Harold Jaffe’s JESUS COYOTE and the Purposes of the Manson Myth

Jesus Coyote by Harold JaffeHarold Jaffe’s “docufiction” Jesus Coyote is (as pointed out by Maya Yin in an Amazon review) a Rashomon-like presentation of the August 1969 Manson murders. It uses fictional newspaper clips, police memos, and interviews with the Manson character (“Jesus Coyote”), members of his Family (“the Tribe”), and the Family’s victims (dead and alive) to explore the myth-making process at both the personal and societal levels. Continue reading Harold Jaffe’s JESUS COYOTE and the Purposes of the Manson Myth

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Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky: The Void Meets the Deg

The Sheltering Sky by Paul BowlesThe key to Paul Bowles’ 1949 novel is found in the epigraph by Franz Kafka that introduces “Book Three:  The Sky”:

From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.

The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles’ first novel and his most well-known work of fiction, is about getting to that point beyond which there is no turning back; it’s about ripping away the illusion of the “sheltering sky” and staring straight into the void. Continue reading Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky: The Void Meets the Deg

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Larry Fondation’s Fish, Soap and Bonds: A God’s-Eye View of Homelessness

Fish Soap and Bonds by Larry FondationFish, Soap and Bonds is both a God’s-eye view of a society that treats homelessness as a slow form of public execution and the story of Fish, a former insurance salesman, now homeless, who can’t forget the past.

At the beginning of the novel, Fish has married Soap, a homeless woman, in an unofficial ceremony on the street, presided over by Bonds, their good friend, another homeless man who was once a deacon in his church.  The story is set in the mid-90s, and in many ways, these characters are like any people you’d run into in a novel set at that time.  They argue over whether O.J.’s guilty.  Soap, a still-attractive woman, yearns for a Clinique make-over.  Fish starts every morning obsessed with finding the day’s newspaper to catch up on the news about Rwanda.  They deal with the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake and fires. Continue reading Larry Fondation’s Fish, Soap and Bonds: A God’s-Eye View of Homelessness

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Dave Newman’s Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children

Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children by Dave NewmanDave Newman’s Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children is about getting over the life you thought you were supposed to live, so that you can get on with living the life you have. On the surface, the story is much the same as the story in Bukowski ‘s Post Office:  A guy gets a job. He doesn’t like the job. Sometimes he shows up drunk and sometimes he doesn’t show up. Then he gets fired. The End. What’s different is that Newman’s Dan Charles has something Bukowski’s Henry Chinaski never had—a family he’s determined to stick it out with. Continue reading Dave Newman’s Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children

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The Ends of Our Tethers and Alasdair Gray’s Great Theme

Mural by Alasdair Gray

 Once a writer has written a book that enough people like, he or she is expected to go on writing that book over and over forever. If the writer is a hack and starts cranking out more of the same, his audience and acclaim will grow. If the writer is good, and continues to grow in his work, he inevitably alienates a good portion of his audience, which sees their dissatisfaction with the writer’s new direction as a failing of the writer. Continue reading The Ends of Our Tethers and Alasdair Gray’s Great Theme

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JF Powers’ Morte d’Urban: On the Priesthood of American Literary Writers

Most reviews of  J.F. Powers’ 1962 comic masterpiece Morte d’Urban (especially most reviews in elite venues) see the central story as that of a wheeler-dealer priest who dies to earthly life to achieve a greater sanctity. And that assessment is pretty hard to argue with—since the hero of the novel is a priest, and the writer himself was Catholic, the novel has to be about the importance of the spiritual life over worldly success, right?

Wrong. As always, it’s convenient for the elite to assure the poor and frustrated that they will find their reward in heaven, so they don’t have to be given a cut here on earth. But the problem with this take on the story of Father Urban is that this is not how it will feel to any non-elite reading it. The way it feels to me as I read most of it is hilarious and exhilarating; the way it felt as I finished it was heartbreaking. What makes it sad is that it’s the story of a great man who’s destroyed by the yahoos. Continue reading JF Powers’ Morte d’Urban: On the Priesthood of American Literary Writers

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George Williams’ Gardens of Earthly Delight: Hieronymus Bosch vs. American Dream

Gardens of Earthly Delight

George Williams’ short story “Miss September,” in his collection titled Gardens of Earthly Delight, is the story of a Big Con. A rich eccentric, Kip, heir to a family fortune derived from patents for smelting and manufacturing alloys, becomes the prisoner of a neighborhood “witch” (Esther) and her “coven,” who proceed to drive him crazy with the kinds of psy ops used by the ATF against David Koresh in Waco, or against Noriega at the Holy See’s embassy in Panama, or against prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. (Most of the horror in these stories is inflicted with weapons and methods we now routinely have our governments use on other people.) Continue reading George Williams’ Gardens of Earthly Delight: Hieronymus Bosch vs. American Dream

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Eric Miles Williamson’s Welcome to Oakland – Back on the Streets Again

The first line of Welcome to Oakland, Eric Miles Williamson’s sequel to East Bay Grease (see review here) sets the theme:  “I’m always happiest when I live in a dump, and I’ve lived in some serious shitholes.” And Williamson’s narrator, T-Bird Murphy (who was also the narrator of Williamson’s East Bay Grease), is not being metaphoric when he refers to living in a dump. Throughout much of this book, T-Bird, now a twice-divorced man, is looking back at the period when he worked as a garbage man, literally living in one of Oakland’s city dumps, sleeping at night in his garbage truck parked at the dump. Continue reading Eric Miles Williamson’s Welcome to Oakland – Back on the Streets Again

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Eric Miles Williamson’s East Bay Grease: A Portrait of the Artist in Hell

In East Bay Grease, Eric Miles Williamson has created the ultimate novel of a child living in Hell, a story of brutality, transformation and transcendence. The narrator, T-Bird Murphy, is a poor kid from the Oakland slums, living in a world where people violate each other horribly—a world of vandalism and violence where no one ever calls the police because the police are the enemies of all. No one ever files lawsuits. It’s vigilante law. People take their revenge themselves.  They use knives to maim and torture. They burn down houses. They murder. Everyone knows whodunit and they know why it was done. It’s the real world that the poor in the big cities in the U.S. live in, but though the poor make up a huge segment of our population, this world is invisible to anyone not living in it. Continue reading Eric Miles Williamson’s East Bay Grease: A Portrait of the Artist in Hell

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Tough Guys Don’t Dance: Norman Mailer vs. the People’s Prick

Reading Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance reminds me of a stint I did once as a custodian at a mental hospital. Occasionally, I had to clean up something on the admitting ward, where the schizophrenics and manic depressives had just been pulled off the street in full psychosis, before they’d been drugged into the sad, silent state that is the primary goal of mental health facilities. Continue reading Tough Guys Don’t Dance: Norman Mailer vs. the People’s Prick

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