Long Black Veil: A Novel
“All the twists and turns and deliberate obfuscation of characters names and identities and piled on bizarre coincidences in overly descriptive scenes, only add to the Byzantian complexity of what essentially is a standard thriller with noire and horror elements.”
Long Black Veil by well-reputed author Jennifer Finney Boylan, although a page-turner, is a cumbersome read. From the first pages, set in the abandoned and supposedly haunted Eastern State Penitentiary prison outside of Philadelphia, a motley group of eight recently graduated college friends (one with a younger brother tagging along) undergo a horrifying experience and the loss of one of their members. This character’s disappearance languishes in police files as a cold case murder. No spoilers below.
The first chapters are akin to entering a maze, and as the book progresses there are more dead ends and false starts than any inkling of a clear path to the safe center. After several confusing chapters, astute readers may have the characters straightened out, but the hard work demands too much.
Decades (and chapters) later when these now estranged friends meet again and readers sense that Boylan is about to tie up the loose ends—solution to the murder, muted reconciliation among the group and justice served—the maze center safely gained, readers are in for more surprises. All the twists and turns and deliberate obfuscation of characters names and identities and piled on bizarre coincidences in overly descriptive scenes, only add to the Byzantian complexity of what essentially is a standard thriller with noire and horror elements.
The strongest parts of the book occur when Boylan writes from the point of view of the trans character who finds marginal redemption. This is not surprising as Boylan herself is trans and her character’s experience rings powerfully true.
Also memorable are the scenes from a macabre student arts festival event in the abandoned prison. These overheated scenes with masked celebrants flitting in shadows, evokes similar scenes of Venetian masked celebrations as described in Jeanette Winterson’s book The Passion.
Boylan is a prolific and strong writer. At her best she evokes the hair-raising chills Joyce Carol Oates can. But this book is not her best.
Image published by Huffington Post, August 10
My Thought #1 I feel pity for Donald Drumpf because now I see him for what he is—yes, you read correctly—pity and sorrow, but still despising and despairing about what he stands for and what he’s done to our country. He is a cowardly braggart, narcissist, and both ego- and megalomaniac. These are but words to describe a very sick man. He is a bull gone amok in a china shop and now that he has almost shattered everything around him; exhausted, bewildered, he remains determined to bring the whole building down around your ears and mine.
Conflagration date; during the weeks before and after November 8; if, indeed anything is left of our political process by then.
Are you reading this Donald? A wise person told me that when someone is pointing a finger of blame at another, three fingers point back at—them. Do you get it?
Doesn’t a Drumpf yuuuuuge vacation seem like a good idea right now—for his own and all our sakes?
He is simply the most out-of-control and the most dangerous, unaware, unconscious and unconscionable public persona in American history. Not our first racist bigot, not our first fascist, but our first demagogue who channels Benito Mussolini and the far lesser but equally horrifying, (his “friend”) Roger Stone. Drumpf’s name will live on in infamy.
(The Guardian August 9): Roger Stone, an informal adviser to the Trump campaign, implied last month to internet agitator Milo Yiannopoulos that the notion of discrediting the election as “illegitimate” is part of Trump’s campaign strategy.
Stone’s maladvice to Drump
“I think we have widespread voter fraud, but the first thing that Trump needs to do is begin talking about it constantly,” Stone said. “He needs to say for example, today would be a perfect example: ‘I am leading in Florida. The polls all show it. If I lose Florida, we will know that there’s voter fraud. If there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government.’”
“If you can’t have an honest election, nothing else counts,” Stone continued. “I think he’s gotta put them on notice that their inauguration will be a rhetorical, and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath. The government will be shut down if they attempt to steal this and swear Hillary in. No, we will not stand for it. We will not stand for it.”
This is what I mean by “conflagration”. Come on folks, we are hearing this very script pertaining to Pennsylvania for a week already; except he is not leading in Pennsylvania.
Who can save this very sick man—and us—from all our worst nightmares manifesting? His children can, if they approach him along with his innocent grandchildren, and lead him gently out of the china shop. But Ivanka &Co, better ask him to get his foot out of his mouth first if he wants to walk and not fall and be carried out by them.
Thought #2 President Obama’s reading list is impressive in its eclecticism:
“Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life” by William Finnegan
“The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead
“H Is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald
“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins
“Seveneves” by Neal Stephenson
I’ve only read “H is for Hawk”, an excellent book being made into a movie. Read a review http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/h-hawk
, Donald J. Drumpf
, Election 2016
, human rights
, President Obama
This past weekend I volunteered at a Democratic Party phone bank in Florida calling registered Democratic voters. I made around one hundred calls. Many I reached said they are with her but about TEN PERCENT, ALL lifelong Democrats, said they are undecided. When I probed a little the resounding response was why does she lie—and continue to evade being straightforward and honest—about her use of a private email server for classified emails when she was Secretary of State. They truly wanted to vent their disappointment and doubt.
I tried to re-assure them stating that she has apologized, said she made a mistake and it won’t happen again–their response? Why does this keep happening and why can’t she come out with an authentic, from the heart, simple statement?
Well, why can’t she? I don’t know the answer to that question.
Just this past week she muddied the waters again by saying she may have “inadvertently” “short-circuited” her responses to official and unofficial investigations around this email issue. The media zeroed in on the “short-circuited” and omitted the “inadvertently”. This is what the media does and after twenty-five years in public life Hillary should have learned to choose her words more carefully…or if she has a problem talking off the cuff…simply speak truthfully from the heart. (I don’t believe she has a problem fielding questions given her debate performances, but then she’s talking policy and not miring herself deeper and deeper in personal issues. She keeps a shield between herself and her public.)
“Authenticity”, “sincerity” and “missing” are two words I heard repeatedly.
Other phone bank volunteers with me reported the same unease among people they called. We asked the paid organizers to pass this feedback up the chain, and they said they would. Other people have shared with me that at fund raising and other Democratic Party events, this remains the number one troubling concern for previous Democratic voters.
If this is a problematic issue in Florida (critical swing state) and around the country, my ten percent of responders can quickly amount to millions of votes lost for Hillary and hundreds of Democratic Party members “down-ticket” running for office–from the local to national level.
Driving home and thinking about this, I now believe supporters do trust Hillary and her experience and ability to govern but question her inability not to obfuscate.
So, for me it is her perceived lack of humility and grace under pressure that is bothering them at a visceral level. They are looking for an opening to support her whole-heartedly but these niggles remain.
This Monday morning’s election headlines reported that Tim Kaine, Hillary’s running mate for the presidential election on November 8 said over the weekend that Hillary and the campaign are aware of “trust” and “trustworthiness” issues with voters. He also said that when Hillary and he are in the White House there would be “total transparency.”
I am pleased to read and hear this and that his comments are so widely covered by reporters. But there is more that needs to be done. We need to hear this from her!
URGENT MEMO: HILLARY’S TOP CAMPAIGN TEAM
ADD: TO DO LIST FOR HILLARY CLINTON AND HER CAMPAIGN
Produce a simple short ad with Hillary acknowledging that the email issue continues to shadow her campaign. Have her say, while sitting at a kitchen table as she did in the Convention video, all homey and casual and humble, so as to connect with all voters:
“I hear you. I know many of you are still worried about issues of the email server when I was Secretary of State. But that was more the four years ago. I’ve learned my lesson. I made a mistake. I apologize unequivocally to all of you who support us, and our causes. Here is our promise. Tim and I will strive to do our best for you and honor, explicitly, your trust.”
Then post/send this key quote to every social media and other media (print, TV) outlet and Internet tools you have. Share/blast the heck out of it!
I will continue to volunteer for Hillary—this election is too important for us to sit out.
But, it will be excellent if the campaign committee can help her help herself and all of us!
Hope you read this Donna Brazile!!
Tags: Election 2016
, human rights
, trust issues
MY HEARTFELT APPEAL DIRECTED TO REPUBLICAN LEADERS TO DITCH DRUMPF.
LET’S PUT OUR COUNTRY BACK ON A PATH OF SANITY. HE IS AMERICA’S GREATEST FAILURE.
For most of my adult life I’ve been an educator, as well as a freelance journalist and an author, an international expert on the psychology of personality, and since the age of thirteen an anti-apartheid activist in my motherland, South Africa.
Let’s start there—the racist ideological madmen whom we opposed in South Africa at least believed in something, albeit a despicable racist ideology.
Drumpf believes in nothing except himself and his brand…and that’s it. He is non-empathic and unaware of the damage his lies do to other Americans and his country. He’s a racist. He’s a psychologically impaired ego- and megalomaniac. He is in the same league as all the most infamous villains of history. That alone should disqualify him for President.
Drumpf is the most pervasive negative role model for our children and grandchildren.
I’ve written a book on parenting, I’ve taught hundreds, if not into the low thousands of highly intelligent, young people, about moral responsibility, human rights, reality and illusion, and perhaps, most importantly, how to think and write critically.
* Drumpf models that it’s perfectly acceptable to be an ill-prepared, foul-mouthed, morally blind ignoramus. As long as you can lie and lie again, and bully and browbeat, you can be President.
*Drumpf models to them that bluster and bullying, screaming obscenities at individuals and groups is acceptable —after all he’s running for President; he’s the standard-bearer of the Republican Party, he must be okay.
* Drumpf lies and double downs, contradicts himself, lies again. He is a national embarrassment. He is a vaudeville villain, a clown, a con man, a cheat, a liar, a liar, and a liar.
HE IS A PATHOLOGICAL LIAR. He models to America and the world’s children that it’s okay to lie. And lie, and lie.
* He signals to America’s allies and enemies that his word is NEVER TO BE TRUSTED.
* He signals to Americans not only that can WE NEVER TRUST HIM but the sure road ahead if he becomes President will be to upend 240 years of progress, of tearing up the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.
*He is the greatest danger to America’s future and that means the international order too.
Can you imagine Drumpf trying to deal with a major catastrophe; he’ll blame the victims.
He’ll shirk responsibility. He won’t spend time in the White House; he’ll go back to his shyster business dealings. He and his wife will visit occasionally. Pence will be our president except in name…. and on and on.
My heartfelt appeal is directed to Republican leaders TO DITCH DRUMPF. Let’s put our country back on a path of sanity. He is America’s greatest failure.
, human rights
, mind structure
Barkskins: A Novel by Annie Proulx
“Over 300 years the forests are raped, eco-systems destroyed, wealth generated, and the insatiable international desire and greed for wood exploited.”
Annie Proulx, the author of Barkskins is an accomplished American writer. She has achieved the status of grande dame of American letters and deservedly so. An earlier book, The Shipping News, is a stellar work, one with teeth and grit, lyricism and poignancy, dark as well as magical moments. That book remains a pioneer at the frontier of American fiction, as her protagonist, Quoyle, exists in one of the first portrayals of a single father as a heroic figure through the travails and triumphs of his small, dysfunctional family.
If readers hope for more of the same in Barkskins they will be disappointed. The book is overlong, the storylines confusing, the insertion of pages and pages of albeit interesting facts about daily life in the towering, primeval forests—the utensils, the logging tools, the clothes, the traditions, rites and rituals of all the people who meet, clash, and intermingle—are shared in almost overwhelming detail, so as to slow and even disrupt the novel. It is as if Proulx insisted on using all the detail she had accumulated in her ten years of research and writing of Barkskins. At the very moment we are engrossed in one of the story lines we are dragged back to arcane documentation.
The book opens in 1693 when two indentured Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in Canada—New France—to serve as woodcutters for an eccentric feudal lord who built a grand chateau deep in the forests for his future bride (when he finds one).
Sel is forced to marry a native Mi’kmaw woman, and his progeny, through generations, vacillate between the two worlds of their generators—French frontiersmen and native Canadians or “original people.”
Duquet escapes his servitude to gain a foothold on the wealth the territory offers through fur-trapping, trading, and later enterprising forays into timber. He founds, and his descendants (later changing their last name to Duke), now timber barons, forge an international empire.
Both families’ genealogical lines are tied to trees, natural disasters, unexpected plot twists and turns—in frontier Quebec, then Michigan and hundreds of years later in the kauri forests of New Zealand.
Over 300 years the forests are raped, eco-systems destroyed, wealth generated, and the insatiable international desire and greed for wood exploited.
Overall the writing is fluid, and as would expect of Proulx her characters are exposed to states of the human condition from veniality to love. There are too many characters and episodes to cite here, but among the most intriguing is the union of Kuntaw, one of Sel’s grandsons and Beatrix Duquet, a granddaughter of Charles, and their life near the Penobscot people, river and bay in Maine. This union (although they never married) is one where descendants of the Sel and Duquet families unknowingly for many years in the second half of the eighteenth century, amalgamated their lives. They had no offspring.
Kuntaw and Beatrix meet on the muddy banks of the river:
He stood a few yards back from the horse and looked at the girl. She was elegant, wearing a black cloak edged in red. Something about her dark-ivory face said she was part Indian.
“You like to make some money?” she asked moving close. She lifted her head and inhaled his odor of smoke, meat and pine pitch.
He shrugged. “What do?”
“Split wood of course.” She enunciated very carefully. ‘You carry an ax. Do you know how to split firewood?”
He nodded. “I know.”
“I need you, Indian man. Follow.” Beatrix Duquet turned her horse and trotted gracefully toward the big house, he had to run to keep up with her. Watching her long crinkled hair sway, the bright heels of her boots, he felt a wave of enchantment strike him like warm rain. So, in his thirtieth spring, began the strangest part of his life, as he seemed to stumble out of the knotted forest and onto a shining path.
Barkskins is an epic saga but unlike many of James Michener’s epic historical sagas or others such as The Thornbirds by Australian, Colleen McCullough, or Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, to name only a few, Barkskins does not have the sweep and flow of history that keeps one reading through the night.
Perhaps the material here would be better served as eco-nonfiction, such as John McPhee’s The Control of Nature, Bill McKibbon’s The End of Nature, or Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring and influence this and successive generations to save the planet and specifically in Proulx’s case, the forests that are left on our planet before they are denuded; however, as eco-fiction it falls below Annie Proulx’s admittedly extraordinarily high standards.
Perhaps her intention all along is to write a cautionary tale about the environmental catastrophe we have already wrought.
Why shouldn’t things be largely absurd, futile, and transitory? They are so, and we are so, and they and we go well together. —George Santayana
By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feeling of natural objects. —Lynn White, Jr.
These epigraphs certainly suggest the reason for Annie Proulx’s book encompassing the polemical tilt toward recording so thoroughly this irreparable damage.
, human rights
“Relativity is a wonderful read . . . well written, sometimes lyrically so, well plotted and not afraid to enter some of the grittier territory of complex human relationships.”
Relativity by Antonia Hayes is a wonderful read. Hayes deserves a wide audience for this book. Relativity is Hayes debut novel, well written, sometimes lyrically so, well plotted and not afraid to enter some of the grittier territory of complex human relationships. One of Hayes’ singular achievements in this work is her non-judgmental stance and balanced voice.
For protagonists, 12-year-old Ethan, his biological father, Mark, and his single mom, Claire, sometimes explosive, sometimes tender, often hard-to-read shifting points of view have the ring of truth. Indeed they should, for as author Hayes says in interviews the novel’s impetus is largely based on autobiographical fact but the characters and evolving plot are fictional. The novel is set in Sydney Australia, Hayes’ hometown although she now lives in San Francisco.
Another character omnipresent in the novel is ideas created from theoretical physics and cosmology. Hayes’ writing of complex abstraction is masterful. By having, albeit a remarkable 12 year old articulate his understanding of these ideas, she makes them accessible to a wide audience.
A tattoo on Mark’s arm illustrates the interaction between science and this troubled family, ‘E=mc2’: Ethan equals Mark and Claire. Ethan, a brilliant and precocious boy fascinated by physics, Mark, a mysterious figure in Ethan’s life until he is 12, and Claire, a professional ballerina, who ends her performance career to care for her son.
No other spoilers in this review for that would mar your reading of this compulsive, compassionate, and intelligent novel. It grabs you from the jarring opening page and on the last page you gasp at the fitting paean of appreciation for the force of gravity and how Hayes links the implications of physics to the plot.
“Gravitation shapes our universe. Forms tides, heats planetary cores. It’s why fragments of gravitational matter clump together into planets and moons, why stars cluster into vast, rippling galaxies. Earth isn’t going to crash into the sun, the moon won’t collide with Earth—gravity keeps them safe in orbit. It always attracts and never repels; it brings the planets back.
Gravity is insistent. It firmly stands its ground. We never stop accelerating toward the center of the Earth at 9.8/s2. That curvature in the fabric of space-time is a phenomenon we experience every day, an invisible experience we all have in common.”
Light years from the rarified conceptual realm of scientific ideas, Ethan’s family is mired in hurt, excrutiating guilt, and a combination of hate and love not yet understood or clarified. Microcosmic and macrocosmic perceptions of human experience do not align—yet.
“Claire got dressed. Her head was full of contradictions, as though each hemisphere of her own brain were battling some civil war. Confusion left her with a strong desire for solitude, to be left alone with her conflicting thoughts. She felt completely disorientated, questioning her entire life. What if her heart had reshaped itself around a lie? Part of her was angry . . . another part of her utterly distraught.”
Ethan, a child on the cusp of adolescence, is the perfect vehicle through which the story unfolds. We learn at the same time he does the mysterious twists of family history, burial and reframing of tortured memories, a family constellation torn apart.
Gravity does not operate the same way in this family constellation as it does on a universal scale; the stars do not align, at least not on the surface. But at the quantum level gravity and relativity are present although to the untrained eye particles heave and bubble like chaos itself.
Hayes invites us to look deeper into the quantum level of her characters’ psyches. Our clue to this interpretation is Ethan’s pet rabbit named, Quark. As Hayes explains, quarks are elementary particles and fundamental constituents of matter. Quarks combine to form particles called hadrons, the components of atomic nuclei.
The matter that constitutes stars is the same matter firing neurons in our brains. At some level Ethan is already the space-time traveler he strives to be. After all, the title of the novel is Relativity.
– See more at: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/relativity#sthash.rnDkrJJr.dpuf
, mind structure
The Astronomer and the Witch: Johannes Kepler’s Fight for his Mother
“Rublack creates an astute and informative study of witchcraft and witch trials.”
The Astronomer and The Witch by Ulinka Rublack at first glance may appear to be a book for history scholars. After all, the author is a well-regarded University of Cambridge don and has written several other academic books. But this book holds many surprises.
Far from dry academic discourse, it is a scintillating read, presenting a fascinating depiction of Johannes Kepler’s 17th century world, a time in Europe of great discoveries and intellectual ferment. Kepler, with his astronomical theses and philosophical canniness, was a well-known intellectual leader with a great many followers. In fact he is one of our most famous scientists.
“Fired by his fascination with cosmic constellations, Kepler, in 1606, published his treatise, De Stella Nova. It reflected on a recent supernova, which he regarded as a new star. The star’s significance lay in the fact that it had appeared close to the conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn in the sign of Sagittarius. Kepler enthusiastically presented the age he lived in as positively influenced by this very special planetary conjunction. The universe beyond the Moon and planets was mutable. Unlike automatic clocks, which he admired for their enactment of regularity but criticized for their inability to reflect change, God’s world could thus be dynamic, surprising illuminating and varied, if people kept on positively responding to the possibilities of their time.”
You may justifiably ask how such a forward thinking and progressive man could also believe in witchcraft. As Rublack explains, Kepler believed all humans were “tiny specks of dust” who carried God’s image inside them and continued the work of divine creation.
In this worldview those who questioned Christendom were agents of demons and summarily victimized. Witches were the most unsavory manifestations of Satanic influence to undermine God’s divine creation.
Against this background, Rublack creates an astute and informative study of witchcraft and witch trials. Rublack’s meticulous scholarship immerses us into Kepler’s social and cultural milieu. In telling Kepler’s story—his six-year defense of his mother, Katharina Kepler, at her witchcraft trial—Rublack’s prose engrosses with intimate portrayals of village life, family life, prevailing beliefs, and local governance and legal practices. We learn why witchcraft was part of the 17th century mindset and why people feared witches so fiercely. For these people witchcraft was a fact of life.
For decades, Kepler and his mother had a vexed relationship arising from their conflicting personalities. Yet, without question, and despite all his many academic and other commitments, he came to her defense when she was accused of witchcraft and threatened with imprisonment or death. For six years he prevailed upon his connections in high society and government to gain support for his defense. In 1621 he appeared at her final trial.
“Despite Kepler’s attempt in public to present himself as civilized man of reason, he once more struggled to control his fury about Katharina’s criminal trial. Kepler knew he had to convince the Tübingen professors of law that, above all, his family had become victims of failed governance. . . . Kepler developed an implicit analogy between Leonberg’s governor as the ‘moon’ and Duke John Frederick and his ducal council as ‘the sun.’ As the moon had constantly become smaller, it had begun to reflect the sun’s rays only weakly and then completely disappeared. Finally it had covered the sun with darkness to fully eclipse good government.”
Rublack asserts that Kepler was right: Most Württemberg witchcraft trials and the majority of those that ended in a death sentence were prosecuted during John Frederick’s reign (1608–1628), which suggests that he insufficiently controlled his governors. “Ultimately Katharina was unlocked from her iron chain and set free . . . after fourteen months of incarceration under the severest of conditions.”
In the book’s epilogue, Rublack travels to Eltingen, the village in which Katharina was born, and begins her research by reading original trial papers. She also delves into the Third Reich’s fascination with this period in Germany’s history.
The final chapter is the crown to Rublack’s previous achievements in The Astronomer and The Witch. Here she offers an excellent and satisfactory summation of her findings and thoughts.