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Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

To begin: two women — two writers, two different centuries and countries.
Both make light of their societies. One was beloved, sought after and continues to enthrall people to this day in ways I fail to appreciate.

The other damages reputations with a whip and wit as sharp as the edge of a cliff. She cracks me up.

I’m afraid I have no sense of mass appeal because the first writer is everyone’s sweetheart: Jane Austen.

The second one is Dorothy Parker. To me, her prose sizzles.  She doesn’t waste words or effort explaining stories that are full of sentimental creatures mooning over unattainable men who end up being attainable, in set-up circumstances so similar from one story to another, that all you need to do is wash down the names and locations, white-out a few character differences, and you’ve got a new story with a slightly different flavour.

Like Austen. (O dear.  Now I’ve done it.  Defies reason, almost.  Because I admire Elizabeth Gaskell and her cronies.)

Clearly, I have no idea what makes Austen appealing. I’ve tried, believe me. “Northanger Abbey” was my first. It is clear to me why the publisher who bought it refused to publish it for a long time. Wasn’t it posthumously published? I won’t bother to regale anyone with the plot–it is trite and wasteful, predictable and Austen plunges through its climax as if it were an afterthought. I get it. It’s a bald chase mocking the frivolity of Austen’s world. I just don’t know how someone could write story after story of the same thing, dressed up in different gowns, among different friends, in different (or sometimes, the same) towns.

But then, on a tangential note, Stephen King has made quite a career of this. After “Salem’s Lot”, “It”, and “The Body”, I had my fill of the King, with the exception of “Needful Things”. I know people who love him, and it’s no dig on them, but a little King goes a long way with me. Maybe it’s the monster in all of our childhoods that I prefer to leave sleeping. Who knows?

In most cases though, prolific doesn’t equate quality. Out of the few prolific writers I’ve been able to sink my teeth into, Daphne DuMaurier stands out, and God help me, I like Mary Stewart. I have an affinity for Agatha Christie, thanks to my grandmother. (I like how Christie referred to her method of writing as a “sausage factory”. Clearly, the woman humored herself, all the while owning her craft like few others.)

Another author I find delightful: Charles Dickens. Then I made the mistake of reading his biography. The mere idea that Dickens’ character, Flora Finching in “Little Dorrit” (a story I really liked), was based on his real-life first love, sickened me. How dare a writer presume to be so arrogant as to use a person in such a way? (I know it happens all the time. Still, it sickens me.)

But I digress. Obviously.

Back to Dorothy Parker. A recent discovery. And a welcome one. She adds levity to her writing. Anyone who is quoted as saying, when asked to use “horticulture” in a sentence, “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think”, collapses me in giggles and admiration. Not that I am anyone notable enough from which to seek out admiration. But still, this is a writer whom I needed, just about now. Short stories like the hysterical “The Waltz”, poems that don’t take themselves too seriously, like “Bric-A-Brac”, and letters in which her brevity is charged with honest criticisms of her own work–she knows she doesn’t run with the F. Scott Fitzgeralds.  But with her bold wit and clever honesty, she is refreshing.  Light, talented, and poignant.
Dorothy Parker

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J.G. Ballard.

Is there anyone like him?

Original, imaginative, his work sets its own parameters. Stark, it builds in story and description then slams itself into you like a force of its own nature.

“The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard” begins with seeming simplicity, but grows intense fast. A tremendous introduction to Ballard’s work.

For example, from “The Garden of Time”:

“Towards evening, when the great shadow of the Palladian villa filled the terrace, Count Axel left his library and walked down the wide marble steps among the time flowers. A tall, imperious figure in a black velvet jacket, a gold tie-pin glinting below his George V beard, cane held stiffly in a white-gloved hand, he surveyed the exquisite crystal flowers without emotion, listening to the sounds of his wife’s harpsichord, as she played a Mozart rondo in the music room, echo and vibrate through the translucent petals.

“As was his custom before beginning his regular evening stroll, Count Axel looked out across the plain to the final rise, where the horizon was illuminated like a distant stage by the fading sun. As the Mozart chimed delicately around him, flowing from his wife‟s graceful hands, he saw that the advance columns of an enormous army were moving slowly over the horizon. At first glance, the long ranks seemed to be progressing in orderly lines, but on closer inspection, it was apparent that, like the obscured detail of a Goya landscape, the army was composed of a vast confused throng of people, men and women, interspersed with a few soldiers in ragged uniforms, pressing forward in a disorganised tide. Some laboured under heavy loads suspended from crude yokes around their necks; others struggled with cumbersome wooden carts, their hands wrenching at the wheel spokes; a few trudged on alone; but all moved on at the same pace, bowed backs illuminated in the fleeting sun.

“The advancing throng was almost too far away to be visible, but even as Axel watched, his expression aloof yet observant, it came perceptibly nearer, the vanguard of an immense rabble appearing from below the horizon…”

For me, I was ignited…the desire for more. And there is more…this work is massive, not to mention his wealth of novels. (I’m looking forward to delving into “The Crystal World”.)

It’s easy to grow obsessed with Ballard. He dives head-over-heels into his worlds and takes you along for the ride. Be careful. This is a serious writer who knows his craft and uses it well.

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I was just reading about a poet, Jack Gilbert, who is (rightly) being celebrated all over the web today. His poetry is evocative and subtle, but direct and raw…it has the power to open old desires, reawaken some forgotten ache.

One site refers to his “Collected Poems” as “almost certainly among the two or three most important books of poetry that will be published this year.”

Even if it is (and the bits I’ve read really are enticing), I abscond from “important” works of poetry. Not that poetry isn’t important (it’s my life-blood), but, to me, poetry should be sumptuous–a feast for the senses, both felt and hinted at. When poetry is touted as “important”, it loses its self-respect (yes, I believe poetry has a sense of self-respect) and feeds into the pseudo-intellectuals who propagate its “importance”.

Read poetry for the beauty of the work, the heady sense of stepping headlong into another essence than the usual day-to-day. For instance…

“If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight…We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world…”

~from “A Brief for the Defense”

and:

“We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars…”

~from “Tear it Down”

Jack Gilbert takes you, holds you captive for a moment in his works of blood-and-beauty, and will keep you enticed. As all incredible poetry should.

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I’ve picked up C.G. Jung’s autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, again and am, of course, entranced. He says, “Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away–an ephemeral apparition….I have never lost the sense of something that lives and endures underneath the eternal flux. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.”

This, with the basic (and only the basic) concepts of his studies involving a mystical alchemy, I am astounded. My book, Delicate: The Alchemy of Emily Greyson, is a novel containing these mystic alchemies and unprovoked nuances throughout the story that create its own myth. And Emily, who doesn’t show up until a substantial way through, is the culmination of these mysticisms.

Maybe Delicate is a Jungian type of fairytale.

What with all the vampire/werewolf culture still consuming the public, my book is a far cry from popular mainstream. Fortuitous symbols, inadvertent mysticism, the “ephemeral apparition” and the concept, “…What we see is the blossom which passes. The rhizome remains”, begin to set the premise for my book.

An unpredictable romp into a different mind, a different time.

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