Saturday, February 27, 2021

Chapbooks that make you laugh at the dark. BAMBOO DART Press reinvents the Chapbook with PELEKINESIS. Review LIFE, Orange to Pear, The Loss Detector, Five Ghost Stories

What is a Chapbook? I always thought of it as poetry, printed on vellum with letterpress and largely undistributed beyond poetry community. According to Wikipedia:  "A chapbook is a small publication of up to about 40 pages, sometimes bound with a saddle stitch. In early modern Europe a chapbook was a type of printed street literature."

These prose chapbooks by BAMBOO DART PRESS may be a 2021 version of "street literature".  Attractive to hold in your hand, around 45 pages, they offer a meaningful, even inspiring read. But can these books be long enough to deliver that experience?  In these disconnected days of isolation, I enjoyed the humor and wonder in these books.   

John Brantingham is a poet, novelist, essayist and foremost in this book, a man who remembers being a kid and profound moments, like peeling an orange. He also shows what it's like to have a child and respect their framework to the ambiguous world you share. Why would the tooth fairy sneak into houses looking for body parts?  Is Santa a weirdo?  Yet the subject of this book is spiritual "home"  divine sensations--the smell of that orange, the feel of it's skin; the redemptive taste of a pear. In 45 pages of insightful prose, you go through a man's life events and sensations. Here is confusion, pain and joy; all normal and sublime. 

Meg Pokrass' book is called a Novella-in-Flash. Her Flash Fiction is inspired but it's interesting to read longer work. Wither her weird, funny sensibility Pokrass  tells the story of a family break-up and a young girl's coping as "the loss detector." Nikki's jokes are serious questions. In "Dad's Ears", she wonders if  having small ears really means you can't be trusted? Then she and her brother Josh, who may be autistic or crazy or both,  move with their mom from their East coast life to the Monterey Apts in California. As their mother morphs into a driven blonde real estate agent, and Josh is in and out of schools, Nikki begins to get a sense of  what holds them together. 

  • D

Dennis Callaci is both a musician and a writer. His Five Ghost Stories are a wonder of  meditative  precision. Characters have an unsettling sense of  "deja vu," human ghosts living in a foreign present. In isolation, they are less witnesses to their lives than to what "real"  life once was. I found The Cemetery of Calendar Days to be the most chilling.  Here's the opening: 

Be careful tonight. My wife cupped my ears with her hands, a kiss on the way out the door. There had been seven in the last month in my line including two colleagues I was close to. Down the steps, "Be careful honey, I love you." I took her car tonight with three quarters of a tank, I didn't want to risk any stop this evening that I needn't make. An oldie flashes out with ignition from the stereo, Too Real by Fontaines D.CThe two of us worked hard to keep a sense of normalcy not only for our family, but the neighborhood as well...

I kept thinking of early Twilight Zone.  But the "Model Home" is a kid's assembly project of Dracula's Castle,  "Michael's" is a meat market, gag worthy smells and metaphysical revulsion. "Sundowner" was funny, in the way of Beckett's old men. Here's the first sentence. I'm no longer who I was. I tried hard to remember who that had been for a good long while, couldn't quite reckon with it, but I know it's true. 

"Five Ghost Stories" by Dennis Callaci

These stories were fascinating, because they addressed the feelings behind so many thoughts in this plague time. They made me laugh at the dark.  A bargain at 7.99 , For more info: 

Bamboo Dart Press. "A collaborative marriage of Pelekinesis and Shrimper Records whose aim is to allow writers and artists to godspeed works into the physical world without the hoops and machinery of manufacturing that slow the process of finished to physical work in the world of books and LPs that are the day jobs of the two parent companies." 


Saturday, February 6, 2021

MARVELOUS LANDSCAPES at, gallery and online show- how humans see infinite nature in individual ways

I am a lover of landscapes. I have painted them in oils, watercolors, pastels, colored pencils, ink, even collage and the results vary with mood and the weather--often the same.  I have spent many hours in the same place at the same time. Losing myself in a scene is essential, whether finished from a photo later or not. I've been told that losing awareness of time and self, while completely focused on an external scene is outward meditation. Whatever you call it. Landscape artists often exchange knowing looks about how good it feels to paint nature, especially outside.

When a friend told me she had a photograph in Las Laguna Gallery's landscape show, I was curious about the work. Here were landscapes, seascapes, dreamscapes in paint, acrylic, wax, pastel, gauche, prints, pottery, photographs, (digital prints, silverpoint and images mixed with paint.). Whether literal or abstract, engineered or imagined ,work seemed to glory less in human perception than the unknowable mystery of nature.

I also liked the gallery's strategy for showing work, both democratic and practical. They choose a small group of featured artists whose work is shown both in the physical gallery (by appointment) and online with  a large online group. All artists pay 35.00 to submit 3 pieces but are guaranteed one will be in the online show. They might also be featured. It's the usual 60/40 gallery split but artists can also choose NFS (not for sale).

Below are ones I liked, though you might choose others. Since "like" is a useless meme these days, I have added some thoughts. But there were a lot of deserving work. Shows on themes are changed monthly, so  go soon to if you want to see LANDSCAPES. 

FEATURED, Joe A, Oakes' Sunset Path acrylic top, Jacqueline Clary's Conversation bottom , acrylic

Oakes' Sunset Path uses acrylics for vivid colors and textures smooth enough for this imagery to be airbrushed or a seriograph print. The Path looks manmade, whether it started as a natural grove on eitherside of a gulley or not. The technique matches the mystery of the subject. The shadows--layered and unruly and full of emotional content are a moving contrast. and focus of this painting.

Jacqueline Clarey's Conversation seems commentary in this Covid time of isolation. The empty chairs appear stand-ins for missing people. The background of trees and foliage is more varied and alive than the inert though strangely articulate furniture. Differently positioned  chairs hint at what's missing--human personality, And the gray color is alive; touched with blue shadow or by the sun. This painting paining touched me.. 

Online show
includes below, Yuqiao Guo's Valley oil pastel, Canoglu Perihan's Golden Deers acrylic, Sarah Drummond's Lingering Light linocut reduced print. 

Valley is a marvel of oil pastel, a medium given to muddy colors and anything but controlled textures, at least in my hands. I'm not bad with pastel, but this oil pastel painting (on canvas) is remarkable for building clear luminous  textured areas with subtle color gradations. There is no watercolor but there  are puddles here and where the sun hits, land is golden.  This is a "magical" place.

Shall I talk about these decorative almost animated looking deer and the  "golden mean" snail shapes surrounding them? With antlers these Golden Deers connect heaven and Earth (assuming the blue section is ocean? I have no idea what this signifies but really enjoyed  this playful lovely work. 
    Lingering Light manages to be precise and beautiful. Eerie light makes a seascape suddenly lunar and transcendent. It hopscotches from sun to water and illuminates in foreground what could be water, trash or silvery rocks. Nature is alien in a cartoony style that amazed me technically. A linocut reduced print is actually a linoleum block. This artist is extraordinary, managing such delicacy and humor, hinting at sci fiction in this work. 

Diana Rivera's Lonely bike on side street, Greenwich Village, 2011
Silver gelatin print. A cityscape, unlike land or seascapes, is a world built for people, where nature seems secondary. In this cityscape, trees and streetlamps arch together toward the sky forming an erratic bower. The presence of a lone chained bike without handle bars to steer, appears more human than a barely visible person blending in with the end of the street. There is a pathos to that abandoned bike. I have seen that street in spring when those trees have flowers and never saw that bike, a common sight in 2011. Takes a great photograph to bring back erased time with emotion. This is silverpoint, a slow process that articulates the tones, the whites so nuanced in this photo--Prosaic and singular.


Monday, January 4, 2021

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu, 2020 National Book Award Winner, story of Asian immigrant's "Script" in U.S., the "yellow" in a cop show entitled "Black and White."

INTERIOR CHINATOWN Charles Yu's amazing novel, enacts the life of bit part actor, Willis Wu ,and his (and his family's experiences) within the context of "Black and White," a TV crime show. In this show, as in  the world outside "The Golden Palace" (home and workplace of generations of Chinese immigrants) the "yellow" of Asian Americans is always a stereotypical character, exotic background color, a plot device; never just a regular American of Asian descent. Yet in Willis' world, people are constantly striving for their American dream. Children all get  4.0 and above. Yet no matter how they succeed in school and for how long (generations) they are still treated as outsiders. Many end up back where they grew up, at a "The Golden Palace" restaurant job. 

With great humor, INTERIOR CHINATOWN creates Wu's layered reality.  His family also played the bit parts, his dad even hit the top role, Kung Fu Master. Behind that inscrutable Chinese, was a forgotten academically gifted past. His mother's "pretty hostess" kept the family afloat for years, and, though he wanted to be Kung Fu, she told him he could do better. And he did with his 4.0, yet had to polish his immigrant accent to get work on the show.  

One day he meets a Chinese- American of mixed race,  and on the show there's a chance of Kung Fu Master, though not a role  as a real Chinese person.  What happens to Willis' sense of self, when the script and his circumstances change for alternatives he'd never considered? Can he assimilate  a character he's never played, as an Asian and a man? 

I found this novel entertaining, touching, and often unexpected. Loved the formats Willis uses to tell his true-life reality show. No movie could be as unique. I completely enjoyed the visit. Below are some excerpts. Glad to see INTERIOR CHINATOWN won an award. It's original,  resembles nothing else.






Kung Fu: (Moderate Proficiency)

Fluent in Accented English

Able to do Face of Great Shame on command


Disgraced son

Delivery Guy

Silent Henchman

Caught Between Two Worlds

Guy Who Runs in and Gets Kicked in the Face

Striving Immigrant

Generic Asian Man



In the world of Black and White, everyone starts out as Generic Asian Man. Everyone who looks like you, anyway. Unless you are a woman, in which case you start out as Pretty Asian Woman.

You all work at Golden Palace, formerly jade Palace of Good Fortune. There's an aquarium in the front and cloudy tanks of rock crabs and two pound lobsters crawling over each other in the back. Laminated menus offer the lunch special, which comes with a bowl of fluffy white rice and choice of soup, egg drop or hot and sour. A neon Tsingtao sign blinks and buzzes behind the bar in the dimly lit space, a dropped-ceiling room with lacquered ornate woodwork (or some imitation thereof), everything simmering in a warm seedy red glowthrown off by the dollar store paper lanterns festooned above, many of them darkened by dead moths, the paper yellowing, ripped, curling in on itself...


Take what you

    can get.

Try to build

      a life.

    A life

    at the 


made from 

bit parts.


Your mother has played, in no particular order:

Pretty Oriental Flower

Asiatic Seductress

Young Dragon Lady

Slightly Less Young Dragon Lady

Restaurant Hostess

Girl with the Almond Eyes

Beauitful Maiden Number One

Dead beautiful Maiden Number One

Old Asian Woman

bit parts


Your father has been, at various times:

Twin Dragon

Wizened Chinaman

Guy in a Soiled T-shirt

Inscrutable grocery owner (in a soiled t-shirt)

Egg Roll Cook

Young Asian Man

Sifu, the Mysterious Kung Fu Master

Old Asian Man

Sunday, December 27, 2020

DREAM BIG!! A New Year's Card for you, and a thought by Carl Jung


    Dream BIG!!  (Why Not?)




“In an era which has concentrated exclusively on extension of living space and increase of rational knowledge at all costs, it is a supreme challenge to ask man to become conscious of his uniqueness and limitation. Uniqueness and limitation are synonymous. Without them, no perception of the unlimited is possible-and consequently, no coming to consciousness either-merely a delusory identity with it which takes the form of intoxication with large numbers and an avidity for political power”

(1960)--C,G, Jung from Memories, Dreams, Reflections 

Thanks for visiting this book blog. 

Susan I Weinstein

Sunday, October 25, 2020



Intense passions fuel revolutions within countries, families and people. Whether destructive or significant breakthroughs (or both), the costs of such challenges are huge and who pays is significant. 2017's Trumpian  revolution began a spectacle of  "disruption" of government fueled by a populist uprising yet funded by conservative elites. This revolution expanded the privilege of wealthy backers, while targeting the health and financial benefits of poor and working class supporters. Strangely, supporters rallied for fairness and an end to  corruption did not seem to be fazed by this reality.  Was  emotional release, the approval of a powerful figure, satisfaction enough?

Personality cults aside, fairness and an end to corruption are eternal cries by revolutionaries seeking to topple the status quo, sometimes with a violence that  destroys civilized life. Does anything good come from that?  Consider the French Revolution, which led to Robespierre and the guillotine's rivers of blood, also created The Rights of Man  (Thomas Jefferson was a consultant). That manifesto not only inspired a French Republic and our Declaration of Independence, but an allegiance critical to the American colonies winning the long war for independence. If not our suffering, history's view, perhaps this was progress.

The populist revolution against the American war in Vietnam -- the first in U.S. history to end an unpopular war--brought together races, classes and ages; veterans of many wars, clergy, military families, housewives and students.  Reportedly, when  President Johnson saw thousands of  people marching  from his White House window, he knew it was time to end the war. The passions of that revolution were fanned by the human costs,  nightly news footage of body bags awaiting transit home. 

The excesses of the Cold War were winding down on both sides. Less revolution than evolution, the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the result of continual political and legislative conflicts in their republics. The Czech Velvet Revolution peacefully ended 41 years of one-party rule for a parliamentary government and other republics followed. 

As western democracies aged  revolution seemed almost quaint, until the rise in recent years of right wing nationalist parties and violent extremist groups.  Generations of lost jobs (blamed on government policies favoring global business) combined with a refugee crisis to create revolutionaries infuriated by changes in their status, A return to white racial privilege was a matter of "fairness." In the U.S., Trump's rallies encouraged racism with a new tolerance for violent expression.  
In 2020 the Trump oligarchy has been challenged by a  revolutionary election  to restore substance to government and the rule of law. Though almost half the population is yet mesmerized by the proto fascistic behavior of Trump, a clear majority voted for Joe Biden. But winning the election is only the first step. Like any despot in an authoritarian country, Trump is questioning the election outcome to seize power. A natural outgrowth of his  "disruption" of  democracy, yet how effective can it be with a clear loss? 

While I anxiously await Biden's transition, I am reading novels. Supposedly, an emotionally fueled teen-age "revolution" is part of  an inevitable evolution from childhood to maturity. Fairness and an end of corruption (hypocrisy) erupts in themes as varied as inspiration vs. responsibility, divine wisdom vs. bestial experience, tyranny vs. justice.  Here are three novels where the primal tensions, as in our collective lives, are not easily resolved in favor of a status quo. 

In THE LYING LIFE OF ADULTS By Elena Ferrante, revolution is pivotal in the coming of age of a Italian girl from a middle class Neapolitan family. Education and career are valued over religion and traditional family ties. Books are articles of faith in a knowable world governed by progress. Giovanni begins as a parent pleasing thirteen year old, who admires her  academic father, a professor, writer and critic and her mother, who earns money editing romance novels. Her best friends, off spring of her parents' best friends, are also privileged products of a felicitous union of respectable progressive people. 

But as her teens progress, Giovanni develops uncertainty about herself, physically and mentally and and has problems at school. Expectations by her parents that she "behave" seem unfair and she talks back, cuts school, unlike her former compliant self.  When she overhears her father say she is getting her aunt's face, the comparison seems a curse. This aunt, she has never met  from the poorest of Naples, is considered an enemy of Giovanni's parents. She becomes am object of fascination; the entry to forbidden worlds of religion, passion, and most of all, truths that aren't relative. To her tempestuous uneducated aunt, morality is black and white. 

With an ally against her family, Giovanni rebels in larger ways, not graduating  high school, and, as her parents' marriage crumbles, acting out "sluttiness/" When her aunt instructs her to closely observe her parents, her beloved father becomes a monster of artifice and manipulation. Giovanni's revolution rides the axes of ugliness and beauty, escape and revelation, love vs infidelity, truth vs. perception. Eventually, she trades emotional security for a hard won self confidence. When she finally enters the lying world of adults, vowing to be real and different, you are left with a question--and a hope. 


E. H. Young's WILLIAM (published in 1925) is a family story from the father's viewpoint, a man who unexpectedly finds himself a revolutionary against society's expectations and those of his beloved wife. A former sea captain become a successful businessman, he acts as a sentinel for the heart oppressed by unwritten rules. Though he has greatly enjoyed his comfortable attractive home filled with flowers, his wife's care for "quality" and reputation governs every aspect of his  household. His sensibility rebels for "fairness,"  what's of value in human existence against society's norms. The irony of a mature family man taking such a stand is not lost on him, It's love for his "feckless" daughter that inspires his revolution. He must choose between his traditional wife whose morality is as inflexible as her plans for meals and furnishings and the dictates of his conscience. Though William occasionally ran secret interference for his children's happiness, home and family was his wife's capable vocation. Now he must be honestly oppositional and damn the consequences.

In an era where a woman could be a muse but not an artist or writer; marriage to a creative husband, assuming money wasn't an issue, was okay but not so desirable. Falling in love with a married man was ruinous, resulting in complete ostracism of parents and siblings. Upholding the dictates of church and social status were not to be compromised. Yet Lydia's search for joy and meaning is one William understands. Though he loves his six children and struggles to understand them, Lydia mirrors his spirit. Her haphazard beauty and charm effortlessly transforms rooms and people. When she and William become conspirators for her love, their cause proves less about happiness than  her right to decide--even if it brings misery. Hers is an ageless perilous quest. The personal costs of William's "revolution" is the loss of his own illusions about his life and love, revealed in the process. 


Unlike the heroine in the bestselling Circe,  the hero in Tom Shachtman's THE MEMOIR OF THE MINOTAUR is less a rebel against the Gods than an interloper between worlds. Both human and divine, he yearns for acceptance as an individual and is infuriated at being made a "monster" by Crete's brutal King Midas. This minotaur, the son of Midas's queen and a god in the form of a white bull, loves his half sister, Ariadne and believes that love is returned. But he has learned that the human world is far less predictable than the blissful fields of cows--his first family. He matures in the palace, intelligent, sensitive and amusing to his royal siblings, only tolerated by Minos as a demigod and freak. His birth meant his mother's death, yet she proceeded, knowing the outcome. Her fate is akin to the Minotaur's acceptance of his, chosen by the Gods, suffered by him in this retelling of the great myth.

The memoir is the Minotaur's revolution against his fate. and he spares no one, least of all himself.. Yes he murdered but it's mankind's bestiality that forced him into the role of "monster." Cruelty begins in  Minus' luxurious palace, where the king  names him "starborne." With Daedalus as teacher-keeper, he joyfully develops his human intelligence and sensitivity. But, as he grows stronger, mentally and physically, the king jails him in a cage below the palace and transforms him into a starving fearful animal. 

Daedalus, the brilliant architect and engineer, also enslaved, is tasked to design the cage and the labyrinth of his design becomes the minotaur's eternal prison. Worse yet, though the minotaur, is originally raised on plants, Minus forces him to develop a taste for meat. Sadly, his debasement  is a fate he cannot avoid. Minos manages to tyrannize and dominate all neighboring city states by demanding their best young maidens and men as tribute. The Minotaur. must eat to live and the horrific experiences of  both the young sacrifices he must take, both their pain and his killing, causes him tremendous anguish. Enforced bestiality is the ultimate existential dilemma, explored in THE MEMOIR OF THE MINOTAUR. 

Eventually, he decides to make the best of  life for himself and his victims. The carnality of life in the labyrinth becomes huge, death and sex taken to all extremes. The Minotaur provides what he can to his food supply, who are also companions and lovers. Easy death, sex or comradeship in exploring the labyrinth and food preservation are choices he describes. He also writes about the behavior of  the groups of tribute who arrive in monthly deposits. At first they look for a way out and then discover futility. Some actually do make it to the inner rooms of the extinct priestesses, whose mystic nature religion preceded Minus. In these caverns of royal tombs are death and luxury.

The Minotaur's memoir horrifically narrates his life, conscious of how it might be perceived by an outsider, the reader. Though he's betrayed and ultimately dies for his murders, in Hades he is accounted some peace for his previous suffering. This is a dark book in genre not as aimless as horror. It brought to mind MALDOROR, a long poem that horrifically depicts a world of human savagery. Camus' novel, THE PLAGUE also explores the baseness of human character but with possible redemption.  THE MEMOIR OF THE MINOTAUR  goes into similar dark territory to seek gold in human consciousness. Be warned it is not an easy journey, when the Gods' are in charge. 


Diana Rivera's "Toward the Light, 8th Avenue" in online exhibition Dec 3-31, 2020,, Photography

Current Show, Photography, now open to view.

Diana's work is a silver gelatin print 15x10 inches. 

 “Toward the Light, 8th Avenue, 2018", from Diane's series “Ghost Waltz, Volume I: Acquainted With the Night, will be on display in the online exhibition "Photography" at the @laslagunaartgallery, December 3 - 31, 2020



Return to pre-Covid spring days in New York's Greenwich Village...they will come again but for now there's Diana's photos. Earlier post has excerpts from her Valentino series. For more:  See dianariveraarts and dianariveracreative media on Instagram.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Howard Rosenberg's BLIZZARD OF LIES, a gumshoe journalist in "Heaventown" uncovers the truth behind a war hero immortalized by Hollywood .


Heaventown New York's claim to fame is Saint Billy, a film about  a local war hero, Billy Temple. Starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara, this Xmas favorite has spawned a plethora of tourist traps; a Billy themed museum, hotels, restaurants, boutiques. When veteran reporter Charlie Ginsberg is assigned a "puff piece" on the quaint town in advance of their annual Billy Festival, he's resigned to his fate. While The Word, a news site, offers few challenges, at least he's got a paid trip to a scenic place. He vows to enjoy the view but Charlie can't mothball his brain. Why are there no photos of the real Billy Temple in the museum that bears his name?  What about his accidental" death from the Billy-named bridge?

BLIZZARD OF LIES, Howard Rosenberg's entertaining mystery, is both a satirical and earnest look at American values and character.  Charlie mercilessly investigates stereotypes who often are on target and not--including himself. Yes he's an east coast intellectual, a pushy Jewish reporter, a type he also recognizes in a smart sexy local entrepreneur, who's President of the Chamber of Commerce. There's the officious African American police chief, first in the town, who has mysterious dealings, a cantankerous yet wise 90 year old founder of the local newspaper, a couple with a business empire built on curios, and a tender wiseacre barmaid, pretty as a prom queen. The personalities of Heaventown both define and defy cliches as they seek to mislead or direct Charlie's search for Billy Temple and the soul of the town. 

With  a nod to Citizen Kane , BLIZZARD OF LIES traces the paths of the GI legend and his reality,  from the trenches of WW2 to the making of the movie, and his death. The discrepancies between the official Billy story and the facts grow wider. As Charlie gets evidence to back his hunches, the town's "muscle" closes in. Before he's done, he exposes the shenanigans of  local commerce and the role of race and racism in the town's formation. He also contends with the cynical politics of  journalism involving The Word. Yet Charlie's ending is an unexpected happy one with an old love--serious hard hitting journalism. 

Less "Twin Peaks" than "the banality of evil", BLIZZARD OF LIES' reveals the every day corruption for profit that exists in many towns and the eternal price to individuals of cover-ups. But most of all, this is a fun read. Charlie Ginsberg is a fascinating detective; a merciless investigator and an instinctual lover, who defies logic in his affairs. Can he find a love that lasts?  What chaos and career suicide will his nose for truth lead him to next?  I look forward to the next Rosenberg saga. 

Howard Rosenberg, former LA Times critic and Pulitzer-winner, airs his views on his blog ROSENBEAST at


Friday, September 4, 2020

Worlds alien and familiar, HOLD STILL FAST by Sean Pravica and THE ROAD NOT TAKEN by Susan Rubin,

Sean Pravica's 200 stories in HOLD STILL FAST are written in 50 words or fewer.  Instants in time catch the predicament of being human in a world alien and familiar. PELEKINESIS publishes 

Getting Older Again  

As a strange joke, she bought her friend a human skull for a birthday gift. She also gave her makeup,to be nice. When her friend opened her gifts, the next step was obvious. She had little makeup left by the end of it, and the skull had a name. 

Let Go

 The balloon floated away from her. He lifted her as she cried. She reached her hand up, as though she was close enough to grab it now. He rocked her, said to enjoy watching it, a red dot disappearing. Suddenly, it was like that was its purpose all along. 

New Religion

She started a dance church in the woods. She used an unoccupied store for service every Sunday. Devotees twisted, leapt, gyrated to whatever music played. Songs that opened or closed with rain sounds were prominent. It became obvious. It became truth. God is motion. Every moment the big bang.


Planes of hot, white light cascaded down from little conical fixtures evenly spaced throughout thegallery. Illuminated abstractions, zealous color, geometric landscapes floating in space.She looked at another squiggled line, saying, “Imagine an alien anthropologist trying to decipher the human experience through something like this?” He kissed her cheek.   





\THE ROAD NOT TAKEN by Susan Rubin, a rollicking epic adventure on the time-space continuum, is both funny and a surprisingly deep exploration of  human life on Earth, the sex lives of the  Gods, the viability of human life on the planet, and whether the Bloomingdale's free gift with make-up purchase is a good deal. These existential issues are visited by an unnamed former housewife whose quest  begins with her identity and ends with an iconic purpose for humankind. 

This sensual and wise epic did remind me of Candide, Voltaire's satire on the Enlightenment, a goodhearted innocent who travels the world seeking security and his true love. His guide,Pangloss,  holds the optimistic belief that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Though the pair endure every possible misfortune; slavery, torture, disease and dismemberment, Pangloss never loses his faith. Candide is more influenced by events. 

Susan Rubin's former Ct.housewife, an "innocent" who never challenged herself, returns to her childhood environs in Greenwich Village after her husband's untimely death. Her adventure starts at Bloomingdale's make-up counter, where she encounters an identical twin, who offers a tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, featuring a portal to Ancient Egypt and Van Gogh's Arles. 

On further jaunts on the time space continuum, she is challenged to become the epic warrior, judge, priestess, Deborah. In The Road Not Taken, Deb faces obstacles that test her fitness in a Weimar nightclub and her weakness with help from a "bad boy" lover of an immortal race. 

Unlike Candide, as the heroine deepens so do her challenges, until she becomes the priestess. As a female epic heroine, this Deborah beats even Gail Gadot's Wonder Woman. She can fight for justice but likes a good time in bed and fine red wine. Scholar, thinker and seeker of wisdom, the heroine  in THE ROAD NOT TAKEN is her own Pangloss; inhabiting the best of all possible worlds. Published by Harvard Square Editions,

Recommended for a spare night with favorite beverage


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Is the "good death" elusive or impossible? Consider ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS, Alison Lester's Chronicle of Extraordinary Dying

 The “good death” may seem elusive, or even impossible, but novelist Alison Jean Lester chronicles just that in her new memoir, Absolutely Delicious: A Chronicle of Extraordinary Dying (Bench Press, 10/22/20).  

Lester reports surprising facts:  "My mother, Valerie Lester, died on the morning of June 7, 2019, of metastatic melanoma. I’m driven to write about it because her death was, by all the standards I can imagine, a good one. Not only was the moment of her death good; the weeks of decline leading to her death were good. And not only that; the eighteen months between her first dire prognosis and her death were some of the happiest months of her life. Her final moment was, I suppose, ordinary – she drew a last breath, devoid of drama, when her body could no longer maintain itself. Her approach to dying, though? That was amazing"

Valerie, a Pan Am hostess, met Alison's father on a plane, returning from the first American expedition of Mt. Everest. She later became a biographer of Pan Am, among other topics and at age 40, a poet, after years of studying work that moved her. She was, says Alison, a woman of who took great enjoyment in nature, food and people she loved. 

ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS shows Valerie's process accepting her terminal illness and deciding to forego treatments that might have prolonged her life but ruined her death. Instead, she moved to the residential hospice where she chose to live her final weeks. She decided where she wanted to be, what she wanted to do, and with whom. And Alison relayed this to family and friends, who honored her wishes.

This singular chronicle is told from three perspectives; Alison's narrative and haiku poems, drawings by Valerie's friend Mary Ann Frye, and Valerie's own poems and ones she studied to come to terms with death..  

 In the title vignette, a nurse asks Valerie if she’d like a gin and tonic.


I can’t remember if Mum actually said yes in answer; all I remember is that she sparkled. The yes was clear to us all.… She didn’t talk, just drank a glug of cocktail and then opened her mouth for more crackers … Taking the glass from her mouth after a few minutes of this I asked, “Is that nice?”

“Absolutely delicious.”

After a few more minutes … we realized she was chewing with her eyes closed. We told her we were going to lay her back down again. She slept.

So that was her last meal. And those were her last words.

But there were still a few days to go.

 In writing Absolutely Delicious, Alison’s goal is to inspire conversation about end-of-life choices in people who haven’t yet broached the subject: “If you are dying, or are supporting someone who is dying, I hope the experiences in this book will encourage, enable, and even entertain you.”

Death, especially in this time of plague, is a fearful specter. It may also be a time to think of the possibility of a death consistent with a life lived. There's a sense of continuity, when mourners meet to dedicate a gravestone months after a funeral. The Balinese, six months after a death, burn a mythic paper animal to celebrate the spirit, as it ascends with smoke to heaven. 

This book is recommended for all mortals. 


Alison Jean Lester was born in LA and grew up in St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands, London and Massachusetts before attending Indiana University, where she earned a B.A. in Mandarin and French. After an M.A. in Chinese Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, she worked for the U.S. Commerce Department, before moving to Japan. She worked as an editor, journalist, and voiceover artist before moving to Singapore, where she developed a successful coaching and training business, performed improvised comedy, and continued to write. She currently lives in Worcestershire, England. She is the author of novels Yuki Means Happiness and Lillian on Life, poetry, short stories, plays, and non-fiction books on communication.

Mary Ann Frye has been a designer of exhibits for science and history museums, a faculty member at the Rhode Island School of Design and Head of the Graphic Design Concentration at Northeastern University and of the Printmaking/Graphic Design Program at the Massachusetts College of Art. One of her current projects is to paint a portrait daily, the total approaching 1500, “of people I admire or love.”