The Adventures Of Flash Jackson

My Review

“You must remember that every irrational fear has some basis in the unconscious.”

My review of the Adventures of Flash Jackson.Who is Flash Jackson? Flash is the alter ego of 16 year old Haley Bombauer, a tomboy in search of her authentic self. The self she learns was there all along. With Flash Jackson around she doesn’t have to face her fears or come to terms with her losses.

The Adventures of Flash Jackson is written from the perspective of a twenty something Haley. The nickname, Flash Jackson, stemmed from a game she played with her now deceased father in which they pretended to be stuntmen. Haley believed she was a “stuntman trapped in a female body”.

The Magic of Flash

William Kowalski has written Haley’s voice as educated, conversational, witty and without shame. I found myself reading her voice with a light southern twang even though the story takes place just outside the fictional town of Mannville, New York. Haley tells the reader that this is “a record of my seventeenth year,” and she warns “if you’re not interested in this sort of thing you better stop reading right now. I’m writing this for myself…” This kind of tongue in cheek candour is speckled throughout. The fact that her mouth sometimes moves faster than her thoughts is amusing despite the trouble she gets into or the hurt feelings she creates. She struggles to make the things and people around her bend to her will but once she becomes incapacitated she learns she really doesn’t have the control she thinks she does.

During one of Haley’s tomboy adventures she breaks her leg in three places causing her to be bed-ridden. Through her forced immobilization she begins to learn new things about the people in her life that ultimately leads to the realization of her own character and the development of the woman she is to become.

Haley is accompanied through her year of reminiscing by her slightly neurotic, lonely mother; her pot-growing, Mennonite grandmother; her schizophrenic friend Frank; her guidance counsellor, neighbour Ms. Powell and a host of wildlife, domesticated and otherwise.

I was skeptical from the beginning that Kowalski could pull off a feminine character (my bias) but quickly forgot about the writer’s gender as I became absorbed in Haley’s life and surroundings. Especially when she went off to live with her grandmother in the forest, secluded from people and without what we know as the bare necessities: electricity, running water, and indoor toilet.

While with her grandmother Haley learns many things about the natural arts and an appreciation for silence. When you’re quiet for long periods “it starts to seem normal, and you realize how much talking people do that isn’t really necessary-talking for talking’s sake, which never really hurt anybody but doesn’t do any body a bit of good either”.

In the beginning Haley tries to fight the laws of nature but succumbs due to wasted effort and little success. A good example would be bathing. She fought to keep some form of cleanliness but her daily toils prevented her so she gave in and developed an awareness of her new odor.

“Sometimes I wondered what the world would be like if no one took showers. We would know people by our noses first and by our intellect second.”

I enjoyed Haley’s insight into the simple things we take for granted, things we see everyday but don’t pay much mention to, like FOR SALE signs. “You never could tell what a FOR SALE sign really meant when you saw one. It might mean We Hate It Here and We’re Going Back to Where We Came From, or possibly There was a Terrible Divorce, or even as in this case, Everyone Here is Dead. It never just means For Sale.”

I do not have many complaints about this book save one. The grandmother’s dialogue is difficult and slowed down reading unnecessarily. “Den varom willst Du k no from ich?” I would have preferred a description of her dialect rather than trying to decipher her speech patterns.

Witchcraft has saturated the film and TV industry over the last few years. It seems to have become a fad in many instances and although it appears in this story it doesn’t overwhelm or take anything away from the characters. The magic in “Flash Jackson” is more than a belief system. It’s the everyday magic right in front of our eyes.

“There is such a thing as magic in the world, and if you don’t know that, it’s because you’ve decided not to know, not because you haven’t seen it. You have seen it-all of us have seen it. Maybe you just didn’t believe it because it scared you. Entirely possible. Nobody’s fault.”

The Adventures of Flash Jackson is a complete book but I want to know what adventures Haley Bombauer survived after her 17th year. I hope Kowalski will consider serializing Haley. I’m sure you will too.

This book review was first published at Linear Reflections in 2005.

Under The Net — Book Review

Under the Net was Iris Murdoch’s first novel published in 1954 and is one of Time Magazine’s 100 best novels of all time. Much is made of Murdoch’s philosophy background and how she married it with her fiction writing. And while I do find this present it doesn’t make the story any more or less entertaining. The most common philosophical theme in this book is that of truth and lies in communication and how we are incapable of ever telling the complete truth.

James Donaghue (Jake) is a struggling British writer and book translator living in London with a girl named Magdalen (Madge), a typist and model. She kicks him out in an attempt to get him to commit. In the mean time she hooks up with a book maker, Samuel Starfield, who has his own agenda.

My review of Iris Murdoch's Under the Net.The main story follows Jake as he searches about town for an old acquaintance, Hugo Belfounder. According to Jake, Hugo “is the central theme of this book”. Jake first met Hugo years previously during a medical research project they both participated in (they were essentially guinea pigs). They shared a room, lively conversation and a mutual respect. Jake ended up writing a book (and publishing it) about Hugo’s ideas without telling him. He felt guilty about it and ditched his friend with no notice. Years later, Hugo suddenly returns to his thoughts and his social circle. All Jake wants to do is find Hugo and apologize for what he feels is a great grievance against him. Finding Hugo and a new place to live doesn’t come as easy as expected as Jake becomes easily distracted especially when he discovers an underlying story of deception; a planned double-cross involving his ex, her new beau and The Wooden Nightingale, the current manuscript Jake is translating.

Slow Momentum

Jake is an odd duck who’s always getting into these extraordinary situations (like stealing an acting dog, skinny dipping in the Thames or bringing down an entire movie set on a crowd of protesters) and managing to get out from under the net at the last moment. Jake is a bit paranoid (“I am sensitive to observation and often have this feeling not only in the presence of human beings but in that of small animals”). He’s afraid of planes, trains, crowds and losing his pants in public. One moment he’s living off the assets of other people and next he’s handing out his last bill to the bum on the corner who pan-handles. Perhaps it’s his weird behavior that makes him so likeable.

Throughout the escapades Jake has a few trusted allies who are loyal and interesting characters who could have carried their own novels. Specifically, Peter O’Finney (Finn) who spends a lot of time as Jake’s wing man. Jake describes Finn as a “humble and self-effacing person and so automatically takes second place” and a man who’s “more like his manager” than a friend. Jake has a dislike for many things, being alone is one of them and this is where Finn comes in handy. There’s also Mrs. Tinckham, the chain smoking bar owner whom he trusts to look after his things when he’s between places (which is often). She’s a cat lady and “has been very kind” to him and he never “forgets kindness”. He also regards her very highly because of her respect for others privacy. “I am devoted to Mrs. Tinckham,” he says which makes the reader want to trust her to.

Under the Net was Iris Murdoch’s first novel published in 1954 and is one of Time Magazine’s 100 best novels of all time. After numerous reviews and watching the movie Iris starring Kate Winslet I had great anticipation in reading it; half expecting shear writing brilliance.

I was really disappointed to find awkward passages of text like: “…that something had remained intact of that which there had formerly been between us; and it could not be but that the passage of time had somehow made this remnant more precious…” Strange similes like “the carpets were thick, and the work woodwork as clean as an apple.” Huh? I even found a blatant double cliché: “the ice was broken between us” and “it is possible to break the ice without burying the hatchet”.

Much is made of Murdoch’s philosophy background and how she married it and her fiction writing. And while I do find this present it doesn’t make the story any more or less entertaining. The most common philosophical theme in this book is that of truth and lies in communication and how we are incapable of ever telling the complete truth.

There is a lot of banter about what the title Under the Net refers to. Most think it has to do with Murdoch’s philosophy background specifically Austria philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Thinking in simpler terms I think it has more to do with Jake’s escapades and how he nearly gets caught but manages to slip out from “under the net” at the last moment.

The term “under the net” appears in an excerpt that Jake shares from his published book, The Silencer, in a conversation between Tamarus and Annandine on the theory of why we do what we do. “All theorizing is flight. We must be ruled by the situation itself and this is unutterably particular. Indeed it is something to which we can never get close enough, however hard we may try as it were to crawl under the net.”

The momentum doesn’t pick up until half way through the book. One of the best scenes, for me, was when Jake gets drunk and argues about political and social mores with a new friend, Lefty, who he met in a pub while out looking for Hugo. Then in chapter fourteen he leads a rescue for the Marvelous Mister Mars being held captive in the evil Samuel’s pad. This is actually when the book starts to get good. Jake falls in love with Mars the acting dog who becomes his one true companion when everyone else leaves him. I kept reading about how laugh-out-loud funny this book was but didn’t actually make a peep until Mars the acting dog was asked to feign death so Jake could skirt the police. In the end, Jake, who is taken care of by everyone else finally finds himself taking care of Mars.

Overall, the book was a big disappointment for me but I haven’t sworn off Murdoch yet. It is after all only her first book. There are twenty-five more to go. I’m hoping The Bell will be a better experience.

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Topic Links
* Add Under the Net to Your Library
* My Review of The Bell
* My Review of Iris

This review of Iris Murdoch’s book was first posted on 5/24/2008 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

A Girl’s Guide to Modern European Philosophy Book Review

The book is divided into three philosophies the first Friedrich Nietzsche (Human, All Too Human), the second is Martin Heidegger (Being and Time) and it closes with Soren Kierkegaard, (Fear and Trembling). Susannah uses what she learns from each of these philosophers

My review for A Girl’s Guide to Modern European Philosophy was posted on 6/3/2009 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline. The full review of A Girl’s Guide to Modern European Philosophy can be read at Squid Lit.

The Love Song of Monkey Review

The Love Song of Monkey was written by Michael S. A. Graziano, a professor of Psychology at Princeton University. This is a strange little book about a man dying from Aids who sneaks into a hospital with the help of his wife to have an experimental

The review for The Love Song of Monkey was originally written 2/14/2009 for Literary Fiction, BellaOnline. The full review of The Love Song for Monkey can now be read at Squid Lit.

Barnes and Noble Online

The first walk-in store opened in New York City in 1917. The Barnes & Noble website is owned by Barnes & Noble, Inc and they have over 800 walk-in stores which can offer “over 1 million titles” of books, music DVDs, video games, and gifts. Because of this they are widely considered “the largest book retailer” in the United States. In 1997 the website went live helping to increase their customer base to those who would have normally been out of reach. There’s really so much that the Barnes and Noble’s website has to offer that this short article can not possibly cover them all. Here are the highlights.

The basic browsing headings include books, DVDs, music, textbooks, magazines, B&N Jr. (kids books), toys and games, home and gift, and see all. The book area can be searched with the book browser by title, author, or keyword or via further categories for bestsellers, new releases, coming soon, recommended, audio books, children’s books, used and out of print, bargain books. The browse books features divides the books into literary categories which are further divided into genre. This system is actually a lot easier than it sounds and I found I was able to whip into each area with no problem.

Barnes and Noble has a membership for loyal regular visitors to their stores and sites (Canada has a similar concept in their large Chapters stores – one of the things that annoy me). The membership card entitles bearers to 40% off hardcover list prices, 20% off adult hardcover list prices, and 10 % off almost everything else. If you sign up to their email notices you can also learn about weekly specials that could offer 30-40% savings. The B&N membership costs $25 a year and requires you to give your name, mailing address, phone number, and email address. You can of course still order books and take advantage of the site’s wish lists system without a membership. Each book shows a price comparison of list price, online price and member price.

In the United States, readers can get “fast & free delivery” when they order a minimum of $25. Barnes & Noble ships to Canada and internationally at reasonable rates. They accept payment from traditional credit cards, the B&N card/gift certificate and from PayPal.

If you are feeling interactive, there are online book clubs for every genre and category of books which readers correspond through Barnes & Noble’s a forum system. Readers can join to post messages on any of the threads and have conversations with other interested readers about their favourite (or not so favorite) books. Each forum environment is moderated by a highly motivated person with a love for the topic.

One of the best features of the Barnes & Noble website doesn’t cost anything at all. There’s an online studio and magazine where readers can watch and listen to exclusive interviews with popular authors, read biographies, and witness performances. And if you are more traditional there are lots of print reviews in magazine format.

One of my favourite aspects of the site is the wish list. It allows readers to add products they might want to purchase at a later date (with no obligation to buy). It’s a handy memory tool for shopping for others too. More than one wish list can be created so if you hear about a book a loved one would like you can save it to a list to refer to when special occasions arise. Kind of takes the worry out of last minute shopping.

Visit Barnes and Noble.

The Bell — Book Review

“As wise as serpents, as harmless as doves.”

Iris Murdoch’s The Bell is her fourth of twenty-six published novels. It was released in 1958 but takes place in England in the late forties. This is my second Murdoch novel and I found it flows and is much more vivid in detail than her first book, Under the Net.

The book cover for Iris Murdoch's The Bell.This story opens with Dora Greenfield, a creative spirit who has trapped herself in a marriage where the husband spends more time degrading her than nurturing her. She ran away and shacked up with another free spirit but this doesn’t last for long and she ends up following her husband Paul, an art historian, to a small community of God-fearing people who have set up a settlement outside a nunnery called Imber Abbey. This group is lead by Micheal Meade, a man with his own secrets and internal turmoil. Micheal owns the land outside the Abbey which the members affectionately call Imber Court. These two seem like the most unlikely duo to establish a relationship with one another but without knowing it they do.

There are a host of other characters that affect their lives in both positive and negative ways. There’s Noel the journalist, Toby the student, Nick the renegade, Catherine the future nun, Murphy the dog, and Gabriel… the bell. A reference to the old church bell buried in the sludge of the lake between the Abbey and the Court is made throughout the book giving it a position of an important character. Dora even suggests as much when the bell is finally unearthed. “She came near to the bell which seemed more and more like a living presence.”

There are a number of strong issues throughout The Bell but the most dominant is religion. This is followed by a healthy dose of homosexuality, marriage and adultery. Some sources site a strong theme of good and evil (probably associated with religious beliefs) but I think evil is really too harsh a term. There are no real evil people or situations in this story. It’s about a group of people trying to make it through this life as best they know how while dealing with the foreseen, unforeseen and exaggerated bumps they encounter along the way. Murdoch does use her philosophical background to insert interesting questions along the way like: “Could one recognize refinements of good if one did not recognize refinements of evil?”

While I felt this book was certainly better than my first taste of Murdoch, it bored the heck out of me for the first three quarters. Seriously, after the first chapter until they brought up the bell I was bored silly. I realized that is quite a subjective statement but if I had not committed myself to reading all her books I probably would have stopped here. Language differences often slow story down: “After breakfast he repaired as usual to the estate office to cast an eye over the day’s correspondence (page 88).” Or just unusual, “From within the dog’s barking was redoubled (page 53).” And while cliché is perfectly understandable to most I think it’s the easy way for someone who was considered such an established writer. Perhaps it is still too early in her works for me to recognize her greatness but it still seems I am one of the few who have not developed a taste for her work.

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Topic Links
* Add The Bell to your Library
* My Review of Under the Net
* My Review of Iris, the Movie

This review of Iris Murdoch’s book was first posted on 5/24/2008 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Orange Prize for Fiction

The Orange Prize for Fiction celebrates the literary talent of women authors who produce the best full-length novels in English that are published for the first time in the United Kingdom. This prize is also one of the few prizes to be judged exclusively by women.

This literary award is fairly young having only been formed in 1996. Winners are announced annually in June with a prize award of 30,000 pounds (equivalent to $60,345 US) and a bronze figurine affectionately called “Bessie”. This is one of my favorite awards because it’s for and by women. And even though it is a UK award, the winners are global. Long and short list nominees have come from America, Britain, Australia, and Tahiti; just to give you an idea of the diversity involved.

Choosing the best writer for the award is a three step process. First in March a long list is created and released to the public with approximately twenty potential winners, then in April a short list with six potential winners and in June the final winner is announced at an awards ceremony in the United Kingdom. In 2005 a new award was added, the Orange Award for New Writers, in honor of the Orange Prize’s 10th anniversary. This new award also has its short list announced in April and final winner in June.

Notable previous winners include Andrea Levy (Small Island), Valerie Martin (Property), Ann Patchett (Bel Canto), Carol Shields (Larry’s Party) and Zadie Smith (On Beauty). A complete winners list can be found in the Orange Prize Reading List in the related links below.

Update 2014: Orange is no longer a sponsor of this fiction prize. The new sponsor is Bailey’s. Learn more about the Bailey’s Prize from the official website.

David Gilmour

“I write crap all the time.” ~David Gilmour

That’s the comment that stood out for me when I watched David Gilmour in a interview for a Canadian television series for writers called Writer’s Confessions. For someone as successful as Gilmour to admit he writes crap really takes the pressure off those writers out there struggling to complete their first draft.

Before I knew Gilmour as a writer I knew him for his television commentary and criticism on CBC’s The Journal and his talk show Gilmour on the Arts. He has a familiar and calming voice with a warm and humorous personality attached. He has six novels published and in 2005 he won the Governor General Award for Literature for A Perfect Night to Go to China, a story about how one family is changed forever when a six year child goes missing because of the father’s negligence.

The 58 years young author, who resides in Toronto, Ontario with his wife and children, has an interesting rearing perspective not tried by many parents. His son came to him when he was 15 and explained his strong desire to quit school. And instead of having a battle about the importance of education he told his son he could take a year off as long as he committed to watching three movies a week with him. It seems like a strange method from someone who graduated from of Upper Canada College and the University of Toronto, but the son agreed to it and father and son probably have a better relationship than most parents do with their children at that age. Gilmour’s thinking was that his son was going to do it no matter what he said so he might as well try to encourage some kind of education during that time. It was such an interesting experience for both of them that Gilmour even wrote a book about it, The Film Club.

David Gilmour is just one of the many entertaining and interesting Canadian novelists worth reading.

David Gilmour’s Novels:

Back on Tuesday, 1986
How Boys See Girls, 1991
An Affair with the Moon, 1993
Lost Between Houses, 1999
Sparrow Nights, 2001
A Perfect Night to Go to China, 2005
The Film Club, 2007

This piece was originally posted on 12/16/2007 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Matches Review

My Review

We are soldiers. Soldiers die. Even the most careful, even the bravest, the best. We die.

The book cover for Matches.This is Alan Kaufman’s first novel. His previous publications include a memoir (Jew Boy), a poetry book and a few anthologies. Kaufman admits to being a “binational, Israeli and American.” As an Israeli he did time in the Israeli army or more properly Israel Defence Forces, giving him the experience necessary to draw on for this glimpse into a soldier’s life.

The title, Matches, is a nickname the officers gave the soldiers, “one-strike flames that burned up and died.” It is narrated from the perspective of Nathan Falk. An American Jew, who feels alienated at home in New York, has chosen to fight along his Jewish comrades in the Israeli army. Living on Time cigarettes, French fries and mud coffee he leads two lives, the one he has in Gaza and the one he has in Jerusalem. Were it not for the constant reminders from fellow soldiers that he is a Yankee he’d probably forget.

In Gaza, no one likes the Israeli army or its soldiers. Everyone they come across glares at them with “an undisguised look of hatred.” When he is on leave in Jerusalem he spends his time in bed with another man’s wife, a beautiful red-head named Maya, an artist with psychological problems Nate isn’t equipped to handle. Some of them brought on by his need to control and withhold despite saying “she was all that I care for”.

A View Outside the Usual Propaganda

What I liked about this book was the view it provided outside the usual media propaganda. It looks into the culture of Israel from two perspectives. One, although briefly, from the somewhat safe stronghold of Jerusalem and the other from the frontline of Gaza. It was a difficult read on many levels especially since my reading seemed to coincide with Israel’s recent turmoil but it did help me to understand more about what is going on; although I might not always accept it.

What ruined it for me were the in-depth side stories about a man defecating in the street; a sea of rotting horses, camels and goats; cutting off the ears of a dog and feeding it to him; and the horse that fell on a land mine. By the time I finished it I was just happy it was over. Some may think I’m losing the point of the story but I mention this only for those who would not want to read such content (in detail) which in this instance is more offensive than the rest of the story.

It dates itself with some of the language, like “Jerry Bruckheimer fireball”. There’s no real sense of a conclusion by the end. Nathan is still a soldier; the fighting continues and people keep dying on both sides. Nathan hasn’t learned anything since the beginning of the book; he just keeps on keeping on with no real purpose other than being a soldier.

What I would have liked to have seen is an appendage or two; like a mini weapons diagram to reference the numerous weapons mentioned throughout for those with no frame of reference. A map of the region would also have been helpful.

Matches is not high on my list of recommendations but if you’re curious about the life of one Israel soldier from the perspective of someone who has lived on both sides this may whet your appetite for more. If you have any sensitivity to animals being hurt, skip it.

Purchase Matches from Amazon.com
Purchase Matches from Amazon.ca

This book review was published at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline on 11/17/2006.

The Year the Gypsies Came Review

The Iris family lives in Johannesburg, Africa. Where you can “fall asleep with the faint roar of a lion or the laugh of a hyena coming across the lake.” Their story takes place in the Spring of 1966 and is described through the eyes of the youngest member, twelve-year-old

This review was published on 6/14/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline. The complete review of Linzi Glass’s The Year the Gypsies Came can be read at SquidLit.