This is a very thoughtful book about mid-life crises, road trips, and fathers and sons. The author uses a five-thousand-mile road trip as the frameworThis is a very thoughtful book about mid-life crises, road trips, and fathers and sons. The author uses a five-thousand-mile road trip as the framework for him to reflect back on lessons he learned from his father, and to ponder the lessons he wants to pass on to his sons. Meanwhile, he, his best friend, and his two teenage sons take to the road to retrace the steps of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road." It makes for a very good read. ...more
This is a powerful book on multiple levels. It captures life in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, in the 1940s/1950s. It capsulizes the incredible story of onThis is a powerful book on multiple levels. It captures life in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, in the 1940s/1950s. It capsulizes the incredible story of one Russian Jewish family's immigration to the United States. And most of all, it tells the story of a young girl who had to navigate life with a mother who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (largely as a result of the aforementioned immigration) and depression. The young girl not only navigates life with her depressed mother, but goes on to become a psychotherapist who has overcome her own traumas and helps others. All in all, a very powerful and inspiring book....more
A great read. Full of sly and dark humor. John Rember is one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking writers around. He also happens to be a veryA great read. Full of sly and dark humor. John Rember is one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking writers around. He also happens to be a very funny and slightly subversive writer, all of which adds up to a great read. If you're a fan of either of Rember's previous two collections of short stories -- or of "Traplines" (his memoir) or "MFA in a Box" (his book on creative writing) -- you are in for a treat with "Sudden Death, Over Time." ...more
Through Their Strange Hours by Kent McDaniel is a collection of four inter-connected short stories that hang together nicely and give this collectionThrough Their Strange Hours by Kent McDaniel is a collection of four inter-connected short stories that hang together nicely and give this collection the feeling of a novella. The stories also provide a compellingly realistic portrayal of life in southern Illinois in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a place and time where the biggest challenge was finding ways to ward off apathy and the tedium of everyday life. Accordingly, McDaniel’s characters drop in and out of school, in and out of relationships, and experiment with everything from beer and pot to acid and crystal meth. In such a world, the most innocuous past-time was to grab a six-pack and take a drive with friends on the rural roads between Carbondale (home of Southern Illinois University) and Metropolis (a small town of 6,800 on the Ohio River across from Paducah, Kentucky).
The common denominator in these stories is Joe. We first meet Joe in “At the Edge of Town,” a story about ten-year-old Joe’s encounter with a local bully. Life seems innocent and wholesome enough at first, as Joe and his best friend, Mike, spend their time pedaling bikes around town and trading baseball cards. Young Joe finally gets his hands on a coveted Micky Mantle card, but when a local bully steals the card from Joe, the story turns dark. Joe goes to the edge of town to the bully’s home for a confrontation, but gets more than he bargains for and comes away with a different outlook.
In “Honoring Mike,” Joe is now a young man – a hippie who opposes the Vietnam War. But ironically, he is on his way to the funeral of his childhood friend, Mike, who was drafted and then died in the war. Joe is on edge because he knows the only reason Mike went to war was because Mike was drafted. But now a local reporter and local minister (both of whom were classmates of Mike and Joe) are now trying to cast Mike as a God-fearing patriot who should be seen as a hero/role-model for others. Joe knows that Mike was just a regular guy who would have preferred to be at home with his wife and family instead of off at war. In the end, Joe rebels against the hypocrisy of it all, leading to a great final scene.
We also meet Katie in “Honoring Mike,” and Katie figures prominently in the remaining two stories. Katie is a beautiful young woman with Cherokee blood. She is Joe’s first love, and their on-again, off-again relationship has a profound effect on Joe. In “Through Their Strange Hours,” Joe is now a college student who has joined the Naval Reserve but still experiments with pot and hangs out with people named “Madman,” “Paranoid” and “Mole Man.” Along the way, we learn that Joe has experimented with acid (and is now suffering from flashbacks), and broken up with Katie. He has also attempted suicide and is now seeing a “shrink” and taking multiple medications to battle panic attacks. In short, he’s a bit of a mess – and things only get more complicated when the local authorities of Metropolis conduct a pot bust and use scare tactics to get the local kids to rat on each other. Meanwhile, Joe is still holding out the hope of a getting back together with Katie. Things don’t look good for Joe, and you wonder if he is going to make it through in one piece.
“Acid Casualties” is the final story in this collection, and it picks up where “Through Their Strange Hours” leaves off: Joe is now rooming with Mole Man, and they have taken in a white cat named Casper who, like Joe, seems to be suffering from flashbacks (the result of a cruel prank by others who gave acid to the cat to see what would happen). Joe nurses Casper back toward normalcy, going so far as to share his anti-anxiety medication with the cat. At the same time, Joe seems to be trying to find his own way back to normalcy. But he’s hanging out with friends who get high and fantasize about forming a “revolutionary cell” and blowing up the local army recruiter’s office with cherry bombs, and he’s still haunted by what might have been with Katie.
The beautiful thing about these stories is that Joe, Katie and the other characters are lovingly presented, flaws and all. You feel for them because while they sometimes battle with each other, their real battle is with the world around them. It’s an uphill climb, but McDaniel’s storytelling ability pulls you in. There is a sadness to these stories, yet McDaniel also infuses the stories and characters with warmth and humor. In the end, you wish you could sit down on the banks of the Ohio River with these kids, share a six-pack, and just spend the afternoon talking with them. Instead, I encourage you to do the next best thing: read this book and hear their stories. ...more
This is a fun coming-of-age novel with one of those archetypal "bad influence" friends from your adolescence. I really enjoyed this book. The protagonThis is a fun coming-of-age novel with one of those archetypal "bad influence" friends from your adolescence. I really enjoyed this book. The protagonist is even-keeled Daniel McAllister, a guy who grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Chicago and then went on to better things. His best friend as an adolescent was Lance Parker -- one of those great, universal characters. We ALL had a Lance in our lives...the "bad influence" kid your parents didn't want around. Or maybe YOU were "Lance" when you were growing up...the guy who always had the crazy, irresponsible idea to do something you shouldn't do (in this case, go on a road trip to Wisconsin instead of going to your high school graduation ceremony). Somehow, we're never quite able to say "no" to the Lances in our lives, and in Cheeseland, Randy Richardson shows how that plays out over a lifetime. There are serious undertones to this novel, including some dark secrets that haunt Daniel and Lance from adolescence into adulthood. But there is also a lot of humor, especially on the aforementioned road trip, which hit close to home. I was a bit of a "Lance" in my day, and I remember all too well how a spur-of-the-moment idea like a road trip can lead to lots of fun -- and lots of trouble. You get both in Cheeseland. Bottom line: this is a very well written coming-of-age novel. Highly recommended. -Mike O'Mary, author of "Wise Men and Other Stories"...more
This is a powerful story and it is beautifully written. I recommend it to anybody who has dealt with the mental illness of a family member, with suiciThis is a powerful story and it is beautifully written. I recommend it to anybody who has dealt with the mental illness of a family member, with suicide, or with loss of any kind. It's a sad story, but it's a healing book....more