Month: July 2012

Heart Of Scorpio

This week’s review is available at The Conium Review, where I am serving as a guest editor.

The Razing of Tinton Falls

In The Razing of Tinton Falls, author and historian Michael S. Adelberg examines a little-known episode of the American War for Independence from a number of perspectives. The incident in question is a raid on the town of Tinton Falls in Monmouth County, New Jersey, which occurred on June 10, 1779. What’s especially interesting about the incident is that it pitted colonists against each other — those loyal to the crown against revolutionaries. And what makes Adelberg’s account especially interesting is that he offers multiple perspectives on the raid — Loyalists, revolutionaries, pacifists, radical militiamen, and a freed slave among them. Indeed, the story of Sip, an African American Loyalist battling revolutionaries is the most telling of the narratives in this collection, for it reveals the cracks in the revolution’s foundation. To wit, if the American Revolution was truly about freedom, then why did the end result allow for slavery?

Though fictitious, Adelberg’s accounts are well-researched, and his protagonists are based on people who lived through the events in question. Moreover, Adelberg is at great pains to alert his readers to the distinctions to be made between fact and fiction throughout this book. Especially interesting in this respect is the author’s postscript, which outlines his research methods while explaining and offering a rationale for some of the liberties he takes with respect to technique. Rest assured, Adelberg never invents facts; rather, he adjusts his storytelling perspective to account for a twenty-first century audience. By eschewing archaic language like ’tis and hither, Adelberg allows his narrative focus to remain on the events at hand and the motivations behind them rather than on the superficial affectations of the age in which those events occurred.

All told, a fascinating peek into a little-known episode in American history.

Jimmy Lagowski Saves the World

In Jimmy Lagowski Saves the World, Pat Pujolas demonstrates a strong talent for parsing the subtleties of character. Early in this collection of interconnected stories, the author offers a brief vignette about an aging woman named Doreen whose self-assessment suggests that we all must transcend petty categories in order to be fully human: “She wants to tell Roxie that she is more open-minded than them. That she agrees with the overall structure of the church, but not all of its teachings. That she would vote in favor of gay marriage if it ever comes up on the Ohio ballot.” That Doreen eventually falls back on her faith as an out when her relationship with Roxie begins to take on unexpected proportions only serves to further complicate her character: she knows who she wants to be but frequently falls short of her ideal self.

And so it goes with the majority of the characters in this debut collection of fiction. Pujolas describes a wide range of characters, each haunted as much by who they want to be as by who they’ve been. Chief among these characters is Jimmy Lagowski, a twenty-year-old with a scarred face who dreams almost incessantly of an idealized race called the Ceruleans, an asymmetrical species whose shape “gives them a better sense of what fairness is.” That Jimmy should be selected for jury duty in the murder trial around which all of the stories in this collection coalesce is therefore fitting: asymmetrical himself in many ways, his sense of justice is as nuanced as it is complicated.

Jimmy Lagowski Saves the World offers much for the reader to consider, not the least of which are meditations on the nature of humanity and justice—and how these two concepts relate to each other. What’s more, Pujolas’ use of the  of the Ceruleans as a device for framing many of the concepts in his writing evokes the Tralfamadorians of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, and to similar effect insofar as both alien races force us to step outside of our own frames of reference to think about ourselves from a new perspective. We are broken, Pujolas suggests throughout this collection, yet not without hope.

A promising debut.

John's Consciousness

Life is funny—sometimes—and at other times it can be—unbearable.  There’s really no way to be sure just how it’s all going to turn out, but one thing is for sure—you’re probably not going to get far as a guy in a giant dollar sign suit.  Success in life might even require a healthy dose of maddening chaos combined with the stark realization of just how much you’ve messed it all up to bring you around.  You might even have to suffer through the loss of someone you knew—someone you didn’t treat very well in life—before you realize what truly matters.  That’s how it was for Charley Schwartz, anyway.

Marc Schuster has written a compelling and comically tragic story about a man who has to face the hard truths about his life, his friends, and his future.  He might not have even noticed his inexorable trajectory toward the creeping sinkhole of…

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Something Very Much Like an Interview with Jason Lee Norman

Jason Lee Norman is a bearded author whose collection of microfictions, Americas, is now available. I sent him a few questions a while back, and he sent me a few answers. Somewhere along the line, we lost the questions, but we still have the answers:

1. I’ve never really thought of Hodgman as an influence for this book, although I do love his books. Whenever I can pull off some of that kind of deadpan humour I always think of it as a happy accident. I had some of my favourite Latin American authors in mind (Marquez, Borges) when I was writing this book but I think that they are basically from another solar system when it comes to writing and all I can do is use the book to sort of thank them for the inspiration. I also read Mathias Svalina’s I am a Very Productive Entrepeneur when I was about halfway done my book and it really buoyed me to keep on going with it. I felt that we were trying to do the same kind of thing with narratives and his book was just so enjoyable that I came to believe that my book could possibly have the same effect on a reader.

Jason Lee Norman, bearded author.

2. I think that story has to make you feel something and maybe even make you learn something. The stories in my book are very short and they’re sort of like photographs. The picture tells its own story but the story that you take from the picture can be completely different. Neither is wrong. I used to want to tie little ribbons at the end of my stories, like everything was all wrapped up and settled and quaint but I don’t do that anymore. The stories in Americas are cyclical in nature but when you get to the end of each story, you’re in a very different position than where you started.

3. Matthew Salesses is a writer. I don’t know him personally but I’ve followed some of his work through Facebook links and Twitter and such. There was a little contest being put on by friends of his that was looking for stories that made him the protagonist of your story. It had to be a story that was really about him though. You couldn’t just change the name of your protagonist to Matthew Salesses–that would be cheating. They gave a few facts about Matthew that writers could draw from if they wanted and that’s where I got my idea for Venezuela. The story revolves around adoption and how it feels for an adult who came from an adopted family to have a child of their own. Parenthood kind of leads to separation one way or the other. My story was chosen as one of three stories to win the prize. I hope that Matthew liked the story. I read his book, Our Island of Epidemics soon after my book was done and it was absolutely fantastic.

4. When I was 18 my father took my family down to Argentina to live for about two years. He got a contract to work down there and it was a pretty big adventure for the whole family. I’ve traveled to about four or five other countries in the Americas since then. I’ll let the reader guess which ones.

5.  Ha ha. In the story Suriname, the whole country sleeps in and misses a big job interview. I can’t remember if I’ve ever slept in and missed a job interview but I have slept in and missed a couple big events before. Once I thought I might miss an interview because I was in jail. Another time I took a nap and stood up my girlfriend on a night I was supposed to meet her friends for the first time. Nobody knew where I was the whole evening. Things were pretty tense for a few days after but we’re doing better now.

6.  I think I was always trying to send a bigger message about humanity and the Americas but the message was still a simple one. I feel like Latin American culture has affected me personally and creatively in so many ways but it also feels like there is still a lot about these countries that we don’t know. There is still a lot of mystery there, and I liked that and it’s one of the reasons why I can get away telling some of the stories that I do in this book. People are always about 50/50 on whether they think the events in the book really happened or are made up. There probably wouldn’t be a similar reaction if I wrote a book about countries in Europe- but maybe. There is also a feeling of sameness throughout the book. As far as a message about humanity, I just tried to show all the different ways that we’re all connected with each other although it may not seem like it at first.

7. In Guatemala, they celebrate National Day of the Tiger where everybody pretends to be a tiger for the whole day. I’m working very hard on having a day like this in my city. We’ll start small and see what happens. My costume wouldn’t be that realistic. Hopefully just some really large Tiger pajamas. I would go RAWR every chance I got and walk around on all fours and eat tiger ice cream just for good measure. I think every country should have a Day of the Tiger.

8.  Next? Well I want to find a home for the rest of my very short fiction from the last couple of years and very soon I hope to begin a novel and see what happens. Before that, I’ll be spending a couple weeks traveling through the United States and doing some readings from Americas and hopefully selling some books down there this summer. I’m really looking forward to my American road trip and in the fall, if all goes according to plan, I’ll be starting on the novel.

Jason’s blog tour continues here:


In Kino, his spectacular debut novel, Jurgen Fauth offers a thrillingly intelligent examination of the artist’s potential to reshape reality.

The novel follows protagonist Mina Koblitz on a journey to discover the truth about her grandfather, the legendary (in some circles) German film director Klaus “Kino” Koblitz. When a rare case of Dengue Fever cuts her honeymoon short, Mina returns to her apartment sans husband to discover that someone has left her a special delivery — a print of Tulpendiebe (aka The Tulip Thief), Kino’s long lost first film.  In short order, Mina abandons her hospital-bound husband for adventure as she’s pursued across the globe by shady quasi-governmental agents who are hell-bent on getting their hands on the movie, which, it turns out, has a secret, game-changing value all its own.

Structurally, Kino offers a pair of competing narratives that depict the mercurial director in distinctly conflicting terms. On one hand, there’s Kino’s journal, the pained record of an artist’s struggle to create something beautiful despite the sturm und drang of his tortured life. In his words, “If you have enough faith in the imagination, nothing is impossible.” This basic dictum is born out by his hedonistic early years in Weimar Germany’s burgeoning film industry and helps, in part, to explain his reluctant acquiescence to Nazi dictates in the wake of Hitler’s rise to power.

Yet as his life falls apart, Kino lays the blame for his own artistic failures on everybody but himself: Joseph Goebbels, Fritz Lang, and his long-suffering wife, Penelope. Indeed, it’s Penelope who offers Mina the most damning perspective on Kino, painting him not as an artist so much as a drunken schemer at his best and a stooge of the Third Reich at his worst. Ninety-two years old and living the life of a drug-addled recluse in the Hollywood Hills, Penny, as she is now called, harbors nothing but ill will toward her late husband and his legacy. “People enjoy being lied to, especially when times are bad,” she tells Mina. And for her money, there was no greater liar than the self-aggrandizing Kino.

What makes Kino so compelling is that the truth of the matter for which Mina is searching lies not somewhere in between the contrasting narratives that she discovers but in a curious aggregate of both. That her grandfather can simultaneously embody all the wonder of cinema and all the failures that make him human gives Mina a ray of hope amidst the turmoil of her own life.

Art, it turns out, can change the world.

Again quoting Kino, “Only at play are we open to our full potential.” Along these lines, it’s Fauth’s fondness for play that makes the novel such a joy to read. Part Da Vinci Code and part The Crying of Lot 49, Kino marks the debut of a captivating literary voice who is equally adept at thrilling, enchanting, and even challenging his readers.