Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge, Poems by Paul Guest

Wonderful, strange, exciting young poet.

User's Guide to Physical Debilitation
by Paul Guest

Should the painful condition of irreversible paralysis
last longer than forever or at least until
your death by bowling ball or illegal lawn dart
or the culture of death, which really has it out
for whoever has seen better days
but still enjoys bruising marathons of bird watching,
you, or your beleaguered caregiver
stirring dark witch's brews of resentment
inside what had been her happy life,
should turn to page seven where you can learn,
assuming higher cognitive functions
were not pureed by your selfish misfortune,
how to leave the house for the first time in two years.
An important first step,
with apologies for the thoughtlessly thoughtless metaphor.
When not an outright impossibility
or form of neurological science fiction,
sexual congress will either be with
tourists in the kingdom of your tragedy,
performing an act of sadistic charity;
with the curious, for whom you will be beguilingly blank canvas;
or with someone blindly feeling their way
through an extended power outage
caused by summer storms you once thought romantic.
Page twelve instructs you how best
to be inspiring to Magnus next door
as he throws old Volkswagens into orbit
above Alberta. And to Betty
in her dark charm confiding a misery,
whatever it is, that to her seems equivalent to yours.
The curl of her hair that her finger knows
better and beyond what you will,
even in the hypothesis of heaven
when you sleep. This guide is intended
to prepare you for falling down
and declaring d├ętente with gravity,
else you reach the inevitable end
of scaring small children by your presence alone.
Someone once said of crushing
helplessness: it is a good idea to avoid that.
We agree with that wisdom
but gleaming motorcycles are hard
to turn down or safely stop
at speeds which melt aluminum. Of special note
are sections regarding faith
healing, self-loathing, abstract hobbies
like theoretical spelunking and extreme atrophy,
and what to say to loved ones
who won't stop shrieking
at Christmas dinner. New to this edition
is an index of important terms
such as catheter, pain, blackout,
pathological deltoid obsession, escort service,
magnetic resonance imaging,
loss of friends due to superstitious fear,
and, of course, amputation
above the knee due to pernicious gangrene.
It is our hope that this guide
will be a valuable resource
during this long stretch of boredom and dread
and that it may be of some help,
however small, to cope with your new life
and the gradual, bittersweet loss
of every God damned thing you ever loved.

Sweeth Tooth by Ian McEwan

Got halfway through and put it away.  Obscure, somewhat pulse-less.   First one of his I've ever not finished.  Concerns a young woman hired in the late 1960s by British intelligence, caught up in intrigues with lovers/former lovers/future lovers who may or may not be double agents.  Will not find out, in this life.  Of course, I had a University copy of the book, sans the sexy dust cover shown here.  That might have made all of the difference in the world.  But cannot recreate the experience of first picking up the plain black volume and reading half.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Nearly True by Sean Enright

It's 1938, post-Depression, pre-WWII Catholic Queens, NY. Ten year old Kenneth Cadogan leads silent film star Clara Bow, a deranged WWI veteran who’s obsessed with the actress, and his gang of friends who pretend to be cowboy heroes, in a search for missing television stock certificates. Kenneth also tries to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance after swimming in plain view of his son and his wife. Poking around in his father’s haunts in their neighborhood, Kenneth uncovers mysteries about his father’s life and marriage and demons. The search spreads to lower Manhattan and the Hoovervilles of Hoboken and Jersey City, culminating in the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow, a monumental technology showcase when television was first displayed to the mass public, and where surprises and missed chances compound the mystery.

"What do Clara Bow, the World’s Fair, a shell-shocked WW1 veteran, and a father who walks into the ocean at Astoria Point one hot summer night in 1938 have to do with each other? Maybe nothing. Unless of course, you’ve entered the mordant whimsy of a Sean Enright novel. Nearly True tells the story of one boy’s passage from the make-believe of childhood, to the half-glimpsed, half-understood mysteries of adulthood as he comes to terms with his father’s disappearance. Enright is a master at capturing the tipping point of innocence, when the particular, heartbreaking way a child sees and then, refashions his world shows us more about what we have lost than we could imagine." Sarah Blake, New York Times best-selling author of The Postmistress.

"In the summer of 1938, a man goes for a swim in Turtle Bay in Queens and vanishes. This is the riveting mystery that propels Nearly True, an expansive, compassionate novel that is also the portrait of a boy and a country on the cusp of transformation. In search of his missing father, Kenneth Cadogan eavesdrops on the adult world and encounters an historical moment rife with venom, celebrity, shattering loss, and miraculous invention, including Radio Priest Father Coughlin, Clara Bow, the Hoovervilles, and the 1939 World’s Fair where television was born. In Kenneth, Sean Enright has given us a character as poignant and yearning as the era he describes." Maud Casey, author of Genealogy, a New York Times Editor's Choice Book

"You won’t soon forget Kenneth Cadogan, the character at the center of Sean Enright’s terrific new novel Nearly True. Set against the backdrop of the 1939 World’s Fair, Enright’s tale is a rollicking, riveting drama of an Irish family’s struggles in late Depression-era Queens and one boy’s heart-breaking quest to solve the puzzle of his father’s disappearance. Reminiscent of the works of Alice McDermott and E.L. Doctorow, Nearly True limns the joys and sorrows of the American immigrant experience with exuberant irreverence and wit. The result is a masterly portrait of familial love and sacrifice." Kate Walbert, author of A Short History of Women and the National Book Award nominee Our Kind

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

True North by Jim Harrison

In many ways it lived up to my brother's description: "Frederick Exley in northern Michigan. Plus, lots of hot-sounding ladies." I really liked the way he wove together philosophical discursion and mundane life observations, the sense of humor the narrator had about his own serious, obsessive side, and the irony and humor with which he was treated by his closest friends and family.  
The landscape of the U.P. and northern Midwest forests were great, the fishing stuff too.

The flaw is that it meanders so much that I got lost often, as to where we were, and where he was on his campaign to expose the family's crimes and more particularly to punish his father.

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