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Woman on the Edge of Time
Woman on the Edge of Time
by Marge Piercy
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What Might Be: A Worthwhile Fantasy in Time, 25 July 2007
I am a great fan of Marge Piercy's poetry - her skill at using simple and everyday language to capture everyday scenes and sensibilities in the inner and outer lives of strong women, and to shine upon them a sublime literary light - and so it was not difficult to convince me to break out of my usual reading, decidedly not science fiction, to spend time with this "time-traveling novel." That play on words, mind you, is quite intentional. I soon sensed, within the first pages, that this is the kind of story plotline (and the writing skill to make it succeed convincingly) that traverses time and retains meaning and interest, no matter the year. Some things change, some things never do.

Being familiar with Piercy's poetry and something of her own biography, I expected a feminist approach to the plot. Indeed, it was there, and this is why I was soon confident in my enjoyment of the novel, even if it did veer from my more typical reading choices. Whatever the genre, I like to read about strong and unique women. "Woman on the Edge of Time" has plenty, in the now and in the to be.

Consuelo (Connie) in the 1970s lives a life of poverty and abuse, when domestic violence is as common as air, and women survive all too often by selling themselves out as objectified beings, bodies without minds, without souls. A pimp beats up "his" women to maintain order, in this case, to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, and a scene of violence ensues, in which Connie is made the villain rather than the victim. She can say nothing to prevent herself from being institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital, called mad, whereas the male's voice, that of the pimp's, holds unquestioned weight. He has her out of his way to create more victims.

I couldn't help but draw parallels here with another literary classic, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" by Ken Kesey, and even some undertones of Margaret Atwood's "Handmaid's Tale," but Piercy succeeds in making this story her own. Connie strives to maintain her sanity by traveling in time to another life in 2137, assisted by future person (Piercy uses "per" as pronoun, thus avoiding gender designation of she or he in this future), Luciente, a kind of almost andrygenous being. In that future, she explores a life much more pleasing, if not utopian, and in series of trips, explores this future world in its treatment of relationships, the interchange of genders and generations, the workings of community and government, the balance between work and play, spiritual evolvement, and even the occasional war. For it is not utopia, but a constant work in progress, however more evolved than our current day, with humankind in an ongoing mode of self-improvement.

No less fascinating is a shorter description of a darker parallel of life in the future, when Connie misses her usual destination and lands instead in a future that could just as easily, one fears, evolve from our current time. In this future, women are even more objectified than they are today, creatures resembling comic book and Barbie doll fantasy proportions, created by plastic surgery, produced specifically and only for the erotic pleasures of men, becoming sexual slaves. Mind reading allows for no privacy, no chance of escape. A woman might only think of the possibility of escape, and already she is reined in and punished. It is a world of callousness and cruelty, domination of gender over gender, power and greed ruling all, happiness for none.

In the hospital, woven through the story, Connie struggles for her sanity, as the doctors in power rule out any possibility of what they cannot understand, puzzled by her episodes of "unconsciousness," and many in the ward are forced to undergo brain-altering surgery. Connie, too, undergoes repeated surgeries. Her attempts at escape, sometimes in mind but sometimes also in body, can be heartrending, as she comes so close, so close...

This is a story worth reading, if not for intriguing storyline, than as a philosophical treatise on what could be, what might be, what a future for humankind might hold if we approach it with understanding. Whether Connie truly travels in time or only in fantasy is perhaps least important of all. Those who pick it up as science fiction fans might be disappointed if seeking high tech descriptions and complex alien worlds; this is not Piercy's intent. She is far more interested in exploring the evolvement of humankind if all are allowed to pursue their best, towards a world of harmony and a caring community that works on all practical levels.

While I still prefer Piercy's poetry to this sampling of her prose (my first, but probably not my last), her skill and imagination to produce worlds that intrigue as well as enlighten is worthwhile reading.

You Know Me Al: A Busher's Letters
You Know Me Al: A Busher's Letters
by Ring Lardner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Homerun, 25 July 2007
Not being much of a sports fan, but for many years standing close beside one, I knew nothing of Ring Lardner until I visited Niles, Michigan, pursuing a story of my own. In a quaint hometown treasures museum, we discovered the local author gone national, with a first edition of "You Know Me Al" under glass. Intrigued, I purchased a modern day copy soon after for my sports fan, but I had to read it first myself.

In full agreement with Virginia Woolf in the book's Introduction, I can say you do not have to be a sports fan to enjoy Lardner's humorous portrayal of Jack Keefe, a bush-league pitcher who writes frequent letters to his best pal, Al, about his adventures on and off the baseball field. The letters are filled with hilarious misspellings, misunderstandings, and general bumblings. Jack may be a good athlete, but his mind, shall we say, is his least athletic muscle...

All of which adds to the slim book's charm. Jack writes to Al about his fortunes and misfortunes in pitching, forever blaming others for his own obvious failures, never missing a chance to boast, thumping his manly chest with threats that he will beat up this guy or that for some imagined slight. His arrogance is in high form, but just about the time it approaches the point of no return, Jack charms with his naivete. One can't help but laugh at him again, much as one laughs at a child or a wildly bounding puppy.

The letters are not just about baseball, however, but just as comically illustrate Jack's romantic flailings, as he imagines Violet is ever so smitten with him, then decides to marry another, only to drop her for another, only to long for the first again, only to marry Florrie. With whom the threat of divorce comes up again and again in similar cyclings. Jack waffles with all decisions in his life: team trips, moving from one city to another, borrowing and repaying funds to the silent and surely most patient and near saintly Al.

It is the lack of hearing from the other side that keeps me from adding a fifth star to this review. We have only Jack's view of himself and his world, charming bumbler that he is, and I found myself often wishing for Al's side in response. Nonetheless, this is a classic that can obviously be enjoyed even over a great passage of time since its original writing some eighty years ago, and with or without a penchant for sports.

Self-made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back Again
Self-made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back Again
by Norah Vincent
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Journey Bringing Greater Understanding, 18 July 2007
Few things fascinate us, all of us, more than the opposite gender. Surely that is the main draw of Norah Vincent's "Self-Made Man," the nonfictional story about this gay female journalist who spends extended time disguised as a man in order to learn more about that gender. To see the world from and through a man's eyes, or at least as closely to his view as possible.

I expected to be fascinated. I was. Vincent begins with a chapter that describes how she accomplished this feat, then adds chapters on friendship (she joins a bowling league), sex (she delves into the baser side of the male psyche and visits strip clubs), love (she dates a long string of very varied women with surprising results), life (she joins a Catholic monastery), work (pounding the pavement as an aggressive salesman), and, finally, self (she joins a men's therapy group and accompanies them on a retreat to get more in touch with their emotions). Her conclusion, if we are not to give too much away, is that she is most happy being a woman, thank you.

Vincent's journey of discovery begins with a revelation that made me almost gasp YES! that's exactly how it is! the very first time she dresses as a man and walks the same street she has so many times walked as a woman:

"As a woman, you couldn't walk down those streets invisibly. You were an object of desire or at least semiprurient interest to the men who waited there, even if you weren't pretty...

That was it. That was what had annoyed me so much about meeting their gaze as a woman, not the desire, if that was ever there, but the disrespect, the entitlement. It was rude, and it was meant to be rude, and seeing those guys looking away deferentially when they thought I was male, I could validate in retrospect the true hostility of their former stares."

I have no doubt most any woman can relate to this. It is nearly impossible to describe to our brothers in humanity just how this feels. Vincent, switching places from one side of the gender fence to the other in this manner, does it beautifully.

Perhaps most difficult to read is the chapter on Vincent making the strip club rounds with her male pals. I have often pondered why men seem so mesmerized with the images seen in porn, on street corners, and the glossy, airbrushed and objectified images presented in media, even while beautiful real women stand available beside them. Vincent gives insight:

"But as I began to understand more about the shame that arose in men from the need to visit places like this, and the undoubted shame that arose in the dancers for having to work in them, I thought I began to understand something more about the kind of woman that becomes a sex object in the eyes of men. A lot of women have asked themselves why so many men are so fond of modern porn stars and centerfolds, women who aren't real women, whose breasts are fake, whose hair is bleached into straw or perversely depilated, whose faces are painted thick, and whose bodies have been otherwise altered by surgery or diet to conform with doll-like exactitude to something that isn't found in nature. Why, I had so often wondered, didn't men want real women?..."

Vincent describes what these men really want, and I will not quote here because of the language used (appropriately), but the conclusion is that men do not want witnesses to their basest behavior. And so, writes Vincent:

"A real woman is a mind, and a mind is a witness, and a witness is the last thing you need when you're ashamed. So f--ng a fake, mindless hole is what you need. The faker the better."

Crude, but apt. When I checked this section with a male friend, he reluctantly agreed.

But Vincent is not on a mission to degrade the male gender. Dare I say, the male gender does so well enough by themselves, certainly in these episodes. Yet there is another side, and Vincent equally well taps into the rest of the story, rounding it out. She writes of male bonding with a tenderness that never loses its masculinity (and continues on how real women love real, read imperfect, men -- agreed!). She exposes the suffering of men when they are denied their father's approval and warmth. She speaks of the injustices women sometimes throw on men at first encounter, judging them in as fully an objectified manner as men judge women. She chides women for often bringing on male hostility themselves when assuming an emotional superiority that closes down all communication. Finally, however, she states that both genders are hurting, lonely, longing to connect, and fault can be found, just like quality, in both sides.

This is not a journey to be missed. Perhaps I can't claim great surprise in reading any of Vincent's revelations. But I was given an insight into the opposite gender that was as open as any I've encountered. This author had no mission but to be a good journalist and see what she could see, record what she observed.

I recommend this book highly to both men and women. It is great and much needed fodder for discussion and learning. Agree or disagree with Vincent's conclusions (I didn't always agree), nevertheless it has tremendous value for open communication.

The Big Sleep: A Philip Marlowe Mystery (Penguin Fiction)
The Big Sleep: A Philip Marlowe Mystery (Penguin Fiction)
by Raymond Chandler
Edition: Paperback

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nearly Converted, 18 July 2007
I'm no fan of mysteries, except perhaps the general mystery surrounding life, and I see crime enough in the every day without feeling the need to return to it for entertainment, and I'm not at all a fan of the hard-boiled detective with his hard-to-stomach arrogance (and what an apt adjective, this "hard-boiled," the golden yolk turned gray and flavorless when held over the flame too long). But I'm always a fan of a well written book, no matter what the genre. And Chandler's book qualifies.

It intrigued me to read this, one of the classic firsts, literary birthing grounds for the nearly, by now, cliche persona (Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade being perhaps the very first, followed closely by Chandler's Phillip Marlowe, then variations on a theme with Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer, and a long string of others, the most recent contemporary rendering of which I've come across being the character of Joe January in J. Conrad Guest's "January's Paradigm."). Humphrey Bogart brought several of these to the silver screen, and the character, by whatever name, is now so well known that we can all imitate him at a drop of a fedora, cigarette hanging loose in the corner of our mouths, gal Friday awaiting our command.

As usual, the persona is done arguably best by its inventors. And, as usual, the book has added linguistic pleasures surpassing the cheapened Hollywood screen versions (for example, I noted that the book version of Marlowe isn't nearly the womanizer that Bogart's film version is as he romances Lauren Bacall, a romance that never really happens on the written page, and in his literary version, he even exhibits ethics in the bedroom that any woman can cheer). We get the language -- hard, crisp, fresh, even today. Chandler's spare style might even at moments find comparison in Hemingway. His metaphors delight.

"Dead men are heavier than broken hearts."

"The minutes passed on tiptoe... The light hit pencils of rain and made silver wires of them."

"He had tight brilliant eyes that wanted to look hard, and looked hard as oysters on the half shell."

"The gentle-eyed, horse-faced maid let me into the long gray and white upstairs sitting room with the ivory drapes tumbled extravagantly on the floor and the white carpet from wall to wall. A screen star's boudoir, a place of charm and seduction, artificial as a wooden leg."

Hey, now that's fine writing. It hits the mark with no side trips. I may change my mind about the hard-boiled detective, especially in his softer-boiled moments.

Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer's Life
Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer's Life
by Bret Lott
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.73

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Writing? I Don't Know Either... But I Do Know This:, 18 July 2007
When Bret Lott writes "I don't know" or "I know nothing" about the feel-your-way-as-you-go approach to the literary arts, he does it so eloquently that one can only say he "doesn't know" so very well. But he's right. Writing, art in general--there's no manual for it. And if there was, it would no longer be art. It would be reduced to a technical skill. And while skills can be learned, the extra mile beyond that gives life to a work of art can only be accomplished by the attitude Lott describes in his "practical memoir of the writer's life:" approaching the blank page, the blank screen, with an openness and acceptance for the wonder to come.

"What knowing nothing means, finally, is that one must strip himself of all notions of what he believes he knows about the world and the way it works," writes Lott. " it's new terrain, undiscovered, left to this new explorer, the one who knows nothing and who now, armed with this ignorance, stupidity, and tendency to stare, sees things newly... what this explorer will ultimately discover is his own heart, who he is in the midst of all the know-it-alls of the world."

Finding one's own way is the only way. From the beginning, Lott expresses his reverence for the written word. As a small child, he holds his first book--Book of Psalms, puzzling over how the words "somms" could be spelled so strangely. He writes his name, several times, for the first time, on the title page of this book, and in that moment of writing, making claim, and connecting with the written page, the writer is born.

Lott warns, even while reminding us that writing must be done in solitude, that crawling too deep into one's cave of solitude has its own dangers. We must know the world, and explore it fully, to write about it well. We must be a part of it. There is a balance to be achieved, with involvement, acceptance, immersion, and then withdrawal again. In short, one must live fully in a world with others, but one must write about it alone.

Chapters included in this book are each one crucial to the writer, a light in the dark to the beginner, but a healthy reminder to the well practiced and established, too. Lott's chapter on remembering the reasons for writing is priceless. One enters the horrors of writer's block only when one forgets the purpose for writing--and mistakenly gets caught up in the false pursuit of publication. While acknowledging that it is quite human to wish to share one's story once it is written, wanting that connection between writer and reader, if the writer becomes too obsessed with it, too caught up with it while writing, then the art quickly becomes bogged down and stalls hopelessly. The cause of writer's block, he says, is the writer him or herself. Writing is its own reward. The rest is another story.

The importance of simple words, character detail, narrative and passage of time, pitfalls of technique, risking failure, accepting rejection, these are all topics Lott addresses. Perhaps the best chapter is on rejection. Lott has published 9 books, one of them rescued from oblivion by American icon, Oprah, but even so, he keeps counting up rejections (he's up to 597 at the writing of this book) and he keeps each and every one (except one, that he threw away in a temper tantrum, but later admitted, he learned from this one, too, as he did from all of them). Rejection, he reminds us, is inescapable in the arts. No use fighting it. All the more reason not to become obsessed with it. The writer must be, he says, "moved to write not by a will toward fame or fortune or even posterity, but because the work of writing is good work, and the reward inherent to writing is the writing itself." Lott writes candidly and honestly about how much he feels the hurt of the pink slip, and in some ways it never gets easier, but he also presents a system that works for him. Basically, to keep submitting. He keeps a careful log of where his work has been, is being, will be submitted, and makes a point of sending out his submission the very day it lands back in his mailbox rejected. There is always reason to hope.

Lott's memoir of his own writing life is one of the most practical, yet most beautifully and honestly written books on writing I've read in many, many years. He writes with wisdom even when he is being most humble (and therein lies his charm). He writes with a down to earth voice on a level with all of us, no matter what our level, and in doing so, inspires.

High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never
High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never
by Barbara Kingsolver
Edition: Paperback

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Art to Move Mountains (or Hermit Crab Shells), 17 July 2007
Kingsolver holds reign neck and neck with Annie Dillard as two of my favorite naturalist writers and essayists. Kingsolver holds her own as a novelist. In this collection of essays, rewritten and expanded versions, in many cases, from what has been previously published in various magazines, Kingsolver's skill and talent as an essayist shimmers with brilliance and sheer entertainment. Even when she is teaching us a lesson and hammering it home.

Topics have wide range, covering nature, art, values and ethics, human nature and its foibles, politics, and travels. Whether she is pondering the biological clocks of hermit crabs or espousing her views on violence and objectification of women on the silver screen, or taking the reader along on the harsh realities of a not so glamorous book tour, her language is lush and poetic, flowing and vibrant, clever and memorable. I have been quoting her words to anyone who will listen ever since reading the book, and thinking back to it as a kind of measuring stick for my personal observations of daily life.

So what moved you to begin such a boycott of violence in movies? a friend asked me over lunch yesterday. We had been talking about popular contemporary movies, and why I had made sometimes surprising - to others - choices. And it hit me. While my inclination had been moving in that direction for some time now, it was Kingsolver's essay, "Careful What You Let In the Door," that had pushed me into a conscious awareness of how my viewing choices affected every other part of my life, the daily and even seemingly miniscule choices I make. The results of such choices have been almost immediately apparent to me - as was now my choice to steer clear. The desensitization I had experienced toward atrocities in the news, to the daily disrespect I witness in various human interactions and my regretful tolerance of it, hardly registering as a bump in my path, was lifting. Newly aware, I have been surfacing as if from a deep and dumb sleep.

Kingsolver writes about her literary profession that writers may not write with politics in mind, yet "good art is political." As is hers. Words can and should move us, good art should change us, and a good writer is a person who wields a pen more powerful than any sword.

In this particular essay, Kingsolver explores the function of violence in art (or media in general), visual or literary. Too often, she notes (my lunch partner nodding in agreement), such violence is perpetrated against women. "It turns out," writes Kingsolver about an inadvertant movie choice, "I'd rented the convincing illusion of helpless, attractive women being jeopardized, tortured, or dead, for no good reason I could think of after it was over." Pondering this, she concludes that violence in movies or video games (or various other formats) too often appears merely for its sensationalist effect, while in literature a writer has the ability to expand upon a violent scene to fully show its consequences. Because violence always has consequences. It is the absence of those consequences in our daily media diet, too often our entertainment choices, separate from the realm of reality, that has led to a society that hardly blinks at its constant appearance upon the screens of our minds. All of which, she argues, with time turns us into hardened and numb creatures, willing to not only view violence, but to tolerate it, potentially even to participate in it.

So an essay moves us to change our viewing habits. Art creates positive change. But Kingsolver can just as easily write an essay that makes us laugh, as in her story of joining a literary rock band, allowing herself to look the fool for our sympathetic pleasure. Or her struggles as a parent. Although in "Somebody's Baby," her message again takes on a ponderous seriousness in considering how little we care for our youngest generations, even while we claim to be a family oriented society. Her call to us in this essay is to consider that it is not just the parent's job to care for the child, but it is the obligation and heart-calling to the community at large, to the entire nation, to care for and nurture our young. We are, she writes, raising Presidents-in-training, yet our attitude is "every family for itself."

What I love about Kingsolver's essays is that they are beautifully written, literary works of art. Yet each and every one carries a deeper meaning, a message, a call to arms, even those written with the relish of humor. It is art with consequence.

Wisdom from Finding Your Own North Star
Wisdom from Finding Your Own North Star
by Martha Beck
Edition: Hardcover

16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Turtle Tracking the North Star, 17 July 2007
Martha Beck - life coach and monthly columnist for "O: Oprah Magazine" - adores turtles. The turtle, after all, embodies much to be admired: a hard, thick shell on the outside, to protect itself from the bumps and bruises of manuevering through life; a very soft and vulnerable inside beneath the resistant carapace; lacking in speed but has a plodding persistence that wins over the hare every time; and, while protecting its head when at rest, is required to stick its neck out in order to move forward. The turtle, Beck points out, is a role model for living successful lives.

Moving ahead in life, turtle-style, is an excellent way to reach our North Stars - that point of light to guide us home like a compass in even the darkest sky. In an easy-to-absorb and enjoyable, often humorous style, Beck explains how so many of us get lost, or get stuck, and fail to achieve our most cherished dreams or any measure of happiness. We are a division of two selves requiring balance: the essential self - our core being that is guided mostly by uninhibited instinct combined with an inner voice of wisdom - with the social self - the part of us that has learned how to play nice with others, function in a diverse society, and, alas, all too often wear masks to hide our more tender and true core selves.

Beck does not advocate turning to one or other self exclusively, both essential and social selves are necessary, but rather finding the healthy balance so that we can remain on the right path toward that North Star. Too much essential self and we become irresponsible members of a civilized society. Too much social self, and we lose touch with our core, sinking into superficiality, losing sight of our dreams, and wearing our masks so long that we forget our own true faces.

Beck illustrates how our physical bodies often are first to let us know, loud and clear, if we only pay attention, that we have veered off the path. A persistent unhappiness is our first clue. Easy enough to recognize. But sometimes our grief is more internalized, less obvious, and so signs of illness, fatigue, boredom, apathy, chronic irritability, all point to a need to check our internal maps. People behaving badly are not so much mean and evil, she says, as in pain. And pain of any kind is a clear signal that we are not doing what we are supposed to be doing, that we have lost touch with our essential, core selves. It's time to listen to the voice inside again, the one belonging to the essential self, for where we have gone wrong.

In fifteen chapters, the author gives plenty of guidance and examples, many quizzes and questions to ponder, much sound advice and clear illustration. Whether the issue at hand is a relationship gone sour or a career gone dull (and one issue often goes hand in hand with another), her common sense guidelines encourage the reader to get back on track again and how to do so. Change, she acknowledges, is uncomfortable. But life IS change, and it is in fact change that keeps us young and vital and alert, much as flexing a muscle keeps it strong. The turtle never gets ahead without stretching its neck out from under that shell first. The bounty and joy of life, however, is always worth it. Dealing with change and the unknown is part of the hero's saga, or quest, in finding the North Star, and no one gets through without encountering their share of obstacles and hurdles and tests. It is the testing, in fact, that makes us into heroes and gives us the tools and know-how we need to go on.

"A willingness to make mistakes and recover from them is absolutely essential," she writes. As is doing a "terrible job" if it is on the path to learning and growth. To sustain oneself through the rough spots, her advice is to keep oneself in the positive, avoid the negative, and that includes the company one keeps (find people who support and encourage you), the kind of recreation one chooses (don't watch a violent movie and expect to feel positive about yourself or others), and how one treats others (don't just take the support, offer it in return to those who are worthy).

"Change hurts," she warns. "...for a person who's stuck in the wrong life, setting out on a North Star quest has all the combined attractions of suicide and childbirth. To complete it, you'll have to kill off the old You and give birth to a different You, someone nobody has ever seen before. Neither side of this process is painless, and they're both scary as hell. I've watched hundreds of folks make dramatic life transformations, and in every case, the person in question experienced alienation, confusion, frustration, and a thousand other forms of acute distress... the eventual payoff was tremendous - cheap at twice the price."

In the end, Beck states, we all manifest our own destinies. Whether we finally reach our personal North Star or not, it is entirely up to each and every one of us. Those of us who are eternal pessimists and live in a mire of negativity will always hone in like magnets on failure and disappointment. Those of us who maintain our North Star focus throughout the expected trials and tribulations of normal living, will claim what we were meant to have: our dreams. Turtles are created to cross the finish line.

Little Children [DVD]
Little Children [DVD]
Dvd ~ Kate Winslet
Offered by rsdvd
Price: £3.97

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When the Masks of Children Come Off..., 17 July 2007
This review is from: Little Children [DVD] (DVD)
In spite of its three Academy Award nominations, I had not heard of this movie, came across it merely by browsing the shelves at my neighborhood video store. Since I've been seeing quite a few Kate Winslet movies of late, most of which have ranged from interesting to impressive, I rented the movie on the strength of her name. Good decision. "Little Children" at this point ranks, in my mind, as Winslet's best performance to date.

The various intertwining plots of this movie, narrated with wonderful lines from a Tom Perotta novel, would ordinarily have disturbed me if not inclined me to leave it on the shelf. And it *was* disturbing. Again and again, it made me cringe, and wince, and fidget, and roll my eyes, and sigh with exasperation. But keep watching. These are the "little children" (immature adults without control over their adolescent whims and whines) of a wealthier suburbia, including adulterous couples, cooling and troubled marriages, neglected but well adorned children, bored wives, fantasy-ridden husbands, porn-addicted executives, and the neighborhood pedophile living with Mommy, as he calls her, because who else would have him?

Opening on a gated playground scene with mothers seated on a bench, only Winslet's character, Sarah Pierce, on a separate bench, watching their children at play, a young father (Patrick Wilson) with stroller enters the grounds - and the heads of the wives turn en masse. Prom King, they call him, and the fantasies of the bored wives quickly surround the pleasant young father as he plays with his little son at a distance. Nothing more desirable than a man playing with his child... only Sarah can hardly bear the cheap chatter of the women, and more to break it up than out of interest in the Prom King, she approaches him, gets his phone number on a dare, goes in for a hug to scandalize, and then, caught up in the tease of the horrified other mothers, lands a sensual kiss on the stranger.

And onward and upward and hotter from there we go.

The trigger for Sarah to unleash an affair, however, is not the kiss (although he, the recipient, can't stop thinking about it, even as he contemplates the cold superiority of his businesswoman wife who treats him more like a child than a husband - an interesting reversal of roles), but the discovery of her husband at home heaving and panting in front of a computer screen filled with a virtual stripping woman. Sarah is filled with disgust, her respect for her husband disintegrates, and when she searches and finds a wastebasket beneath the computer filled with stiffened tissues, she realizes she has encountered an ongoing addiction. Rather than confront her husband, she represses her disgust and unhappiness, as too many women do in similar situations, and purchases instead a scarlet red bathing suit in order to feel desirable again and heads to the neighborhood pool where the Prom King hangs out every summer afternoon. What pretends to be a new friendship soon is a full-blown affair.

An interesting moment between the two takes place when Sarah asks her new lover if his wife is pretty. Oh yes, drop dead gorgeous, he tosses off his shrugging appraisal, but "beauty is highly overrated," he says, oblivious to the insult he has just paid his new lover, and as the narrator inserts - it takes a great kind of arrogance in one's own beauty to be so disparaging of another. But however tossed off, his comment reveals a deeper truth: the two are extraordinarily compatible and similar in their family torments and the beating each has sustained on their marital ego.

Throughout this development of an affair, other sideline stories and characters evolve. There is the story of a pedophile (Jackie Earle Haley) and his mother (Phyllis Somerville), his deep attachment and dependence on her, the only human being who still cares about him, even as his behavior continues, sending the neighborhood into gyrations of horror and fear. There is the story of the bully cop (Noah Emmerich), just this side of being a criminal himself, who deteriotes into a vigilante chasing the pedophile, causing far more harm than good. And there are many rich and memorable scenes, which include a gathering of elderly neighborhood women with a few younger ones for spice, discussing the novel, Gustave Flaubert's riotous "Madame Bovary." There is the neighborhood's men's football team, and the portrayal of their often clumsy male bonding and destructive competition. Another winning scene has the cheated-upon wife, played by Jennifer Connelly, who mostly blends into background for other characters, observing a conversation between her husband and neighbor Sarah. As perhaps only women can, she understands from the most casual exchange between the two that there is far more intimacy between them than a man and woman friend should share. There is no raucous fireworks revelation of the affair, simply a silent observation, and a woman's instinct. She knows. Nor does she tell him that she knows. Again, like most women, she holds her knowledge inside, to quietly observe and await his hitting his own wall.

For all its moments of discomfort, as so many of our hidden life stories and opened closet doors may cause, this entire story is exquisitely developed, with top level acting, nuanced dialogue, and meaning that unfolds upon even deeper meaning when the layers of masks humanity wears come off. The story concludes with a surprising twist that is also highly satisfying, yet no more "pretty" than life usually is. Not even in a wealthy corner of suburbia.

Slaying the Mouse: A True Story of Healing in the Spiritual Realms
Slaying the Mouse: A True Story of Healing in the Spiritual Realms
by Wendy Halley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.41

3.0 out of 5 stars The Miracle That Wasn't? Or Was It?, 17 July 2007
"Healing is simply a matter of paying attention to the wisdom of your body, mind and heart," writes author and psychotherapist, Wendy Stofan Halley.

First, about the author:

"Driven by a desire to explore healing possibilities beyond the scope of contemporary practices, Wendy became involved in the study and practice of Shamanic healing with an emphasis in Hawaiian mysticism and healing methods. She offers healing, counseling, and experiential workshops through Lucid Path Healing Arts."

Sure, I'm adventurous enough to at least consider most "out there" ideas and practices, and this promised to invite new thinking, or, as the case may be, an exploration of old thinking. The story was an account of Wendy's healing work with 19-year-old Jason, who had mysteriously slipped into a coma with no explanation from traditional doctors as to the reason why. The young man's family worked with traditional medicine, but, desperate for help, also called on Wendy, who then applied the far more non-traditional ancient practice of Shamanic Trance.

And why not? I have a son; if he were in danger, there's nothing I wouldn't do, no method I would eschew, no medicine or work of faith I wouldn't consider if it held even the slimmest hope for recovery. I read on, quickly pulled into the story that Wendy related -- the boy lies in deep sleep, doctors ponder one possibility after another (encephalitis? spinal meningitis?), eventually discarding all, only to develop yet another gloomy diagnosis. With narrative (presented in an omniscient perspective as if by Jason himself) interspersed with emails from various concerned parties -- parents, siblings, girlfriend -- the story unfolds with Wendy summoning spirits, called Helpers, to save Jason from death. There is an Indian Man, an Indian woman called Raventalker, a bald Asian man called Li Ming, a being of light called Oshira, and a buffalo who answers to, yes, Buffalo Bill. Drifting in and out of his physical body, Jason finds that he can communicate with these Spirit Helpers and Wendy with telepathy. They not only work over his body, they also work with his spirit, healing emotions alongside physical ailments.

If all of this sounds a bit farfetched, depending on your personal beliefs, sure it is. But isn't most everything we know today farfetched if taken in another time and context? Whenever I come across what may seem initially unbelievable if not impossible, I remind myself that solid science shows that we use a very small percentage of our brains, and who can say what possibilities are hidden in the unused portions? Surely telepathy is possible -- I've experienced many such similar "inexplicable" phenomena myself, with those who are especially close to me. And not one of us can unequivocally state that we know what happens to our minds and spirits in death, or in this death-like state of a coma. Recounting out-of-body experiences are many and surprisingly unvaried. I had little trouble suspending disbelief as I read about Jason's bizarre experiences while lying in a hospital bed.

If at times some of the accounts of Spirit Helpers seem a tad ticklish, Jason, too, treats them that way. He teases and jokes in his lighter moments, bursts out with profanities of exasperation at the darker ones, all of which perhaps aid the reader in accepting the unexplained. Other times, he gives in to his frustration, even anger, and tests his own endurance and limits of understanding.

"Jason could only stay in his body for short periods of time. He felt like a stranger inside. There was almost something perverse about being in it, like he was taking advantage of its vulnerability. But he knew it was important to keep trying; to get used to how dense and unresponsive his body felt in this state... while waiting for a sign, Jason had an enjoyable dip in the sea of his anxieties. And the water was mighty cold. His biggest fear: What if this was it? What if for the rest of eternity I'm going to be stuck in this `not alive, not dead' state? And this sparked the question, `what exactly IS eternity?'"

The slender book leads the reader along with ease. If some of the scenes are harder to accept than others, in general the story intrigues with questions surely we all must ask at one time or another. The suspense builds as we await Jason's reawakening, surely to affirm his spiritual connection with his Helpers, Wendy herself most of all...

... but it never happens. What?! That's it? Yes, Jason survives, as we'd come to expect. No surprise there. But if this isn't to read entirely like a piece of fiction, surely the end must justify the suspension of disbelief, and the recovering Jason, waking into our more accustomed reality, affirm that he did indeed experience a connection with Wendy and the other Helpers during his deep sleep. But there is no such affirmation. There is no statement of connection. There is no resurrected memory. And so this otherwise intriguing account of spiritual connection and healing concludes with nothing more than the story of Jason's experience as imagined by the author. A true story? Apparently we cannot know. Jason is awake today, writes Wendy, but recovery has been slow and difficult, "unable to communicate or speak with ease."

I am willing to learn new things, to stretch my mind, to consider the occasional miracle. But it is disappointing to be led to expect one -- and then not to find it. At the very conclusion of this book, I could only ask: "what's the point?"

~from the Summer 2007 Issue of "The Smoking Poet"

Born Into Brothels [DVD] [2005] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Born Into Brothels [DVD] [2005] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Kochi

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars That There Might Be Witness: Through the Eyes of Children, 17 July 2007
It is said that suffering develops character. Surely, when photographer Zana Briski went on a photography pilgrimage to the red light district in Sonagchi, Calcutta, in India, she discovered more character, and in smaller shape and size, then she might have imagined. Peering through a lens into the darkest shadows of life - into the world of prostitution - to capture the images the world wishes not to see, not, at least, from this angle of truth, she saw between the life-battered women... their children.

When we think of brothels, however we might think of them, how many think of children? Whether we think of these places and their inhabitants as figures of perversity, embodiments of lust, or the tragic painted clowns of the joke that is humanity, it is probably more true than not that these women are rarely seen as, well, women. They are perhaps at best merely meat, merely body parts, to be used and abused and then tossed aside. What Zana Briski's photo lens reveals is that these are indeed women, human beings, and, for better or for worse, also mothers, daughters, wives, sisters. We see in this montage of photos and film combined, women who are deformed by the ugliness inside. They are broken, they are stunningly and fiercely angry at the world that has so betrayed them, yet they also have their moments of hope and tenderness.

All of this, and more, falls upon the heads of their children. Weaving between these women are their little ones, boys and girls who grow up around the perversities of lust and abuse. What might such children be like? This is the sharp focus of Briski's lens.

Perhaps we need to look at ugliness to see beauty in contrast. The faces and spirits of these children contain both. They have in them the despair of those forgotten and betrayed by the world. Society all around them refuses them a place outside the red light district. They are already banned from normalcy. They have been witness to humans at their worst, and no one outside wishes to bear the weight of such witness. Yet they will not be silenced, and if we do not wish to hear them speak, then Briski has given them cameras to let them capture their worlds, inside and out, and bring these images to us.

What these children capture on film is nothing less than breathtaking. They miss nothing. Their intense talent and power of seeing discovered, this film also shows us how Briski works to bring this artistic discovery to the world, meanwhile also fighting to give these children a chance, slim as it is, to a life of normalcy. Key to this is education, yet as she soon learns, no school in Calcutta wishes to enroll children born into brothels. At last and with determined persistence, she does find one, and a portal into life beyond opens for some of the children. Their photos, too, are put on exhibit, available also now in book format.

Some are saved, some are pulled back into the dark. The individual stories of these tiny photographers are stories that must be witnessed, heard and seen, so that they know: everyone matters. Even in the darkest shadows, we refuse to be blind to them any longer.

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