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An Interview with Mark Van Steenwyk

 
NetGalley

Where did you get the idea for A Wolf at the Gate?


I’ve loved the legend of Saint Francis and the wolf for years. It is one of the stories about peacemaking I’ve told my son. Unfortunately, Jonas prefers violent stories. I wrote A Wolf at the Gate for him. I wanted to tell the most exciting story I could, but one that still subverted the old myth of redemptive violence.

Previously, you’ve written or contributed to works of non-fiction–particularly in areas of spirituality and radical politics. How did you decide to write a story for children?

We live in a dark world. Our nation has been at war for most of my life. Increasingly, folks are protesting economic injustice, environmental injustice, racial injustice…but we don’t seem much closer to justice.

Adults are often set in their ways, but children often have an imagination for a new world. In a way, I don’t see this book as very much of a departure from my earlier books. The big difference is my audience. I’m starting to write for children because I believe that our hopes for justice rest with them.

Have you been inspired by any authors in particular?

I’ve been reading Lloyd Alexander’s stuff my whole life. I love the Prydain Chronicles. He has a way of playing with folklore that keeps it timeless but fresh. I’m also a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and have been influenced by his willingness to let his children’s stories linger in darkness. And I’m indebted to Ursula Le Guin. She’s one of the greatest writers of the past 100 years. Her storytelling and prose are amazing, but the thing that sets her apart is her ability to explore social constructs in her work without being preachy.

Why is the wolf red?

There are a couple reasons for that. Firstly, it is a bit of a visual pun. The book presents what could be interpreted as a leftist economic vision. So, she is a red wolf both literally and figuratively. Secondly, the color red captures the violence of her character. But I also think it just works better aesthetically. It is a children’s book, after all. We don’t need to be bound by convention…and something about a bright red wolf captivates my imagination.

Do you have another project in the works? If so, what is it?

In terms of children’s literature, I’ve been working on a five-part epic about a post-apocalyptic squirrel that I’m calling the Hackberry Saga. It actually takes place within the same world as A Wolf at the Gate, but thousands of years in the future. The main character, Hackberry, lives in a world where certain animals have risen and human beings are almost entirely lost to legend.

Buy A Wolf at the Gate | Buy the e-Book of A Wolf at the Gate | Back to Mark Van Steenwyk's Author Page




Gypsy reviewed in Locus Magazine

by Paul Di Filippo
Locus


To examine the forty-year-long bibliography of Carter Scholz at ISFDB is to dream of alternate timelines. First, a continuum where, perhaps, circumstances—interior and exterior to the author—allowed Scholz to produce a far greater amount of fiction than the modestly substantial amount on display. But also we can imagine a timeline where this exact same CV in all its glory has drawn the notice of myriad critics and fans, and thus elevated Scholz to the stratosphere of literary acclaim due to his grace, sophistication, and unflinchingly bravura storytelling.

But, alas, our genre is full of unsung geniuses—at least, unsung in the mainstream world. R. A. Lafferty, David Bunch, Avram Davidson, Carol Emshwiller, where are your laurels? If Scholz is keeping company with these illustrious peers and forebears, he is already in as magnificent a legion as any writer could want.

Scholz’s new book—a short novel, two stories, an essay, and an interview—appears from PM Press, a publisher with a progressive slant who has been dipping a toe into science fiction under the auspices of curator Terry Bisson. They’ve published Le Guin, John Shirley, Eleanor Arnason, Rudy Rucker, Karen Joy Fowler, and the VanderMeers, among others, so Scholz shares eminent stablemates.

Gypsy is the tale of a meticulously rendered but kludgy slower-than-light starship fleeing a systems-crashing totalitarian Earth. As that synopsis might foreshadow, the tale is not a barrel of laughs. To cut to the chase, the starship mission fails. Or does it? Scholz gives us a devastating tale where an admirable, almost superhuman heroism does not result in a clear-cut victory—or any conventional victory at all—but rather in a spiritual or symbolical triumph amidst ashes, rendered all the more laudable by a kind of defiant, Battle of Thermopylae stubbornness and clarity of purpose.

We start out with a devastating portrait of our planet, ecological and cultural, circa the 2040s. All the harshest physical and sociopolitical trends we can see in 2015 have been accelerated and pushed to the max. Even the invention of clean practical fusion power has been subverted and denied. The Earth and human civilization seems to be circling the drain. “Its failures, its cruelties, its grandeurs, its aspirations—all extirpated to the root, in a fury of self-loathing  that fed on what it destroyed.”

Now, you can argue whether this is a likely future or not. But you cannot argue with the forcefulness and almost cyberpunkian ingenuity with which Scholz builds this future. In minute detail, he illustrates all our “poison poetry of ruin and catastrophe and longing.” Fittingly for a writer who came of age in the 1970s, he harks back to the great quartet of doomsday novels by John Brunner. But he layers on four additional decades of bad news and disappointments.

Having established this background, he foregrounds scientist Roger Fry and his sixteen compatriots. These are the core plotters who want to build, with stolen materials, and to launch, all in secret, the starship Gypsy to Alpha Centauri. (Shades of another Seventies icon, Jefferson Starship’s Blows Against the Empire.) Our point of view lies mainly onboard the failing ship as a succession of “stewards” are awakened from cold sleep during crisis points in the ship’s 80-year-plus journey. These travelers are particularized with an incredible depth of character seldom found in most science fiction. And despite plot-addicted naysayers among fandom, such deep persona-building is hardly wasted effort, as each starfarer’s nature determines how they handle each crisis. And we get similar treatment of Fry, who we learn early on has been captured by the authorities and left behind when Gypsy takes off.

Ultimately, in an unforeseen ending, the efforts of the Gypsy and crew are proven to amount to that of a beacon guttering into extinction while having done its job of both lighting the ship of Earth to safe harbor and also thumbing its nose at the dominant paradigm of greed and indifference and materialistic anhedonia that has wrought so much ill over the past several centuries. A “tiny splinter of human will forge through vast, uncaring space.”

Obviously, this book stands in dialogue with such recent novels as Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora and Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, and with Barry Malzberg’s classic Galaxies. But much starker and existential even than those, it is primarily an anti-space-opera, if you will, a charnel-ground meditation on what lies at the end of all efforts.

Following this knockout story, the shorter works agreeably extend our feel for Scholz’s talents without necessarily magnifying his scope.

“The Nine Billion Names of God” is an epistolary metatextual tale about an SF writer with a manic idea. It references Borges explicitly, and lives up to that high standard. “Bad Pennies” is told adroitly in the form a Congressional interrogation, and reads like the economic SF of Mack Reynolds as filtered through the modernist sensibilities of William Gaddis. This is a Good Thing.

The essay on “The United States of Impunity” offers a by-now-all-too-familiar chronicle of the major missteps taken by our government and corporate citizens since 9/11. Impassioned yet somewhat predictable at this late date, it would benefit from an extension that looked at matters, for good or ill, after 2008.

Finally, the happy, playful dialogue between Bisson and Scholz reveals a writer at ease with himself and the world, still casting about for new themes and topics and techniques after his masterly achievements.

This world of ours might not be the one where Scholz had his ideal career. But it is the one world we can be certain is lucky enough to have him around.

Paul Di Filippo has been writing professionally for over thirty years, and has published almost that number of books. He lives in Providence, RI, with his mate of an even greater number of years, Deborah Newton.

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Jewish Noir Reviewed in The Big Click

by RRS
The Big Click
January 2016

There’s been a glut of Jewish-themed books lately, especially in YA, ones that seem to wear Jewish-ness as a trapping, as much an accessory as the novel having the love interest be a vampire, neither conscious of nor caring for the very real and living culture and traditions. So when I saw Jewish Noir,my first thought was all right, what the hell have I got to complain about now?

As it turns out, nothing. It’s a solid collection from a wide range of writers, most more-or-less writing from a uniquely Jewish perspective. Crime? Yeah, there’s a lot of crime, a lot of hard time and short luck all thematically enmeshed into Jewish roots. The particular focus of the collection, which despite my initial skepticism, I enjoyed, never felt unnecessary, but provided a commonality between the wildly different voices that flowed well throughout. Like most anthologies, a couple of the stories towards the middle felt like filler, but several — perhaps most notably in the first story in the collection, R.S. Brenner’s “Devil for a Witch”— ended on neatly executed little screwturn gut-punches, which is the kind of feeling I look for in a noir.

Like the editor says, if you’re looking for the hardboiled, the rootless, the persecuted and the cornered, you don’t have to look much further than the Jews, so what better thematic match could there be?

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Jewish Noir Reviewed on New York Journal of Books

by Michelle Martinez
New York Journal of Books
January 19th, 2016

Jewish Noir isn’t for the faint-hearted nor is it for the typical noir fan, and not due to the Judaic symbolism, mythology, or history, but rather because Jewish noir, as it is defined by editor Kenneth Wishnia through the short stories he collects in this anthology, is not the typical detective and damsel-in-distress trope readers may expect.

Wishnia has gathered diverse writers to create a dark and bitter selection of short stories featuring Jewish tropes, themes, and characters. Not all the stories deal with the Holocaust, like “Feeding the Crocodile” by Moe Prager, and those that can do so in surprising ways, such as “Blood Diamonds” by Melissa Yi.  Most of the short stories in this collection are appearing for the first time. There is a wide variety to the stories from that of the misunderstood professor who holds out for his integrity but snaps, to the magical realist “The Golem of Jericho” in which a golem may or may not have been behind some murders.

Truly, the majority of these stories are dark and disturbing on a psychological level. Fans of horror may enjoy this new genre, and a reader doesn’t need to be Jewish to enjoy the tales within, though some understanding of Judaism and its mythology may help make the stories resonate more with their symbolism and references.

- See more at: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/jewish-noir#sthash.mMYTGjLP.dpuf

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Damnificados reviewed on Helios

Damnificadosby Ken Finton
Helios
January 21st, 2016

 
JJ Amaworo Wilson’s Damnificados is based on real events, which seems almost incredible until you remember what a truly strange world we live in. These are the facts of the real-life story: In 1990 constuction began on an enormous skyscraper in Caracas, Venezuela, the Centro Financiero Confinanzas (more commonly referred to as the Tower of David). In 1994 Venezuela was hit by a banking crisis and construction on the tower halted, never to be resumed. Beginning in 2007 the half-completed tower, which is the third tallest in the city and the seventh tallest in all of South America, became occupied by homeless squatters, and eventually as many as 2,500 people lived in the building. They rigged up electricity and running water and set up businesses in the building. Contrary to popular perception, the building was far from a war zone. It was a functional city within a city, forgotten people reclaiming a forgotten relic of civilization. In the last year the government has relocated most of these tenants to new housing, and plans are being explored for how best to use the hulking structure. It is unlikely a better use will be found than free housing for a couple thousand homeless people.

Wilson takes this bizarre real-life story and molds it into a compelling fable about the collision between the haves and the have-nots in a fictional South American city. In Damnificados (the Spanish word for victims, most commonly victims of disaster) we follow the efforts of Nacho Morales, the physically disabled leader of a band of homeless outcasts. Nacho is brilliant–he knows a dozen languages and scrapes together a living doing translation work, though he could make far more if he was willing to abandon the ragged families who need him most. He is not willing to do this. He chooses poverty because to do otherwise would be to side with oppression; those with power and money in this city use it only to gain more, regardless of whom they trample in the process.

The book starts with Nacho leading his band of outsiders into the tower. We get our first taste of the book’s use of magical realism when the group discovers the tower’s first floor is currently being occupied by a pack of wolves, and the leader of the pack has two heads. They drug the wolves and relocate them and then begin turning the tower into a home. Nacho starts a school and teaches children and adults to read. Maria, a former beauty queen, starts a salon. A few brothers start a bakery. Nacho uses one of his contacts to get water to the building and has a homeless electrical engineer connect the tower to the city’s electrical grid. Word spreads and more and more homeless families come to the tower. Word also spreads to individuals who don’t like the idea of homeless folks taking over a rich man’s tower for free.

The tower was originally built by a man named Torres (the Spanish word for towers). The land it was built on was once the city’s trash dump, and it was occupied by thousands of poor families who were subsequently displaced when Torres decided to build his tower. He ran out of money and never finished the hulking building, and Nacho feels he is reclaiming land that belongs to the poor by taking over the abandoned structure. The Torres family, disinterested in the tower for decades since construction ceased, feels differently. Violence is threatened and violence is enacted. Prayers are offered and miracles occur. Magical realism plays a significant role in the book, and strange events take place. For the most part these integrate well with the realism of the story, though there are a few times when these feel like deus ex machina that retrieve the novel from a narrative dead end. However, given the parable-like feel of the novel, these never derail our investment in the book.

Wilson’s novel is an invigorating tale about human beings clinging by their fingertips not only to a sustainable way of life, but to their very dignity, and shouting back at the wealthy with what breath they have, proclaiming they will not be ignored or silently pushed aside. The novel is delightfully imaginative and cuttingly insightful. If Gabriel García Márquez wrote a politically-revolutionary novel with dystopian overtones and published it through an indie press, it would be something like this. That is a compliment. Damnificados is engaging, provocative, and wholly original.

 
David Nilsen is the editor and lead critic for Fourth & Sycamore and works at Greenville Public Library. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can find more of his writing on his website and follow him on Twitter.

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Damnificados on The Discerning Reader

Damnificadosby Melinda
The Discerning Reader
January 11th, 2016


Damnificados is loosely based on the real-life occupation of a half-completed skyscraper in Caracas, Venezuela, the Tower of David. In this fictional version, 600 “damnificados”—vagabonds and misfits—take over an abandoned urban tower and set up a community complete with schools, stores, beauty salons, bakeries, and a rag-tag defensive militia. Their always heroic (and often hilarious) struggle for survival and dignity pits them against corrupt police, the brutal military, and the tyrannical “owners.” Taking place in an unnamed country at an unspecified time, the novel has elements of magical realism: avenging wolves, biblical floods, massacres involving multilingual ghosts, arrow showers falling to the tune of Beethoven’s Ninth, and a trash truck acting as a Trojan horse.

My Review

Damificados is full of wonderful magical realism, motley characters you become attached to, a narrative capturing your attention, sturdy writing. Imaginative and creative read.

Wilson demonstrates inventiveness with his dynamic characters. Magical realism plays an important part, as well as smart satire in the very clever narrative providing twists and turns when least expected – two-headed wolves, rescuing dragonflies, floods. Belonging, loss and love play a vital part among the colorful cast, the damificados might be fractured, certainly not broken.

The plot focuses on the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, privileged and burdened, power and politics. The outcasts struggle for dignity and a home in an abandoned skyscraper – which I found very symbolic.

A colorful landscape gives this book a boost of beauty – a wide variety of people coming together, working together despite their varying backgrounds and circumstances. Differences aside they form a team, an extended family of sorts in concert to fight for a mutual cause.

Wilson’s innovativeness really comes alive, a poignant tale, strong messages carried throughout the characters and narrative. Looking forward to more from this talented author.

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The Madness of Reason

by Ron Jacobs
Counterpunch
January 22nd, 2016


Europe. Waves of immigrants and refugees are being forced to move against their will. Many end up without documentation. Consequently, they cannot work legally and are subject to arrest for not having any documentation. Politicians in numerous countries pass legislation making it impossible for most refugees to obtain legal documents and authorizing their police forces to arrest undocumented residents. Many of those arrested end up in prison or in detention camps especially set up for these refugees.

Vigilante gangs stirred up by nativist and fascist organizations attack and beat those they consider the Other. Hardly anybody defends or protects those who are attacked, fearing their own status and the police. Meanwhile, regional wars slowly turn into proxy wars for different imperial alliances, creating even more refugees. In addition, laws based against the free movement of people from certain ethnicities and religions become more pointed and harsh. The fear of a world war increases with each day.

Now, imagine you are an adolescent boy whose parents sent you out of the country because they feared for your freedom and safety. You end up staying with relatives in Paris for a while, constantly hoping for a permanent refugee visa while doing odd jobs and occasional longer term work. Your life is uncertain, but adventurous as you meet street characters, left wing organizers, girls, and others. You stay in touch with news about your parents and sister back in the country you left—a Germany becoming more and more unfriendly to everyone but those they consider pure German. After a run of bad luck, you hear your family has been removed from their home and sent off. This puts you over the edge, so you go to the German consulate in Paris and kill a German official. You sit quietly until the police come.

This is the premise of author Joseph Matthews’ latest novel, Everyone Has Their Reasons. Utilizing the Paris assassination of a German embassy official named vom Rath on November 7, 1938 by a 17-year old displaced Polish-German Jew that was manipulated by the Nazis into the German Kristallnacht, Matthews addresses issues of identity, immigration, anti-Semitism, nationalism, and collective punishment. The young assassin, named Herschel Gryntzmyn, is the narrator and protagonist. He tells his story of a life in the Paris underworld in the 1930s via a series of letters to an attorney appointed to him by the German government. The letters are written while he sits in prison awaiting his trial. They discuss his friendships, his exile, his means of survival and his discoveries.

There is a section of Thomas Pynchon’s masterwork Gravity’s Rainbow titled “In the Zone.” This section is a catalogue of perversion and deviance involving military men from all nations, black marketeers in everything from cocaine to flesh, arms dealers and child prostitutes of every gender; the transactions and experiences are undertaken in an atmosphere defined by the despair, desperation and just plain evil of total war. The underlying truth of this section is that war unleashes the worst attributes of humanity, making what was once forbidden common. Evil wins the moment. Everything is for sale. In a more light-hearted manner, Joseph Heller provides the reader with his character Milo Minderbinder, who makes money off of everything in the war and sells to all sides in the conflict.

Although Pynchon’s Zone seems to intentionally exaggerate the perversions of humanity, the world described in Herschel’s letters to his attorney is of a similar nature. He describes his experiences with pimps, cops on the take, prostitutes and porn dealers, and egocentric men whose only interest is in maintaining their pleasure, whether it is money or flesh. Herschel, in a manner similar to Pynchon’s protagonist Slothrop, is an innocent adrift, manipulated by powers beyond his control and understanding. In what is his most decisive attempt to take control of some aspect of his life, he kills the German consulate official. In so doing, he ends up losing any control at all; his world is forever controlled by the military, the politicians and the courts.

Everyone Has Their Reasons is a novel drawn from the modern human condition. Authoritarian politicians and fearful citizens combine to create a world where those denoted as scapegoats are made to pay for humanity’s trespasses. It is also a tale of survival and human dignity. Joseph Matthews has created a powerful narrative of a tragically human scenario. It is at turns warm, comedic, compelling, and provocative. Unfortunately, it is also all too contemporary in the concerns it addresses.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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Radical Doula Profiles: Alana Apfel

Radical Doula
January 2016

This is a series highlighting folks who identify as Radical Doulas. 

Alana ApfelAbout Alana Apfel: I am a doula, writer and birth activist currently living in the UK. In Bristol where I live I am part of a collective of doulas offering sliding scale community birth work. I recently moved from California where I was part of the San Francisco General Doula Program and the Birthways center. Both programs provide volunteer doulas for people without means to pay. As an activist writer I gathered stories from doulas working within these organisations as well as the Bay Area Doula Project, BirthKeepers, Birth Justice Project and SQUAT. These contributions are featured in my forthcoming book Birth Work as Care Work: Stories from Activist Birth Communities published by PM Press in Spring of next year. More info can be found here.

What inspired you to become a doula?
I was brought up by a family of healers, health activists and a mother who was a midwife. I was her fourth child born at home. I have always been taught that birthing women and others who give birth are strong powerful beings who are fully capable of doing so in their own way and on their own terms. This is never something I have doubted. This conviction directly shapes my doula practice today. The wonder of giving birth and supporting others through birth has always been with me. It is my legacy and my life’s passion.

Why do you identify with the term radical doula?
Radical birth work for me begins with the recognition that birth, and actually all reproductive processes, are both deeply personal and highly politicised events. We cannot separete the “personal” from the “political” in birth. How we birth, and how we support others through birth, is a direct reflection of society’s politics.

Radical birth work also requires confronting systems of privilege that run throughout society. Some continue to benefit whilst others continue to be harmed. What is unique about doulas in this case, is that while we work (most often) within hospitals, we work for ourselves. This enables us to bring a degree of institutional critique to our practice. From this position birth workers avoid being “medicalized” leaving us with the potential to confront and redress institutional forms of violence that are inflicted upon reproductive and birthing bodies. A radical doula is a caregiver whose activism holds the ability to literally reimagine lifes beginnings.

What is your doula philosophy and how does it fit into your broader political beliefs?
I recognise no “correct” way to give birth instead honoring the unique rhythms of each birth giver as they move through their own birthing process. Regardless of where or how you give birth – home, hospital, vaginal or c-section – every birth signifies a beautiful occurrence. Every birth giver and every kind of birth outcome deserves loving support and respect.

My sense is that we need to broaden the nature and language of care to incorporate a greater diversity of reproductive needs. Not everyone experiences their sexual and reproductive bodies in the same way. To subsume all birth givers within the same form of reproductive care is to erase individual identities and lived experiences. Birth workers hold space for others to discover their own inner potential, helping to facilitate, but never take charge of, the trials, joys and beauty that come from navigating one’s own reproductive journey.

What is your favorite thing about being a doula?
Witnessing the immense, surreal and mystical power of all birth givers as they move through their own birth journey and emerge triumphant to hold the children they carried, nurtured and brought into this world, for the first time.

If you could change one thing about the experience of pregnancy and birth, what would it be?
One problem with healthcare today is the framing of reproductive experiences as a matter of “choice.” This framework promotes a belief that the individual has full agency in decision making over their health whilst overlooking, and therefore masking, intersections of race, gender, sexuality, physical ability, citizenship and economics that differentially affect health outcomes and determine the quality and extent of care that is given. Economically disadvantaged communities, communities of colour, queer and gender nonconforming communities, in particular, bear the brunt of institutional forms of violence. Breaking cycles of oppression means directly engaging these systems in order to reimagine a language of birth that creates room for all birth givers to feel heard, affirmed and respected.


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Urusla K. Le Guin’s Late in the Day Asks You to Put Down the Smartphone

by Lizzy Acker
Willamette Week
January 15th


Never before has a book so perfectly coincided with the circumstances of reading it than Late in the Day (PM Press, 112 pages, $18.95).

The new poetry collection from Portland author/hero Ursula K. Le Guin had been sitting on my desk for about a week when the Internet went down, someone borrowed my phone to make a call and suddenly I was distressingly deviceless and needed something immediately to occupy my brain and eyeballs.

"But here, in the midst of our orgy of being lords of creation, texting as we drive," Le Guin writes on the book's first page, "it's hard to put down the smartphone and stop looking for the next technofix."

"Fuck," I thought. "Is Ursula Le Guin watching me?"

But that's exactly what humans would think, that the whole thing is about them. Le Guin's poems are about the rocks, the creeks, the planets, the more-permanent-than-us furniture of the universe that looks still to us, but only because we're moving so quickly. Le Guin sees motion in everything and demands that we, too, look up from our phones and notice the details and histories of things, as she does in her poem "Salt": "The salt in the small bowl looks up at me/with all its little glittering eyes and says:/I am the dry sea./Your blood tastes of me."

Maybe it's a function of getting old, this reverence for the parts of nature that decay at a much slower rate than we do. But one could argue that the long view isn't new for Le Guin, whose work frequently involves the solid pieces of the world and the misty cover of myth.

Le Guin believes that poetry is the tool we need to repair our broken relationship with the physical world. "One way to stop seeing trees, or rivers, or hills as 'natural resources,'" she writes in her foreword, "is to class them as fellow beings—kinfolk."

Late in the Day intertwines our human stories with those of gnats and fireflies and stars and distant galaxies, in the hope that readers will look up, look out and see the world before, for them, it's gone.

"It will be dark in that night when/the deep basalt shifts and sighs,/headlands collapse, cliffs fail." she writes in "Geology of the Northwest Coast." "Then/the tumult of the seas returning./And silence./The slow drift of stars."

GO: Ursula K. Le Guin reads at Powell's City of Books, 1005
W Burnside St., 228-4651. 7:30 pm Wednesday, Jan. 13. Free.

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Jewish Noir Reviewed on Promoting Crime Fiction

by Marsali Taylor
Promoting Crime Fiction
January 4th 2016

This collection of thirty-three stories is well up to the standard set by the excellent noir series. It begins with a fascinating introduction by Wishnia, in which he tries to analyse what being Jewish means: a people whose name, Hebrew, comes from the word ebra meaning ‘to cross over’, or whose Egyptian glyph denotes ‘a people without a place’; a people whose religious books include the individual fighting against society; a people whose elders were lost in the Holocaust, and whose grandmothers still keep a bag packed, just in case they have to flee the next pogrom.

The book is divided into seven sections. All the stories were good, so I’ve picked out particular favourites to comment on. The first section, Bitter Herbs focuses on individuals caught up in the machinery of the modern world, and my favourite here was ‘Living Water’, B K Stevens’ wonderful satire on modern school assessment (there is a writer who’s suffered too many touchy-feely powerpoints). The satire was spot-on, and the ending totally unexpected. The Golden Land looks at the difficulties in assimilation into a new culture, and the stand-out for me here was ‘The Lost Pages of the books of Judith’, Kenneth Wishnia’s tale of young college boys fighting prejudice in the late 40s – a prejudice that cropped up horrifyingly often in other stories from the land of freedom and equal opportunities.  Night and Fog looked at the noir motif of a cause doomed from the beginning, and my favourite here was Melissa Yi’s haunting Blood Diamonds, which traces the legacy of the Holocaust through three generations. The longer section L’dor v’dor (from generation to generation) looks at the noir motif of mortality and the passing of time; I particularly enjoyed Stephen Jay Schwartz’s gentle ‘Yahrzeit Candle’ which dealt with heart disease passing through a family, and the tough voice of Alan Orloff’s ‘One of Them’.

 Suburban Sprawl opened with a wonderful monologue by Rabbi Adam D Fischer, parodying a mother’s talk about her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, and continued with several tales of bullying. 

Kaffee mit Schlock went for the ‘adrenaline-fueled gut punch of hardboiled pulp fiction’; I enjoyed the sting-in-the-tail story of a nurse and her patient, ‘Doc’s Oscar’ by Eddie Muller. The final section was Vintage Reprint, with an essay and short story from the 60s by Harlan Ellison, of a famous comedian returning to the small town that mistreated him as a child.

A wonderful collection of short stories with the bleakest, blackest of noir feel about them all. Highly recommended.


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