“The Miscarried” – This Week’s Short Story

The Miscarried by [Foley, Scott William]

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For some, the miscarried are always remembered … and always loved.  (Family Life/Inspirational)

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman – A Book Review

Neil Gaiman has written an incredibly engaging account of the Norse gods in this slim book.  Often seen as lesser than the Greek gods, I believe the Norse deities are enjoying a resurgence of late primarily thanks to the Marvel Thor movies.  Has Loki ever been more popular than during the last several years?  However, the Thor of the Marvel Universe is most definitely not the Thor of Norse mythology.  Not at all.  If you’re looking for a quick read to gain familiarity with these fascinating beings, Greek Mythology is the book for you.

Though all the names remain the same, Gaiman has written their tales in a more contemporary fashion, one that our modern society will find fluid and easy to comprehend.  Gaiman focuses on the most relevant of the stories, and so you can expect to learn about the major events and figures of the Norse pantheon.

Readers will be surprised to learn that Thor is something of a meathead in his original incarnation, Loki is actually Odin’s blood-brother, and Odin himself is far more dangerous than the movies ever depicted.  You’ll experience trolls, frost giants, serpents, dwarfs, monstrous dogs, and Ragnarok – the fall of the Norse gods.

A quick read, I would have no problem putting this book in the hands of my eight-year-old daughter.  It is not a children’s book, but it’s also not inappropriate for children to read.  As I already said, I can’t imagine a better book to provide a basic knowledge of the Norse gods.

Gaiman is no stranger to Norse mythology, by the way.  Odin is a major player in his novel entitled American Gods (which is soon to appear on STARZ as a television show).  He also uses Thor, Loki, and Odin in his seminal comic book series called The Sandman.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

“The One True” – My Latest Short Story

The One True: A Short Story by [Foley, Scott William]

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In these troubled times, would we even recognize a hero if one walked among us? Such is the premise of “The One True.” Part social commentary, part magical realism, this is a story that will resonate deeply.  (Social Commentary/Fantasy/Magical Realism)

The Book Of Strange New Things by Michel Faber – A Book Review

A friend recommended The Book Of Strange New Things to me a while back, so when I saw a beautiful hardcover edition in the severe discount bin at my local grocery store, I swept it up without hesitation.  (I’m still trying to figure out why it ended up in a discount bin at my grocery store.  Weird.)

The Book Of Strange New Things is a breath of fresh air, that’s for sure.  But, if I’m telling the truth, it didn’t end quite satisfactorily in my mind.  More on that soon …

The premise is that Peter, a man of 33, has been selected by a clandestine corporate entity to serve as a missionary to an indigenous species on a planet said entity is colonizing.  Peter is very happily married, and while he moved through the vetting process with ease, his wife did not, which results in her having to stay behind.

Both are incredibly devout to God.  They effectively run their own church while Peter’s wife, Bea, also works as a nurse.  Both experienced a difficult past, and it’s amazing Peter even lived long enough to eventually find God.  If I may be so bold, Bea and Peter are the sort of Christians who lead by example.  They do not force God upon people.  They treat people with respect, they administer to people, they expect nothing in return, but if an opportunity comes along to share the Message, they will.  They do not judge, for Peter has plunged lower than most anyone during his previous life.  They do not beat their Bibles.  They love.  They care.  They help.  They share.

Due to their faith and bond, they agree to serve God by sending Peter off to this distant world as Bea stays behind.  Once Peter arrives, his work proves to be far simpler than he imagined.  In fact, the denizens he’s serving are all too willing to have him; they’ve even been looking forward to his arrival!

But soon after Peter settles in on this new world, horrible things begin happening back on Earth.  He and Bea’s faith and love are put to the test in ways they never imagined.  Even their belief in God is strained.

I won’t spoil it any further, but this gives you a good sense of the tone of the book.  It introduces some compelling themes.  The idea of putting God first, before oneself and even one’s spouse, is a conflict of great interest to many.  There are also several mysteries unfolding, particularly in regards to the aliens themselves.  Just why are they so enthusiastic to learn about God?  Why did they specifically request a missionary from the corporation?  What is their motivation?  Furthermore, Peter suffers dismay as he is unfathomable miles from his wife as her world seems to be falling apart.  What is going on back on Earth?  Are things as bad as she says?  Is it even her writing these messages to him?

I appreciate that Peter is quite believable as a man who lived in the gutters before finding God.  Faber had to walk a tightrope in making a missionary who did not come off as too preachy, too stereotypical, too “holier than thou.”  He also came close to making Peter too selfless, too forgiving, and too naive.  Instead, he managed to strike that delicate balance with Peter, and, as a result, created an engaging character for whom we care.

The book moves quite slowly, but not unpleasantly.  Faber spends a great deal of time establishing Peter, Bea, the creatures, the new planet, and even Peter’s coworkers.  He explains just enough to make this colony believable, yet he smartly avoids trying to explain every nuance of the science and technology involved.  Peter is a bit of a amateur when it comes to technology, so it helps to see the world through his eyes.  Things happen, but he doesn’t pretend to understand the science behind it, nor does he particularly care.  He shares his curiosity with the reader, but does not try to focus too much about anything beyond the natives and his mission.  Oh, and Bea.  For the most part.

My only complaint is the ending.  For a book that burns so slowly, I expected a bit more from the conclusion.  On the one hand, we are given some interesting revelations concerning the planet’s inhabitants, but in regards to life back on Earth and Bea, I found myself rather unsatisfied.  I don’t need everything wrapped up in a tight little bow, but I thought Faber could have rewarded the reader a bit more in that regard.

There tends to be a real trend of late with new takes on space travel and “aliens.”  With mature, thoughtful approaches like Arrival and The Book Of Strange New Things, I hope the genre continues to expand and reinvent itself.

I absolutely recommend The Book Of Strange New Things for its characters, themes, creativity, originality, conflict, style, and plot.  My only reservations in recommending it to you are the pacing and the conclusion.

 

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Hope In the Dark by Rebecca Solnit – A Book Review

It so happened that on the morning of January 13th, I rode in my car and heard Rebecca Solnit on the NPR program entitled On the Media.  She read an excerpt from her 2004 book called Hope In the Dark.  Her reading, as well as her subsequent interview, convinced me that I had to experience the work for myself.

She begins with a quote from Virginia Woolf during WWI that says, “The future is dark, which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think.”  Solnit goes on to clarify that, in this case, darkness does not equate disaster, it merely reminds us that the future is ultimately unknown.

These are troubling times, and it is by no accident that this book, which is well over ten years old, is experiencing a resurgence.  Hope In the Dark illustrates some horrific calamities of the late 20th Century, but it also goes on to discuss how those disasters served as a catalyst to change, real change—positive change.  It also spends a great deal of time illustrating that the most potent of such change came through the efforts of people, regular citizens, standing up, taking action, and making their voices heard.

And even though some of these events may seem dated, if you read carefully enough, you’ll realize that the specific things she’s focusing upon absolutely have an effect on today’s local and global political climate, and, well, meteorological climate for that matter!

It is with great satisfaction that I read this book even as the Women’s March in Washington and throughout the world ensued.  It proved that what she said then is undeniably applicable today.  Our peaceful action speaks volumes; our voices can and will be heard.

Many of us feel hopeless today, but this book will instill faith in your fellow citizen … and yourself.  It will inspire you to do something, no matter how small, and to make your voice resonate.  It will, in the end, help you to realize that the future is dark, but, as Solnit points out, many things grow in the dark, things that later offer both beauty and sustenance.

We have the power to make our own story; we have the means to create our own future.

(If you’d like to listen to Solnit’s appearance during On the Media, visit this link: http://www.wnyc.org/story/rebecca-solnit-hope-lies-and-making-change/)

 

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Moonglow by Michael Chabon – A Book Review

While I admit that Michael Chabon is my favorite author and that I’ll read anything he publishes, I won’t go so far as to say that I love every single thing he releases.  Gentlemen 0f the Road missed the mark for me, and Telegraph Avenue simply did not connect to my soul like I thought it would.

On the other hand, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is the book I name when someone asks for my ultimate favorite.  Nearly all of Chabon’s books are the perfect blend of writing prowess and narrative charisma.  He not only writes engaging, relatable stories, but he writes them better from a technical aspect than nearly anyone other contemporary author out there.

So, with all that being said, Moonglow is my second favorite book by Michael Chabon.

Let me tell you a little bit about the plot without spoiling too much.  Essentially, in 1989, Chabon visited his dying grandfather.  Terminal, Chabon’s mother transported the grandfather from his home in Florida to her home in Oakland.  There, while the grandfather fought against death and the painkillers flooding his system, the grandfather did something which had before proven a rare occurrence – he spoke … at great length.

Chabon learned more about his grandfather in that last week of his life than all the years previous.  He learned of his grandfather’s misspent youth, his grandfather’s time in the war, his grandfather’s prison stay, his grandfather’s kinship with the stars, his grandfather’s struggles with fatherhood, his grandfather’s last months in Florida, his grandfather’s obsession with rockets, as well as his grandfather’s passionate love story regarding his grandmother.

Make no mistake, however, this story is not just about the grandfather.  The grandmother quickly becomes a star in this book as well.  Mysterious, emotional, brave, witty, beautiful, and ultimately unbalanced, Chabon’s grandmother is not what she seems – not to Chabon’s grandfather, his mother, or even to the grandmother herself.  In fact, in the end, Chabon is the only one who seems to know the truth about his grandmother.  I won’t tell you why or how.

I love this book because his grandfather is the coolest man to have ever lived.  You can’t help but think of the best aspects of your own father or grandfather as you read this story, and, believe me, he will remind you in some facet of your own paternal role model.  Chabon’s grandfather isn’t perfect, not by any means, but that’s also what makes him so loveable.  Plus, as you well know, much like ourselves, our own fathers and grandfathers are not perfect, either.

Chabon also plays with the narrative style quite a bit in this novel.  In terms of time, it is not linear.  Nothing happens in order, and it’s up to the reader to piece it all together.  But Chabon makes it a fairly seamless task for the reader, and in using such a structure, he ultimately builds mystery, suspense, and provides great emotional payoff.  Chabon’s choices are right on target; his pacing is a joy to experience; his tone, while at times very somber, is also light and warm in a manner that will draw you in and make you happy.  There’s even a great joke about Chabon’s style, delivered from the dying grandfather himself.  Be on the lookout for it.

Furthermore, Chabon makes a point to let you know that while this story actually happened, his novel is fiction.  He’s the first one to admit that he has taken great liberties without too much care or concern.  Some of it is probably word for word truth, and some of it is probably completely fabricated, and the beauty of it is that we, the readers, have no idea how to distinguish one from the other.  And to that I say, “Who cares?”  In my mind, reality is always a matter of perception.  When I read a book, I perceive, interpret, and process the story within my mind, which thus makes the book a part of my own personal reality.  As a result, “fiction” and “nonfiction” become a bit of a moot point when it comes to things like this.

I’d also like to say that this is perhaps the most straight-forward of any Chabon novel I’ve ever read.  Is it well-executed?  Magnificently so!  I laugh with my friends that I don’t believe Chabon used the same sentence structure more than once in the entire thing.  That’s an exaggeration, of course, but he’s that much of a master at writing.  And yet, this novel is easy to digest.  It’s easy to follow.  It’s not rife with metaphor.  It’s got great humor, great sadness, great love, and great action.  Oh, what action!  The World War II parts of this book set my imagination on fire.  In fact, because the grandfather is such an unusual everyman, and because the WWII scenes are so vibrant, I actually gave a copy of this book to my own father for Christmas.  I’m not sure when he read a book last, but he made a point today to tell me how much he’s loving Moonglow.

As we live our lives, they, for the most part, probably don’t seem that varied or interesting.  Yet, by our life’s ending, I’ll warrant most of our stories could fill a book, and I imagine that most of our children or grandchildren would love to read that story and experience who we were at 15, 35, 55, and even 75.  Chabon tapped into something wonderful by utilizing such a concept, and he’s got the talent to make it work.  Moonglow has shot to the top of my list of gifts to give friends, family, and coworkers.  I truly believe it’s a guaranteed good read for any reader.

How good is this book?  The minute I finished it, I turned back to page one and started reading it again.  Even better the second time.

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4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster – A Book Review

Let’s establish right away that Paul Auster is one of my favorite authors.  In fact, I’d consider myself something of a “fanboy.”  I’ve read the vast majority of his published work after discovering him about ten years ago.  He earned my trust back then, which means I will read anything he releases.  Anything.

4 3 2 1 is an ambitious work that absolutely experiments with style and execution.  It is extremely well written, meticulously organized, and clearly a labor of love.  This is an important novel due to its sheer moxie; it not only challenges well-established conventions in the field of literature, it summarily ignores them.

But, even with all of that being said, it missed the mark for me.  At 866 pages, 4 3 2 1 proved too much for this reader.  As you know, Auster is an avid baseball fan, and I definitely felt like I needed a scorecard for this epic volume.

Without spoiling too much, this novel imagines the four possible lives of a single man.  We follow him from boyhood all the way to death.  There are many touchstones that are obviously invariable from life to life, but there are also several deviations that alter one life drastically from another.  It’s a fascinating premise, one that we’ve all thought about from time to time.  What if my parents had separated?  What if I’d chosen a different school?  What if I had fallen into that pit and been paralyzed?  So many “what ifs” in life … Auster delves deeply into this notion while leaving no detail unexplored.

But, like Annie Proulx’s Barkskins, those nuanced details can overwhelm the reader to the point of provoking disengagement. At least, that’s what happened in my case.

Furthermore, if I’m being honest, Ferguson (the main character) is not especially interesting.  No matter which life we address, Ferguson is a bit aloof, a bit too precocious, a bit unlikable.  Well, perhaps “unlikable” is too strong of a word.  I would never describe him as “likable,” though.  Keep in mind, I don’t believe a character has to be “good” in the moral sense to be “likable.”  There have been plenty of “bad” characters that I thought were incredibly charismatic.

On the subject of morality, be warned … there is a lot of sex in this book — more than any Paul Auster book I’ve ever read.  There is straight sex, gay sex, committed sex, casual sex, oral sex, anal sex … you get the idea.  The sex often seemed to me as forced.  It never quite struck me as organic to the story.

While I found this to be a relevant addition to the author’s library because it broke new ground for an already inventive artist, it did not hold my attention.  While the writing is masterful, it failed to capture my imagination.  And while the characters are pounding with life, none of them seemed to take hold in my own.

 

 

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