Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Transitions: Dissonance a novel by Lisa Lenard-Cook

Lisa Leanard-Cook’s novel, Dissonance, is a symphony with familiar themes performed in 21st Century motif. It is a story of transitions brought on by intervals of character relationships that are not complete, that beg resolution and harmony. It may take a life time to resolve the dissonance of safety and horror, love and loss, sharing and repression, religiosity and isolation, self-acceptance and doubt, peace and war. Some characters make their transitions sooner than others, but all are drawn toward personal harmony.

 The questions that the characters ask themselves involve the structures of their lives. Like 20th Century symphonies, the ambitious actions of their lives may involve a dramatic first movement of early development, a lyrical second period of love and adulthood, a dance-like third movement of career and talent expressiveness, and a rousing triumphant achievement of goals. However, the 21st Century symphonic structure may reflect more complex symphonies with unpleasant dissonance mixed with harmony and more than four movements. Characters’ lives may be chaotic requiring tolerance of ambiguity, fear, and self-doubt. But even these complex psychological states seem to drive the characters toward harmonic resolution of their relationships.

 The structure of the novel is contemporary, involving short sections within long chapters. Time periods are in the sections covering pre-World War II in Europe, the holocaust, the development of nuclear weapons, and current nuclear research in New Mexico. The importance of the performance of music of the main character Anna Kramer is presented through her own behaviors and observations. Enhancement of Anna’s appreciation of listening to music and her performance as a pianist is revealed in an epistolary style as she reacts to a diary and sheet music she inherits from a virtuoso pianist and Jewish holocaust survivor Hana Weissova.

This is a very good short novel (149 pages) and I recommend it highly. Readers do not have to have a special knowledge of musical terms and may gain some new knowledge about classical music.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Subconscious Ghostwriter: Black Hole Butterfly, a novel by Salem

Salem presents an algorithm of the mind in Black Hole Butterfly, inviting readers to play a blind chess game starting at a point approaching chaos then working toward increasing levels of reality. We are limited in our ability to play the game by seeing the world through the mind’s eye of Rook Black, a private detective who solves crimes in a futuristic almost unrecognizable New York City. He seems to have had some success in his cases brokered and supported by an information technology specialist Cosmo. Angela is the agent of action who takes the case information from Cosmo and gives it in disguised form to Rook (he likes a good challenge).

Rook has a good tolerance for unreality and investigates unusual people and events with enthusiasm. The case that dominates Rook’s mind is the murder/suicide of his genius master chess playing father, the man who taught Rook the art of playing chess while blindfolded. This tragic event seems to have triggered an addiction in Rook with mind altering consequences. He has a dominating need to seek out parallel realities, multiple levels of experience determined by the written and spoken word. Language includes codes that can exist in multiple levels of consciousness.

In the beginning of the novel, Rook’s life has been transformed as if an “internal, subconscious ghostwriter was penning” his realites. Rook is helpless in his addiction, reclining on his “psychonaut” couch experiencing infinitely modified reiterations of a week long experience. The experience is a self-authoring state, like automatic writing used by existential surrealist writers of the mid-20th Century. It is like tuning in to a cosmic radio with many channels broadcasting the fundamental conscious nature of the universe. Chaos is channel 0, while Rook’s personal channel is 113, an anchor for all the characters in the novel, the eye of the storm. If competing forces can dominate Rook’s channel, they will be able to self-author reality and control the New York area.

As he comes to understand he is the eye of the storm, Rook keeps trying to find out why he is the chosen one. A cast of characters attempt to hijack Rook for survival reasons because if he dies, the ghostwriter’s work comes to an end and they all die. He keeps trying to find out who he is but his identity is elusive. The cost of his psychonaut addiction is a proliferation of black hole butterflies that flutter around him sucking his consciousness into quantum shadows, the archetypal forms behind classical reality. Even though Rook is living a cycle of seven, the same seven day week over and over, there are black holes in his memory.

The ghostwriter starts Rooks narrative on the edge of chaos and doles out a bit more reality with each week, a bit less interference with black hole butterflies. Readers are set free of the limitations of Rook’s impaired consciousness in a great reveal at the end of the novel. Although the novel is written backwards requiring readers to remain in a hallucinogenic state for most of the novel, the theme is positive. Rook moves from hopeless addiction to parallel realities to an acceptance of his real emotional reaction to his father’s death.

Salem has written a novel that some may consider a “bad trip.” But, I would say that the only thing you have to fear is retrieving memories from your own black hole butterflies.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On the Brink of Chaos: Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst

Midnight in Europe is a very good historical spy novel by a veteran writer in the genre. Alan Furst’s novel begins in 1937 when Christian Ferrar is visiting New York on business for his internationally trusted law firm, Coudert Freres in Paris. The handsome, intelligent, 40 year old lawyer enjoys his work and finds time to treat himself well to the pleasures of life: good wine, food, women, and travel.

A Spanish √©migr√© to France, Ferrar supports the Spanish Republic in its fight against Franco’s fascist government in the Spanish Civil War. There is a great deal of turmoil in Europe in 1937 including Hitler’s increasing harassment of Jews (and other ethnic groups) and the continuing rise of Mussolini’s National Fascist Party in Italy.

When Ferrar returns to Paris and resumes his legal work for wealthy clients, he is brought increasingly into the politics of intrigue and paranoia of Europe on the brink of chaos. The focus of Christian’s political interest is on supporting the Spanish Republic in their war efforts by helping the army to obtain weapons. He does keep an eye on the safety of his extended family who live in a town close to Paris.

In his interactions with an international player in criminal and espionage operations, Max DeLeon, Ferrar has a number of adventures that take him to dangerous areas of Europe. His work with Coudert Freres provides some cover for his covert work with Max. In Berlin, Ferrar and Max conduct business with a very frightened arms dealer in a safe house run by a woman with anti-fascist connections. The Berlin Staatspolizei come close to shutting down Max and Ferrar’s operation, and the two are investigated as spies against the Reich.

To arrange shipping of weapons, Max and Ferrar travel to Warsaw. Again, they are confronted by fascist authorities and risk imprisonment and execution. Max has a history of engaging in high stakes risky business while Ferrar is a novice. Ferrar shows that he is not only handsome, intelligent, and hedonistic, but is also persistent and courageous, demonstrating grace and resourcefulness in life threatening circumstances.

Ferrar has an interlude with a Comtessa who may be a fascist spy. Christian is not a man easily manipulated by spies and he and Max travel to Odessa to make the final arrangements to deliver arms to the Spanish Republic. They board a Russian ship with an illegal cargo of arms and run a fascist blockade in the Mediterranean on their way to Valencia. The Spanish Civil war is destined to be overcome by Hitler's will to dominate all of Europe.

This is a very good historical spy novel with a likeable and complex main character. There are many interesting historical insights presented in the plot I outlined above. Also, there are many exciting, action filled scenes as Max and Ferrar conduct their operations. Thirteen books in the genre by Furst are listed in the front of this good novel.

Friday, August 1, 2014

You Must Go Home Again: Home Leave by Brittani Sonnenberg

I enjoyed reading Brittani Sonnenberg’s first novel, Home Leave. I liked the narrator changes throughout the novel including the house that starts the story in Vidalia, Mississippi. The stage is set in the house that describes the characters and some of their formative influences. The center of attention is on Elise and the effects of early abuse by a family member. Instead of this dominating the story, Elise escapes the confining Southern environment and lives an international life with her successful businessman husband, Chris.

Elise and Chris and eventually their two daughters, Leah and Sophie, evolve in a number of locations including Germany, China, Thailand, and come to consider themselves “Expats.” It is interesting that exposure to and study of languages and cultures even for a period of years do not guarantee a feeling of belonging in foreign lands. Each member of the family has a sense of not fitting in to the country they are assigned by the work of Chris. This is a common experience of families involved in international business assignments.

Home leave is offered once a year for the family to return to the United States for reorientation and re-exposure to their home culture. The problem of feeling like they do not belong and have no reasonable developmental goals in a foreign country is countered by revisiting people and places that led to life decisions in the first place. Once back “home” the remembered environmental context and social interaction give the family members a reason for going on with life. Of course, the life progressing reasoning can be shattered by a tragic loss. Also, it is interesting that Chris often stays on the job and does not return with the family, a common practice of other heads of international business families.

I enjoyed the story and the writing style of the author. Most of the narrative is written in a simple and straight forward style. But, there are some interesting sentences at the end of chapters and chapter sections with unexpected word sequences that provoke complex feelings and thoughts. I marked several of those for future reference and enjoyment.