From a dark afternoon

thor

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You know, we’re like only newly reacquainted lovers; we don’t know each other very well. And while there’s a lot I’d like to tell you, out of self preservation and may be more than a little anxiety, I’ll have to hold some things off.
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I can tell you at least that my life is a bit of a mess right now. Boy, I’d think I like to think I hold up a good front, but for anybody who reads between the lines of the things that I put up here or for any of my close friends who notice overlong pauses in my talking, more frantic than normal opinions and the anxious glances, they’d know that not everything is right in my world at this point which. And this, again without revealing too much, is very much an understatement.
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My life is a mess and I feel wildly unprepared and inadequate for. I’m terrified of myself and the future. I feel full of hate and poison which hey, isn’t really something you’d like to tell somebody you’d be interested in getting into a serious relationship with, but then again, sometimes it’s sometimes best to be honest. And, I could maybe hope you’ll be a bit forgiving. It would be nice, really, as I happen to think you’re pretty hot most of the time.
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I’ve been off work for health reasons for about six or seven weeks right now and if anybody tells you that’s just dandy, they are a lying sack of shit. Sitting around seems nice only until you realize there are too many empty hours to fill and not enough people or entertaining things to will them up with. One needs more meat in one’s life than these distractions can provide. Not to mention my compromised wellness, which ain’t so fun. Lots of doctors visits so far. Lots of therapy. Lots of feeling fine, alternating with my God to have to keep taking these drugs will this ever get better? It’s a miserable thing being unwell. Its probably a good thing I can count on you. Well, at least some of the time.
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Other news?
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I’ve been reading a ship ton of books on autism lately, and my God, does it interest the living hell out of me. I’ve read tons by Temple Grandin, Oliver Sacks, and just. Well, you get the idea. Its really my thing right now. Some day I might even tell you why.
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I guess I can tell you that I haven’t drink any alcohol I think for a good 12 years, but I started doing that again. Not that I’m some kind of drunk or anything. Its a beer a day, max. My favorites right now our Somersby, Sapporo (gosh these two are swell,) and Richards Red. Moosehead tastes like liquid trailer park, and Strongbow -which is a kind of cider- well, when I finally come down with a burning desire to drink human urine from a guy whose been pounding del monte applejuice all day, I’m set.
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I don’t want to seem like I’m lying to you baby, but on here I make it seem like there ain’t nothing much more interesting in my life and reading books and honey, that just ain’t so. I got a music degree. Did you know that? Music, strangely enough, is important to me. Though I don’t know how. Right now I guess that’s James Taylor, Kim Churchill and playing acoustic guitar again for the first time in ten years. I’ll settle for that for now. I’m told people who play guitar are sexy. What do you think?
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This feels like a postcard from somewhere far away. And certainly you and the whole rest of the world right seem like that in this vacation that illness has imposed on me. Its given me perspective, too. A distorted perspective, and unhealthy one sometimes too. Yeah, its nice to be able to read a little bit more. To indulge in a little bit of time wasting. To dick around with more time than has ever been available to me. That’s okay sometimes. But we can’t all drink cider and play Mass Effect till four in the morning can we. Or if we can, there is an upper limit.
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And all that spare time, what that amounts to is that my life is a fucking mess right now; though there are other reasons for that too (maybe more on that later, if you play your cards right.) I guess some of this letter is about been putting up front. Makes sense. People do that when they’re interested in someone else. You fudge the personal lines. Bend away from being genuine out of an anxious desire to please. And that self-preservation staff kicks in there to. Can’t have you knowing everything. Can I?
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Gosh, considering how much stuff that I’ve been dealing with the past six weeks, and baby some of it isn’t pretty, in fact, not to put you off, but a lot of it has been pretty fucking bitter and ruinous, it’s hard to keep a straight face. One of those laugh/cry things I guess. But in the worst way you can think.
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I know that I don’t want to be alone right now, or anymore ever again. I know I got you, at least. For now. Though I don’t know how much that counts for. Hopefully for something. And hopefully I haven’t driven you off. The least I can say, is that I appreciate the diversion a lack of seriousness can be, so I suppose I owe you thanks for that.
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And I have to say I miss the old times (there are always old times.) When things seemed easier. When whatever season it was, it seemed like summer all the time. When I could float like I’m on a cloud, and be young and not have to worry so much about so much. Back to a time when every day didn’t seem so much like Hell, and one that seems to only get worse and more and more impossible to get away from.
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I take what I can get I guess. I don’t know. But I have to sign off for now. That’s all I got, and there’s at least one or two more things I got a do before I turn in so,
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Yours truly, and trying to think as fondly of you and all of this, as I can
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-Mr. B

NOv 26

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Re: Carly’s Voice.

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The selflessness, commitment, humility and love of the Fleischmann family and their support team for one very unique girl is an astonishing story and a model of strength and achievement in difficulty I can only stand in awe of. They are living heroes. I can say no less of the girl herself, Miss Carly.
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No real hero though, I would think would want us to worship them. Instead, I would suggest doing what she and all of these people have done ever since Carly came into the world. Fight. Fight to be heard. Fight for autism to have a voice.
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Read this book.

Take a look at her website.

Follow her on twitter and on Facebook

Support autism awareness

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-Mr.B



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Without A Summer

I can already sense the profound torch-and-pitchfork fervor of shock and incredulity in my admitting that it was the American film adaption of Pride and Prejudice that introduced me to Jane Austen and the Regency style. I will be even more bold and say that, despite my eating steak, lifting weights, scoffing at personal injury and probably being at least the second manliest man alive, the film put me in happy tears as much as it did sad. I loved it; also, it awoke the little girl in me that was always waiting to get out (note:this last part did not happen.)

In light of how much I enjoyed this film, its probably interesting to someone else (though probably not Austen puritans) that I can’t sit still long enough to enjoy her books. The issue doesn’t keep me up at nights. At this point in my life/reading life, I chalk it up to a short attention span and a lack of interest in anything outside of fantasy and science fiction (and some American short fiction.) This might change in later years, but in the mean time I’m very glad there are some authors who allow me to circumvent this “problem” by meshing Austen’s style with the worlds of fantastic fiction. One being Naomi Novik (everything she writes is great, by the way, and Simon Vance does a Scott-Brick-quality narration of all her books) the other being Mary Robinette Kowal.

I have the sneaking suspicion that I’m one of those elitist, hard to please readers, so finding good books can sometimes mean wading through rivers of trash just to get something tolerable. And then sometimes I single out a book just because its physically taller and has a pretty front cover, and it ends up being bloody marvellous. Without A Summer was like this. And damn, it be good.

I love its style of writing like I love cake; and I mean that in the good way. It is an ornate, delicate creation whose delightful turns of phrase, light air of mystery as well as dramatic tension and verbal fencing matches I find endlessly attractive, fascinating and addictive.

No doubt there’s reams of reviews out there that fawn over how well Mrs. Kowal “pulls it off,” or whatever other dismissive phrase you’d like for her sounding like Austen. Poo poo on that, I say. Setting the similarities between the two authors aside, Without a Summer is just a good book.

Sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, this is a novel largely devoid of pretension, or “bullshit.”
This is a novel that knows who and what it is and is more concerned with being that seeming, or written for effect (there is a difference.) Continuing this analogy, I’m sure many you know people like this. Confident and assertive without being all aggressive and all in your face about it.

And for me, it was this surety and also the deft skill of its author that imbues Without a Summer with that rare sense of real magic one gets in good books. That in our reading it the chains of fiction fall away and we are lulled into the illusion of our witnessing a firsthand account of people and places we just happen to have not heard about until now.

If that explanation seems a bit messy, what I mean is that the experience of reading Without a Summer is comfortable, effortless and enjoyable. You read words. It good. Like that. And again, putting aside all the Austen comparisons, credit has to be given to Mrs. Kowal for this. Ultimately, she made the whole thing up, and in my opinion, it comes off smashingly.

And what’s better, is that with a book like this I’ve found one of those authors that -unless she loses her shit and dive bombs into some avant-garde existential crisis at some point- I know I can pretty well buy their stuff sight unseen until one of us dies.

So, at the risk of repeating myself, Without a Summer is good, and I urge you to visit her website and buy her books. Literally, send her your mother’s old jewelry or even cheques for cash money because she’s a very talented lady and I’m sure also a nice person. I honestly wouldn’t mind if all of North America suddenly became a fascist regime and she was elected its iron-fisted dictator. I bet it wouldn’t even be that bad.

Sincerely,

Mr. B

Nov 12

And Now: The Fake Books

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Fitness and Health

  • Weaponizing Your Bodily Fluids on a Budget
  • An Unbiased Exploration of Performance Enhancement Drugs for Non-professional Athletes
  • Let’s High five until someone dies!
  • Swim until Someone Else Throws Up

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Wildlife

  • Those slutty racoons
  • The Deer Rapist
  • Kill that Bear with Your Penis
  • No More Dogs Anywhere
  • Shoot her!!!!!!!! Shooooooot her!!!
  • Giant Horsecock Magazine: The Panoramas

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Fiction

    • 40,000 Aspergers Death Commandos

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Biography/misc

      • My Life has been Fair and I have a Big Penis: A Biography
      • My Dildo Bat Collection
      • My Justified Rapes
      • Poet as long term career
      • My Father, the Erlking

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Lifestyle

      • All the Woman in My Basement
      • All the Woman In Your Basement
      • Basements and the Women In Them
      • Manacles and the Tensile Strength of Chain: Finding a Solution that Just Works
      • Cheap and Effective Soundproofing; Durable Stain-resistant Walls
      • Anything is a Potential Throwing Weapon
      • No Mom, You Move Out!
      • Where Your online Degree Matters
      • Uric acid Controls my Life
      • Uric Acid does not Control My Life
      • No, That’s Not all the Guns I Own
      • Hidden Rooms with No Windows or Doors
      • Burn Down Every Hardware Store
      • Lets Poop At Church

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Cooking

      • Can I Eat My Son if He’s Shitty?
      • Classic Italian Meals for Busy Thai Hookers
      • The Food Poisoning Challenge
      • On the Salting and Storing of Cadavers, By William H. Macy
      • Can I Eat This Dog Shit?
      • All The Things I Fed My Ex-wife
      • Butter, and Nothing Else

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How to

      • How to get Far Enough away From Horses
      • How I turned Ten Dead Hookers into a Queen Sized Mattress, and other Do-It-Your-Selfers
      • How to Do Nothing and Get Everything
      • Stab Your Way to that Second Interview
      • Fucking Your Father in the Shower and Snacks: A 10 step guide
      • Burying the Dead with Industrial Equipment: A rent to own guide
      • How to Poop Forever
      • Beating the Shit Out Of Your Whore Mother: For Dummies
      • Advanced Martial Arts Training for Really Hot Sluts

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Romance novels

    • 10 Slutty Clowns
    • There Were Not Enough Pirates
    • There Were Not Enough Pirates II: There Were Too Many Pirates
    • The DP PD
    • Lets Fuck in The Ocean
    • All her Lost Teeth
    • His Two Penises
    • The Pirate Ship we Fucked On and Later Burned
    • He Still Loves my Open Sores
    • Thomas, Who is 105
    • His Delicate Gallstones
    • And Then I Couldn’t Find His Penis

Hundreds attend war veteran’s funeral after newspaper ad

Check this out. It’s great.

Nov 11

 Remembrance Day

 

taken from http://i.huffpost.com/gen/857463/thumbs/o-REMEMBRANCE-DAY-CANADA-2012-facebook.jpg

 

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I suppose there are a lot of kids and adults in North America and Europe who know about Remembrance Day but don’t really care or understand it beyond “those guys that nag at the corners for money” or that its the one time a year you’ll those bright red flowers on everybody’s shirts; which puts it on the same level of importance as Easter, I suppose.

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Like many children in North America and Europe I grew up with the school announcements and gym assemblies of November 11. Someone plays trumpet, there’s that moment of silence, maybe a speech or two from the real class do-gooders. If I bothered to look, there’d have been articles in the paper (which I would never read) or brief mentions of them on TV. Later, history class in high school filled in a few more of the details. In retrospect, its an important thing to know a bit about the country you live in. I’m grateful for what I learned, but I also realize you lose something in reading books packed with facts and an endless procession of raw information.

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For what I can remember of what we I learned about the World Wars, I wouldn’t say I was beaten over the head or bored with this stuff, but in looking back years later I’ve realized there’s a coldness and a disassociation to it. An emotional disconnection that comes with figures like “6 million Jews,” or 30 million North Americans. Or Battle of Mons, Battle of Verdun and so on.

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I’ll never know the true misery of war. Outside of history class, I get my main impression from – and I know how trite and presumptive this may sound- the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. It’s based on an actual account of a group of soldiers during World War II, following them from bootcamp to just before Hiroshima. Now, I know this is art and its also entertainment, but at its core it humanizes war. Takes it beyond the facts that didn’t have much traction with me.

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I think its crazy and irrelevant to get into an argument about “War is this” or “War is that.” War is facts and dates. That’s one way to look at it. It’s horrific, violence, awful and the list goes on. But if we can work from the standpoint that war is a multisided thing, one of those sides -and to me its most important- is that its human. And beyond the information, there’s the more difficult and less quantifiable human loss.

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There are millions of sons, fathers, brothers and friends that never came home. Those are wives whose families are broken. Friend never seen again. The promises and plans for futures that were cut terribly short. Those loses are personal and immeasurable. Newspapers, assemblies, history class, they kept that at arms length for me.

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Now, I’m a world away in time and personal circumstance from any kind of war. I’m just an average middle class guy who watched a show about War once, so I can’t speak with much authority. But I know that whenever we walk by and ignore those people handing out poppies, or just don’t care, “get it” or want to make the effort to try to, that this kind of dismissal is a luxury. And that we are only alive to do it, because there are millions who aren’t. So, remember.

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Mr. B

Review

 Nov 7

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Ghost in the Shell

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Ghost in the Shell, for those not familiar with it, is a 1995 animated film which takes place in a futuristic Japan where cyber-terrorism -attacks on cybernetically enhanced people and machines to achieve politically motivated ends- has resulted in new playing field for global espionage and, in Japan, has required the creation of a variety of government branches to deal with it. The film focuses on a Major Kusanagi, a central figure in such a branch -known as Section 9- as she hunts down a mysterious super-hacker known as The Puppet Master.

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To completely ruin the film for you, here a brief plot summary:

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The Major, who is a seriously hot cyborg lady (who could totally come over and help me drywall my house any day of the week,) begins the film with killing someone who’s been talking to a computer programmer (who has like, only the second best mullet in the film) who was part of a secret project known only as “Project 2501.” This program, it turns out, has gone “rouge” and has some connection to The Puppet Master, who’s been breaking into the cyber-brains of government staff associated with an upcoming peace talk.

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After a series of tense encounters involving real serious spin kicking, pew-pew guns with bullets and an excessive amount of staring at boats set to the 1995 equivalent of Andrew Bayer, we learn that project 2501 and The Puppet Master are actually one in the same, this being a computer program created for cyber-terrorism which has became self aware and rebelled against its creators, this being Section 6, another branch of the Japanese government.

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In the film’s final moments, 2501/The Puppet Master implants itself in a cyber-body and attempts to seek political asylum from Section 9, is kidnapped by Section 6, then getting saved from them by Major Kusanagi who wholeheartedly agrees to have serious no tapouts balls-deep e-sex with candles and love feelings (note: the candles were present in spirit) and with their combined intelligences birth a new form of life into the vast, infinite tides of the net. This happens, as does the death of both The Major and Puppet Master, and then everybody blows each other to Offspring, roll credits. (wait, am I lying?)

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This grocery list of plot points has little to do with the heart of the film, though. The film is deeper than its action and intrigue. The majority of political and action thrillers -and there is nothing wrong with this- get by, beyond the stimulation of mind games the audience plays in unraveling the mysterious of who-did-what, on being intellectually vacuous pieces of entertainment.

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Navigating the web of intricacies that are the interactions between governments seems to do just fine when punctuated by fear, gun violence and more often than not, pretty women. What is fascinating about Ghost in the Shell, though, (and to this reviewer has seemed true also for its second movie and television show,) is that it is a thinker’s movie masquerading as an political action thriller. What’s that you say?

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Throughout this film, Major Kusanagi is shown to be physically present but distracted. In the opening where her squadmate Batou has difficulty getting her attention, when she later opens the curtains to her apartment and sits there staring out the window, being late to the scene of a hacking crime, wandering around town looking at nothing in particular-the list goes on. Through all these moments, she seems to be thinking about something, and the film gives us enough information to infer what these thoughts are.

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From the cold, beautiful intro credits that show us her cyber-body’s maintenance, the memory manipulation of a garbageman into committing terrorist crimes against a wife he does not actually have, the Majors own words to her partner Batou during a leisure trip on the ocean, and the concept of a self aware computer program, the logical line of thought to follow is that her thoughts -and the heart of movie itself- coast around the same area. Being: what does it mean to be yourself? Are you still yourself if your brain is dumped into artificial body? Do your memories make you who you are? Is self-awareness a defining trait of who you are? and what does that mean for a self-aware artificial intelligence?

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These questions persistently seethe beneath the political concerns and attractive violence of the film, and are inescapable even if the viewer is unable to pin them down. They’ll nag at anyone who doesn’t quite ‘get it.’ Ask anyone who has seen it; the pace is too slow for a political action film, despite it having most of the associated bits and parts. There are too many scenes of the Major disconnected from the world around her. In a manner of speaking, she is not there. She exists in this film in a level below, in the ground floor of existential questioning and searching; unsure of who she is, and who she is in relation to the world around her. And if we are willing to follow her, it is an endlessly stimulating journey. Not to answers, as even with the film’s conclusion and birth of an entirely new form of life we are given nothing definite, but to more questions. To question the meaning of our own selves and how we fit in the world around us. And also -and central to this film which I have not really touched on here- how technology can completely change our sense of who we are.

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I don’t know if the divide between the people who enjoy this film, hate it or are bored by it is sharp, but something that so intimately draws us into thoughts like this I would hope that, even if it has to be grudgingly, could be appreciated as art; if of a strange sort. Because despite its being an animated film, despite its flashy violence and tech and the sometimes affected quality of its frequent long scenes of staring at nothing, it seems to be, in addition to being one of those lucky films which in a way are new on each watching, just that.

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Mr. B

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Review

Nov 6

(art by Talros)

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A Fistful Of Sky, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. 353 pp. Ace Books, 2002

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I discovered this book at a time when I was experiencing a drought of good reading material, finding it along with two others that also happened to be great choices (Marcus Sakey’s excellent debut crime novel The Blade Itself as well as Ramsey Campbell’s The One Safe Place) in bookstore named, simply enough, Paperback’s Buy and Sell,” in Kingston, Ontario. For me, it had that pleasant and disarming freshness of experiencing a voice outside the safety net of favorite authors and their recommendations one sometimes tends to fall into.

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I picked up this book over two years ago, so I’m unsure what the initial motivation was for me to buy it. At a guess, the outside jacket and first few pages have enough lavish praise to warrant interest, not to mention her Bram Stoker award as well as Nebula and World Fantasy nominations. The title itself A Fistful of Sky, as well as its cover, have a certain mysterious, dramatic allure.

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The reality depicted in A Fistful Of Sky mirrors our own, with the minor difference that a select few families have magical abilities, these developing at the outset of puberty. At the novel’s outset, however, a twenty year old Gypsum LaZelle, its protagonist, has failed to show signs of any gifts whatsoever, and so begins her tribulations.

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Her being this kind of “dud” makes her the mark of frequent torment from not only her siblings Opal, and Jasper, but also her controlling mother who, in a misguided and borderline psychotic attempt to “improve” her slightly overweight daughter, casts a spell which not only prevents Gypsum from eating anything but conventionally healthy foods (salad, carrots etc,) and forces her to physical activity to the point of collapse, but prevents her from talking to anyone about it.

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As a result of the seclusion forced on her by her lack of magic, she struggles with her sense of personal identity as well as her identity within the family, often relegated to feeling like the outsider for her shortcomings. Of itself, the hard put on outsider as protagonist is a common and uninteresting starting point, however Hoffman takes, as far as this inexperienced reviewer can tell, a wholly unique approach to it.

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After being introduced to her family and her situation, and though it happens gradually, about a a quarter of the way into the book Gypsum not only develops magical abilities, but talents that exceed those of her family, with the troubling catch that she is unable to control them.

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Now, what is fascinating about this turn of events is that Gypsum’s ability to do magic, to learn what she can do and how she can control it, becomes the spine of the novel, a trait which, having since read Hoffman’s Fall of Light, The Silent Strength of Stones and A Red House of Memories, seems to be a defining feature of her work.

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There are many novels and stories with fantastic elements (dragons, magic, far away lands, secret doorways, strange creatures, monsters etc) where these features are used most strikingly (though by no means do I mean exclusively) as set pieces over which elaborate adventures take place; for example in works such as Terry Brook’s Shanara series, Susana Clarke’s Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrel, Tim Powers Anubis Gates. In this reviewer’s limited experience, however, there are few which make the elements themselves their dramatic and structural centers.

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To put this another way, while Gypsum does have identity issues and troubles with her family, I doubt there would have been a purpose to this novel without magic being involved. For example:

  • All the torments directed at her are magic related, and done because these abilities are absent in her. She remains at home studying to be an English tutor and unsure of what her future will be because she has grown up in a family where magic dictates profession (Opal, talented with illusions, becomes a makeup artist for movies and TV shows, Jasper, his talent relating to music, pursues that avenue.)
  • She begins stalked by a dark stranger? She speaks with her Uncle Tobias and learns that the stranger is actually a manifestation of her suppressed abilities, a discovery which sets the pace for the rest of the novel’s exploration of her abilities.
  • There’s an entire chapter devoted to Gypsum accidentally making herself fat and trying to figure out how to undo it.
  • There are roughly three chapters dealing with her casting a spell on her Aunt’s computer, which, when she tries to fix it, jumps into her own body and begins to assume control of her powers.

A complete list of such events would be overwhelming. Nearly every event or development is related to her building understanding and developing control of her abilities. This exploration of the fantastic (being the mechanics of her magic) is the engine that drives this novel; however, what is crucial about Ms. Hoffman’s style and also what makes it such an enjoyable read is that this journey is inseparably bound to Gypsum’s identity issues.

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With each spell she casts and consequence she faces as a result, she learns more about herself and her family. For example, in accidentally making herself excessively fat, she becomes more confident with her body image when she returns to normal size; through a variety of curses against her mother, she works through her tension of their relationship. On an on the list could go. Nearly each step towards her better understanding her abilities helps her better understand herself.

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Having a novel structured like this makes for low forward momentum; Gypsum herself and her family troubles do form a sort of antagonist, but as this presence is not centralized, there is little sense through its nearly four hundred pages of the story cresting towards some dramatic conclusion. Gypsum just has to figure things out, and takes what time she needs to take. With this lack of drive, focusing a novel’s energy on excitement of magical flash bang after magical bang, can dull its edge and leave it with a frustrating lack of substance at times.

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I can’t say Ms. Hoffman is an author I read frequently. There seems some snobbish, groping part of my tastes that lean towards denser reads with deeper “meaning” to them (yes, I know this sounds silly.) But still, for an author with such a unique and human-centered approach to fantastic literature, I have nothing but praise. If I don’t read her voraciously, I still read her twice a year. She is, if nothing else can be said about her style, a talented, magical writer who is a delight to read. And -and maybe more importantly- worth while taking a look into as, if we question how “silly” things like dragons, magic, spells, robots, hidden cities and all that -the meat and potatoes of fantastic fiction- can be meaningful to read about, Nini Kiriki Hoffman in A Fistful of Air and in other works by her, surely has at least one of many answers.

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Mr. B

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Ordinary People

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By Judith Guest

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One thing that can be said about Judith Guests’s 1976 novel, “Ordinary people” is that it is elusive. This may seem strange considering how deftly and clearly its characters have been rendered, a trait doubtlessly the subject of any meaningful review or analysis of the book since its release (not to mention its appearing in numerous blurbs on the book’s inside jacket.)
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Certainly it is true. The depth and clarity with which a family struggling in the wake of tragedy is portrayed some of the strongest characterization this reviewer has experienced, and yet it is this strength and quality, this persistent and pervasive dedication to honesty and truth that makes it an elusive read.
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The novel itself follows the healing process a family undergoes following two major disruptions; these being the attempted suicide of Conrad, the youngest son of Calvin and Beth Jarrett, and the earlier drowning of their older son, Buck. Their identities as separate people and as members of a family have been shattered and they must reassemble themselves in the context of pain and loss.
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Of course, this summary comes from the hindsight of having read the book. The two events themselves are only briefly mentioned within the first hundred pages and over the books two-hundred fifty pages are given barely a half dozen paragraphs. As a result, we are ill-equipped and sometimes left to flounder. Take, for example, Conrad’s musings at the book’s introduction:
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“To have a reason to get up in the morning, it is necessary to posses a guiding principle. Belief of some kind… They identify, they summarize, they antagonize with statements of faith… Lying on his back in bed, he gazes around the walls of his room, musing about what has happened to his collection of statements.”
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Here, we are given the picture of a young man having lost his place in the world. Then there is his doubt, hopelessness and pain suggested by phrases such as “Conrad the anxious failure,” “A thousand word book report due…the book has not been read,” “The small seed of despair cracks open and sends experimental tendrils upward to the fragile skin holding him together,” “Allow yourself a couple of bad days now and then… How bad? Razor-blade bad?” This is followed by a loose description of what can only be a psychiatric hospital.
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From these snippets we can infer Conrad being a disturbed young man having recently been hospitalized for hurting himself. Yet while the struggles of this young man are outlined, the specifics avoided and we are left with too many questions.
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And yet it is this avoidance of a fact based core that lends the novel its honesty and strength. For especially those who have experienced life changing trauma, the concerns immediately following the wound are not the grocery list of who, what, where, why etc, but of triage and treatment. That after the car accident, loss of limb, death of a loved one and so on, after the merciless fact of damage have done its work, their is only healing.
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In newspaper articles, second hand tellings (a friend of a friend told me… etc) and -at least in this reviewers opinion, too many novels- we are given an authorial birds-eye view of tragedy. That the reaction between teller and listener is one concerned with a supply and demand of facts. And yet the satisfactions of this process are shallow. Superficial. The implication being that we do not or cannot care much about how the people these stories concern have been effected personally. The focus being to tell us what happened, rather than who it happened to. And the latter, is what Ordinary People spends the majority of its pages discussing.
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It provides us with a ground level perspective of broken, hurting people. A perspective implied by Conrad in his internal dialogue overwhelmed by his struggle by even simple concerns: “Morning is not a good time for him. Too many details crowd his mind. Brush his teeth first? Wash his face? What pants should he wear;” A preoccupation with the miniscule echoed by this father in the following chapter.
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The overall effect of this focus is that -with the emotional and personally immediate at its heart, that Conrad, Calvin and Beth have spent the entire novel with the suicide attempt and drowning secretly at the core of their struggle- when the events are finally described in detail, they -as well as the Jarrett’s themselves, by extension- have, for however brief we as readers are willing to allow it, transcended their existence as words on a page.

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Elusive is perhaps a poor choice of words. While the facts of Ordinary People may not take centre stage, the people they effect never leave the spotlight of Mrs. Guest’s capable hands. That in so faithfully rendering the pain of loss and its effects on personal geography -who am I as a son, father, mother, young person, member of society etc- we witness in this marvellous book an honest, unpretentious, and meaningful rendering of human drama the majority of North American authors -popular or otherwise- would do well to mind. There is a rare and striking quality truth here; one whose depths I imagine only extending further with multiple readings.
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Mr.B
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