Monthly Archives: December 2016

“Brave (And Other Things I’ll Never Be)” by Seth King—Like a Senfield TV Show— Something about Nothing

King, Seth. “Brave (And Other Things I’ll Never Be)”, ADS, 2016.

Like a Senfield TV Show— Something about Nothing

Amos Lassen

Seth King has had quite a life according to what he says. By the time he reached the age of twenty-seven, Seth King he had raised alongside seventeen adopted siblings, survived a career as a child actor and became a bestselling author of novels .

“Brave (And Other Things I’ll Never Be)” is Seth King’s first memoir and in it he shares his journeys to a dozen countries across the globe to adopt his siblings, his strange days at Disney lot with Michael Jackson, Miley Cyrus and others and he talks about his depression and addiction that came after a breakup at the height of his writing career. I must admit, however, and I am a well-read person who pays attention to the world that before I got this book I had never heard of Seth King and now that I have read it, I am still not sure that I know who he is and why I should be impressed. (Wow, that sounds snarky but it is true).

There are a lot of funny moments here but I did not find myself laughing because I really had no point of reference. Amazon carries 11 eleven titles by him and he looks cute in his picture but that is about all I can say about him. I see from the reviews for this book that he has a loyal following and he must be making money-selling books because it seems that people buy them. However, I have to wonder that if he is as good as people say he is, why has he not landed a contract with a major publisher instead of using CreateSpace? (Snarky remark number 2).

One reviewer says that “This book is too good to put down. I laughed out loud and maybe even snorted at some of the things he said. I had to read some of it twice to make sure he actually said that.

But, in true Seth style, he gave us plenty food for thought. He makes us stop and think of how we approach or react to situations. But mostly this book is a fun, tongue in cheek read. I absolutely loved it! Do yourself a favor and get this book. I promise you won’t be sorry! It’s a wonderfully unique collection of Seth’s thoughts and look into his life”.

Another reader writes “it made me realize that, even though we are individuals in this world, we are not alone with our personal struggles, triumphs, failures, quirks, loves and losses. Someone out there has gone through the same thing. I love Seth’s writing style. Reading this book was like sitting down with a good friend and having a conversation about “things”. Amazing”.

King takes you through many aspects of his young 27 years of life, a life “ filled with so many valuable lessons even a person a decade older than he can learn so much”. “Seth King’s words will bring you in, open your eyes, make your mind turn, and leave you with many feelings. Feeling the amazing things he has done from traveling the world as a child whose parents adopted those less fortunate, the harsh words left to stain his soul for being “different,” and the searing pain of losing his brother tragically early in life. Feeling happiness, however fleeting, by the people and adventures he has met thus far in his life. Feeling anger over the grotesque treatment he endured as a child repeat in the narrow mindedness of a trained view of being ‘normal’.” Can anyone define the word “normal for me?

The book also contains “never-before-asked-for advice” on how to handle online dating disasters, how to deal with trolls and other issues. I may be mistaken but I always thought that advice does not exist if it is not given to someone else. If that is indeed the case then I need a definition of “never-before-asked-for advice”. That does not sound like advice but rather it is interfering in others’ lives when not asked to do so. King also tells his readers “what to do when a Russian government official tries to take you hostage on an adoption mission gone wrong (hint: run)”. He certainly has a great deal of confidence.

It is also interesting that of the many reviews that I found of this life, most are written by teenaged girls and that goes along with the new trend of having a gay best friend. I missed something here.

“Tennessee Williams” by Paul Ibell— A British View

Ibell, Paul. “Tennessee Williams”, (Critical Lives), Reaktion Books, 2016.

A British View

Amos Lassen

I am a huge Tennessee Williams fan and whenever I hear there is something new about him, it becomes my priority. I think that being such a fan comes from the fact that I knew, translated some of his work into Hebrew and genuinely become excited to see one of his plays performed or his poetry read. There has been a lot published about Williams but there is always room for something new with the stress on the word “new”. The greatest roles he wrote were for women— Amanda, Blanche, Maggie and Serafina to name a few. He also brought gay relationships to the stage and we realize that his writing reflected his life. His own dysfunctional family was an inspiration for much of his work and his sister Rose who suffered with mental instability was a great influence on the plots of his dramas. There is great emphasis in Paul Ibell’s “Tennessee Williams” on the playwright’s later dramas and his poetry. Here we read “A Portrait of the Playwright as Poet”.

Ibell makes the point that Williams’ later players were unjustifiably mauled by critics and this is what brought about his decline. He also emphasizes the importance of Europe in the imagination of a writer who is best-known plays are set in the American South.

Williams’ love of Italy came from his many holidays in the company of his friend Gore Vidal and this is what produced the novel, “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone”. Like Williams’ drama, this novel deals with which the recurring themes of the power of sexual attraction and the tragedy of its loss when beauty fades with age.

Ibell’s look at Williams is an overview of his life and because he is a poet, he regards his poetry. He chronologically follows his plays and poetry and shares a good deal about Williams’ early life and takes a hard look at the plays that were panned by the critics. Ibell maintains that the main themes found in Williams is sex and it is sex that liberated Williams in his personal life. The later and critically panned plays were experimental and dealt openly with gay characters and gay life. Williams, himself, openly stood for liberation as well as violence and death as we see in these pieces. He considered his own nature of desire to be predatory and he suffered guilt because of this.

Paul Ibell also looks at Williams as a brother, homosexual, alcoholic, drug addict, and “ultimately as a deeply passionate soul whose operatically intense plays were a vibrant reflection of life”.

By writing about the later plays, Ibell saves them from becoming and points out “overlooked values in them”. Below is a look at the Table of Contents”

Foreword

1 Early Life

2 The Later 1940s: A Streetcar to Success

3 The 1950s: “A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”

4 The 1960s: A Period of Adjustment

5 The 1970s: “Small Craft Warnings”

6 The 1980s: Steps Must Be Gentle

7 Afterlife: Into the Twenty-first Century

 

Selected Plays

Select Bibliography

Acknowledgements

Photo Acknowledgements

 

“Memoirs of a Hopeful Pessimist: A Life of Activism through Dialogue” by Debbie Weissman— She Is Always Debbie

Weissman, Debbie. “Memoirs of a Hopeful Pessimist: A Life of Activism through Dialogue”, Urim Publications, 2017.

She is Always Debbie

Amos Lassen

Many, many years ago when I was a teen and active in Young Judaea, I would spend my summers at the national Young Judaea camp, Tel Yehudah, in Barryville, New York. I would also stay over to get to attend the national Young Judaea convention there at the end of each summer which would determine the leadership of the movement. Movement was what Young Judaea was back then—a Zionist youth group that aligned itself with the state of Israel in her early days. I met a young girl there named Debbie Weissman who was from the New York area and would go on in few years to be the national president. Everyone who know Debbie saw something special in her. But then as life does, we went our separate ways—I went home to New Orleans for college and my M.A. It was several years later after I moved to Israel that I came across Debbie again. I often visited a friend in Jerusalem over the Sabbath, a young woman from my home town who I got to know when I was in college. She knew of my interest in my youth movement and it just so happened that she was friendly with Debbie Weissman who lived in the neighborhood and had moved to Israel the year after I did. At that time, Bayit v’Gan was home to young Orthodox women and I often joked that all one needed to do to find a wife was to visit there on Saturday afternoons when the young women could be seen walking two-by-two.

I would see Debbie on those walks and we always had something to say and then my life took me to kibbutz and I rarely got to Jerusalem for Shabbats after that. This quite naturally stopped our visits and to be honest, I forgot about Debbie until last week where I read on Facebook that she had written a book. Now I knew that this was a book that I had to read because of the people whose lives we shared and to hear what she had to say about Young Judaea which had had such a powerful influence on our lives and the reason that we had both gone on aliyah.

What I did know was how Debbie had been living her life but we who knew that she was destined for great things will not be surprised just as I was not surprised to see Debbie with the Pope on the cover of her book.

“Dr. Debbie Weissman was president of the International Council of Christians and Jews from 2008-2014. After moving to Jerusalem in 1972, Debbie Weissman taught Jewish education and women’s studies at the Hebrew University, and was also the director of the Kerem Institute, a teacher training institute for Israeli high school teachers”. I read this through several times. Even though I was living on kibbutz, I worked for the Ministry of Education and taught in both the school system and in higher education in Israel as well as supervised kibbutz schools. I did not understand how it could have been possible that our lives had not crossed after those early years in Jerusalem. Debbie and I worked in the same areas but our lives had gone in different directions. I loved living on the land and experiencing what the Israel that the early Zionists saw was all about. I could not be a city person. Debbie, on the other hand, was a city girl and an organizational genius. Surely we should have seen each other at Ministry meetings or on campus and perhaps we did but each of us was so involved we did not notice. What I am saying is that everything about Debbie that I now know comes from her book, “Memoirs of a Hopeful Pessimist” and it gives me the idea for a title of a book I might write, “Memoirs of a Pessimistic Hopeful”.

Debbie is an observant Jew (much more observant than I am), a feminist and a pioneer in the field of interfaith issues. Many of us may wonder how these three go together but all you have to do is watch Debbie for a while and you will see. These are the three issues that make Debbie who she is. I remember her as dynamic and passionate and from what I read here, I see that she still is. She is the first Jewish female president of the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ). It is Debbie’s journey to do interfaith work and as she had done this, she has met some of the most influential people in the world and she has forged deep friendships with them. Debbie is one of the founders of a progressive Orthodox synagogue community in Jerusalem. She is, in fact, part of history and among the things she has done are institutions and movements in areas of interfaith relations, women’s education, Israeli peace initiatives, a new prayer community, and much more. She shares her life with us and she does so with humor, grace and lots of style. Here is a pessimist whose works are those of an optimist.

One of the blurbs on her book is by Aviva Gottleib Zornberg, one of the women I respect most in the world. I study with her when ever I get the chance and I hold on to her Torah commentaries as if they are the absolute truth (most of the time). I remember receiving a letter from Zornberg’s husband asking if they could use a sentence from my review on the paperback edition of her second book. I cannot remember being so flattered. Zornberg commends Debbie on her wonderful life and he gifts to the world and shares that Debbie Weissman describes the development of a religious and political consciousness in which she says she “dances” between opposite poles of tradition and liberalism. She is both an idealist and a pragmatist and she shares both the public and personal sides of her career. I could not say it better than Aviva Zornberg who states that Debbie’s “memoir is a fitting testimony to a life of commitment and achievement.”

She has quite a story to tell and we should feel honest that she shares it with us. Debbie has dedicated herself to “breaking through boundaries and building connections based on our common humanity.” In rereading this review, I sometimes wondered if it is okay to call the author by her first name but I also realize that I have known her for so long that she will always be Debbie to me and I beg your indulgence on that. I am fascinated that in knowing someone years ago and finding her again is one of the great happenings in my life.

“ARIA”— The Thirtieth Anniversary Re-release

“Aria”

The Thirtieth Anniversary Re-Release

Amos Lassen

Anthology films face the genre difficulty is a difficult genre, both to make and to sell. “Aria”, a film in which ten famed directors were each given the same assignment: to choose a piece of opera music and then present a visual interpretation of that music with complete artistic freedom. Almost all ten of the short films here are visually beautiful and interesting. Ten famed directors (Robert Altman, Bruce Beresford, Bill Bryden, Jean-Luc Godard, Derek Jarman, Franc Roddam, Nicolas Roeg, Ken Russell, Charles Sturridge and Julien Temple) were each given the same assignment: to choose a piece of opera music and then present a visual interpretation of that music with complete artistic freedom.

An aria is a piece of music originally performed solo, one voice backed by the orchestra, with a defining melody that produces an intended emotional effect. In its way, each filmmaker’s performance here is the cinematic equivalent of a single writer/director riffing on a visual melody. Most of the movies are essentially silent films, with only two–Jean-Luc Godard’s take on Lully’s “Armide” and Julien Temple’s amusing play on Verdi’s “Rigoletto” include spoken dialogue beyond the musical performance.

The directors play fast and loose with the stories, some sticking close to the source narrative such as Roddam’s sex and death tale for Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde “Liebestod” aria; Roeg updates Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” to be about Albania’s King Zog in the early 20th century rather than the Swedish monarch the composer wrote originally about) and others go way off on their own tangents (Ken Russell’s use of “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot takes some inspiration from the imagery in the lyrics but little else and Altman’s film on Rameau recreates the audience that might have watched the piece being performed rather than a strict narrative from the music itself. “I Paliacci” is also one of only two pieces that features actors lip-syncing to the music yet Bryden’s is the only one that really works, as he mixes the audio to sound distant, as if Hurt, on stage as a singer, is actually performing to prerecorded music. There is no pretense that it is him. On the other side, Bruce Beresford’s adaptation of Korngold would have us believe that a very young Elizabeth Hurley is the source of the powerful voice we are hearing. We see individual styles of directors Altman is bawdy while Russell is gaudy, Jarman is obtuse and Roeg distorts reality.

Actors we see here include John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Bridget Fonda, Theresa Russell, Buck Henry, Beverly D’Angelo, Julie Hagerty and Anita Morris. The features composers are Verdi, Lully, Korngold, Rameau, Wagner, Puccini, Charpentier and Leoncavallo and the singer include Enrico Caruso, Leontyne Price, Robert Merrill, Rachel Yakar, Anna Moffo, Carol Neblett, René Kollo and Birgit Nilsson.

The results are highly uneven but the film is fun almost as a satire of itself, as a project in which the tension between the directors and their material allows them to poke a little fun at their own styles and obsessions. “Aria” has often been called the first MTV version of opera.

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=%22aria%22+trailer

“Willful Machines” by Tim Floreen— Meet Charlotte, Lee and Nico

Floreen, Tim. “Willful Machines”, Simon Pulse, 2016.

Meet Charlotte, Lee and Nico

Amos Lassen

Lee Fisher is the closeted son of an ultra-conservative president who is involved in a new romance that he must keep hidden and secret from his father. At the same time, the United States is experiencing a terrorizing computer program that has focused Lee as its next target. Charlotte is an artificial human who that scientists hope will be a new form of life and research is going well… until Charlotte escapes and shifts her consciousness to the Internet, and begins terrorizing the American public.

Charlotte’s attacks keep everyone on high alert—everyone except Lee Fisher, who has other things to worry about, like keeping his Secret Service detail from finding out about his crush on Nico, the new boy at school. He also has to keep Nico from finding out about his recent suicide attempt. Lee has way too many secrets. It is when Charlotte’s attacks begin at his school that Lee realizes that he is in the top spot on Charlotte’s hit list and Nico might be a part of this as well. It takes his saving himself from Charlotte that makes Lee understand that life is good and what having a good life means. This new knowledge is also due to finding out if he can trust Nico.

I had a hard time deciding what the focus of this young adult novel is. In the beginning I was certain I was reading a sci-fi novel about artificial intelligence but then Lee’s romance with Nico took center stage. Since the two lovers are teens and in high school, their romance gushes with feeling and pushes Charlotte to the back of the bus. I like romance as much as the next guy but because writer Tim Floreen seemed to have lost the direction that this book was taking, most of it dealt with young and silly love. Charlotte becomes a mere memory.

 

“Murder in the Closet: Essays on Queer Clues in Crime Fiction Before Stonewall” by Curtis Evans— The Negativity of the Closet

Evans, Curtis. “Murder in the Closet: Essays on Queer Clues in Crime Fiction Before Stonewall”, McFarland, 2016.

The Negativity of the Closet

Amos Lassen

Before the Stonewall Riots in 1969, LGBTQ life was dominated by what was the negative image of “the closet”–the metaphorical space where that which was deemed “queer” was hidden from the public and those who were not members of the LGBT community. The non-gay public was hostile and literature with queer themes and characters in crime fiction were in the closet as well but recently have begun to focus on the more positive and explicit representations since the riots. At the same time, pre-Stonewall works are thought to reference queer only negatively or obliquely. This collection of new essays questions that bias by investigating queer aspects in crime fiction published over eight decades, from the Victorian era to the 1960s. Below is a list of what is included in the book:

Introduction (Curtis Evans)

Part One: Locked Doors

The Queer Story of Fergus Hume (Lucy Sussex)

A Redemptive Masquerade: Gender Identity in Samuel Hopkins Adams’ The Secret of Lonesome Cove (J. F. Norris)

Dropping Hairpins in Golden Age Detective Fiction: Man-Haters, Green Carnations and Gunsels (Noah Stewart)

“Queer in some ways”: Gay Characters in the Fiction of Agatha Christie (John Curran)

Agatha Christie: Norms and Codes (Michael Moon)

The Unshockable Mrs. Bradley: Sex and Sexuality in the Work of Gladys Mitchell (Brittain Bright)

“Less beautiful in daylight”: Josephine Tey and the Anxiety of Gender (J.C. Bernthal)

“Mutually devoted”: Female Relationships in Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes (Moira Redmond)

“The man with the laughing eyes”: Socialism and ­Same-Sex Desire in G. D. H. Cole’s The Death of a Millionaire (Curtis Evans )

Humdrum Ecstasies: C. H. B. Kitchin and His Detective, Malcolm Warren (Michael Moon)

“Two young men who write as one”: Richard Wilson Webb, Hugh Callingham Wheeler, Male Couples and The Grindle Nightmare (Curtis Evans)

Queering the Investigation: Explanation and Understanding in Todd Downing’s Detective Fiction (Charles J. Rzepka)

“A bad, bad past”: Rufus King, Clifford Orr, College Drag and Detective Fiction (Curtis Evans)

Foppish, Effeminate, or “a little too handsome”: Coded Character Descriptions and Masculinity in the Mystery Novels of Mignon G. Eberhart (Rick Cypert)

Part Two: Skeleton Keys

“The finest triumvirate of perversion, horror and murder written this spring”: Frank Walford’s Twisted Clay (James Doig)

Wayne Lonergan’s Long Shadow: A Forties Murder and Its Literary Legacy (Drewey Wayne Gunn)

“Claude was doing all right”: Homosexuality, ­Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction and the Evolution of Ross Macdonald (Tom Nolan)

“Elegant stuff …⁠ of its sort”: Gore Vidal’s Edgar Box Detective Novels (Curtis Evans)

“Adonis in person”: Same-Sex Intimacy and Male Eroticism in the Detective Novels of Beverley Nichols (J. F. Norris)

More Than Fiction: Troublesome Themes in the Life and Writing of Nancy Spain (Bruce Shaw)

Man to Man: The ­Two-Men Theme in the Novels of Patricia Highsmith (Nick Jones)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: Joseph Hansen’s Known Homosexual (Josh Lanyon)

I Am the Most! Camping It Up in George Baxt’s Pharoah Love Mystery Series (J. F. Norris)

“Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem” by George Prochnik— Revisiting Gershom Scholem

Prochnik, George. “Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem”, Other Press, March 2017.

Revisiting Gershom Scholem

Amos Lassen

George Prochnik has written one of my most anticipated books for the coming year. In March, he is publishing “a nonfiction Bildungsroman of one of the twentieth century’s most important humanist thinkers” and at the same time he shares his own story of his youth, marriage and spiritual quest in Jerusalem.

Gershom Scholem, was a prominent philosopher with a prominent reputation as a Freud-like interpreter of the inner world of the Cosmos. He is noted for his exchanges with Hannah Arendt regarding the trial and guilt of Adolf Eichmann and the two went after each other with venom. Of late, Scholem has not been getting the reputation he should in this country. Prochnik looks at Scholem’s upbringing in Berlin, and “compellingly brings to life Scholem’s transformative friendship with Walter Benjamin, the critic and philosopher”. We learn of Scholem’s frustration with the bourgeois ideology of Germany during the First World War that led him to discover Judaism, Kabbalah, and finally Zionism “as potent counter-forces to Europe’s suicidal nationalism”.

 Prochnik’s life in Israel in the 1990s causes him to question the stereotypical intellectual and theological constructs of Jerusalem, and to rediscover the city as a physical place that teems with the “unruliness and fecundity of nature”. It is here that Prochnik ultimately suggests that a new form of ecological pluralism is the grantee of the historically energizing role once played by Kabbalah and Zionism in Jewish thought.

While walking through of the very nice neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Rehavia, Prochnik came to think about how wondered what Scholem would have made such changes in the city. Scholem such a complex thinker that he had difficulty reaching conclusions and he hated what he referred to as “traditional national Jewish theology” even though he spent his life centered on the effort “to revivify a vast corpus of religious ideas, partly to make Jews aware of their power to re-imagine and seize control of their destiny”. After the Enlightenment, many leading Jewish authorities disregarded effectively the ideas of mysticism while Scholem loved the idea that by bringing Kabbalah out of the underground to which “it had been consigned by mainstream guardians of the faith, he would be reintroducing an explosive element into a neutered spiritual and historical consciousness”. Even if he straddled the fence on the question of whether it was still possible to actually be a Kabbalist, Scholem felt that normative Judaism would receive a transfusion of jolts by confronting its mystical substrate and this could only be salutary and even salvational for the contemporary disassociated religious self. The parallels with Freud’s project are quite clear. However, Scholem was “seeking to recover from the depths of institutionalized repression the demon- and-sex-rife netherworld of an entire culture”. His reason for doing so was to give Judaism “a shot of the irrational”.

“Queer Progress: From Homophobia to Homonationalism” by Tim McCaskell— Activism in Toronto and the World

McCaskell, Tim. “Queer Progress: From Homophobia to Homonationalism”, Between the Lines, 2016.

Activism in Toronto and the World

Amos Lassen

In “Queer Progress”, Tim McCaskell examines gay, queer, and AIDS activism in Toronto from 1974 to 2014 within the shift from the welfare state economy of the 1970s to the neoliberal economy of the new century. The shift brought about become an economy of capitalism in which sexual minorities were celebrated as a niche market. This should have also brought about legal equality but instead disparity and social inequality became the rule. The LGBT community has suffered especially with regards to class, race, ethnicity, and gender. LGBTQ inclusion is not celebrated and this is unjust. In “Queer Progress”, author McCaskell shows us what has happened by showing us “the complexities and contradictions of forty years of queer politics” in Toronto, the largest city in Canada. He takes us behind history and theory to show the strange transformation that is now queer politics in Canada and presents the mechanics of those changes. He does so with both humor and clear, political analysis.

Beginning in the 1970s, gay people have moved from being considered to be queer to being normal, from rejection to assimilation from criminal to citizen and from servitude to liberation. They have stopped being pariahs and are now patrons and patriots and have become what we might call a model minority leaving the counter culture behind and are now regarded as “niche market”. McCaskell show us how this happened and we can better understand where we’ve come from, where we are now, and where we possibly can go in our fight for sexual, gender, and economic democracy.

This is a study of politics that makes clear how to think about our past, our present and our future as well as educates us about what we have left to accomplish. It is also  a “memoir, a history of a social movement and political theory and analysis”. Aside from speaking of his own life, McCaskell gives us a critique of radical politics, how they work and how they can be displaced. His activist histories show how

to conceive and implement strategies to create a society and put down the foundations for the fairness that should come with same-sex marriage. McCaskell moves gender, class, and race conflicts forward and shows us the links between Canadian and international sexual politics. While this is a look at the Canadian LGBT movement, it is also a look at the international movement. He charts “queerness” as it coincides and meets activist-academic histories of LGBTQ activism in Toronto. We get rich vignettes, meditations, and stories that examine the horizons of queer liberalism and both reveal and question the shifting relationship of “queerness” to “the political”. We now know that we must think about the staying part of “queer praxis, especially in this deeply pervasive neoliberal moment”.

Not only do we get the small details of particular events but there is also a convincing analysis of neoliberalism. At last we learn why things are the way that are in our movement and we also get clues to what may face us in the future. By combining

personal narrative, four decades of activism and an interpretation of contemporary debates about homonationalism, neoliberalism, and social difference, we get a read that has us turning pages as quickly as possible (and there are 500 to turn). There is not a boring thought are a wasted word. Below is a look at chapter headings:

How did we get here from there?
A New World in Birth
Invisible
Getting Noticed
Noticed
Shifting Sands
The Rise of the Right
Onslaught
Sex and Death
Plague and Panic
Walking With the Devil
By Any Means Necessary
Great Expectations
Seduction
Model Minority
Courtship
We’re Not in Kansas Anymore
Homonationalism
Looking Back, Looking Forward

 

“If You Need Me I’ll Be Over There” by Dave Madden— Gay in the American Midwest

Madden, Dave. “If You Need Me I’ll Be Over There”, Break Away Books, 2016’

Gay in the American Midwest

Amos Lassen

In Dave Madden’s collection of short stories we read about men who are different in the American Midwest. For example, We read of an HIV-positive chemist who uses football to connect with his brothers; a 17-year-old girl struggles with a cartoon cobra to avoid thinking about her mother who walked out on her; a hotel concierge starts attending Mass even though his partner was molested by a priest. These are struggles of people who try to figure out their place within families and communities, outsider are always looking in at the society that they yearn to be a part of. Our characters have been marginalized simply because they are different yet they want to be happy.

The stories are by turns humorous, heartbreaking, and haunting, and Madden’ prose is gorgeous and populated by well drawn characters that find a place in our hearts and minds and who remain with us after the covers of the book are closed.

“The Old King in His Exile” by Arno Geiger— Father and Son

Geiger, Arno. “The Old King in His Exile”, translated by Stefan Tobler, Restless Books, 2017.

Father and Son

Amos Lassen

Arno Geiger’s memoir is a look into his private and somewhat personally sacred his relationship with his father, August. This relationship was the result of Geiger’s own desire to share his father’s solitude first and then share it with us next. Geiger wanted to see those places where his father’s spirit was broken and where it thrived and as we read this memoir, we realize just how much father and son love each other. Like their relationship what we read here is tender and beautiful.

We see that Geiger’s father was never an easy man to get along with or to just know. He was born in Austria to a farming family and was drafted into World War II when he was only 17-years-old. He held his grudge about the past. But then he started to change and son just naturally assumed that this was because his marriage of thirty years came to an end as well as his father getting older. However, it turned to be so much more than that. His father had Alzheimer’s.

“Alzheimer’s is an illness that, like everything of significance, tells us about a lot more than just itself”. There is no doubt that we all get confused in the world today but imagine, if you can, what the world is like when things are magnified out of proportion. Alzheimer’s does just that—it enlarges human characteristics and the mores of society. When we look at society with a clear mind, we see that the difference between the healthy and the sick is simply the degree to which they are able to conceal the confusion on the surface. Geiger knew that his father would not ask for help—he was not that kind of man and this what pushes his son to decide that he wants as well as needs to know his father better. He stays with him and hangs onto every word that his father utters and thus discovers a new kind of poetry. He also sees that his father is self-assured, even with his illness, and he has charm and a sharp wit.

Alzheimer’s is such a sad disease and one that we do not have much information about Yet, reading this reading we discover that it is possible to leave the ailing person and re-enter the real world when we feel we cannot take much more of the devastation that Alzheimer’s brings around.

August Geiger is an intelligent and charming man who has been dealing with an awful long and drawn out illness that is, in affect, a death sentence. His world is getting smaller everyday and his love for language is diminishing. His children can no longer take care of him and caregivers who can handle what he is dealing with are hard to find and so they decide to put him in a home. As they clear out the family home (that August built himself by hand), they become aware that their father never threw anything away and they begin to close down everything but two rooms in the family home. They keep those for when he visits home on special occasions.

Arno Geiger retells the story of his father and he also shares the horrors of Alzheimer’s. He tries now to get to know his father but knows that there is just not enough time to do so but he wants to try and that is commendable. Something happened between father and son years ago and Arno wants to pick it up from that point.

August waited until the end of his life to show that he was someone special and far from ordinary. In reading about Arno and August we learn about what is important in our lives and where does family and home fit in. It is more than a look at the relationship between a dying parent and his son; it is a thoughtful look at those events in life that are difficult to deal with. Geiger writes with respect and humility and as we read, we feel his love for his dad.

He has written his father a love letter and he writes about what makes life worth living regardless of all else. We see just how far we can get with the kindness that is in each of us.