Saturday, April 26, 2008

Aristocracy Lives!

REVIEW--of the book Marie Therese, Child of Terror, by Susan Nagel.
$39.99, Bloomsbury, 418 pages.

THIS biography of Marie Antoinette's daughter, which is getting a big push by publisher Bloomsbury (they even sent me a copy), has more to say about American aristocratic attitudes today than about what really happened in the late 18th century.

As history the book is ridiculous. As biography it's soap opera. It appeal is to the imaginations of the privileged upper caste of our own civilization.
Nagel's mistake is to rely heavily for sources on discredited memoirs from the day, which are compilations of gossip, urban legends, and hysteria; what David Andress in The Terror calls "--the many rumors and plot-fantasies of the era."

Renowned historian Alfred Cobban, in dismissing such historical sources (in Aspects of the French Revolution), said that the compilers of memoirs of figures like Baron deBesenval and Joseph Weber "often were not those whose names appeared on the title page." The intent of the ghost authors was to provide "picturesque material": collections of "scandalous anecdotes" often disavowed by the presumed authors' families.

To Susan Nagel this is no matter, probably because her goal likewise is to present picturesque material to satisfy her weepy readers, who want not truth, not history, but bad melodrama full of good guys and bad guys. Melodrama, moreover, where the downtrodden have become evil and the despotic royals virtuously pure.

For example: historian Cobban called Madame Campan's memoirs "unreliable." Melodramatist Nagel fills no less than 24 pages of her book with anecdotes from this unreliable source.

The most ridiculous part of Marie Therese is its use of footnotes. Nagel would've been better off not using any. Instead she averages three footnotes per entire chapter-- for a work whose every page bursts with assertions and anecdotes.

Nagel flatly states on pages 146-147 that mementos of the late Queen were found under Robespierre's mattress after his death. Wow! Quite a story. Where's the source? Or, on page 69, the evil Duke of Orleans had "secretly amassed an immense hoard of grain with the intent of causing a shortage--"! Another dramatic revelation, shocking in import. Again, where's the footnote; the source?

The items which should be footnoted, aren't. We have hosts of tabloid rumors buttressed by a flimsy intellectual veneer.
"--highly detailed, exhaustively researched--"
-Booklist, Starred Review.
In her text, Nagel mentions Sydney Carton and the Scarlet Pimpernel. I suspect those are her true sources.Her book is not without its attractions. Many of the early chapters, such as "Two Orphans," are compelling. (Blurb: "King Wenclas calls Marie Therese 'compelling.'")

The novel-- excuse me, "biography"-- reminds me of the movie version of "Gone With the Wind," in that the first half is hyper-dramatic with a strong heroine beset on all sides. In the second half the heroine, Marie Therese, lives among the aftermath of a changed world, involved with suitors, marriage, family scandals and social involvements. After the tremendous activity of the French Revolution, during which the young Marie Therese lived at the very center, it all becomes anti-climactic.

But what drama there is while it lasts! Escapes, dungeons, attempted rescues, mad crowds, beheadings-- here indeed is the stuff for a great novel, which sadly only Charles Dickens among literary masters was ambitious enough to attempt.

Nagel does her best, painting in garish colors, usually with too-heavy a brush. Often we're faced with the comical, as when in Bordeaux, brave Duchess d'Angouleme (Marie Therese) tries to halt Napoleon's return from Elba. (Page 265.)
Nagel makes not the slightest attempt at balance or objectivity, which is a refreshing change from standard liberal phoniness. Here we see what the publishing industry today truly thinks and feels. (In this endeavor Nagel is backed by Tina Brown, ex New Yorker and Vanity Fair Editor; author of The Diana Chronicles.)

There's a blatant worship of wealth, privilege, titles, and possessions. One of Nagel's scarce footnotes is for a list of the trousseau Marie Therese left behind when fleeing into exile: a 220-word catalogue of clothing which the book's fans will find gush-worthy.

One gets the impression that aristocracy past and present is about the superficial: clothes, manners, robes, and poses, exemplified by the piled-on language of "Your Highness" in every phrase, the elaborate curtseying and bowing, the kissing of hands, which when it suddenly ceases comes to the nobility as a shock.

Nagel's bias is shown by her chapter headings: "Child of France"; "Once Upon a Time"; "Storm Clouds over the Palace"; "The End of the Fairy Tale"; "Two Orphans"; "Every Inch a Princess"; and so on. If this is history, it's an antiquated kind of history; a 418-page press release which could've been issued by Louis XVI himself! Susan Nagel is blindly transfixed. The trappings of power-- "His Most Christian Majesty, dressed in the Order of the Holy Ghost ablaze with diamonds"-- to a product of a society which through magazines like Vanity Fair itself worships such trappings, such extreme wealth, obsessively, have hypnotized our chronicler. All she can do, ultimately, is gush, as in her acknowledgement to "the help and encouragement of His Serene Highness, Prince Charles-Henri de Lobkowicz." Can we surmise that our historian, Ms. Nagel, has been allowed into too many Insider parties?
Long before King Louis XVI and his family were prisoners in a dungeon, they were prisoners of the isolation of their mindset. Historian William Doyle concluded in Origins of the French Revolution that there were many opportunities for the King to halt the revolution, through concessions or force, as he retained immense power. He lacked the imagination to use it.

Nagel is focused on the personal, on family. This matches the King's focus. Happenings occur; the anger of mobs; the currents of change. To the King and Nagel trapped within Versailles it's all very confusing.

Unstated: the man was supreme ruler! Yet he knows nothing about the country he rules, and doesn't want to know. As revolution breaks and cascades over Versailles, the King has willfully escaped from reality, spending long hours hunting! The state is bankrupt, the people starving, and the man in charge does nothing. Like Montezuma, he remains trapped by his own inertia. He makes no real effort even to save his crown, out of "love for his people." He's not a ruler at all, but a prop, as if Versailles were a great glittering movie set.

Nagel buys the myth of the King as helpless victim-- and so absolves him of responsibility even for his own actions. There's a disconnect not just in the mind of the King, and his wife and daughter, but more unforgiveably, in the mind of the biographer, Susan Nagel. War and counter-revolution begin quickly; attempts to rollback the popular changes; the onset of civil war. The King sits innocently in his palace.

Marie Antoinette of course maneuvered to rescue the old regime. She encouraged foreign invasion, and bribed politicians. Yet for Nagel, these actions should have no consequences. The consequences in fact surprise her. She has so swallowed Marie Antoinette's mentality whole-- like a giant dildo-- she can only ask, with her characters, Why has this occurred?

On the one hand the people love the Bourbons and the "Children of France," right to the bitter end; the last ignominious flight. On the other hand the angry mobs indicate that they really don't like the Bourbons at all. This contradiction is never resolved. Or, it's resolved through cardboard bad guys like the Duke of Orleans.

The royal family clings to their birthright of innocent virtue. Nagel's book, if nothing else, is a great depiction of the stupidity of the privileged, then and now. There is no nation, no history, no economy, no government, no sweep of social forces. For Nagel as for the family there is their own pristine good surrounded by a faceless mob, or an evil cousin.
Marie Therese, Child of Terror may find a large audience around the country among suburbanites with failed mortgages, who-- along with the myth of endless affluence-- bought their own opulent palaces and are now on the verge of being kicked out.

The perpetrators of the book, however, represent a miniscule sliver of this nation residing on an east coast island; many of them transplanted royalist Brits like Vicky Ward and Tina Brown. Miniscule they are in numbers but great in media power.

Nagel's book to its rich fans expresses an unspoken fear about their own time; a fear which comes with improportionate wealth. Their own land-- this land-- increasingly to them is an unknown place of "oddly dressed, ill-spoken, belligerent" mobs.

As with Nagel's book, with the royal family everything is manner; gesture. Pose. And so Marie Therese consists in actuality of little more than a series of poses. Marie Therese, formed by her sheltered upbringing and the real trauma of revolution, afterward was a stage actress, performing her role in an empty and broken opera house, addressing herself to "The People of France!" who'd stopped listening to her and her kind in 1789. Her life, without the adoration of the gloss Nagel imbues it with, was a pathetic psychosis, a clinging to a long-vanished past. For the remains of the Bourbons the forty-some years after revolution were an attempt to recapture the halycon days of Versailles. They never could, but at least learned to keep their bags packed for the constant flights into exile from the people they loved. The famous statement about them, that "they forgot nothing and learned nothing," was incorrect. They learned how to escape!

Nagel's book tries to resurrect the Bourbons' tarnished gloss. There is at least one person in the shabby and dusty old theater as Marie Therese postures and proclaims from the stage: Susan Nagel. Marie does a final pirouette. Nagel furiously applauds.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

You Just Can't Find Good Help These Days: A Review of Bad Attitude by Leopold McGinnis

by Wred Fright

Friday was no ordinary Friday in the United States. It was "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving and the kickoff to the holiday shopping season. Hordes of shoppers descended upon the shopping malls, strip malls, and malls disguised as the small town squares filled with shops that the malls killed off. Take it from one who once worked retail that day (at a K-Mart that no longer exists--damn you Wal-Mart!), though they'll tell you it's named Black Friday because of the traditional colors of accounting ink (red for debt, black for profit), don't you believe them; it's Black Friday because it's a horrible day to work retail. Instead, it's a much better day to stay home, buy nothing, and read the novel Bad Attitude by Leopold McGinnis. Ha! Ha! Of course unless your local public library stocks it or you can borrow a friend's copy, then you have to buy a copy of Bad Attitude. In the end consumerism gets us all, eh? Of course, we all have to consume to survive. It's only when consuming becomes something akin to a religion, done mindlessly of the economic and environmental consequences that it becomes a problem. And the problems of consumerism are what Bad Attitude deals with, using the perspective of those on the "front lines" of the consumer war: the workers of retail.

Bad Attitude tells the story of Jesse Durnell, a sales associate at Electronics Pit, a store that sells stereos, televisions, and any other electronic device guaranteed to make your life complete. However, unlike most of the other workers at the Pit, who either tolerate their jobs or even actively try to succeed in them, Jesse has a bad attitude about the whole enterprise and spends most of his time avoiding work, sabotaging the coercive tactics of management, and waiting for the consumer apocalypse, which he believes is forthcoming. As a former sales associate, I can testify that McGinnis has the experience encapsulated in the novel in all its absurdity, humiliation, and economic necessity (for the individual and society), and he's added an explosive ending which will warm the hearts of disgruntled sales associates everywhere.

Having enjoyed McGinnis's previous novels, I've been looking forward to reading Bad Attitude ever since he told me about it, and, unlike most of the products Electronics Pit sells, the novel doesn't disappoint. It tells a good yarn and critiques consumerism from an interesting angle. For a short book (only about a hundred pages), it has a large significance, particularly in this shopping season where peace on earth and goodwill to men (and women presumably as well) too often get trampled in the rush to find a good parking space. And, in the spirit of all the widgets that the characters in the novel sell, I must point out that the novel is very nicely designed. I particularly like the cover illustration in stark green and black of a grumpy sales associate. So the book makes a great stocking stuffer. Act now! Limited quantities! Batteries not included! Warranty sold separately! One day only! What a sales event! The more you buy, the more you save! Consume!

Though Wred Fright has never met Leopold McGinnis personally, he has corresponded with him often, and they've even engaged in joint-promotion for their novels, being both indie-lit types with no marketing budgets--in fact an ad for Fright's novel The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus appears in the back of Bad Attitude. However, Fright has no financial interest in the publication of Bad Attitude. He wrote the review for the simple reason that he thinks McGinnis is a great writer and more readers should be aware of his work. He also wishes you a cool yule!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ohio Is A Strange Place: A Review Of Crossing Decembers: A Novel by John Booth

by Wred Fright

Recently, a friend wrote me to let me know that he had enjoyed reading my novel The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus because it had reminded him of his college days. I could relate because I recently read Crossing Decembers; A Novel by John Booth. Booth's novel centers around Bowling Green, Ohio, specifically Bowling Green State University, during the early 1990s, a time when I also attended college there, and Booth gives the reader a good feel for what that place and time felt like. He gets all the details right, among them, the loneliness of the campus on a break; the way the wind swept across the Great Plains and slammed into anyone crossing campus, even to the extent of bowling some over; the intense, though often short-lived student friendships and love affairs that could sprout almost overnight; and even the names of the businesses that made their living catering to the college population such as Pisanello's Pizza. Booth's eye for detail can result in a time trip for the reader, at least this one, but there's more to the novel than that. At first, the slim volume, about 110 pages in length, seems as if it will be an ode to a lost love, the college sweetheart who got away, which is pleasant enough, but unlikely to interest anyone not from their era and locale.

Then the novel gets strange. On its trip down memory lane, it makes a wrong turn into the Twilight Zone. Fortunately, that's a right turn for the reader. What otherwise would have been a sweet paean to Booth's alma mater, and the natural surroundings of Northwest Ohio in general, becomes a literary mindfuck when the narrator finds himself not just caught up in his memories but actually caught up in the past. Or is he? Is it time travel? Is the narrator mad? Has he just imagined a possible life with his college sweetheart but without his wife and daughter? Just as the reader has to question herself or himself as to what actually is going on in the story, the narrator must make some major decisions himself as he embarks on a quest to rewrite the past, present, and future. The novel's short but lingers in a haunting manner.

I don't know if Booth tried to publish the novel with a larger publisher, but if he did I can imagine a typical literary agent either not understanding it ("Make it more like Harry Potter" "Don't make it so confusing") or wanting it set in a more bustling geographic area than Northwest Ohio ("Why not New York? There are trains there." "Make the characters go to Harvard. People like to read about the Ivy League."). If so, let's give thanks he resisted watering down his vision and didn't turn it into another generic thriller, and let's give thanks something like Lulu exists to make the book available in print for $9.99 or electronically for $1.56. It's also available electronically for free through Wowio but advertising's included (maybe for Pisanello's Pizza?). Just about anybody from Northwest Ohio will enjoy the novel for its geographic setting alone, but its well-written weirdness should similarly appeal to readers much farther afield as well.

John Booth can be found online at FieldsEdge.Com and Cornfield Meet. Wred Fright can be found at WredFright.Com. Yes, Wred went to college with John, but probably wouldn't even recognize him on the street now, so you can rest assured dear reader that this review is more or less unbiased. Go Falcons!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Novel Quest

GAME QUEST by Leopold McGinnis

(A Review by King Wenclas.)

I wasn't raised with computers. I grew up tinkering with cars. Computers were a strange mystery to me. The question was how to enter into them-- how to grasp, unlearned, their codes, symbols, and language?

I've never played a computer video game.

Game Quest is an excellent novel, likely the best novel yet written about the computer gaming industry, but I had a difficult time entering its narrative-- like trying to navigate on-line when you don't know what you're doing.

This novel's strength is narrative, yet author Leopold McGinnis wastes the first three chapters failing to leave a proper thread for the reader to enter that narrative.

One can see his strategy. The book opens with computer gaming talk designed to appeal to computer gamers. Non-Gamers are alienated.

"The Sea Hag stands cackling at the cave entrance, her green knobbly hands clasped together with evil, arthritic glee.

"'You'll never find Princess Shareen now! Ha ha ha ha!' The sorceress has just spirited her away to the palace. . . ."


(What is this: Harry Potter?)

It's clear McGinnis is trying to give a sense of what video game playing is like. In retrospect it works-- but not when a new reader is first encountering the book.

For me, the second and third chapters didn't do it either. I found nothing there I wanted to read.

Only with Chapter Four, after numerous tries, did I discern an entrance into the game. An employee at Madrea, THE major game company, sits at a meeting having been up all night playing a product of their major competitor. Personalities around the table become identifiable. Possible conflicts, rumbles of dilemmas, appear at the table. The narrative begins to take shape.

The book quickly develops two main narrative threads. They're good ones.

Most compelling is the on-line romance between Heather Roberts, daughter of Madrea's founder, and a young wonder-kid from another company. McGinnis uses Walter Scott-style tricks of hidden identity updated to the 21st century. No, it's not a disguised Ivanhoe at a joust, but it's very exciting.

McGinnis's characters, especially Heather, are believable and appealing, NOT flat video-game simulations.
* * * * * * *
As an art form the novel is the greatest video game, a journey into the mind; the most complicated and compelling adventure. The quest of the novelist is to take readers through pathways of his knowledge, memory, and imagination, and in the process, hopefully, tell us about life, the world, truth, and people.
* * * * * * *
The other plot thread involves Heather's father, Will Roberts, in battle for control of the company he founded. As his daughter Heather's young life reaches a climax, so does the life of Madrea Games as it faces an attempted takeover by a larger corporation. ("Tray Cool," a consultant examining Madrea and its staff for coolness, is a deadly and hilarious characterization.)

The novel of narrative is like a chess game. It should begin with a strong opening then quickly lay down its strategy, setting up moves which won't appear until much later in the game.

McGinnis is a master at the middle game-- keeping his material together, weaving his plotlines into the general flow, maintaining momentum, slowly but steadily increasing the drama.

While the finish is anti-climactic, it's logically derived from what went before. The author never loses control of his material (as so many popular novelists like Michael Crichton regularly lose control, wasting good scenarios in flurries of ridiculous and illogical climaxes).

This is a serious novel, artistically sound, knowledgeable about the business world, addressing in an exciting way the real-world issue of the monopolization of business and culture.

Are takeovers good for creativity? Game Quest shows one instance when they're not.

At the end of the tale, McGinnis presents the other side of the debate-- the monopoly point-of-view. We realize the question isn't black and white. The reader is more sympathetic with Will Roberts, the original entrepreneur. At least I was.

Roberts's vision created Madrea, yet it's this vision, this instinctive knowledge, which is dismissed by Johnny-Come-Lately know-it-all outsiders, who assume they know better than he how to run his creation.

Are they wrong? The narrative says, about the company, "You have gains and you have fallbacks." Was Madrea merely at a temporary flat spot-- or would the outsiders' predictions of decline and failure have come true? The reader will never know.

Game Quest is a fascinating look at business in the postindustrial era. Leopold McGinnis understands the essence of the novel, seeing the big picture, holding that picture in its totality in his head and not allowing the structure, the form, to fall apart. McGinnis isn't a stylist-- his prose is clear and serviceable, but not spectacular. He's a novelist. The long form is his metier. He shouldn't stray from it.

It's a cliche to say this about a young novelist: If he can write a novel this good, he can write a better one. If he can improve his openings. . . .

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Janissaries of Lit: An Essay

BACK in the days of the Ottoman Empire several centuries ago there existed a vanguard of willing soldiers always sent first into battle by the Turks to battle their foes: Janissaries. The Janissaries were Christians recruited or stolen in youth from conquered populations in southeastern Europe.

John Stoye: "Educated as Moslems, drafted into the army or the administration, they were the well-paid servants who upheld the supreme power in its miraculous, isolated splendour."

After conversion Janissaries received modest perks, but were cut off from the seats of real power.

Stoye: "They were themselves cut off from the social order which they helped to control."

The literary establishment today maintains itself through the use of consciousness-warped Janissaries. There aren't ENOUGH true aristocrats on the order of Moody, Minot, Miranda July to maintain the system. In a hierarchical layer beneath them stand their obedient soldiers.

The ULA's toughest, angriest foes have been those working or lower-middle class writers who've been bought out.

The classic example of a Janissary is Joyce Carol Oates. From a poor rural background, in her late teens Oates was taken into the academy and has never left. Over the years Oates has presented, for the edification of Overdog readers, microscope slides which they can study from a supreme distance: distorted pathologies of lower class life. Oates herself has been socially neutered; a pampered house cat rescued years ago from the gutter, now maintained with ribbons and bows; staring outside from behind the window glass of the house and imagining what life out there is like, drawing for her impressions on vanishing memories. She's not OF the outside world, would never survive if thrust again into it. Her work reverberates with a dark stereotyped shuddered fear of ever going back.

She has gone completely over to the other side-- witness her promotion of the likes of Jonathan Safran Foer. The transformation was irreversible a long time ago. As the world she came from finds its authentic voice of literary rebellion, Oates stands as an absurd relic in the halls of Princeton; an anachronism.

A problem for the ULA in Philadelphia is that much of the local literary scene is subservient to New York. Most of them are Janissaries. Their literary world-view since their college days comes from INSIDE the walls of the literary castle. They have little understanding of the untamed barbarians camped outside their gates. Too many of them have surrendered their artistic minds to sameness, which means they've surrendered, period, to the stagnation of the status quo. They've surrendered any notion they may have once momentarily held of literary rebellion and renewal-- real renewal, not a simulation of it.

We see throughout the country laudatory reviews of local manifestations of the Same-Old Same-Old; of utterly stale MFA-style periodicals which mimic the New Yorker-Paris Review produce of New York; whose entire body of work could've been published forty years ago without disturbing a soul: a well-crafted bland kind of poetry and fiction which was boring then and remains so.

Monday, May 28, 2007


anticipate! Gonzo bending critical lapses here on this spanking new organ of the ULA...

An amazing recent published book of poetry by one of best contempoary poets writing in anglish in the 21st century from the post-Industrial metropolis of Manchester, UK; the autobiographical novel of American Theravadan Bhuddhist monk, Bhante Yogavacara Rahula-- it doesn't get more underground than this, comrades!-- of the Bhavana Society forest monastery in West Virginia; and a review of the first issue COMICOSMOS, a beautiful DIY art/literary tome built around Wm. Blake's "The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell" by artist Elizabeth Haidle who resides now in northern New Mexico, AND the amazing albeit unholy new Side-show/Circus "zeen" of outsider literature including poetry and essays, ALIVE ON THE INSIDE!


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A POSHy Review

POSH by Lucy Jackson

A Review by K.I.N.G. Wenclas


FRANKLY I'm tired of trying to play the game with all these bland mandarins ruling and ruining literature with their constipated attitudes sending me their shitty refined books produced for shitty refined mandarin sensibilities hanging around their condos or mansions with Muffy the Cat on their laps dictating to us out of their refined constipated phony-British-accented mouths the definition of "Literature" capital L should be capital B for Bullshit which is what they've turned fiction and poetry into the last thirty years refining it through their kitchen strainers eliminating life relevance meaning leaving orange pulp puke remains and coffee grounds packaging this garbage between glossy slick glowing vomit green covers and charging twenty-four bucks for it.


This is a shitty sloggy nearly unreadable novel produced by a pseudonym-wearing widely celebrated hideously out-of-touch literary dilettante "acclaimed short story writer and novelist Her last novel was a New York Times Notable Book Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker Best American Short Stories and many other magazines and anthologies " etc. etc. etc. yet the person has hardly a speck of writing ability, is unable to create a narrative thread can only pile on scene upon precious scene of phony stiffly-emoted characters wandering mechanically like outdated Manhattan robots through phony cardboard set stages it reads like an early silent movie circa 1905 shot with static cameras as eternally boring as an Andy Warhol movie.


Most hilariously the fake author "Lucy Jackson " has a character on page 177 comment about literature --"highlighted one passage after another that she recognized as sentimental and poorly written, dutifully taking note of all the characters that seemed like nothing more than ciphers and the dialogue that seemed so painfully stilted"-- when this sentence describes her own book exactly.


It's taken me several months to write this review because every time I tried I had to run to the nearest toilet to vomit from anger and disgust at the ridiculous boozhie class of posh people who control literature and produce warehouses of phony upper-class garbage shit novels like this if you buy the book you're crazy thank God it's vanished though more like it keep being cranked out by conglomerate literary assembly lines the author should shove her pseudonym up her pretentious upper-class ass and retire permanently from the scene doing real literature a favor thereby earning hosannahs of praise from future generations excuse me I'm still nauseous from reading the thing I'm beginning to gag where's the toi--


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Flawed History

Reclaiming History by Vincent Bugliosi


by K.I.N.G. Wenclas.

Famed former prosecutor Bugliosi has issued a mammoth book (1632 pages) about the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy. In his Introduction he presents the book as the definitive word on the subject. He affirms the Warren Commission report, and claims to answer conspiracy theory questions to the extent that no credible debate on the subject will any longer be possible.

Well, maybe-- but in a cursory examination of the book while at a bookstore I found, in a brief time, a fair share of unanswered questions.

1.) While first claiming to answer all conspiracy questions, Bugliosi later remarks that he won't answer questions which "can't be answered." He gives as example the idea that America is run by semi-secret organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations.

Now, wait a minute. This isn't just any old conspiracy theory. It's THE conspiracy theory; the main one; granddaddy of them all. The most believed and in some ways the most credible conspiracy theory; at least the hardest to disprove.

To eliminate THE major conspiracy theory, Bugliosi ties it to flying saucers and aliens from outer space! Which enables him to dismiss the question in total, without examination. He erects a flimsy straw man and casually, with scarcely a breath-- with a handful of words-- blows it over.

This fundamental dishonesty discredits the book, especially because in the Introduction, Bugliosi makes a point of attacking another pro-Warren Commission author, Gerald Posner, for not being fair to the other (pro-conspiracy) side of the matter.

Bugliosi assumes for himself the posture of objectivity and fairness. Then, as I said, knocks over that credibility and fairness with a puff of air.

2.) A major, if not chief, role in "New World Order" conspiracy theories is played by the Federal Reserve Bank. Given for many years (I heard it often on Detroit radio shows) as a possible reason for JFK's assassination is the notion that Kennedy was about to substitute the use of Federal Reserve Notes (upon which we taxpayers pay interest to use) with United States Notes owned not by a private corporation, but by the government itself. In other words, by us; We the People. In his comprehensive 1632-page book, Bugliosi doesn't address this question. Has he never heard of it? Not likely. Not credible. Not possible.

The interesting parts of Bugliosi's book are those points he fails to address.

3.) The most fascinating theory I've read about the Kennedy assassination was put forward by Charles McCarry in his novel The Tears of Autumn. He pointed out that JFK was killed one month after the Kennedy-approved assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. Payback by the Ngo family? It's a logical possibility.

McCarry was a CIA agent at the time of the assassination. He'd been a CIA operative in Southeast Asia. His novel provides an absorbing look at what might've been the Agency's view of matters when the assassination occurred. Nowhere is McCarry's intelligent and thought-provoking novel mentioned in Bugliosi's book.

4.) The Head Shot. This is the most compelling sequence in Oliver Stone's movie, "JFK." Who can forget Kevin Costner's repetitive phrasing, "Back, and to the right," as the dramatic climax of the Zapruder film is shown?

Does Bugliosi fully answer this matter?

No. The most he can come up with is one example of heads remaining stationary when shot. But JFK's head didn't remain stationary. It snapped back. (This, as it was moving forward in space, in the car, as Oswald's bullet supposedly also moved forward, from behind.)

Bugliosi may be right on this question-- but his explanation is insufficient.

5.) The head shot is important because it's a major part of the physical evidence in the case, and Bugliosi uses the physical evidence to answer all other questions. You'll see, if you read the book, that time and again he closes discussion about matters by saying (I'm paraphrasing from memory) "Besides, all this is irrelevant because of the physical evidence, which is irrefutable." Bugliosi uses the physical evidence connecting Lee Harvey Oswald to the crime as a crutch. For him, it trumps all else.

6.) A huge problem with the book is Bugliosi's assertion that no one-- not the CIA, not the Soviets, not the mob-- would have hired Oswald as a professional assassin. Probably not. But in stating this, Bugliosi avoids a larger question. He behaves like a magician showing you an empty hand while his other hand is busy stuffing a rabbit into a hat.

What would a political assassin from today be like? Would he not likely be a psychologically disturbed individual programmed by psychological techniques or by drugs? This seems the most sophisticated way to operate: using an individual who DOES NOT KNOW who he's working for. It's the safest of all possible methods.

Did such ideas exist in 1963? Yes. This period, in fact, was the heyday of CIA testing of psychotropic drugs such as LSD on individuals. It was the height of internal government discussion of the uses of brainwashing-- the subject of the famous book and movie, "The Manchurian Candidate." (The movie came out in 1962.)

Bugliosi only briefly mentions the movie, and doesn't address its subject. (He's more concerned about an assassination movie, "Suddenly," which uses a hired professional killer as would-be assassin.)

Was Lee Harvey Oswald a "Manchurian Candidate"? This is a question Bugliosi doesn't ask or answer. Was there any possibility Oswald was brainwashed, whether in Russia, or when in the U.S. military? One thing Bugliosi does make clear is the enormous impact of the period of time Oswald spent in the brig while a soldier, subject to traumatic abuse. He came out a far more disturbed person. If a solution to the mystery of Oswald is to be found, it might be here.

7.) There's the problem of coincidence. Bugliosi affirms the presence of coincidence. And so, virtually everything in the case can be tied to the explanation of coincidence.

That Richard Nixon was in Dallas the day before the assassination was only a coincidence. That Oswald had been in the military, had been to the Soviet Union, had been involved with Cubans; that he had ties to so many players on the scene with possible motives was only coincidence. That JFK had embarrassed so many powerful individuals, had made so many enemies so swiftly as President (the mob; Jimmy Hoffa; segregationists; Khruschev; Castro; anti-Castro Cubans; the CIA; LBJ; etc.) was only coincidence. That shortly after the assassination Oswald was himself gunned down in what looked to all the world like a mob hit was, it turns out, mere accident: more coincidence.

Using coincidence to explain so much brings up the question of odds. Yes, Ruby's shooting of Oswald could've just happened, out of the blue, like a chance occurrence-- but what are the odds of that? What are the odds that two lone nuts acted against and successfully found their targets, through layers of protection, with no connection to each other or anyone else?

Multiply slim odds by slim odds and the probabilities only go down. To believe the Warren Commission report is to multiply coincidence by coincidence by coincidence. Its advocates live in a causeless universe of random bodies forever randomly bouncing around.

Conslusion: Bugliosi may be right in his arguments. Hard evidence is hard to refute. However, this is not the definitive work on the subject. Too many questions remain. Bugliosi's viewpoint is too narrow. He follows a line on the ground but not what surrounds it. As Shakespeare said in the play Hamlet, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Sunday, April 15, 2007


We are all institutionalized, some of us are just products of lesser institutions than others. Institutionalized by Joe Schmoe and Fred Smith ("les noms de clavier" of Noel Guinane and Cassandra Helm) brings home the terrible awareness of this state to those who might otherwise be blithely unaware of it (unfortunately for many of us the horrible weight of the many institutions that have imposed themselves upon our person and psyche since a tender age cannot be forgotten even for a moment). The corporate culture satire has apparently become a sort of genre fiction (something that I wasn’t to aware of) and they seem to be mocking this phenomenon one could put it into the lesser category of parody but as it seems to contain many more direct attacks upon the phenomenon of corporate culture itself (and many of these attacks are hysterically funny) anyway people tell me that I don’t quite understand that sort of stuff so I’d say if it is parody it’s doing what satire should (inspiring scorn and contempt for its subject) do better than most satires and if it’s genre fiction it’s genre fiction that’s doing what what is called literature is now incapable of doing and as such its excesses can be if not forgiven at least justified.
These excesses are so frequent and excessive that they seem to have been calculated to give the effect of a grand guignolesque theater of cruelty played out in the boardrooms (one made up as the tent that one of the Napoleons [it’s not quite clear which one] took on a campaign somewhere [but hey didn’t those Napoleons invent that bivouac that’s how they won the battle of Plzen or Ceske Budevicke or something]) and offices (whose rundown state might seem to be the product of neglect but is actually calculated to have a certain psychological impact upon the employees). These hapless individuals are encouraged by a lack of air conditioning to drink more antidepressant dosed water that stretches their faces into a frightening rictus. Personality now being a product of analysis and modification is reduced to nothing more than stereotyped behaviors a series of tics and tocs but programmed tics and tocs that are designed to solicit certain responses. A slightly more human individual is introduced into this environment, Lance, who explains himself thusly:
"Yeah,……principles. Like it don’t matter if you own the laundromat or you’re just a pizza delivery guy. It don’t even matter if you’re president of the United States. You work hard. That’s the first. The second is that you ain’t gonna get nowhere if you don’t believe that you can. And like my old man said, there ain’t no reason not to. All you gotta do is look at some o’ the crazy people who made it in this world, like Fats on the corner right? He was dumber than dumb and now he’s got millions playin’ bad guys in movies….."
I imagine (or at least hope) that the author understands that within this very sort of hokey home spun folk wisdom, the naive optimism more simplistic than anything that might be presented in a film for national socialism or soviet Marxism were the seeds of the chaos that is now being unleashed. Ultimately this personage comes off as a sort of Jimmy Stewart of the ghetto come to midtown Manhattan. What the situation seems to be calling for is some sort of exterminating angel perhaps Charles Manson released from Corcoran prison after completing an on line MBA from the university of Phoenix. "You can’t sell SELL. You can’t buy BUY". They could let Squeaky out to be human resources director.
The protagonists are finally nothing but human resources being directed by an indifferent authority. There are often whole paragraphs filled with descriptions of their futile jests and wasted movements. Such a minute attention to detail becomes a bit like watching a film script written in the head of the person who is being placed before us. One comes across similar paragraphs in lots of recent fiction but where in other works it for the most part distracting here in "Institutionalized" it often serves to transmit the wretched desperation of the protagonists sisphysitc existences. Nowadays one meets so many people who seem to playing themselves in the movie of their life that is soon to be made that this style of would maybe be a close approximation of their thoughts, all of us just bit players in a formulaic film whose major roles are occupied by perverse cult adepts. There are so many books written to be made into screenplays (da vinci code for example) or written by people who’d probably rather be writing a screenplay that this style sort of imposes itself. The author of "Institutionalized" though obviously didn’t have this intention the book doesn’t follow the "rules" and the ridiculing of corporate cult think/speak might hit to close to home for some producers anyway there’s no spunky young career girl who just might change the world and find herself a nice husband.
Basically it’s becoming impossible to express anything that doesn’t conform to the Hollywood or Manhattan vision of the world (the two are more or less the same thing) and if you did no one would want to listen. Perhaps this is where America and its language has been heading since its inception. And it’s not just a condemnation of Americans but of humanity itself. I’m not saying that in each of the rest of you there’s a little American waiting to get out but that if you were subjected to the terrible force of such a system would you be capable of resisting? Anyway "Institutionalized" will help you to put your institutional ways behind you and strike back at your oppressors.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


This blog is being revamped. Target date: May 1.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Review of Enjoy The Journey by Giridhar Veeramaneni

By Giridhar Veeramaneni
19.99 ($Cdn)
213 pages
ISBN: 0-9737089-0-5

Whenever I attend book fairs, comic conventions etc… I try to pick up one thing. Exhibiting at the Toronto Small Press Book Fair in May I had about the last 5 minutes of the show to look around. I picked up Enjoy the Journey almost purely on a whim. I suppose I felt kinship with an author struggling to sell their self-published work at a somewhat empty fair. Also, I’ve never gone wrong with an Indian author and a few brief glimpses at the text convinced me that this writer would be no different. I don’t know what it is, but I have yet to run across an Indian author I haven’t liked.

I’m quite pleased to add Giridhar Veeramaneni to that list.

Enjoy the Journey is a great example of a book that would probably never get picked up by a ‘professional’ press – big or small. Wittingly or not, it breaks all the rules. It’s a collection of 23 stories that are refreshingly sincere, open and unpretentious about everyday mundane things. It’s not about extreme poverty, or the grand bourgeoisie or the privileged artist. Its stories have clear endings, often with a simple moral or lesson - if not the reader, than for the narrator. There are small spelling mistakes and unusual grammar in the book that I’m sure any publisher would point out. But these ‘incorrect’ (but sensible) aspects really support not only the authors voice, but the fact that this is a real book put together by a real person who lives in real life. A professional editor would probably read a middle-road writing group hack who’ll never make it. I read something quite different from this.

Enjoy the Journey’s stories range from Found by the Sheppard, in which the narrator humorously compares a church (which he tells his wife he is going to) with a strip club next door (which is where he actually goes), to Surviving in Toronto, which isn’t so much a story as a series of tips on how to save money by carrying around free napkins you get at fast food joints, arranging your bus trips to exploit holes in the transfer system, etc… There is no high art here, no pretension, just simple stories about life. Sometimes they clean up a little too cleanly, are almost a bit too much Reader’s Digest (although the Indo-Canadian immigrant angle helps keep this from being cliché), yet you easily forgive this because reading Enjoy the Journey feels like reading a letter from a close, sincere friend.

Nearly every story situates the narrator as an outsider learning a new environment, culture or job, observing, misunderstanding, erring and then finally understanding his surroundings. I think any undergrounder could appreciate the frank, honest and sincere way Veeramaneni looks at the world. Sheshu the Philosopher is a great story about classism/elitism that any underground enthusiast can relate to. Arranged Marriage provides a really interesting look at arranged marriages vs. the western dating system and provides a strong argument for and against both.

One of my favourite moments in the book comes in Creative Writer when the narrator, who has suddenly decided he doesn’t want to be an engineer or doctor like all the rest of the people in his town in India, but a creative writer instead. He applies for a school in Canada with the hopes of studying creative writing. He is so busy that he barely gets a chance to write and so, at the last minute, cobbles something together for the deadline. He is not accepted. It is a big moment of disappointment for the narrator as it represents a complete failure of his dreams. I, on the other hand, bit my nails in anticipation of this and cheered loudly when he failed to be accepted: Enjoy the journey is an excellent example of all the things a professional writing program would crush out of an author – halting someone from following their own path, making their own understandings, being honest and sincere, characteristics Veeramaneni’s work and characters thrive with. After a while, the author overcomes this and pursues his own path in becoming a writer.

I assume this story is true to Veeramaneni’s own experience and it’s a delightful moment in the book because if he had gotten into that course, I have much doubt that he would have gone on to write these honest, relevant and, most importantly, personally unique stories, nor would he have self-published and I wouldn’t have been reading it or enjoying it enough to review it here.

I really recommend this book if you can get your hands on it.

To order: The book is available on, however if you contact the author at I’m sure you can get a good discount off the Amazon price and a signed copy.

Review by Leopold McGinnis

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Review of Seoul in Slices by Steve Kostecke

Can be purchased in the zeen store
at for $3.

Steve Kostestke lives in Japan. He is also the author of Auslanders Raus and Azian Kix. And he is the editor-and-chief of the ULA website and the ULA’s communal zeen Slush Pile.

Seoul in Slices supplies a first person view into what it means to be an American in Seoul. Seoul in Slices doesn’t give any grand tales of being imprisioned in third world jails, feeding the starving, or trying to find his grandmother who died there fifty years ago. It’s a zeen about guy who has some good, bad, and weird times in Seoul and thought the world might be interested in what he did and what happened to him there.

There are four sections in the zeen, I’ll go through them one by one.

In the first section called, “Seoul in Slices,” Kostecke gives small sketches of Seoul life. He shows the little things about Seoul that if you were just a tourist you would miss like describing what a Ppikki is, “A runaway whose job it is to stand around the happening night spots and get you to come to a certain bar or dance club (where he’ll get a commission).” Or, “Motorbikes on the sidewalk. Revving and threading through the crowds. Getting on People’s asses. The way that Koreans get out of the way. The way that they accept it. One time a motorbike gets on my ass. I’m with two friends. I say to them: “One of these days I’m gonna hook one of these guys.” The motorbike guy miraculously speaks English. Gets up along side me and says: “You don’t like it, get out of Korea!”

Which I think shows to the reader that Kostecke isn’t just some lame rich kid backpacker, but a real resident of Seoul. He has learned the city as a person living in it, not as a tourist passing through.

Kostecke also gives anecdotes of his times with other foreign teachers living there which are really funny, “British guy I know is gay. Speaks Korean. Knows Seoul in and out. Gets sex whenever and wherever he wants it. Gay culture plus a sexually-curious-about-foreigners culture. When he gets drunk he gets obnoxious. As we weave through the crowds he blurts out in English to passing boys: “Would mind terribly if I sucked your dick?” Does this for an entire stretch of road.”

The next section is called, “A Sketch of my Last Days in Seoul.” In the section he tells stories about a woman named Lexa he went out with one night and who got completely drunk and got into fights, hit on twenty guys, and screamed “Queen Mother” at everybody. Then he told a story about how the places he was teaching at were trying to fuck him out of pay. Then he goes to a club with a friend named Jeff. Then Kostecke did something really cool, here’s the quote, “Jeff heading over to a neighboring lounge which he had to two weeks before and now – heroically – to “save” one of he girls from her life of degradation.” Note that he put quotations around “save”, that showed to me that Kostecke tried to emphasize the absurdity of that without making it a big deal, no rant was needed. Because with Kostecke either you are going to understand what he meant by that, and if you don’t a rant won’t make you understand it either. Either you been there, know, and understand. Or you’re out of touch and aren’t going to get it no matter what he says. I thought that was really cool.

The third section Kostecke titled “Hyperfiction” which he described as, “A prose style in competition with tvs, vcrs, cable, the internet, computer games, surround sound cinemas, top-forty radio stations, and a whole lot more.”

The “Hyperfiction” section is a collection of tiny stories written in very terse short sentences. He achieved this by not adding any fluffy dumb shit to the lines. The story “One Tiny Sec” was used for The Underground versus Professionals experiment, and was enjoyed by everyone that read it.

In the story, “Tits” he talks about having an anorexic girlfriend he doesn’t actually like but stays with anyway and says this great line anyone can relate to, “The summer ended as did everything else. Barbie kept accusing me of things that were true and I kept denying them.”

The final section of Seoul in Slices has a review of Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend in a Coma where he calls Coupland’s book “Primetime TV” and deconstructs the book to show that it is unworthy of the praise it has received by the media. Kostecke says about Coupland’s prose at one point, “It floats up into the air and becomes puffy little clouds that never rain.”

Kostecke Seoul in Slices is a great read if you enjoy travel literature that is more about a person living in a certain part of the world that grew up in a completely different culture and circumstances. And not just some person visiting a certain place and having wild obviously exaggerated adventures while there.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Review of Chasing Pace by C.B. Forest

ISBN: 1894494-86-5
Baico Publishing
$22.95 C$, 17.95 $US
315 pages

Unlike most books I read, I was a bit privy to this book’s journey to publication. First time Ottawan author, C. B. Forrest, spent a few years shipping the thing around and, at one point, finding an interested publisher who couldn’t decide whether it should be written in 1st or 3rd person had the author re-write it into 3rd before deciding it was better in 1st and then going out of business. After another series of submissions the book was picked up by a small press just across the border in Quebec and published, after conversion again, in 3rd person. If anything, this highlights how editors, for the most part, should focus on publishing, rather than nit-picking the instincts of the author.

Anyway, knowing all this and receiving a complimentary copy of the book via a friend in Ottawa, I set into the novel. Here is the review:

Chasing Pace is, superficially, about a small town Canadian journalist in his forties, Ben Canon, who has never really amounted to anything. Recently divorced, even more recently unemployed and an alcoholic/self-medicator who boards with an 80 year old ‘captain’ Ben suddenly decides the best way to spend his severance cheque and solve all his and the world’s problems is to drive down to Miami to find the star of a short-lived children’s television show from his youth: Commander Pace. Along the way he runs into a blind barber, a corrupt cop, a cop who’d rather be a Buddhist and a one-legged stripper who all, in some way, help him come to grips with his own demons.

Overall, Chasing Pace is a good read, mostly for the reason that the plot keeps rolling and never really goes where you expect it to go. The characters, as well, all stray far enough from stereotypes to keep them interesting, as well. Chasing Pace is by no means a ‘book you can’t put down’ but is definitely a book you keep wanting to come back to.

The book, however, seems a lot like a Frank Kapra-corn film but with strippers and alcoholics. This is mostly good, however, the scenarios and characters often wade a bit too close to cliché/corn – strippers with hearts of gold, small town corrupt cops, citizens uniting to thwart the mean-spirited schemes of the town’s own Mr. Potter-type and open a drug clinic… Yet, no character is without his quirks/problems and stay far enough away to avoid being too cliché. In some ways, these are like Kapracorn characters updated for the new millennium and for this reason remain interesting.

The end of the novel is satisfying, however, despite avoiding the clichéd happy ending, wraps up a little too cleanly and not exactly believably. Ben Canon comes to terms with his own personal problems finally; however it’s not clear why this happens, exactly. It’s accepted, but the connections and the catalyst to the events in the story aren’t quite solid enough. I’m certainly not against polemics or saying something in a story and give points to this book for its efforts, however, the points it does make come dangerously close to being preachy (on somewhat tired topics – manhood, war, death, life) near the end. [Another weird thing about the novel is that virtually every character seems to have been involved in a major war (Korea, WWII, Vietnam, Yugoslavia…), yet totally independent of the plot. Ben Canon’s obsessive attachment to his long dead grandfather is also a bit difficult to understand.]

Overall, however, Chasing Pace is an enjoyable novel, better than most you’ll find on the corporate bookshelves. It isn’t snobby and it takes the risk of saying something. The writing and plotting are incredibly, incredibly tight and the storyline intriguing. If you’re looking for something with a solid plot, interesting characters, unpretentious, tight writing while providing something other than the tired same-old then Chasing Pace should satisfy.

Review by Leopold McGinnis

Thursday, April 28, 2005

review of Magenta's Adventures Underground by Carol Lewis/Karen Lillis

ISBN: 0-9753862-0-4
Published by Words Like Kudzu Press, NY
By Carol Lewis/Karen Lillis, with illustration by Regine Polenz

Magenta’s Adventures Underground is an interesting modernization of Alice in Wonderland. It isn’t some cheese-mo psychedelic goth fairy tale, though; just like Alice, Magenta has a political agenda.

There are familiar images from the classic story. Certain images, Lewis left untouched. Magenta curtsies constantly. Other scenes, Lewis gives her own twist and makes them pertinent to the present. For example, a very disturbing game of chess:

“The game: The chessmen, Magenta took note, were in military gear:
Pawns were combat troops and members of the taxpaying workforce, Knights were soldiers in tanks, Rooks were single-family homes with a full arsenal of
rifles in the basement, Kings were business moguls with their fingers hovering
above the red button should the market need a nuclear attack to help it along,
and Queens were transvestite hookers in full makeup and six-inch heels; on
their heads they wore nurses’ caps.”

Magenta is already underground when the book begins. She hasn’t followed a rabbit down a hole; she was pushing and shoving down the steps in Grand Central Station. The chess game, being played by a dog, a vulture, and a cat-lizard is taking place in the terminal of the number seven train.

Magenta relates her story to this talking animal audience. She expresses her disillusionment at finding New York, once a haven for misunderstood artists, writers, and assorted other weirdoes, overrun by elitist trendy fuckers.

“We came to this city a few years ago from another planet, my brother and I; we were determined to find Bohemia; we headed straight for the East Village. When we got there we realized: we were thirty years too late. The apartment we landed—which once housed spontaneous theatre events and cost its renters $25.00 a month—costs us $2500 . . . There was a time when everyone who wished to could live here for a song.”

Magenta leaves not long after that along with a rat. While on the uptown A train, she sees a wounded Iraqi pigeon, sent by the UN, give a speech, to which no one listens. The pigeon begs the train passengers, (who later throw rotten tomatoes at him) “PRETTY-PLEASE DON’T BOMB MY COUNTRY.”

Magenta is then sexually assaulted and beaten by a female security officer. She slips into an unconsciousness clouded with strange and vaguely erotic dreams. When she wakes, she is in an underground cave, surrounded by Discarded Veterans. The book ends with an endless dance with a three-legged dog.

For anyone who enjoyed Alice in Wonderland enough to do more than watch the Disney cartoon, Magenta is a welcomed updated version too dark and complex to be encompassed in a 90 minute G-rated feature. Even if you’ve never read Alice in Wonderland, Lewis’ book is fun and entertaining. It is sadly funny at some points, and it will make you mad about all the right things. Of course, we’re all mad here . . .

Review by Bernice Mullins

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Security by James Nowlan


James Nowlan was born in Chicago. He has lived under freeway over-passes in California, been a bike messenger in New York, a security guard in Paris, and an English teacher in Czechoslovakia. Security is his first novel. He has also written and directed a feature length digital film, Compte à Rebours.

Nowlan’s book causes (if you want it to or not) immense realization of what it is like to be a person of the lower-classes. I don’t mean in a Barbara Ehrenreich way either to create pity for the lower classes. The book is aimed at the bulk of America; it shows the oppression of lower class people, through jobs, looks, and language. It makes you reflect on certain scenes in your own life and become prone to the moments of oppression in the future.

The lead character in the story is Thomas. He is an American who grew up with a mother who was sent to the mental ward, a useless father, and spent time as a child amongst religious nuts who played with snakes to prove their faith. He grows up to sleep under over-passes in California, live in New York City and eventually make it to Paris.

Thomas’ life is shitty. He grew up poor and is not afraid of showing the differences between the rich and poor. In the story, he takes a class in college and he and his girlfriend Isabelle do a serious project for class concerning the pimps and prostitutes and winos of New York. Several rich kids want to get him involved with starting a social program that tells winos the reason they are drunks and poor is because they aren’t vegetarians. Concerning the rich kids at college after hearing their vegetarian program he wrote, “The student then directed a penetrating look at Tom who didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, throw up, jump out the window or kick them all out into the street. He wouldn’t have a chance to do the last because they all packed up and left perfunctorily as they came leaving Tom and Isabelle to wondering why they bothered even trying to be a part of something that they so obviously could never belong to.”

Security also shows the alienation in lines like, “Hanging up the phone Tom felt suddenly more alone than ever before in his life, an unbreachable gulf separating him and the rest of humanity.” Nowlan didn’t play around, he gets to the point and if you want to or not, you have to digest it. The writing is too concrete, too direct, too straight forward to throw a bunch of literary terminology into the discussion. The prose is direct and it conveys without confusing the reader. The language resembles that of a John Grishman or Steven King but instead of telling the story of lawyers or a horror story it is showing the life of a man who is alone, alienated, broken, has one tragedy forced upon him after another. And even though shit happens to him he tries to pick himself and go on, but something else horrible happens. The Samuel Beckett quote kept running through my head the whole time, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on,” while reading the book.

Nowlan’s book is only 98 pages long, but that is all that is needed. The scenes are short and to the point. And within those short scenes there is so much pain, horror, and lines like, “After transferring to the commuter train he could feel the palpable presence of a certain doom approaching and when crossing the plain towards the institutional looking residential block he felt like a condemned man on a police skiff seeing Alcatraz rising from the green waves of San Francisco bay.” Security is concentrated human suffering. The book is like The Call of the Wild, The Stranger or The Old Man and the Sea the book is small but what it conveys is very big.

Security is about a person who lives a shitty life, not an unusually shitty life. But a life that resembles a lot of people’s lives is this world. And he doesn’t make a big deal out of it, no self-pity takes place. He gets stabbed in the story, if you are in the lower-classes you or several people you know have been stabbed and shot. He doesn’t have health insurance which is common and experienced by many. Rich people often treat him like he is shit, which is common. He doesn’t make a big deal about it like he is apart from it that is what he writes about because that is what he knows.

It is in very intense third person. Nowlan does not speak in vernacular or use any experimental techniques for his narrative. Which for someone who loves first person vernacular narrative that could pose a problem for the fun of the story, but a lot of the narrative has Tom’s thoughts fused into it which makes it entertaining. But what is good about it is that someone who has spent their lives reading regular pop literature could easily pick up Nowlan’s book and not be daunted by it, his prose is very accessible.

Security is a story of an alienated human struggling and struggling and struggling without getting any rewards. If you know you could relate to that, Security would be a very good book to read.

review done by Noah Cicero

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Review of the Urban Hermitt’s Fanzine #18

by Steve Kostecke
The zine can be had for $3 cash at:
The Urban Hermitt
POB 460412
San Fran CA 94146

In case you’re not enlightened, the Hermitt regularly puts out a zine which describes his unbelievably adventurous and happenin’ life, usually set in way-liberal settings like Hawaii or the Pacific Northwest. This time around, he astounds us with an issue that describes his road tour (as spoken word artiste) with a punk Scottish Oi! band (not “boy band”) and a group of anti-monkey-lab-testing activists. And as if that isn’t unique enough, everything about this journey through America outdoes itself. The shows they perform at—from Texas through the South, the East, and the Midwest—are full of black-hearted skinheads who either boo our beloved Hermitt, give him the dreaded slow death-clap, or throw various harmful projectiles towards his person. How he manages to climb the stage for each performance is beyond human comprehension.

Even though his art is trashed time and time again, the Urban Hermitt keeps at it, as a true word-artist should. This zine reveals a slice of life of a real American poet.

Even with so much working against him, the Hermitt keeps the humor up. Every page is filled with laughs and smirks. Like when he gets sick:

“Where are you going?” Peter asked me as I tried to sneak across the street to the hospital.
“Yeah Hermitt, where are you going?” Braxton asked in his cocky-British accent.
“Ok! I’m going across the street to get antibiotics at the hospital becuz I have strep throat,” I said, on the defense. It was the West Coast liberals versus the West Coast liberals.
“I can’t fawking believe you, Hermitt!” Braxton yelled.
“Cuz I’m like…dying?”
“Why are you getting evil corporate animal torturing drugs and you’re on this fawking tour?”
“It’s all relative.”
“No it’s not Hermitt! And what about the monkeys? What about the fawkin’ monkeys? You disgust me Hermitt! I regret letting you on this tour!”
I had nothing to say back, just some eye rolls. Guilt tripped by the liberals, I didn’t get antibiotics and continued to go on dying.

The Hermitt also digs deep, as usual, in his perceptions of the world around him (his writing is one natural flow of organic expression interpreting the social phenomena constantly bombarding him). Here’s what he says while at an arrival gate at an airport:

At the airport, a flight from London landed … There were loads of Arabic families walking through the gate, mothers completely covered in black veils taking care of the children. Fathers in suits, acting as if they ruled over their wives.
“Man, that’s so sexist and messed up,” I thought to myself. “Those women being covered up!”
But then a bunch of Euro-white ladies came through the gate. They too took care of the children while their husbands in business suits or polo shirts acted like they were ruler of the wife. The thing that I began to notice was that the Euro-white ladies were no more different than the Arabic ladies. Instead of a black veil, they had shaved legs, make-up, “feminine” hair doos, and pink clothing. Sure, maybe some of them chose and liked to be that way, but not all of them. Just another prison in exchange for another.

So if you want to know “what’s up on the 24/7 in the ’99, yo!” in American Lit, you better get your hands on a copy of this zine—and all previous issues, for that matter. The Hermitt’s writing is one of the clearest cases why underground writing makes corporate lit look long dead and gone.