The Pupil: A Novel by Dawn Goodwin

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I’ve been thinking about your book and I’d like to help. Call me, Sam. 

Best selling novelist Sam Morton sees potential in pupil Katherine Baxter, he could be the perfect mentor in guiding her into a best-selling author. He certainly isn’t producing anything of value, nor meeting deadlines at the moment. Katherine spends her days caring for her two children in a beautiful home, provided by her older husband Paul but writing has forever been her passion, one she’s had to put on a shelf. Paul isn’t supportive of her dreams, if she has any chance of finishing a novel and being published, it will be through Sam, but it will require deception and favors from her friend to keep Paul in the dark. Paul treats her as a fragile creature who could break at any moment, something happened in the past, some sort of breakdown that requires medication to keep Katherine stable but she’s had enough of Paul’s watchful eye. She’s ready to move on. It isn’t only Paul who feels her quiet life is safest, after the ‘incident’, her friend Helen believes her writing, and the notoriety it could bring ‘if’ it’s successful is better left as an unfulfilled dream, more risk than it’s worth. Why can’t Katherine just be happy with her very comfortable, happy life?

Sam is attractive, but it’s his skill as a writer that’s the real draw. He has the life she wants, the sense of accomplishment that comes from attaining ones dream. Then there is the wife, Violet- the power behind the man. The woman comes to know Katherine, and realizes she has seen her somewhere else before. Violet will never allow any woman to come between she and Sam, pupil or lover. She knows something damaging about Katherine, something explosive, unforgiveable!

There are flashbacks of Katherine’s youth, from the father who walked out on she and her mother, to her first love that left her with more than just memories. The bond between she and her mother is strained, a mother who had big dreams for her daughter, dreams that didn’t entail settling. All she wanted was for her daughter to blaze a trail to a solid career, so she would never end up as she has, dependant on a man. Her mother has kept things from Katherine too, it seems everyone is deceptive in their own special way in this novel.

Just as she is finally laying claim on her own future, she begins to receive threats through texts messages, someone knows who she is and what she has done, and by the novel’s end so will you, dear reader.

Katherine is the shrinking wife at the start, meant to be content under a husband who acts more like a father than a lover, the bright spots of her day should be going for walks with her friend Helen, eating healthy food that the well to do have the money for, cleaning her beautiful home and nurturing her perfect children. Bury your own dreams and go about your life with a smile, take pills to recover from your tragedy, move along, nothing to see here. I don’t know, Katherine didn’t ever become a woman I liked. I get it, she is meek but even the meek have an inner fire, anger that simmers beneath their calm exterior, especially a woman looking to chase her dream. Sam didn’t feel like a real person to me either, he was just sort of there, I expect a handsome famous author to be more charismatic. I never felt that magnetism. Things spiral madly between Violet, Sam and Katherine and I was left wondering what the point was. It is tragic, it really is, the big secret shadowing Katherine but I was perplexed, and honestly, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Violet, even if she is off her rocker.

Not sure how I feel about this one, I’ve read other novels about mentors that are far more sinister, I don’t think this is a love triangle, which may well be the point. Violet is meant to feel threatened, when there isn’t a true threat from Katherine. She’s done far more horrible things than fall in love with Sam, whether she is to blame or not. I thought this was going to be a wild love affair full of violence and vengeance. Well, I leave it to you reader to decide for yourself.

Publication Date: August 7, 2018

Aria

 

 

 

 

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The Day the Sun Died: A Novel by Yan Lianke, Carlos Rojas (Translator)

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Astonished, I walked out of his room, and saw him heading toward the lake, like a ghost heading toward the grave.

I read somewhere this book has political meaning, and it can certainly be seen in the sleepwalking villagers, not much different from their hard-working daily lives. Going about their business, laboring , as if on automatic, is this the Chinese dream? Are they ready to embrace the modern world, should they, do they even want to? Teenager Li Niannian and his parents run the New World funerary shop, his parents creating Chinese paper offerings for the dead, supplying the deceased with everything they might need in the afterlife. Once, his father secretly aided his uncle by giving news when someone in the village died, denying them their secret burials forcing them to cremate their loved ones. This continues to shame him, and comes to light during the somnambulism of one strange night. The sun has set, but the villagers on the mountainside are acting as though the day is still on, working, some behaving in bizarre ways, finally revealing desires they would never have otherwise acted upon. Some confessing things that have troubled their conscience, much like Li Niannian’s father. But it’s turning dangerous, some are seeking the water, risking their lives. Li Niannian and his family know they must save the villagers from themselves or there will be no one left come morning, if the sun hasn’t truly died. How do you convince people they are not really awake? What if things turn violent, murderous?

Uncle Shao Dacheng is very successful but the villagers don’t want to shirk their traditional burials for cremation, then there is the special corpse oil which is another facet of this surreal story. It turns darkly disturbing as madness ensues, who will save the day? When will this darkest of nights end? Will they ever wake up?

It’s interesting to think of the poverty striken and how politics control their lives, down to how they bury their dead. How little control they seem to have, how true feelings can only arise in a dream state, a repressed people. An original that has more meaning than I can ever hope to explain.

Linake is an award-winning, successful contemporary author in China.

Pulication Date: December 28, 2018

Grove Atlantic

Grove Press

 

 

In the Name of the Children: An FBI Agent’s Relentless Pursuit of the Nation’s Worst Predators by Jeffrey L. Rinek, Marilee Strong

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“To handle the horrors we must deal with on a daily basis, many in law enforcement become hardened and compartmentalize their emotions, which has its own deleterious effects. I was not able to do that, nor could I stand at a clinical distance and rely on some technique or one-sixe-fits-all theory of criminality and remain untouched by the horrors I saw.”

During his 30 year career working as a FBI agent, Jeff Rinek witnessed the most vile crimes against children from sexual abuse, torture, abduction, murder and child abuse, sometimes from their family members. I had to read this book in parts, human depravity is beyond belief at times and I had the option of putting it down until I could catch my breath, Rinek and other’s in his line of work don’t have that privilege. I have the utmost respect for the brave men and women that work in this particular field. Not many have the stomach for it, and it isn’t surprising that the work he has done has stayed with him, for how could it not?  This is the stuff of nightmares, but Rinek isn’t writing in the vein of sensationalism. This is a man who has kept every victim and their families within his heart, everything he has experienced has touched his own wife and children. Jeff shares not only the horrific cases he has helped solve, but the troubling ways it effected his family life. How could he not be overwhelming concerned for the safety of his own sons, having seen the darkness that befell so many innocent children? How could he sleep peacefully at night with the images of crime scenes floating in his mind, just as horrible the confessions of child molesters and serial killers thundering in his ears? It’s impossible to truly separate the two worlds.

Jeff Rinek had a way about him that made the criminals feel comfortable enough to confess, I think it is most evident in his dealings with Cary Stayner. Not many could keep their emotions in check enough to empathize with someone who has committed monstrous acts. I know when we label something evil or monstrous it makes it impossible to understand how someone can commit such atrocities and maybe prevent them, but it’s hard not to feel this way. Without his ability to reach into whatever humanity resides in the criminal, we may never know the truth. It is important to be able to understand the psyche of man as much as we can, whether we’re repulsed or not. It matters to the victim’s family, particularly when bodies are missing. Maybe there is truly no such thing as closure, maybe the ‘knowing’ is more horrifying than what the mind can imagine, but living without answers is to be further victimized.

In reading about these tragic, horrifying crimes, it made me think about why it is so important for people to report crimes that happen to them, or things they witness that don’t sit well within them. Nothing truly happens in a bubble, and often in abusive relationships, be they physical or sexual, often men or women go further in victimizing others, especially children (the most helpless and vulnerable of us all). The hard truth is, if someone has harmed you, you aren’t the first, nor likely to be the last. One of the most shocking realities is how often child molestation is enabled by other adults, such as wives. I’m not surprised children don’t come forward more often, the feelings of shame involved, the stigma boys in particular (especially as they become adults) are met with in coming foreward about sexual abuse is heartbreaking. I’m reading another book right now about Evil, it’s more from a  psychological standpoint, but when I read true crime books, or listen to a victim recount their harrowing experiences it is damn hard to want to understand the psyche of criminals. How do you remain removed from cases, its human nature to empathize, particuarly being a mother or father yourself. Of course seeing the body of a child that has been defiled in every way imaginable one would think of their own son or daughter, fear would be rooted inside your being. Rinek dealt with the worst of human nature, how could he not imagine the worse if a phone line home is busy, or his child doesn’t get off his bus?

The violence, ritualized sexual abuse, physical, and mental trauma, torture the children suffered under the ‘religion’ Allen Harrod (their own father) started is as hard to stomach as every story within yet it is with the tenderest of care Rinek, along with others, helped the children find their strength to seek justice and have kept watch over the children long after the case ended. The bravery of Harrod’s eldest daughter in coming forward is incredible, though shocking that it took her going through three different police agencies to get anyone to look into the matter. Without her, who knows how long Harrod and Labrecque’s crimes would have continued, under the guise of religion. Much like the people involved in seeing justice served, it’s gut wrenching to know the truth of how the children suffered, but worse to imagine being the children involved. Human depravity is boundless but it’s knowing the children (their victims) will carry not just physical evidence of their nightmare for the rest of their lives, but have to cope with PTSD, have to navigate the world without an example of healthy family relationships, and in a sense deprogram from what for them was ‘normal’  that remains with you long after reading their story. That these things happen in our so-called ‘modern times’ is worse than any fictional horror I can conjure. You don’t have to be close to the case to feel the frustration and anger at the justice system, how easy it seems for criminals to continue their abuse once captured, still victimizing everyone involved through ‘legal manipulation.’ Then there is the game of going to trial. Evidence is a peculiar thing, what is left out as to not ‘prejudice the jury against the defendant.’ Ridiculous in many cases, such as pictures of adults raping children in this situation shouldn’t it be admissible, doesn’t the victim deserve to see justice served? It’s one thing to hear it, but when there are photos to back the child’s confession, well? Statute of limitations is infuriating in and of itself, if a child comes into adulthood and finally has the ability to seek help, to expose the abuser only to find out they can’t be charged anymore, how is that just? Something is certainly broken. It’s hard not to feel like children don’t matter enough, it certainly feels like criminals often get a slap on the wrist, are released only to commit even more gruesome crimes. But I feel heartened that men and women like Rinek work hard for them, it seems to even the balance, at least a little.

Retired now, Rinek remains just as passionate about making the world a safer place for children and for us all, as he did when he was working full-time. He has remained in contact with the children victimized by Harrod and Labrecque. It is obvious his job was his life, and he is the sort of agent the world needs, someone who puts all of his being into solving crimes, and caring for the victims. It’s hard to review this type of memoir, because it comes from a deeply personal part of Rinek’s life. It’s enough to say that if you can’t even read it, because it’s our natural instinct to close our ears and eyes to terrors, imagine how the victim’s loved ones feel, how the men and women in law enforcement have to go home every night with the knowledge of such horrors branded in their minds. It’s important to be a voice for those who have been silenced, and to see those who have harmed children caught, so they can’t leave more families destroyed.

This truly is an unflinching look into the life of FBI Special Agent Jeff Rinek and how his job effected every facet of his life.

Out today!

BenBella Books

 

The Secret Habit of Sorrow: Stories by Victoria Patterson

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Natalie still texts her dead sister. A one-way conversation. It’s a strange habit and no one knows.

Behind the beautiful cover of Victoria Patterson’s latest collection are stories that delve into the heavy territory of personal struggle, complicated relationships and human beings defects. In How to Lose, Natalie is dealing with the aftermath of abandoned failing fertility treatments and caring for her young nephew after the tragic  loss of her sister ‘the bad one’. A tender relationship is forming between aunt and nephew, as AJ trains in the hopes of no longer being a guppy in his swim class, or in life. Both swallowed up by grief. In Vandals Brian takes on simple tasks in his former home while his ex-wife and son are on vacation with her new husband and step-son. Walking through his former home is like a gut punch, realizing he is slowly being erased. Discarded by his son as well is a young girl named Madeline with whom he shares his inner turmoil, while working on his ex-wife’s pond. In Johnny Hitman childhood friends, one a born-again christian, the other a recovering (sometimes) drug addict cling to their strained relationship, is Vivian right to think her friend was damaged by an incident in their youth involving her dangerous half-brother? Or did she already have a clock set on self-destruction ticking within’ her. One of my favorites is Half-Truth, hindsight is a painful wisdom we gain too late. “Now that she’s in her twenties, Kelly better understands the consequences of being a teenage mom, knowing that this defines and shapes her life more than anything else.”  Motherhood as women imagined it when they were young is never quite the reality. Yearning still for his drug-addicted father, feeling her son is sometimes more the adult than her. In We Know Things Gwen seduces her mother’s boyfriend, later inciting the fury of his teenage son.

Throughout each story, people do things for reasons they themselves don’t always understand. They struggle with drugs, affairs, parenting and relationships. In Nobody’s Business a teenager cares for his dying mother, thinking about her status as third wife to his father, remembering her solid advice through his youth. Missing her as she is living, learning how to exist without her when she’s gone. It’s not often stories are written of teenage children shouldering the responsibility of caretaker to their parent. It’s written with aching tenderness. These raw stories feel almost too real, and perfect. Yes, add this to your reading pile!!!

Publication Date: July 17, 2018

Counterpoint Press

The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

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“And Lydia,” she added before I could dart away back to the stable, “you must never show the world what it is that you have inside of you.” 

It is 1821, banished to ‘the edge of the world’, according to her sister Catherine anyway, the Montrose family find themselves living in the much more isolated Willow Hall, having had to flee Boston. A portrait of a doomed ancestor on the Hale side presides over the library, always watching, one of grim fate, that of a witch who was hanged. It seems that scandal seems to follow the women, and now thanks to Lydia’s eldest sister Caroline, they have had to give up life in society, no more parties, visits with friends and it all hits their mother hardest. Rumors destroyed them “We’ve only been here a day, but it already feels too full of ghosts of a happy family that might have been“, things will only get worse. Something sinister is lurking, and both Emmeline and Lydia will be caught up in its terror.

Little Emeline is dreamy, delights in exploring their new surroundings with images of mermaids playing in her mind. It may well be this childish fancy that endangers her. The romance isn’t all hummingbirds in the heart, Lydia isn’t as beautiful as her sister Catherine and her intended needed, for appearances sake, to be well rid of her and the stink of scandal. Maybe it wasn’t a great love, but it aches all the same that he abandoned her  when family could have used some support and broke things off, chosing the cowards way. Is love through with her? What is the story behind the mysterious Mr. John Barret, whose partnered up with their father? Are the rumors true, that ghosts and all matter of supernatural beings haunt their new home? Emeline believes so. After their chance meeting with Mr. Barrett, Catherine delights in having visitors, male ones to be exact. Lydia knows she is scheming, her beautiful sister is always up to something. Her improper sister seems bent on ruin.

Lydia’s peculiar nature is growing stronger, she is seeing things, messages in mirrors, a woman in the night, or is it simply a ‘figment of her imagination’? Whom dare she confide in  about the things that are happening to her? Everything is about to turn dark, and Lydia’s powers bind her to her dear sweet sister  Emeline in ways she never had imagined. Caroline has her own future happiness, survival to contend with and she will do everything she can to secure it. But at what cost?

Lydia’s family isn’t the only one whose past is clouded, there is more to Mr. Barret than meets the eyes. Not all menace comes from outside forces either. Her inheritance is an unusual one, an ancestor long dead may have answers, but her mother may have been keeping her in the dark. What are her reasons?

Without giving anything away, I found the story similar to gothic stories I used to read in the summertime, well-loved, battered copies from my grandmother’s bookshelves. I was always surprised that despite its lack of sex there was always some depravity within. The same holds true here, nothing was easy for women back in the day.  Easy to scoff at what was considered ‘ruinous’ in bygone days but reputation was serious, it was about more than just being snubbed. Any whiff of indiscretion and there goes your standing in society, your very livelihood too, business connections, even maids would leave you standing in the lurch. It didn’t make for sisterly affection when one sibling is self-involved at the risk of brining down her entire family. Imagine the deeds of other family members barring you from future success, or hope for a happy marriage? There is romance, but it isn’t the entire story. It is about protecting family, even to one’s own detriment. Supernatural forces come into play, wreaking havoc on a family that already has disturbances of its own making.

Secrets have a power of their own too, depending on who knows them. Will Lydia be strong, brave enough to embrace her abilities and salvage what she can from her family ruins? An enjoyable read that has haunts, family scandals, deaths, and a witch whose blood still flows in the veins of her descendant. This is will be out in October, the perfect month for all things otherworldy.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Harlequin

Graydon House

 

 

 

Hag:A Novel Kathleen Kaufman

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You will see the places where time touches other paths; you will see all the what-ifs and possibilities. You will know things that others do not, and they might fear you for it.

Hag tells the story of a bloodline of women that hail from a Cailleach (a divine Hag of Scottish roots). Many generations come to pass, some in hiding from their abilities, others with the power to heal or harm. The common thread is the fear others feel, damning them for their powers, haunted by superstitions, marking them as evil. It spans the old world, and America as each daughter is meant to learn the old ways, as the Cailleach is a watcher of sorts from her cave, waiting for another to take her place.  Some daughters throughout the story embrace their inheritance, while others run from it, but there is no corner of the world far enough.

The women are timeless, and much wiser than the people, regardless of the era their story takes place.  The novel begins with  six-year-old Alice, playing in the Glasgow rain in her red rain boots. Already she has the gift of foresight, and understands there are paths in life that change the outcome of the future. Maybe she won’t grow up to run the shop, selling herbal tinctures, as her mother did before the war. These red rain boots have other plans for her, and her future is waiting in Colorado, the United States. So opens her path. As she comes of age, with the gift of knowing, she lives a life of desire and passion for a while, knowing it can’t last, finding herself caught up with a dangerous man, Tiburon in Venezuela, another story, another path she has to close. Then there is Paul, deceptions and his family blaming her for everything, as seems to be the way for all the women of her bloodline. There are many examples of just how intuitive and wise she is, from her days as a teacher to her love for Tiburon.

Throughout the chapters about Alice, there are the stories of her many ancestors and their gifts. I particularly enjoyed Catriona’s tale during the Spiritualists movement, how mesmerized she is by ‘the Russian Woman’ during a time when so much chicanery was taking place, and much of high society itself was bamboozled. It’s an authentic part of the novel, considering all the theater the fraudulent clairvoyants took great lengths to create. She should have heeded her mother’s warning. But there are other great powerful women in the line, weaved into the story, just as interesting. Muriel for instance,  who learns upon the heath that her moods  are tied to manifestations, that with her mind emptied she can control nature, to an extent. Gifted with herbal knowledge, she too has her patrons in neighbors, who come to her when in desperate need but also whisper about her. As people are want to do, they may appeal to the women in the line when it suits them, and yet turn on them with suspicion, mistrust and hatred dependant on any event that demands a target for their woes. Rather than your typical witches in the mainstream these days, Kaufman paints old world witchery that comes off as much more genuine.  While there is love, Hag isn’t a romance novel where one’s gifts lead to happy endings with suitors. It is more often that the blood flowing through each character dooms them, in a sense.

Time doesn’t really flow in a straight line, it is more circuitous as is evident in this tale. There is a child, Coira and soon a long-awaited homecoming.

Perfect if you enjoy folklore and witches.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Turner

 

 

Malva by Hagar Peeters, Vivien Glass (translated by)

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The moral of the story is that my parents’ mismatch was the result of their individual miseries, and out of this misguided union came an even greater mistake: a misfit, namely me.

It took me some time to flow with the narration. Malva, Pablo Neruda’s abandoned daughter born with hydrocephalus, was his only child, born from his first marriage to María Antonia Hagenaar. In this fictional novel, Malva (named after a pretty flower the malva or mallow) speaks to the reader from the afterlife. She has for company other discarded children of the famous, with stories just as gut wrenching. Having died at only eight years old, this isn’t a happy story by any means. Having recently finished a novel about Albert Einstein, whose youngest son struggled with schizophrenia and was greatly ignored by his father, I was surprised to hear mention of him in this stroy, to see Neruda sharing similar behavior towards his own child with needs. It’s disheartening to know so many great man have ‘excised’ children that didn’t fit the trajectory of their purposeful lives. Like Albert, Pablo Neruda felt passionately about justice and humanitarian rights, his own writing itself became political as he was anti-fascist, particularly after the assassination of his friend and fellow poet Lorca. The man doesn’t need any puffing up from me, there is plenty written about him. What I hadn’t known was his cold indifference to his only child and the cruelty towards her mother. Upon Malva’s death, he didn’t even bother to respond. Her tomb as forgotten in later years. War isn’t an excuse, really, for not once did he do anything to help with Malva’s care. Can his feelings towards her mother really excuse erasing his own (and only) child from his life? It’s hard to reconcile in my mind that a man of great romantic passions, beautiful flowery writing, could have so little room in his heart for his own fragile daughter. “I was named after the mallow. And I turned out as ugly as that flower is beautiful.” Is it really all about a lack of beauty?  Would little Malva have been easier for him to accept if she were a pretty, rosy cheeked doll of a baby? He certainly isn’t the first to cower from the demands of caring for a child with difficulities, be them physical or mental. I am trying to be fair, not everyone has the strength to take on the selfless mantle of caregiver, maybe it was easier for him to re-write his reality, as a form of self-preservation but I am not a psychiatrist, I am just a mother who is appalled.

I don’t imagine fans of Neruda, and I count myself a fan of his writing, would readily wish to embrace this story. It is interesting that people forgive their idols all sorts of heinous behaviors, things the common man could never get away with so freely. I suppose so long as you make your mark, so to speak,your dirty deeds can be erased. My heart really went out to Malva’s mother, Maryka (or Maruca as Neruda called her) who was constant in Malva’s life as much as Pablo was an absence. The doting father at first, then banishing them both with a handy excuse,  as fate would have it the civil war had him ‘packing my mother and me on a train to Barcelona.’ This freed him to be with his lover, Delia. It seems he blamed, in some strange ways, his wife for the happenstance of Malva’s condition. I’ve read other articles about things Neruda has said, done. It doesn’t exactly paint the portrait of a hero. No longer burdened by their presence (it sickens me to think of Malva begging for help, for money that would never come), Neruda was now free.  She took it upon herself with the help of a family who were Christian Scientists to  care for her child Malva until her death at age 8. Malva goes on, within this fictional tale, to tell of the sad life her mother lived after and to follow her father’s political and personal life. Malva is often jealous of the attention he lavishes freely on his two women while she, his pretty little flower,  was left to wilt and die without so much as a mention in his memoirs and books. He is known as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. He was a Nobel laureate, a diplomat and a member of the Communist party. He took his duties for his country Chile seriously, why not then passion for his helpless child? I guess she was too much of an anchor for a man who traveled the world and was occupied with fights for others. He discarded Delia much in the same way he did Malva’s mother, thrown over eventually for another. Who knows what was in his heart when it came to Malva, he was too busy hiding her. It’s just interesting that a man who wrote so prolifically was silent about his only child. Poor Maryka, because she too deserves her story to be told. That there was a time when Neruda seemed her chance for happiness, with her father and brothers dead, it is heartbreaking that a life so full of promise was instead one of neglect and abuse. Dismissal, banishment, poverty. She worked hard and gave all the money she could for her child’s care, living in a limbo of never knowing for how long her child would remain of this earth, with no family to turn to, no one to support her in her living grief. I can’t even imagine the hardship, the pain. It is my hope that  Hendrik Julsing and Gerdina Sierks (with children of their own) the foster family who took on the care of Malva, were able to be a shoulder now and then.

It’s hard to erase what you learn about someone whose own actions are so contradictory with their public face. This book gives Malva a voice, her father Pablo had his words, a plethora of them, his entire life. In a sense, this is her turn to be heard but mind you, it is fictional. The style isn’t for every reader. I felt like I was one with Malva’s spirit, a shadow over her great father. There are light moments, I was absolutely warmed to my toes to read about  what Roald Dahl (the famed author) helped invent for his own son Theo (a four-month old infant at the time) suffering from hydrocephalus, caused after a taxi cab in New York hit the carriage he was in, while crossing the street. Look it up, not all great man are absent or cruel fathers.

A very heavy, surrealist novel that broke my heart. If only those without voices could have their say in the afterlife.

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

Doppelhouse Press