This Month's Articles
Boy, Snow, Bird
By Helen Oyeyemi
Reviewed by Janet Garber
Not the Disney Version
Helen Oyeyemi is the real thing, a literary prodigy. Somewhat of a world citizen (she was born in Nigeria and raised mostly in Britain), at 29, she already has five books under her belt. Boy Snow Bird is her provocative retelling of the classic fairy tale, Snow White, one she has run through the mixer and made to come out with messages relevant to our 21st century world. Open the first page and dive in.
If you blanched at the predicament of Johnny Cash’s “Boy Named Sue,” what will you think of Oyeyemi’s Girl Named Boy, Daughter Named Bird, Stepdaughter Named Snow? And that’s just the opening assault on the your cherished notions of sex, gender, and race.
Many other critics have divulged all the secrets in this novel – I would not want to deprive you of the shock and thrill of uncovering the book’s mysteries for yourself. “So, that’s what this is about!” you say. Personally, I almost jumped out of my chair, so unprepared was I for The Big Reveal. Do yourself a favor and Do Not Read any other reviews. Stay away from the blurbs on the book jacket. The author does not hint at the revelation, which is what makes it all the more delicious.
So, caveats in place, prepare to read a story in which the women characters predominate; the men have tangential roles. The story is simple enough; the motives opaque; the characters just barely glimpsed in the mirrors. A young woman, Boy, hops a train out of the city to escape her brutal father and lands in a small Massachusetts town, determined to make a place for herself among the....Read More
The Hiltons: The True Story of an American Dynasty
By J. Randy Taraborrelli
Reviewed by Fred Beauford
The Hiltons could just have easily been entitled, Conrad Hilton, Zsa Zsa Gabor and the Rise of Celebrity Culture. Although the book is a hefty 541 pages, the author, J. Randy Taraborrelli, is blessed with the deeply invasive skills of the gossip columnist; a journalistic world where it all hangs out, with little pity for the subject at hand; and Randy is also blessed with the equally prying, but far less flamboyant, more the detached intellectual’s Fly on the Wall, but someone still looking, unwelcomed, into dark, hidden corridors where well kept family secrets are closely held.
Randy makes great use of such a rare gift in this book, so it was hard to resist, and it held my interest for the entire time.
As any student of American journalism well knows, the Hiltons were one of the first A list celebrities that dominated the “society pages” in newspapers and magazines all across America during the 50s. The large regionals and big cities dailies especially feasted on the comings and goings of “society folks,” like the Hiltons in Los Angeles, and Babe Paley and Slim Keith in New York City.
If fact, it can be argued, from reading this book, that Conrad Hilton invented the A List; which his second wife, the brown-haired Hungarian-Jewish immigrant, Sari Gabor, who soon after arriving in America quickly became the blond, “ravishing” Zsa Zsa Gabor-- intelligent...Read More
High Crime Area: Tales of Darkness and Dread
By Joyce Carol Oates
Reviewed by Sally Cobau
Flight and Fear—Joyce Carol Oates’ Vision of our Weaknesses
I don’t know how she does it. Joyce Carol Oates has been writing for decades, yet each story, novel, or nonfiction piece she writes has the feeling of breathtaking freshness. I use the word “breathtaking” intentionally here because anyone familiar with Oates’ work knows about the visceral, “on-the-edge” quality of her work. She is a stylist, using grammar to suit her needs, and she gets her point across whether it be examining madness, paranoia, violence, flight, or fear (what I would call her favorite subjects).
I don’t want to call Oates our modern-day Poe, but there are some similarities. At a time when literary novelists seem adverse to scouring the darkest parts of ourselves (there are exceptions such as Gillian Flynn and her wildly popular Gone Girl) and only go so far towards examining violence and destruction in our culture, Joyce Carol Oates plunges head on, fearlessly delving into unspeakable topics (such as rape).
High Crime Area (Oates’ latest book—a collection of stories) is no ....Read More
by Kara Fox
THERE IS NO BEAUTY BEYOND
The DMZ in computer networks prevents outside users from direct access to a server that has company data. In Korea, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a strip of land running 155 miles across the Korean Peninsula that serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea. Freedom in the South, and in the North a rigid, totalitarian life of subordination to the great leader, with nearly everyone living in fear. The world’s most fortified military border, barbed wire, chain link fences, earth still cradling land mines beneath its surface. My curiosity lead me there, my breaking heart tore me away. ....Read More
A WRITER'S WORLD
A Writer's World
Daughters and Writers and Fathers
A Column by Molly Moynahan
“It doesn’t matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.” Anne Sexton
He was always a mystery. Not like my mother who would label the world and tell you the truth, or her version of the truth, while baking bread or designing a house. You knew my mother loved you, was angry with you, was tired or sad but you had no idea what he thought or felt or wanted. I stood outside and looked up at his window where his gray head was silhouetted and try to imagine asking him, "Daddy, are you happy?" Because I wanted that. We knew he had been in an orphanage because his first novel, Sisters and Brothers had told the story of his father’s alcoholism, the abusive nuns, his year of hell.
I drive to the Kimble funeral home to pick up his ashes and ten death certificates. The Kimble guy looks like an extra on The Sopranos. He is careful to show me the bill and explain about each category, something to do with the crematorium and the bag. My mother has remarked several times that she has received these ashes on other occasions, my grandmother, my sister and now my father.
After I get in the car with them I sit for a moment and then I say, "I'm sorry, daddy," to his box. I cry for exactly 2 minutes. I need to bring....Read More
The Haunted Life and Other Writings
By Jack Kerouac
Reviewed by M. J. Moore
His name alone invites scorn from some, adulation from others. Both extremes are wrong. There is a mystique, a legacy, and such a slew of stereotypes linked with Jack Kerouac’s name that too rarely is there any actual discussion of his writing.
Furthermore, his place in the history of 20th-century American literature is often misperceived. It’s bizarre. But here’s an easy way to ascertain the problem. Ask this question: Do you think Jack Kerouac should be grouped with the World War Two generation of male American authors a’ la Mailer, James Jones, and others?
Go ahead. Ask anyone. They might look at you like you’re a Martian. But the chronology of Kerouac’s life and the trajectory of his career are wholly in sync with the timelines of not just Mailer and Jones, but also Truman Capote, James Baldwin, Gore Vidal, and William Styron. All the above were born between 1921 and 1925. As such, the defining event of their generational history was WW II (even those not in uniform were mightily affected by the social convulsions wrought by the war).
The great value of The Haunted Life and Other Writings is not just that it finally brings to light a long-lost novella that Kerouac wrote in the mid-1940s. That alone is reason to celebrate, because as short novels go The Haunted Life is remarkable. But there’s the added benefit of seeing in print a medley of letters, journal entries, outlines, and other miscellaneous ...Read More
By David Adams Cleveland
Reviewed by Jan Alexander
A Hidden Work of Art
Love’s attraction: one of the mysteries of life that Henry David Thoreau pondered and never solved. In both his first novel, With a Gem-Like Flame, and now his second one, David Adams Cleveland, an author who is not yet well known but deserves to be, wraps a pair of lovers in multiple layers of mystery, chipping away like an obsessed art restorer through contemporary grit until a nearly-forgotten masterpiece begins to emerge.
Fittingly so, since Cleveland is an art historian in his day job, and a specialist in American Tonalism at that. The Tonalists included James McNeill, Whistler, George Inness, and Ralph Albert Blakelock, artists interested in projecting feeling through palpable atmosphere and highly influenced by Transcendentalism and the writings of Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. The psychological mystery that is at the heart of this novel begins in the land where the Transcendentalists trod, along the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.
On a warm night in 1969, two awkward teenagers fall in love, sneaking out of a school dance for the boys of Emerson Academy and the girls of Alcott Academy and becoming the unwitting conduits for a tale of deceptions that traverse back through three generations.
Cleveland has woven a more conventional mystery into the story as well, in that 30 years after the fateful ....Read More
The Walking Dead: The Fall of the Governor - Part One
By Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga
Read by: Fred Berman
Reviewed by Michael Carey
Not for the faint hearted
It’s quite possible that any Americans that haven’t heard of the phenomena known as The Walking Dead are actually living under rocks, which would be preferable to the post apocalyptic setting in which The Walking Dead takes place.
Robert Kirkman created this zombie series originally as a comic book that debuted in 2003. In 2010, AMC aired a television show based on some of the comic’s characters expanding the reach and audience of Kirkman’s world. It was only a matter of time (and it didn’t take long at all) before novelizations hit the hungry streets.
Teaming up with Kirkman to turn those comic frames into thousands of words is Jay Bonansinga, an award-winning author and filmmaker known for his thrillers and in-your-face violence. It seemed a match made in heaven for the bringing the story of ....Read More
BLUES IN THE NIGHT
A Short Story by M. J. Moore
“That’s all right if you want to, but I’d rather you dance with me. Is there something that’s not frantic? Sort of slow but still has a pulse?” She walked to her turntable.
Frederick was setting the needle down. He’d chosen the first song on Side Two of hisEllington at Newport LP. Within ten seconds, she knew that his choice was perfect.
The sound of a crowd’s ovation filled the room. And after a slow pounding downbeat from Sam Woodyard’s drums, the Duke Ellington Orchestra began to wail on the blues.
The tempo was right. The brass was heavy and dripping. The solo saxophone of alto-master Johnny Hodges took center stage and his sensual, soaring tone unleashed them.
They danced to the Jeep’s Blues, a long and deliciously melodious performance from the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. And their first and last words were quickly spoken.
Always a bit shy and unsure of what to do whenever he danced, Fred Jones debated whether or not to put his right arm around ....Read More
A WANTED WOMAN
By Eric Jerome Dickey
Reviewed by Robert Fleming
A regular on the New York Times bestseller list, Eric Jerome Dickey has had a knack for transforming fictional genres, turning them on their heads, and making them his own creations. This is what he has done with his latest entry, A Wanted Woman, where the author has re-casted an old Hollywood plot device, colorized it, and sent it into unknown territory.
Now the story is this: a contract killer from the West Indies has botched a hit and is now hunted by murderous, cut-throat Trinidadian hoods. There is nothing new about this. The pursued killer, named MX-401 but known as Reaper by her colleagues, was selected to do a Trinidad contract, but that went awry and her inept hit on a Trini-Indian lawmaker was captured on tape. Her employers, the Barbarians, do what anyone does when something goes south. They deny everything and instruct their hired killer to go on the run. And she does, with an insecure safe house, no papers, no funds, no contacts.
Trained by her father, the lethal assassin, Old Man Reaper, of Barbados, she should have completed her mission without difficulty, but as she infiltrated the gang, the Laventille Killers (the LKs), who guard the politician, she is compelled to kill the target in a bank. That is where everything unravels. Although not every character is totally fleshed out sufficiently, Dickey gives ....Read More
The Way I Was Taught
By Glenn Schiffman
Reviewed by Jane M McCabe
The Way I Was Taught opens with one of the best lines in all of literature: “Halfway through my tenth walk around the sun, I was charged by a bull.”
Glenn Schiffman is a colleague of mine—we belong to the same writers’ group that meets every Wednesday night in Studio City (LA). His work first attracted my attention when he read sections of the novel he refers to as his “rock and roll” novel (he was a truck driver for various rock groups that toured the country during the 1970’s). From the get-go I have loved his uniquely poetic voice—he is the real deal. The Way I Was Taught is a gem of a coming-of-age memoir.
Glenn was raised in a Western border town of an American Indian Reservation (the Onodowaga, more commonly known as the Seneca) where his father was chaplain at the orphanage. He has lived with the Onodowaga off and on and counts them among his relatives.
When he was 9 ½ years old, he was warned to stay away from a bull in a neighbor’s pasture, but the bull got loose anyway and charged him. As he raced towards the door of his cottage, the bull swerved to the left, where his pregnant mother happened to be lying in a hammock. It gouged her in an eye, causing her to abort the baby and to temporarily go mad. She returned to her parents in Philadelphia. Then, when his father was gone, he was allowed to live with the One Knife family on the reservation and was indoctrinated ....Read More
A Multicultural Writer's Dilemma
An essay by Tejas Desai
Mention “multiculturalism” to most Americans and you will probably get one of two responses: confusion or excitement. Confusion in a society often assumed to be a melting pot, or excitement that multiculturalism is being acknowledged and celebrated. But what will be the reaction when they are confronted with multiculturalism's realities?
As a writer trying to document, within fiction, the social and psychological realities of a multicultural society, including its ugly and unexpected conflicts, I am going against either tendency and thus reaching into relatively murky territory. Doing it within the most ethnically diverse place in America, the borough of Queens in New York City, is an even greater challenge.
Here people of all backgrounds, races, religions, beliefs, nationalities get along, work together, hang out, date, get married, live side by side in harmony. Or some people want to believe this is true. And it is true, in part. But beneath and often on the surface more pernicious truths are revealed, and isn’t it the job of any true artist, whether a writer or not, to explore this?
Yet people often reflexively believe that multiculturalism should be celebrated and not examined. They would rather engage in ideological ideals or positive ....Read More