April 29, 2016

Book review: “First Love” & “Look for My Obituary,” two novellas by Elena Garro

The first love in Elena Garro’s novella First Love isn’t exactly what you might expect. For one thing, it isn’t about teenagers nor about the sweaty, fevered lust that love can be. For another, it involves Siegfried, a 20-year-old German prisoner-of-war, still in custody after the recently ended World War II, and Barbara, who is at least 30 and has her daughter, maybe 10, who is walking near the two when the discussion of first love takes place. Indeed, it is from the daughter’s point of view that the scene unfolds this way: Suddenly, she glanced back and saw the outline of Siegfried and her mother as they shone brilliantly against the darkness, as if a halo circled around their blond hair and their golden bodies tanned by the sun. They were very far behind… “Barbara, you are my first love,” said Siegfried, with eyes cast down, as his friends walked far ahead. “And you are the first person to love me,” Barbara answers, almost ashamed, as she stood in front of that young man who looked upon her with such intensity.” Siegfried is one of seven German POWs whom Barbara and her daughter, also named Barbara, have befriended in […]
April 28, 2016

Poem: beard

winter afternoon in the classroom a half-sleep the nun speaks and rests the eight-year-olds bow heads over loose leaf write in the row along the windows in the second to last desk a boy done early melts crayons on the ripple of the radiator redblueyellowgreen and on loose leaf draws side views of Lincoln in a world of clean-shaven men nosesuittieeyeshair and black beard nosesuittieeyeshair and black beard nosesuittieeyeshair and black beard nosesuittieeyeshair and black beard a psalm to the future redblueyellowgreen nine years later, grows a beard red-brown now white Patrick T. Reardon 4.28.16 This poem was originally published by Silver Birch Press on 3.7.2016.
April 26, 2016

Book review: “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis

On Christmas Day, 1937, the family of Doremus Jessup is enjoying a festive afternoon in their Vermont home with friends, including shop-owner Louis Rotenstern, a Jewish bachelor. Suddenly, there’s a loud knocking at the door, and five white-uniformed paramilitary Minute Men tromp in to take Rotenstern away to a concentration camp. This scene occurs about two-thirds of the way through Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here. Already, Lewis has described how Senator Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, an entertainingly folksy, fun-poking Democrat has bested Franklin D. Roosevelt for the party’s nomination and then won the White House in 1936. As president, Windrip has moved quickly to reorganize the government and impose strict controls on citizens as “emergency” measures, granting official status and wide latitude to the Minute Men. The government has been redefined as a totalitarian Corporate State, with all traditional parties eliminated. Lewis writes: There was to be only one: The American Corporate State and Patriotic Party — no! added the President, with something of his former good-humor: “there are two parties, the Corporate and those who don’t belong to any party at all, and so, to use a common phrase, are just out of luck!”   Anywhere Now, less […]
April 20, 2016

Book review: “A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination” by Philip Shenon

Over the last half century, scores and probably hundreds of books have been published about the 1963 assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and its investigation by the Warren Commission. Many of these have been fueled with overheated prose and wide-eyed paranoia and have propounded conspiracy theories upon conspiracy theories. Yet, after reading a several of the more meticulous of those books, including most recently Philip Shenon’s 2013 A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination, I keep going back to what I’ve thought all along. Lee Harvey Oswald, a loner and a perpetual malcontent, acted alone when he put a rifle to his shoulder on November 22, 1963, and fired three shots, killing Kennedy and wounding Texas Gov. John Connally. Why? It all comes down to human nature. Lee Harvey Oswald was a mope. He didn’t work with people. He didn’t work for people. He didn’t live his beliefs. He didn’t have any beliefs, really, except that he should be famous and important. He had a mother who was crazy as a loon, and he lived his whole live as a scream for attention. He got it. Consider this: When he began the handwritten journal […]
April 13, 2016

Book review: “The Discworld Graphic Novels: The Colour of Magic & The Light Fantastic” by Terry Pratchett

I’ve written before about the difficulty of translating Terry Pratchett’s funny, witty, silly, insightful, wacky and clear-eyed novels into other art media. A year and a half ago, I saw a wonderfully entertaining version of Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment at Lifeline Theatre here in Chicago, but I’ve been underwhelmed by television and feature-length movie versions of several of his books.   What worked with the Lifeline presentation was, first of all, that it was a top-notch production with a great amount of talent and gusto. Also important, I think, was that it was on stage with real human beings moving through the story. Unlike a television show or a movie, a play doesn’t purport to be realistic. These are people here in front of another set of people, the one group pretending to be someone else and the other suspending disbelief to pretend that the characters of the story are actually there in front of them.   The problem The problem with television or movie versions is that, by their nature, they seem realistic, even if told from a fantasy point of view. In a stage play, we see people pretending to be other people, but, in a video version, the […]
April 5, 2016

Book review: “The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguro

Many reviewers were flummoxed last year when they tried to come to grips with Kazuo Ishiguro’s seventh novel The Buried Giant. A lot of readers are likely to have the same reaction. That seems to be Ishiguro’s goal — the creation of a story and a world where logic and clarity exist only in pieces, like shards of a stained-glass window fallen to the ground. This novel is set in post-Roman, post-King Arthur England, on a landscape populated by Britons, Saxons and Picts, as well as ogres, pixies and one greatly feared she-dragon Querig. Of course, there’s also that buried giant of the title. Yet, The Buried Giant is no historical fantasy. There is nothing quaint and picturesque about the novel. No cute sidekicks, no noble quests. Neither does it truck in horror. The humans in this story are fearful of Querig and the other mythical creatures who share the same patch of geography, but they take them in stride, as a modern American would recognize the possibility of an armed robbery in certain places and take sensible precautions.   “A low growl” True, there is a Saxon warrior, Wistan, who has been given the job by his king to […]