Review: Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle

summerlongSummerlong, by Peter S. Beagle, Tachyon, 2016

When is a mystery not a mystery? Obviously, when the mystery isn’t the point. Or the mystery.

Yes, that will require some explanation. It’s coming, but there are a few other things to cover first. Abe Aronson and Joanna Delvecchio are old lovers, as in both over fifty and they’ve been together for a long time. Abe is a retired history professor who attempts to brew beer, plays blues harmonica, and is writing a book on John Ball and the peasant’s rebellion. Joanna is a senior (as in ranking) flight attendant who likes to shoot hoops when she’s not worrying about her unhappy daughter, Lilly. Joanna is looking forward to her own retirement, after which she can fly anywhere in the world for free. They are almost but not quite living together in Abe’s home on an island off the coast in the Pacific Northwest. They are, in a word, comfortable with each other.

That comfort begins to unravel when, on a night out at the island’s only decent restaurant, they meet a new waitress named Lioness Lazos. She is, in a word, different, something that both Joanna and Abe realize right away. First, there’s her appearance, like someone who just stepped out of a painting by Botticelli. Her accent is unplaceable, she tells a story of her past which is almost but not entirely real, and in almost less time than it takes to tell about it, and at Joanna’s suggestion, she’s living in Abe’s garage. Then really odd things start to happen, like beautiful weather on the island, which isn’t known for this at all. And flowers blooming as they’ve never bloomed before, and Abe’s notoriously bad attempts at brewing beer suddenly start going right, and— Continue reading

Review: A Natural History of Hell by Jeffrey Ford

A Natural History of Hell: Stories by Jeffrey Ford, Small Beer Press, 2016

 

It’s more than a bit awkward at this point, wanting to get on with the review and wondering if I should first introduce the author, Jeffrey Ford, knowing all the while I shouldn’t have to do anything of the sort. Ford is, no exaggeration, one of the finest writers working in the field he’s chosen to be associated with. Or the field that chose him, since in our culture the kind of thing he tends to do has no real framework outside that of the fabulist. If he’d been born in South America he’d probably be considered a magical realist instead. No matter. It’s all pigeonholes and ways of talking about a thing, rather than the thing itself.

Did I just say all that? My apologies. But that’s what Ford’s work tends to do—send the reader off on tangents of thought and realms hitherto unexplored. After the story ends, of course. Until that moment, the story pretty much has you where it wants you.

There are thirteen stories in this collection, and all of recent vintage. Here you will find modern fairy tales, metafictions where a character named Jeff Ford is part of the story, biting commentaries on modern politics and insanity—lately almost one and the same thing–, observations on wealth and class, and none of the above. What you will really find, excusing the short-hand descriptive phrases attempting to categorize them, are stories. That’s what they are, first and foremost. The words attempting to categorize them above are cheerful failures. The stories are not. Nor are they cheerful.

Seriously. With a title like “A Natural History of Hell,” you were expecting sweetness and light? Oh, you’ll get that, too, but sparingly. There’s a dark, unflinching heart at the center of these stories. It looks in humanity’s mirror and describes what it sees, with neither fear nor pity to hinder it. There’s “The Thyme Fiend,” where only a cup of tea brewed from the herb of the title keeps the horrors at bay, until the time comes when they simply must be let in. Or “Blood Drive,” when an insane premise is logically followed to its insane conclusion and the world turns merrily on. One of my personal favorites, “The Angel Seems,” where common sense humanity shows that it has learned the proper way to treat a god.

Quibbles? Okay, fine. One or two of the endings did not quite come together for me. I only mention this at all because those cases were one of the few times I was forced out of the story into a consideration of plot, which normally you don’t even notice in a Ford story, even though it’s always there. Whatever strangeness is going on, you just go with it. If, for an instant, you can’t, it is noticeable. Fortunately, it is also very rare.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I do confess to being slightly put out by one story. We tend to get that way when we read a story someone else has written and sigh, “Damn. Why didn’t I think of that?” This happened in the centerpiece story, “A Terror,” where Emily Dickinson takes that famed carriage ride with Death. That line from HS English –“Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me” is all it takes to set it off. Not that my complaint matters. If I had written a story on this premise, it would not have been like this. Ford did it his own way, which now seems to me the only way, and he owns it.

He owns all of it. Thirteen stories only Jeffrey Ford could have written. Fortunately for us, he was around to do it. May he write many more.

 

Well, THAT Didn’t Go As Planned

WRITING 02Anyone who follows this blog knows I’m a little late this week. I had planned to have a review of Jeffrey Ford’s new collection,  A Natural History of Hell: Stories. I still plan to get that done, but I hit a bit of a snag. Here’s the deal—Carol and had planned to take a printing class at the Cooperstown Farmer’s Museum last Saturday (they have a cool 19th c printing press there). We had arrived and were on our way to the printer’s shop when, well, there was an incident. Continue reading

Review– Eric Clapton, the Autobiography

Review: Clapton, the Autobiography
Hardcover, 343 pages
Published October 9th 2007, Broadway
It always feels a little odd to write a review of an autobiography. It’s rather like writing a review of someone’s life, and if that’s not a scary thought, you’re probably not paying attention. Sure, it’s simply the expression of one life from the viewpoint of the one who lived it, not the actual life. For something more objective, I’d look to any biography done by someone who wasn’t an absolute acolyte of the subject. When the one who tells the story is the one who was there, “objective” isn’t what you look for. When the subject is someone like Eric Clapton, it’s more a chance to ask the implied question–“What were you thinking?”

That’s what you get here, and more besides. I didn’t know, for instance, that Clapton was born out of wedlock and effectively abandoned by his mother, who went on to form another family that didn’t include him. Considering some of what happened in his future relationships with women, amateur psychologists would have a party with that snippit, and likely already have. I just know that the man has had an extremely interesting life. The term “guitar god” was practically invented for Clapton, even though there were plenty of earlier players who could lay claim to the title, and he lived the life of one, and damn near died the death of one. The story of how he pulled himself out of the downward spiral of drugs and alcohol when so many of his peers never made it is worth the price of admission alone.

Your average biography will give you Clapton the Rock Star, Clapton the Guitar God, Clapton the hard-partying celebrity. While this book doesn’t ignore those things–and how could it?–this is the book that gives you Eric Clapton the man. Which, to me, is a lot more interesting. Oh, and if you ever wanted to hear the story behind the love triangle that led to the classic song “Layla,” as told by one of the–admittedly biased–people who were there, this too is the place. That’s what an autobiography is for. It’s what happened, from the writer’s own point of view. Sometimes inadvertently saying more than it perhaps intended, but whether the case or not, all part of the same story.