Farzaneh and the Moon by Matt Wilven

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She is muddy, distant, shaking with dark knowledge.

N. is at University in London, his young mind feasting on philosophy but it is Farzaneh’s world he really longs to access. Here is a young woman who feels and thinks deeply, someone who challenges him emotionally, who stimulates his intellect as well as his physical being. Both want to live in a way that doesn’t require just ‘going through the motions’. If it takes a little psychedelic help from nature to reach the deepest access of their minds, well who better to do it with than Farzaneh. She hasn’t been anchored to anyone since her father, there is pain she hasn’t confronted, and N. wants nothing more than to be the one who can keep her together inside. She is wildly interesting to him, but is this depth or something darker?

When is loving someone so blinding that you neglect to notice the rupture in their logic? When does the hunger for spiritual bliss blur the lines of what’s sane and what’s madness? What can N. really grasp about love at his tender age? In a sense, Farzaneh would annihilate herself if she could align with the moon. This is more than longing for some spiritual awakening, there is a creeping illness inside of her. One of the most honest moments however, speaks to N.’s state of mind when he is halfway through his course and says “I’m still none the wiser about any of them”, meaning the other students. He is too busy being wrapped up with his beloved, is it possible for healthy love to be so exclusive that the rest of the world and everyone within it disappears entirely? There is a shallow relationship he has earlier on, feeling completely disconnected but should communion with another eclipse sanity? Should we really want to merge so entirely that nothing else matters? “Everything is how she wanted it.” Nothing can ever be exactly as one person wants it, that’s not healthy.

Farzaneh’s obsession with the moon escalates, she can feel it in her very womb! N. needs to be with her, can’t live without her! Love can’t be wrong, love is a balm right? She likes her alone time, but he just wants live together! Normal day behaviors are disgusting her, eating- who needs to eat? She doesn’t want to be a person in this way anymore. N. will do anything to keep her, anything. But does real love bend itself this way, keep the peace, create an atmosphere that isn’t healthy  just to be in someone’s life?

This is far more than just meditation or harmless moon-bathing going on here, can a trip to Venice be the fix? The only thing sinking faster than Venice is Farzaneh’s mind, and it begs the question, just how suspect is N. in neglecting to rein her in? He is scared of confronting her behavior, even if he doesn’t tell us so, in the simple choice of letting it continue. Then comes the burial….

The ending, what are we to make of that? I wonder, was N. an unreliable character all this time? Just who is ill here?

This was a decent read, I see love differently from someone in their twenties, time seasons us I suppose, therefore a lot of N.’s decisions seem completely ill conceived. I just kept thinking, God save us from those who love us. Clearly Farzaneh needs something, but it isn’t a man’s love. It’s a peculiar tale, if nothing else it clearly demonstrates that we shouldn’t always fulfill the requests people we love ask of us. I’m not sure even in some alternate universe I would feel comfortable helping someone dig into the earth, so to speak.

Out Now

Legend Press

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The Life of Death by Lucy Booth

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For I am there to carry you through those last moments, through the screaming and the seeping, through the fog, and deposit you softly, gently on the other side.

The story begins in 1590, twenty-three year old  Elizabeth “Lizzie” Murphy of Scotland is condemned to burn at the stake for witchcraft. A woman who has ‘a talent for poultice’, along with her sisters, aunts, mothers and women from the village took care of their people, who desperately had need of their cures, nurturing. It wasn’t long before accusations of evil, of witchery was on the tongues of those they helped. Soon, Lizzie strikes a deal with the devil and while burning before the jeers of the people, feels nothing thanks to him. She has, from the moment of her conception been the chosen one, for all Satan wants is for her to usher in the dead for all eternity.

Free of the burning licks from the fires of hate, Lizzie has spent centuries with brief glimpses into others life, taking them over to the other side. Steadfast in her duties as Death, she never falters, nor thinks about that life she traded so long ago too busy tangled up in the last moments of others. This reminded me of a show I loved, Quantum Leap, because she gets inside of people in guiding souls over but once she plays the devil’s game, it is with a far more tragic and at times darker bend. She is a dutiful worker until Tom. Just as the man becomes a widower, Lizzie is reminded of the burning desire for life and an all consuming love. It is time for Death to die, now if she can just outwit the devil, strike a deal with him so she may escape the monotony of taking lives. Then, and only then, will she be able to taste deep love, with Tom.

There isn’t a soul as dark as the beast’s, nor one as skilled at wagers. All she needs to do is take five lives in order to be released. But the catch, of course, is the devil picks who and relishes in the horror of their pain, the sorrow of their final moments. What happens when one of the Satan’s victim is too much bear? Will she change her mind, risk her only chance at love, freedom in the name of fairness? The devil is tricky tricky tricky… Will she allow the sun to set on the innocent for her own selfish desires? Can there ever be a happy ending when the devil is involved? Why is the devil so enamored of Lizzie, what is it about her that captured his attention while she was in her mother’s womb?

This novel raises the ever present question we have when death comes. Why him, why her? Why me? Death feels like a monster, indiscriminately picking us off, and stomping our feet at the inequality of it all releases us from nothing. For death truly is with us, an ever present shadow from the moment we are born. We can’t, not a one of us, escape it- not even by making a pact with the horned one. If you take the time to read About the Author, you discover Lucy Booth was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and continued to write, including finishing this very novel. The cancer returned in 2014 and this time Lucy’s battle ended. I hate saying she lost her battle, because she didn’t, we don’t. We live each day and hope to wake up the next, but just like the souls in this novel learn, life isn’t guaranteed. There isn’t a bargain any one of us can make to extend our time.. eventually we come to the end. Age isn’t always factor, sometimes not even the state of our health, and that’s what makes life so precious, that at any moment it can slip through our fingers. So many choices are really just a circle, and you still end up where you started. We do the best with what time we have, and for some it is in mustering the strength to continue on as before and finish a novel.

Out Today!!!!  May 2, 2019

Unbound

Lights Along The Interstate: A Novella by Adam Fike

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Of all of it, day in and day out, this was the part of it that got to Warren the most. He called it the not having.

Life, everything about it, what we chose and where it takes us, whether our souls be muddied or clean someone is flipping a coin somewhere on the paths we chose to walk.  I sometimes hate the idea of punishment, where is the struggle for those who are never pushed to breaking, who have every opportunity, who haven’t truly had to go without, knowing choices aren’t all black and white. Let’s face it, you can go with your heart, your gut and life can turn foul anyway, it can break those who have no one in their corner and yet just be a simple lesson for those who have the cushion of wealth in their life. How would that really play out, do those with everything in life against them get extra points? Do those with everything in their favor lose points? Balance, ideally is a beautiful concept but life certainly isn’t spinning in balance, sometimes evil wins… here at least forces are at work. The bus is coming… where are the people going? What has their life amounted to? Can the devil get bored, tired of being ‘the bad guy?’  Can he fall in love?

Jesus and the Devil betting on people, it keeps things entertaining, and Jesus has his faith in his flock. The Devil just thinks Jesus is a meddler! A Reverend who can see the deceased,  a little girl who loses everything while at recess and has to learn to be a stranger in a house for orphaned children, wondering how her life changed so abruptly, a boy who knows all to well the horror of ‘not having’, a wife betrayed to the grave. Who will make it, who will ‘earn’ their way? What about a woman seduced by the thunder of a bike? Then there are pennies, and not all pennies fall from heaven. Evil can enter the mind, if we let it. Some work with the dead and others are the dead but we’re all headed to the good place or the bad, depending on how we lived our lives.

This was a fun little novella, it all comes together at the end of the road. Do we all “get an A for effort?” I sure hope so because being good isn’t always easy, nor rewarding but the alternative…

Published December 2018  Available Now!

 

 

The Study of Animal Languages: A Novel by Lindsay Stern

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The usual wreckage drifts towards me…

Ivan and Prue are married and couldn’t be any different. Ivan is a philosophy professor who lives in a controlled manner, lover of language that longs for it to be exact, ‘like symbols of mathematics’, a languge that can be played with, twisted to mean anything other than what is is. Like philosophy it would ‘eliminate misunderstandings once and for all’ here in lies the humor in the novel, for his marriage crumbles under that exact invader, misunderstanding. Wife Prue studies biolinguistics whose discoveries leads her to believe one day people could understand their ‘birdsong’ as language, not senseless chatter. This form of communication could be very much alive in the animal kingdom, as much as human’s relate to one another, why not they? Certainly studying ‘sounds’ of birds, monitoring them cannot truly tell us what they are saying, feeling, thinking? What about we humans, superior animals and our gorgeous vocabularies? Aren’t our words often fraught with unintended outcomes, consequences, errors, comedies? Words used as camoflauge to hide our real feelings? Words to strip and bare our souls, just as misunderstood depending on whose ears they fall? Prue’s lecture scares Ivan, because he fears no one will take her, nor her intelligence seriously and it all unravels.

Prue’s father Frank comes into town to hear his brilliant daughter lecture, but he is on a downward spiral, his highs and lows having long navigated Prue’s entire childhood. Strange that his inability to corral his thoughts and behavior somehow makes him the most solid character in the novel, and the most likable. Prue and Ivan’s marriage is tested too by writer Dalton Field, whose book she has taken an interest in reading, the attractive visiting author infuriating Ivan. He sees an easy intimacy between them, but no, it has to be his imagination? There are clues something is going on, he can feel a rupture in their love. To make matters worse, people are always surprised that Prue chose a man like him as husband, bland and predictable. Then there is Prue’s niece May, witness to the adults falling apart around her, which gives insight into what life with Frank must have been like for Prue, the fear of his mania as well as the thrill of it. Which makes the reader wonder if that could be why Prue fell in love with someone as stable as Ivan. “It may come as a surprise to you, Dad, but you’re not a prophet. You’re a provocateur.” I was focused more closely on Frank and the influence his mental illness had on his daughter’s life. It was beautiful and sad because he does love her. Ivan loves Prue as well, without a doubt, but he never feels quite worthy while at the same time feels superior, it’s so odd.

Ivan is methodical until he let’s his fear of losing Prue ravage his common sense. He is going to stay on the sinking ship until the end. Will he save their love? Salvage the wreckage of his marriage, patch up the cracks caused by his misinterpretations of their love language? Ivan thinks he is nothing like Frank, there seems to be a condescending attitude toward his father-in-law, but as he unravels he may find he has more in common with him than he ever imagined. A novel that speaks in more than words or birdsong.

It’s a clever story of academics turned foolish. I enjoyed it, but some may not as the excitement is quiet.

Available Now

Penguin Group

Viking

 

Driving Into The Sun by Marcella Polain

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They go to work and they don’t come back. Everywhere there are cracks in the world that other people can’t see.

The story takes place in Perth, Australia 1968 and one day Orla’s father Dan, a shining sun in her world, doesn’t come home. With his death, everything changes for Orla, her little sister Deebee and their mother Henrietta. The world becomes a threatening place without the protection of a father, there is nothing left to save them, financial hardship is that much heavier a weight, and as their father’s thoughts fade, the last are those of shame as the reader is privy to his regrets, that he left his wife nothing, that he is so sorry…  The novel flows between memories and the aftermath of the shift in their family structure. Before, there are problems, they aren’t able to stay in their house in the hills, the money isn’t coming in. Her parents must leave the hills for a cheaper living situation, they move to the ‘only-for-a-year-house’, but another house will be built. No longer surrounded by the vast wilderness, closer to the beach but in a more suburban setting they are closer to neighbors. People that are better left unknown, those you avoid. Their mother works weekends to help them stay afloat, until the death of their father makes the neighbors people to rely upon, when there is no one else. There are to be no more riding lessons for Orla, who has a head full of horses, which the family couldn’t really afford while her daddy was alive, but how could he deny his girl such a desperate desire? Left with their mother, who has always been far less patient with the children, missing the father who ‘never shouted’ they are all vulnerable to the threats ‘out there’ in the big bad world. There is never true closure for Orla and Deebee, without the finality of a funeral (as the girls weren’t allowed to go) Orla is sure her daddy will return, like a moth to a light, despite the visit from the reverend assuring her ‘God only takes the best first.’

Orla isn’t quite a teenager yet, still a little girl awakening to grown up things, and of course far less sheltered after she loses her father. The author did a wonderful job of getting into a young girls mind, everything is murky when you’re young. It’s like trying to understand words while swimming underwater. Nothing is fully explained, nor fully grasped when you are not quite developed in body and mind. But you sure grow up fast when your home is no longer made up of capable, loving parents. Henrietta, due to this tragic unexpected circumstance is now both mother and father, frustrated by Orla whom she doesn’t understand, a little girl she has always felt lacked ‘guts’, something all Australians need, but she will have to learn, she will have to learn to be harder in this place. What is she going to do, left with no one but the children, and how is she, a widow alone in the 1960’s, to keep them fed, housed, clothed? Then there is a prowler lurking about, and women just aren’t taken seriously, they need a husband for everything, how is she to secure a better home for her girls when women need men to be approved for such things? A woman alone with little girls is a target! The odds are always stacked against her. Dan left them nothing! He didn’t prepare for such things and she is paying for it all, she and her girls. Another betrayal she has to stomach, and there were other betrayals. She hates the thought of it all, trapped, a mountain on her shoulders. Would it have been better if she died? After all, people rally behind men who lose wives, forgive them anything, not so for a widow! It’s probably her fault he is dead! These thoughts are absolutely genuine of the times, it was the same with single mothers even when I grew up in America during the late seventies and early eighties, there was a ‘they probably deserve it’ mentality. There wasn’t empathy for single mom’s whether due to the loss of a husband or divorce.  Being in Henrietta’s shoes would be terrifying and there are pages dedicated to her head space, though Orla dominates the novel.

With their father gone, a young mother named Cora comes into their lives too, not as coarse as they once believed but talking about adult things Orla doesn’t always comprehend, with so much life in her, confidence, a fun person. Her mother has different views on ‘unfortunate’ Cora, jealous too of the amount of time her eldest daughter chooses to spend at her house but Orla thinks she is lucky, with both her mother and father still alive. Little sister, wild Deebee feels caged when she has to stay with the Thompsons while her mother is at work, absolutely hates it. I adored Deebee, she is feral, she isn’t a ‘good girl’ but that doesn’t make her bad. She is a fierce little thing, even less aware of what goes on around them all.

Through the novel there is a threat simmering, but threats always simmer for women living on their own. The ending really hit me between the eyes. The novel may lose some readers because often people get lost in internal dialogue, particularly when it’s the worries of an often anxious young girl. I think it actually works for Orla’s character, because with the difficulties and grief she feels, the longing, the fear of the future, her mind wouldn’t ever be at rest, her thoughts wouldn’t be linear. That’s how we are when we’re trying to make sense of our place in the world. A sad novel.

Out Today   February 1, 2019

Fremantle Press

 

 

Old Newgate Road: A Novel by Keith Scribner

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Secrets. He spoke of that night to almost no one for ten years, as if he’d just jumped town and what happened here, his entire childhood, didn’t stow away with him.

Cole has returned to his hometown of East Granby, Connecticut.  “It’s taken him nearly thirty years to come back…” in search of wood for his construction business, wood of superb quality, chestnut.  Being his busiest season the return isn’t meant to last longer than a few days, somehow he stays longer. The only piece of the past he wants are what he can take in his flatbed, the wood. As soon as he arrives, he can hear echoes of  his mother and her beautiful French, soon remembering her dreams of life in France, but to come the memories of the brutal fights, of the bruises, the years of abuse before his father stole her last breath. Remembering the rages that would move through his father, he feels disgust at any resemblance of brooding or anger he ever expressed when he was with Niki, his wife. Phil, his father, is as gruff as ever, sixteen years out of prison for murdering Cole’s mother, his mind is deteriorating with signs of dementia and Cole is surprised to find him living in their old home. One moment he is present, aware, the next he doesn’t know who his own son is. Trouble is brewing back home in Oregon with his son Daniel whose just been arrested, his social justice ideas hard not recognize as coming for an admirable place but no less criminal according to the law. Cole’s plan is to get his son working a job in tobacco, just like he did when he was a teenager. His son sees East Granby as ‘the sticks’, tobacco representing all the wealthy types he hates, though interested in the grandfather he is finally meeting who is teaching him how to make crepes. His father’s childhood finally open to him. Daniel is much wiser at times than his dad, seeing that not everything can be easily fixed, that it takes action, of course action is why Daniel is always getting himself in trouble. Then there is Liz, his first love back in his life again and the painful secrets she kept are finally being released too. Instead of a hot affair you expect from such novels, it brings to Cole’s mind all the ways he has failed his marriage and his wife Niki. For me, this makes the novel far more believable, that when the two come together it isn’t to salivate and pant over their old loves as if the past 30 years haven’t happened.

Liz brings up all the spoiled past tied up with her brother Kirk, someone in his youth Cole failed to confront. Much like being unable to stand up to his father, failing to stop his mother’s murder, he still carries guilt of failing Liz. It’s hard to even fathom giving a damn about the father who murdered your mother,  but it’s much too late to punish him because his father is slipping in and out of the past and present, confused. Cole has carried everything with him and allowed it, despite his best efforts of avoiding the traps of the past, to affect his family. Returning is to East Granby is a confrontation Cole never wanted, but he gets it all the same. Famous for mirroring his mother’s beliefs, that each time is ‘the last time’, he has embraced avoidance in his own life much the same. Kirk’s son LK (Little Kirk) becomes friends with Daniel but as things sour, the old Kirk proves he is still the same bully he always was.

Do we let tragic events define us? Sometimes they  do despite our best efforts. Maybe if he can work through the past, get his father sorted out he can move forward and have a chance again in his marriage with Niki? Be the father his son needs. His father still surprises him, and not all of it terrible. This is an exploration on abuse and how the past haunts us until we are able to face the dark monsters, in others and ourselves.

Out today!

Knopf

Doubleday Publishing

The Unhappiness of Being a Single Man: Essential Stories by Franz Kafka, Alexander Starritt (Translator )

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The longer you hesitate outside the door, the more of a stranger you become.

I don’t know that I would agree these are the best, most essential stories by Kafka but I wasn’t disappointed. This line in Homecoming jumped out at me, it’s such a short ‘nothing’ but poignant with something, “The longer you hesitate outside the door, the more of a stranger you become.” A young man returns home, unwelcome, “I’ve come back”, to his father’s farm, a house with bricks that lie cold against each other as if ‘occupied with it’s own affairs’. It gave me the feeling of being a living ghost, unwanted, a stranger now all the same, and aren’t we all ghosts in a sense when we first return to our old haunts, homes? To family who wants to see nothing but the back of us?

A Report for an Academy is about assimilating as a means of survival and escape from captivity. There are several different suggestions of what the story is about and what Kafka’s inspiration was, it’s worth looking up. Kafka is always saying far more than what is at surface a story about an ape mimicking the human world, conforming to rise above the caged existence, captivity. In a sense he is thumbing his nose at humanity, isn’t he?

The Silence of the Sirens is Kafka’s version of Ulysses. Here Odysseus finds the Sirens silence is as dangerous as their singing. A weapon far more deadly, so much for wax stuffed ears. The saddest story for me in the collection is The Verdict, it begins with businessman Georg composing a letter to his friend who left for Russia and is now stagnating, should he tell his friend of his engagement? His mother is dead, he’s moved in with his father, putting all his hard work in the family business, one wonders ‘did mother keep the peace once?’ Is this meant to be a silly piece, or a disturbing tale between a young son unable to escape his father’s shadow and a weak old man unable to accept his time has passed, jealous of his son’s future, youth? It’s so bizarre, why does George’s father question if his Russian friend isn’t an invention of his own mind, a lie? Why is he so disappointed by his son? Why does Georg obey his father’s verdict as if he is helpless against the tyranny of the old man, as if a child cowering under thunderous anger? Georg’s father emasculates him as only a cruel parent can. Autobiographical. It is well-known Kafka’s father was abusive, that Kafka wrote a letter to his father, that was actually a published book that changes the way you read The Verdict. You want to understand Kafka a bit more, read Letter To His Father by Franz published in 1952. Now I’ve gone and made myself sad! Kafka’s writing always fascinates me because of the many interpretations, so much left to the imagination, all the things left unsaid that the reader is meant to figure out. Is it real or horror or fantasy? It is never what it seems and exactly what it seems.

Paperback available now

Kindle Edition publication: March 5, 2019

Pushkin Press