Archive for October, 2014

October 26, 2014

Anne’s Mother and Mine

I’m currently reading Anne Lamott’s collection of short personal essays entitled Traveling Mercies and I’ve just finished the essay Mom. Lamott is a talented writer and she has a particular talent for evoking my empathy. Her essays are short enough where it is easy to read a number at once, which is to the reader’s detriment. It is too easy to breeze through multiple essays without taking a break to digest each on its own merits. And there are a lot of merits to digest.

But Mom might be might my favorite so far. It’s certainly the first which has caused me to cease reading and immediately start writing. And there were a number of times when I almost stopped in the middle to beginning writing. Mom is an essay on forgiveness, an essay on her mother’s capacity to forgive. But, as is Lamott’s style, she recognizes her mother’s capacity to forgive only when she recognizes how much she needs her mother’s forgiveness.

This makes me think of how much I need forgiveness. Not from God. I’m quite often conscious of how much I am in need of God’s forgiveness. I like to think I’m also very aware of how much I need the forgiveness of others. But I know I’m not. Which of course means that I’m not really conscious of the degree to which I need God’s forgiveness. And in reading Lamott I was tempted to put the book down and write an open letter begging for everyone’s forgiveness, which I deserve not, but for which I am desperate. I have real sins and persistent failures.

But I continued reading Mom. Lamott and I have very different family and personal histories which should be no surprise; she is a sixty year old woman and I am twenty-six year old man. And while she was writing mainly on forgiveness and some tragedies and victories in her family, she also wrote just about her mommy. About her mommy who was aging before her eyes.

I have thought about this before, but only as a hypothetical, like the way most contemplate the apocalypse. I have every ounce of irrational confidence that I am invincible, that I cannot be permanently broken or beaten, that I will not die or deteriorate. And whether this stems from or is transposed upon my father, I am unsure. But please rest assured, outside of the torn ACL he suffered when I was 3 and he was 27, my father is also invincible, despite his greys. And my mother, whether by her own deification, or by marriage to my father, or by giving birth to me, is also immortal, and this is only augmented by the silver strands dispersed through her dark brown hair, framing her youthful face.

This invincibility extends past me and past parents all the way to my grandparents. My mother’s story is akin to that of a Marvel character. The youngest daughter of a widow, she was raised as the almost-only child of a migratory single mother. This single mother, my grandmother, has at this narrative point refused all of death’s advances. I don’t know how many heart attacks my maternal grandmother has refuted, but it is nigh legendary. She is a wisp, the frailest feather, and she simply does not die.

My father’s parents are not a frailty that refuses to die; their vitality berates death and it flees before them. They are as I’ve always remembered them. My bald, russet-nosed, intellectual grandfather sporting suspenders; an army man born and raised in Brooklyn. When he’s in the mood, he chases his smallest grandchildren about the house. When he’s not in the mood, he barks at them to keep out from under his feet. He is half deaf, but this does nothing to diminish his esteem or authority.

My grandmother is an ageless queen, tall and commanding. My grandfather is the voice of authority, but he answers to her.  Until recently, when her joints said no mas, she played tennis with her children and grandchildren. In her 60s, her doctor told her she had the bones of a 22 year old. She has been on the mastheads of various organizations and her multiple “retirements” have not lasted. She is both staunchly Pro-Life and staunchly Pro-Women and is cowed by none.

My parents and grandparents are five invincible, immortal, Ionic pillars, but they whisper to me of their cracks. They tell me of the heart arrhythmia, of the chronic cough, of the sciatica, of the insomnia. These are myths, stories of weakness told only to enhance their feats of strength, brightening their vitality by contrast. Despite the myths of deterioration, they remain invincible until proven.

Lamott likely had the same perceptions of her parents twenty five years before she wrote Mom, that they were minor deities and by birthright, so was she. But then she lived another twenty five years. And so did her parents. I cannot acknowledge that the next forty years will bring any mortality to the Schlossberg lineage; I cannot. But one day I might find myself, like Lamott, with my siblings at varying levels of adulthood, walking along a beach, a forest path, a country meadow, or a city street with a queenly, silver haired woman leaning on the crook of my arm.

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October 5, 2014

Should you read it? A Consumer’s Guide to the Bookshelves: The Resurrection of Rey Pescador

Should you read it? A Consumer’s Guide to the Bookshelves: The Resurrection of Rey Pescador, the debut novel from Chicago author Alfred Cedeno. (Yes, I confess; what follows is a blatant mimicry of Mark Lisanti’s regular pieces on Grantland.)

Q: Do you like books?

A: This is a silly question. If you don’t like books, you probably won’t read one, in particular this one. You should probably go home and reexamine your life.

If you do like books, you should enjoy this one. Cedeno offers solid writing without being self-indulgent and florid. His story pays homage to the Homeric classics and the Romantic character of Rey Pescador hearkens to Pablo Neruda, albeit with a hip-hop twist. The text is rife with references to Cedeno’s literary education which you’re likely to notice.

Read it.

Q: Is dense nonfiction your literary style?

A: Meh, don’t read it.

Q: Do you only read Harlequin-esque romances?

A: As much as Rey Pescador makes everyone swoon, this is probably not your type of book.

Q: Was that gratuitous comparison of Rey’s character to Neruda a stretch at best and completely erroneous at worst?

A: Probably, but you should still read it.

Q: Is the pursuit of Beauty your life’s overwhelming goal?

A: If Beauty is not your life’s passion, you might have some trouble identifying with the titular character. However, just because you can’t identify with Rey’s struggles does not mean you won’t find him entertaining.

Beauty is Rey’s omniscient desire. He is The Poet with the penultimate beating human heart in a world of robotic cardiovascular systems. He relentlessly pursues the allure of his muse and her promise of beauty. He translates her Beauty for the world’s populace of robotic fools. His human heart craves adrenaline and he supplies it with hair-raising feats and foolhardy attempts at such feats.

A quick note on Beauty. From a production standpoint, this is a beautiful book. The gorgeous cover illustration and design are perfectly complemented by the soft-touch matte laminate.

Read it.

Q: What about your pursuit of Truth?

A: If you don’t see Rey Pescador in yourself, if you’re more of a fan of truth, then David Rosario, Rey’s cousin and the book’s narrator, might be more your style. Ever the intellectual critic, he sits, observes, and renders verdicts on his cousin’s exploits, all the while envying the glamour those exploits garner. With hindsight’s perspective, he narrates Rey’s holy and profane expeditions to his long time crush, Rebecca. As Rey strives to be a living legend, David writes scathing dissertations and manuscripts against the very artificial hearts that keep him, and the world’s general populace, alive. He is committed to telling the truth behind Rey and the human heart, despite threats from their nemesis, benefactor, and employer, Sid Cutler.

Read it.

Q: Do you enjoy unique narrative structures and devices?

A: Well, I hope at the very least you can appreciate them. Cedeno structures the book as a long letter from Rosario to Rebecca. Because the reader is privy to a private exchange, certain expository points are only alluded to as Rosario’s intended audience would have the necessary background. The letter format allows Cedeno to use more conversational language than would often be preferred in a literary novel. It is still an unusual style, for the entire novel to be a single retrospective letter, and there are occasions where Cedeno wrestles with the confines he has constructed. Despite the challenges of the style, the book itself is successful.

Read it.

Q: Do you like Doctor Who?

A: If you don’t, you should find someone you can trust who does and ask for an introduction to the show. I can’t suggest going at it alone because the first season from 2005 is hard to get into. But power through; it’s worth it.

If you do enjoy the Doctor, this book is right up your alley. Cedeno’s affinity for the show is evident in a number of the story’s features, from alternative Earths, jumbled timelines, artificial organs, larger-than-life characters, robotic ethics, prophets, and more. Like the famed BBC television show, Cedeno sets up black and white, good and evil, and then proceeds to toy with your expectations.

In one of my favorite and very Who-esque lines, buried late in the book, Rosario delivers a lengthy commentary on robotics and artificial hearts and casually mentions that the programming language is not binary code or any other typical computer language, but classical Latin.

Read it.

Q: Do you like your fiction to generate serious introspection through light-hearted means?

A: If so, this is certainly a book you’d enjoy. Cedeno employs science fiction and ridiculous characters, such as a blinged out monkey named Carl, in his exploration of forgiveness and redemption.

Read it.

Q: Are you a human?

A: You should read it.

Q: Are you a robot?

A: You should definitely read it.

To purchase The Resurrection of Rey Pescador online, you can click here. I personally think you should find your local independent bookstore and purchase the book there. It will help if you give them the ISBN 9780990353829. You should certainly not purchase from Amazon.

The Resurrection of Rey Pescador

To comply with new guidelines introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, I mention as part of every web or Amazon review that the author provided me with a complimentary copy of this book or ARC.