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Started by Rob Neufeld in Local History. Last reply by Sheilah Jastrzebski May 16.

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Family of Earth by Wilma Dykeman

Wilma Dykeman’s discovered memoir is essentialby Rob Neufeld             Fresh insight into the power and pertinence of the writing of Wilma Dykeman, Southern Appalachia’s preeminent spokesperson, comes to us through her posthumously published memoir, “Family of Earth: A Southern Mountain Childhood” (UNC…See More
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William Roy Pipes posted a blog post

The Sinister Smile, A Sequel to A haven for Willa Mae by William Roy Pipes

THE SINISTER SMILE, an adult fiction thriller complete at 63,500 words and featuring William and Willa Mae Lawrence, and Howard Thomas. Howard, the affluent son of a wealthy and influential family, who is suspected of feigning insanity to avoid capital punishment for murdering Willa Mae’s mother plus three others.The novel begins with William and Willa Mae visiting Howard Thomas, a patient who had been in a mental hospital for almost thirteen years. His psychiatrist thought him to be…See More
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Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Award-winning novelist captures fleeting youthby Rob NeufeldAnother Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (Amistad: HarperCollins, Aug. 9, 2016)            The amazing, unusual thing about Jacqueline Woodson’s new novel, “Another Brooklyn,” I realize as it sinks in, is that the initial mystery—that is, why the narrator can’t…See More
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A rare interview, a story about an acid plant

A worker’s view of tannery work in Rosmanby Rob Neufeld             Haskell Luker was 11 when the Flood of 1916 caused his dad, Americus Alfred Luker, to leave the farm where he worked and take a job with an acid (tannin) plant in Pisgah Forest.             “Daddy was going down there to make big…See More
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Interview with Chitra Divakaruni about Before We Visit the Goddess

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Gary Carden's Outlander--about Kephart--at UNCA July 31--with author

Is Carden's Kephart play controversial?Gary Carden's play, "Outlander," receives a "staged reading" in the Reuter Center, UNC Asheville, 2 p.m., Sun., July 31.  Carden will be on hand to discuss the play with the audience.  It is a controversial play in that it has been criticized by the descendants of Horace Kephart who felt that the play "demeaned" Kephart.  "Ironically," Carden says, "my original purpose in writing the play was to 'redeem' Kephart. who has often been denounced by the…See More
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Bring Back the Game

BRING BACK THE GAME     Anna and I basically spent a month in Asheville, NC this summer. We returned to Georgia a few days ago, and while we were glad to get home, as we got out of the car, we were met with the suffocating heat that I still have not become acclimated to even though we have lived in Middle Georgia for over 30 years. Every plant in our backyard had dried up and only the belligerent squirrels had survived the summer’s inferno.      We had a great time in Asheville. We visited our…See More
Jul 20

Egan’s Goon Squad mirrors a cracked world

by Rob Neufeld

 

            Let’s look at Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “A Visit from the Goon Squad.”

            It’s an example of the best modern writing.

            And by modern, I mean cracked.

            And by cracked, I mean singing with despair, humor, and empathy; shape-shifting into a Scheherazade of distractions.

            The book came out in paperback this year, and it is the subject of Book Discussion X at Accent on Books, Jan. 10.

 

Laughing all the way to the brink

 

            The side-shows in Egan’s tale are connected, and add up to a spiral of perspectives on social decline, ennobled by assertions of spirit.

            First, there’s Sasha, a 30-something woman who needs to steal things to feel good.  Then, in Chapter 2, there’s Bennie Salazar, her boss, a big record producer, who bemoans the synthesizing and digitization of music—an “aesthetic holocaust.” He’d been there at the rise of punk rock.  And now…

            Bennie puts flakes of actual gold into his coffee because he has heard that it increases one’s sex drive.  But we leave him in this state to travel back to his punk rock years in Chapter 3, narrated by Rhea, a song-writer for Bennie’s band.

            Rhea likes Bennie, who loves Alice, who loves Scotty, who feels safe with Jocelyn, who’s hooked on Lou, an older guy who’d picked her up hitchhiking.

            At a party at Alice’s house (she’s rich, not true punk), Rhea and Jocelyn follow Alice up to her bedroom to check out her retired private school uniforms.  Rhea sees that “her bed is under a mountain of stuffed animals, which all turn out to be frogs: bright green, light green, Day-Glo green…Her bedside lamp is shaped like a frog, plus her pillow.”

            Alice pulls her box of uniforms from her closet.  Rhea and Jocelyn promise not to laugh at her.  “Ask me if I care,” Alice goes.

            Lou enters the group’s life—he’s a record producer, and becomes Bennie’s mentor.  He also takes advantage of Jocelyn and introduces cocaine.  Very creepy—and yet he has a human side. 

He cares about his children—as the next chapter will show.  And when, at the band’s gathering in his luxury apartment, Rhea goes out on the balcony, he follows like an uncle, not a predator.

            “I’ll never get old,” he says in response to Rhea’s reality check about age differences.

            “You’re already old,” she tells him.

            He calls her scary, and says he likes it.  She says it’s her profusion of freckles that makes her so.  He tells her to stay as she is.  “The freckles are the best part,” he reassures her.  Some guy is going to go ape for them and “kiss them one by one.”

            People’s lives are careening everywhere.  As the book goes on, the careening intensifies, but so does the pathos and hilarity.

            “Time’s a goon,” a has-been rocker says in a later chapter.

 

Why read this book

 

            First, the storytelling is brilliant.  It’s almost as if, as faith and tradition wither away in society, virtuosity flourishes—like a dying tree producing a bumper crop.

            One chapter is told by Scotty, the band’s genuinely angry person, years after his performance years, his delusional personality amped up high.  He says things like, “There’s a fine line between thinking about somebody and thinking about not thinking about somebody.”

            Another chapter involves a black-listed movie starlet and a genocidal foreign dictator.

            Yet another is told by a 12-year-old doing a Power Point presentation about her family.  Perhaps the most heartbreaking one—although you might vote on this—is told in the second person (“You gave up the one chance God threw your way”); and switches to first person in the last dissolving sentence.

            Post-modernism—a fractured, fun-house mirror of cultural references —is very rarely so good.  Kevin Brockmeier achieved the highest level, also, with his novel, “The Illumination.”

            The main reasons Egan excels are: 1) characters dream, bleed, stumble, laugh, and let us love them; and 2) her theme is fearless.

 

No faith, new faith

 

            If we, as humans, are losing faith, except for our faith that we’re headed toward disaster; and if we see optimism as fairy tales, with what are we left?

            It is the job of literature to answer this question.

            What we get in our fiction is much that’s rich with anti-heroes—such as John in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle” and Yossarian in Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22” and even The Dude in “The Big Lebowski.”

            Jules Jones, a character in “Goon Squad,” whose chapter is a loopy, footnoted piece of journalism about his failed interview with a 19-year-old sex goddess, expresses his anguish about the post-9/11 world when he visits his younger sister in her plush home.

            “Buildings are missing.  You get strip-searched every time you go to someone’s office.  Everybody sounds stoned, because they’re e-mailing people the whole time they’re talking to you…And now my rock-and-roll sister and her husband are hanging around with Republicans.”

            Are there moral heroes who are activists?  Yes there are some—simplistic with guns and fists; and subtle with self-doubts and diplomacy.  But, we also need our Jennifer Egans and Mark Twains—authors who put their characters under a microscope and reveal them to be squirming.

            The religion of this world view is lovable absurdity.  Egan’s squirming is so beautiful, she ultimately morphs her novel into a chapter set in the year 2021, with deliciously painful parody.

 

THE BOOK

A Visit from the Goon Squad (Knopf hardcover, 2010; Anchor trade paper, 2011, 352 pages, $14.95)

 

DISCUSSION

Book Discussion X meets to discuss “a Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan at Accent on Books, Accent on Books, 854 Merrimon Ave., 7 p.m., Thurs., Jan,. 10.   Call 252-6255.

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