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Posts tagged ‘man’

Rites of Passage

41uBGeLbd8L._SY346_Midnight and Holding by Joyce DeBacco.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Midnight and Holding is a lovely collection of stories that include a woman daydreaming about the past, which helps her see the present clearly (Rubies and Other Gems); a shed which brings together a husband and wife (The Shed); a carefree youth who awakens dreams and desires of an older woman (Rainbow Years); a humorous account of a wife’s suggestion being taken to extremes (Mad Dogs and Fisherman); a parent’s rite of passage (Midnight and Holding); and a woman who buys her husband a new suit for his last big occasion (Harvey’s New Suit).

Ms. DeBacco has a wonderful sense of home, place, family, marriage, and a life of raising children. Themes of loss, living for others, and losing one’s self, run throughout these tales. In Midnight and Holding a mother speaks about waking up in the middle of the night to a quiet house, once the children are gone away to college. “It’s the middle of the night and, unable to sleep, I wander through the quiet house. Unshackled from the invisible chains tethering me between laundry room and kitchen, I now seek to busy myself with something, anything to keep my mind from dwelling on their absence. Reluctantly, I strip the beds on which they’d slept, my fingers pausing over the deep indentations in the pillows. The neatness of their naked dressers and floors assaults my eyes.”

It is a rare writer that can take the ordinary, and everyday family life, and stretch it just enough to be familiar, yet daring and different from our daily routines and expectations. The author of Midnight and Holding has this ability – the ability to nurture reality, blur the lines and witness characters gaining insight and/or having a transformative experience in the process. At first glance, this collection of stories is about the mundane, but upon reading it becomes clear that each one is a unique creation. They feel authentic and take one to the core of time passing, and the impact those in our lives have upon us.

Prizes Among the Dirt

51xH8YMzYQLThe Boy With The Coin – A Short Story by Christina van Deventer. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

An old man tells his story about a boy he watches across the street, who finds something in the mud and then leaves. The man goes over and finds fifty cents atop a small mound. He is not sure when, or if, they boy will return to collect his find. In the meantime, it becomes clear that the narrator (an older man) has a strained relationship with his daughter (Allison), and doesn’t have long to live.

The Boy With The Coin is a well told short story that keeps the vague past present, and an edge to the tale that is palpable. Is forgiveness, or redemption, possible? Does anyone deserve, or not deserve, to die? Ms. van Deventer asks these questions in the context of the story, and with honest speculation. Does life and death “mean” anything? If so, are we responsible for our actions, or in-actions?

Here is an excerpt, with the narrator being reminded of his childhood joy of living, and present lack of such. “I don’t know what prompted me to cross the street to where the boy had been playing. Curiosity, I suppose. I was once a child myself, but I have long since lost my ability to find joy in the small things, the prizes among the dirt, and I wondered what the boy had found that could be of any consequence to his heart.”

No Other Choice

Secrets: In the shadows lurks the truth by Judith Barrow.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51GqVk8eBwLEach of the eight short stories in Secrets are very well written, and involve characters from Ms. Barrow’s novels. They include Nelly’s attempt to escape a convent with her baby, before it is given away; a nurse (Hilda) who has cared for her cantankerous mother for many years; Edith, who has been abused by her husband one to many times; Gwyneth, whose previous husband shows up unwanted, and unexpectedly at her new home; the fate of Alun Thomas, and his brother, who are conscientious objects during the first world war; Hannah and her son, reacting to the death of Hannah’s father; a fourteen-year-old and his friend joining the army during “the war to end all wars”; and Doreen, who has a baby during an air raid.

Most of these tales show the lives of women who have few options, or choices in their lives, and the extreme measures they take to be set free, and/or have some freedom (no matter how momentary it may be). Though the characters are taken from the author’s novels, each short story stands on its own, and could be a book entirely unto itself. The description of each individual, and their situations, are done with precision and care. By the end of the first paragraph readers have a good sense of who is who, what is going on, and the dilemma that is presented. This is no small feat. To weave together such a tight narrative is not an easy task for most writers. Ms. Barrow seems to do it with ease, and presents the primary protagonist with honesty, and empathy.

Having sympathy, and understanding, for the main character of a novel usually takes some time. To create an instant connection between the reader and the woman, or man, in a short story is even more difficult to do. I felt such a connection, regardless of the acts, or actions, they took, with every person in this collection. Doreen, Stan, Hannah, Alun, Gwyneth, Edith, Hilda, and Nelly, each had me rooting for them to triumph, get away from, or take whatever action was needed, to survive, or make sense of the world within which they lived. There are also a number of surprise endings.  Secrets is a book I recommend, without hesitation. Without a doubt, Ms. Barrow’s novels are just as well written, and well worth your time and attention.

Who is it this morning?

51hmYNSvtFLMagnetic Reverie (The Reverie Book 1) by Nico J. Genes. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

This wonderful story gives the film Inception a run for its money. Lana keeps waking up in two different countries, with two different lovers, not knowing which is a dream and which is real. Is she with Claire, in Slovenia, or her husband Greg, in the U.S? Lana’s dreams about Claire seem as real as her life in Washington, D.C., with her husband Greg. When she’s with Greg all she thinks about is going back to sleep to be with Claire. “It was the morning and it was time to wake up. I looked around to see which bedroom I was in.”

No mistake about it, Lana is in completely new territory, as she has never been with a woman before her “dreams” began. She is not familiar with the attraction, sensations and feelings that Claire arouses, though she is quite familiar with the language, city, and less-openly expressive country in which she was raised (Slovenia). The two women eventually go on holiday around the country, fall deeply in love, and Lana is overwhelmed with her reactions. “Her eyes were amazing. Her voice was such a pleasant melody to the ear. I kept thinking about her in a way I never thought of any other woman. Was I feeling butterflies?”

Lana is torn between both worlds, and people, not wishing to deceive the other, and not knowing how to explain or deal with either. Definitely read this story to the end, as there are a number of realizations, events, and decisions that Lana makes in the final pages which provide new perspectives and open’s the door for other possibilities. Look for the line, “I felt like she was my ____________ while Greg was my ____________.” This line helps to understand how Lana reconciles the two worlds. Magnetic Reverie is a convincing bi-sexual romance, with shades of surrealism and mystery. After reading this story by Ms. Genes, I wanted to go take a nap and see if there were any unknown loves waiting for me in my dreams.

 

Say It Outloud

51TNQTUdZkLThe Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name – Short Stories by Fiza Pathan. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Confession time. When I saw that this collection of short stories was over 450 pages long, I planned to skim over them and write a brief overview. After reading the first one, The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name, I was hooked and ended up reading each story from start to finish. They are all excellent, different and well written. They take place in different countries (India, Canada, United States, Iran, Syria, un-named South American country, Thailand, and the United Kingdom). What they all have in common is the portrayal of someone who is not part of the stereotyped heterosexual majority.

Each person must deal with the prejudice, religious intolerance, and/or ignorance, of their family, community, friends, culture, and/or government. Oscar Wilde quotes are also part of many of the stories, and match each perfectly. Each tale in The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name begins with the primary characters name as the first word of the story, thus speaking there name out loud, and validating who they are.

Sreekanth declares his love for another man to his father. Stanford’s father is outraged when he finds out who his son is friends with. Mrs. Almeida has to deal with her ex-principal who is outraged when she hears that one of her children was born biologically a boy and changed to a girl. Salman secretly lives with his boyfriend and wife, fearing the ISIS leaders will discover them at any time and put them to death. Melody discovers that she doesn’t fit into the sexual stereotype she expected. Five-year-old Ken wants to be Wonder Woman, and starts to take drastic measures to make it so, much to the dismay of his parents.

Another confession. Being the parent of a daughter who married her long-time girlfriend, a son who married another man, and some long-time friends who are transgender, as well as living in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 40 years, made it difficult to accept all of the violence, hatred, and mis-understanding portrayed in these stories. The longer I read however, the more I realized how much of a bubble I’m in, and that many parts of the U.S. and other parts of the world still have intense prejudice, fear, and anger, towards people who are gay, lesbian, transgender, born intersex, pansexual, bi-sexual, transvestite, or anything that is not the “norm”.

It is sad, but vital, that The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name was written. Giving a voice to those who cannot speak, who are shunned, dismissed, minimized, degraded, chided, threatened, misunderstood, and sometimes killed, just for being themselves, is proudly proclaimed with each tale. Though this is a work of fiction, many of the events, and reactions within this collection have, and are, taking place throughout the world. Ms. Pathan not only understands these realities, but is also able to share them with splendid prose, insight, and dramatic effect. It is one thing to aware of others lives, and another to be able to write about them so eloquently.

Each story in Ms. Pathan’s collection of shorts could be part of its own novella, but they stand on there own just as they are. The theme of acceptance, being true to oneself, and the possibility for change, is the constant between them all. As Oscar Wilde states so knowingly, On an occasion of this kind, it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one’s mind. It becomes a pleasure.

Is That Him?

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Two Girls in a Café – A Short Story by Lawrence G. Taylor Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

Almost immediately, it seems as if you are sitting at a table nearby listening to Ruth and Felicity talking. They see a man pass by (Sam), who doesn’t see them, and both say they went out with him, thus begins a conversation about what he is like.

Dino, the waiter, is annoyed with how long Ruth and Felicity have been at the table talking, but as a reader, you wish it would never stop. It turns out that Ruth has a completely different perception of Sam then Felicity, and they have a difficult time understanding why the other feels the way they do about him.

The author’s writing style is clear, easy to follow, and realistic. There is no fancy metaphors, dream sequences, flashbacks, or gimmicks. Two Girls in a Café is a pure and revealing story, with an unexpected turn of events at the end. I have not read Mr. Taylor’s previous books, but am definitely inclined to do so now.

Teen Romance

imagesCindy was a mature woman of sixteen. I was an immature man of eighteen. We met in the afternoon at a teen drop-in center, gazed hopelessly into one another’s eyes, like puppy dogs, and within hours were talking about hooking up. That night we slept together for the first time and I was in heaven. I’d had several previous relationships, but none had ever been this intense or instantaneous.

Within a week Cindy had her mother’s permission to live with me and my grandmother said we could rent her trailer. Everything was set. Life was good. Cindy taught me the joy of sexual freedom and living in the moment and I obediently followed her every wish and whim to “make her happy”. I was so enmeshed in the sensations of the relationship that I failed to recognize my co-dependent and needy behavior. In my mind sex and love were one and the same.

I continued working at a counseling center and Cindy finished up her last year of high school. I studied Eastern religions on the side and she enjoyed drawing and working part-time at a florist shop. The only “minor” issue was that I couldn’t “make her happy” or give her the answers she was seeking. We were two young teenagers growing up together who had no idea what we were doing, what we wanted or where we were going.

After two tumultuous years we figured the answer to our dilemma was to get married. Why not? Wasn’t that what you were supposed to do? And even though it didn’t mean much to us at the time, we figured the worst that could happen is that we’d receive a lot of cool presents! Getting married was “just a piece of paper” we reasoned. Both of our parents had divorced and we knew we’d “always be together” regardless of any societal contract we may sign.

The wedding turned out as planned. All of our friends and relatives showed up at the reception, we got plastered and received a lot of money and presents. But after the money was spent and the wedding hangover wore off, the realities of what we had done creeped into our daily lives. We didn’t know what being married meant. I thought it implied getting a “steady job” and having children. So, I obtained a nine to fiver at the local phone company and we talked about having kids and buying a house. Lukily, neither the house nor the kids worked out because a year later it was splits-ville, as in divorce, finale, kaput, the end.

Screaming was the only thing that finally got my attention. Slamming the door shut behind her, Cindy entered the living room late one evening and yelled at the top of her lungs, “I can’t live with you anymore. I want a divorce!”

“Why,” I pleaded. “What do you want me to do?”

“Nothing,” she said. “Why don’t you stand up for yourself? Will you be real with me just once?”

“OK,” I replied, “What do you want me to say?”

“You don’t understand do you?” she replied. I sat silently with my head in my hands. After a deathly silence she quietly said, “I just need some space to be by myself. I moved in with you right from home. I’ve never been on my own.”

“So it’s nothing I’ve done or said?” I asked, my lip quivering.

“No, its not you,” she said.

In fact, it had a lot to do with me. She moved out a few days later and in a month was living with another guy.

Her decision to leave was not entirely out of the blue. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, she had been trying to separate for months. Other than running away, she had given me every clue possible, but I was blind. Her anger and judgments were an attempt to alienate me. She had thrown every name in the book my direction, at one time or another, assuming I’d leave. But like a faithful lap dog I had kept coming back for more.

At one point she insisted I sleep with her friend Lewellen and that we have an “open relationship”. I tried to do as she wished and acted like it was all cool, but it wasn’t. It turns out that the reason she had wanted me to be with other women was because she had already been having affairs with some of my best friends and I assume would have felt less guilty about her own behavior if I’d done the same.

When she left my bubble burst. I thought it was the end of the world. My dependence on her “being happy” as an indicator of my well-being had been total and complete. In the process of making her “OK”, I’d forgotten about myself; my wishes, desires, joys, ambitions and dreams. I had no sense of who “I” was or what made me happy.

Time didn’t heal anything, but it did give me some perspective. Clearly, I had sacrificed what little sense of my self I had ever had for Cindy. As long as I left all decisions to her it would be “her fault” whenever something didn’t work out. I was absolved from all wrong doing. I could blame her for everything. I could wallow in my self-pity and externalize all my troubles. “She did it, not me. She lied to me. She left me. She hurt me.”

I slowly recognized that I had made decisions by not deciding. I had lied to myself. I was equally responsible for our breakup. She tried to force me to be honest and state my needs, but I had cowered from the task. Shock tactics and reasoning never worked. Getting a divorce was what it finally took for me to wake up. It was the brick wall I needed to run into. If Cindy had not had the courage to leave I may have been lingering in a false identity for eons.

Like a snake that sheds it’s skin but still longs for its security, I kept aching for Cindys return. Even though I learned many things about myself since the divorce, images of us getting back together still lingered with sweet agony. Intellectually, I understood such images were fantasy, but my dependence on her for my well-being had been so complete that it took constant reality bites to loosen my grasp and let go of her as my emotional crutch.

Attachment is a strange thing; it can cause bliss and joy or pain and sorrow and you can’t have one without the other. When I grasped for love with Cindy I actually pushed it away with my wanting and neediness. She lost respect for me. The thing I wanted most didn’t want me. There was no substance or core to who I was. I decided to never put all my cookies in one jar. Until I knew who I was and what I wanted, I would not become involved with another woman. I silently swore that I’d never become so dependent on another for my happiness and well-being.

Such self-promises proved to be fruitless. Three more women entered my front door over the next three years and sooner or later left out the back porch. Each time I “knew” it was different than before. But sure enough, as each relationship ended and I had some perspective, it become clear that I couldn’t hide a wolf in sheep’s clothing. No matter how much I wanted to think I had changed, my basic behavior in response to each situation had been the same. They decided when to do what and when the relationship was over; not I. It wasn’t until a conflicted eight-year marriage ended, that I took responsibility and made a painful choice to leave.

After many years I believe I’ve finally figured out how to love and be loved, but I know that isn’t the most original idea that’s ever been planted in my head. I’ve been known to tell myself the most wonderful stories; and they always have happy endings. Every woman I met was the girl of my dreams. It wasn’t until I became more of who it was I was looking for, that I woke up and found the partner I’d been seeking in all my fantasies.

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