Archive for July, 2018

Royals Of Summer

We were the royals of Summer,
tanned nut-brown,
laying claim to kingdoms
made expansive with
the help of our imaginations:
concrete driveways
chalk-marked for hopscotch,
a government
proclaiming its own rules on
the unforgiving
blacktopped playgrounds,
seeding weed-
infested fields with bases for
evening whiffle ball.
Disputes adjudicated by
the lineage of
one’s age and growth spurt.
With no fear of
school, until dark declared
a temporary stay,
we imbued the shadows
with our majesty.
Claiming light’s abundance
as our realm,
we denied the possibility
of the classroom.
Royalty destined for a Fall.

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Pallbearers

Heavy rains have toppled
the peonies.
Supplicants on their knees,
only a stake
will elevate them again to
resurrect in
tomorrow’s brilliant sun.
But what good
is a shoulder for those
who acknowledge
their season has passed?
Casting perfume
to dawn’s wind, the notice
of an extravagant
youth already spent has
been widely
broadcast to the backyard.
Attending to
the remains, pallbearers
have begun to
congregate – bees and
ants honoring
Spring’s first casualties.

It’s The Little Things

Just as towels
must be folded precisely
along the crease,
she follows in the wake
of my dusting
to nudge photographs
and knick-
knacks back into place.

After decades
of married life, stasis
is preserved by
accepting the other’s
sacred rituals,
even if agnostic and
not subscribing
to that particular faith.

But rebellion,
too, is a healthy release,
even if the battle
goes unacknowledged,
as in the case
of our bathroom rug,
continually being
rearranged by an inch.

The Association Of Small Bombs / Karan Mahajan

As this novel opens, two Delhi brothers and a schoolboy friend are traveling to a marketplace to pick up their family’s television set at a repair shop.  After they walk into the marketplace, a bomb explodes, instantly killing the brothers.  Their friend, Mansoor, is injured in the blast, but survives.  The year is 1996 and the explosion kills only a handful of people.  Since so few people are harmed, after the initial press coverage, the event is quickly forgotten other than by those directly affected by this act of terrorism.  In his fascinating portrayal of events, Mahajan shows the ripple effect caused by this small explosion.  Not only does he present the perspective of the victims and their families, but also of the perpetrators themselves.

His writing dazzles as he describes the blast that opens the story.  The scene is described from Mansoor’s viewpoint, as well as from that of the person who set off the explosion, and from the bomb’s itself.  “Blast: 1996,” the chilling open sequence is followed by “Victims: 1996” and “Terrorists: 1996.”  The story then moves to the consequences to the victims of this act of terrorism.  It concludes with a chapter entitled “The Association of Small Bombs: 2003- .”

For the most part, Mahajan follows his characters at a close third person.  But in key moments, he slips into their consciousnesses, to great effect. Throughout this novel, when describing the spectacle of disaster and its aftermath, he skillfully focuses on minor details that eerily present the big picture.  By showing the unfolding events from all perspectives, the story highlights that the difference between good and evil is not as clear cut as many believe.

Published in 2016, The Association of Small Bombs is Mahajan’s second novel. While it might sound like a depressing read, it is far from that.  It is a story that focuses on life’s intimacies of survival, as the parties involved try to make sense of this act of terrorism.  Presenting a stereoscopic view of such an act, the book reveals not only humanity at its worst, but takes the reader beyond the headline to personalize the consequences.  Mahajan masterfully provides a compassionate portrayal of a complex subject.  It is a novel that will enlighten, as well as continue to haunt, after the last page is turned.

Talk Talk / T. C. Boyle

This novel opens with quite a bang.  Dana Halter, a woman in her early thirties and profoundly deaf, accidentally runs a stop sign on her way to work.  As a result, she is pulled over by the police.  However, rather than being issued a ticket, Halter finds herself being dragged from her car, handcuffed and transported to a jail cell.  The next day in court she is accused of assault with a deadly weapon, auto theft, and passing bad checks, among other things.  It turns out her identity had been stolen online and that someone has been impersonating her in the real world.

This someone is William “Peck” Wilson, a once promising restauranteur whose anger issues landed him some time in prison. Upon his release, he begins a career of stealing others’ identities to fuel his taste for the better things in life.  As the story moves forward, the readers are also presented with Peck’s point of view of the unfolding events.

Halter does have a boyfriend, someone who is not part of the deaf community.  Throughout the ordeal, Bridger Martin stands by Halter and works to clean up the mess of her credit history.  But then, his credit history is also stolen and misused by Peck.  And this is where this novel went off track, never to recover.

Despite knowing that Peck has a history of assault, Halter and Martin decide to track his movements in hopes of confronting him.  This leads to an improbable chase from California to New York in an intense heat wave.  While the topic is certainly a timely one, Boyle’s treatment of it is magnified beyond belief.  It helps to have one of his protagonists be profoundly deaf, and Boyle does a marvelous job of presenting events from her silent perspective.  However,  despite creating interesting characters in Halter and Martin, he fails to support them with a plot that is able to explain their actions.

Over the years I have a read and enjoyed a number of Boyle’s short story collections.  However, having also read a number of his novels, I’ve not been as impressed by his work in a longer format.  Talk Talk is at times a captivating story.  Even so, I found it impossible to suspend disbelief when Halter and Martin, mild mannered figures that they are, decide to take to the road to track this person who has stolen their identities.  In the end, the actions of Peck seem more understandable than the story’s protagonists.

Perfect Child / Ashley Anderson

This novel was given to me by the author, Ashley Anderson, a physician I have worked with over the decades. It is a self-published book (available online for purchase), and his first, written after he retired from practice. For those who enjoy reading crime fiction, Perfect Child is worthy of consideration as a new discovery. It deals with a not-too-distant future where human reproduction can be manipulated to guarantee the birth of a superior child, in this case by a major corporation doing so nefariously.

The story opens in Madison, Wisconsin, after a home invasion where a baby girl is taken, but no ransom demand is ever made. Enlisting the help of an emotionally damaged police detective, the devastated mother (an unmarried physician) begins the quest to locate her missing child. As the plot unfolds, an FBI agent also gets involved in the case, with the evidence pointing to a major corporation involved in women’s healthcare as the culprit in this home invasion, as well as numerous other missing-child reports from across the country.

If this sounds like it is “by the numbers” for this particular genre, it is guilty as charged. Of course, the young mother is destined to fall in love with the detective with a dark past. And the CEO of the corporation and his assistant have no redeeming characteristics. In other words, it is a story about good taking on evil despite the corporation’s power to pay off politicians and the press. That said, I was surprised at how well written this novel proved to be, especially considering it was the author’s first work. Even as the investigation progresses and becomes a bit far fetched to provide continual suspense and action, I was able to suspend disbelief, knowing in the end good would prove triumphant.

As you may have guessed, crime fiction is not a genre that I often read. For those who do enjoy it, hunting down a copy for purchase will probably be money well spent. I could easily see this story being turned into a film script. Ashley is to be commended for following all the rules to come up with a book that goes down easy, even if it might not be long remembered.

Facade

Its neighborhoods gentrified,
architecturally first class,
crisscrossed with power lines,
parks groomed of litter,
and ponds tamed to a ripple,
how well appointed it
appears under faint starlight;
even the infiltrating wild-
life blends harmoniously into
this cultural mash-up.
But troubled by nightmares,
awoken after midnight,
it questions if that was a car
backfiring or a gunshot.
A lingering dream still haunts,
of every street flooded
beyond the resuscitation of
insurance’s magic wand.
After decades of indulgence,
sleepless and bloated,
confronting its own mortality,
this metropolis lies awake,
wondering if it is all a facade.