In her fourth novel, The Fifth of July, Kelly Simmons deftly explores the heartbreaking ambivalence of family life in upper-upper-middle-class America while also offering readers a classic page-turner in a style reminiscent of Agatha Christie.
At the heart of the novel is the Warner clan. Vacationing in their summer home on Nantucket, the Warners represent three generations of privilege. The family patriarch, Tripp Warner, is suffering from dementia, and his wife, Alice, is a closet anti-Semite who can’t stand the fact that their new neighbor is Jewish. Indeed, that their daughter, Caroline, suffered a sexual assault at the summer home in her youth seems not to bother the elder Warners so much as the fact that their new neighbor wants them to remove a widow’s walk from their roof in order to improve his view of the ocean. Caroline, meanwhile, is doing all she can to protect her preteen daughter from the predators who haunt the seemingly idyllic island. Within this largely dysfunctional context, Caroline’s husband, John, and brother, Tom, try in vain to maintain some modicum of normalcy, but their efforts are thwarted by the mysterious appearance of a Swastika on the front lawn and the increasingly erratic behavior of patriarch Tripp.
References to various shadowy events drive much of the novel. We know that something happened to Caroline when she was on the verge of adolescence, but we’re not sure what. We know that a tragedy or a crime is about to occur, but its exact nature remains unclear through much of the book. We can probably guess who cut the Swastika in the Warners’ lawn, but then we’re forced to guess and guess again. This constant guessing and second-guessing is what makes The Fifth of July a compelling read. Despite their cultivated outward shine, the characters are all so damaged that anything could have happened and anyone could have done it.
Wow! I just noticed that my last blog post was on June 6. Where does the time go? In my case, some of it went to California for a while…
I also did a bit of traveling more locally and worked on some music. At the moment, I’m having visions of a concept album about a robot who learns to play the (virtual) flute after humanity has been wiped from the face of the planet. The music has a bit of a mechanized Sergio Mendes & Brazil ’66 feel to it.
And speaking of music and robots (or other-worldly beings of one sort or another), Laini Colman has a new track out — a hypnotic cover of Bjork’s “Human Behaviour.” Though Colman freely admits that Bjork is an acquired taste, her cover of the song has convinced me that it’s a taste worth acquiring. With a drum track reminiscent of…
It would be tempting to paint Joe Nickell, author of Tracking the Man-Beasts, as a bit of a wet blanket — like the well-meaning uncle who tells kids there’s no such thing as Santa Claus or the neighborhood know-it-all who has an answer for everything. But that’s not what he is — not even close. Far from being a cantankerous curmudgeon who laments humanity’s gullibility in the face of the seemingly inexplicable, he’s a clear-eyed, level-headed investigator who revels in uncovering the truth.
Given the proliferation of man-beasts over the centuries, Nickell is wise to divide his investigation into five categories: “Monster” Men (including a wide range of circus “freaks”), Hairy Man Beasts (of the Yeti and Sasquatch varieties), Supernaturals (like werewolves and vampires), Extraterrestrials (in various shapes and sizes), and Manimals (which take the form of either human-headed animals or animal-headed humans). Throughout the proceedings, Nickell offers a fascinating blend of historical context, pop psychology, and personal experience to explain the seemingly inexplicable. While several of the man-beasts in question are revealed as hoaxes, many others emerge as manifestations of humanity’s greatest hopes and fears. We see Yeti in the footprints of mangy animals because we want to believe that nature still holds mysteries. We see little “green” men in place of barred and barn owls because we want to believe we’re not alone. And, of course, we tend to see all of these phenomena in under cover of night because that’s when our fearful imaginations are most fertile.
While Tracking the Man-Beasts thoroughly debunks the mythologies surrounding many cryptozoological legends, the book’s ultimate revelation is humanity’s infinite capacity for ingenuity and imagination. To borrow a phrase from The X-Files, the truth is certainly out there, and Nickell’s investigation drags it, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the light of day.
Submissions are now being accepted at End of 83, a literary magazine published online and in print by the Baltimore Writing Hour, a public writing group in Baltimore, MD. End of 83 seeks to publish the best in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, illustration, and photography. They love good pieces about Baltimore and the Mid Atlantic but do not exclusively […]
On the surface, Richard F. Libin’s Who Knew? is a commonsense guide to the somewhat lost art of salesmanship. The problem, as Libin describes it, is that even seasoned salespeople have lost sight of what selling is about. In his words, “Most people believe that selling something means persuading someone to purchase a product or a service. This is where salespeople and sales in general start to fail. Effective selling starts with the customer, not with what you are trying to sell.” In other words, sales isn’t about products. It’s about people. And while good salespeople certainly have expertise about the products and services they are selling, the best have greater expertise in relating to others.
Appropriately, Who Knew? is as much a guide to selling as it is a guide to relationships, and Libin’s advice is applicable to people in all walks of life. What’s more, it’s easy to understand. Whether he’s extolling the power of positive thinking, sharing anecdotes from his own experience as both a salesperson and a customer, or proffering strategies for improving one’s listening skills, Libin comes across as a down-to-earth, practical tutor whose aim is to share his experience. Reading his book is like being with someone who’s been in the trenches, has no plans of leaving them, and is now on hand to help anyone who needs some advice.
Ultimately, Libin’s is a gospel of mindfulness. In sales as with everything else in life, we need to be present in all of our dealings. Or, in Libin’s words, to succeed, “You must be 100% in the game and ready to work with a single-minded focus for each client.” A tall order in a world that’s increasingly filled with all sorts of distractions, but one worth heeding nonetheless.
An excellent primer for anyone considering a job in sales or looking to brush up on their sales practices, Who Knew? also works as a practical handbook for the myriad social exchanges we all experience in everyday life.
Apologies to Nick Lowe (and, of course, Elvis Costello), but as I walk through this wicked world searching for light in the darkness of insanity, I do, in fact, ask myself if all hope is lost. So much anger, so much arguing, so much partisanship in all corners of the globe. It all makes me wonder why we all can’t just get along — or at least try to find some common ground once in a while.
Fortunately, a new children’s book by Scot Sax offers hope. In The Mosquito and the Bumble Bee, the title characters start off as rivals — each insect revels in ruining picnics and camping trips, but when they meet, they immediately see each other as rivals. Ultimately, though, they come to a realization that theirs is a rivalry based on trivial differences, and with a bit of soul-searching (not to mention some Googling), they eventually figure out that what they have in common is far greater than any trivial differences that might arise between them. And in the end (spoiler alert!), love trumps hate.
With charming illustrations by Molly Reynolds, The Mosquito and the Bumble Bee offers young readers an important lesson on appreciating differences and building friendships — not to mention some interesting information on bees and mosquitoes. It’s a welcome addition to any child’s library — and I can think of plenty of adults who can stand to read it, too!
Over the past few days, I’ve been reading The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. It’s a novel that imagines a world in which the United States lost World War II. Within this world, Americans living on the west coast are regarded (and, indeed, regard themselves) as social inferiors to their Japanese rulers. Compounding this perception is the fact that Americans have yet to fully adapt to Japanese social norms. As a result, they are always second-guessing everything they say and do. Thus they live in a constant state of uncertainty and anxiety. Nonetheless, because history played out the way that it did, they regard their current state of affairs as “normal” or the natural order of things.
Challenging this perceived natural order of things in the context of the novel is a book titled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which describes an alternate universe in which…