Tuesday, January 31, 2017


I had no sooner arrived at Starbucks, ordered my coffee and set it out on my customary table when a sudden tropical rain storm exploded from the sky. It had allowed approximately 3 seconds for one to say to himself, Gee the sky looks awful dark.

Straightaway, the barrista dashes outside.

"Bapak, come in!" he calls out.

"That's okay - I'm gonna wait it out," I answer, trying to find a dry  spot beneath the table umbrella, frustrated by a driving sideways wind.

"No, Bapak! You come in."

Lol. So much for that idea.

The young man dashes through the rain, picks up my cup, my milk, my book, my purse, and runs back to the door.

He sets me up in the covered section out back, and even brings a footstool.

Ah, the milk of human kindness. 😄

Set a Spell

For the second time in recent trips to JCO, I have looked up from my book to find a child sitting across from me. Not the same child. Two different children, both boys of perhaps 7 or 8 years, smiling.

"Hello," I said to tonight's boy.

"Halo," he answers.

"How are you?"


"Apa kabar?"


"Siapa namamu?"

He shakes his head. Big smile.

"Halo," he says.

"Namamu 'Halo?'"

Shakes his head. Big smile.

"Usia berapa?"

Shakes his head. I tap a cigarette from my pack, light the cigarette.

"Mau rokok, nggak?"

That brings a giggle; another, more adamant shake of the head.

"Aww, coba saja."

"Nggak!" he says, throwing his arms in the air, as if I have frustated him.

And then he jumps up, waves, and trots back inside to find his parents - and probably tell them about the strange bule who's trying to give him a cigarette.

But hey, ain't nobody aksed him to set with me in da furst place😜

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Girl With All the Gifts

As I watched, several weeks ago, the movie version of The Girl With All the Gifts, I could tell that the novel by MR Carey must be pretty darn good. And I was right. It is pretty darn good. Not great, but pretty darn good.

Of course, I have a soft spot for zombies and zombapocalypses in general. When done well, the vehical provides any number of intriguing themes, from social commentary to explorations in human psychology, politics, bigotries, and so on.

And The Girl With All the Gifts is one of those well done tales, with plenty of depth. What is salvation? Is it the preservation of history, of the status quo, or is it the invention of something altogether new? What is more transcendent, the child or the adult? What is of the most critical importance, the life of the one or the life of the many? Which has all the answers, science or love?

These are the themes explored in Carey's entertaining and thoughtful novel - a zombie with a brain, as it were, and an addictive page turner.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Honestly, Just Jen

If I had to choose one thing that most impressed me about Jen Powley and her book, Just Jen, it
would be her unmitigated honesty. She cuts no corners, softens no edges. Ms. Powley presents her memoire of her struggle with progressive multiple sclerosis in blunt detail as she faces again and again the recurring question, What now? The sense of touch has gone, fine motor movement gone. What now? The leg muscles have quit, no more walking. What now? Urinary control, bowel control have left the building. What now? In each case, Jen strives forward, forever adjusting to the absence of abilities that are forever departing, growing outward into new realities even as she grows downward, deep-ward into newfound strength of spirit and soul. So many of us who are living with debilitating disease experience this ironic sort of liberation from self – a shift outward to others, a heightened appreciation, a communion of mutual struggle in so many forms.

Many times, one may find a book that kind of tries to tread lightly around the many crippling effects of MS – as if our feelings need to be spared, or perhaps false hope is better than hard facts. This sort of thing, though well intentioned, does us no favors. The phrase “Give it to me straight, Doc” comes to mind. And Just Jen does just that. It is what it is.

And people are what people are. Though separated from the crowd by her increasingly deteriorating condition, Jen does not allow us to forget that she is, that all of us are, just as fully human as anyone else. We love, we desire, we crave relationship. We are strong, weak, ambitious, fearful, sexual, absolutely equal in humanity despite this rebellion of the body. Those who do not have to deal with a disease like MS tend to distance themselves with the employment of an underlying belief, though most often on an unconscious level, that those whose limitations make them different have somehow become limited as human beings. Ms. Powley will not allow us to rest in that mindset, and it is this
connection to the essential, irreducible equality in humankind that undergirds her memoire as surely as a great tree’s deep root system.

We connect. The light goes on. We learn. We grow.

[Just Jen will be available from stores in May and can be ordered at the website below.
Published by Roseway Publishing
an imprint of Fernwood Publishing
32 Oceanvista Lane, Black Point, Nova Scotia, b0j 1b0 and 748 Broadway Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba, r3g 0x3]

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Flynn Backward and Forward

I just finished reading two novels back to back by Gillian Flynn, second novel first and first novel second. These, like her third novel, Gone Girl, which I have not read, though I did see the film, are mystery novels done in admirable literary style, and therefore a step above and outside the genre from which they sprout.

Honestly, I have always been mystified by mysteries, whether in novel form or film, usually needing to ask my wife what happened when the story concludes, but in the case of these two novels, I followed along just fine, even through to the unexpected ending in each. Now, whether someone like my wife could have had the whole thing figured out before the end, I can’t say – although I will say that I doubt it.

Gillian’s second novel, Dark Places, shows a very fine hand indeed in the creation of story and character and meaning. Who killed the Day family, save for one daughter? Was it the older brother? Was it the estranged, low-life ex-husband? Or was it someone else altogether?

Libby Day, the surviving daughter, who for 25 years has been living on the dwindling proceeds from the fame resulting after her personal tragedy, must finally find a way to exist without the sympathy funds, and must also find, in her own person, the means of dealing with the past, even understanding the past – what really happened. Although brother Ben has been imprisoned for the murders, questions persist, and a sort of lurid fan club of followers champion the case for his release. They provide Libby with what she needs in the short term – money – in exchange for the entry that only she can provide into the minds of people directly involved – father, brother, friends, girlfriends – and, in the longer term, the only thing that can really release her from her tragedy and allow her to go forward. Resolution.

Only 7 at the time of the murders, it turns out that there were very many things indeed that Libby did not know, just as there are very many things, even as adults, that we do not know or even suspect about other people, even those close to us. As she peers into those dark places, the story takes some very dark turns, winding into a twisted world of drugs, satanic worship, ritual killings, sexual perplexity, adolescent angst, adult desperation. Life is much more complicated than she imagined – just as complicated as an unsolved murder.

Dark Places is a richly done, complex novel accomplished with style and sureness, securing a place for Flynn, in my opinion, among the best practitioners.

What struck me most of all about Flynn’s first novel, Sharp Objects, was the imprint of her voice, flinging one sharp, sometimes jarring, awakening phrase after another upon the pages like speckles of bright paint, causing the mind to gasp, Oh! again and again. Damn, I wish I’d said that! I had not seen a voice as authentic as hers in a good long while. It almost made me want to try my own hand again. These are words that leap off the page and bump about in the brain, bright and exact.

Again, Sharp Objects is a mystery, and, as one might expect, it is a bit less accomplished on a literary level than Dark Places. One glimpses the sharp editorial blade here and there, the safe play. Nonetheless, Flynn announces her presence in this first outing as a writer to eagerly follow. Again, we find ourselves immersed in the unexpected, the unknown, a stream much swifter and deeper than it had appeared to be. Secret currents tug, the long grasses of perverse lies twine unseen about ones ankles beneath the surface. It is a theme which seems a favorite for Flynn. All the things we did not know – the very things that explain us.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Open and Shut

I read an interesting thing recently about a curious human behavior. It seems that when we walk through a doorway, especially in our own homes, we tend to forget why we walked through the doorway to begin with. Let us say that you are in the living room and you realize that you've forgotten to pick up your keys from the table in the bedroom. Therefore, you go to retrieve yours keys, but upon passing through the bedroom door, you straightaway forget why you're in the bedroom. You stand there trying to remember why you're standing there, and then you go about your business until you remember your keys again, which is probably about the time you try to lock the front door behind you. Now, this happens to me all the time, in one manifestation or another, and so I find it to be a great relief to know that the problem is not with my brain, but with doorways. Therefore, if I ever design a house for my personal use, it will be one without doors or ways. This might be a bit problematic, when it comes to bathrooms, for instance, but then one is not really very likely to forget what he is doing in the bathroom. And besides that, it is not very likely that anyone will want to live with me in my doorless, wayless house anyway. Which itself would probably make life less complicated for all.

Movie Marathon

In this age of zombie overkill (so to speak), The Girl With All the Gifts actually gives us something to think about, other than blood and guts, I mean. This movie is from a novel and has a feel of the greater depth that is likely found in the novel, which I have not yet read, but would like to after seeing the film. To be fair to zombies, these creatures in the story are not exactly zombies. Rather, they would seem to be victims of a very contagious disease which is contracted after being bit by someone who already has the disease. So, close enough. But there’s more. Children appear to suffer from a second, separate stage of the disease wherein they, unlike the adult victims, are still able to think and speak. They are also immune to attack from other zombies because they have already been bitten and already carry the disease. In other words, the adult zombies have no taste for the infected children, even though, by appearances, they are still human. On the other hand, the children do have a taste for untainted flesh. So … what is deadly may come in a pleasing package. What is deadly may not intend, in itself, to be deadly. It has a soul. It also has an appetite. The child is both the cure and the disease. It is our hope, and it is our death. So, you see, interesting. I think I saw the novel in Periplus, so I’ll say more later.

Moonlight, which was nominated for a Golden Globe award, is a whole nuther critter. This is a deeply felt, very finely acted story about growing up male / growing up black / growing up human on the mean streets of America. It is about how important is to have someone when you have no one. It is about the relationship between love and cruelty, and how the two can go hand in hand. The film work in this movie is amazing, addictive. I would watch it again just for the fine points on that count.

Lastly, we have Fences, with Denzel Washington. Denzel does a great job in this play brought to the big screen, as do all the supporting actors. Although the story is somewhat derivative, it draws on age-old themes and re-presents conflicts that we all experience in our own times and settings, and does nicely in making these themes universal rather than racial. To be sure, the characters are black and the frame of reference often pertains to the black experience, but, on the wide view, we are looking at the life of any human in any family – that universal condition which William Faulkner so ably summed up in his own Nobel Prize speech. This movie is more accessible than Moonlight, though not as good. Still, it is well worth seeing.