Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Short reviews: books by Meg Tuite and Kenyatta Jean-Paul Garcia

Bound by Blue, by Meg Tuite

The book is a collection of entertaining short stories. They have their own little style (they should, she teaches writing and edits magazines) and meet the criteria of writing being like unto a controlled accident. Humorously grim, most of them, the stories feature characters (people who would name their dogs Rasputin, Fanta and Pigeon, for instance) affected with the often drugged out contemporary urban/suburban anomie that slides along the streets and curls about the housing tracts and apartment buildings we live in (a  mother who “rarely slept, lived on No-Doze and diet Cokes” or a mother and daughter watching TV “the claws of a laugh track scratching holes into our brains” or a teenage daughter looking for love in all the wrong places “I jumped into a truck with a guy who spent seven years never graduating from high school.”).

And Meg Tuite is good about piling on.  In one story a young college graduate, unhappy, unattached, and underemployed in dead end jobs and suffering severe depression for which no types of therapy are working, is on her way to Brazil after learning about a healer who might have the answer to her mental agony. As day breaks on the overnight flight to Brasilia, the already suffering woman finds herself in need of freshening up.

My lips were stuck together and my face had been plastered to that lumpy half-pillow all night, so I grabbed my bag and stepped [...] into the aisle...There was a line ahead of me. Lanky, teenage Brazilian girls from a soccer team were traveling with us. I was getting older by the minute just standing there as they tossed their hair and bantered back and forth in Portuguese.

Some of the funny material can turn ugly on you quickly, such as this scene where a young teenage girl comes home late after hanging out with her equally troubled friends and gets an earful from her mother:

“My God, what the hell are you up to?” The good thing was that Audrey’s mother was a drunk and her stepfather a bastard who sometimes beat Audrey’s mom. Audrey never had to explain. “What do you think, Mom? A lot of things happen here while you’re passed out on the couch.” “Don’t talk back to your mother, you little monster. You’re lucky I don’t kick your skinny-hag ass out of here!” And Audrey’s mom would stalk off for her stash of Advil and a Bloody Mary and that would be the end of it.

But the frankness and cynicism can also be endearing, such as the senior in a wheelchair who is tired of everyone feeling the need to extend a greeting:

A few more vague faces poke in on my space and contaminate me with their goodwill.

It’s easy to get hooked on the generous instances of laconic, drop dead writing (that language thing, the way people express themselves), and one story in particular, “What Was That I Was Searching For?” is like a slideshow history 12 loser boyfriends/relationships in a woman’s life, starting from puppy love in fourth grade through college to a young single professional working at a bookstore in Chicago. It's devastating, and I could quote the whole thing, but I don’t want to spoil the fun.

Playing Dead, by Kenyatta Jean-Paul Garcia

Riding home one evening after work I noticed on a sidetrack a long series of shiny but old fashioned looking train cars belonging to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which was in the city for a week of performances. That memory returned to me as I was reading Playing Dead, a book-length poem, a long, almost dreamlike train of observations about life, death, and spirituality, playing off the aura of the circus, the train, the tracks it runs on, the aspects of performance, the mystery of the surrounding ballyhoo.

...Trains enter higher devotion/find more souls for transport...

Kenyatta Jean-Paul Garcia assigns these dreamlike threads to three major players: the Ghost, the Main Attraction, and the Carny, who are then associated with the big top and its environs as a metaphor for life, life as performance, performance as life, the show stopping, spellbinding essence of which he captures concisely:

...the attraction is the hidden desire to imitate – there is no insistence upon the self in an audience...

Playing Dead is an epic recitation of the strange equations of mortality:  instincts and illusions, certainties and appearances. Even the con becomes consecrated in the sideshow symbols of play and delight—cards, cups, games of chance, but also shows the gravely serious potentialities of magic tricks, deception, and sleight of hand.

...miracles are precise, magic takes in/collateral damage...

The poet intones in an almost rosary like meditation issues of time long is a moment when pretending...

and space:

...where there is no more what less is left...

For the Main Attraction, the Carny, the Showstopper, the Ringmaster, and any number of hucksters and shills, ghosts, the whole freaking greatest show: be/was to act...

and what will be

...each act knows its end...

There is much good imagery in this poem, nicely choreographed on the page. An engaging work.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Young and the Thuggin: more clips from urban fiction

Most of the novels are around 99 cents and a ton of them are available on Kindle and, I’m sure, everywhere else. Wikipedia says “The tone for urban fiction is usually dark, focusing on the underside of city living. Profanity, sex, and violence are usually explicit.” I get a kick out of them, I love the language, and they have influenced my world view; for example, I now refer to my car as my whip.  

Being from Chicago myself, I particularly enjoyed this novel even though there aren’t any Windy City landmarks that figure prominently.

Here's a quick recap:  At one point Bitch says: “If Chaz plays his cards right, he could probably be my nigga one day.” Thug, whose name is not Chaz, suspects something going on between Bitch and Chaz:  “I hope this nigga Chaz does not call himself liking my bitch. He a cool lil nigga, but I will kill that nigga if need be.”

And sure enough, stuff happens and: “I looked around the room to see if I could see any deceit in these niggas eyes. I looked that nigga Chaz dead in the eyes and he was sitting over there like he ain’t just rape my wife. I had something real special planned for that nigga.”

But Chaz isn’t the only one living on borrowed time; take Raymond, for instance: “Raymond was the only nigga in the room looking nervous as hell. I’m gone have Dirty and Pimp follow that nigga. I don’t give a fuck about him being Kane’s brother; if he jeopardized my empire that nigga dead. I knew I had to watch this out of town ass nigga I thought.” Very exciting.

There is both humor and gravity in this book. “I kept noticing Anastasia’s ass giving me a dry ass stank look” represents the funny, but my heart went out in commiseration and empathy for the character who, after everything good goes straight to hell, laments: “Things had been dope as fuck, too.” I feel you, bro.

Falling For My Side Nigga, by Racquel Williams

I had trouble relating to the characters here, although when one of them comments wistfully “Once in a while, a nigga needs quietness in his life,” I could do nothing but agree. 

Another Thug.  “I sat outside [the] crib, smoking a blunt while waiting for his ass to come out.” (Wikipedia should have mentioned the ubiquitous drug culture in this genre.) And speaking of cribs, there’s a funny moment when one of the couples are getting ready to go out and the woman says to her man “Nigga, hurry up. I gotta stop by my mama crib before we go to the trap.” But my favorite passage is this piece of analysis and reflection: "Niggas be havin' shit confused. Just because a nigga act one way for his lady, don't mean I'm a pussy. I'll still fuck a nigga up if it’s necessary," Dontay exclaimed.” Outstanding!

Gangstress, by India, contains one astonishing moment in an otherwise disappointing book. I love strong women, but Gangstress herself was not near as exciting as I’d hoped. And I get distracted by errors like “Taylor made suits” and “except my condolences for...”, etc. But when Gangstress poses this rhetorical profundity---“What type of nigga would stop at the mall when he have a dead body in the trunk? I thought to myself.”---well, I just have to shake my head in awe. 

The forward by Lil' Boosie is an imprimatur of gold as far as I’m concerned. And talk about violence! (“It was me who gave you your first .380, remember?”) There is such an array of weaponry and free wielding of same ("After seeing my AK-47, the HK-91, my MAC-11, our AR-15, Country’s German Luger, our Beretta 9, my twin Desert Eagles, Country’s Glock-17, and our bullshit-ass TEC-9, I gave Mookie the Luger, pocketed both the Beretta 9 and the Eagle...") At times I felt like I was in a young and thuggin’ Roy Lichtenstein exhibit while reading. It's appropriate to quote from the text in bullet points. (The bold italic emphasis on the onomontopeia is mine.)
  • But you know there’s always got to be some stupid ma’fucka to fuck shit up. Blap! Blap! Blap! Three shots from what sounded like a cheap nine millimeter came from nowhere. I immediately began to cut my choppa loose. Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka!
  • Baaaaaaaam! Baaaaaaaam! Baaaaaaaam! Baaaaaaaam! Then niggas started emerging from everywhere. T. Roy looked up at me like, ‘What the fuck?’ I returned his eye contact. ‘The fuck if I know.’
  • Bluga! Bluga! Bluga! Bluga! Bluga! Bluga! Bluga! Bluga! The shotgun continued to shoot.
  • Chic chic bluga! Chic chic bluga! Chic chic bluga! Yeah, you already know. Someone sat on the passenger side, busting a sawed-off shotgun at us.
  • Pow, pow, pow! was the sound of the other man’s .38 Special . . . Bop, bop, bop! came the sound of another hustler’s smoking .357.
  • The moment I saw them easing up just a little, I went for my Glock 17. “He’s going for a gun!” I heard one yell and commence to firing. Blop! Blop! Blop! Pow! Pow! Pow!
  • Then, at last it was the ultimate sound, or should I say the supreme sound of a choppa. Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! I peeked over the hood of the Astro van and saw Meathead and some more project niggaz had come to our rescue. Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Kneeling on one knee was Meathead busting an AK-47, while some little black-ass nigga next to him was squatting with what had to be an AR-15.
  • Boc! Boc! Boc! Boc! He took four shots from my semi-automatic and tried to run, but after only a few steps, he collapsed in the middle of the street. I sprang off the porch and crutched behind him. Boc! Boc! Boc! Boc! to finish the job.
  • I placed the Luger against the window. Boc! Boc! Boc!
  • ...aiming a Mossberg pistol-grip pump shotgun at us. Chic chic bluga! Is the sound the sawed-off shotgun made as our rear windshield blew out. ...Chic chic bluga! Chic chic bluga! ...Chic chic bluga! Chic chic bluga! Chic chic bluga!
  • I reached for the rifle, and the moment there was a pause in the shooting, I surfaced with the fifty-caliber and made it do a drumroll. Dat-dat-dat-dat-dat-dat-dat-dat-dat-dat . . .
  • Pow! Pow! Boc! Boc! Pow! Boc! They shot at us anyway. Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka!
  • I ran into the middle of the street and cut the AR-15 loose again. Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Click! Click! Those eight shots dropped Tank’s lil cousin and a pack of unknown daredevils, but I didn’t see Tank. Cow! Cow! Boc! Pow! Boc! Boc! They fired from all directions, with many different motives. I slapped in my second clip, but before I could fire . . . Boc! Boc! Boc! Boc! Boc! Boc! A busta wearing a R.I.P. Richie Rich T-shirt had me dancing in the street. “You can’t kill me, nigga!” I yelled after taking all six shots in the chest. Once I collected myself, I squeezed. Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Blocka! Those shots sent him and two daredevils home, and left another one wounded. “Yall can’t kill me, niggaz! I’m No Love. I started this shit!” Then I saw Tank. Chic Chic Bluga! Chic Chic Bluga! Chic Chic Bluga! Tank’s sawed-off shotgun took me off my feet and knocked me backwards. The impact of the twelve-gauge sent me flying onto the hood of Flat Top’s patrol unit. When I halfway gathered myself, I realized I’d lost my choppa and some fool with Desire Pride tatted around his neck was running toward me with his tool. Pow! Pow! Pow! I took those three shots then went for my Taurus. Boc! Boc! Boc! Boc! Boc! Boc! I fired. “That’s all yall got, nigga. When you fuck with me, you fuckin’ with a heavyweight, nigga.” Before I could raise up from the hood to find my choppa, someone snuck up behind me and slapped me in the head with a Louisville Slugger. Whop!

All that firepower and he gets hit in the head with a baseball bat!  That kills me.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Snow Goose Jerky

Doing a little research on snow goose jerky and I came across this very enjoyable piece of writing.  His (rbranstner) reviews and other posts are entertaining as well. He writes plainly and vividly.