Author Archives: Amos

“A WHITE, WHITE DAY”— Suspicion/Obsession

“A WHITE, WHITE DAY”

Suspicion/Obsession

Amos Lassen

 Iceland is a place made for fog, it can come sweeping in even in high places, turning everything white. On a day like this, they say that the dead will return to visit the living. Ingimundur’s wife accidentally drives off the side of the road on a day like this and she smashes through a barrier and disappears into nothingness.

Ingimundur (Ingvar Sigurdsson) never imagined being without his wife. He continues on, trying to do what’s expected of him, but he can’t quite deal with the situation. He has been seeing a therapist who asks him to define himself and Ingimundur answers that he’s a father, a grandfather, a policeman. It’s his policeman’s habits that get him in trouble.

After someone dies, we are left with the memories and we see those as we want. To discover that the person we tryto keep alive might never have been real. Ingimundur might seem to be coping with his wife’s death, what he can’t cope with is the growing suspicion that she was having an affair and as he compulsively investigates, he wonders how well he really knew her. Did she belong to somebody else? Was the man she was seeing involved in her death? These questions threaten to overtake him and he has violent outbursts or temper.

“A White, White Day” is both a deeply dramatic story and a  comedy of the absurd. There is something absurd about death and it’s something that a men like Ingimundur are unable to be told how to adjust to. Doing it by himself, he leaves unexpected casualties wherever he goes. The only person who gets close to him and help him  through this is his young granddaughter Salka (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir). The child’s unwillingness to tolerate foolishness seems more helpful to him than sympathy.

Sigurdsson gives us a man who represses his emotions yet giving us just enough of himself to understand what’s going on. WE look beyond the bursts of rage and see somebody who is filled with love and warmth. The way he is treated by his relatives and colleagues help us to cheer him on even when we are afraid of what he might do.

Director Hlynur Palmason’s film is full of mid-shots in small rooms and characters crowded together. Ingimundur needs to find a way through and a space of his own in which he can see clearly. The film is seriously strange with Ingimundur struggling to cope with loss and the impact his actions have on the various folks around him. The opening effectively establishes the remote environs in which the characters live and it is  Sigurðsson’s performance and cinematographer Maria von Hausswolff’s compelling visuals that carry the film. Although director Pálmason gives us elements that periodically hold our interest, it is the atmosphere that tries our   patience and it does become more and more difficult not to wish that there was more action and less scenery. The climax brings us to a positive end that confirms that the film is a gripping look at extreme grief.

 About Film Movement

 Founded in 2002, Film Movement is a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films based in New York City. It has released more than 250 feature films and shorts culled from prestigious film festivals worldwide.  Film Movement’s theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign art house titles. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. In 2015, Film Movement launched its reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Peter Greenaway, Bille August, Marleen Gorris, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, King Hu, Sergio Corbucci and Ettore Scola. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com. Visit www.filmmovementplus.com for more information about Film Movement Plus, the new subscription streaming service from Film Movement.

“THE FAMILY TREE”— Life, Family and Friends

“THE FAMILY TREE”

Life, Family and Friends

Amos Lassen

I have been a huge fan of Panamanian director Jorge Ameer since I first began reviewing and, in fact, one of his films was one of the first I ever reviewed. I am lucky that Ameer gives me an early shot at his films just as he has done with his newest film “The Family Tree”. I have watched Ameer and his films mature, I never know what to expect with an Ameer film—- his range is so wide and diverse. I was truly in the mood for a sensitive film and that is what “The Family Tree” is. It is also the best film he has made as yet. The plot is amazing, the cinematography is lush, the music is sublimely divine and the production as a whole is stunning. However, because of the nature of the plot, I can’t say too much without giving something away and I want everyone to have the same beautiful experience I had watching it.

Roy (Michael Joseph Nelson) is married to Alina (Anais Lucia) in this Christmas story.  They are eager to bring a child into the world but, it is just not happening for them. Victor (Keith Roenke), comes into their lives and changes everything.

The three main characters’ lives become intertwined through a series of events that are unsuspected and strongly brings them together and perhaps bring happiness to Roy and Alina. I could not help being drawn into the emotions of what I was watching.

As the story moves forward, it touches the viewer evoking  emotions especially when we meet Victor, a young workaholic animal rescuer for a local shelter. He is lonely and also an immigrant and he loves the Christmas holidays. When he was a child, Victor made dolls for the holidays, a Panamanian tradition. This year will be really special for him—- he will find love, friendship and especially family.

That Christmas something otherworldly enters the world as part of an old Panamanian tradition and through that Victor learns a great deal as does the audience. I love the inclusion of an old Panamanian tradition that is still practiced today.

Watching what happens on screen reminds us that we cannot let ourselves forget our good memories and how important it is to be with those who we love.

 

The performances are unforgettable all around. In no way did I expect the sensations that the film delivered and it is with tears of sensitivity in my eyes that I am writing this review. Seeing the beauty of the film reinforces that there is never enough beauty in our lives.

“MY COMIC BOOK COUNTRY”— The Power of Comic Book Shops

“MY COMIC BOOK COUNTRY”

The Power of Comic Book Shops

Amos Lassen

Comic book characters have come to mean box office gold, yet comic book stores struggle to survive? I often walk by my local comic book store in Brookline, Massachusetts and seldom see anyone inside. It’s in a high rental area and I have often wondered how it pays the rent. In “My Comic Shop Country”, filmmaker Anthony Desiato explores the culture, business, and fandom of comic shops across America. He takes us behind the scenes in stores from coast to coast and shows us  an industry in transition as shops strive to remain relevant.  We explore the power of comic shops to build a community that honors the original form of the superhero: the comic book.

In 2015, the shop where Deslto worked, New York’s Alternate Realities closed after 23 years in operation, as this closure was the impetus for his quest to explore the comics retail industry. We see how the 20 shops featured in the film are turning the tide, one customer at a time, seven days a week.

The film is an extension of Desiato’s ongoing podcast of the same name.  The focus of the film is on the people who make these stores special and are the heart of the comics community. We learn why physical comic book stores are so important to the future of comic books and it explains why shops matter .

For the documentary, Desiato traveled across the country to interview comic book store owners and well-known comic book editors and writers, like Paul Levitz and Mark Waid. The result is a documentary that explores the business and the community of the American comic book shop. Desiato has publicly stated that this part of the comic book story isn’t known by most people. “Comic shops are facing an extremely real and pressing threat at the moment,” Desiato said. “Comic shops offer enormous value to customers, creators, and publishers alike in their ability to connect readers with material on the shelf – to make personalized recommendations based not on an algorithm, but because they know their customers and they make the effort to familiarize themselves with the product. I’ve seen that in action across the country and have an entire segment of the movie devoted to it.

Having a person behind the counter telling customers, ‘Hey, I read this, and you need to check it out’ is invaluable.” The benefits of the comic book store go to customers. publishers and creators too.  

“Covenant of Blood: Circumcision and Gender in Rabbinic Judaism” by Laurence A. Hoffman— A Defining Rite?

Hoffman, Laurence A. “Covenant of Blood: Circumcision and Gender in Rabbinic Judaism”, (Chicago Studies in the History of Judaism), University of Chicago Press, 1996.

A Defining Rite?

Amos Lassen

Circumcision is central to both biblical narrative and rabbinic commentary and it is a defining rite of Jewish identity; it is such a powerful symbol that to challenge it is considered to be taboo. In “Covenant of Blood”, Lawrence Hoffman looks at why circumcision holds such an important place in the Jewish psyche. He explores the symbolism of circumcision through Jewish history and examines its evolution as a symbol of the covenant in the post-exilic period of the Bible and its subsequent meaning in the formative era of Mishnah and Talmud.

I first heard about this book in a course on gender and sexuality in Judaism and realized how little I understood its importance as a symbol and as a rite.

Hoffman argues that in the rabbinic tradition and system, circumcision was not a birth ritual and neither was it the beginning of the human life cycle. It was a rite of covenantal initiation into a male “life line.” Even though the evolution circumcision was shaped by rabbinic debates with early Christianity, the Rabbis shared with the church the idea that blood provides salvation.

Hoffman examines the particular significance of circumcision blood, which, in addition to its role regarding salvation is contrasted with menstrual blood to symbolize the gender dichotomy within the rabbinic system. Analyzing the Rabbis’ views of circumcision and menstrual blood shows something about the marginalization of women in rabbinic law. Differentiating official mores about gender from actual practice, Hoffman gives us a survey of women’s spirituality within rabbinic society and examines the roles mothers played in their sons’ circumcisions until the medieval period when they were excluded from taking part.

By combining a close reading of rabbinic texts with an interdisciplinary method drawn from the human sciences, Hoffman makes an important contribution to Jewish studies and gender studies.

In “Covenant of Blood”, Hoffman shows his mastery of the subject and his fluency with traditional sources and scholars, and also has a solid grasp on related material from the whole non-Jewish and non-Judaist spectrum. Circumcision is an explosive topic and has been since Abraham and Hoffman really handles it well. He gives us what we  need to know about the key Biblical sacrament and how an inspired scholarly mind operates and explains.

I am fascinated by learning that circumcision became a part of Jewish history during and after the Babylonian Captivity (597-538 BCE) and only after the Persians allowed Cohanim to return to Palestine, where they imposed the ritual on their people. It was also during the Captivity that the entire story about the life of Abraham was inserted into the Biblical narrative. These facts make it possible to question the validity of every Biblical story as well as the entire historical basis for Judaism, as it now appears.

Hoffman begins by telling us: “If the physical act of circumcision is the cultural sign of Jewish existence, the cultural construction that it signifies is a covenant between the men being circumcised and God.” However, the cultural “sign” of Jewish existence is not the circumcision of men, but of infant boys— non-consenting boys, who are forced to endure the rite. This implies that the cultural sign of Jewish existence is the ritual mutilation by men of the genitals of someone who is too young to object in any way except by screaming, etc.

The claim is that circumcision was mandated by God, yet we learn here that is was the deliberate work of a few Jewish Priests and Scribes living in Babylon. Circumcision, Hoffman writes, has long been the sine qua non of Jewish identity. However, this simple statement is more complicated than it appears, both because obviously it does not speak to women’s Judaic status, and also because the state of one’s penis is technically irrelevant to one’s membership in the religion.

Hoffman, became so troubled by his findings that it took him eight years following his completion of his research to actually publish “Covenant of Blood”. His thesis is so profound and yet so simple that it is shocking that no one has spoken about it before he did: Circumcision symbolizes a covenant between the males being circumcised and God. The practice thereby expresses the truth that in traditional rabbinical thought, Judaism, despite its matrilineal passage of religious identity, equates “man” with “Jew,” allotting women in a second-thought role. Circumcision made possible and even embodied an analogy that Hoffman shows was implicit in Judaism: man was to woman as Jew was to non-Jew. A male Jew demonstrated that he belonged to Judaism and was part of the covenant by going under the knife.

There has been such a strong grasp on circumcision that opposition to it was considered heretical or a taboo. What is important is to realize that things were not this way from the beginning of Judaism. After examining confusing and sometimes conflicting ancient religious texts, Hoffman shows that circumcision has not always been considered an essential Jewish covenant, but rather was constructed as such a few centuries before the birth of Christ. This was at a time when animal sacrifice was on its way out as part of Judaism. The blood spilled during circumcision is essential to brit milah because it harks back to the brit’s ritual predecessor, animal sacrifice. At the same time, the blood represents the aspect of sacrifice that offers salvation. The penal foreskin is useless unless covered with circumcision blood causing to be redemptive. Menstrual blood, on the other hand, was considered a pollutant, demonstrating the exclusion and subordination of women. As part of this historical transition, women had to be displaced from the brit milah. In its original form, the ritual placed father, mother, and child at center stage. Later, the brit was reconceptualized to exclude all females including the mother and to emphasize its nature as “a male-only ritual, almost sacramental in both public and official meaning.”

In a fascinating three-way power struggle between the monarchy, the Jewish “priests” (as Hoffman names them), and the prophets, circumcision became a ritual of total importance. Hoffman shows that the redactor of the so-called “P text,” is the original promoter of the equation of Jewish identity and circumcision. This writer, it seems was obsessed by the need to ensure successful reproduction. He metaphorically associated this with images of horticulture, associated the need for circumcision as “pruning” to promote fertility. Circumcision came to be conceptualized as a ritual form of castration in which the elders’ power was publicly demonstrated and the son’s loyalty  was made clear by his submission to the circumciser’s knife.

Hoffman deconstructs the entire brit milah ritual in great detail, delving into the historical origins of each step, showing us how it developed through a combination of rabbinic authority and  popular interventions. The author convincingly demonstrates that the rite is “a ceremonial celebration of the obligation that binds men to each other in rabbinic culture.” Except for the mother, men alone are featured in all rabbinic stories about circumcision. Blood symbolizes the opposition between men and women; women are seen as dirty and as lacking control of their (menstrual) blood and thus of themselves, while men are portrayed as clean and as in control of their (circumcision) blood, thereby justifying their preferential entrustment with passing on religious doctrine.

The power of tradition, I understand,  almost stopped Hoffman from publishing his exploration of the role of circumcision in Judaism. He eventually, ten years later, felt that “it is better to come to terms with the crawly creatures in the basement than to pretend that they are not there.”

In tracing the rite of circumcision from its original textual origins in the story of Abraham, Hoffman combines close analysis of Jewish texts with anthropological theory (particularly the seminal and insightful writings of Mary Douglas and Claude Levi-Strauss) to demonstrate how circumcision evolved into a binary system that served to reinforce Jewish patriarchy while simultaneously marginalizing women. Hoffman demonstrates how the rabbinic system evolved in a manner that effectively excluded women from the religious culture of Judaism (while recognizing that the preserved rabbinic texts do not always reflect the reality of cultural practice). Hoffman summarizes why Jewish women were excluded from compliance with positive commandments dependent on time:

“[W]ith regard to gender, the rabbinic system presents a cultural diad of in control/out of control. Men are controlled, they learn the system of controls, and they exercise control to transform the environment; women are the opposite: they are out of control; they are nature; they are wild, loose, unable (by temperament) to master the application of those commandments that must be done precisely on time.' Therefore, the system necessarily exempts them from those commandments. In a word, men are nature transformed by culture; women are nature, dependent on culture, that is, on men. They enter men's domain at times like marriage (thus requiring one-sixth of the Mishnah to tell their men how to deal with them), but they are never fullyculturated.’ They do not learn Torah and are not obliged to affect Torah’s transformation of nature. Using Levi-Strauss’s celebrated categorization scheme loosely, we can say that men, as culture, are the cooked while women, as nature, are the raw.”

For those who see Judaism as revealed religion, and Torah and its Talmudic elaborations as revealed texts, “Covenant of Blood” will appear as heresy. Similarly, for those who unquestioningly accept Judaic tradition and practice without regard to its origins and effects, there will continue to be a cultural, if not religious, imperative for circumcision, “the sine qua non of Jewish identity throughout time.” But for those willing to examine the religious ritual of circumcision in the light of reason, Hoffman has written a text that should be carefully considered.

We are given an understanding of the evolution of Rabbinic Judaism from a temple/priest centered religion and  the gradual exclusion of women from the practice of religion in the synagogue which is linked to changes in the circumcision ritual. While the book is of great depth, it is easy to read. I do not know if I agree with all that is here but we cannot ignore what Hoffman has to say.

 

 

“THE ETRUSCAN SMILE”— Reuniting

“THE ETRUSCAN SMILE”

Reuniting

Amos Lassen

In “The Etruscan Smile”, Brian Cox plays an ailing septuagenarian Scotsman who reunites with his estranged son. Cox plays Rory McNeil from a remote Hebrides island who travels to San Francisco to seek treatment for an undiagnosed but clearly serious medical condition. There, he’s reunited with his estranged son Ian (JJ Field) and meets his wealthy daughter-in-law, Emily (Thora Birch), and baby grandson, Jamie. Although all of his previous behavior leads you to think he would instantly drop-kick a baby across a room, Rory instead immediately melts at the sight of the toddler, whom he treats with total tenderness.

Rory is a fish-out-of-water in the cosmopolitan city. He doesn’t like his chef son’s cuisine. He loves to swim naked and this gets him in trouble with law enforcement when he tries it in San Francisco Bay. He wears a kilt to a fancy gala, disdaining the fancy drinks being served and telling the flustered bartender that he wants something that will burn his throat.

A little of this humor goes a long way and just as it threatens to become too much, the film moves into a touching storyline about the romance between Rory and museum curator Claudia (Rosanna Arquette). At first, Claudia ireacts quite coolly to his unconventional attempts at charm, but he eventually wins her over. Just as their relationship starts to heat up, Rory is given a devastating medical prognosis.

Despite such potentially interesting but undeveloped subplots such as Rory being the subject of a linguistics study involving his native Gaelic, the film is too familiar emotionally. Rory’s obsession with his grandson, whom at some point he encourages to climb out of his crib in dangerous fashion, is overdone and almost becomes creepy. Everyone eventually warms up to Rory despite his behavior  but this did not seem authentic to me. That does not mean it will seem that way to you.

Cox is charismatic and succeeds with the story aside from his romance with Claudia which I found hard to believe.  The film has a wonderful ensemble cast that includes  Treat Williams, Peter Coyote and Tim Matheson, who all bring admirable gravitas to their supporting roles.

” TheEtruscan Smile is based on José Luis Sampedro’s novel La Sonriser Etrusca, though nationalities and locations are changed. It is a moving, charming and self-contained film that follows a familiar trajectory, and highlights well-worn themes but Cox is wonderful, and takes the independent, frightened and rude Rory as far as a man like that would realistically go  without becoming a caricature.

Directors Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis resist the usual clichés where we’re expected to believe someone from a small place in Britain has never seen a lightbulb before. Rory’s health issues, once diagnosed, won’t come as a surprise to anyone used to family dramas about reconnecting before it’s too late.

Even though the story follows an expected path, the cast, make this so much more than a dull family drama.  Rory keeps some wholly unnecessary curmudgeon behavior almost to the very end but otherwise this film is a winner.

“The Ungodly Hour” by Laury Egan— Amid Romance a Killer Comes

Egan, Laury. “The Ungodly Hour”,  Interlude Press, 2020.

Amid Romance a Killer Comes

Amos Lassen

Dana Fox, a New York photographer, is leading a weeklong photography workshop on Mykonos. If you have ever been to the island, you will quickly understand why is so  entranced by the brilliant light of Mykonos. The dark beauty of Cybele Karabélias, a local policewoman enchants her as well. However, what began as a wonderful vacation is upended when several of gruesome murders rock the town. Dana doesn’t pay attention to the possible dangers and continues to photograph, not realizing that the killer is moving closer to her as he seeks closure and the evidence that is unknowingly in Dana’s possession.

Dana is sure who she is sexually but Cybele who accepted a job on the local police department because she wanted to learn more about her sexuality. Mykonos has always been a gay destination so it seems that it is a perfect place for introspection and sexual decision making. One evening, Dana and Cybele see each other in a bar but it ended there or so it seemed.

However, the next day Dana’s apartment was broken into and when she calls the police, Cybele the following day, her apartment gets broken into and trashed and guess who visits when she calls the police Cybele answers.

At the same time Dana is visiting Mykonos, a gay man is murdered, a news reported is killed, a group of Christian-anti-gay-protesters is on the island and one of Dana’s student is dealing with an abusive boyfriend. There is a lot going on and we are left to wonder why her apartment was broken into.

After the phone call to the police, Dana and Cybele get along beautifully but we feel the tension on Mykonos. The plot keeps us reading as we try to tie everything together. While this is a mystery/thriller read, there is also a lot of romance here.

It seems that the murders have something to do with Dana’s photography workshop and it is possible that among Dana’s photos is one of the killer. When we finally learn who the murderer is, we see his reasons. It is interesting also that there is such homophobia in a place where gays are regular visitors and even residents. I do not want to say anymore about the plot because to do so would spoil the mystery. I prefer that you enjoy the read as much as I did. In fact, I bet it is that much better with a second read which I plan to do soon.

“MY FIONA”— A Tale of Grief and Love

“MY FIONA”

A Tale of Grief and Love

Amos Lassen

After her best friend commits suicide very suddenly, Jane has a hard time finding meaning in anything.  She agrees to babysit Fiona’s son while her wife is at work during the day.  This brings about an intimate relationship between the two women that could either help to heal them both or bring up old wounds that aren’t fully healed as well as create new ones.

This film is a close examination at the effects that grief can have on people.  At the beginning we see how awkward Jane is at the funeral, and that is such a relatable scene— funerals are awful events, no one knows what to say or how to act, and this film captures that amazingly.  It also has a great depiction of grief.  Everyone suffers grief differently and recovers from it differently.  Jane searches for answers.  She wants to know why it happened, and if there was something she could have done to prevent it. Fiona’s wife Gemma (Corbin Reid), throws herself back into work and tries to keep herself busy.

 The two women battle their way through grief.  Their relationship might  have been a terrible idea, but it was what they both needed at the time. Jeanette Maus is a powerhouse as Jane. She plays her with great emotion and we empathize with her. We feel her sense of loss in everything she does as well as her sense of confusion when she is explores the possibility that she might be a lesbian.  She just wants someone to tell her if that is normal or not and of course, no one has the answer to that.  Sexuality can’t be explained. labelled or diagnosed.

The story does almost solely focus on Jane and Gemma, and therefore there is no real focus on Fiona and the cause or reason for her suicide.  I wanted to know why she took her life but perhaps we don’t know because sometimes, when someone does this, the people left behind don’t know why it happened and have to find a way to move on with this gaping question staying with them.  I wanted more about Fiona’s story and how she arrived at the point that she did.

Director Kelly Walker frames the opening scene so that viewers realize that Jane’s life is about to be turned upside down before Jane realizes it herself. A painful emotional connection with A difficult protagonist is established before we even see the title of the film.

“My Fiona” struggles grapples with the fallout of suicide and the challenges of carving out new lives and loves in the shadow of loss. To complicate and confuse matters further for Jane, she cannot tell if the feelings she develops for Gemma are purely a result of their shared loss or a new revelation about her sexuality. The situation grows messy, but the direction keeps the situations believable through the use of tonal whiplash and darkest humor to show Jane’s inner state. Hers is a confident directorial voice, and her next feature should be eagerly anticipated.

The film looks at what it means to be okay when it is healthier and more honest to not be okay as it looks at the ugly and uncomfortable ways through mourning and self-discovery. We face death directly. Walker doesn’t beat around the bush— she takes on difficult ideas with confidence aided by the powerful performance by Maus. There is sense of realism despite the extremity of the plot and we sympathize with Jane even with her flaws.

The loss, anger and sadness that comes with being left behind is not an easy journey to navigate; feelings are confusing, especially since Jane has no ambitions or friends of her own to depend upon.

“The Eyes of the Queen: A Novel” by Oliver Clements— The Beginning

Clements, Oliver. “The Eyes of the Queen: A Novel (1)”,  (An Agents of the Crown Novel), Atria/Leopoldo & Co,, 2020.

The Beginning

Amos Lassen

Oliver Clement’s “The Eyes of the Queen” is  his first novel of the Agents of the Crown series in which a man who will become the original MI6 agent protects England and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I from Spain’s nefarious plan to crush the Age of the Enlightenment. Here is a new look at history that is both a fun read and one that keeps you on the edge of your seat as you turn pages as quickly as possible.

Europe has finally emerged into the Age of Enlightenment after centuries of poverty, persecution, and barbarity. Scientists, philosophers, scholars, and poets alike believe that new era of reason and hope for  and the  threat exists for all who dare to defy Catholic orthodoxy. There is only Britain who can fight this and Queen Elizabeth I knows that this is not a war that can be won by just the forces of war.

After Britain loses half of her military force and the treasury is almost empty, the Queen needs a new kind of weapon and the knowledge and secrecy necessary to win this. It is then that Her Majesty’s Secret Service is born and John Dee is its leader. Dee is charismatic and a scholar, a soldier, and an alchemist who is loyal only to the truth and to his Queen. Even though she is the woman he’s forbidden from loving, he is prepared to risk his life for her and for Britain.

I love historical fiction and I love thrillers. We get both in one book here and it swept me away. The prose is clean, the characterization is very real and the details are exceptional. Add to that there will be more in the series coming and we have a whole series to look forward to. You will have to wait until October to read this but it is worth the wait.

“Stay and Fight: A Novel” by Madeline fifth— Independence and Protest

Ffitch, Madeline. “Stay and Fight: A Novel”,  Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2019.

Independence and Protest

Amos Lassen

Madeline ffitch’s “Stay and Fight: A Novel” is a tribute to independence and a protest against the materialism in which we live today. We meet Helen who comes to Appalachian Ohio full of love and her boyfriend’s ideas for living off the land. However, with winter coming, he calls it quits. Rudy, Helen’s “government-questioning, wisdom-spouting, seasonal-affective-disordered boss” and a neighbor couple, Karen and Lily, come to help and Helen makes it to spring. The neighbors are awaiting the arrival of their first child, a boy, which means their time at the Women’s Land Trust must end.

Helen invites the new family to move in with her and they split the work and the food, build a house, and build a sustaining for years. Then young Perley decides he wants to go to school and Rudy sets up a fruit-tree nursery on the pipeline easement edging their land. With that, the outside world then comes into their makeshift family.

The part of Ohio Set is known for its independent spirit and what occurs in the novel changes what it means to be a family, to live well, to work in nature and to make deals with the system. This is a protest novel that challenges how we think about effective action and it is a family novel that refuses to conform to the traditional definition of how we define the word and concept of family. We are challenged to reimagine Appalachia and the America that we think we know and gives us a new understanding of what it means to love and to be free.

Winter in Appalachian Ohio is rough and demands adequate preparation. For Helen, this meant bringing her recently displaced neighbors and their son to help create a homestead with her on 20 acres of land. By the time Perley says that he wants to leave their isolated existence to go to school, we have a different picture of this way of life with all of its problems and dangers— “sleeping with black rat snakes, minding the “humanure” pile, and foraging for dinner when the daily game of “survival dice” doesn’t win a trip to the grocery store.” When an innocent accident attracts the attention of Social Services, the family’s world faces change. Madeline ffitch’s takes us from family drama to a political one that threatens their way of life. The characterizations of the family, especially Perley, who is bonded to each member gives the motivation behind the  title of the book. This is celebration of family and what freedom means.

This book is filled with quick verbal exchanges banter and complicated, unforgettable characters. Here is a queer feminist pioneer novel and the story of a different America. It looks at central, tender, and violent conflicts of our time as we see through the family’s sadness and humor. The prose is fresh and evocative. Personalities are revealed through the eyes of others. Yet, everyone is an unreliable narrator towards their own life; they each see themselves as completely differently to how the other characters saw them making this an original way to tell a story. Everyone has the best intentions but nobody is totally sympathetic. It is up to us to decide how to see the characters thus involving us in what we read.”

“Poet, Prophet, Fox: The Tale of Sinnach the Seer” by M.Z. McDonnell— A Queer “Mytho-history” of Ancient Ireland

McDonnell, M.Z. “Poet, Prophet, Fox: The Tale of Sinnach the Seer”, Moose Maple Press, 2019)’.

A Queer “Mytho-history” of Ancient Ireland

Amos Lassen

“Long before history began, when Ireland was ruled by poets and tribal chieftains, the prophet Sinnach was the most powerful druid in the ancient province of Mumu. But before he was a prophet, before he was a poet, he was a just boy… a boy believed to be a girl.”

Unable to suppress his true nature, Sinnach could not suppress who he really was and  fled persecution by seeking refuge in the wilderness. Because of his talents, his unique nature and his oath to the goddess Ériu, Sinnach found his place in a world that was then filled with poetry, magic, and combat.

In trying to attain power, there are consequences for Sinnach who becomes enmeshed in the dangerous affairs of both men and Síd, the Faerie Folk. His travels into the Otherworld are dangerous and he has to deal with the conflicting passions of love, and the return of an old enemy who threatens to disclose his identity endangering him and the peace between the tribes, and peace between the worlds.

Writer McDonnell was inspired by the great mythological epics of ancient Ireland and brings us a new myth with very old truths “about who we were, who we are, and who we might become.” This is a fun read that also gives us a lot to think about especially in the way it looks at the experience of transgender people. Sinnach is a relatable character making this a relevant read and great historical fantasy. I was pulled in on the first page.