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Jenny Bowen replied to Rob Neufeld's discussion Battle of Asheville, Apr. 6, 1865
"The 4-5 prisoners taken at the tanyard were colored union soldiers under Gen. Davis Tillson.  They were drum-court-martialed for assaulting an old man and woman and raping a young white woman who was the niece of the couple down near Flat…"
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Montreat College Friends of the Library Annual Luncheon at Montreat College Gaither Fellowship Hall

June 13, 2015 from 12pm to 2pm
"When Real People Become Real Characters" presented by Novelist Mark de Castrique at the Montreat College Friends of the Library Annual Luncheon on June 13, 2015.Book signing follows the presentation.  Public is invited.  Reservations are required.See More
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2015 Author Luncheon at Mars Hill University

May 28, 2015 from 11am to 2pm
Mary Alice Monroe, New York Times best-selling author, will be the keynote speaker at the Friends of Madison County Library’s 10th Annual Author Luncheon where she will share her newest release, The Summer’s End. The luncheon will be held at Pittman Dining Hall on the campus of Mars Hill University on Thursday, May 28 beginning at 11 am. Tickets are $35 each, and proceeds will benefit programs and services for both children and adults at Madison County Public libraries. The cost of a ticket…See More
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Julia Nunnally Duncan posted an event

Julia Nunnally Duncan Book Signing at The Orchard at Altapass

May 23, 2015 from 12pm to 3pm
Julia Nunnally Duncan will sign her books at The Orchard at Altapass Bookstore on Saturday, May 23 from noon until 3 p.m.See More
Tuesday
Sue Diehl posted an event
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Montreat College Friends of the Library Annual Luncheon at Montreat College Gaither Fellowship hall

June 20, 2015 from 12pm to 2pm
"When Real People Become Real Characters" presented by Novelist Mark de Castrique at the Montreat College Friends of the Library Annual Luncheon on June 13, 2015.Book signing follows the presentation.  Public is invited.  Reservations are required.See More
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BookFest in Sparta at Sparta, NC

June 27, 2015 from 11am to 2pm
Twice a year, we invite local and regional authors to downtown Sparta, NC, for our BookFest event.At BookFest, fans have an opportunity to meet the authors and authors are able to market their books, in person. Host sites benefit from the additional foot traffic the event generates. The lineup will be posted soon - if you'd like to be a part, contact us.See More
May 5
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A Book to Help All Touched by Cancer at City Lights Bookstore

May 16, 2015 from 3pm to 4:30pm
On Saturday, May 16th at 3 p.m. Diana Kenney will present her book, How Cancer Transformed Our Lives.   Founder of Good Grief Ministry, Diana runs workshops on grief work, leads support groups, teaches online classes and does pastoral counseling. She has a Doctorate of Ministry in Shamanic Psychospiritual Studies from Venus Rising University in Whittier, NC and is certified in Death and Grief Studies from The Center for Loss and Life Transition in Ft. Collins, CO. She is also certified as a…See More
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Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

June 1926, Asheville

One week in 1926 reveals remarkable highs and lowsby Rob Neufeld             Bootleg whiskey and golf are undermining religion, B. Frank White, a traveling preacher, told a Charlotte audience on June 2, 1926.  The sermon was reported in the Asheville Citizen the next day.            “The trouble with your…See More
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Robert Beatty

Author Robert Beatty from Asheville, NC
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Rob Neufeld posted discussions
Apr 18

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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