as soon as their task is accomplished, 'concealing' themselves once again in a Jewish community wherein they are relatively unknown. The lamed-vavniks, scattered as they are throughout the Diaspora, have no acquaintance with one another. On very rare occasions, one of them is 'discovered' by accident, in which case the secret of their identity must not be disclosed. The lamed-vavniks do not themselves know that they are ones of the 36. In fact, tradition has it that should a person claim to be one of the 36, that is proof positive that they are certainly not one. Since the 36 are each exemplars of anavah, ("humility"), having such a virtue would preclude against one’s self-proclamation of being among the special righteous. The 36 are simply too humble to believe that they are one of the 36.
André Schwarz-Bart's life is something to ponder about as much as his novel, The Last of the Just. Born May 28, 1928, Metz, Moselle, Schwarz-Bart was a Frenchman of Polish-Jewish origins. His parents moved to France in 1924.
In 1941, Schwarz-Bart's parents were seized by the Nazis and transported to Auschwitz. Schwarz-Bart escaped the round-up and joined the French Resistance, still a teenager. His parents died at Auschwitz. His war time experiences and the deaths of his parents resulted in Le Dernier des Justes published in France in 1959, taking the Prix de Grancourt in the same year. It appeared in English, translated by Stephen Becker, as The Last of the Just published by Atheneum in 1960.
Schwarz-Bart uses the realm of the Lamed-Vav Tzaddikim to tell the story of the Levy family beginning in 1105 England, with the earliest known member of the family to be one of the thirty-six righteous. What follows is a horror story of hate, inquisitions, intolerance, murder, and pogroms, as we watch each generation assume the burden of responsibility and guilt for the evils of humanity, to justify the existence of life.
We end with Ernie, a teen-aged boy, who could pass for a gentile but enters the maelstrom of the holocaust. He is the last of his line. How can one man absorb the burden of the final solution to justify the existence of humanity?
This book remains as alive for me today as when I first read it almost forty years or more ago. And I've read it since. It still haunts me.
In 1991, Michael Dorris, writing for the LA Times, said,
Every page demands to know: "Why? How could this abomination have happened?" Whether Jewish or Gentile, we are reminded how easily torn is the precious fabric of civilization, and how destructive are the consequences of dumb hatred-whether a society's henchmen are permitted to beat an Ernie Levy because he's Jewish, or because he's black or gay or Hispanic or homeless. The novel endures precisely because it forces us to empathize, and thus to remember.
What was once an international sensation seems to have faded into obscurity. A first edition of the first American edition can be picked up for a song. I think I'll buy one--no, two. One for me and one for Uncle Howard.
Andre Schwarze-Bart died of complications following heart surgery on September 30, 2006, Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe. I will remember him. Should you read this wonderful book, so will you.
"May there be abundant peace from Heaven and good life for us and for all Israel
Malouf has created a masterpiece study on loss. Focusing on King Priam of Troy and Achilles victory over Priam's eldest son, Hector, Malouf never ment...moreMalouf has created a masterpiece study on loss. Focusing on King Priam of Troy and Achilles victory over Priam's eldest son, Hector, Malouf never mentions the origins of the Trojan War. Paris and Helen of Troy have no place in this story. This is a story about fatherhood, the meaning of it, and the loss of a child seen through not only the eyes of Priam and his Queen, Hecuba, but also through the eyes of a commoner, Somax, who is called upon to drive Priam to Achilles' camp in an attempt to ransom the body of Hector whom Achilles has dragged across the plains of Troy for eleven days. The gods have little place in this story. Only Hermes, the trickster, and the guide of mortals to the underworld appears here to guide Priam and Somax through the Greek lines and to Achilles. "Ransom" is short, but powerful, and in any number of spots is achingly beautiful in its depiction of the sanctity of human life. Although the reader knows the ultimate outcome of the Trojan War, Malouf brings a new and unique perspective to an old story that holds out the possibility, the hope, that this old story might end differently. This is a story that should linger in the mind for a very, very long time. (less)
Under the laws of time travel there are points of divergence throughout history. The slightest influence can change the outcome of a critical event an...moreUnder the laws of time travel there are points of divergence throughout history. The slightest influence can change the outcome of a critical event and bring about a world completely different than the one we live in. So says Connie Willis, the author of "The Doomsday Book," "To Say Nothing of the Dog," and critically acclaimed short stories such as "Firewatchers."
Willis' band of Oxford historians return in "Blackout," a novel focusing on the early days of conflict between England and Germany during the Second World War. Weaving previously explored theories of the laws of time travel through the Battle of Dunkirk, the beginning of the Blitz, and the Battle of Britain, Willis presents her most detailed novel of Britons bearing up under Hitler's lightning war against England.
According to the laws of time travel, a historian cannot alter history. Only contemporary figures can do that. But what if the laws are not correct? Something is wrong. Three historians are trapped in London in 1940. Their time portals do not open. Retrieval teams from the year 2060 don't arrive as they are supposed to when their historians fail to return upon the conclusion of their scheduled stay in the past.
There must be an answer to why these historians are trapped in the past. Has an action by one of them changed the course of history? Did Hitler win? Did the inventor of time travel die in a concentration camp? The answers will not be found in "Blackout." For the first time, Connie Willis has written a story so complex that it will take more than one book for the truth to be unraveled from a tangle of possibilities as three historians continue their interaction with World War II Brits in "All Clear," which I must read as soon as I grab a copy from my neighbor up the street, bless her heart. What? She's on vacation??? Patience and thriftiness or an impetuous download on the Nook? Stay tuned. (less)
Aharon Appelfeld's Blooms of Darkness, Waiting for the tick of the clock...
Aharon Appelfeld born February 16, 1932, was transported at the age of eigh...moreAharon Appelfeld's Blooms of Darkness, Waiting for the tick of the clock...
Aharon Appelfeld born February 16, 1932, was transported at the age of eight to a concentration camp along with his father. His mother was murdered by members of the Romanian army when their village was raided. Appelfeld's hometown became a part of the Ukraine following the end of WWII.
After three years of captivity, Appelfeld escaped the camp and joined the Soviet Army, serving as a cook. Following a year in a camp for displaced persons in Italy at war's end, Appelfeld emigrated to Israel in 1946. He learned Hebrew as an adult.
In Blooms of Darkness: A Novel, Appelfeld tells the story of Hugo, eleven years old, a Jew, the son of upper middle class parents. Appelfeld uses an omniscient narrator writing in the present tense. The imminence of death hangs over every turn of the page. It is like the steady ticking of a clock that grows silent when the mainspring unwinds. How much time Hugo has is anyone's guess.
Jewish parents have been sending their children to live with Gentiles, in hiding, as news of the transportation of their race have reached their small town. Equally unsettling are the whispered stories that those children who were supposedly being hidden, have actually been turned over to the Nazis or their allies to be placed in the camps.
After Hugo's father has been transported to a labor camp, his mother, Julia smuggles him to a childhood friend, Marianna, who promises to keep him safe. Julia leaves Hugo there, reminding him that although Marianna may have hung a cross around his neck so she might claim him as her son, he is Jewish. The cross is only a part of a disguise to keep him safe. With that, Julia leaves Hugo, telling him to read, continue his studies and remain disciplined in writing in a journal.
Hugo, ignorant of sex, does not realize that Marianna is a prostitute. The house in which she lives with other women is simply called "the Residence." It is a brothel that caters to the Nazis and their allies.
When Marianna is entertaining her clients in her room, Hugo is hidden in a closet where he remains until the next day. Marianna brings Hugo into her room when she is not entertaining her clients. There she feeds Hugo the delicacies regularly served by the residence to their guests.
Ultimately, as Hugo grows, Marianna's bathing him turns into a sexual relationship as she takes him into her bed. Hugo is confused, but entranced by her affection and trust. In turn, Marianna finds in Hugo the only love she can experience trapped in her life as a prostitute, sometimes brutalized by her nightly clients.
Marianna drinks too much, which loosens her tongue, resulting in the violence her patrons inflict on her for her arrogance and independence. Small wonder that Marianna sinks into acute episodes of depression, staring blankly ahead of her, completely unaware of Hugo's presence.
Appelfeld has written a heartbreaking novel of children caught in the Holocaust. Hugo's and Marianna's experiences linger on in the mind long after the last page is turned.
Appelfeld has written over 40 books, beginning with short stories before transitioning to novels. He writes exclusively in Hebrew.
Philip Roth wrote of Appelfeld that he was “a displaced writer of displaced fiction, who has made of displacement and disorientation a subject uniquely his own." Roth used Appelfeld as a character in Operation Shylock
Aharon Appelfeld's latest novel is Until the Dawn's Light.
Furst has a talent for capturing the lesser known regions touched by World War II. Spies of the Balkans is no exception. We meet Zannis, a Greek detec...moreFurst has a talent for capturing the lesser known regions touched by World War II. Spies of the Balkans is no exception. We meet Zannis, a Greek detective who is assigned the most delicate tasks by the Commissioner of Police, a shadowy figure named Vangelis. Greece is at war with Italy and winning. It is only a matter of time before Hitler will not allow the Axis powers to be weak in any manner by going to the aid of Mussolini's troops. Meanwhile, Zannis will become involved in assisting the escape of Jews from Germany by establishing a Balkan escape route, recruiting law enforcement officers from Balkan nations. Zannis will be recruited by the English for missions as far away as France. The pace is fast. The story is complex. The characters are captivating. I recommend this one strongly.(less)
A father writes a letter to his daughter whom he has not seen since she was two. It is his story to her of her family, their tragedies, and their love...moreA father writes a letter to his daughter whom he has not seen since she was two. It is his story to her of her family, their tragedies, and their love for one another. Set against the U-Boat war fought around Nova Scotia, Norman provides a unique look at life on the home front during the Atlantic War. The sinking of a civilian ferry will bring shattering changes to the small town of Middle Economy, Nova Scotia and the family at the heart of Norman's story. Norman's use of the epistolary style quickly becomes an intimate conversation with a man with whom you want to spend an afternoon, sipping tea and eating scones, smoking an occasional Chesterfield, surrounded by the music he has come to love through the years, played upon an ancient gramophone. Even the hiss of the phonograph needle becomes part of the background noise that lures you into the story protagonist Wyatt Hillyer is compelled to tell. Simply excellent. (less)
Jennet Stearnes is a young woman ahead of her time. Although she's the daughter of a witchfinder in England, she is fortunate to have an Aunt Isobel M...moreJennet Stearnes is a young woman ahead of her time. Although she's the daughter of a witchfinder in England, she is fortunate to have an Aunt Isobel Mowbray who is a "natural philosopher." She tutors Jennet in science, mathematics, and philosophy. She also provides young Jennet with her treatise, "A Woman's Garden of Pleasure and Pain," which will greatly enrich Jennet's life for many years. When Jennet's father unwisely puts a member of English gentry to the torch for witchcraft, Jennet, her father, and brother Dunstan are sent to America. Her father's services are soon needed in Salem. Her brother Dunstan serves as their father's apprentice and is beguiled by one of the Salem young women suffering from "malaficiae". Jennet vows to put an end to witch hunting by turning to natural philosophy. She intends to prepare the ultimate argument that will be so powerful that Parliament will be forced to repeal the Conjuring Act passed during the reign of George II. Along the way Jennet will mingle with prominent figures in English and American history. Morrow's writing is sharp, sly, and a pleasure to read. Picaresque, ribald, and humorous, Morrow's "The Last Witchfinder" will find you comparing this novel to John Barth's "The Sotweed Factor." It's that good. (less)
In the third Inspector Ian Rutledge novel the author(s)--a mother and son team writing under the name Charles Todd--continue to examine the effects of...moreIn the third Inspector Ian Rutledge novel the author(s)--a mother and son team writing under the name Charles Todd--continue to examine the effects of World War I on British society. A grief stricken veteran named Mowbray is arrested for the murder of a woman whom he believes is his wife who deserted him while he was away at war. The evidence seems incontrovertible that Mowbray is guilty until it appears the victim wasn't his wife at all. Did Mowbray kill another woman, a victim of mis-identification? Or is he innocent of any crime at all?
Rutledge is sent to put the case to rest. However, what appears to be a simple case is not. As the identity of the victim points to another perpetrator, Rutledge begins to uncover facts that broadens the list of suspects all the way to the highest political circles in London.
Particularly fascinating is the manner in which the effects of the war on women who waited for their men to return from the trenches is explored. The men who returned from the war, who were able to survive, are not the same personalities their wives and lovers knew before they went to the war to end all wars. Here are women who shrink in terror from the gentle men whom they once loved. Here are the mothers unable to accept that their sons will never take their place in society, able to lead the life any mother hopes for a child. And here are the women who have lost their betroth-eds to the women of France, young women who are unable to find any suitable relationship because an almost complete generation of young men will never return home.
Todd continues to write a series of novels that amount to much more than the typical English country mystery. Here you will find adroit handling of lives shattered by shell shock and survivor guilt and an entire society recovering from the incomprehensible grief endured by multiple generations. You will find few individuals untouched by "the great war."
Rutledge continues to observe his duty to be a voice for the victim, a speaker for the dead. In carrying out his duty Rutledge pursues the truth no matter the direction in which it points. That is just one more reason to delve into the writing of this engaging writing partnership of mother and son. From the mud of the trenches in France to the highest levels of British society, these authors know their history, on both a military and cultural level with a grasp of what we know today as the effects of post traumatic stress syndrome. (less)
Frank Tallis brings back young Max Lieberman for his fourth appearance in "Vienna Secrets." Lieberman, a psychiatrist and member of Sigmund Freud's gr...moreFrank Tallis brings back young Max Lieberman for his fourth appearance in "Vienna Secrets." Lieberman, a psychiatrist and member of Sigmund Freud's growing group of followers is called upon once again to offer psychoanalytical insight to a series of troubling murders by his friend Oskar Reinhardt, an inspector with the Vienna Security Office.
Three bodies are found at the base of plague columns in very public locations about Vienna near well known churches. Each victim has been decapitated. However, the men have lost their heads, not to a sword or other sharp instrument. Someone with incredible strength has ripped their heads from their necks. Oddly, great quantities of mud are found at each scene.
The first deaths are attributed to ritualistic murder, committed by a zealous cult of followers of a Hasidic Rabbi who foretells that justice is coming. But the pieces of the puzzle are not easily fitted together when the third victim is Jewish.
Tallis deftly weaves ancient Jewish folklore into the plot of "Vienna Secrets." Lieberman learns of the ancient "Book of Creation," describing the Rabbi of Prague's creation of a Golem centuries ago. Has a Kabbalistic Mystic recreated the Rabbi of Prague's monster?
Anti-Semetism is becoming a popular position reaching to the very heart of Vienna's Town Hall. The upstanding rulers of the city view the Jewish population as a plague. Efforts are being openly made to remove Jews from every profession in the city.
Even Lieberman becomes a target when he denies admittance of a priest to give the last rites to the profligate son of an Austrian Baron. The young Baron is in the last moments of his life, but is in a dream world looking forward to his next summer with his comrades in his country home. Lieberman staunchly defends his actions to his detractors, explaining that had the priest given last rights, the young man would have been terrified at his impending death and would have died in terror, not peace. Unless he apologizes he will lose the right to practice in the hospital whose commissioners are members of the elite anti-semitic faction that pervades Vienna.
Meanwhile, Barash, the Hasidic Rabbi, has told Lieberman that he, too, may not live to see the end of the month. Vienna seems to have been taken over by extremists among Gentile and Jew.
Lieberman is haunted by dreams filled with symbols of ancient Rabbinic mysticism. He and Reinhardt must move quickly before Vienna explodes in a paroxysm of racial violence, if Lieberman himself does not fall prey to the mysterious killer who possesses incredible strength.
Once again, Tallis has executed a deftly plotted work of historical fiction and mystery. Frank Tallis is a clinical psychologist in England. The Lieberman series continues to draw growing recognition in England and France. Max Lieberman next appears in "Vienna Twilight." It will be on my list to read. (less)
I couldn't tell you why I have resisted reading "A Town Like Alice" for so many years. But I did. Perhaps it is for the best whatever time it is we ch...moreI couldn't tell you why I have resisted reading "A Town Like Alice" for so many years. But I did. Perhaps it is for the best whatever time it is we chose to land a particular book in our hands.
When I began to read Shute's book, I quickly fell into it. Noel Strachan is perhaps one of the most charming narrators I've encountered. Shute's use of the aging British Solicitor to unveil the story of Jean Paget drew me into the tale.
It was a simple enough matter. Strachan was hired to write the will and administer the estate of Mr. McFadden. It is the type of case that routinely crosses a lawyer's desk. The will was quite straight forward, and quite traditional. Upon McFadden's death, his estate was to go to his sister as a life estate. Upon her demise the estate was to devolve to her son. Should he predecease McFadden, the estate would go to our protagonist Jean Paget.
McFadden was easily what we would term a chauvinist today. Should Jean Paget be his heir, his estate was to be held in trust for her until the age of thirty-five. McFadden didn't believe young women had a head for handling money.
However, war has a way of causing the least favored bequests in wills to often be made. In this case World War Two left McFadden's estate to his least favored heir. It was up to Strachan to sort things out and carry out his client's last wishes.
Of course, Jean Paget was never the woman McFadden believed his niece to be. She survived a death march of non-combatant women and children following the Japanese invasion of Malaya. Her brother did not survive imprisonment in a prisoner of war camp.
Shute's portrayal of Jean and her fellow English women and their children is a tribute to the courage and endurance of those individuals who have come to be called the collateral damage of war. The Japanese have no use for these women and children. Nor do they want to waste precious resources on keeping them alive when there is the Imperial Army to feed.
Into this mix, Shute throws in a plucky Australian, Joe, conscripted by the Japanese to drive trucks of material for them. Of course, Joe and Jean meet. He admires this young woman whom he believes to be married. On more than one occasion Joe manages to smuggle food, medicines, and soaps to the wandering band of women and children. However, war rarely leaves possible lovers in a situation that allows a relationship to blossom. Joe and Jean are separated under circumstances which this reviewer will not reveal.
As a bit of an aside, I found Shute's depiction of Japanese troops and their behavior toward the British women and children one of the most sensitive and humane portrayals in literature and history. Interestingly, it is the line soldier who exhibits the greatest humanity to their charges. It is the Imperial Officer who turns a blind eye to the plight of non-combatants.
It would be tempting to say that "A Town Like Alice" is a sentimental romance and leave it at that. However, it goes beyond those limits in a depiction of courage and survival, while acting selflessly, and a life lived happily ever after. I'm told that happens some times. I wouldn't attempt to deny that degree of happiness to those that find it, nor would I sneer at it because I hadn't necessarily found it.
I will admit at this juncture that I am unabashedly a romantic. Nevil Shute wrote a story which enchanted me with its charm, courage, and passion that was truly unbridled only after a wedding ring was slipped onto a finger, and a marriage meant to last a lifetime. Old fashioned, you say? "Too right. It's a right crook affair." By all means, be welcome to those sentiments if you have succumbed to the cynicism of our supposedly modern world.
There is nothing in this book to dislike unless you simply refuse to believe in the possibility of happy endings. They do happen, you know.
Oh, there's a bit of Neal Strachan in me. I am an aging lawyer as he was. Jean Paget is one of those women capable of enchanting many a man with her mind, her intellect, her toughness, and her capacity to love, not only a man, but life and all it encompasses.
"Blood Meridian" is hellish nightmare of successive acts of violence. Based on the story of the Glanton Gang operating on boundary between Texas and M...more"Blood Meridian" is hellish nightmare of successive acts of violence. Based on the story of the Glanton Gang operating on boundary between Texas and Mexico in 1849-1850, McCarthy's novel focuses on an unnamed protagonist known only as "The Kid." The Kid is fourteen, a runaway from the hills of Tennessee. He finds himself among a group of Filibusterers bent on finishing what the Mexican War began. The band is attacked by Comanches. The Kid is among the few survivors. However, he survives only to find himself imprisoned by the Mexican government for his participation in the invasion of their territory. The Kid is released to become a member of the Glanton Gang to rid the Mexican populace of marauding Apaches. A bounty is paid for each scalp by the Mexican government.
Glanton and his band find themselves outnumbered and out of gunpowder. They are miraculously saved by "The Judge." The Judge seems to know of the gang's approach. He is waiting for them on top of a rock and witnesses their plight. The Judge ably mixes up a batch of gunpowder from nitre, sulfur, and urine. The powder is dried by the heat of the southwestern sun just in time to turn the massacre of the gang into a slaughter of the surprised Apaches.
If the Kid is the protagonist of "Blood Meridian," the antagonist is the Judge. At one time or another, each man in the gang has crossed paths with him, although they cannot remember just how the encounter occurred. The Judge is indifferent to the violence committed by the gang. He is also a participant and a killer of children. Violence is the nature of man, seems to be the Judge's estimation of humanity or the lack of it. At one point he says, “War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner.”
In an interview of McCarthy conducted by Richard Woodard of the New York Times in 1992, the following appears: "There's no such thing as life without bloodshed," McCarthy says philosophically. "I think the notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Those who are afflicted with this notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. Your desire that it be that way will enslave you and make your life vacuous." See "Cormac McCarthy's Venomous Fiction" http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/05/17...
Eerily, at on point, the Judge proclaims, "Nothing exists without my consent." The Judge keeps a notebook handy, meticulously rendering drawings of antiquities and artifacts in his personal journal. After reproducing the item, making it his personal property, he destroys the original object, preventing its discovery by anyone else.
As the depredations of the Glanton gang continue to pile up, the Kid is an observer of the relentless violence, but is a relatively mute witness. It is only much later, after the demise of the gang that the Kid confesses to his participation in Glanton's murder of hostile and friendly Indians alike. To Glanton, a scalp was a scalp. Its origin was irrelevant as long as it produced a bounty.
Once the last page of "Blood Meridian" is turned the only conclusion to be reached is that evil exists in the world. One can react to it, participate in it, or be indifferent to it. In the final pages of the novel, the Judge dances to fiddlers in a brothel and saloon, proclaiming he will never die. And, perhaps that is true. Evil, not confronted never dies.
As to the fate of the Kid? By novel's end, the Judge refers to him as the Man and that he is sorely disappointed in him. What transpires in the Judge and the Kid's final meeting is ambiguous, subject to interpretation just as life will always be. That the Judge meant to possess the Kid is unquestionable. To the degree that the Judge took the Kid is open to question.
McCarthy concludes "Blood Meridian" with a curious epilogue. A lone figure treks across the desolate southwestern landscape, tapping holes into the ground, striking sparks with each blow. His identity is not revealed. But he is followed by a band of wanderers who observe him at his work. A symbol of fencing in the tractless wasteland, the bringing of civilization, or a matter of greed led by the Judge in his endless dance?
In another excerpt from the Woodard-McCarthy interview is McCarthy's observation: "The ugly fact is books are made out of books," he says. "The novel depends for its life on the novels that have been written." His list of those whom he calls the "good writers" -- Melville, Dostoyevsky, Faulkner -- precludes anyone who doesn't "deal with issues of life and death." Proust and Henry James don't make the cut. "I don't understand them," he says. "To me, that's not literature. A lot of writers who are considered good I consider strange."
"Blood Meridian" is a kaleidoscopic portrayal of the inevitability and existence of violence. It brings to mind the swirling violence of a Sam Peckinpah film, the paintings of Heironymous Bosch, and Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" as reconstructed in Coppola's "Apocalypse Now."
This may be the most disturbing book I've ever read. Yet, it will remain completely unforgettable.
"The Name of the Rose" is not a book to be picked up lightly with the expectation that you, the reader, are about to embark on a traditional work of h...more"The Name of the Rose" is not a book to be picked up lightly with the expectation that you, the reader, are about to embark on a traditional work of historical fiction. Umberto Eco expects much from the reader of this book. Almost immediately the unsuspecting reader will find himself dropped into the midst of the High Middle Ages, a society completely foreign for the majority of modern readers.
In historical context, the story occurs during the time the Papacy had moved from its traditional location in Italy to Avignon. John XXII is a Pope brought to the head of the Holy Roman Church by the King of France. John is not the first Pope to leave the Church's Italian home.
However, it is 1327, and great dissatisfaction pervades Europe that a French King should have political influence over the Church. Traditionally, following the division of the Roman Empire between West and East, the secular protection of the Church had fallen to the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, a title held by members of the royal families of Germany. In that year, Louis IV would declare himself the King of Italy and in 1328 he would crown himself the next Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
Louis' entrance into Italy was inevitable, as King Phillip of France had encouraged an alliance with the "French" Pope through his connection with the King of Naples. Louis' sympathies, or perhaps his political acumen, led him to support the Franciscan Order, committed to the life of poverty. This was in direct contradiction to the Papal Bulls issued by John XXII, who saw the Franciscan Orders as a disruptive force among the common people. Off shoots of the Fransiscan's, particularly the Psuedo-Apostles, led by Fra Dolcino, had led to absolute chaos in Italy. Dolcino's common followers attacked the wealthy to bring about a universal state of poverty. There should be no rich. There should be no poor. The ultimate goal of Dolcino was to abolish the need of the Church and place it under the authority of the people. Under this theory, there was no need for Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, or ecclesiastical offices of any type.
William of Baskerville's purpose in going to the Abbey of Melko is as an emissary of the Imperial Theologians to negotiate a meeting between legations appointed by the Pope and Louis to resolve the conflict between the Papacy, the Minorite or Franciscan orders, and Louis. What is at stake is a reinterpretation between Church and State. That the underlying issue concerns who will wield true power in Europe is obvious.
However, William's true mission is delayed. For, upon his arrival, he discovers that a young Illuminator in the Abbey's Scriptorium has met an untimely death. Was it murder or suicide? The death of a second monk, clearly indicates that someone in the closed society of the Abbey of Melk is a murderer.
Accompanied by his scribe, Adso, William sets out to investigate the deaths of the two monks. The mystery only deepens as more deaths occur. The circumstances seem to follow the sounding of the trumpets as revealed in the Revelation of John.
Eco continues to complicate the facts of William's case by revealing that the Abbey contains one of the finest libraries known in the contemporary world. Interestingly, no one but the Librarian, his assistant, or someone with the permission of the Abbot himself can gain entry to the library, which is protected by a labyrinth seemingly incapable of being navigated.
William of Baskerville is the equivalent of a Medieval Sherlock Holmes. Adso, whose French name happens to be Adson, conveniently rhyming with Watson. William is a man committed to logic. He is a student of Roger Bacon. He is a contemporary of William of Occam. It should come as no surprise that he is capable of the art of deduction through that logic, nor that he should be in possession of a pair of optical lenses, serving him as eyeglasses enabling him to read the tiny writing of a murdered monk, barely perceptible to the naked eye. The monk's almost invisible writing lead William and Adso to discover the secrets of the labyrinth and to search for a book that seems to hold the motive for the accumulating bodies, day by day.
The Abbot pointedly tells William that the matter of these deaths must be resolved prior to the arrival of the two legations. The Papal legation is headed by Bernard of Gui, an infamous inquisitor who has burned many a heretic in his long history as a defender of the faith. Surely Bernard will take over the question of the deaths at the Abbey and use them to strengthen the Pope's position that the Franciscan's philosophy of the poverty of Christ be eliminated by the Pope.
William and Adso's exploration of the labyrinth to discover a missing book, the seeming motive for the murders, intensify. And they succeed in discovering their way through the labyrinth. However, they are unsuccessful in unraveling an endless thread of textual clues leading from one manuscript to the next prior to the arrival of the two opposed legations.
As feared, the discovery of yet another body, the herbalist Severinus, leads Bernard Gui to take over the inquisition to root out the evil present in the abbey. Bernard is ruthless. Torture is an accepted practice to disclose the works of the devil. As expected, Bernard announces he intends to inform the Pope that the Franciscan orders of Poverty should be prohibited.
Nevertheless, William and Adso will solve the mystery of the labyrinth, the secret manuscript it contains, and the identity of the murderer. In keeping with my practice not to reveal any spoilers of plot, I will not address the identity of the murderer, nor the motive for the crimes.
But, I will say this. "The Name of the Rose" is a labyrinth complete within itself. While a labyrinth may contain a solution, and one may escape its twists and turns, it is not always possible to end up with an answer that leaves no ambiguity. There is more than one labyrinth present in Eco's wonderful work. One question relates to the interpretation of knowledge itself. Is knowledge finite? Are there universal truths? Or is it a matter of what appears to be the truth only subject to interpretation by individuals?
To the librarians of the Abbey Melko, knowledge was something to be protected from disclosure. As I mentioned to one friend, the library took on the connotation of Eden's Tree of Life, from which man and woman were forbidden to eat. It was knowledge gained from eating the forbidden fruit that led to the loss of innocence. Considering that the library contained many works considered by the librarians to be the work of infidels, it would be their purpose to hide those works from the innocent. Yet, the mere possession of that knowledge also led to its misinterpretation and the accusation of heresy.
Clearly, during the heated debate between the Papal and Imperial Legations, knowledge did not exist independent of the thinker's perception. One postulation of a particular theological theorem was subject to debate on the most minute detail out of political motivation.
But, Adso may well have had the most significant statement to make regarding books and their contents. It will be one of my favorite passages:
"Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.”
Even William was subject to hearing words so familiar, he knew he had read them before, but could not remember the name of the book. “It seemed to me, as I read this page, that I had read some of these words before, and some phrases that are almost the same, which I have seen elsewhere, return to my mind?”
Books find themselves the creator of other books,when they become so deeply planted in our subconscious. A famous contemporary example is found in Nabokov's "Lolita." Nabokov's character first appeared in a short story "Lolita," written in 1916 by Heinz von Eschwege. The story lines are quite similar. Nabokov has been said to have created artistic improprieties, or been subject to a phenomenon known as "cryptomnesia," a hidden memory of a story he had once read. Michael Marr, author of "The Two Lolitas," wrote, "Literature has always been a huge crucible in which familiar themes are continually recast..."
Perhaps James Baldwin said it best. "It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive."
As "The Name of the Rose" contains a multitude of Latin phrases, I think it fitting to add one more, not included in the book itself. That is "sub rosa." The concept first appears in Egyptian culture. The rose was the symbol of the Egyptian God Horus, most often represented by a child holding his finger to his mouth as if he were saying, "Shhhh." It became symbolic of silence. It reappears in Greek and Roman mythology. Venus/Aphrodite gave a rose to Cupid which served as a symbol of silence regarding her many indiscretions in love.
By the Middle Ages, the rose had a definite meaning. In those times, when a party of individuals met in a council hall, a rose was hung over the table. Whatever was discussed "under the rose" was secret and all parties meeting under the rose agreed that the subject of their discussions was confidential. Much lies under the surface of this novel. It was deemed by the characters to be secret. And so, I believe Eco would have us treat this novel in modo sub rosa, leaving each reader to discover its secrets in their own manner. The further one delves, the more secrets remain to be discovered.
Stewart O'Nan's A Prayer for the Dying, A Reminiscence for the Living
It is slightly after 12:30 a.m. But I am not sleeping. I have just completed A Pr...moreStewart O'Nan's A Prayer for the Dying, A Reminiscence for the Living
It is slightly after 12:30 a.m. But I am not sleeping. I have just completed A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O'Nan. Rarely have I read a novel that I am compelled to review immediately upon completing it. But this is one.
Much has gone on in my personal life since a killer tornado passed through our town, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on April 27th. Shortly afterward, my mother developed a serious case of pneumonia. Although the pneumonia was cured, she was immediately diagnosed with emphysema. A spot on the lung in an x-ray, which might have been a mere shadow was cancer. Next she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. The diagnoses were numbing. However the prognosis was good. She was released from the hospital on a relatively small amount of oxygen, small enough to allow her to travel about with one of those portable units that you've perhaps seen people walking around with, nothing more than what you might see in a stylish shoulder bag.
In August, my mother had her second bout of pneumonia. She came home with an oxygen concentrator delivering nine liters of oxygen per minute. Our traveling days were over. I promised her that she would remain in her home as long as possible. My wife and I moved into my Mother's home. From August till now, I put my law practice on hold. I am an only child. The duty of being the primary caregiver was mine and mine alone.
The oncologist said that it appeared the radiation treatment had done its job. When she returned the end of this month, she expected to find nothing but a small amount of scar tissue. We were all optimistic.
Last week, something was obviously wrong. The shortest walk, even tethered to nine liters of oxygen wasn't enough to keep her from being physically exhausted. I got one of those small flyweight wheelchairs to get her from den to bath and bedroom.
On last Thursday evening, my mother began to choke. She was gasping for breath. Although she had stubbornly insisted that she would ride out this long journey at home, she told me to call 911. The front of the house was reflected in reds and blues from the emergency vehicles that parked alongside the front of the house and filled the driveway.
It was a trip by ambulance to our hospital. It was a long night in the emergency room. About 3:30 am. she was admitted to the acute stroke unit. It was not that she had a stroke, it was the only monitored bed available in the entire hospital.
On Saturday, she was moved to a regular respiratory floor monitored bed. I was glad. So was she. Visiting hours were limited to only thirty minutes every four hours on the stroke unit. On the floor, my wife and I, my aunt and two of her grandchildren were able to keep her company.
But, I couldn't help but notice that what had been 9 liters of oxygen was now 15, an incredibly significant increase. Yesterday, about 8:25 am, mother was admitted to intensive care. The fifteen liters were not holding her.
The irony of the situation is that I had begun reading O'Nan's "A Prayer for the Dying" that very morning. I carried it with me to the hospital during the long visiting hours.
I read sporadically through the day. A day of hospital visiting is not conducive to uninterrupted reading. Most of the day passed in conversation with my mother as her breathing allowed. But when I came home that night, I was immersed in O'Nan's novel about a small Wisconsin Township called Friendship.
It begins on a beautiful summer day. It is 1866. The American Civil War is still fresh on the minds of the citizens of Friendship. Jacob Hansen, himself, a veteran, who fought extensively in the Kentucky campaigns, has returned to Friendship where, seen as a natural leader, he is the town constable, undertaker and deacon of his church, where he frequently fills in as preacher.
Jacob carries out his duties with great satisfaction over a job well done. He has a happy home life, married to the beautiful Marta, and the proud father of their young daughter Amelia, who has just gotten her first tooth.
1866 is a year when it is still not unusual to see veterans of the war looking for their next meal, or next place to sleep. When Jacob is summoned to a nearby farm of a bee keeper, his attention is first diverted to the drone of the bees and the keepers industry in gathering honey from the hives, raking the sweet from the combs rich with the golden treat. It is a beautiful day, blue skies, bright sunshine, with dots of clouds scudding across the sky in the hot summer breeze.
The bee keeper calmly tells Jacob that there is a deadman behind the hives down in the woods. One of his sons will carry him to the body's location. Jacob immediately recognizes him as one of the many wandering veterans homeless,bivouacking wherever he can find a spot. Jacob notes that his pockets have been turned inside out. One of his few belongings, a tin cup, frequently issued to troops is readily recognized by Jacob.
The farmer and his children all deny having touched anything. But Jacob suspects that the bee keeper who has lost his wife recently would not be above picking the pockets of a dead soldier to search for anythng of value. Jacob notes the odd coloration of the dead soldier's skin and the presence of blood about his nose and lips. Doc Cox must take a look at the dead man. There's not a mark on his body.
Jacob enlists one of the bee keeper's sons to carry the body into the Doctor's Office. Jacob drops the soldier's tin cup. The youngest child "Bitsy" politely hands Jacob the cup. On the ride into town, Jacob spies the body of a woman in a pasture. Upon checking on her, she is alive, but mad. She is obviously a resident of the Colony outside of Friendship, run by the Reverend Grace. Rumors abound around Friendship concerning the possibility of lewd behavior of the women residents there, with the Reverend Grace as their satanic leader in all possible improprities.
Upon arriving in town, the dead man and the mad woman are placed into the care of the local Doctor. The Doc rapidly diagnoses the soldier's deat as being caused by diptheria. At that time, diptheria was a dreaded disease, highly contagious, that spread like wild fire. The Colony resident also shows signs of infection as well. The Doctor cautions Jacob not to drain the body for preservation, but to bury it, not exposing himself to any possibility of infection. Yet, Jacob, out of his respect for the dead, properly drains the soldier's body, filling him with formaldehyde to properly prepare the body for burial.
Jacob continues to enjoy his idyllic life with Marta and daughter Amelia. However, it is evident that Diptheria is spreading rapidly throughout Friendship, its source unknown. Marta begs Jacob to allow her to take Amelia and seek safety with relatives in a nearby town. But Jacob reassures her that all will be well and cautions her that it would serve as a poor example to the Township were he to allow his wife and child to seek safety elsewhere.
Soon, Jacob is dealing with a full blown epidemic of Diptheria, resulting in the quarantine of the town--no one leaves and no one comes in.
What begins as an idyllic summer day turns Friendship into Hell itself. Although Jacob's personal life may disintegrate around him, he will continue to perform his duties as constable, deacon and undertaker.
Interestingly, each of Jacob's honorable judgments lead to more dire circumstances for the people of Friendship. Jacob's effort to do the honorable thing lead him from being beloved of the town, to despised, as he enforces the quarantine. Tension mounts as a wild fire burns out of control towards Friendship. Jacob must save those untouched by the sickness and leave those infected to the flames. It is a decision that will tear him apart.
This afternoon, I presented my mother's living will to the nurse's station directing a do not resuscitate order on her chart. My mother's primary physician met with us to tell us that all that could be done had been done. Mother reiterated no ventilator, that she did not wish to prolong her illness. I shared a special friendship with my mother. She always rode shotgun on my rambling day trips no matter how boring it may have been for her. Those trips ended in May of 2011. I will miss them greatly.
Any work of an author is a living thing. It serves as an interaction between author and reader. O'Nan will never have any idea of how he spoke to me of bravery, duty, responsibility, love and sacrifice. Nor will he ever know how I have come to appreciate the growing loneliness of Jacob Hansen. I am thankful for the comfort of the company of my wife. But I owe Stewart O'Nan a debt of gratitude. It is in this interaction between reader and author that books continue to live long after they have gone into print. It is this connection between reader and writer that gives life to books and causes them to breathe.
For my Mother, Ann M. Sullivan, August 27, 1935 till time stops. Prl(less)
Cain at Gettysburg: Ralph Peters' Perspective on Three Days in July, 1863
The Killer Angels will remain the most beloved Gettysburg novel. Michael Shaa...moreCain at Gettysburg: Ralph Peters' Perspective on Three Days in July, 1863
The Killer Angels will remain the most beloved Gettysburg novel. Michael Shaara's skillful writing, mythic portraits, and romantic view of the battle make it incomparable.--From Peters' Afterword to his novel
Peters starts out just fine. But calling Shaara's work "mythic" and "romantic?" Peters continues to say that there is enough material that emerges from the battle of Gettysburg that a dozen novels could be written about those three days in July. Peters has certainly written one, which he describes as more fitting for generations of Americans who have not served in the ranks. He further informs us that he has studied the battle of Gettysburg for more than fifty years.
On that note it surprises this reader that Peters attributes the battle of Gettysburg being fought over shoes, one of the most popular myths that has entertained generations of school children. General Lee's troops were under direct orders not to enter a general engagement in Gettysburg until the whole army had gathered. General Harry Heth used the story of the possibility of the presence of shoes as his excuse for entering the town. Of course, Confederate forces had no intelligence about what lay before them as Jeb Stuart in charge of Lee's Cavalry had provided no intelligence of the location of Union forces, much less the presence of provisions in Gettysburg. So Peters begins his epic tale with a mythic portrayal of his own.
I give Peters great credit for his portrayal of Confederate and Union fighting men. Here are Southerners from the Blueridge, and Union forces of Irish, Polish and German immigrants. Their dialogue rings true. We witness their hardships, their courage, and their loyalty to their causes.
Further, Peters' battle scenes crackle with a grit and bloodiness that speaks of Peters' military career. His depiction of the effective use of artillery drive home the futility of Pickett's Charge, the final assault at Gettysburg, cementing Robert E. Lee's greatest mistake.
In Peters' effort to produce a novel far different than The Killer Angels, he focuses on different areas of combat, especially General Sickles almost fatal advance beyond Union lines in the Peach Orchard on the second day of combat.
It is interesting to note that Peters excludes action around Devil's Den and the repeated attempts to take Little Round Top. Joshua Chamberlain's name does not appear in Cain at Gettysburg. For the reader who is not familiar with lesser known officers on both sides of the battle, having a basic guide to the battle at hand would be helpful. Peters presupposes the reader has a great understanding of the ground and men who fought there. Essential background is missing from this work.
Booklist in a blurb prominently plastered on the cover of this novel claims that Peters "Surpasses Michael Shaara's classic The Killer Angels...Brilliant...Brilliant. Starred Review." While worthy of a read, it doesn't come close to Shaara's achievement.
The Bottoms: Joe R. Lansdale's Edgar Award Winning Mystery
Joe R. Lansdale
Just a few weeks ago my neighbor handed me a copy of By Bizarre Hands, the f...moreThe Bottoms: Joe R. Lansdale's Edgar Award Winning Mystery
Joe R. Lansdale
Just a few weeks ago my neighbor handed me a copy of By Bizarre Hands, the first anthology of short stories by Joe R. Lansdale. My neighbor is a professor of literature. I take his recommendations seriously. It was my first exposure to Landsdale. I was impressed.
I finished the anthology a few days before travelling to Texas to visit my wife's cousin, Kathleen. I usually travel with a book set in my destination. I chose The Bottoms to take along.
While some may question my classifying this novel as a work of Southern Literature, Texas is a mighty big State. It consists of distinct geographic areas, populated by very diverse people. Cross into Texas from Louisiana and you find yourself in East Texas, marked by huge tracts of pines, riversswamps, and the bottoms of the Sabine River.
The area is decidedly "Southern" as opposed to Cowboy country. It is the land of "The Big Thicket" that covers miles of territory which was known as a place in earlier days into which one could go and rarely be found if that was the traveler's intention.
The Big Thicket
Landale's novel is narrated by Harry Collins, now in his nineties, the resident of a nursing home. Recognizing his mortality, he tells the tale of life with his family in the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Thirteen year old Harry was the son of a loving mother and father, and doted on baby sister, Tom, short for Thomasina. Yes, Tom is a tomboy. Harry and his family are better off than most. His father is a farmer, a barber, and most important, the town constable. Both his parents have a strong moral code stressing the value of human life no matter the color of another person's skin.
Should the reader think this is sounding familiar, it should. This is Lansdale's move of To Kill a Mockingbird from Alabama to Texas. As Jem and Scout were intent on bringing Boo Radley out of hiding, so Harry and Tom are fascinated with an elusive figure known as "The Goat Man."
"The Goatman" is a well known Texas folklore legend. Outside of Denton, Texas, stands the old Alton Bridge, built in 1884. A black goat farmer Oscar Washburn lived nearby. In 1938, for reasons unknown, he was dragged from his family home, and lynched by hanging from the Altmon bridge. When the Klan came back to check on the their handiwork, Washburn's body was gone. Through decades, the Goatman has been sighted on the Alton bridge, sometimes as a figure leading herds of goats, sometimes carrying the heads of two goats, and sometimes as a figure half man and half goat.
The Goatman's Bridge
Known also as a writer of horror, it comes as no surprise that the Goatman appears as a central figure of interest courtesy of Joe Lansdale. The only change being that the bridge has been transformed into a deteriorating swinging bridge. Come on, it's near Halloween. Just go with it.
The Goatman of Texas Lore
Harry and Tom are accompanied on their adventures by an unforgettable dog named Toby. Although severely injured, Toby is indestructible and a loyal companion to his kids.
While out squirrel hunting, Harry and Tom find the body of a black woman, mutilated, and bound in barbed wire. Their discovery becomes the first of a series of murders. Constable Collins doggedly pursues the killer, although the white population shows no concern. Of what value is a dead black woman who was nothing more than a prostitute?
Racism rears its ugly head. Following in the footsteps of Atticus Finch, Collins is determined to solve the murders. His white neighbors dub him a "nigger lover."
Things rapidly turn uglier when a white woman becomes a victim of the mysterious killer. The Klan comes out and lynches an innocent black man. Jacob Collins crawls into a bottle when he is unable to prevent the Klan from carrying out hanging Oscar, the man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Poor Mose has lived alone since the disappearance of his wife and brain addled son years ago.
The town settles down until another white woman is found dead. This victim is no prostitute, but a respected member of the community, sought after by many suitors. Think "Miss Maudie."
Jacob Collins wreaks vengeance on the ring leaders of Mose's killers. He climbs out of the bottle to bring the real killer to light. Harry and Tom begin their longest journey one night, just as Jem and Scout did. Tom is the killer's intended victim. And the Goat Man comes out just as Boo Radley did.
The Bottoms is a satisfying read. However, I would have found it more satisfying had it ended with Jacob sitting up in Tom's room, knowing he would still be there the next morning.
There are flaws in this book. There are numerous sub-plots setting up other possible suspects that Lansdale's solution is to wrap them up in an extended epilogue by Harry which borders on the tedious. I found Harry's lengthy conclusion less than satisfying. I leave it to the reader to make their own determination.
Perhaps this is Joe Lansdale's homage to that masterpiece of Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird. I'll give him the benefit of a doubt. This novel is an expansion of his young adult novella,Mad Dog Summer found in Mad Dog Summer: And Other Stories. Lansdale is currently producing a film of The Bottoms, starring Bill Paxton.
Joe R. Lansdale is a prolific writer. The Bottoms captured the 2001 Edgar Award for best mystery. He has won the British Fantasy Award, the American Horror Award and has scooped up nine Bram Stoker Awards, and was voted a World Horror Grand Master. He is the author of the popular Hap and Leonard Series. His latest novel is The Thicket. Lansdale, born in Gladewater, Texas, now lives in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he is the writer in residence at Stephen F. Austin. (less)
The Tilted World: Tom Franklin & Beth Ann Fennelly's Tag Team Novel
I've followed the career of Tom Franklin from his initial anthology Poachers. H...moreThe Tilted World: Tom Franklin & Beth Ann Fennelly's Tag Team Novel
I've followed the career of Tom Franklin from his initial anthology Poachers. He is a dizzying wonder of the genre that has become known as "Grit Lit." These are the stories of the Rough South hearkening back to Harry Crews, Tim McLaurin and others. He's provided the introduction to Grit Lit: A Rough South Reader that gives about the best explanation of this growing subgenre of Southern Literature I've read.
Read through his collected works following Poachers--Hell at the Breech based on The Mitcham County War in Clarke County, Alabama; Smonk, in which a vile dwarf vows to kill every man in another small Alabama town, and you wonder where this pleasant man with a winning smile comes up with his ideas. Franklin mellowed somewhat with Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. In fact, I told a close goodread friend I thought this was Franklin's effort at a breakthrough novel, winning a wider audience.
In short, I admire Franklin's skill as a writer greatly. However, as an avid reader, I've noted women don't fare too well in his previous stories and novels. His tales generally comprise the world of men. It's not that they are absent. In Smonk, ladies abound, but only as widows as Smonk sets out to weed out the male population. Now, there's an exceptionally tough young woman named Evangeline on Smonk's trail. However, let's just say, as a woman she has some serious issues, capable of the same degree of violence as Smonk.
Now, Tom Franklin seems to have gotten in touch with his feminine side. Don't be fooled, although goodreads shows Franklin as the sole author. His co-author is his wife Beth Ann Fennelly, noted poet, head of the MFA program at the University of Mississippi (Tom's boss?) and the author of Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother
I've had the pleasure of meeting Tom Franklin upon the debut of his last three novels. Chatting with him is always a pleasure. Recently I saw him at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, excitedly asking Daniel Woodrell to sign HIS latest, The Maid's Version. I asked Franklin how was it co-writing The Tilted World: A Novel with his wife. He gave one of his trademark grins and said, "We survived." Indeed they did. And before we get to the meat of the coconut, I hope this won't be their last collaboration.
Here's the writing team:
Franklin & Fennelly
Set in the small river town of Hobnob, Mississippi, during the Great Flood of 1927, Franklin provides the grit we've come to expect. However, the star of this novel is Dixie Clay Holliver. She was originally a Birmingham, Alabama, girl. But charming Jesse Holliver began to call on her in her family's home when Dixie was just twelve. Holliver dressed well. He claimed to be a wealthy trapper earning great profits trapping furs.
Dixie's family consented to Holliver's proposal when she turned sixteen. On reaching Hobnob, Dixie Clay learned she was married to one of the biggest bootleggers who business extended from Mississippi, up through Tennesse, and over to Alabama. Although Dixie would be a jewel for most men, Jesse was a sporting man, not about to abandon his visits to the ladies of all the gentlemen's night visits in the area.
Dixie's a practical woman. She learns fast. It would be best if she took to tending the still while Jesse took over just the distribution. Dixie Clay's a crack shot and finds she manufactures the best whiskey ever produced in the area. She adds class to the product, bottling the whiskey in labelled bottles. Business is just fine.
However, Jacob, the son Jesse makes on her dies young. She is humiliated to track Jesse down at one of the local sporting houses, asking the Madame for her husband to come down. Jesse's answer is simple. There'll be other babies.
But more is coming to Hobnob than the Great Flood. Two Prohibition Agents have paid a call on Jesse. He claims business as usual telling Dixie he bribed them. Dixie suspects Jesse just may be a murderer because those two Agents have gone missing according to folks in town.
Neither Jesse or Dixie Clay know that Herbert Hoover, the Secretary of Commerce, who has been sent by Calvin Coolidge to head up flood control and rescue operations, has sent out two unbribable Prohibition Agents, Ted Engersoll and Ham Johnson to find the missing agents. The two have been partners since watching each others backs during World War One. The men are posing as levee engineers to cover their real reason for coming to Hobnob.
The Great Humanitarian? Hoover will be swept into the White House as a result of his presence during the Great Flood.
Along the way, Ted, who was raised an orphan finds a dead family. Only a small boy, an infant survives. Ted checks out the local orphanage, finds it unacceptable, and fosters the child until by chance he crosses the path of Dixie Clay. Hearing Dixie has recently lost her own child, what better solution could Ted have found than a bereaved mother. Ted leaves the child having no idea this new mother is the best bootlegger around.
Ted and Ham fuss over Ted's delaying their mission by rescuing the child. Ham will fuss even more when Ted begins to slip away, drawn to Dixie Clay whom he finds beautiful.
As the river rages, the levees are tested. Will they hold? The danger of saboteurs is real. Should somebody from the Arkansas side blow Hobnobs levee it's the Mississippi side that will flood. Jesse's in the thick of it as you would expect. Business is business.
The river and its tributaries are at their most treacherous. The Indians called it "The Place Where the World Tilts. Hobnob, filled with refugees from upriver, is a tragedy waiting to happen.
Just one image of the aftermath of The Great Flood
Franklin and Fennelly keep the pace fast and furious. These two writers have created a fine and satisfying read you will hate to see come to an end. This is a team of literary soul mates.
This is a solid 4.5 Star read. The only thing preventing that remaining .5 is that by focusing on the story of this small band of main characters, the full impact of the Great Flood is lost, Franklin and Fennelly's fine historical prologue nevertheless present.
"All Germans carry an image of Adolph Hitler inside them," I said. "Even ones like me, who hated Hitler and everything he stood for. This face with its tousled hair and postage-stamp mustache haunts us all now and forevermore and, like a quiet flame that can never be extinguished, burns itself into our souls. The Nazis used to talk of a thousand -year empire. But sometimes I think that because of what we did, the name of Germany and the Germans will live in infamy for a thousand years. That it will take the rest of the world a thousand years to forget. Certainly if I live to be a thousand years old, I'll never forget some of the things I saw. And some of the things I did."- Bernie Gunther