Saturday, May 18, 2013
Saturday, May 11, 2013
The Pacific Journal Adam Ewing, as the title implies, is a journal of the protagonist’s adventure in the Pacific. Reading the story is like reading one of Joseph Conrad’s stories, with the European colonists dominating over the natives. Dr. Goose, Rev. Horrox and the first mate Boerhaave, epitomes of greed and callousness and the sense of entitlement, could be villains from The Heart of Darkness or Lord Jim.
Letters from Zedelghem is an epistolary about Robert Frobisher’s coming of age, and he could be one of Stendhal or Flaubert’s protagonists, charming his way through life until he meets his match.
Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery is a mystery written in multiple third-person POV and it is a John Grisham style thriller about a reporter stumbling into documents that reveal a nuclear plant’s safety issues. The company’s executives would do anything to conceal the problems. The hunger for energy drives the greed and ruthlessness of these executives. The Pelican Brief comes to mind.
The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish written in a first-person POV is a humorous account of the title character’s adventure in a retirement home, a twist on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Only through such an ordeal could this callous and cynical publisher learn to appreciate life.
The Orison of Somni-451 is a sci-fi about a fabricant server’s rise to self-awareness. The interview between the Archivist and Somni-451 reveals the sickness of the consumer-oriented society and the encroachment of technocracy. Reminiscent of A Brave New World and Oryx and Crake.
Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After is a first-person POV dystopian tale of survival in Hawaii. Humanity comes full circle from savagery to civilization back to savagery, as if, after Nea So Copros, society could only descend into barbarism. Again Oryx and Crake comes to mind.
The six tales would just be interesting stories, if written by six writers, but David Mitchell manages to cross genres—from mystery to sci-fi and from historical fiction to literary fiction—and integrate the stories through common human predicaments into a teleological vision.
Cloud Atlas, in addition to being great storytelling, is a postmodern study of text. In Sloosha’s Crossin’, an aged Zachry tells a yarn, where truth mixes with fiction, to a group of children. His son finds an orison which when warmed would create a hologram of Sonmi-451 telling her story, which is The Orison of Sonmi-451. And in Orison, Sonmi-451 watches a movie about a twenty-first century publisher called Timothy Cavendish. That movie is The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish. In Ghastly Ordeal, Timothy Cavendish receives from an author, the manuscript of Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery. In Half-Lives, Luisa Rey comes across Sixsmith’s letters: Letters from Zedelghem. And finally, in Letters, Robert Frobisher finds Adam Ewing’s journals in the famous composer’s house. And so, we go from yarn to stored data, to cinema, to novel, to letters, to journal—a journey through various communication media. In the spirit of Italo Calvino and other postmodern writers, Mitchell creates several levels of texts, and thus various levels of fiction. Since the aged Zachry is an unreliable narrator, we would question his yarn’s truth, as his son was doing so. The orison as stored data recounts an earlier historical period and might be true. Or is it, given the story of Orison is a setup to manipulate Sonmi-451? The movie The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish is fiction within fiction but since it is based on the life of the title character, the story may be true within Somni-451’s world. Half-Lives, Letters, and Pacific Journal are various levels of fiction within the novel Cloud Atlas.
Cloud Atlas is a modern masterpiece where the aesthetic form matches the intriguing stories. And the reader will continue to reflect on the human condition long after she has finished the book.
I saw the movie starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry around the same time I read the novel and I prefer latter over the former. The movie, which changed various stories’ endings, destroyed the beauty of the novel. I recommend reading the book rather then seeing the movie.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Sunday, March 31, 2013
In 1968, after recovering from an almost fatal accident and after his wife had died, Billy Pilgrim went to New York City and disclosed on an all-night radio program about having been kidnapped to the planet Tralfamadore. So he says.
In 1967 on his daughter’s wedding night, a flying saucer kidnapped him and took him to the planet Tralfamadore. He was displayed in a zoo and mated with a movie star Montana Wildhack. So it goes.
Billy Pilgrim was born in 1922 in Ilium, New York. He graduated from Ilium High School and attended the Ilium School of Optometry. So it goes.
In 1944, he went to South Carolina for maneuvers. He was an assistant chaplain, “powerless to harm his enemies or help his friends” Later that year, he went to Luxembourg to replace a deceased assistant chaplain just in time for a German attack. He survived but was behind the German lines. He met Roland Weary and they were captured by the Germans and sent to the extermination camp for Russian prisoners of war. So it goes.
In early 1968, Billy and other optometrists chartered a plane to go from Ilium to Montreal for a convention and the plane crashed on top of Sugarbush Mountain, Vermont. Only Billy and the copilot survived. So it goes.
His wife, having heard about the crash, drove to Vermont but had an accident on the way to the hospital. She was able to reach the hospital but died shortly after she arrived. So it goes.
He came back from the war in 1945 and returned to the Ilium School of Optometry. In his senior year, he was engaged to the daughter of the founder and owner of the school and suffered a nervous breakdown. So it goes.
In May 1945, the Germans shipped him and about a hundred American prisoners of war to Dresden as laborers and they lived in Slaughterhouse Five, where butchers used to slaughter cattle. About a month later American warplanes bombed the city and turned the streets into “the surface of the moon.” So it goes.
Through the time-shifts, Kurt Vonnegut simulates Billy Pilgrim’s experience and his delirium and the reader begins to understand a soul changed by war. Humorous, satirical, sad, and powerful. Slaughterhouse Five is a tale of the men brutalizing men and of an individual helpless against the current of history. The narrator describes Billy’s reactions toward his experiences rather than his feelings toward them. In the end, though Billy becomes a rich and successful optometrist in Ilium, he could only “get unstuck in time” through the Tralfamadoreans kidnapping him. So it goes.
Monday, March 18, 2013
In its March 2013 issue, Midwest Book Review recommends Leonard Seet’s novel Meditation on Space-Time from Excelsior Publishing, as “a strong pick” with “plenty of humor about life.” According to the review, the novel “follows one man who tries to consider the world around him and considers the very personal side to the universe-spanning question, trying to understand natural laws in an unnatural world.”
Meditation on Space-Time, A Novel (236 pp., tpb, $14.95) portrays a man’s struggle to discover his identity in contemporary society, to sacrifice for his friends and to take the road less traveled. For readers who would eat up the hero’s every morsel of laughter and tear as if each were bittersweet chocolate. While sifting through clues to the characters’ true identities and hidden agendas. The protagonist proclaims “More than once, the broken moon would cast through the window a silver light and remind me of independent events yielding to their own momentum and interacting under natural laws while my mind would impose happiness, grief, beauty, ruin justice and chaos.”
According to David Lentz, author of Bloomsday: the Bostoniad, “Leonard Seet has left no literary devices on the table to narrate his tale…I was enthralled by the pure beauty of the writing among all the plot points. The scintillating writing is elegant, pure, grownup, originally cast, heartfelt, intelligent… The writing is simply breathtaking… brilliant bit of poetic science… If you prefer intelligently crafted novels, then do yourself a favor and by all means read this unforgettable novel by Leonard Seet: the writing is to die for.”
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Book Review of Oryx and Crake
“Oh, Snowman, what happened to Richard Nixon?”
“Shit! I mean, egad. He has offended Almighty Crake and His wrath was upon him. The spraygun is holy unto Crake and only Snowman could touch it. As Dick touched it, the Great Crake smote him unto death.”
“Oh, Snowman, tell us what we must do to please Almighty Crake.”
“Well, Abe, first off, get Snowman four fish daily, make that six. You must understand the more fish, the more it would please Crake. And hear this all Crakers. Never touch the spraygun or thou shall be struck dead like Dick.”
“But oh, Snowman, why this object and not others?”
“Thus spake Crake, Thou shall not touch the spraygun.”
“Oh, Snowman, how did this world came to be?”
“What? Well, Marie, in the beginning, there was Crake and He…”
Damn Crake, it all your fault. You created this mess and now I have to clean up your cesspool. I should’ve killed you earlier. I just want to eat my ChickieNob and drink my Happicuppa coffee. But no, you have to create a new heaven and a new earth.
“And where did Crake come from?”
Snowman knows he will soon follow the footsteps of the dinosaurs and the Crakers will inherit the earth. He must leave them before he dies. And they would say he has rode a chariot of fire into the heavens where Crake dwells. They would venerate him as The Prophet and tell stories of how he slew the dragons, well, maybe just the wolvogs and pigoons.
Oryx and Crake is Margaret Atwood’s apocalypse, a bioengineering nightmare of wolvogs and pigoons and rakunks and of viruses embedded in aphrodisiac pills. Crake engineered a new species, the Crakers, and eliminated humans with an eboli-type virus. After killing Crake to avenge the death of his beloved Oryx, Snowman became the guardian of the new species and must protect them against the genetically engineered beasts as well as from knowledge and wisdom. When he discovers three human survivors, he must decide whether to befriend them or eliminate them.
Emily Antles in the nonfiction Frankenstein’s Cat depicted the current advances in genetic engineering. Today, bioengineers have created balding mice, glow-in-the-dark cats and cows that give therapeutic milk and they could just as easily make wolvogs, pigoons and rakunks.
The novel’s premise supplies food for thought, and though the writing isn’t as compelling as that in The Handmaid’s Tale, it is a worthwhile read.
Sunday, March 10, 2013
On a nochy, Your Humble Narrator Alex, a malchick not poogly of Bog or millicents and govoreeting in nadsat speak, peets chai in Korova Milkbar and then like goolys around the streets with his droogs to crast deng and cars. The banda removes platties including neezhnies from a ded and horrorshow shalagas his rot. They like drat another shaika’s nadsats and shives them with ozhs until horrorshow krovvy drip drip drip.
But when Alex tolchocks a baboochka with kots and koshkas and she snuffs it, he is loveted and sent to the Staja. To oodakeet jail earlier, he agrees to the Reclamation Treatment. And he viddys sinny of nadsats tolchocking deds and baboochkas and Nazis oobivating Yahoodys and all that cal until he would bolnoy at thinking of tolchocking another veck. He even wants to sick when he slooshys Ludwig Von’s Symphony No 9 and Wolfgang Amadeus’s Symphony No 41.
At one level, A Clockwork Orange is about the horror of teenage violence but at another, the dystopian novel is about the terror of a government trying to reengineer socially acceptable individuals. Anthony Burgess in the last chapter seems to imply that when teenagers grow up, the energy that drove them toward violence would propel them to construct society. Whether the reader believes such a thesis, the novel would give food for thought.
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Umberto Eco interleaves European history with Simonini’s exploits and integrates the Freemasons, the Jesuits, and the Jews in multiple conspiracies against each other. Political maneuverings that Machiavelli would applaud. But it is in manipulating the text into a multi-level narrative that Eco shows his genius.
At the first level are Simonini’s forged documents, including the letter Dreyfus wanted to send to the Germans and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which the protagonist knows to be fake and which we the readers believe to be so. At the second level are Simonini’s journal entries—including the fake Dalla Piccola’s writings—which our protagonist believes to be true (the diary describing how he had forged them) and which we the readers know is fiction (Eco’s novel) but aren’t sure whether our hero accurately recorded his exploits. At the third level are the Narrator’s comments throughout the novel to complement the diary and fill in the missing events, as a record of Simonini’s exploits. We the readers don’t know who the Narrator is and can only trust his/her account. But in the section “Useless Learned Explanations” the Narrator outlines the novel and reveals that all the characters beside Simonini are real people. And he/she even provides notes that reveal Hitler read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. At first, we the readers might believe these to be the author’s notes, but then we realize the Narrator is commenting on these events (Simonini’s narrative) as a historian and the comments are part of the novel.
A truly postmodern narrative, in the spirit of Jorge Luis Borges’s Ficciones, where each layer of narrative comments on a lower one until the reader questions the boundary between fact and fiction.
Monday, February 25, 2013
Handmaids are the vehicles of reproduction in the Republic of Gilead, where radiation from sabotaged nuclear power plants had reduced the birthrate and mutated three in four fetuses. The Angles root out threats to the theocracy—nuns, scientists, scholars, etc—by hanging them on the wall of Harvard Yard and displaying the hooded figures to the public. The bastion of freethinking has turned into an exhibit of tyranny. Instead of using Newspeak as in Orwell’s 1984, the leaders here deny the people education. But the idea is the same: without the ability to think and analyze and critique, the masses would only react to threats and occasionally rewards. Pavlovian conditioning.
The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel in the tradition of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. The means of control may be different, but the goal is the same. A subservient mass that would accept the social norm and cultural values, whether they be good or bad, without questioning their validity and without recognizing their assumptions and biases.
Margaret Atwood wrote the novel in the shadow of the religious fanaticism in Iran and Afghanistan, but she dedicated it to Mary Webster, an ancestor on her mother’s side who was tried for being a witch in Puritan Massachusetts, but survived the hanging. She understood that such a nightmare could happen anywhere in any century.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
Florentino Ariza falls in love with Fermina Daza and against the wish of her father, they are engaged. But at a whim, she calls off the marriage and later marries Juvenal Urbino, a distinguished doctor in the city. For fifty-three years, while Florentino rises through the ranks to become the President of the Caribbean Riverboat Company and takes on more lovers than he could count, he waits to possess Fermina, hoping Dr. Urbino would die before him or her. When the doctors dies, he arrives at her house at the age of seventy-eight and proclaims his love for her. And he wins her over and takes her on a voyage that he doesn’t intend to return.
Love in the Time of Cholera is a tale of carnal love in the early twentieth century Columbia. In a time of epidemics and revolutions, when life was as fleeting as the wind, passion seems more certain than tomorrow. Only Swann’s obsession with Odette—In Search of Lost Time—could match Florentino’s with Fermina. But as much as the premise of the novel is intriguing, I enjoy Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s prose much more than the plot or the characters. His writing creates a dream-like world where the sights, sounds and smells become mesmerizing. A world far away brought back through the magic of words into the reader’s imagination.
Saturday, February 9, 2013
Book Review of The Possibility of an Island
The species have reached immortality. Through cloning and the propagation of historical memories. But the time of the humans is over. It is the age of the neo-humans, clones without joy and grief, without neurosis, without community, without sexual desires. Only a lifetime of reviewing and of analyzing the life of the human from which their DNA came. A lifetime of isolation, except for a pet. A lifetime of pseudo-touch through electronic communications. A lifetime of reflection and contemplation.
When the grief, the denial, the struggle to remain virile and attractive dominated the aging man or woman, the life of the neo-human seemed heavenly. And no wonder the creator of these neo-humans chose to eliminate the neurosis associated with aging.
Neo-humans live without joy; and they die without grief. They don’t need food, only minerals and water. A superior race more suitable for survival. Living in a post-apocalyptic world. What does it mean when a few decided to leave their isolation, to end their immortality, to trek across the dried ocean surface, in search of a legendary community?
Would you choose to be human or neo-human?
The Possibility of an Island is a sad, sad depiction of the possibility, or impossibility, of humanity. Without youth and sexual virility, what is man or woman? When our mind and body decline, what do we make of life? Is a lifetime of tranquility more preferable to the fluctuations between joy and grief? What kind of Omega Point are we moving toward?
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
In Call It Sleep, David Schearl, the son of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, straddles between his Yiddish background and the American culture. The dialogues in the novel—Yiddish written in prose and English in dialect—highlight the clash and synthesis of the two worlds. It is the essential immigrant experience, to straddle between two cultures, to struggle with identity, and ultimately to reconcile and integrate the two into a new creation.
Manhattan’s Lower East Side has been a microcosm of the “melting pot” where Jews, Irish, Italians, Greeks, Chinese, Puerto Ricans and Russians mingle and yet retain their unique identities. Often, second and third generations move to more affluent neighborhoods, but this place remains “ground zero” for the dynamics of cultural synthesis. Henry Roth in Call It Sleep gives a glimpse of that cultural dynamics for the Jewish community. An essential novel for the immigrant experience.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
WHEN THE STRANGER STEPPED INTO THE CONFESSIONAL to narrate his crimes, which my vow had forbidden me from disclosing, I was meditating on space-time to recuperate from the ten-hour drive to Gilead, Tennessee.
Dark night the boundary between reality and dream somewhere at a memory’s frontier fading near a singularity’s ledge surfing upon a probability wave across the space-time fabric through a neutrino sea skirting the edges of black holes searching for dark matter searching for the Higgs Boson. Photon gluon graviton clusters crisscrossing tangling and weaving a unified fabric symmetric space-time hydrogen atoms merging and emerging a helium atom along with neutrinos and photons annihilation and creation interaction and transformation the brightest night the loudest silence the fullest void the darkest knowledge…
“Father, I sinned.”
The confessor’s rasp stirred me from my meditation, my dream, and I yawned and inhaled the stale air in the confessional. A strip of light slid through the door crack and cut across my left hand as I turned my head and my hair dusted the screen that separated me from the stranger. I wiped the sweat from my forehead and shifted to a more comfortable position on the hardwood seat. I stretched my left leg and kicked the confessional’s wall. The newspaper flew from my knee and rattled toward the floor as the article about genocide in Rwanda flickered between light and shade.
“Father, I sinned.”
The sound of sandpaper against steel sounded again beyond the screen. I twisted my body and my elbow knocked against the wall. I squinted but only saw a shadow distorted under the slanting light beyond the partition. Probably an insomniac who couldn’t afford to go to the bar.
Two days ago, I was chopping wood in the forest beside the monastery, and had looked forward to enjoying The Four Seasons in Boston’s Symphony Hall with my friends Camellia and Ichiro. I didn’t plan on visiting St. Barnabas Church in Gilead but this stranger, from some hallucination, had foreseen my arrival and booked me for therapy.
The penitent knocked twice on the other side of the partition. “Hey, dude, wake up from your wet dream, you’re supposed to say ‘when was your last confession’ or some crap like that. You hear me?” His breath was contaminating the air.
Perhaps I should grunt a mantra. But I was only a monk contemplating the meaning of death, the mystery of alternative universes and other such nonsense. What could I know about confessions? When a man in a Mission Hill soup kitchen confessed to using heroin and stealing his mother’s funeral dollars to keep the habit, I listened like a Buddha, not because my wisdom had transcended words and even sounds but because all replies, no matter how concise, how insightful, how articulate, appeared as frivolous as a gilded coffin. In the end, my friend Ichiro bailed me out by impersonating a priest.
Now, this insomniac beyond the partition, from some itch or pang, insisted on harassing a confession-phobic monk, who had evaded the parish, a.k.a. purgatory, by pretending to suffer from attention-deficit disorder. Had I wanted to hear about adultery, thievery, murder, or insider trading, I would’ve become a bartender or, unable to concoct spirituous potions, a pseudo-Freudian psychotherapist. Even now, twenty-three years later, after having one too many drinks, I would still dream of my former high school classmate Daphne, as she sobbed out her pain in a March evening. Her blue eyes, her blond hair, her smiles fleeing into the mist. In those dreams, unlike this reality, I actually pulled her out of the abyss.
“You should talk to Father Jones.” I offered my wisdom to the penitent. “He’d be glad to hear your confession. Why don’t I ask him to come over? I’m sure he’s not yet asleep. And even if he is, he’d delay his dreams and hear your confession in his pajamas.” Father Jones, the tongue-flapping priest who had begun substituting for this church’s parish priest five days ago, would savor this soul’s secrets as a thief would Queen Victoria’s crown. After delivering this stranger’s message but before allowing me to read it, the priest had already complained about not having heard any confessions in a week. He probably envied me for hearing one the first night here. Amid babbles about apple pie recipes, all-meat diets, school shootings and movie-star divorces, his eyes betrayed the lust for confessions—pyramid schemes, clandestine liaisons, corporate double-dealings or plain old government conspiracies. I wouldn’t be surprised if at this moment his ear was kissing the other side of confessional’s door and itching for some tale, some yarn, some anecdote of unadulterated sin. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a reformed con man who had sold aphrodisiacs or perpetual motion machines. Or a repentant banker who had bundled junk bonds, sub-prime mortgages and high-risk insurance policies into kosher derivatives. But he better not be taping with a recorder.
“You know, buddy, never confessed before so you can imagine I got lots to say, but of course ain’t got much time. So here we go if you don’t mind. Well, of course, even if you do, what can you do about it? To start with something simple, I’ve embezzled money. Oh, not from a bank or a high-tech company, no sir. That’d be dull and cliched as heck, not worth your time. Nope, I stole from a church and a nice one at that too. Well, ain’t nothing new, but the amount is something, you know?”
“You should return the money.”
“Hey, what’s this bullshit? You’re supposed to say ‘I absolve you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’ or some crap like that. If I wanted to return the money, what the hell am I doing here confessing? Right? What kind of a priest are you anyway? Don’t you know your only job’s to listen and to absolve sins? What else are you good for? Anyway, why’d I return the money? Ha, ha, we’re not talking about chicken feed, if you know what I mean. You have any stinking idea how much I took? Take a stupid guess. Oh forget it, with your petty allowances, you’d never seen that much money in your life. What’d priests know about money anyway? Hell, man, I bought a mansion with a marble hall, a wine cellar, an outdoor pool and complete automation, you know, with the latest hi-tech gizmos. I also bought a Lamborghini Gallardo even though I ain’t into racing. But hey, makes me look macho. Well, you know, helps to pick up chicks, I mean nice ones. Hell, I enjoyed every penny of it, as I’m sure you’d if you got the money. Not that you’ll ever see so much money, you poor pitiful man. But you probably understand indulgence, right?”
“If you’re trying to make me jealous, you’ve failed. Come, face me and we’ll talk, man to man. I want to know why you chose me for your hide-and-seek.” I peeked through the screen but the shadow doubled over with laughter and began choking before calming down.
“Father, I sinned. I got two mistresses and enjoy every minute with them. I made love to a minor—”
I opened the confessional’s half-hinged door and slipped out of the seat. I stepped on an insect and tiptoed into the hallway, where the statuettes of Peter, Paul and John guarded the Creation fresco in which a chip on the wall removed the serpent’s head. I wanted to open the confessional’s other door, mark out the fangs and two-prong tongue and squeeze the serpent-neck.
A door slammed, then footsteps echoed throughout the sanctuary. I scared away a rat and dashed down the hallway, past frescos of the Passover, the Passion, the Resurrection, and the Pentecost. I stepped into the sanctuary, where on the left wall a crucified-Jesus statuette stared down at the altar. I bypassed the altar and skipped down the marble steps. I sprinted down the aisle between cherry-wooded pews, while beyond the benches, under candlelight, the mosaic windows flaunted Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension scenes. Claw-like shadows darkened the multicolored windowpanes to overlay a second scene and cast phantoms onto the aisle and pews.
A draft wafted through the aisle. A screech, a thump and several clangs echoed through the sanctuary.
“Damn it,” Father Jones said. “Someone poked your eyes out, you clumsy fool? Get a new pair of eyes, man. Don’t you know it’s against the law to walk without eyes? Ouch, oh my poor and innocent back.”
When I reached the entrance, Father Jones was moaning on the floor beside a golden chalice while, near the door, holy water dripped from the baptized donation box. The priest rubbed his back and took out a flask of whiskey. He gulped down a mouthful and winked as if a mosquito had stung his eyelid. “Didn’t like your advice, did he? Well, don’t worry, the important thing is you heard his story. Oh, by the way, just between you and me, one priest to another, was it interesting? Visiting a prostitute? Cheating the IRS? Stealing intellectual property? Oh, come on, you can tell me.”
I helped Father Jones get up and sidestepped his whiskey breath. I ran through the candlelit foyer past the Madonna’s icons and exited the main entrance. The humid night air slammed into my face while a fly landed on the back of my hand. I flung it away, stepped out of the archway, and skipped down the steps into the graveyard. No footsteps, no shadows, only a raven cawing on a headstone.
I took out the flashlight and highlighted several headstones. The raven shrieked and flew into the fog. I stepped onto the earth searching for life among the dead, but only found the stench of rotten eggs mingling with the epitaphs.
The most generous person… Worked the hardest in the office… An inspiration for others… A pious man… Beloved son… Born April 1, 1979… September 2, 2007…
I felt I had awakened into the wrong city, the wrong year, the wrong dream. If I hadn’t heard the confession, I would’ve been more peaceful, ignorant of theft, fraud and statutory rape. Blessed be the ignorant.
Past the headstones, a fence stood at the ledge. Beyond the fence, below the hill, Gilead’s houses slumbered in the evening, while the town hall’s Tower of Babel pierced heavenward through the fog.
I came to Gilead only wishing to find Camellia, to know that she was safe, that she was well. I wanted her to break free from her nameless lover’s pull but preferred that she orbit around the married man than enter the black hole of her father Donald Larsen, that fugitive on the run from one Ponzi scheme to another. Under her father, Camellia had tasted enough pain and shouldn’t have to help him escape to Mexico or some Caribbean island, where on his beachfront mansion’s porch he would enjoy coladas and massages while his victims must dine in soup kitchens.
In the distance, above Memphis, neon lights against the fog hinted at the bankruptcies, the foreclosures, the layoffs, and the Pyramid schemes powering the land. But in front of me, a piece of paper taped to a cracked headstone was fluttering in the wind as if thumbing its nose at the heavenly shimmer. I stepped over a decomposing squirrel and scattered the flies. I grabbed the piece of paper, on which a smiley face was drawn above Camellia’s name.
While I glanced beyond the graveyard and pondered on the connection between the penitent and Camilla, Father Jones called from the entrance, “Don’t forget about this memory thingy. Seems like it might reveal something about Pastor Whitfield’s disappearance.”
Buy Meditation on Space-Time at Amazon
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Nihilism went further and eliminated absolute principles and its rise during the second half of the nineteenth century created terrorists who renounced virtue and principles and who rebelled against reality and history by destroying them. From the killing of gods to the killing of kings, rebellions had ushered in the terrors of Hitler and then of Stalin. The Soviets, in the name of the classless society in the future, a new heaven and a new earth where the lamb and the lion coexist, justified violence to guide the path of civilization, to force the end of history, the Marxist utopia.
Camus stated that absolute freedom leads to injustice and absolute justice stifles freedom and demonstrated it with examples from the French Revolution to the Russian Revolution. And he believed that only through moderation, by limiting freedom with justice and vice versa, could a possible solution emerge.
Events in the past several decades have shown that his statement remains relevant in our time. From Timothy McVeigh to Anders Behring Breivik, we have seen terrorists kill in the name of their freedom, their absolute freedom, and of justice, their notion of absolute justice.
Monday, December 31, 2012
Sunday, December 23, 2012
The George Washington University’s Jenny McKean Moore Free Community Workshop for Spring 2013 will be READING AND WRITING POETRY. Bruce Snider, the author of two collections of poetry, will lead the workshop. The workshops will take place from January 24 to April 26, 2013 on Thursdays from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.To apply, submit a letter of interest and a 5-10 page sample of your writing. Include your name, address, home and work telephone numbers, and email address. Applications must be received at the following address by close of business on Monday, January 14, 2013. For more information, contact the George Washington University’s Department of English.
JMM Poetry Workshop
Department of English
The George Washington University
801 22nd Street, NW (Suite 760)
Washington, DC 20052
Monday, December 10, 2012
After dabbling in biology in The Elementary Particles and business development in Platform, Houellebecq turns to art in The Map and the Territory. Jed Martin was an artist who as a boy began drawing flowers in his small notebooks with color pencils.
Then, he turned to photographing manufactured objects such as such as handguns, diaries, and printer cartridges. But it was only when he began to photograph Michelin maps of France that he become rich and famous.
Houellebecq in tracing the rise of Jed Martin to wealth and fame also portrays his path toward the reclusive life. He lost his lover Olga. He lost his friend, the writer Michel Houellebecq. And he finally lost his father. In the end, he lived in a fenced estate and only drove to Carrefour to shop on Tuesdays.
Houellebecq delved into art not as a spiritual journey but as a vision of humanity in decline and decay. As in The Elementary Particles and The Possibility of an Island, he envisioned the disappearance of the human species and the emergence of a new breed in a new world. A prophet for the twenty-first century.
Although the murder and dismemberment of the writer Houellebecq is gruesome, the most poignant scene is at the end of the book when Jed Martin dying filmed the photographs of Olga, Houellebecq, his father and other past acquaintances. He put them on a canvas in front of his home and recorded them as they faded, wrinkled and decomposed into pieces through rain and sun. As Houellebecq put it, “That feeling of desolation, too, that takes hold of us as the portraits of the human beings who had accompanied Jed martin through his earthly life fall apart under the impact of bad weather, then decompose and disappear, seeming in the last videos to make themselves the symbols of the generalized annihilation of the human species.” The final testimony of decay, not only of Jed’s life but also of humanity.
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Here is an article I wrote on developing characters in novels and short stories. I hope it will be helpful to writers who are working through the art of the trade. Please feel free to let me know of other topics that you are interested in.
Thursday, November 1, 2012
In Saramago's literary novel,“white blindness” strikes a man while he was driving. After he has gone to a clinic to check on his condition and the doctor couldn't find the problem, the disease spreads to the doctor and his patients. To contain the blindness, the government rounds up these victims in a mental asylum where the strong would oppress the weak.
The eye doctor’s wife, who keeps her eyesight after everyone have gone blind, leads a group of six people, including her husband, on a journey in the wasteland of the blind that reeked of excrement and decomposing corpses, to search for food.
To what depth would men and women descend to fill their bellies, to satiate that hunger which would smother all traces of humanity?
Blindness is a surrealist novel of the human condition, the struggle to survive that would release the cruelty and selfishness suppressed by law and punishment as well as the courage and perseverance in the face of suffering. It is the stench throughout the novel that would linger in the reader’s mind.
Albert Camus has The Plague; William Golding The Lord of the Flies; Cormac McCarthy The Road; and so Jose Saramago Blindness.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Like the underground man in Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground, Ralph Ellison’s invisible man lives underground, but he is invisible only because others refuse to see him for who he is. They manipulate him as a tool toward their goals.
When he was fighting in the battle royale, he was only entertaining the white men. When he studied at the college, Dr. Bledsoe showcased him to the trustee as a model of the school’s success. In turn, the trustee funded the school to heel his wounded heart. When he went to New York, the communists used him to solicit members and ultimately sacrificed him through the Harlem riot to promote their agenda. Even Mary, who cared for him like a mother, didn’t see him for who he is.
But such invisibility is not only that of an African-American, but of all Americans, and perhaps of all human. To exist but not be seen. To reflect light but be transparent. An object of others’ agendas rather than an individual.
Only when he realized his invisibility did possibilities emerge, did he become free. Only then did he found himself. The person he is, rather then the person whom others wanted him to be. And in the end, he decided to emerge from his hibernation. What are the possibilities? Or perhaps more disillusionment?