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.

The Nathaniel Hawthorne Audio Collection

“Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

My Review

“Solitude was his natural element,” says Paul Auster (author) in the one hour introduction Hawthorne at Home that gives tribute to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing life as well as a glimpse into his family and friendship with Herman Melville.

Portrait of Nathanial Hawthorne in my book review.The emphasis though is not on the writer of The Scarlet Letter or The House of the Seven Gables but on the more personal side witnessed within his journals.

This Hawthorne collection features journal writings titled Twenty Days with Julian and Little Bunny, by Papa and three short stories: Young Goodman Brown, The Minister’s Black Veil and Rappaccini”s Daughter.

Worthy of your Listening Time

Auster’s voice is relaxed, honest and comfortable to listen to as he continues with Twenty Days reading Hawthorne’s “account of a man taking care of his child by himself”. Hawthorne wrote about his interactions and observations of his five year old son Julian during a three week period in 1851 while his wife and daughter were away visiting. Auster says the notebook was for Hawthorne’s wife Sophia so she could read about what they did while she was away.

A portion of Twenty Days was first published in another volume of Hawthorne’s work but it never appeared in its entirety. According to Auster, Hawthorne has accomplished what every parent wishes, “to keep his child alive forever”.

Hawthorne’s reflections are almost reminiscent of Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom. They are light, loving and believable. In-depth descriptions of their activities, meetings, power struggles, walks and meals have a familiar quality to them.

Children in the mid 1800′s are quite similar with children of today. Julian, whom Papa affectionately refers to as Little man, is a bundle of energy until the full stop occurs. He is inquisitive with endless questions for his daddy. Within a few days we see Hawthorne already showing shortness of patience with Julian but is quickly renewed with a new day. Other notable similarities arise like when he and Julian were having a fine day with themselves and uninvited guests appeared. There was no food to provide and they hadn’t the time to tidy. Hawthorn termed the visitors, “invaders” and wished for his wife’s presence to do the entertaining. They were also not without their own routines. He was to bed by 9 and usually up by 6 and liked to look “over the paper before bed”. The similarities between then and now are amusing.

His journal is full of scenic descriptions, character studies and lessons to Julian. Bits of Hawthorne’s personality bleed into the diary. Like his penchant for paranoia shown by his need to deliver a letter to the post himself. He wrote a letter to Phoebe (nickname for his wife Sophia) and handed it over to a visitor who was also going to post. He later “regretted it” and promised to post another himself because there was no guarantee whether it would be posted. Hawthorne’s love of nature is also apparent in his recurring descriptions of their daily walks.

Following Hawthorne’s diary entries are three strange, dark stories narrated by James Naughton (actor). I was left wondering why they were compiled with the light cheery reflections of Hawthorne’s journal. The transition from one reader to another was also unnerving and awkward.

The first story, Young Goodman Brown begins with a young married man (Goodman Brown) saying goodbye to his new bride Faith despite her begging him not to go. At the beginning of his journey he meets up with a strange man and they walk along a wilderness path (something Nathanial did daily according to Twenty Days). The path seems to be a metaphor for evil. The old man talks about knowing Goodman’s father and grandfather and his relationship to the other villagers. There are a few play on words like his wife’s name is Faith and at one point he screams, “I have lost my Faith!” having obvious double meaning. If it’s yet not obvious to you what this story is about it is because it wasn’t clear to me either but I gather it has something to do with one man’s struggle with his conscious good and evil both real and imagined.

The second story, The Minister’s Black Veil is also full of metaphors. Again we see the involvement of the townspeople in this story that’s supposed to be “a parody”. One day Mr Hopper, a minister, walks about town with a black veil covering his eyes but his mouth and chin remain exposed. All want to know “the mystery concealed behind it”. The town folk are upset by this change in their friendly minister who even wears the veil during his service causing the folks to read more into his sermon than usual. A man they’ve known well has suddenly become a man they feel they don’t know at all. During the story he attends a funeral, church service and wedding. It’s an interesting moral tale.

The final story, Rappaccini’s Daughter is equally as dark. A bored young, Italian writer named Giovanni becomes distracted by a luscious garden and fountain outside the window of the room he rents and most importantly the daughter of the plants’ caretaker, Beatrice. This is a strange tale about a girl raised in seclusion by her scientist father among poisonous plants and who has become a poison herself. Slow to start but has a twisted unsuspecting outcome.

I thoroughly enjoyed Hawthorne’s Twenty Day’s Diary and was slow to warm up to the short stories mostly because I was expecting them to have the same flair as the journal. Both create different moods but are worthy of your listening time.

This review was originally published on Linear Reflections in 2005.

July 2004

This month:

July 2003

This month:

  • I attended Ottawa Bluesfest. Reviewed Stacey Earle and Belushi/Aykroyd concerts for Linear Reflections. The image of Dan Aykroyd at right was really the only one that turned out but the concert rocked!
  • Here are a few images of the Stacey Earle in concert.

April 2003

This month:

  • I have joined Linear Reflections staff as a Reviewer.
  • Still awaiting results of Sol Magazine’s 2003 Poet Laureate. Fingers are crossed.
  • I had an article published in the Belleville Intelligencer about a Workshop I attended with writer Rosemary Aubert.