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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Secret Path (Historial Fiction) (Graphic Novel)

by Gord Downie (writer) & Jeff Lemire (Illustrator) 

Publisher: Simon and Schuster (October 18, 2018)

Softcover, 96 pages

Probably one of the most depressing graphic novels I have ever read, and also one of the most unique. It is an oversized edition - 12 X 12, while most graphic novels are 6.5 X 10.5, and it is supposed to be read accompanied by music. Tucked away in the back of the graphic novel is a download code for the album by Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip. The lyrics to the album are written on pages in the novel, so you will know which one to play during the various section. Of course it might run short or fast depending on your reading time, but the lack of words in the novel generally means the average reader can get through it at a decent clip.
Each code has a onetime only use apparently so if you're buying a used copy make sure the slip of paper bound at the end hasn't been torn open. Also, apparently the Kindle version of the book doesn't have include a download code at all.
The whole of this books is a mass of bleak emotions. Almost wordless, except for music lyrics and the line “Goodbye” it is showered in a blue daze of depression, with a few bright spots to make you really feel the depression afterwards.
Thing is, to truly grasp what is transpiring in this story you do have to read the notes on the back cover. Otherwise, it just seems like the story of a boy who ran away from an orphanage and was trying to find his way home.

I am including the back cover notes verbatim, “Chanie, misnamed Charlie by his teachers, was a young boy who died on October 22, 1966, walking the railroad tracks, trying to escape from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School to return home. Chanie’s home was 400 miles away. He didn’t know that. He didn’t know where it was, nor how to find it, but, like so many kids—more than anyone will be able to imagine—he tried.
Chanie’s story is Canada’s story. We are not the country we thought we were. History will be re-written. We are all accountable. Secret Path acknowledges a dark part of Canada’s history—the long suppressed mistreatment of Indigenous children and families by the residential school system—with the hope of starting our country on a road to reconciliation. Every year as we remember Chanie Wenjack, the hope for Secret Path is that it educates all Canadians young and old on this omitted part of our history, urging our entire nation to play an active role in the preservation of Indigenous lives and culture in Canada.”
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Psychotic Interlude (Horror)

by Toneye Eyenot

Published: Independent (February 28, 2018). 

 Softcover, 120 pages

“But to protect themselves from being exposed, these secretive demons who pull our strings divert our attention from their nefarious doings and cast it onto others like yourself. Your hatred, your anger, your fucking furious rage, if combined with the rage of seven billion others, would bring those ivory towers crashing to the ground faster than the World Trade Centre. Divide and conquer; that’s the age-old game they play.
“While you get shuffled around on the game board of life, obeying your invisible masters - teachers, the judicial system, law enforcement… fuckin’ God- you have been taught to hate people you don’t even know, based on nothing more than a label. Religion, social status, political persuasion, you name it; they are nothing more than systems of control designed to keep you docile while you stuff your face on toxic garbage packaged as food, and cheer for your favorite, grossly overpaid football team on the idiot box.”
This is a collection of horror short stories by Toneye Eyenot. Except for the final installation, the stories are of the incredibly disturbing in the fact that they are based in reality. Each of them could actually happen, which (in my opinion) makes it all the creepier. A lack of supernatural elements brings the fear closer to home. Like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, I had to keep asking myself what would I do in such a situation. Unlike Henry though, the protagonists of these tales are not the villains- which does not make the action any less painful to read.
Author Toneye Eyenot

The first story, “An Experiment in Fear”, is different in that it uses the rare 2nd person point of view (which utilizes the pronoun “you”) and describes a brutal torture of yourself in intricate detail. I honestly have never read a story like it and is almost worth the price of the book in itself. The second story, of which there is an excerpt above, is also done in the 2nd person, but in this case you take the form of the aggressor rather than the victim. “Don’t Be a Cunt” is an indictment to the world at large and, in my opinion is the high point of the collection. Third is “Petty Pleasantries”, now being told in 1st person perspective, we have a handyman with a hair-trigger being harassed by a bitch housewife. Hilarity ensues. Next, we are presented with “What’s in a Name” the most disturbing story of the lot. Without giving too much away, it deals with a man seeking revenge for his wife and child. This story could’ve been more, even expanded into a novel length, but it is satisfying enough for now. The last story is the one which breaks the pattern of realistic horror. “Sanity Korpse” is a tongue-in-cheek story about Santa Claus eating some acid laced cookies and ensuing on a planet wide killing spree.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A World I Never Made (Drama) (Fiction)

by James T. Farrell (Writer) Charles Fanning (Introduction) 

Publisher: University of Illinois Press; revised ed. edition (March, 2007)

Softcover, 440 pages. 

            “He watched the lady, swayed. Well, wasn’t that something to put in your pipe and smoke! What the hell was he, a bluebeard, or a Blackhand? Why, goddamn her. She was probably the wife of some rich dude and she named her kids Percy. It kind of made him wish that some guy would grab her, drag her across the street in the prairie and give her five or six inches of what her dude husband probably didn’t have to give her.”
This somewhat hyperbolic title ushers in the first novel in Farrell's quintilogy on the O'Neil - O'Flaherty families in Chicago. Specifically, it follows Danny O'Neil who rises up from the Irish slums to become a successful lawyer.
Some have criticized Farrell’s writing style, claiming that it's repetitive, and too dependent on dialogue, while being short in action. It's true most of the scenes are dialogues between characters and in their speech we discover what has happened in-between the previous speech. However, that doesn’t diminish the skill of the writing. It enhances it if anything. He keeps the drama in-house and demonstrates the world through the family's eyes.
As for repetitious, his style becomes lyrical and lilting as it continues on. The back-and-forth between characters becomes a lullaby that drifts the characters through life. The gift of gab was part of the lifeblood of the old Irish tradition and it flows deep here.
Author, James T. Farrell

Set in 1911, the story captures the feel and smell of the Irish families as they claw to survive and prosper. It's fascinating to read of their problems. Often they are the same problems we face today. Money, sex, properly raising children, etc. Even the political debates between Democrats and Republicans, while removing the specific names (Taft was in the White House at this time), could happen today. The Republicans are said to be in the pockets of big business and the Democrats are said to be idealistic talkers, incapable of getting things done, relying on symbolic gestures.
The two families represent the split of the Irish in the race’s journey through America. The O'Flaherty are the Lace Curtain Irish who use the resources of this new land to educate the next generation so they can be better off and rise above the poverty impressed on them by the English in their native land. While the O'Neils are Shanty Irish, poorly educated, too many children, slovenly in their ways, poor hygiene. They are incapable, or unwilling, to better themselves and will eventually become known as “white trash”.
Danny O'Neil, here seen only as a child, is a product of both worlds. Born into the poor family, he is taken in by his upwardly mobile relations due to his parent’s appalling poverty. Eventually, he will rise above it all. Danny O'Neil is the protagonist foil to the author's other great work, Studs Lonigan. Studs is a dumb Irish brute born to a decent middle class family, whose fortunes spin downwards into an eventual early grave.
Original cover of the 1st edition. 

Farrell wished this series of books to have a more upbeat end. His work (along with Jim Tully's) centralized the Irish-American Catholic experience in the forefront of the drama, rather than them being a minor part or just comic relief. It started a trend of Irish centered novels and films which proliferated the 40s and 50s.
But let me give those who are interested a warning. Farrell showed the ways of the old school Irish as he knew it, warts and all. There's plenty in here that might be considered politically incorrect. Racial slurs against all abound and the characters almost uniformly show a dislike for all who weren't Irish and Catholic. Well, that was the old ways. Entire countries run on a small town mentality.
For your general information, the term “dude” used above in the excerpt is an insult, rather than just a common type of expression like it is now. Back in the day it meant a man who spent an unmanly amount of time primping himself up, worrying about his clothes and so forth.  It originated in 1883 and used in reference to the devotees of the "aesthetic" craze. Later on it was applied to all city slickers, especially Easterners vacationing in the West.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Realm Vols. 1-4 (Fantasy) (Graphic Novel)

by Ralph Griffith (Writer), & Guy Davis (Illustrator)

Publisher: Caliber Comics (Feb. 14th, 2017).

Softcover, 156 pages each.

The reason I'm combing four volumes together into one entry is that they are part of one long continuous story. And as The Realm is an obscure title from an effectively defunct publisher, the chances of anyone being interested in two entries is rather slim.
The Realm was one of two series taken from Arrow Press (the other being DeadWorld- the original zombie apocalypse comic). Similar in format to the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, it follows the exploits of four humans from our world who are sucked into a fantasy world of magic and mayhem.
This world is heavily influenced by Dungeons & Dragons with all sorts of familiar monster races - orcs and goblins- and friendly orcs- dwarves and elves. What sets it apart is that obviously the writers had a plan as they wrote this. The Realm is a twenty issue long epic, with a sister comic Legendlore that lasted just as long. There is a long standing Arc and several nearly overpowering enemies to deal with. Or sidestep, as the group's main goal is to get back to Earth.
The criticism is that the comic is in black and white. If you don't like non-colored books that's fine. The art (done by a young Guy Davis who went on to do Baker Street, The Marquis, and BPRD) is somewhat rough, but has a lot of promise. The artist is just coming into his own. There is a, sometimes pointless, action scene tossed into every issue-but hey that's just like the game, right?
But overall the story is above average and a fun, inexpensive romp.

 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Yvain: Knight of the Lion (Fantasy) (Graphic Novel)

By Chrétien de Troyes (original), Adapted by M. T. Anderson (writer), & Andrea Offermann (Illustrator)

Publisher: Candlewick (March 14, 2017)

Hardcover, 144 pages

This is a graphic novel based on the Arthurian story by Chrétien de Troyes, a 12th century French poet. He is one of the few, along with Marie de France, who popularized the second round (or revival) of Arthurian literature in Medieval Europe. Before this revival, legends of Arthur and his men centered around the normal legendary themes of them coming across some great monster or supernatural force and then beating it up. 
      The second round created the themes (Christian or not) of courtly love, chivalry, heroes protecting the weak - rather than just being strong enough to crush everyone else- which defines our ideas of the Arthurian legends today. The notion that Camelot was the center of some golden age did not exist before then. De Troyes himself created the character of Lancelot, named Arthur’s court  Camelot, and the Fisher King and the Holy Grail. That’s right, the holy grail is a piece of fiction and always has been. 

      While Yvain, our hero, was at his most popular in de Troyes’ Lancelot-Grail cycle of literature, he is actually derived from a historical figure from the 6th century, Owain mab Urien, a warlord who fought against the Anglo-Saxon invasion. He had many (obviously false) legends in the early Welsh triads and always present in the Vulgate cycle of Arthurian legends. However, Chrétien de Troyes creates an almost new character with this romantic poem. 
When I say romance, I don’t mean it’s something along the lines of Danielle Steele. There is plenty of action where-in the titular character slays giants, demons, and all manner of evil men, but essentially it’s heart remains a romance between Yvain and Laudine- his true love, who seems to passionately hate him. But then this is both a simple and complex tale.  

It is simple in that it is a coming-of-age story for Yvain who, by the end of the story, matures so that he will not take his love for granted as he did in the past. Complex in that it seems his lady love has actually outgrown him, but is tricked by oath and honor to taking him back as her husband. This is how De Troyes originally wrote it and the translators kept faithful to his vision. The text is translated into modern argot and pictures, but essentially the authors perfectly captured the spirit and action of the original text.  
Yvain is an odd mixture of the old and new hero. He champions the weak and upholds the chivalric idea of the right, as per the new Christian ideals of heroism, but retains the problems of the old epic hero. That is, he is powerful enough to knock down all of the enemies the world can throw at him, but he’s not that bright and incapable of solving a problem that doesn’t require violence. In fact, at the end he seems completely oblivious to his tricked love’s utter contempt for him. And for that reason, the story is worth reading. 
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst.