Archive for May, 2013


Travis Mohrman has written a novel in two parts in the oral tradition of Mark Twain.  The internal voice follows the cadence of speech used in telling tales around a campfire. Breaks in narration are solid and you can almost hear children saying, “No, tell us more! Pleeeeez?”

17231392The author describes life, both literally and figuratively, living on the edge of an ancient civilization, ravaged by some undefined apocalypse.   Tiny enclaves struggle to survive in a world still tainted by man’s fatal indiscretion.  This is the story of one man’s journey of discovery.

Three themes emerge in Down The Path and Further Down the Path.  There is an initial examination of self-reliance and cooperation.  It is necessary for Cooper to traverse the country relying solely on his ability to compete with nature.  Upon his arrival at the village, he sees how cooperation among a community’s members leads to something more important than survival alone.

His own people destroyed their own autonomy by making everything a communal mandate.  People were required to fish or grow crops for the use of everyone with little sense of satisfaction or reward.  Children were raised separate from their families instilling no sense of the kinship that leads toward a larger sense of belonging.  They had become a group of individuals doing just enough to benefit from the efforts of others.

17730690A second, related, theme is the destructive nature of living in an urbanized environment.  Cooper’s people had enclosed themselves in boxes, isolating themselves and poisoning themselves through mankind’s earlier misdeeds.  Although unaware of the dangers, they were hastening their own demise.

The village is seen as an open, organic space.   As a community, they build houses and maintain the village.  Families raise their own vegetables and their own children.  Individuals choose their own vocation as their investment in society.

Finally, we see the peril of technology.   Technology destroyed the environment hundreds of years earlier.  Mankind is only beginning to recover from the blow.  Cooper’s home, while a completely urbanized society, displays no level of technological development.   Meanwhile, the village has mastered many aspects of technology and is developing more for the benefit of the community.   The people of the village view technology as a tool to better their circumstances, not as a lever for greater power, nor as a safety net to protect against failure.

The discovery of the mysterious bunker highlights the question of technology.  Cooper is enamored of everything he sees.  He accepts the benefits of the bunker without questioning its provenance.  Handro questions everything about the place.  Who gains from their presence and what this benevolence will cost.  While he and Cooper share a desire for all good things, he wants to know where they come from and why.

My one difficulty is the lack of human conflict.  Mankind has managed to blow itself up once, or we wouldn’t be here.  In the second book we see that not all mankind has gained insight from the initial catastrophe.  Humans by nature are self-serving.  Strong personalities will always struggle to have their ideas voiced and adopted.  Not all confrontation can be avoided by retreating into the forest.

Those who are suspicious of their own are more suspicious of outsiders and will maintain and protect their power.  There is sufficient chance that confrontation will arise during Cooper’s multiple trips to and from the village.  The opportunity for friction also exists between Handro and Cooper as they wait out winter near the mysterious bunker.

Opportunities exist within village life for disagreement and dissension.  Even in as bucolic a setting as the village, nothing is ever so simple as one person saying this is the right thing to do, and having all who oppose simply lay down their objections and go along.  People disagree.  Shouting is sometimes involved.  Hard decisions frequently make for strong opinions, whether its agreeing now is the time for Cooper to return and rescue his community, or the time for others to mount a rescue in the midst of one of the harshest winters to be remembered.

Down the Path and Further Down the Path are  fine efforts.  I look forward to hearing more of Handro, and also more about the mysterious bunker.

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Three Classics:

Since I am still trying to catch up on my reviews and I’ve read Catcher in the Rye, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and Short Stories by Edgar Allan Poe I’ll be reviewing them in one piece.  I’ve read three more books since then and it’s easier to read on the train and harder to write. First, there’s not much original to say about these works, I can only add my own opinion.

 

Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger:

This has been considered a classic simply for the way Salinger addresses mental illness in the late ’40s, early 50’s.  It’s a different type of classic now because the story has been corrupted by our culture of violence.  A teenager reading this for the first time will be disappointed there is no bloodshed, no sex, no ‘excitement’.  The first person narrative seems destined to erupt into some horror of depravity and despair.  The cataclysm never arrives because it would be completely beyond the pale for the author.

Salinger’s daring lies in the internal conversation Holden carries on, gaining momentum as he emotionally staggers from pillar to pillar attempting to right himself internally.  His body, however, is at the mercy of his mind.  As he reaches out to friends and strangers alike, his paranoia builds in intensity, until he rejects even his own beloved younger sister. Salinger, masterfully employs a fugue state as Caulfield collapses, and then re-emerges in the present tense.

Mental illness is no longer a subject to be spurned.  Today, pretty much everyone believes they suffer from some form of mental illness, if for no other reason than to escape responsibility for their behavior.    It’s clear in the initial and final paragraphs, Holden doesn’t know what events are true and what is his attempt at reconstruction.  Salinger’s protagonist, doesn’t deny responsibility, he simply states matters as he knows them, leaving the rest for the reader and the novel’s internal audience.  Salinger sums this up in an intimate fashion. There isn’t the wholesale slaughter of innocents many have come to expect in fiction, and maybe that’s just the point.

 

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales:

I’ve heard it doesn’t really count unless you read Chaucer in the original English.  To be quite honest, I didn’t read Don Quioxte in Spanish, Inferno in Italian, nor Crime and Punishment in Russian.  (Speaking of being in Hell, with a hopeless romantic as Punishment for your Crimes…Oy.)  But they’ve enriched me just the same.

I’m not sure Chaucer would enrich me in any language, but it’s an interesting concept for storytelling.   Figure this:  you have a collection of short stories with nothing in common.  Some aren’t even very good, but you want to get them out there.  Self-publishing is in its antiquity, (Anyone can publish anything with any amount of money.)  Chaucer thinks if he can just get this one work off the ground, his more ambitious efforts will follow.  I’m not sure what constitutes a bestseller in the days of yore, but none of his other efforts seem to have stood the test of time with the exception of Troilus and Cressida. I will probably not chase it down for the sheer pleasure of saying I’ve read more Chaucer than just Canterbury Tales.  Yes. Back to the Tales. We have bawdiness, gallantry, romance, and adventure. We have a narrator who spends more time blabbing about who these people are than the actual telling of the tales.  Ok, fine, it’s a classic. I was bored to tears.  Hoping the next story would be better is the only thing that got me through this.

 

Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe, Volume 2:

Poe wrote more than just horror stories, and this collection samples that variety. There are some of his more famous works, the Tell-Tale Heart, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Cask of Amontillado. But there are lesser-known works, some of which are not horror at all.  A couple of them almost sound like travelogues for places that exist solely in his imagination. Some of this work is used for place-setting in other stories.

The editors of this collection showcase a couple of themes running through Poe’s work.  Not only do we see the intricate detail of place and time being developed, we see themes of mental illness, unrequited love (frequently of a close relative) and the destroying nature of guilt.  More than one of his stories is built on the premise that the remains of the victim prey so harshly on the mind of the murderer he gives up his guilt rather than live with the accusation. (The Tell-Tale Heart is one example; in another the narrator becomes so flustered he betrays himself to the police.)  These are stories we’ve read and heard about most of our educational lives.  Reading them again with a blind eye to previous experience, enables us to feel again the incipient loss of hope as the walls close around us in The Pit and the Pendulum, as well as the emerging terror of our actions in Berenice.

Reading Poe can be hard work. His prose is dense and filled with complex descriptions.  His narratives tend to exist in the mind of the speaker. Little external dialogue results in a sense of isolation, and nervous anxiety.  The underlying menace becomes singularly suffocating as you can no more escape his thoughts than he can.

I’ve been stewing about this for awhile now, not so much whether to say something but how to say it.  This week Celtic forward Jason Collins announced that he’s gay and in the NBA in an interview with SI.  ESPN NBA analyst Chris Broussard responded with a reasoned, personal opinion on national television.

Gay Marriage EqualityFirst. Jason’s life is Jason’s business, how he wishes to share his life with the rest of the world is his business.  Chris Broussard has a right to his opinion, and he presented that respectfully and rationally.  I have the right to disagree with him, and I have the right to express my opinion.  You have the right to disagree, and you have the right to express your opinion. You will need to find your own place to do that.

For those who so rabidly rant about homosexuality being a sin against God (I’m using the “big G” for your benefit, not mine.) and that gay marriage has no place on earth,  consider this: when you start publicly condemning your church elders for adultery, for the sexual abuse of children, for abortion…until you start coming out on TV and radio, condemning the religious media for the flagrant misconduct of their personal lives…until you do this, you need to sit down and shut up.

Maybe you say to yourself, it’s none of my business what type of relationships my pastor or my deacons have, and it’s none of my business how they conduct their personal lives.

Maybe you believe it’s none of your business how many sexual relationships your choir master has had, or the number of abortions your Sunday School teacher has had. Maybe you go and celebrate the marriage of two people who met and conducted an extra-marital affair that resulted in divorce (and since it’s been known to happen, a child conceived out of wedlock) followed by their marriage. If you find this acceptable, if you believe these things are none of your business, you need to sit down and shut up.

If these things aren’t any of your business, then it is most certainly none of your business what two complete strangers do about celebrating their lives together. It’s none of your business if the make it a matter of public record through a civil union and it is definitely none of your business whether they want to get married in the church.  That’s between them and their church, and their Holy Spirit. Not yours.  You are not their Holy Spirit.

You were not appointed by God to barge into other people’s lives and tell them what they’re doing wrong.  You do not go to the lady at the other table in the restaurant and tell her she needs to quit yelling at her children.  You do not chase down the person who ran that red light, or call the cops when the guy in front of you is clearly drunk and endangering everyone else on the road. Why do you feel anointed to tell complete strangers you don’t approve of who they sleep with?  You can’t even control the sexual activity of your own children.  Complete strangers are None. Of. Your. Business.

If you believe so strongly that they are going to die and go to hell, then you pray to your God that they will live their lives as God would want them to.  Then pray that you will live your life in the way God wants you to.

In the mean time, get your house in order, sit down, and shut up.