Red Sky in Morning

17333295Red Sky in Morning
Written by Paul Lynch
Published by Little, Brown, 2013
Reviewed by Sam Moore

Early in this novel, the author sets the tone with a perfectly worded phrase: “He looked towards the sky and the sun coffined in cloud and saw it was tense with rain and he called his dog but there was no sight nor sound of it.” That one thought sums up Red Sky in Morning to a tee. It is the story of Coll Coyle, an Irishman, who, through an impulsive act, is forced to flee Ireland for America. Hot on his trail is John Faller, a man bent on revenge, who doesn’t care who he has to hurt or kill to catch his prey.

This novel is beautifully written. The prose is poetic in its depiction of the world in which Coll and Faller live. Lynch paints word pictures that stab you in the heart and cut right to the quick of human expression and feeling. His style is reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy. As I mentioned above, that line describes the novel in its entirety. The characters live within a coffin. They are always looking upward, toward the sun, toward happier times, toward a good life, but the tense rain clouds, the tension of their dreary, painful existences, are in the way. They call for companionship, for friendship, for someone to traverse their dark, rain soaked world with, but no one answers their call. They live lives of loneliness, depression, hunger, pain, and hopelessness. Lynch is a master at evoking these concepts and feelings.

However, the beauty of Lynch’s language is where the greatness of this novel stops. The story itself, of a hunter and the hunted, is shallow. Coll, in a sudden fit of rage, kills his landlord and runs. Faller, the landlord’s father-figure, gives chase. That’s the plot’s core, and Lynch does little to veer from that core. His characters – from Coll and Faller to Faller’s companions to the people Coll meets on his escape – are written exactly the same. They are flat, two dimensional characters who come across as caricatures of reality. Paul Lynch, the author is Irish, and all of his Irish male characters are drunkards, thieves, poor white trash with volcanic tempers. All of his Irish female characters are meek, subservient women who have no value except to care for the family. When they finally arrive in America, Lynch’s American characters are just as one-sided: the men are either deeply Christian or bigoted animals. The women are either prostitutes, silent family raisers, or uppity city-folk. There is little variation in the temperament, the concept, or the realization of any of his characters. Even the landscape is caricatured. Ireland is portrayed as a rotting marsh of gray skies and rain, a desolate place full of rivers, rocks, and forests. On the other side of the spectrum is America, the land of sunshine, heat, lush fields of crops, and opportunity. It’s as though Lynch deliberately wanted to show the differences in Ireland and America, but the only way he could think of to do it was by flip-flopping the environment.

Perhaps this is an Irish “western” along the lines of Louis L’amour. However, the problem there is that in American westerns, at least one of the main players is sympathetic – either the hunter or the hunted is the “good guy”. We have neither, here. Coll is a murderer fleeing from justice. He is non-repentant over his killing of Hamilton. All he is concerned with is getting back to his family. He is not a likable character. He’s the quintessential hunted man, running through a dismal, depressing environment, always furtive, always untrusting-yet-trusting, aimless. He has no plan, doesn’t know half the time where he is or what’s going on. Likewise, Faller. The hunter is single minded about his pursuit of Coll. He’s the quintessential hunter. He has no motivations, no weaknesses, no humanity. We don’t even know why he’s chasing Coll for certain. Is it simply revenge, or does he feel it’s justice? Faller comes across as a villain-type that has become the rage today – he’s the philosophical killer, made most famous in the movies of Quentin Tarantino. Faller has infinitely deep philosophical ideas about life that he always tends to preach just before he kills someone. He leaves a swath of death in his wake, killing for pleasure. It’s difficult to feel sympathy for either of these two.

Add to these poorly created characters an ending that’s hurried, confusing, and less than satisfying, and you’ve got a novel that, essentially, uses a beautiful vocabulary to describe absolutely nothing.

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The Maid’s Version

Woodrell_MaidsVersion.JPGThe Maid’s Version
by Daniel Woodrell
Little Brown

Reviewed by Will Mallon

If Daniel Woodrell’s name is new to you, think Winter’s Bone.  If you don’t know Winter’s Bone, well, you should read it right now.  Woodrell’s ‘The Maid’s Version’ is more a novella.  With each turn of the page his writing effortlessly becomes an oral history with the creation of deep, rich and interesting characters.

The story in ‘The Maid’s Version’ unfolds in a small, 1929 depression era town of West Table, Missouri.  The town is rocked by a late night dance hall explosion.  Alma, an elderly maid, recounts the explosion changed her life, the town and its inhabitants forever.  Was the fire an accident? Was it deliberate?  Was there a cover up?

As Wodrell’s prose shifts from narrative to whodunit, there is a warmth in his writing that few writers can achieve.  The story never feels forced and feels more like a story that has been told generation after generation. Each generation making the story more succinct, more compelling and more entrenched in the history of West Table.

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Pinol : Poems by Sayra Pinto

pinolPinol: Poems
by Sayra Pinto
Shabda Press

Reviewed by David Giver

Everyone of us, no matter if we believe in it still or not, grew up with a creation myth.  These myths were made such a big part of our lives that for a long time, if not still, they were a known truth.  A truth that could not easily be lost.

Sayra creates, with her poems, her own creation myth, and like the creation myths we know, some of the details are borrowed from a shared past, while others are the creation of a life that can be said to be lived, to this point, in full.  It would be easy to read this as a myth and nothing more, but Sayra adds voices from the present to her past, and this juxtaposition of new and old brings a vitality to the ancient and a credibility to the present.  This is no easy task, but one that the poet does not shy away from.

Sayra speaks of a past and present that most would not allow to see the light of day.  It is shown in its fullness, not judging it as right or wrong, as good or bad, but as a truth that makes her, that explains her.  So many of us live a partial life, hiding from ourselves and others those things that are not pretty.  Sayra shows us a full life and the beauty that such a life can bring; it is triumph over a not so pristine past and a recognition that the future is what we make of it, not what others expect it to be for us.

Pinol is a welcome addition to this world so in need of truth.  Maybe this little piece of truth can build within each person that reads it, and with that build a revolution of truth that will do nothing more than change this world in which we live.  We are a community of beings that have grown further and further apart, and that separation leads not to good ends…

Pinol: Poems is available at:  Barnes and Noble or  Powells.

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Domestication Handbook

Domestication Handbook by Kristen Stone
Rouge Factorial
88 pages

Reviewed by David Giver

More than a memoir…

Our everyday lives are filled with stories and memories that most of us never look very deep into for meaning, for joy, but Kristen Stone seems to run full force into her own experiences, experiences that most of us would shy away from. Not only does the poet run toward these memories, these experiences, she is able to find the beauty in the experience, and give it to us in a way that makes it feel as though it were our own, if only we were brave enough.

These experiences are not foreign to us, not off limits to us; they are the experiences that make up the examined life. Judgment is not passed. Experience is explored in a way that is organic and leaves judgment to the one that is now experiencing it. Love is tender, exciting, secret, and authoritative, as are the shared experiences of life, both animal and vegetation, both fragile, both beautiful. Even the experiences that we wince at, or the ones that we never want to end, still make us who we are, and leave an indelible mark on us that make the experiences ever the more important.

Language is used here in a way that is honest and true, and never is it used to hide the ugliness of life or experience. That being said, it is used in a way that can only be referred to as art, a palpable portrait of a life that is now examined and shared. Sure, the words speak of duck eggs, the odorous work of burning out horn buds, suburban life, and the masking of old age, but all of those experiences are brought together to show that life, in all of its moments, builds a rather unique, yet shared, existence for all of us. And that uniqueness is predicated on not knowing where the experiences of our lives will take us, but finally coming to the realization that trust in all that happens to us brings us closer to beauty, to life.

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Office Girl – A Novel by Joe Meno

ImageOffice Girl by Joe Meno
Akashic Books
$15.95; 293 pages

Reviewed by David Giver

Ninety days of winter.  Ninety days of snow.  Ninety days of discovery.  And four days of love.

Jack on a downward trajectory, and Odile moving in much the same direction, share a few moments at where those two lines meet.  And it is because of their chance meeting that those trajectories, those trajectories of their respective existences, are forever changed.

These two messy lives come together in mathematical proof that two negatives do make a positive, if even for just a short time.  Meno shows lives that are mired in pain and self-loathing, yet you can see yourself, and for that matter your own life, in one, if not both, of these characters and their stories.  They want for meaning, but they have an obvious uncertainty of how, at all, to obtain it.  Knowing what they want, what they need, but also being unwilling to mouth the simple words that would free them.

Office Girl is a book of life, both the messy and not so messy aspects that make a person who they are.  And like the author only knows so well, Hollywood will one day adapt this story and give these lovers a more perfect or desired ending, but would the story be as real if the realities of it were altered?  I am afraid it would not.  Life is series of sometimes unfortunate events like divorce, adultery, medical disasters, lost dreams, and the fortunate happening that hope for a better future can still live amongst that weight, if one can just start over, a new.

This is a book of hope dressed up in a parka and gloves, in the hope that the winter of one’s life (suffering) can be traversed, and a spring of new beginnings found.  Office Girl is an amazing read that leaves you worrying not about your own future, but of the future of characters that are known to be the creations of fiction, because it may just give hope to the rest of us, and our own messy lives.

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The Moon Moth

The Moon Moth
Adapted by Humayoun Ibrahim from the short story by Jack Vance
Published by First Second
Reviewed by Sam Moore, Graphic Novel/Fiction Editor

What mask are you wearing today?
“What mask?” I hear you asking.

Come on. You know what mask I’m talking about. The one you wear out in public, the one you wear when you’re hanging out with your friends, the one you put on when family comes over for the holidays, the one you wear at work. That mask.

We all wear masks. Rarely do we allow the world to see our true faces. Why we do this is way too complicated and psychological to get into here, but there’s no reason we can’t, as individuals, dwell on our own reasons for wearing our own masks. To help us do just that is The Moon Moth (I bet you were wondering when I’d get to the book. Well, here it is.). Adapted into graphic novel form by Humayoun Ibrahim from the short story by sci-fi author, Jack Vance, The Moon Moth is an examination of masks and the power that they hold over us

The story itself is quite simple: Edwer Thissell is sent as an ambassador from the Home Planets to the planet of Sirene. While serving in that capacity, he is instructed by his government to apprehend a criminal who has escaped to Sirene. Like I said, simple.

The details, however, are anything but. It seems that on Sirene, everyone is required to wear a mask. What mask is up to the individual; however, the mask chosen must represent the person’s place in society, his honor and prestige, and there are different masks worn for different occasions. To an off-worlder, the nuances of this social standard are incomprehensible. To wear a mask above your station is considered an insult, and there is really no way for Edwer Thissel to know for certain which mask is suitable for that station, and, to make matters worse for poor Edwer, no one on Sirene speaks. They communicate through an even more-complicated-than-the-masks system of musical instruments, the misuse of which can easily lead to insult to the listener and death to the offender. Edwer Thissell definitely has his work cut out for him.

That is the gist of Jack Vance’s original short story, which first appeared in the August 1961 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. Now, 51 years later, The Moon Moth is coming back to life in a graphic novel adapted by Humayoun Ibrahim.

Unlike most graphic adaptations, Ibrahim’s version is extremely faithful to Vance’s story. Dialogue in the short story becomes a word balloon in the graphic novel. Sentences are not revised; words are not changed. That’s refreshing in and of itself, but the true wonder of Ibrahim’s adaptation is the artwork. His illustrations capture Vance’s work. Ibrahim’s masks are vibrant and distinct; you can tell just by looking that one person holds higher honor than another. The drawings are simple and sparse, but the colors are vivid and contribute to the overall depth of the story.

Even though he sticks to Vance’s version, Ibrahim is able to put his own stamp on the work. We see Edwer Thissell’s face only at the beginning and at the end of the graphic novel. Anytime it is shown otherwise, it is obscured. Edwer Thissell, coming from a maskless world, has become so used to wearing the mask given him by society, he cannot bear to be without that mask. Ibrahim manages to show us Thissell’s discomfort and conformity. This is the startling truth: we enter this world without a mask, but society, over the years, forces us to create and don many different masks until we can no longer bear to be without those masks, nor can we even remember what life was like without our masks. Our existences have become dependent on masks.

But Ibrahim and Vance have given us hope. Through The Moon Moth, they have shown that, while we are dominated by the masks of society, we can learn to use that domination to our benefit. We have two choices: we can conform to fit under a mask that society has chosen for us, or we can force the mask to conform to us. Edwer Thissell shows, through his actions, that he has chosen to force the mask to conform to him. He has used the domination of the mask to defeat the very society that forced that domination.

So, again, I ask you. What mask are you wearing today? Do you become your mask, or does your mask become you?

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“Just because they’re millions of years old doesn’t mean they ever learned to behave…”

Revenge of the Dinotrux
Written and illustrated by Chris Gall
Published by Little, Brown and Company

Reviewed by Sam Moore, Graphic Novel/Fiction Editor, and Erin, Sam’s daughter

“Just because they’re millions of years old doesn’t mean they ever learned to behave…”

When I was asked to do this review, I got all excited. It may mean I’m nothing more than a big kid, but a book about giant truck dinosaurs is right up my alley. I waited and waited with baited breath for our mailman to deposit the package in the mailbox. Finally, after days and days and days of waiting (actually, I only had to wait, like, two days), it arrived. Man, I was not disappointed.

Revenge of the Dinotrux by Chris Gall is a great little book. The illustrations are fun, with bold, sweeping colors. His pictures have a grainyness to them, like they were colored with pastels or crayons, and it’s an effect that I’m a huge fan of. Gall’s imagination is in full swing as he combines modern trucks with dinosaurs; there’s the Garbageadon, the Cementosaurus, and the Velocitractors (my personal favorite). His drawings are detailed enough to be an imaginative use of machinery, but not so detailed that you get bogged down by the details. You can almost see these great beasts roaming the countryside.

Gall’s choice of vocabulary is good. The hardest words to pronounce are the names of the Dinotrux themselves. He makes good use of some advanced adjectives (overexcited, drafty, and dastardly are a few). It is a good challenging read for kids in the K-2 range. Even if they can pronounce these new words, there are plenty more that may need explaining. As a parent and a teacher, this is exactly what I look for in a children’s book – the word choice should be difficult enough to challenge the reader’s ability (but not too difficult) and advanced enough to add new words and meanings to their vocabulary (but not too advanced). This book does just that.

The story is simple and fun. The Dinotrux, after having spent countless days on display in the museum, have finally gotten fed up with the noisy, uncontrollable children, so they break out and wreck havoc across the city. Eventually, the mayor steps in and sends the Dinotrux to school where they must learn how to behave like modern trucks. Initially, the Dinotrux are unruly, but soon enough, with the help of the schoolchildren, they learn how to behave. The story ends with a delightful surprise (now, you know I’m not going to tell you exactly how it ends. That would be cheating. Read the book if you really want to know).

That’s the adult perspective. To get a child’s-eye-view of the book, I asked my 6-year-old daughter, Erin, to help me review it. Here’s what she said:

“I think that it’s cool cause I like dinosaurs. The Tyrannosaurus Trux is my favorite cause he has sharp teeth. The pictures are cool because in one of the pages, the fire truck Dinotrux breathes fire. In front of the title page, it has the selections of the body and inside the body and the skin selection and the tail selection. And the control is a steering wheel. There’s two toes on there. The words are kind of big, and every time it starts with a capital letter at the very start of the book, it has a red I, and it’s capital. People should read this book cause some people like video games, and it has a giant video game controller in front of one of the Dinotrux. And kids like to scream and swing and bang and chew gum sometimes. It has trucks and cars in it.”

And there you have it. We’ve given you both the parent’s and the child’s review of Revenge of the Dinotrux. We both highly recommend it.

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