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Who am I to blame?

Nobel Medal, Prize for Physics (medal)

Is anyone as surprised as I am that the Nobel Prize in Literature went to an old pasty white dude?

I’m mean, it’s only been four years since the last one was selected with Peter Handke, and five years before that since Patrick Modiano was selected, and three years before that since Tomas Tranströmer was selected.

Of course, Bob Dylan doesn’t count in 2016, because, well, wtf was that all about anyway?

Nor does Kazuo Ishiguro in 2017, unless you are of the mindset of the former South African apartheid government and regard those of East Asian descendancy as honorary whites.

Of course in this day and age it is treading in dangerous territory to assume the particulars of anyone’s identity, even that of assumed pasty old white dudes such as mentioned above, sans Ishiguro of course.

But I’m pretty damn confident of my assumptions.

Come to think of it, that’s a whole lot of old white dudes selected for the NPL in just a little over the past decade.

What’s up with that?

I thought, with the state of the world as it is, with global sensibilities as they are, old pasty white dudes were persona non grata when it comes to just about any form of praise or recognition.

Oui, no?

It certainly is a oui for me and I’m as old and male and pasty white as they come.

I say, to hell with old pasty white dudes, regardless of their particular talents, or lack thereof.

Can I get an amen?

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What time is it? That’s right, it’s the Boy from Bohemia Time!

While I wasn’t exactly thrilled with Kafka translator Michael Hoffman translating Ungeziefer as cockroach

To say the least…

I am in definite accord with him on much of what he discusses in his introduction to METAMORPHOSIS AND OTHER STORIES, a collection translated by him consisting of all of Kafka’s stories that were published in Kafka’s lifetime.

For instance, when discussing how hard it is to translate Kafka, Hoffman tells us this is so because in Kafka’s work “there is no ‘voice’, no diction, no ‘style’ — certainly not in the literary sense of high style ….[Philip] Rahv describes him perfectly as a ‘master of narrative tone, of a subtle, judicious and ironically conservative style’.”

Obviously, as a single-tongued simpleton I can’t comment on the translation difficulties, but as a Kafka fanboy I do get what he means by the lack of high style, of how inobtrusive Kafka’s writing is.

As a writer myself, I rely far too much on literary devices such as metaphors and similes and on language such as adjectives and adverbs (yeah, I know, I know…), but Kafka’s writing is almost as if it isn’t there, as if it comes to us as a dream, without any distracting devices or large, literary words to destroy that deep, immersive verisimilitude that no other writer I find can create quite like him.

“If this is what Kafka is like,” Hoffman says, “then the big words in his stories are in fact the little words. Not verbs and nouns, much less adjectives and adverbs, but what are aptly termed ‘particles’…that change or reinforce the course of arguments in his prose.”

Which is why I was so surprised when I read such an overtly literary passage in one of Kafka’s earlier stories found early in the collection called “Unmasking a Confidence Trickster”:

I had an invitation, I had told him as much right away. I had been invited, furthermore, to come up, where I would have liked to have been for some time already, not standing around outside the gate gazing past the ears of my interlocutor. And now to lapse into silence with him too, as if we had decided on a long stay in just this spot. A silence to which the houses round about and the darkness that extended as far as the stars, all made their contribution. And the footfalls of unseen pedestrians, whose errands one did not like to guess at, the wind that kept pressing against the opposite side of the street, a gramophone that was singing against the sealed windows of one of the rooms somewhere – they all came to prominence in this silence, as though it belonged and had always belonged to them.

I had to stop after reading that passage, mostly because I felt it was such beautiful writing and I wanted to reread it, but also because I wasn’t quite sure what I had just read, what it was about, which is always a danger for me with highfalutin literary writing.

Even in this winding passage, I can still feel the underlying Kafkaian vibe to it, but the vibe is disrupted because of its “literariness,” because of the beauty of the writing. Usually, it’s not until after I stop reading Kafka for whatever reason – bathroom break, sleep, never because of disinterest – that I realize that Kafkian vibe had totally penetrated my psyche and has been humming deep within me without me even knowing it.

Yeah…

And this brings me to what I am particularly smitten with in Hoffman’s introduction, this concept he calls “Kafka time,” of how it’s always either too late, as it is for Gregor Samsa who has already metamorphosed by the time we meet him, or is never arriving, as how K. is never able to fulfill his land surveying duties for the castle.

Or, to put a twist on a point Hoffman made above, it’s in that slip of time it takes for the particles to change or reinforce the course of arguments in Kafka’s prose.

To me, it is from this sense of “Kafka time” where the Kafkaian vibe resonates most, creating this unsettling feeling of striving for something just beyond our grasp…

While traversing along a narrow, crumbling path barely wide enough for a foot to fall…

While high on a mountain’s edge…

While sightless from the thick and endless and suffocating clouds.

Hey, what can I say, I’m no Kafka, but i think you get what I’m trying to get at.

Anyway, Hoffman goes on to discuss the “middle moment” of Kafka’s writing, the time it takes to shift from the Muzak of normalcy to that initial, sweet, dissonant twang of that Kafkian vibe, as “the Zeno moment, the infinite possibility of infinitesimal change.”

The Zeno he is referring to of course is Zeno of Elea (as opposed to Zeno of Citium or Zeno of Southern Pennsylvania) who pretty much gave us way back (B)efore (C)hrist was even a sparkle in God’s eyes the definition of Kafkaesque, but which he less than humbly dubbed Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox.

Actually, I think it was Plato who first gave Zeno his props so we should cut him some eponymous slack.

Anyway, Aristotle illustrates Zeno’s paradox thusly:

“Suppose Atalanta wishes to walk to the end of a path. Before she can get there, she must get halfway there. Before she can get halfway there, she must get a quarter of the way there. Before traveling a quarter, she must travel one-eighth; before an eighth, one-sixteenth; and so on.”

And by so on, I take it to mean Atalanta is never going to reach the end of that path.

Sounds like it could be the blurb for just about any of Kafka’s books, no?

But then, even Kafka himself lived on Kafka time as he was thrice engaged but never married, authored three novels but completed none, and then, sadly, his life was left incomplete by disease.

So strange.

Yeah, there is so much more to discuss regarding Kafka and his time, but perhaps it’s best if we come to a conclusion with this one final thought…

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Sun Worshippers

Even with all that wood chopped and a nice cozy fire blazing…
Some still prefer the warmth that only the sun can provide…

One of these days I’ll get back to blogging for real again, especially since there’s so much nonsense to discuss these days. But I am at least getting close to knocking out another book. Going back to my wheelhouse this time with another literary fiction number similar in spirit, but not in story, to Inside the Skin. I’ll probably be sending out a request for beta readers to my newsletter soon so if you’re interested helping me out, get on that mailing list so you’ll be notified (and get a free copy of my short story collection to boot). Stay weird, ya weirdos.

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WE ALL DIE IN THE END by Elizabeth Merry – A Review

BOOK | FICTION | SHORT STORIES
WE ALL DIE IN THE END by Elizabeth Merry
RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★

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If Joyce, Faulkner, and Kafka were to collaborate…

The result would be Elizabeth Merry’s We All Die in the End.

Merry’s is some of the best writing I’ve read in a while. Like Faulkner, she creates a fictional world unto its own, Faulkner’s set as a struggling Mississippi town, Merry’s as a struggling seaside town in Ireland, both populated with struggling characters with thick dialects common to their region.

However, regarding dialect, where Faulkner reveals his characters’ through heavy (and at times disruptive) word alteration and accent marks, Merry reveals her characters’ distinctive brogue (seemingly) effortlessly and without hardly a notice through beautiful setting descriptions and strategic use of words uncommon to those not of her world.

The effect of her writing to me is powerful…

And surreal…

Kafkaesque.

Merry’s nineteen interwoven stories, or scenes as identified in the book, often misled me into letting my guard down – getting me lost in the cold ocean spray or in the delectable odors stewing from the stove or in the broguish din of the local pub – lulling me into thinking all’s well (how could it not be in such a quaint little town with waves pounding the shore like a mesmerizing lullaby) until it slowly dawns upon me that all is not well in Merry’s little corner of the world. In fact, not until it’s too late do I realize that just about everything beneath the quaint veneer she has laid for us is in fact quite dark and bleak, and at times… quite deadly.

We All Die in the End has left me with a haunting literary hangover.

And for that, I am grateful…

For, as rare as it is, it is that exact aftereffect I yearn for in every book I read.


EMBOOKSTUFF.WORDPRESS.COM

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A GATHERING OF BUTTERFLIES by Sean C. Wright – A Review

BOOK | FICTION | SHORT STORIES
A GATHERING OF BUTTERFLIES by Sean C. Wright
RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★


Tales of steely but vulnerable women of color will melt your heart while lifting your spirits…

A fierce grandmother keeps her grandson from the clutches of Old Scratch in Devil Does Dallas.

An alien abduction transforms a large, miserable woman in Hazel Hogan.

A country girl meets a city girl on her birthday, and struggles to decide if the girl’s heart is dark or light in Bubble Bath Twelve.

And methodical Genie forms an unlikely relationship in Heaven’s Halfway House while in a coma.

Book Description from Amazon

I am in wholehearted concurrence with Amazon reviewer Neferet when they opine that “[Author Sean C. Wright’s GATHERING OF BUTTERFLIES] is a nice collection of interesting and clever short stories….”

Nice, indeed.

And I feel nicer as a human being for having read this diminutive collection of pithy and powerful (a redundancy I know, but one worth repeating) folksy parables; and I could tell without a doubt from reading them that the author herself is nice…

Really nice.

I just wish there had been more nice stories to appreciate — there are only four and the collection as a whole weighs in at just over a hundred pages.

Three of the stories are good, written light and fast with limited (but enough) character and setting development as one would expect to find in such folksy parables and morality tales.

However, one of the stories — Bubble Bath Twelve — is exceptional. I got so very and happily lost within that wonderful, beautiful tale and I regretted it when finally finding myself at its end. It compares easily with the best of anything William Faulkner has written, if the boozy, self-hating grouch were to have written such nice, lighthearted stories that didn’t stress the reader out with their unrelenting and migraine-inducing dialect.

Yeah, the story’s that good.

Outside of expanding this fine collection with more stories, I would recommend the author consider a more professional book cover. Personal preference, perhaps, but I think such fine writing deserves something a little better than its present adornment.

So, fantastic work by Ms. Wright, work that I highly recommend. I also recommend checking out her website. While it’s a little confusing to navigate, there the determined reader can find a treasure trove of her equally fun and interesting flash fiction, which, if you recall, is how all who gather here first became acquainted with her fine work.

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THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME by Donald Ray Pollock – A Review

BOOK | FICTION | LITERARY
THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME
DONALD RAY POLLOCK
AUDIOBOOK
RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★★

Set in rural southern Ohio and West Virginia, The Devil All the Time follows a cast of compelling and bizarre characters from the end of World War II to the 1960s. There’s Willard Russell, tormented veteran of the carnage in the South Pacific, who can’t save his beautiful wife, Charlotte, from an agonizing death by cancer no matter how much sacrifi­cial blood he pours on his “prayer log.” There’s Carl and Sandy Henderson, a husband-and-wife team of serial kill­ers, who troll America’s highways searching for suitable models to photograph and exterminate. There’s the spider-handling preacher Roy and his crippled virtuoso-guitar-playing sidekick, Theodore, running from the law. And caught in the middle of all this is Arvin Eugene Russell, Willard and Charlotte’s orphaned son, who grows up to be a good but also violent man in his own right.

From the Book Description

First let me point out that the title of this book is THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME. It’s not The Devil Some of the Time or The Devil Every Once in a While. I repeat, it’s The Devil All the Time. This is an important point, one that all the up-in-arms one-star reviewers of the book complaining about it having no redeeming characters seem to have somehow missed.

Little details like book titles do matter folks.

So yeah, with a title like that you shouldn’t be surprised when finding that it’s a gritty, grimy, nasty, corrupt, vulgar tale of a story that thoroughly explores the deep dark levels of depravity to which our inhumane human-ness is capable of descending.

It’s also beautifully written with a complex twisting of storylines that straighten themselves out nicely as one in the end, if not a bit too conveniently so as some of the negative reviewers point out and which I somewhat agree with them there.

But only somewhat.

The part of the publisher’s book description that I didn’t include above states essentially that The Devil All the Time is a mashup of “the twisted intensity of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers with the religious and Gothic over­tones of Flannery O’Connor at her most haunting.”

There were several reviewers who seem to consider it sacrilegious to compare this work to O’Connor’s, the literary icon that she is. I kind of have to agree with them. Certainly not so vehemently, nor even for the same reasons, but because I got more of a William Faulkner vibe from it than an O’Connor.

But that’s just literary semantics. The book is an exceptional read in its own right.

What made it an especially exceptional read for me is that the audiobook version is narrated by master voice actor Mark Bramhall. I was fortunate to discover Bramhall’s genius when reading Christopher Buehlman’s wonderful horror tale THOSE ACROSS THE RIVER, and it was in search of more of his genius that I came across this book of which I am now reviewing for your entertainment and instruction.

Okay, all that’s fine and dandy; but want to know what impresses me most about The Devil All the Time?

Too bad. Ima tell you anyway.

What impresses me most about the work is the author himself, Mr. Donald Ray Pollock.

Not only is Pollock originally from the area of which his depressed story is set, he depressingly dropped out of school at seventeen and, after a (depressing?) stint at a meat packing plant, spent the next thirty-two (depressing?) years working as a laborer in a paper mill.

Don’t know if it all was as depressing as it seems, but it sure seems as if Pollock is trying to play it up that way in his bio.

Regardless, he, at some point, decided he wanted to be a writer so, at the age of forty-nine, he went ahead and enrolled in the MFA program at Ohio State University.

How cool is that?

How brave is that?!

I can’t imagine the courage it must have taken for him to follow his literary dreams at such an advanced age, especially knowing that to do so he would have to expose himself so openly before classroom’s full of young and exceedingly idealistic whippersnappers, most of whom probably never once had to worry about their parents not covering their expenses, let alone worry about the real life challenges this often dark and dangerous world will offer them once they’re out of the controlled college environment and having to provide for themselves.

Yeah…

This old dude Pollock is now this old dude Brindley’s newest hero.

And, btw, not only does Pollack have more guts than I’ll ever have, his first novel, as dark and disturbing and sans morality as it may be…

Is frikkin’ amazing.


Featured image courtesy of the author’s official website

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THE DISTANT SOUND OF VIOLENCE by Jason Greensides — A Review

BOOK | FICTION | LITERARY
THE DISTANT SOUND OF VIOLENCE
JASON GREENSIDES
RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Do we ever escape the decisions we make when we’re fifteen?

Nathan Dawes, the loser from school, an outsider, street philosopher and member of The Grove Runners gang, needs Ryan’s help to get Stephanie to fall for him. When Ryan’s lawnmower is stolen, Nathan sees this as his chance to enlist Ryan in his plan. 

Although Ryan knows becoming friends with Nathan could lead to trouble, he reluctantly agrees to help.

Stephanie wants nothing to do with either of them. Besides, she’s more interested in the one guy in the world she really shouldn’t be.

As Nathan continues his pursuit of Stephanie, and Ryan gets mixed up with The Grove Runners, soon events overtake them all, haunting their lives for years to come.

Part coming of age, part mystery story, The Distant Sound of Violence is a heartbreaking tale of bad decisions and love gone wrong. It’s about choices that lead to violence, loss and tragedy.

Amazon Book Description

THE DISTANT SOUND OF VIOLENCE by Jason Greensides is a hauntingly atmospheric tour de force with its stark and captivating descriptions of English life during the Nineties and beyond set in, on, and around the mean streets of London, its fully-fleshed characters as flawed and true-to-life as any character on a page can be, and its ringing dialogue that is at times achingly smart, witty, and/or sad, and that is always cut with just the right amount of a pleasingly rhythmic patios.

Not to say that I didn’t have some quibbles with this masterwork. At over 500 pages, I thought the narrator interjecting his personal story from time to time, while interesting enough to some extent, didn’t add enough value to the overall arc and purpose of the story to merit the lengthy interjections. Specifically, there is one part of the book where the narrator again interjects himself and becomes oddly obsessive in trying to track down and map out the locations of mysterious graffiti tags left by Nathan Dawes, our also oddly obsessive (but oddly obsessive with clear purpose) protagonist; where, in the end, all the time and effort spent in the narrator’s mapping of the tags served no revealing purpose that I can tell except to further highlight something that we already knew — that our protagonist is oddly obsessive to a life-wrecking fault.

But again, these are mere quibbles and ones not nearly severe enough to lower this grateful reader’s overall five-star ranking of this highly intriguing and highly recommended epic of a read.

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THE LESSER DEAD by Christopher Buehlman — A Review

BOOK | FICTION | HORROR
THE LESSER DEAD
CHRISTOPHER BUEHLMAN
AUDIOBOOK
RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★


The secret is, vampires are real and I am one.
The secret is, I’m stealing from you what is most truly yours and I’m not sorry… 


New York City in 1978 is a dirty, dangerous place to live. And die. Joey Peacock knows this as well as anybody—he has spent the last forty years as an adolescent vampire, perfecting the routine he now enjoys: womanizing in punk clubs and discotheques, feeding by night, and sleeping by day with others of his kind in the macabre labyrinth under the city’s sidewalks.

The subways are his playground and his highway, shuttling him throughout Manhattan to bleed the unsuspecting in the Sheep Meadow of Central Park or in the backseats of Checker cabs, or even those in their own apartments who are too hypnotized by sitcoms to notice him opening their windows. It’s almost too easy.

Until one night he sees them hunting on his beloved subway. The children with the merry eyes. Vampires, like him…or not like him. Whatever they are, whatever their appearance means, the undead in the tunnels of Manhattan are not as safe as they once were.

And neither are the rest of us.

Amazon Book Description

Except for the originals — Shelley’s Monster; Stoker’s Dracula; Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde, etc. — when it comes to horror, regardless the medium, whether it be movies or books (although, nightmares get a pass — nothing like a good monster trying to chase me down and rip me to shreds in my dreams), I typically will give a hard pass to any story with a monster in it. Not sure why… maybe because I find that most are just too goofy to suspend reality enough for me to enjoy them.

But I tell you what, I love Christopher Buehlman’s monsters like no man should ever love a monster.

THE LESSER DEAD is my third book by Buelhman — THOSE ACROSS THE RIVER and SUICIDE MOTORCYCLE CLUB are the other two and both are outstanding reads in their own right. However, by comparison, TLD is a completely exceptional read, a pure literary masterwork, not just as a genre novel, but as a true literary novel. But even regarding it just as a horror novel, by comparison with its angsty and vulgar (vampire) coming of age vibe to it, I would say it ranks as the THE CATCHER IN THE RYE of its genre if I didn’t think TCITR was so grossly over rated. But regardless, to me TLD, although a much more complete body of work than TCITR in my opinion, deserves such similar acclaim among its contemporaries as TCITR enjoys among its. Not to mention TLD has an ending that is pure literary genius.

As if that weren’t enough, Buehlman himself narrates the audiobook and his skills as a voice actor are equal to his skills as an author.

The dude’s for real folks.

#whythefhaventanyofthisdudesbooksbeenmadeintoamovie


Featured image courtesy of Goodreads

 
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THE CONTORTIONIST’S HANDBOOK — A Rapid Review

BOOK | FICTION | LITERARY
THE CONTORTIONIST’S HANDBOOK
BY CRAIG CLEVENGER
FORMAT: AUDIOBOOK
RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This is the book’s description, as diminutive as it may be, and as it may be found on its Amazon page…

John Dolan Vincent, a forger who suffers from migraine headaches and mental illness, invents a new identity for himself in order to be released from a mental hospital and build a new life.

And this is my review of the book, as diminutive as it may be, and as it may be found as follows (huh?)…

Continue reading THE CONTORTIONIST’S HANDBOOK — A Rapid Review