Month: June 2009

The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl – Review by Tom Powers

The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl

Disclaimer: I really want to thank my good friend Tom Powers for reviewing this book. Yes, I am the author of the book, and, yes, I recognize that posting a positive review of my own book on this blog may not be the most objective thing to do, but I’m still glad that Tom found the book so enjoyable!

Review by Tom Powers

The other day, while I was tutoring English at the college where I teach, my colleague Bobbie walked up to me and exclaimed, “I’ve been reading your friend Marc Schuster’s novel, The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom & Party Girl, and let me tell you – Marc is a brilliant author!”  She then went on to tell me that Marc has truly captured the voice of a woman struggling with divorce and addiction – no easy task for a male author who has fortunately not experienced these terrible hardships.  Hearing Bobbie’s words, I was immediately reminded that I always enjoy Marc’s writing because he goes outside the boundaries of his own life experiences and builds three-dimensional characters and worlds with which readers can universally identify.

In his heroine Audrey Corcoran, Marc indeed creates a realistic character whose struggle is equally tragic and comedic.  It is also the unique manner that Audrey’s story unfolds in the novel that shows Marc deftly playing with time in a complex layering of cause and effect.  As these chapters play off each other like shadows and light in a chiaroscurist’s painting, we can sense that Audrey is potentially heading for some sort of breakdown.  Through Marc’s writing, however, we are enthralled in reading her journey to the dark side and poignantly reminded how our impulsive choices can destructively reverberate further down the road in our own lives.

Audrey’s vivid characterization is nicely complemented by the people in her life: her two precocious daughters, an ex-husband who insists on Audrey being his best friend, his gorgeous, “younger model” wife, a jazz aficionado love interest who dabbles with cocaine, and a man who goes by the code name “Captain Panther.”  Throw into the narrative mix a best friend who helps feed Audrey’s growing coke habit and a boss whose salacious mindset humorously twists the tone of the food magazine for which she writes, and you have a cast of characters who keep Audrey energetically bouncing amongst her complex roles of devoted mother, passionate lover, loyal friend, and confused drug-user.

Marc’s novel likewise works as a cautionary diatribe on our consumerist society, as it shows how the image-driven demands of our mall-culture conflict with the needs of the individual’s search for identity and contentment.  Being members of a media-based country that loves the downfall of our real-life tragic heroes of the female variety, particularly Martha Stewart, or on a darker note, Heidi Fleiss, potential readers will be naturally attracted to Audrey’s tale.

To anyone of us, then, who have been either dumped by our spouses, forced to raise children virtually alone, or faced the demands of a merciless, youth-based society and the tyranny of mounting credit-debt, The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom & Party Girl will undoubtedly speak volumes.

Looking After Pigeon

PIGEONI’ve been a fan of of The Permanent Press for some time now. Charles Holdefer’s The Contractor, for example, is a wonderful novel that speaks humanely and eloquently to issues surrounding human rights and the current debate over what to do with prisoners of the war on terror. Likewise, MF Bloxam’s The Night Battles offers a nuanced read on the complicated relationship between myth and reality, and Chris Knopf’s Sam Aquilano mysteries are always good for a summer thrill. Their latest title, Maud Carol Markson’s Looking After Pigeon is a compassionate coming of age story that deftly blurs the line between fiction and memoir.

Markson’s genre-bending begins with the novel’s front matter. The dedication is followed by a “Special Thanks” page in which the author thanks, among others, her husband, and on the following page, Markson offers a foreword. Yet the reader is not initially sure who’s speaking in this foreword. “Memory is a funny thing,” we’re told in a matter-of-fact voice that could easily be the author’s. Additionally, we’re told that the man who lives with the speaker has encouraged her to relate the events in the book. A purposely vague allusion to the husband mentioned on the previous page, or a fictional character? As it turns out, the answer is the latter, but the incremental movement from dedication to special thanks to a foreword allows the reader to move almost seamlessly into the world of Pigeon, a five-year-old girl who moves with her mother and two older siblings to a shore house after her father leaves the family. As Pigeon’s “memoir” progresses through her first summer without her father, the frailty of memory becomes as much a focus of the novel as the uncertain first steps toward adulthood.

Throughout the novel, Markson lovingly paints Pigeon as a young girl who wants nothing more than to make her family happy even as life complicates her efforts. Her uncle leads a secretive double life. Her mother is becoming involved in something resembling a cult. Her sister’s romantic liasions are leading to trouble. Her brother aspires to be a boardwalk fortune teller. As all of the novel’s plots unfold, however, Markson drops in minor inconsistencies and anachronisms, thus forcing the reader to wonder about Pigeon’s reliability as a narrator. Why, for example, does she speak so eloquently for a five-year-old? Why does she quote from the Beatles’ “Octopus’s Garden” while insisting that she’s listening to “Yellow Submarine”? And were Super-Size meals available from McDonald’s at the time the events described in the novel took place? The answer, ultimately, is that none of this matters, for Pigeon is an adult who is struggling to reconstruct her childhood, and if memory fails her at times, her gift for understanding the “heart-truth” of the matter (to borrow a phrase from Tim O’Brien) is what lends credence to her tale.

Along these lines, Markson’s gift for characterization is obvious throughout the novel. Case in point, a description of her sister, Dove, who is “most herself when in front of other people as if she were a television set, filled with entertainment and even glamour, that was made to wait blank and empty until someone came to turn her on.” Ultimately, it’s Markson’s facility with creating strong characters that makes Pigeon’s world so believable even if the minutia of this world is not always in line with historical fact. It’s the world as she remembers it, a world of colorful characters and larger-than-life scenarios. As a result, Looking After Pigeon is an engaging read with hints of Augusten Burroughs, Harper Lee, Elizabeth Mosier, and Heather Sellers. A great book for summer.

Little Lamb

InterActLittleLambRunning through June 28 at the InterAct Theatre Company (2030 Sansom Street in Philadelphia,PA), Michael Whistler’s Little Lamb examines the issues that many adoptive couples face when both members happen to be of the same sex. At the same time, however, it does so much more. In addition to examining issues related to sexual orientation, the play also investigates the ways in which race and religion factor into our notions of justice, ethics, and morality. In other words, Little Lamb offers a thoughtful, complex look at many of the so-called “family values” that are too often over-simplified by the mainstream media.

The play centers on Denny and Jose, a gay couple intent on adopting a child. While at first glance the couple may appear to be somewhat stereotypical — Denny tends to get emotional over rare Ethel Merman recordings while Jose is a former lounge singer with the chiseled physique of a dancer — Whistler’s use of these types is quite intelligent, particularly given the challenge of portraying what might be termed a “gay issue” for a “straight” audience. By beginning with figures that a mainstream audience already knows, Whistler opens a door for further investigation. Yes, Denny likes Ethel Merman, but that’s not the full extent of who Denny is, nor does Jose’s former life as a cabaret singer define him in his entirety. As the play progresses, both characters emerge as complicated, flawed, struggling, hopeful, and (above all) human. The result is that Little Lamb is not only a play that speaks to issues relevant to the gay community but a play that speaks to the human condition.

Bringing Denny and Jose to life in this production are actors Ames Adamson and Frank X, who are more than believeable in their roles. Throughout the play, Adamson imbues Denny with a fitting mix of righteous certainty and insecure bravado while X’s Jose balances out his partner with kindness, compassion, dry humor, and quiet dignity. Rounding out the cast, Cathy Simpson, Kaci M. Fannin, and Katrina Yvette Cooper provide a strong counterpoint to Adamson and X.

As the fulcrum upon which the play’s dramatic tension rests, Fannin deftly navigates the choppy waters between her character’s advocacy for her clients and her own religious leanings. Indeed, if anything in this play came as a surprise to me, it was the even-handed way in which Whistler depicts religion. It would be easy (perhaps too easy) to vilify religion in a play like this — to depict those with a religious inclination as crazy or ignorant — but Whistler never gives into that temptation. Rather, the zeal that moves his more religious characters manifests itself in a way that genuinely seeks to do good. Thus there are no heroes or villains in Little Lamb, only people trying their best to do the right thing — even if “the right thing” is at odds with someone else’s right thing and therefore must inevitably result in sorrow and heartbreak.

Overall, Little Lamb is a moving, engaging production that gets at the heart of what we mean when we discuss things like love and family, as well as right and wrong. For information on ordering tickets, you can visit the InterAct Theatre Company at their website:

Signposts to Elsewhere

Signposts.webPity the poor aphorist! Laboring neither in the turgid  field of philosophy nor in the all-so-pragmatic realm of the proverb, he struggles for purchase somewhere between the two. Yet as Yahia Lababidi’s Signposts to Elsewhere demonstrates, that struggle can lead to some wonderful insights.

Opening with a meditation on the nature of the aphorism (a term defined in one of the book’s aphorisms as “what is worth quoting from the soul’s dialogue with itself”), Signposts to Elsewhere deftly navigates the undiscovered country between philosophy and revelation. Moreover, upon reading such pieces of wisdom as “The over-examined life is no more worth living than the unexamined” and “Controlled chaos is the law of existence” the reader senses a distinct affinity between Lababidi’s aphorisms and the stark minimalism of Ezra Pound‘s poetic dicta “Make it new” and “The artist is always beginning.” And though the volume is slim — weighing in at 74 pages — it is by no means a quick read. Rather, it is a book to be pondered, a book to be savored. My advice: start each morning with one of Lababidi’s aphorism and ponder it through the day. After all, as the aphorist notes toward the end of his book, “One should not listen to a new argument with the intention of converting the speaker, but with the possibility of changing one’s mind.”