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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Balcony jumping? Really? I know there have been death-defying acts performed by daredevils forever. There were a number of people willing to either tightrope across or go over Niagara Falls in a barrel dating as far back as the 1800s. But such events were promoted with the intent of generating both spectators and revenue. Nowadays, there seems to be this gradual push towards committing as stupid and as dangerous an act as possible, and without the benefit of a paying crowd. Six people have recently died as a result of “balcony jumping”, the act of jumping from one balcony to another or into a pool far below. (I guess the acts of “planking” and “owling” are either too silly or tame for some.)

I’ve sometimes considered bungee jumping as the original act used to get the ball rolling towards a self-destructive and nihilistic culture. After all, how much more deranged is it for someone to fall face first toward the earth with the chance of snapping the proverbial ‘lifeline’ tethered high above? Harry Houdini and Evil Knievel were two daredevils who, at least, approached their craft with respect and skill. On the other hand, the “Jackass” movies have helped to both entertain and encourage stupid behavior while creating faux celebrities, such as Ryan Dunn, who died recently as a result of imagining he was Mario Andretti at the Indy 500.

I understand the “need for speed” and the desire to push the limits of our boundaries. But imagine NASA, over the past 40 years, recklessly blasting one orbiter after another toward the ozone until one finally breaks through, all the while losing life, limb and property. Even something as visually disorganized as a demolition derby knows enough to employ safety measures and rules for participants to abide by. Speaking of which, my wife and I are planning on attending the Scott County Fair’s demo derby this weekend. I wonder if some jackass will step out on the field to start up a rousing game of Dodge Car.

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Give me my youth, with school days just ended. Give me the spring of freedom, the quiet nights growing long, the stars exploding all around me, and the smell of a bonfire nearby, warming the evening’s chill. Pass the time laughing with friends while daydreaming about the others, hoping to hold someone’s hand, to steal a kiss in the dark, or to outsmart the law. Begin growing restless, filled with doubts about the future, idling under a hot, busy sun.
 
Give me my youth, when the cares of the day only felt heavy. Give me the sweet coolness of a fall breeze against my face, the sounds of chattering leaves all around me, and the sight, off in the distance, of a grand place for all to gather. Pass a long-ago weekend afternoon with self-reflection and hometown pride. Watch friends united both on the field and in the stands. Win or lose, we are all alive! But for a moment. Fade into winter, year after year. Year after year, where’s that moment?

In The Bridge on the River Kwai Col. Nicholson stands on the recently completed bridge, staring at the quiet horizon and pondering “the sum total” of his life. Like all of us, he wonders what it represents and how and if he will be remembered. It’s a difficult question, one that can only be answered with mostly dissatisfaction.

I imagine most people with children are content to see their offspring extend the bloodline, knowing that a part of them fills the future. But what of those of us who have chosen the more selfish path, who see the benefits of freedom from spending so many years as caregiver and, instead, chosen a world of sometimes solitude and loneliness.

I think of my novel as my child. And like any other parent, I want my child to be successful, to make a mark on the world. But the world is so competitive, so fickle, so disparaging. Today’s flavor of the month is yesterday’s old news. My child will no doubt find a place on a shelf somewhere. But isn’t that almost the same as finding a final resting place? What keeps my child fresh, referenced and relevant? To have written something that stands the test of time – say, like Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” – takes great insight into the human condition and a profound way to interpret its meaning. Alas, not all children can grow up to be president.

In the end, Col. Nicholson is compelled to blow up the bridge, canceling out his and his mens’ months of hard work. And just like “the sum total” of his life, he’ll never know for what great cause he killed his child.

A wonderment
To be alive
Blowing your nose
Managing a task
Contemplating the weather
Thinking about the future
Imagining your absence
Becoming, to others, a fleeting memory
Life is so fleeting
Wrest it from death
To be alive
A wonderment, indeed
 

I rarely read mysteries – this makes two in a week’s time and two in probably ten years – but I came upon James Fitzroy’s “The Countess’s Portrait” while searching for a Montmartre period piece under Amazon’s Book section. And I have to say there was enough intrigue, sexual tension and danger to keep me turning the pages. The author does an outstanding job of describing the settings while breathing life and personality into each of the main characters.

The action is non-stop and the chemistry between Chester Albany and Pigalle Le Pic roils with multiple emotions including contempt, playfulness and compassion.

If you’re looking for a well-written, credible period piece founded in mystery and passion, this is the one to add to the collection. And only 99 cents!

With a name like America, you’d think the main character in Diane Majeske’s “Death on Deadline” would be knee deep in either a national or an international scoop. Not the case here. But that doesn’t take away from this quirky and altruistic 30-something’s desire to dig for the answers surrounding the deaths of her fellow workers at the local newspaper in Hyacinth, Missouri. There’s even room in this tidy who-dun-it for a little romance.

The story starts out a little slow – e.g., too much info about a cheese and crackers appetite – while providing less-than charitable descriptions of most of the characters. And the reader is nearly a fifth of the way through the story before things turn from trivial to tense. But once there, that’s when the roller coaster ride begins.

“Miss America” is the kind of woman who is compassionate, but she also has a critical eye, a trait that serves her well as a sleuth reporter but perhaps less so as a trustworthy friend or sincere love interest. With job layoffs and death lingering in the air, everyone is suspicious of everyone else’s motivation.

I believe most readers will find America’s out-going, matter-of-fact approach to both her job and private life endearing as well as refreshing. This is a nice read for anyone looking for a mix of crime and romance in small-town America.

As someone who is taking the non-traditional route to publishing a novel, I feel a sense of obligation to review similarly published books. Here’s my first review of one such book.

If you were to read a newspaper report about a local domestic assault or rape, you might find just the name of the perp and possibly that of the victim’s, and little background of either. The crime has been committed but the reader is left to ponder how things got to this point. The novel “Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors” provides the buildup to such reports. If you’ve ever wondered how people get to the point known as ‘the heat of passion’, you might find Benjamin Wretlind’s telling of Maggie’s story both illuminating and perplexing, as I did. Maggie is someone who emphasizes that she is not stupid, but consistently contradicts this claim over the most pivotal decade of one’s life. Early on, while a mere ten-years old, she drifts between the sagely advice of her grandmother and the physical abuse of her mother, both of whom impress upon Maggie just how evil men are. However, Maggie’s choice is to become as close to a boy as much as she can. Over the next ten years, she is as drawn to men as much as Adam was to Eve sans serpent. She finds herself – if not allowing herself – to be placed in situations that will only lead to pain and suffering. Ultimately, she appears willing to follow the same path traveled by her mother – alcohol, shallow intimacy with men, followed by violent crescendos. Incidentally, the story provides enough scenes of criminality to fill a local newspaper.

The setting is aptly described with the showing of trailer park living and dusty desert monsoons. Character development is left to the view of Maggie who sees goodness only in her grandmother and not much at all in anyone else. Some boys and men appear attractive in her eyes, but they are all viewed as two-faced, or in Maggie’s case, two-tongued, which is a preoccupation that provides her with uncertainty rather than trust. Interestingly enough, for Maggie, a man’s tongue provides both metaphor and titillation. It can be used to remind her of the black eels that help clean up her messes while it can also be used to provide sexual pleasure. It’s no wonder her life is filled with confusion and at a loss for direction. Important life decisions – a good education, followed by a good job, followed by a stable loving relationship – are completely out of the question. What matters most is a castle in the sky. Hence, Maggie’s task is to find the bricks needed to build that castle. The point of clarity in which she finally understands this goal comes just at a point in her life when her grandmother is long since passed on and her mother has fallen victim to a violent crime. It’s Maggie’s turn to continue the chain of violence, disillusionment, and disconnection from the outside world.

I really wanted to empathize with Maggie and to like this well-written story, but the main character shows very little in the way of a redemptive quality to help sum up her life by the end of the story and, instead, transforms into someone similar to those men who have wronged her over the years. The only time she seems like a normal, level-headed person is when she takes an interest in learning about anatomy. But even then, the motivation is hardly based on creating an industrious future for herself. If this is the background of such people read about in newspapers, I’m perfectly willing to skim the headlines. I’d probably only skim over a headline of a successful Maggie – perhaps a graduate of forensic science – without reading the article, but with a mild sense of ‘Atta girl!’. Makes for a more fulfilling story.