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City Lights Bookstore posted events
17 hours ago
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson reveals how surreal emotions areby Rob Neufeld             Adam Johnson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Orphan Master’s Son,” comes to Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, 7 p.m., Fri., Sept. 4 to present his new book of short stories, “Fortune Smiles.”            The stories are remarkable…See More
Aug 23
City Lights Bookstore posted an event
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Leanne Brown will Present Her Cookbook at City Lights Bookstore

September 4, 2015 from 6:30pm to 8pm
Leanne Brown will visit City Lights Bookstore to present her cookbook on Friday, September 4th at 6:30 p.m. Her book, Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day is designed for those on the strictest of budgets, particularly those on the U.S. food stamp budget. This book is great, though, for anyone wanting to eat really well cheaply. Good and Cheap features tips on shopping and kitchen equipment, and more than a hundred easy, flexible recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. To reserve a copy,…See More
Aug 22
Spellbound updated an event
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September Teen Book Club at Spellbound Children's Bookshop

September 18, 2015 from 6pm to 7pm
Our new monthly book club for teens meets the third Friday of each month, 6:00-7:00PM. A different book will be discussed at each meeting, and will cover a variety of genres. No purchase is required to attend, but if you do plan to buy the book, we’d appreciate your support of Spellbound as the hosting store! All book club selections are 20% off until the day of the meeting.September's title: SHE IS NOT INVISIBLE by Marcus Sedgwick.See More
Aug 22
Spellbound posted events
Aug 21
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Betty Smith at Hendersonville culture event September 17

Center Kicks Off New Series With A BangNew “Keeping the Fires Burning Series” Launches With Betty Smith and Songcatcher (from press release) (HENDERSONVILLE, NC, August 18, 2015) – The Center for Cultural Preservation, is pleased to announce the launch of its second season of its popular public program series KEEPING THE FIRES BURNING- Heroes of Mountain Culture.  The series features musicians, authors and heritage preservation leaders who are working to keep mountain culture alive.  The…See More
Aug 21
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Pam Durban, author of Soon, gripping, psychological, Southern stories

Pam Durban: Facing reality with a wide-open eyeby Rob Neufeld             John Updike honored Pam Durban’s story, “Soon,” by selecting it for his anthology, “The Best American Short Stories of the Century.”  Now, it’s one of 11 included in Durban’s new volume, also titled “Soon.”            “Soon,” the short story, is a marvel…See More
Aug 21
Rob Neufeld posted blog posts
Aug 19
City Lights Bookstore posted an event
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Mary Joyce Returns with a New Book at City Lights Bookstore

September 12, 2015 from 3pm to 4:30pm
Sylva author, Mary Joyce will return to City Lights Bookstore on Saturday, September 12th at 3 p.m. to present her latest book.Underground Military Bases Hidden in North Carolina Mountains compiles information gathered by Joyce over several years about secret military facilities in North Carolina. The information about the secret bases is mostly from those with military, law enforcement and high-security backgrounds plus citizens who have stumbled upon evidence. Joyce is also the author…See More
Aug 18
Bill Ramsey posted an event

North Carolina Writer's Network Fall Conference at Asheville Doubletree Hilton

August 20, 2015 to August 22, 2015
When did you last attended a top quality and affordable writer's conference? The North Carolina Writer's Network is returning to western North Carolina. Membership in the Network is encouraged but not required to attend this event. For more info:http://www.ncwriters.org/2014-01-07-18-05-50/conferencesSee More
Aug 15
katherine soniat posted photos
Aug 12
Rob Neufeld commented on Joe Epley's blog post Speaking about the American Revollution in the Carolinas
"See Joe's website, Epley Writes, including about his novel, A Passel of Hate,"
Aug 12
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

R.T. Smith--Rachel-Rivers Coffey Distinguished Professor in Creative Writing at App State

R.T. Smith, poet, story-writer, and founder of Cold Mountain Review, honored with App State roleSee notice of new book at Washington & Lee U.fROM PRESS RELEASEBOONE—Writer R.T. (Rod) Smith has been named the 2015-16 Rachel Rivers-Coffey Distinguished Professor in Creative Writing at Appalachian State University. Smith will lead an eight-week colloquium during fall semester for students in Appalachian’s creative writing…See More
Aug 12
Pat Meece Davis posted videos
Aug 9
Rob Neufeld posted discussions
Aug 8
Spellbound posted events
Aug 8

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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