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review 2018-06-21 16:13
Wade in the Water, by Tracy K. Smith
Wade in the Water - Tracy K. Smith

U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith's Wade in the Water is her most recent collection and the first I've read. I think it makes an excellent introduction to her work and wouldn't be a bad place to start if you're new to contemporary poetry. She does not intimidate, nor does her language obfuscate.

 

The two middle sections engaged me most. The first mines the Civil War era past and makes use of erasure and historical and primary sources in a way that both gives the suffering of African Americans at the time specificity and voice while absolutely illuminating continued injustices in the present. The second also makes poetry out of found materials to focus on contemporary issues such as the environment and racist violence. However, the poems don't attack; they feel like they come from a place of hope.

 

A book I'm sure I'll come back to soon, after I read her other collections, of course. :)

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-06-08 02:07
The Sadist's Bible by Nicole Cushing
The Sadist's Bible - Nicole Cushing

The Sadist's Bible by Nicole Cushing
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lori and Ellie have never met, but they both yearn for the touch of a woman and the sweet release of death. Eager to take their online correspondence to the next level, they strike an agreement and plan a getaway to a remote hotel. Their intentions? To succumb to their desires and finish with a deadly climax.

(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)

There’s nothing like discovering a well-hidden gem, and that’s exactly what happened when I originally spied a review from Morgan K Tanner's blog. The book in question seemed intriguing; a mix of suicidal intentions and grim religion - right up my street. What followed was a quick read, yet despite its short length, its execution was no less impactful. Cushing was able to portray two very mentally ill individuals; their helplessness apparent when they decide the best course of action is a joint suicide. Amongst the fantasies of death, is a very prominent emphasis on homosexuality, whereupon the women visualise their passing as a deeply erotic affair, and thus a statement to society. Certainly morbid, but in that darkly fascinating sort of way that I can appreciate if done well. Of course this wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, especially when it comes to Christianity, as the He is painted in a very harsh light - which isn't as far-fetched as one might believe. If anything, I'd consider Him more alike his Old Testament representation, but that’s neither here nor there.

One thing that occurred to me early on was that, whilst Lori’s situation was significantly more dour, Ellie’s was a lot more closer to reality. Unable to express her true self, Ellie was ruled by fear, and to some extent, shame. It was a very genuine example of what a lot of people go through every day of their lives, and I felt that the coupling of real life issues and celestial intervention worked well together. Honestly though, I didn't find these two characters entirely likeable on a personal level, however my sympathy lay more with Lori, as I believed her to be a victim of the most horrendous acts possible. The connection between these two women could've been explored further, although it was easy enough to discern their relationship formed out of desperation.

The plot itself was able to keep up a decent pace, probably because it didn’t have time to add any unnecessary fluff. The last half of the book is where things took a turn, and I guess I didn’t expect things to get so crazy, but they did. The running theme of sex and violence only magnified, and it was unquestionably shoved to the forefront throughout the end. Vivid, graphic scenes delved into totortuous acts of depravity, where Cushing had no qualms about detailing the sadistic pleasures of a heavenly orgy. I use the term "heavenly" very loosely, as those creatures more resembled beings of nightmare.

That's the thing here - this is a bleak story, where a saviour, in the typical sense of the word, doesn't exist.

In conclusion: Torture intermingles with sex in this novella, and those of a religious nature would be likely best to avoid this one altogether. I considered it a very entertaining read, and it certainly put Cushing on my radar.

Notable Quote:

The arc of the universe is long, but bends towards degeneracy.

© Red Lace 2018

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Source: redlace.reviews/2018/06/08/the-sadists-bible-by-nicole-cushing
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review 2018-06-06 08:18
There There by Tommy Orange - Urban Indians and lost connections
There There - Tommy Orange

If this is what Tommy Orange writes for his debut, we have a major talent writing right now. My copy of There There arrived today. It's nearly 3 AM, and I just finished. No food, no sleep; I couldn't put this book down.

"This there there. He hadn’t read Gertrude Stein beyond the quote. But for Native people in this country, all over the Americas, it’s been developed over, buried ancestral land, glass and concrete and wire and steel, unreturnable covered memory. There is no there there."


That title gathers more meaning with every character, chapter and section. By the end the weight of not knowing exactly who you are or where you come from is a heavy weight even for a reader. All the characters have different experiences and difficulties, but they are all in search of connection to their own community, and none seem sure they belong to that community or if that community will allow them to belong to it. What is the character with an advanced degree in Native American Studies to do when he can't find a job? What about someone born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome who wears his face as a constant reminder? What about native peoples who have to learn all of their heritage and how to practice it from YouTube or Google searches? Beyond poverty, unemployment, far too much alcoholism, there is death, devastation and a lot of shame in these characters. While they don't rise above in Hollywood ways, getting through the day - learning and growing and putting one foot in front of the other - while continuing to strive for that connection is pretty triumphant. 

The characters are fully realized. We know why they do what they do, and we get a sense of how they feel about their current and past selves. It takes a minute but we understand their connections to each other better than they do by the end of the novel. We also get a sense of how these people came to be so broken from the proud nations that the Americas have systematically wiped out. What is most clear is that the bloodbath that came to America with the first settlers has left a never-ending trail of trauma. And in case we might miss it from just the stories, there's one of the best essays -- seemingly well-researched and certainly well-written that pulls no punches right in the beginning of the novel. While the characters don't escape unscathed, neither will a reader. In writing this so openly and leaving the sharp edges intact, Mr. Orange has held a mirror up to the Americas - whether the reader is indigenous or not.

There are many major characters in this novel, all in various stages of heading to the Oakland Powwow. While some have visited a Reservation, they are mostly urban or suburban and none seem fully connected to their native culture. This isn't a reservation story or a historical account. These indigenous people live in the here and now, in the cities (mostly Oakland) and do all of the things everyone else in the city does, including riding the subway and not dressing up (except maybe on the day of the Powwow.) At first they don't seem to be related, but as the chapters and parts of the book move along, their connections become clear and that broke my heart even more. Missed connections, searching out parents or grandchildren you've never known, searching for yourself - all of these are explored and there are no pat answers. In fact, the book ends on one of the most wistful non-answers in recent memory. I love a book that refuses to put a pretty bow on top, and had Mr. Orange packaged the ending that way, everything that came before would have been cheapened.

What you get here is a journey, good stories, interesting characters, but no perfect answers. How could there be perfect answers to such a long history of carnage and stolen identity?

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review 2018-06-04 01:53
City of God
City of God - Henry Bettenson,Augustine of Hippo

As a backlash against Christianity grew after the sack of Roman in 410 AD, Augustine of Hippo took up his pen to respond to pagans and philosophers as well as inform Christians about their priorities between heaven and earth.  The City of God is one of the cornerstones of medieval Christianity and thought that even influences the world today.

 

Augustine divides his work into 22 books divided into two parts.  The first part was to refute the accusation by pagans that the sack of Rome in 410 AD was punishment for abandoning the gods of Rome for Christianity.  Throughout the first ten books of his work, Augustine critiques the Roman religion and philosophy from the multitude of deities and the contradictory beliefs related to them as well as the conflicting philosophies that supported and opposed them.  The second part, consisting of the last twelve books of the work, discussed the titular City of God and how it relates with the city of man—the present world.

 

Augustine’s critique of pagan religion and philosophy in the first part of the book is honestly the highlight of the book.  Not only did he defend Christianity but also exposed the contradictions within pagan religious beliefs a well as numerous schools of philosophies which defended or opposed those beliefs.  If there was one downside within the first part, it would have been the troubling theological ideas that Augustine espoused that seemed more based on Plato than the Bible.  However, it was in the second part of book that Augustine’s faulty theology truly became apparent so much so that I had to begin skimming through the text to prevent myself from contradicting Augustine in my head instead of reading.  While not all of Augustine’s theology is wrong, God’s omniscience and human free will is an example, some of the defining examples I want to cover is the following: the immortality of the soul and eternal burning in hell connected to it, the claims that passages from the Old Testament are analogies for Christ and the church, that all of Psalms are prophecies written by David, the angels were created on the third day, and many more.  It became too frustrating to stay focused and I admittedly might have skimmed over some of Augustine’s better theological arguments, but it was that or tossing the book.

 

City of God is both the refutation of pagan Roman practices and the theological understanding of Augustine for Christian believers.  It’s importance for medieval Christianity and thought cannot be underscored enough, however that does not mean that every reader should not look at it critically.

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review 2018-06-03 07:13
Pass the Kleenex -- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Gilead Trilogy #1)
Gilead - Marilynne Robinson

In my efforts to read more classics/prizewinners in the last year, there have been some real clinkers, so I wasn't sure about this one. I'm an agnostic col-lapsed Catholic with a half-Jewish family who took a tour through every single major religion before I realized I have a tough time with organized religions. I did like the basically agnostic Universal Unitarians, but I have never liked getting dressed on Sunday mornings, so I wasn't entirely sure I'd like a book about a dying minister writing a letter to his young son.

 

Turns out a book full of religious stuff was, in a word, awesome. When I just clicked five stars, I realized I need to go back and redo all of my other stars. (In truth, I've read a handful of books that actually should count for five, but I seem to be way too generous with the 3-4 range, which makes 5 less special. Someday soon, I need to go over my ratings, create a system & fix them before I have too many books to do so here.) Anyway, this is one of those books that just killed me. It was about as bad as a talking pet that dies book in terms of how wrecked I was when I finished it. If the next book to start hadn't been also part of the trilogy, I'd not have started the next book. I would be crying in the dark with crumpled tissues all round. Instead I am crying in the light with the tissues mostly in the wastebasket.

 

Reverend John Ames, a third-generation Congregationalist minister living in the tiny fictional town of Gilead, Iowa is dying, and the whole book is his letter to his very young son who will not grow up knowing his father. Despite being about an old preacher who married a young woman in a small town in Ohio, emotionally this book hit me in a very personal way. I'm a non-believing biracial woman from the urban east coast. How does this book feel so much like it was written for me? As therapists love to say, it's the emotions that matter. The neighbor's son, Jack, also felt very familiar to me.

 

Robinson quietly hits on huge soaring themes with a gentle touch that never ever turns maudlin or flowery. In telling the story of his three generations of ministers in Iowa, there are some very funny stories and some very sad, deeply painful moments all combined with sweetness that is never sugary. (As children they baptise kittens and worry about the fact that the cats keep jumping around. Pagan cats, it turns out, are as good as Christian ones.)

 

It feels almost sacrilegious to just cite the hilarious stories but I must tell you about  the abolitionists who get a bit too tunnel-happy, causing a stranger's horse to sink through the road. These highly religious people get the horse drunk (problematic for the teetotalling stranger), tell preposterous lies to get rid of the stranger, then they have to get the horse out of the hole in the middle of town. All of this happens with an escaped slave desperately trying not "escape" from their help too "I think I'm better off doing this on my own." The whole town ends up moving a few miles away to get away from their tunnel. That story made me cry tears from laughing.

 

But what's so affecting is the warmth and decency and reasonable attitude from the highly religious Congregationalist minister John Ames, whether it's regarding his young wife and son, his years of being alone after losing his first wife and daughter, or dealing with Jack Boughton - his namesake, godson and the bane of his existence. This book is a healing book, full of reserve hiding reservoirs overflowing with humanity and most of all, loving kindness.

 

I'm pretty sure I will still feel this is an excellent book at the end of the year and next year, but if I had to defend it, I'd be at a loss. It got me in such a way that I seriously considered writing a thank you letter to Marilynne Robinson. It just is one of the most affecting books I've read lately. I'm still sort of surprised I love this book so much. It's a deceptively simple book. But man, it really packed a punch.

 

"these people who can see right through you never quite do you justice, because they never give you credit for the effort you're making to be better than you actually are, which is difficult and well meant and deserving of some little notice."

 

So despite my initial qualms about religion, it was in no way patronizing, irritating,  hypocritical or any number of other things I've run into with books based on religious characters. Ames is one of the most Christlike fictional characters I've run across: a very decent man doing a very decent thing in a town full of decent, multifaceted and religious people. 

 

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