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A Review of Jordan Rothacker’s And Wind Will Wash Away
By Nate Ragolia
Like James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon before him, Jordan A. Rothacker takes on the epic novel in his masterful debut, And Wind Will Wash Away (hereafter referred to as AWWWA). AWWWA tells the story of Atlanta Police Detective Jonathan Wind, an observant, intellectual, no-nonsense sleuth cut from the same cloth as Sherlock Holmes and Joe Friday.
In Rothacker’s own words, Jonathan Wind is “A dash of one friend, a dollop of another, fold in some traits from Philip Marlowe, a little zest of Agent Dale Cooper, a pinch of K. from Kafka’s The Castle, two cups of Faust, and then stir and forget all of that as I start to see the new creation congealing out of the mess.” And Wind is all of these ingredients and more, fully-realized and alive.
Set in 2003, we follow Wind after a fight with his girlfriend Monica that leaves him frustrated and seeking the affection of his mistress, Flora. Typical of the noir genre, Wind’s future hinges on the power of the phone call. Two calls set up his coming journey: the first, to his mistress, that ends when another man answers the phone; the second, from his partner, calling him to the scene of a murder where the victim just happens to be that same mistress.
Rothacker ups the ante and the energy, revealing that Flora died mysteriously in a hyper-localized fire. While his partner and the police force disagree, Jonathan Wind suspects foul play. At this point, AWWWA makes a powerful leap from crime noir to postmodern exploration. Rothacker’s adeptness at this switch is impressive. He carefully blends philosophy, myth, and religion into his protagonist’s forward-charging pursuit of the truth behind his lover’s death. What results is a mystery on par with Twin Peaks that embraces spiritualism and madness, blurring the lines between superficial realities and those beneath that we’ve trampled through cycles of colonialism, war, law, and order.
Truly, AWWWA is a unique reading experience. Rothacker imbues his book with Tarantino-like dialogue spoken by deep, lively characters. The setting, Atlanta, Georgia, is a surging, breathing entity, with its twisting spaghetti of roadways tangled up in its own complicated history that is as much Detective Wind’s partner as his home. History, philosophy, and religion are their own characters in AWWWA. Rothacker–who prefaces the novel with his background in Religious Studies–infuses Wind’s twisting mystery with figures from Aztec, Mayan, Catholic, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and other backgrounds. Case interviews result in deep, revelatory conversations that are as instructional as they are entertaining. In short, this novel is deep and rewarding, influenced by the great works that preceded it.
“[Joyce] was my first really profound literary love,” Rothacker said in an interview. “At 17 I was a member of the International James Joyce Foundation. Other than lots of linguistic puns and ‘larding’ the text for my own amusement, what I used from Joyce is that device in Ulysses where every chapter has it’s own theme and governing principle.” Rothacker paces the entire book so one never feels as though they’re waiting in the back row of a comparative religion classroom, watching the clock. Instead, each page commands to be turned, captivating you–and Detective Wind–with Flora’s mysterious death. The result is an engaging story that blends the ordered cleverness of Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe with the worldly, thoughtful interactions of My Dinner With Andre. Readers will pursue Jonathan Wind on his search for real answers amid the degrees of unknowable throughout Atlanta and beyond.
This is a story as much about the case of a dead lover as of secret lives, of dark magic or strange rituals. And Wind Will Wash Away is a story about the self and the shrouded mysteries within. Jordan Rothacker is one of the most masterful writers I have ever read, and this novel is an opportunity to enter into a conversation with him that will surely be longer, grow more personal and complex. Treat yourself by reading And Wind Will Wash Away immediately, and take your own journey toward truth.
Jordan A. Rothacker, And Wind Will Wash Away, Deeds Publishing, 2016: $24.95
Nate Ragolia is the author of the novella, There You Feel Free; creator of the Illiterate Badger and Lark & Robin webcomics; and occasional chatterer on music, film, &c on Medium. He is also editor-in-chief of Boned: a collection of skeletal fiction, poetry, essays, and more.
A Review of Len Joy’s American Past Time
by Jody Hobbs Hesler
Len Joy’s debut novel, American Past Time, is part time capsule and part baseball love affair. The title itself promises this (baseball is considered an America’s pastime, and this novel takes place in America’s past). It hearkens to the American hunger for the major leagues and the good life, spanning twenty years in the lives of the Stonemason family – from the post-war world of 1953 all the way to the summer of 1973.
Readers might expect such a nostalgic look at America to take a too-narrow, Mom-and-apple-pie approach, but Joy avoids this pitfall. What readers get instead is a steady-on account of a gifted ball player, Dancer Stonemason, first as he is poised on the brink of what might be a glorious career in the majors, next as he reckons with the more tortured day-in, day-out existence of a factory job in the 1950s American South, and beyond.
The first section of the book belongs to Dancer. The point of view shifts to his wife, Dede, in the next section, and finally to that of their two sons, Jimmy and Clayton, in the third and final section of the novel. Joy chose a pivotal twenty years to cover in his work. His characters reckon with pressures at the workplace from the Ku Klux Klan, the shocking (especially at the time) discovery of a wife’s lesbian lover, stories of the Civil Rights Movement,= and evidence of the slow changes it brings, a son going off to Vietnam, cancer, and more.
The Stonemasons’ many struggles, failures, and triumphs parallel the challenges and changes of the nation throughout these same times. But we start simply, with Dancer’s pure love of baseball: “He had a hand built for pitching – a pancake-sized palm and long, tapered fingers that hid the ball from the batter for that extra heartbeat” (2).
One bright day in Maple Springs, Missouri – a week before Dancer is scheduled to sub for a major league pitcher and get his chance at the big leagues – his wife and son come to watch him pitch. Everything he loves is in one place. Even the weather cooperates with Dancer’s optimism: “The sky was great-to-be-alive blue” (18).
Before the game, Rolla Rebel team owner, Doc, advises Dancer to go easy on his arm to keep it fresh for next week, and they plan to pull him after a few innings. But as the game promises to become legendary, fellow Rebel and veteran catcher, Billy Pardue, tells him, “You want to stay up in the Bigs, remember this – respect the goddam game. Play every game like it’s your last” (17), echoing Dancer’s own desire to honor his love for the game and continue.
As the innings progress toward what will become Dancer’s one perfect game, the community watching seems to unite in awe of him: “As he walked out to the mound for the seventh inning the crowd was eerily quiet, as if they were afraid the cheering might upset the baseball gods” (20-21).
Afterward, clouds roll into that “great-to-be-alive blue” sky. Doc lets Dancer know he can’t fill in for the major league pitcher anymore because he exhausted his arm, but surely he would get another chance. And Dancer takes heart. “It was a perfect game. No one could take that from him. … No matter what else happened they would always have that game. That moment. And Doc was right. He was young. He’d get another chance” (27). That innocent trust in the future sets up the disappointment and aching nostalgia that follow Dancer, and really all of us, after a peak moment we never know will be the last of its kind.
Dancer’s legendary game buys him a few years of low-level local fame, but we learn soon afterward that “the problem with his arm had developed the spring after the perfect game” (29). Dancer takes a better-paying job, pouring steel at the Caterpillar foundry, and the weight he gains in muscle mass, according to Doc, “might have thrown off his mechanics” (29). Whatever the cause, clearly nothing will be the same for Dancer again.
Soon Dancer is nobody’s hero anymore, and the work is hard and unrelenting. On the job, Dancer faces pressure from the owner’s son to attend Ku Klux Klan meetings. At home, his wife and two sons need more than he seems able to provide. He starts drinking with his best friend, staying out later and later. Everything starts slipping. Eventually, his wife Dede fears, “Things were never going to be normal in Maple Springs. Dancer was broken. … [E]very time she got a little bit ahead, Dancer would end up knocking that rock back down the hill” (199). All evidence seems to doom Dancer to ultimate failure. But sometimes, when second chances happen, they don’t look a thing like what you would expect.
This novel is a paean to the American Dream, not the showy upmarket commercial full-of-promises version, but the sort of dream you gain through trial, error, toil, and endurance. In Len Joy’s American Past Time, Dancer Stonemason rebuilds his dreams against the backdrop of a country doing the same thing.
Len Joy, American Past Time. Hark! New Era Publishing, LLC, 2014: $5.99
Jody Hobbs Hesler lives and writes in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her fiction, feature articles, essays, and book reviews appear or are forthcoming in Steel Toe Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Prime Number, Pearl, Charlottesville Family Magazine, A Short Ride: Remembering Barry Hannah, and others. You can follow her at jodyhobbshesler.com or on her Facebook writer page: Jody Hobbs Hesler – Writer.
from ‘A DANCER’
By Jackie Treiber
And from eternal life found in the eyes came the truth: she was one witch. She was from Atzlan. Of Avar, wore the bridal relic, sat at the heels of mother fire. Mary A. of Massachusetts, little unclear Mary. Celine of Normandy, sick on milk. Joan of Arc. Strega. Lost in the woods in her red shoes. Caught in the rain at the base of a mountain. No survivor of death, survivor of transcendence. Torched, entombed, excised. Acrid climate, cupidity, war, drought. In lieu of an oral lineage, in lieu of explanations, there came the gift of death to her. When death was collective, she was anonymous. When death became individual, she died with little handfuls of dirt on her chest, thrown with purpose and care. Her conclusion was more than physical death now, and her body nothing more than a reed carved to sing its masterful song. This is why she stood resolute—she had known a thousand floods of death. This, out of all of them, was nothing.
Today’s excerpt appears here with permission from the author.
Jackie Treiber writes, reads and edits in Portland, Oregon. She is drawn to conflicted and damaged characters. Dualities such as profane/magical, masculine/feminine and stability/chaos thrill and inspire her. Her poems will be published in an anthology of Kansas City poets in Spring 2015 (UnHoly Day Press). Her most recent work was featured in Smalldoggies Reading Series Chapbook (2011).
Editor’s Note: Today’s excerpt is part of a larger work of fiction, though it stands on its own as a poem, blurring the line between prose and prose poetry. From within its almost choral narration (despite its third person narrative perspective) emerges one woman who is also every woman. She is a witch, a bride, Joan of Arc. She is our collective suffering, our recurring death. And yet her story is epiphanous. Because she has suffered, she knows that she can rise above. She has lived—and died—often enough to know that death is nothing more than metamorphosis.
A Review of Lena Divani’s Seven Lives and One Great Love: Memoirs of a Cat
Translated from the Greek by Konstantinos Matsoukas
By Jennifer Dane Clements
Forget, for a moment, the ubiquitous internet cats. Put aside the grumpy one, the cross-eyed one, the dwarf one with extra toes, the one who slides through empty boxes. Let’s get the hard part out of the way: This is a novel from a cat’s perspective, offered up at a time when cats have gone strangely viral. But unlike so much hipster-cat culture, this work takes itself seriously.
Indeed, Lena Divani’s Seven Lives and One Great Love: Memoirs of a Cat (translated by Konstantinos Matsoukas)—smart, earnest, and not without a healthy dollop of whimsy—comes closer to anthrozoology than anything to do with a cheezburger.
Welcome to a world in which humans are given names like Madam Sweetie or The Damsel, and our protagonist—a stark white stray on the last of his lives—is called Zach. Cultured and articulate enough to merit entry into the feline intelligentsia, Zach leads the reader through his consciousness with the cadence and tone of a Liam Neeson or Jude Law, something deep, whisky-stained, and British. Perceptive, literate, and not so subtly arrogant, our narrator understands from the moment he’s born into a feral cat colony that he’s destined for greatness, and in his first breath decries his mother and his siblings as lesser-than.
Zach sees himself as a muse in the making, seeking to position himself as the newest entry into the canon of cat/writer relations: “According to all credible sources, all writers, great and small, talented and mediocre, have been good friends to us. Edgar Allan Poe, Colette, Balzac, Patricia Highsmith, Emmanuel Roides, even the demented Philip K. Dick, they all drew inspiration from us.” His literary aspirations lead Zach to accompany two well-to-do writers in their Athens flat, where he attempts to edge his way into their hearts and writings.
But humans are a challenging breed: We overcomplicate, we go against nature, we don’t open ourselves to others. “Your delusion that you are masters of this universe has become plain ridiculous, already,” Zach tells us. “You have made your life unlivable. You’ve become suspicious. You are scared to touch humans in case they bite your arm off. You are friendless. And thus, you have need of us. Whereas we once approached you for food, you now beg us for some sustenance for your deprived soul.”
Yet Zach has mythologized these complexities in such a way that he wants nothing more than to earn human love. He indicts mankind in one breath, then romanticises his particular human in the next.
And therein lies the heart of Seven Lives: That to love is to observe, often without understanding. To let those observations not interfere with affection but to strengthen it, to challenge its simplicity, to acknowledge imperfections as a part of the adored. That perhaps those we love most are always a foreign species, in one way or another, subject to study and examination through the curious act of loving.
The cat’s love in Seven Lives is pure and fearless, but never uninformed. We readers could take from this a lesson or two: how the smallest of encounters can mark others in profound ways; how we may judge in abstractions and love in specifics. In its quirky, unapologetic way, Divani’s novel is a lesson in considering the needs, the wants, and the perspectives of those utterly unlike ourselves, and how that consideration makes us yet more capable of empathy, more capable of becoming increasingly attuned to our own experience. And ultimately—if we may say so without insult to our feline friends—more human.
Lena Divani, Seven Lives and One Great Love: Memoirs of a Cat. Europa Editions, 2014: $15.95.
Jennifer Dane Clements received her MFA in creative writing from George Mason University, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of So to Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language & Art. A writer of prose and plays, she has been published in WordRiot, Nerve, and Psychopomp and has had plays produced by Capital Repertory Theatre (Albany, NY), Creative Cauldron (Falls Church, VA), and elsewhere. Clements currently serves as a prose editor for ink&coda. More at jennifer-dane-clements.com.
A Review of Brenda Hasiuk’s Your Constant Star
by Will J Fawley
Brenda Hasiuk’s YA novel, Your Constant Star, opens the first of its three sections by introducing readers to Faye. Adopted from China by a Polish mother and a Scottish father, Faye is “pretty much happy ho-hum.” Still, she possesses a lingering feeling of displacement in light of being adopted, especially in regard to the frequency and state of child abandonment in China. Faye provides many lovely cultural details throughout her narration, such as the Chinese story of lovers being connected, however far apart they may be, by a red string. These details make Faye a believable and compelling character.
Next readers meet Bev, Faye’s self-proclaimed sort-of friend. Bev is pregnant and has decided to give her child up for adoption. She has recently returned to Winnipeg after living in Vancouver for many years, and is reconnecting with her childhood and with Faye. Much of the novel’s second section follows Bev in her attempts to choose the right adoptive parents for her baby, with Faye tagging along for the ride.
The third section is dedicated to Mannie, the father of Bev’s baby. He seems completely lost, though readers learn that he has given up carjacking and dealing to make pizzas in order to earn legitimate money that will help support his future baby. Bev doesn’t want him to know who the adoptive parents are, and part of Mannie’s quest concerns his efforts to contact Faye and learn of the whereabouts of his son after the adoption takes place.
There is a gravitas about the book that is still with me. I enjoyed the first two sections, but the third was a bittersweet sucker-punch that made it all meaningful and terrible and beautiful. We are left with the idea that “what’s most beautiful and what’s most brutal are just two halves of the same whole.”
Overall, this is a book caught in liminal spaces – between beautiful and brutal, between cultures, between times, and between genres.
As for the cultural divide, there is a clear focus on globalization. It seems like no two characters in the novel have the same background. They are Chinese, Polish, Scottish, Métis, Russian, Argentinean, Pilipino, and they are all, with one exception, Canadian. Characters are constantly being whisked around the country and around the world to China and Russia, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver. Still, this is a very Canadian novel, a very Winnipeg novel. It is a novel about Canada and how the country, and Winnipeg itself, is a melting pot of cultures from around the world.
This is also a novel that spans not only distance, but also time. It is full of flashbacks and daydreams. Present events always seem to be fuelled by memories. Hasiuk weaves a web of time that pulls the reader through these characters’ lives, giving us an intimate look at their complexities. The flashbacks are so many and so smooth that the present becomes a bridge between memories, the reader scarcely realizing they’ve crossed it until they are on the other side, looking back. Though this could be confusing or slow the pacing, Hasiuk handles these instances beautifully, successfully adding layer upon layer of depth to these characters and their histories.
And as for the genre divide, Kirkus Reviews published a piece in which the book’s YA classification was questioned, because so much depends upon the teenagers’ parents and situation in life, leaving them little room to act. And while these characters may be affected by the past, they feel liking living, breathing teens in the present. Certainly it’s important to remember that people are a culmination of their pasts and their families, and therefore what Brenda Hasiuk provides in Your Constant Star is an honest look at young people’s lives.
The novel reads very clearly as one for young adults, a book about the struggle of young people finding their place in a complicated, globalized world in which they have been displaced since birth. Each character is halved by culture, by distance, by borders, and is searching for their true self at the other end of the red string.
Brenda Hasiuk, Your Constant Star. Orca Book Publishers, 2014: $12.95
Will J Fawley is a writer and blogger living in Canada. He blogs at The Wildest Edge.
A Review of Patrick Lawler’s Rescuers of Skydivers Search Among the Clouds
by Jennifer Dane Clements
Not long ago I saw a photo collection: Two brothers who took one picture every year in the same month, the same pose. They did this for decades, their entire lives distilled in these portraits. In 1994 they wear matching sweaters. In 2001 they look unkempt. Each photograph asks the onlooker to imagine what happened between each set of images–why did he lose weight, why wasn’t he smiling more. The positioning grows expected, even stale: older brother here, younger brother here, chair, table, lamp. Except, as we grow closer to the now, we see the paint has started to chip on the wall, and the lampshade was replaced, and somewhere, somehow, two young boys grew into men.
The framework remains unchanged, the details shift in the smallest of ways. But the overall effect creates nostalgia for suggested things, unseen things, palpable just beneath the surface.
It’s a difficult thing to accomplish, and it’s what Patrick Lawler’s first novel, Rescuers of Skydivers Search Among the Clouds, spends its pages exploring: The spaces between and underneath. The economy of storytelling. The onus on the viewer to participate in unpacking questions, and meanings, and movements.
Composed in a series of tightly wrought chapters–some a mere three sentences long–the story follows a young narrator and his family, in a small, anonymous town, with small, anonymous descriptors. They seem to both live in and hover over the landscape. The important things are named and renamed, redefined as they change–or as the narrator’s perspective on them changes. Those named things become the notable landmarks of the novel, their evolution or transformation or renaming emblematic of the narrator’s own journey and perspective on those around him.
Lawler says it explicitly: “Our stories repeat themselves endlessly around us–ultimately revising who we are every time.”
It feels at once like reading the same chapter over and over again with certain words replaced, but this heightens the effect of those changed words and phrases. The same photograph, with things just a little older, a little changed. We begin in “the year they named the streets after the elements,” moves into “the year my parents began speaking in a strange language” and “the year we practiced for emergencies.” By the end, the repeated frameworks have become as nostalgic as old photos — in them, we see the history of all the shifts the narrator and the reader have together experienced. And in the rare deviations, we see the narrator looking beyond, departing: “‘This is where we are,’ he said, but his mouth was filled with uncertainty.”
The reader is forced to consider her own story in patterns and revisions, in names and malleable perspectives. I consider my own: The year that smelled of pool water and talcum powder. The year our neighbor’s daughter asked Santa for a penis. The year I drove in circles hoping to get lost, and failing. How best to crystallize time and experience in ways that approximate truth.
Rescuers of Skydivers Search Among the Clouds is a poet’s fiction, but it’s an artist’s fiction too—because the brevity and economy of language makes the act of reading this novel something beyond reading, because the entire work seems to meditate on how we live in words, how we cohabitate with them in our daily routines and use them as mile-markers for landscapes past. How eventually, we become symbols of the lives we live, and how the uncertainty of detail grants us room to explore.
Patrick Lawler, Rescuers of Skydivers Search Among the Clouds. University of Alabama Press, 2012: $15.95.
Jennifer Dane Clements received her MFA in creative writing from George Mason University, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of So to Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language & Art. She has been published in WordRiot and Nerve and her plays have been produced by Capital Repertory Theatre (Albany, NY), Creative Cauldron (Falls Church, VA), and others. Recipient of the John P. Anderson Award for Playwrights in 2004 and of a 2006 Fulbright fellowship to the Slovak Republic to teach English at the University of Constantine the Philosopher, Clements currently works at a theatre-service organization and serves as a prose editor for ink&coda. She lives with her husband in Washington, DC.