The characters in Chris Mendius’s novel, “Spoonful,” are expertly drawn: they are three-dimensional flesh-and-blood portraits of people. That is what...moreThe characters in Chris Mendius’s novel, “Spoonful,” are expertly drawn: they are three-dimensional flesh-and-blood portraits of people. That is what is so special about this novel, its humanization of the story’s central players, which, admittedly, is a feat that’s not normally highlighted. This seems a prerequisite to any bound book containing words, but it is unique when the characters are people that society often shuns: heroin addicts.
Mendius walks a tightrope between romanticizing his characters (and their drug use) and indicting them (and their drug use). It is easy to do either, but he skillfully does neither. He never once judges his characters, which is tastefully ironic given that these “types” of characters are exactly the types of people so often judged, and consequently demonized, by society at large. Michael, Sal, Lila and Dante, the book’s fascinating main characters, are as detailed as the book’s peripheral characters, like Teresa the den mother of a drug-dealing family in the hood, Stella the crusty pawnshop owner and Kenny the resident crack-head. These are real people. Again, it is very easy to veer down a side road of stereotypes, but Mendius keeps his hands firmly on the wheel. His characters are almost too real; at times you feel like these folks could be your neighbors (who knows, maybe they are?). For instance, Theresa’s son, Mookie, an aspiring high school football star, does his homework amidst the drug deals and loitering junkies (some of those junkies being extended family members).
The story takes place in Chicago in the 90’s – a time period I am wholly familiar with – and it captures that Generation-X feeling of apathy and directionless future with pinpoint accuracy. The book’s style is gritty realism. And I like that, I like that a lot. That doesn’t mean it is without humor or a sense of whimsy. On the contrary, it is very funny and loose. The drug use is also handled with class – some reviews have described the novel’s depiction of drug use as graphic, but I felt the opposite. It is described just enough, but not overly so. The drug use fades into the background as the characters – their personalities, their pathos, their behavior and interactions with other characters – take precedent. The addiction is quite simply part of the characters’ lives. It is that matter-of-fact, and I find Mendius’s handling of that part of their lives refreshing.
"Spoonful" succeeds as a novel. The story is unpredictable – it keeps you glued to the pages – but the outcome is also inevitable, and that’s extremely human. While you may or may not be a drug addict, or have dealt with addiction in the past, I believe that anyone can be the character Michael Lira. That’s how it feels: Mendius puts the reader right into his shoes and it’s the real deal. (less)
The asterisk – three lines intersecting, its limbs equidistant, enclosed in a circle – is not only a recurring symbol in Anderson O’Donnell’s novel, K...moreThe asterisk – three lines intersecting, its limbs equidistant, enclosed in a circle – is not only a recurring symbol in Anderson O’Donnell’s novel, KINGDOM, but it is also the perfect visual metaphor for the overall theme Mr. O’Donnell is driving at in this impressive debut.
On the surface, KINGDOM is a dystopian tale that channels near-future Philip K. Dick grit while gracefully dipping its toes into the deep end of some far-out sci-fi ideas. It is a visual novel; it’s – dare I say – cinematic. It’s LOGAN’S RUN, but steeped in our world, depicting an expectant future that’s right around the corner, and it is the novel’s merger of high-concept sci-fi and prescient realism that makes this work smart and, quite frankly, relevant. O’Donnell expertly weaves his narrative between three main characters: Dylan Fitzgerald (the lost son of the late Senator Robert Fitzgerald and KINGDOM’s ostensible hero), Jonathan Campbell (the venerable scientist and brain behind the genetic experimentation in Tiber City) and Michael Morrison (the hardnosed entrepreneur, unscrupulous scientist and central protagonist/villain, who usurps Campbell’s work, and sets the narrative’s plot precariously toward the point-of-no-return). While I’m sometimes skeptical of split narratives that will eventually tie themselves neatly together at the end – these narratives have been done to death, in both books and film – O’Donnell appropriately (and at times ingeniously) uses this storytelling device as a way to underscore his theme of disconnection. And it is through this theme of disconnection that O’Donnell illustrates the book’s pursuit of finding the opposite – a connection – much in the way Dylan finally finds his connection, a connection his father was unable to find for himself.
O’Donnell’s “connection” is manifested throughout the work by enigmatic – but by no means unfamiliar – phenomena like: love, hate, belief in a God, friendship, and the like. He employs a circular motif throughout the novel, which not only takes the form of the asterisk enclosed in a circle, but is also represented by the “Zero Movement” (a real time modern art movement, replete with requisite ones and zeroes) “coconut chairs,” the “Omega Gene,” and the physical eyes of characters, specifically the eyes a father passed down to hi son (and, unwittingly, passed down to the next crop of Tiber City’s political leaders). It’s all about connection. One end of the loop connecting to the other, forming a reciprocal bond, in a manner that’s both surprising and inevitable. That is faith, or what is expected of faith. Faith in something higher, something that is beyond our human comprehension; and while that “something” may be out of our reach in our common existence, it is that belief in its existence that imbues our lives with meaning. O’Donnell treads carefully along this theme, however; his work is not a polemic on the virtues of religion – in fact, it’s quite the contrary. I might argue that KINGDOM is a completely secular work, a work in which belief – specifically peoples’ religious beliefs – is misdirected. I might argue that the novel implies that belief is often misdirected: that belief is better focused on the people around us. However, I do not presume to think it is O’Donnell’s intention to marginalize religion. I think it is his intention to suggest its cultural marginalization, and marginalization of community as a whole, in a dystopian society that values egoism over the connection to something outside of ourselves, whether that something is another human being or a divine entity belonging to any one of a variety of religions. It is the idea of disconnection that thrives in much of modern dystopian fiction and sci-fi futurism, and O’Donnell takes the idea and runs with it, elevating it to a point where he seamlessly merges ethereal mysticism with the very tangible world of biotechnology. It is our connection with something outside of the self – be it other people or simply a belief in something bigger than us – that drives our lives, that makes us human, that connects one end of the circle to the other. In KINGDOM that adhesive glue that facilitates the connection we crave is called the soul.
KINGDOM is genre fiction of the highest order. It’s a book about characters, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a page-turner. But it also makes you think, and in plainest terms, that’s the mark of good literature. While the characters in KINGDOM struggle to search for their respective souls, Anderson O’Donnell has clearly found it himself; his writing is brimming with soul. If O’Donnell’s book is the “circle” of the asterisk, his characters and readers are the lines within, connecting to each other at the center.(less)
It's amazing this man is still alive. It's also amazing how wonderful and witty his writing is. Tremendous read, for Stones fans, music-lovers and non...moreIt's amazing this man is still alive. It's also amazing how wonderful and witty his writing is. Tremendous read, for Stones fans, music-lovers and non-music-lovers alike.(less)