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Sunday
Mar312019

Book Review: Willingly

WillinglyMarc FrazierAdelaide Books, January 27, 2019, Trade Paperback, 112 pages.

Reviewed by David Steven Rappoport.

Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote that “to be a poet is to apprehend the true and the beautiful.” Willingly, Marc Frazier’s new collection of poems, is both true and beautiful.

In Frazier’s words,Willingly explores “the ramifications of one man’s search for identity within and without the bonds of a relationship,” and “the story of one LGBTQ+ individual.” Within his story, Frazier writes in many styles and focuses on many themes. 

Some poems address the power of nature and our relationship to it, as in “Awakening”:

            parable of the

            honeycomb:

                                                accretion of labor,

                                                queen at the height

            of her powers,

            pulse of the

                                                hive audible, warm

                                                aura of affirmation . . .

Much of the collection speaks of aspects of love—being in it, being out of it, looking for it, or in “Then,” just sex:

Weren’t we young together?

Didn’t we grope in beer-soaked rooms,

patios, parking lots . . .

Didn’t we want it 

more than anything?

Some of the poems are playful. For example,Sergio” begins with a reminder of the joy of romantic revenge:

I’m seeing a man who is wealthy and traveled

and everything

You are not . . .

Perhaps Frazier’s most compelling poems are the most personal ones. In this mode, Frazier reminds us of the confessional poets, particularly Anne Sexton. 

Many of these poems—such as “Synopsis,” a succinct life history that recalls Allen Ginsberg’s “Kaddish”—are intense.

            mother threatens to kill me

                        during the seventh month of my life

            great uncle John and my dad

                        haul her screaming and clawing

            into the car for the trip to Mercyville . . .

Many are quieter, such as the subtle and moving title poem, “Willingly,” a reflection on Frazier’s Illinois childhood:

The swish of corn stalks lulls as night

Crawlers slither in a wet dawn.

We pilfer sugar cubes for the mare sniffling over the fence,

 

Still, drawn in by her heavy, chestnut eyes – her elegance.

We capture what earth yields: beetles,

Ants, garter snakes, our futures . . .

Overall, Frazier might be described as a writer whose approach is as unornamented as a Midwestern corn field. Though his language is straightforward, it is always visceral.

In Willingly, Frazier manages to create a diverse collection that is as restrained as it is potent.

 

Wednesday
Mar202019

Book Review: Standing in Doorways

Standing in DoorwaysWes Payton. Adelaide Books, December 6, 2018, Trade Paperback, 266 pages.

Reviewed by Ed Sarna.

Standing in Doorways is the second book by Wes Payton that I’ve reviewed, and like Lead Tears, the first one, I loved it. It showcases Mr. Payton’s clever use of wordplay and his sneaky sense of humor.

The novel is structured in two parts. Part One chronicles the lives of a group of college students afflicted with various mental disorders. They attend a prestigious Midwestern university and are ensconced in Study House, their dormitory. We come to know these students through the eyes of Vivien Leigh (not thatVivien Leigh). Vivien describes her pathology when she says, “I can’t read expressions or understand body language. I’m barely human.” When asked if that means she’s a literal, she answers, “I was for a long time until I finally figured out that people rarely mean what they say. Now I don’t really believe anything I’m told, which can be an advantage in college, but from what my counselor tells me is somewhat discouraged in the real world.” 

These individuals are carefully observed, as stated in the opening sentence, “…Study House, which wasn’t named for what was required of its residents, but rather what was done to them.” They are sometimes referred to by their infliction: Schiz, a schizophrenic, Prodigy (also referred to as Digy), a genius who is editing the dictionary and has been the subject of a lifelong experiment that studies the limits of human intelligence and mental endurance, Poopy, who keeps a journal of his bowel movements, and Psycho, who may or may not be a psychopath. There is also Patty who has a constantly changing personality, but unlike a schizophrenic, “…she doesn’t have multiple personalities trapped inside of her, instead her personality continually reinvents itself, as if her mind is perpetually flipping through the channels of an internal television and she imitates whatever show is on at the moment.” There is also Vivien Leigh’s roommate, Vivian Lee, who in describing himself says, “My condition enables me to read people too accurately for comfort.”

Part One takes place in the 1990s while Part Two takes place twenty years later. In Part Two, the lives of some students intersect. Vivien Leigh is now a writer, having once written a novella called Study House, about her college years. Referring to the novella, Vivien says, “…the narrative wasn’t so much based on events that really happened but rather my impression of being a college student in the nineties.” This explanation may or may not be true. As Book Two unfolds and the characters from Book One cross paths, we are left wondering what’s real and what’s fiction. Are the things we are told truthful to the actual characters' lives or the novella’s characters’ lives? Lest you think this book merely poses philosophical questions, it also involves a murder, a possible suicide, and a mysterious pregnancy. Or maybe it doesn’t.

Wes Payton's writing is complex, crisp, and cunning. The skillful way he weaves the narrative and the novella together kept me hooked throughout the book. His railing against dumbing down language for the masses, and his warning of what happens when idiots are put in charge, (“…and because they also happened to be overpaid, they would hire incompetent subordinates who would not jeopardize their jobs by questioning their dubious credentials or their ability to make decisions…”) are beyond appropriate. I highly recommend Standing in Doorways by Wes Payton.

 

Wednesday
Mar202019

Book Review: White Revolt!

White Revolt!: An American National Socialist HistoryLeon Dilios. Ostara Publications, December 12, 2018, Trade Paperback, 312 pages. 

Reviewed by Brian Johnston.

White Revolt!is the story of the National Socialist movement in the United States, as witnessed by someone who participated in the movement. The events largely took place in Chicago although the book describes events in other Midwest areas. Those who believe that National Socialism died in Germany with Adolf Hitler in 1945—especially those not alive in the 1960s—may be surprised to learn about some successes that the movement has since had in America.

Dilios tells the story through the personal experiences of the movement’s leader, Frank Collin; it revolves around the assassination of another one of its leaders, George Lincoln Rockwell, for whom the party’s headquarters was later named. The party gained much notoriety, even internationally, for its activities in the 1960s, which included many public gatherings and demonstrations. The rallies were always controversial, attracting opposition and sometimes leading to violence.

As he tells the story, Dilios cites many setbacks the movement faced. Collin was arrested many times despite, according to the author, his right to freedom of speech. However, the author also cites successes for the movement, including Collin polling double digits in an election as an open National Socialist. The story culminates in “Operation Skokie,” when participants threatened to march into a predominately Jewish suburb demanding the right to free speech.

The book wraps up with an analysis of the National Socialist movement today, citing how social media and other modern technology has made it possible for participants to connect with each other and keep the movement going.

Dilios tells the story of the movement with passion and certainty; his sympathetic views with the movement will likely make some readers uncomfortable. Throughout the book, he also claims that events regarding the National Socialist movement have been twisted over the years. Ultimately, his participation in the stories gives the book credibility in terms of the truthfulness of the events. Those who want to learn more about the National Socialist movement in the Midwest in the 1960s will find this book useful.

 

Wednesday
Mar202019

Book Review: Spoken

Spoken. Melanie Weiss. Oak Park IL: Rosehip Publishing, March 15, 2019, Trade Paperback and E-book, 195 pages.

Reviewed by Lisa Lickel.

Melanie Weiss’s debut work of young adult fiction captures the angst and inner workings of a teenager, Roman Santi, whose life is transformed from residing in a mansion with a housekeeper in Los Angeles to sleeping on grandma’s sofa bed with a statue of the Buddha staring at him. The novel is a lovely, refreshingly sweet and poignant story about a kid not warped by a society and whose goal is to live happily ever after, be a friend, find friends, and find the father he’s never known. One of my favorite lines is from Roman’s first day at his new school, when he’s challenged by his mother’s over-the-top appearance as a minor movie star in exile: “Welcome to my world, where I’m happy my hippie grandma is the one taking me to school today.”

Everybody knows about being fifteen. Teens suffer amid the transcending moments. Roman finds his transcending moment when a poem and a girl spark his interest and he joins an after-school poetry club. Weiss, a trained journalist, writes what she knows about Midwestern living and the experiences of the Spoken Word movement in high school and shares her inspiration for the novel. During the late nineties, when the character Roman was born, Spoken Word was incorporated into the English classroom in Oak Park. Weiss credits this performance writing as a means for students to share their struggles and triumphs. Her character, Roman, found his niche in this program, although he decides not to share his poetry with his family. “The only way I can be real about what I write is if I know I won’t have to explain myself to them,” Roman says. Participating in Spoken Word allows him to uncork his bottle of stuffed feelings about his place in life, environment, and upbringing.

When an opportunity to go to Europe arises from a Spoken Word competition, Roman, with the encouragement of his friend, Zuzu, takes a step on a journey to find his father. Roman knows only that his father is a French cruise ship entertainer his mother met the summer they both worked on board. First, he has to earn the right to be part of the poetry team to compete against the team’s London counterparts.

Roman shares his story through first-person present tense narrative, an effective method of bonding the reader to him. Spoken is not one of those in-your-face epic hero journeys. It’s a rare peek into a contemporary high school freshman year, where the onus to grab life and make meaningful memories is a primary objective. It’s difficult to find comparisons to today’s contemporary YA. Spokenis a finely tuned story about coming to grips with identity without needing to kill, die, have sex, travel through time or space, or do drugs. The cover is an evocative rendering of experiencing not only what you learn, but how you can share it. I enjoyed the story and recommend it for middle grade and older readers.

 

Tuesday
Mar052019

Book Review: The Indivisible and the Void

The Indivisible and the Void. D. M. Wozniak. Chicago, IL: D. M. Wozniak, February 15, 2019, Trade Paperback and E-book, 579 pages.

Reviewed by T. L. Needham.

“The fundamental notion which any voider’s power relies upon is this: Everything in our creation is built out of infinitesimal building blocks, called the indivisible. There is nothing else, besides the indivisible and the void.” Master Voider Democryos

Dem leads the college that trains voiders to manage, and use wisely, their power of voidstones. Lady Marine, his beautiful former student and wife, is hopelessly drawn to power and leaves him for mysterious voider. Outraged over his loss, Dem resolves to pursue and confront her and the traitor. Along the way, he meets an effulgent, Blythe, who leads worshipers of the “Unnamed.” Blythe insists on joining the quest to find Dem’s wife and kill the traitor who seduced her. There is no trust between Dem, who has faith in reason, and Blythe, who follows a guilty, blind faith.

Dem obsesses over his missing wife. Chimeline, a member of the King’s harem who is assigned by the King to please and comfort Dem, joins the quest. Colu, a super strong and loyal wounded warrior with a patch over one eye, also joins the troop on their quest.

They come upon a student voider who has gone mad and dies from a drug overdose. Dem buries him with help from his rival, the effulgent. Dem’s thoughts reveal the struggle within his heart: “I hope that this dirt covers our fears and prejudices, too. As if every shovel full marks a small step towards reconciliation, a common ground between faith and reason.”

The troop’s adventures within each chapter will amaze readers. The author has the gift and ability to pull the reader into the story with unexpected and unpredictable twists and turns. Logic prevails and the pages turn at a steady pace.

Dem, coached by Blythe, gradually learns a greater truth behind the power of The Void. He hears voices of souls trapped in void stones. Is he hearing voices or the delusional drivel of the effulgent? As Dem works in concert with Blythe, he learns the true power that the Master Voider holds. He learns “the empowered” can harness the power of axion—the material from which voidstones originated. The empowered, like voiders, are rare, with only a few born in each generation. Their power is based on the axiondrive, which powered a space ship larger than one can comprehend, a citadel flying among the stars.

Mander, a master voider, is empowered by axion, the most formidable force known. He is the traitor who seduced and enticed Lady Marine—who is drawn to this greatest power known at the time—to leave her husband, Dem.

The author effectively develops each character and tells a masterful story with revelations on many levels. While this is a love story wrapped within an enigma, the plot unravels an epic struggle between blind faith and reason, and shows how two individuals can unite to become a greater power. The contradiction between revenge and justice, and the resulting conflict, drives this compelling tale forward.

While each character has a unique story, all the characters struggle to define who they are, what they believe, and why they are on this quest. The characters are so well crafted that the reader feels empathy for each of them, perhaps even the villain. As the reader approaches the conclusion, the author reveals an amazing new reality and does a brilliant job of setting up the sequel, with just two words: “They’re coming.”