10 November 2020

Shaking Heaven's Fleas


Year of the dog: Pandemic puppies in high demand, short supply--CBC News, Ottawa 

Before the pandemic you could normally expect to spend anywhere from a few hundred bucks for an ‘oodle’ from a pet store to something in the low thousands for a puppy from a breeder, but 2020 has seen demand soar. Breeders around the country are now selling designer dog puppies for upwards of $10,000. DMARGE was able to find a seller in Port Macquarie, NSW selling ‘miniature Golden Bordoodle’ puppies for $7,500 each – as of publishing, all these little cuties have sold out. --"AUSTRALIAN ‘DESIGNER DOG’ TREND DRIVING POOCH PRICES BARKING MAD IN 2020”, by Jamie Weiss, dmarge.com 

Pandemic puppies: Massachusetts sees puppy shortage as demand for dogs skyrockets in quarantine--Boston Herald 

Demand for 'flat-faced' puppies such as the French Bulldog and Pug has soared during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the UK Kennel Club .--Daily Mail, UK

The rush on toilet paper and other essential products at the start of the pandemic has come and gone, but there's another shortage that hasn't quite let up. This one is cuddly and warm, and one even Santa might not be able to get. --“Puppies in high demand and short supply this coming Christmas amid COVID-19 pandemic”, by Michael Finney and Randall Yip, ABC7 News, San Francisco



My beautiful black German sherpard past away just three days ago at the age of 1 year two weeks. My entire family is heartbroken we are non stop crying for Moonlight (our beloved German Shepherd). She past away instantly with no symptoms we were so distraught. She was a big girl standing up at 5 feet. She had long beautiful black fur. Such a beauty, and tragedy to die from heart disease. -- online eulogy

I shook my head, but no water flew out of my ears. I bit my rump till I could taste blood. This was worse than watching balls being beaten back and forth where there were no balls, no ball smell.

I’d heard of Doggie Heaven. It’s where they said Sunlight went shortly after I arrived. They cried as if they were broken-hearted and hugged me till I could hardly breathe. But they kept saying they were happy for her, that she had gone to a better place. That she’d be at peace, have lots of friends to play with, eat fresh meat and ice cream to her heart’s content, and sleep on the most comfy--Stop! I’ll never trust a word they said.

This place--it’s where “Dad” took Tracy for her driving lessons. He let me come too “for the ride” but when they let me out, the ground was so desolate, I could hardly pee. There was nothing worth looking at, no one interesting to smell. The place reeked of road, the sweat of cars, the funk of fucking people. This place looks the same, but it’s filled with the smell of fear, the noise of cries and whimpers. I’ve never seen so many dogs.

I’ve never heard a dog whistle, but my ears stand up at the thin blue scream. Some of us turn as one, and that--that land behind the ruins of this shopping center--there’s a rusted sign on a chainlink fence. It says (Don’t be so surprised. From 11 weeks, I was given newspapers, and I’ve only got a cataract in one eye):


Sit, blares a voice.

So of course I sit.

There are no gates in Doggie Heaven, says the voice. You dig your way in under the fence. For the inexperienced and incapacitated, experts either mentor or dig you a new one. Once in, you must expect a period of adjustment, especially if you have entered with pre-existing conditions.

Pre-existing conditions, it repeats. There’s so little discipline here, you could mistake this crowd for humans. And the din is deafening. Sit! it bays, though it had never released us.

Of course we don’t refuse anyone it says as if it’s talking to a puppy who has only piddled in the kitchen, not the carpet. There’s no such thing as a dog eat dog society except in human euphemisms. In a dried pig’s ear would this crowd know a euphemism.

But there is a class structure that has inevitably built up and is increasing exponentially in social stratification based on these pre-existing conditions or the lack of them. Wow. The voice mustn’t be attached to eyes. That basset hound, for instance, can barely understand one-syllable words.  And oh, boy, Tracy’s lucky she doesn’t have to go to Doggie Heaven. But maybe she’ll go to her version, where she’ll have to go to all the school she cut while lying to her parents.

Old dogs--those who came here before breeds were invented continues the imperturbable voice--and mutts--are naturally the elite, but don’t worry. This is a compassionate society.

If you had people and they loved and ‘took good care’ of you, you can take advantage of our generous dream rights, though if you truly care about them, you should not abuse the frequency of these visits, or they’ll never be able to ‘get over’ you.

Yes, I’ll get to you strays . . .

It must be dinnertime. My stomach’s growling. With my luck, I bet there’ll only be a damp bag of kibble, wet, rubbery, stinking of mice, if I can even find it in a corner of some garage . . .


By the time the voice stopped, only some of us still had our ears at attention, our buttholes warming the tar. When it finally said Okay!, of course, with my breeding, I rushed forward to help get the intake through. Some of us were better at this than others, but we managed by dint of lead, push, growl, bite and mothering, to get every last dog through, down to the most intransigent chihuahua with teeth like a whirring lawn mower, and that urine-soaked mop of seizures, the shih-tzu.

The voice wasn’t wrong about everyone needing adjustment.

Would you like to know more?

Then sit.


“Did you have to include the social criticism?” asked a pug.

“We felt it only right to be scrupulously honest.” The shaggy proto-St. Bernhard who had last saved a boy in 1845 looked around the park. Her eyes, their red rims always showing, gave her the look of someone who’d not only been awake for a week straight, but had spent those 168 hours writing a manifesto.

“More to the point,” she said. “Does anyone feel we’ve left anything out? Try to remember back to when you first arrived. What would you have liked in your welcome pack?”

A dog who was new here, and thus had only begun transitioning, tried to speak, but his or her face wasn’t in any state yet. Its bugged-out eyes couldn’t even blink once for Yes. Its millions of followers mightn’t even know that it had passed on, having attained a certain immortality on The Richest for its looks: “like it stuck its paw into an electrical socket and has been dealing with the aftermath ever since.”

“Are you friends? Can you step in?” asked the proto-St. Bernhard, whose name was not verbal, of course, but scental--(automatic translation: Rolling in Rotting Salmon).

She’d asked a dog who’d almost sold for much much more. Nibble, she was called by her rescuers who threw themselves in front of the truck that was transporting her and about 150 other Tibetan mastiffs stuffed in chicken crates. Their fad had ended as suddenly as it had begun, and no one wanted them except these fanatic saviours. (How could I possibly know this? As I told you, most of my puppiest life, I was stuck in a room floored with newspaper spreads.) Her life after that had been just as confusing--so obvious she was still shaking from peopleshock. Her smell--people can’t handle it. She didn't know what had happened to her. She couldn't even remember her first days, when she'd been taken from her mother and fed a lion's mother's milk. Nor did she understand what anyone here was saying. And there is no place here to hide. And though there are scores of Nannas here,  there’s never one where one needs one. She bit the root of her tail, a bush of dreadlocks, in embarrassment, which made Rolling in Rotten Salmon bow her head and drop her eyes sideways, looking at nothing, in her embarrassment.

But Rolling in Rotten Salmon always found good in a situation.

“All those who’d like more brains, raise a paw,” she barked.

“Why?” came a yip.

“To show you want more brains.”

“For who?”--someone else.

“Why?”--from an English sheepdog.

“Whom.”--a Scottish terrier.

“And where are these brains coming from?”--some mutt.

“I know I’m dumb, but my people were dumber and it never hurt them.”--something sprayed pink.

Rolling in Rotten Salmon suppressed a growl. Meetings could be very frustrating for those who tried to pay attention. For the rest, that’s what fleas are for. The park was filled with the low clarinet reediness of snuffling hunters, the thin staccato of castinetish teeth-to-teeth fine nipping, and the repeated basenotes of involuntary footbeats.


So now you get the gist? It was I who had the bright idea about screening, ID'ing (however that's spelled. I've only heard it), and forming a brigade to get order and discipline at the fence. Before then, it was laisse faire chaos. Oh, I’ve had lots of bright ideas, and am so handsome, I have quite a presence, but no tact. It’s a little scrap of a thing with worn out paws and only a few well chosen words--Fly, who chose to keep her lifelihood’s professional name, who takes my ideas and brings the masses around without anyone feeling the least bit manipulated.

The welcome pack is only one of our ongoing projects. Ball-making, sand-dune re-creation, rotting-things-to-roll-in parks, the constant inducements needed to bribe trees to drop sticks of assorted appropriate sizes--all are constants, as are other parts of the necessary infrastructure: lampposts for the Europeans, fire hydrants for the Yankees. But those are piddlesticks compared to the most pressing and important need of our Great Society--the levelling of the playing field when it comes to health care.

Ignoring reality, however, is not an option. Because of the growing demand by humans, for dogs, and because that demand is for breeds with increasingly extreme profiles, the number of new entrants here has skyrocketed even as the percentage of them with pre-existing conditions overwhelmed our capacity to make their Heaven heaven.

At first, the agonizing spinal cysts that are the price of pricey ugliness for that fashionable faux-electrocuted Affenpinscher were treated by proto-cocker spaniels (the ones before their big sad eyes were caused by ingrown eyelashes) who would gaze on a newly resident Affenpinscher with such a caring warmth, the new resident didn’t know the cockers practiced this look by gazing at pictures of dried liver.

The treatment was, as treatments usually are, “moderately effective,” the term used by the bureaucracy here in DH to denote “As worthless as a picture of a chicken leg.”

Something had to be done, for immigration was changing our society, turning it cruder all the time, its mainstays of ways things are done ever more dug under as frustration with the status quo stirred up base instincts till our formerly great society was rolling on its back, peeing on its very belly. Thus, competitive howlouts of the old and fit vs. the young and fucked broke out, revolutionarily, before the sun goes down, the notes long and tortured as, and possibly haunted by, that humans’ horrorsong competition, The Voice.


Still at attention? If you’re good, the answer’s obvious. Time has passed, but I forgot to release you.

The old and wise Rolling in Rotten Salmon is still top dog. She never gets others’ hackles up. And her broad head with its tiny eyes and its practical ears is filled with reasonable brains. Well, I think so.

“Reasonable! That’s what’s wrong with this place.”

Burnt Sofa and Rotten Egg are grousing again--their tone so unreasonable, so unlike the tone of Heaven. Two uglier dogs used to be hard to find, Indeed, they’d each been crowned World’s Ugliest Dog a few years ago. BS is an English bulldog who could hardly breathe and whose legs are so Chippendaled, he doesn't walk so much as shifts crabbily from side to side. He’d been bought from a puppy mill by an organization opposed to puppy mills but obviously not opposed to the deformed creatures making their new owners money and fame, and thus giving more aspirational owners reasons to find and produce ever more deformed and funny winners.

Rotten Egg’s eyes are so bugged out of their sockets, they leap whenever she gets excited--which is like, always. Like Burnt Sofa, her teeth never meet each other but sort of wave from opposite poles of her froglike mouth. Not that they were accidents. Their function had been to mock horrify and genuinely amuse, aided by a few hairs standing up from her crown. Otherwise, she's as naked as a newborn rat.

“What good’s a ball to me?”

Another newbie's pitched up. Unlike BS whose tongue is a hanger for a thick stream of spit, this dog’s tongue is small and pink and dry. The dog’s bright little eyes are on a 7 o’clock/ 1 o’clock axis, her head stuck in a lolled position.

“Lolita!” Burnt Sofa nudges Rotten Egg. “This is--”

“I know who she was,” RE says coldly. “You made millions on the internet.”

“I?” The little dog’s eyes lose their gloss. Her crooked tail droops as much as it can.

“Don’t take your pain out on her,” growls BS, and to the little dog: “You don’t have to act happy anymore.”

“That doesn’t solve anything,” snarls Rotten Egg. “Just not having to act happy can’t make us happy.”

“But throwing off our shackles will.”

Me, I've never spoken up at these meetings. I’m not a public speaker. We do have, like you, a loud silent majority, and a silent, furrowed minority. We manage to understand each other. So I’m letting you in on more.

Something’s happening.

Be honest. “Doggie Heaven”--like Santa, for your kids. We--we’re all just memories, eh? Get those damn buds out of your ears.

and Sit!

You too, you wretched batch of puppies. Don’t cry! You’re not drowned rats. Here, curl against my stomach.

You, above and below: Quiet! Listen and learn--


That low, but assertive grrr uttered by a little dog so fucked up by breeding, she couldn’t properly bark--she was the first in our revolution.

The Old Guard wasn’t swept away as humans do. They were merely recognized as irrelevant.

The most urgent order of change to effect was redistribution. Extreme inequality was the root of the problem, and the reason the problem had not been recognized was that the Old Guard was too old and comfortable and the new, too young and therefore socially naive yet in levels of pain and disability unimaginable to the sympathetic olds.

The revolution uprooted standards, digging up the park meetings though they’d been the very symbol of social cohesion with what must have been a proportional slice of the populace attending, or so it was stodgily argued in the first and only challenge to the revolutionaries.

Stop mewling. This is interesting. That little challenge, I say, was a tiny toot compared to the ruckus kicked up when the silent majority got wind of the plans.

You’d think every dog had been made to eat what some had died to tell of: the vegan rawfood diet of broccoli, soy and brussels sprouts. Lucky you were too young for solid food.

The plans, by that Central Committee of Three, have never been caught and collared.

They are just, with no commands, no plans as such, being dug into our future.

Say a dog has hip dysplasia (which by the way, was the first condition to be treated, possibly because there are so many members here who were ex-law enforcement--you all would have got it soon). All hips here will be replaced by healthy ones and all tendons and muscles also, till the dog can happily jump over a junkyard’s chainlink fence. Naturally, the laws of economics can never be broken, so the loss of bad bones, muscles, pain and associated arthritis, must be a net gain to the breeders, handlers and owners involved.

Or as in the grrr  of that little dog with the bright pink tongue that its lady’s boyfriend called obscene; “From each according to his disability, to each according to his sleaze.”

The revolutionaries will soon be shaking Doggie Heaven so hard, a rain of our fleas is gonna fall on them below.


Still there, puppies? It seems to be just you and me. How long’s it’s been? You seem to be cold in perpetuity. 

I wasn’t wrong about one thing. A something has befallen. Nothing like our old everyday pains you drowned puppies were too young to experience--fleas under the collar, having to “hold it” all day till someone comes home, trying not to commit a crime from the boredom of solitary confinement, having to keep calm and carry on when people explode things because they’re, inscrutably happy. Breathing.

This is something so big, many people would have their tails between their legs if they had tails. Others, like dogs who bark from the safe side of doors, jeer and laugh and live as always till, at their eulogies, people act as if no one noticed their poo-poohs. Some call what’s happening cosmic payback. But all that empty chewing on why is what people do, like endless watching of balls you can’t mouth.

Down there now:

People hobble to cafes on legs as curved as your tongues. They try to to sit on chairs, yet only manage to lean their butts on the edge, their faces twitching. Sometimes a leg juts out with no warning and they clutch parts of them as if pain is a clump of weeds growing in them big enough for a streetgang of strays to pee on. They order coffee, which they pass under noses that cannot be used to breathe through and if meant for decoration, those who value that aesthetic must be a rarified breed indeed. Sprays of teeth protruding from cracked lips make drinking their coffee impossible, so they suck through straws--alternating with taking air through their mouths--as they hold flea collars they call handkerchiefs to their chins to catch their stinking drool.

At their feet are typically, unidentifiable mutts who have bred as naturally as the day likes to be wild. These mutts rule with equanimity, of course, being dogs.

Equanimity? Fly, can you explain? And where’s a Nanna where I need one?


or so I thought.  I was very proud that I got this out. It’s one thing to read but another to tell. And I thought, whatwith all the distractions here, I did a rather good job of reporting. 

But a story’s just a story and life goes on, so to speak. It got out. The story. In places I’d never imagined it could. Rabbits got it, but they’re dumb, but from them it spread to their neighbours, the lab rats bred to higher, more specialised registration standards than any Kennel Club.

They’re smart but sick, you see, for they were never pets.

24 February 2020

The dicey road of a straightforward autobiography--- review of The Child Cephalina by Rebecca Lloyd

The Child Cephalina by Rebecca Lloyd
published by Tartarus Press

A mixed blessing, this novel having been published by the fine but small Tartarus Press, thus escaping a tortuous bone-breaking and reshaping it could have had to make it into a bestseller, titled suitably--Fingered, or Clutchers, or That Child Has Too Much Knowing, or something like Justifiable Obsession--as a creepy but sure-footed fly-on-the-wall ripper of a tale of infatuation, possession, love, jealousy, treachery, faithfulness, sacrifice, belief, and the power of the deeps--all with characters so easy to hate or want to be, their only ambiguities are those deliberate quirkinesses inserted in the right proportions.
Instead, The Child Cephalina, with an unsensational cover instead of one that could scream Lolita, is that most treacherous thing: the whole truth, as told by someone in it. Come to think of it, Lolita was, too, fat lot of respect its narrator earned for telling us like it is. Lolita has stirred up generations of rage and disgust--yet, it, like The Child Cephalina, could be titled, My Excuse. “It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight,” says Humbert Humbert, to society’s outrage (just as Lewis Carroll has come to recently) and increasingly open admiration amongst a predatory brotherhood that has no time for love, instead priding itself on its unappreciated existences and ability to strike back.
But to this account of events 100 years earlier than Humbert Humbert’s “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury . . .” with the self-described “fancy prose style”.
A Mr Robert Groves, a respectable writer, has the stolidness and sincerity of the Charles Pooter of Diary of a Nobody fame. Groves, however, is not aspirationally trying to be middle class. He has no interest in decorating, and indeed, is so slovenly, he has to be told by his help to put his pants on because he’s embarrassed the other servants. He lives in a part of London only a stroll from the great Natural History Museum, in a handsome house (owned by his brother) wherein, he tells us “Up until the day the child Cephalina came into our lives [in 1851], Mrs Tetty Brandling was a happy, sloppy woman who snuffled and wheezed her way through the day’s business with good grace.”
There is no more solid road of a read than a straightforward autobiography--though the substrate be euphemistically “damper than it should have been”, perhaps only a few clutching pebbles from falling into the Underworld itself. 

Until I struck a bargain with Tetty, she had the two attic rooms . . . I had thought quite seriously from time to time about joining my brother and his family in Margate where the air is fresh, and had I gone there, I feel I would have been able to make progress with the small book of poetry I had been attempting to write for so long.
But while my work with the children of the streets was ongoing, I was not in a position to move from London to a quieter place. I had been interviewing them since 1848 for which they received a meal and sometimes a bath or some clothing--I recorded a great many aspects of their lives, and came to understand, and I say unashamedly, admire, the courage and ingenuity it takes to be a poor child in London Town.

Henry Mayhew’s voluminous 1851 London Labour and the London Poor did everything Mr Groves hoped his work would do. First of all, London Labour got published and Mayhew was paid for it. It also achieved instant acclaim, though some of the interviewees might have had a different attitude, since, on publication, they formed the Street Traders Protection Association against him.
The two men had some superficial similarities beyond their interests in the poor. At a young age, Mayhew actually left Britain to escape creditors. Later, after achieving success as a journalist and publisher, he escaped the way that the established do: through that time’s equivalent of Chapter 11. Robert Groves would never have done the former. He was both far too timid a character and hopelessly incompetent by his own admission. Unlike Mayhew, who had the gift of gab and wit, and collected other talented authors and artists as socks do, burrs, thus his cofounding of Punch, Robert Groves hadn’t the faintest whiff of wit or possibility of scoundrelism in him. That’s why, as with so many other respectable people of the middle and upper classes, a Tetty was worth her weight in debtors' prison. She not only cleaned and cooked but purchased the necessities, and also had to fend off the unpaid and make the excuses Mr Groves shielded himself from, with her.
And she had to do all this dressed so poorly, it caused her even more shame. And then she, a widow, had to present herself to her family back in the countryside as respectable, a predicament that causes its own predicaments.
Oh, Mr Groves. So kind, so sensitive, so generous, so clueless, so unaware of the repercussions of his good deeds, his saviour impulse--he’s a Victorian Nicholas Kristof. Sensitivities alone could be a massive enough take-away meal in this read, if not for that first clause in Groves’ first sentence.
As Groves’ practical friend says: The lives of girls, you know? How our society . . .?
And there lies the purpose of his cry of the heart to us, his unseen readers. The exploration of loves in this novel is accomplished with the utmost delicacy. No bone is crushed, though the finest earbone is uncovered and brushed free. And not just Groves’.
Beliefs also come into this tale in ways that Groves would be the last to want admitted in--especially since his brother, ever his financial crutch, is an ardent spiritualist who, in contrast to Groves’ barely eeking by, makes a good living writing spiritualist texts.
But his brother isn’t the man of action Groves proves himself to be. Groves isn’t interested in the spirit world, but the one living in the foul stink outdoors. He’s already saved one poor boy, but when the child Cephalina chooses him as her saviour, to the horror of Tetty Brandling, he is not only helpless; he learns he can be devious.
Like Kristof, he forays into a secretive world of a person he doesn’t really know, for a good cause--in his case, to save a child--who has asked him not to spy on her. There he meets the Dickensianly named Clutchers.
It’s not as if Groves doesn’t have good advice. Tetty doesn't mince words:

Something’s afoot, Robert. I can feel it, and this is not just fimble-famble. Perhaps it is that I am seized with the kind of faddy thoughts only a woman gets. Yet, I have always wondered why it is that men are not blessed with faddy thoughts for I know certain sure they could benefit greatly from such a blessing. But God in his glory sees fit to carve men more crudely than he does women . . . perhaps he does not care about them so much.

At this point, I should shut the curtains on any more reveals about the plot. This story does have elements of Dickens--the keen nuancing of wealth, class, and sensitivities. It has the fierceness of outrage, minus the melodrama, about “the unfortunates” that Dickens had, and that that most unappreciated and ignorantly lambasted novel Paul Clifford had, about which its author had high hopes as a social reformer in novel form, partly “to show that there is nothing essentially different between vulgar vice and fashionable vice”.
But those elements in The Child Cephalina could be backdrops to the main obsession. And as for what’s afoot--“a sordid thing”—this account, because it’s told throughout by a man without a sense of drama, is horror most exquisite.
The byline for The Child Cephalina is Rebecca Lloyd. There’s good reason to believe this is itself, a case of spiritual transportation.
If you like novels about people who can't be summed up--real people who could be laughed at, reviled, and loved for the same deeds (the only kind of fiction worth reading, imo)--I highly recommend The Child CephalinaLloyd is an expert at embedding herself, not only in history, but in characters as foibled and unaware of self as we all are.
My only reservation is one hardly likely to have company in this readership. I am such a die-hard sceptic that I haven't believed what I have seen and felt with my own eyes and hairs on my skin. But Tetty wouldn't have time for such silliness.

23 August 2019

More current than Breaking News--this urgent read with a misleading title might even be a fake novel--Ahab's Return by Jeffrey Ford

There are a rare few books that read as if they were struck into being by lightning, they’re so timely. And there’s no telling when this timeliness will strike. Just out in paperback is a novel that first came out in hardback and e-book editions last year, but over the past few months, days, hours--reads so newly struck, so uncannily relevant--
Cut the anchor!
Only madness can explain why something so perfectly built for a storm, this storm here and now, has been shackled, not even to a real anchor but a mass of fouling--the dead weight of one of those great books people should have read.

Ahab’s Return: or, The Last Voyage was launched a year ago, and though the title and descriptions naturally lead you to believe this a spinoff of Moby Dick, that’s not only wrong, but not only has Jeffrey Ford himself had to say you don’t have to have read that tome to read this, but, Oh, the irony. In Ahab’s Return, an insider, a real person fictionalised in Moby Dick says, ’“That book is a farce. I’ve read it.”

“But you are not Daggoo,” said Ahab. “I remember that.” “No, I am Madi. I have always been Madi... All I brought with me was my name, Madi.”
“I was joyful to be alive. I could go to America a free man and make my way.”
“And then you got here,” I said.

The ‘I’ is George Harrow, the narrator. also a writer, but unlike Ford, he’s a star reporter, an expert in a very particular art and craft.
“You might be the finest confabulator on this godforsaken island.” [says his boss, the editor of the Gorgon Mirror]
His take on that?
“Whereas another might have taken the term to mean liar, I understood it to be an appellation of artistic prowess.”
New York at that time needed no sensational tweaking to titillate, outrage, horrify readers. So Harrow’s readers wanted entertainment, nothing more. And he’d lived as shallow a life as possible, till Ahab turned up looking like something from the dead, but very much alive-- and greed for a sensational story made him a story:

“My detractors didn’t realize that I, George Harrow, was not a do-gooder, an abolitionist, a friend to the downtrodden, a lover of Catholics or the sons and daughters of Africa, nor was I in league with the idiocy of the Know-Nothings, indiscriminate haters of anything other than themselves. No, I was merely an opportunist”’

So our fearful reporter wasn’t giving us hokum when he said:
“It was said that Malbaster was not born from the womb of a woman, but instead coalesced like an angry storm cloud during a riot in the Five Points brought on by nationalist factions attacking a dance where Irish and colored mixed . . . Malbaster, an evil for the ages. I saw him as more a petty criminal with a murderous streak, who used said intolerance as a means of financial gain.”’

No narrator can pick the core of the story they tell, so I'll say that from my pov, it's Seneca Village. There is a manticore in this novel, a killer of marvelously oddball tooth movement, yet it is a banana slug compared to the efficiency of erasure of a place with such significant history that, like Belsen, all you'd need to say is the name.. If only they weren't blacks who owned land and had the right to vote, the atrocities visited upon them as they were dispossessed for the rich, would be spoken of as 'biblical' by Americans. I knew nothing about Seneca Village's tragedy before this novel, yet history does, as it keeps repeating itself, Yet who’s to know if history’s grassed over?
This novel is, I think damned for some time now, and periodically ever after, to be so relevant, it's creepy, and fascinating. Indeed, from the first paragraph, it's a veritable squid-hook of a multi-pronged approach. Bad stuff and weird shit happens. Truth is caught in a classic quicksand trap. A mythic beast can still chew through a man's neck fast as a woodchuck could chew corn.
But the main thing is: Jeffrey Ford's tale telling is pure, old-fashioned joy to read--and proof that a novel can be enthralling and a page turner of suspense as well as being a cattle prod of a stimulation to see what’s happening, this very moment, around us and in places we’re not supposed to see, including history..
He delights in throwing readers into different times and places (I recommend, in addition to this book set in New York City in the 1850s, his The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, set also in NYC, but in the 1890s.) You will feel that you are in wherever he throws you because he so much lives there that he's walked the streets, though they be ghosts now. You will never find, in any Jeffrey Ford confabulation, the slightest whiff of that cheap seducer that turns characters into generic jokes--the movie script. Yet his constant state of curiosity and his adventurous mind has made him a magpie..
There will always be some expertise for the curious and curiouser, some unusual state of being, creature, condition--something that he throws into the tale because it naturally, belongs there, or will belong--for his fiction, no matter how close the relationship between reality and the imagined--is never affected, never played for the superficial shock, never, thank the gods, 'quirky'.
He must have fun playing, too. I loved his laziness, that sitting back and letting another storyteller do all the work. This is how Wodehouse got more rounds of golf in, playing while Mulliner talked himself hoarse at the clubhouse bar. Ford’s guy not only takes on the whole job of narration, but he treats us to excerpts from his own writing, about which, though he’s a pro, he’s both embarrassed and proud about, and forced to defend.

“I’ve got years of experience investigating stories.” [he says]“But why do you investigate them when you’re just going to grind them into a spread of fiddle-faddle?”“Don’t you understand that there can be a certain truth in fiction?”

And there we have it. Is the hokumist a fake, too?

I didn’t mention that there are so many passages that I wanted to revisit, I had to buy not only the hardback when it came out, for the physical pleasure of reading, but the e-edition because my hard copy started looking like a porcupine.

(and finally, an apology. I love Jeffrey Ford's writing, yet this novel stands out as particularly important, a milestone of a novel, something that belongs with Dos Passos and Cather, Sinclair Lewis and Dreiser. I would hate for it, so readable, so unpretentious, so necessary, to miss the readership it deserves. And so I've wasted many hours and many drafts composing what in the end, I flung upon this 'page as a matter of urgency, as another mention and recommendation, for every one counts and is necessary in this growing storm.)

But is this novel even a novel?
Ford has often written of something unbelievable but true, a lifeform that's no myth, something that looks like one thing but is something else. This time he's created that very thing--a historical novel that's being born again, faster and faster, as breaking news and news that doesn't break but lives like a guinea worm, under the surface, but unerring in achieving its dreadful goal.

03 May 2019

America's Great Red Party: Trump's Radical Socialists

Democrats! Responsible media, or should I say, “Idiots!”

On a bed of mashed red party, Trump has stretched his generous bulk out for you, red tie, flaming pants and all. He even roasted himself and stuck the apple in his mouth. And what are you doing? 
Getting stories like this by Matt Viser in the Washington Post: 
For months, President Trump and his allies have tried to cast his Democratic challengers as radical socialists bent on yanking the country much further to the left than most Americans might find comfortable.--Joe Biden’s message to Donald Trump: I’m no socialist
And that’s it?
Back in February, “With reelection looming and his wall all but defeated, the president sees a convenient political target on the left”, David A Graham wrote in The Atlantic--Trump's New Red Scare

Now it’s Red Scare time full on across the country, typified by this AP headline. GOP hoping voters open to warnings of Democrats' socialism

“Socialism is about only one thing: It’s called power for the ruling class.”President Donald Trump, speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, March 2, 2019

Which president and which congress have worked hardest to achieve that, and succeeded to such a degree, they’ve not only achieved unprecedented redistribution, but have instituted root and branch change in government itself--changes meant to be so fundamental, they are not impacted by elections?

Trump and the Trumpian Republican Party are not just socialists, but radical socialists.

Today’s Democrats who declare themselves so socialist and profess to be so radical are mewling fakes compared to the Trumpian Reds. Universal health care? That's such a basic given in democracies such as Australia, it's thought of as 'socialist' as much as all the other featured taken for granteds basic in a civil society--socialist stuff such as sanitation, public parks, roads, civil and military protection. Democrats have never been true socialists, and it's counterproductive for the Dems who are running as socialists to claim they are, for the word is a scary one to Americans--one that no one who wants to win in America should call themselves, hoping to win. Republicans surely don't. They just use socialism to rule.

Although there have been Republican administrations such as Warren Harding’s that have made decent strides, they were incompetent.

And while it is true that, as old headlines state, “[The]Trump Empire Built on Inside Connections and $885 Million in Tax Breaks and that “In Trump and Kushner's world, other people pay taxes”--that amount of socialism is chump change to today's radical reds. Robert Reich describes it well in “Trump offers socialism for the rich, capitalism for everyone else
"To a conservative mind, socialism is getting somethingfor nothing. Yet this is what the president promotes for the wealthy.”

Whatwith his work ethic, Trump can’t take all the credit for the Republicans’ masterpiece of radical socialist redistribution, their tax package. Yet he doesn’t need that to establish him as the greatest radical socialist president the world has ever known. 

It's sad, so sad, therefore, that this achievement isn't appreciated and lauded loudly, as it should be. Tom Nichols merely writes this headline, for instance, in the Atlantic:
Trump Goes Beyond Cronyism—To Something Far Worse--"By naming people such as Herman Cain and Stephen Moore to top jobs, Trump converts the machinery of government to his personal use.”
As Trump has said, “Socialism is about only one thing: It’s called power for the ruling class.”
What better for that class, therefore, if it’s a class of one?

Will Democrats praise him and the Republicans for being the revolutionary radical socialists they are? Will Democrats tell Americans how socialist America actually is, and who benefits from it and how much it costs? Will Democrats show how much they who pay taxes support the parasites on the people, and just who these people and corporations, uh, "people" that socialism provides for so generously, are?

“I want you to put socialism on trial,” said White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow in a speech at CPAC, Feb. 27.

Everybody should. Republican Red socialism.

23 August 2018

Eileen Gunn, Curator of Absurdities

I've been, frankly, chicken to write about Eileen Gunn's fiction, because she's done so much that is important, and her scope is much greater than the books I’ve read to compare to, but I want to say something, so here's my blurtings. I first fell in love with her stories from the collaborations with the equally intimidating to write about Rudy Rucker in Rucker's insanely smart, fun, crazy online magazine Flurb: A Webzine of Astonishing Tales.  (Gunn herself was the key miscreant responsible for an equally addictive but totally different webzine, Infinite Matrix.) But to get a proper dose of Gunn, there's nothing to equal a collection.

These two important collections are like Gunn herself--so supremely cool in their lack of pose yet so richly diverse and deep and generous that you end up learning stuff you didn’t mean to, laughing wryly and getting on top of stuff that was destroying you, getting moved to move the immovable, even feeling deeply about someone you don’t necessarily want to be. Quite Marvelessly, Gunn does this to you with not a superhero in sight. I wondered about her sense of humour and satire, which makes me think first, of Gogol; second, of Norbert Davis; but third, of Nabokov, so I wasn’t surprised to learn she’s fluent in Russian, has lived in many places, and done a great many things, including being a key worker in a corporate hive.

Unlike many writers, especially those who’ve been moulded by an MFA, she doesn’t try to create an absurdity or sprinkle odd things in, or twist the plot, to make some nothingstory quirky.

foreword by William Gibson
afterword by Howard Waldrop

Gunn’s a curator of absurdities--of the real life dimension. I can’t imagine her constructing a story out of the prescribed elements. Nor does she try for tricky interesting language effects. Her own voice when writing about organisations, for instance, seems to burst forth from a well of experience and fedupness (so the very funny and famous "Stable Strategies for Middle Management" told in a matter-of-fact tone, might have sprung from Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”, but gets far more mileage with readers because it does it with the engineered lightness of, say, David Langford’s The Leaky Establishment).

She is also a constantly curious delver into the generally unknown, so her stories are often like a Cracker Jack box would be, mid-last century, to a five-year old who's eating away till, !!!--for this kid must have lived in a cave far from Howdy Doody tunes and therefore never heard there’s a prize in every box. Awesome knowledge coming as a surprise gift--Jeffrey Ford does this too, and in the hands of writers as smooth and ego-invisible as these two, the stuff we learn is an intrinsic part of what makes the stories so memorable, be it snowflake collecting from Ford, or phantom-limb hauntings from Gunn.

If this were a different time, I wouldn’t compare Gunn to anyone, for I think her stories have their own voices, none of them being anyone but Gunn in service to them, or in her collaborations, a certain seamless synergy that works a treat. My favourite collabs are with Rudy Rucker. These two writers are intimidatingly smart but don’t act or write like that. Instead, this duo produces fun, smart stories that I’d call ‘screwball’ to their own design. And as is usual with their individual works, there’s serious stuff aplenty there--just not with any pretentious labels.

As Gunn has often been called a writer of science fiction, it is in this capacity that I am the most frightened to say anything, for my perception might be too screwy to expose without ridicule, but here goes.

Science fiction has often been burdened by having to be either Present / Future or P \ F. Rarely is it P?! > F?!, which I would define as seeing the future not with any foundation of optimism or pessimism, but with the realism of today’s absurdities continuing to their logical future. This is how I see Lem’s immortal works, and I think it was the ruse of science fiction, and satiric at that, that allowed him free rein to write about the future as fiercely as he regarded the present. I think Gunn does this too, making her science fiction all the more meaningful to this reader.

Mind you, this isn’t some Praise Be session. I don’t love everything she writes. My personal taste prejudices stuck to me like fleas when it came to “The Steampunk Quartet”, first published by Tor. It’s not so much that I’m not into steampunk. I’m not, but I can stomach it when it comes to the brilliant Gail Carriger, though I’m hanging out for her to outgrow steampunk and invent her own new genre. So it's not steampunk in the Quartet that gives me gas, but the towering genius of China Miéville: and since I’ve tied on my concrete boots, I may as well sink myself so deep, my bubbles won't reach the surface, by adding that celebrated “recluse”, Thomas Ligotti. But some of my best friends find much in these two, as they do, one of the most quoted of all authors, the man who penned “The pen is mightier than the sword”. Just kidding. I don’t know anyone but me who admits to a regard for Edward Bulwer-Lytton. No, some of my best friends are Lovecraftians; but we must all see the good in people and ignore the parts every right-minded cephalopod would want treated with extreme prejudice.

imo, Gunn’s best when she writes alone and in her own strong, service-to-her-story way. I think it is her humbleness in the presence of the story itself, that makes her a great writer and natural storyteller.

unquestionably excellent, and 
as with Stable Strategies,
unusually pleasurable 
book design
by John. D. Berry
who also designed the font as though 
he tailored it to fit Gunn.
Published by the excellent,
easy to buy from Small Beer Press

I’ve spoken of her finely honed sense of humour and satire, but she’s got such a broad range that satire is only one of her methods of getting into our heads and hearts. In her aptly titled Questionable Practices (she’s got a great feel for titles) one story above all shows this range. Heartbreaking tragedy is made all the more powerful by the way it is told, with shifting points of view and interjections of painless, succinct Dummies’ level information. In the hands of another writer, this could have turned into a mess, but Gunn’s depth of emotional involvement. knowledge and feel for what she is talking about, and control of her elements makes “Phantom Pain” a perfect story to end this collection--with a resounding whisper. 

EXTRA: The portions of both books that are not fiction are not decoder rings, but positively clutchably precious. There're prizes of info in both collections,
but few other authors will give you, for free, 
a tale of a delicious, successful, lie. 
And a bonus. A Secret that Really Works.

28 February 2018

Nature's post-production techniques

Nature is extravagant. But you, too, can afford what is used here, for it is all open-source.

Natural light, shade, and colours; dissolution, drying, soaking, and a certain amount of rot. Additional lens is 10-60mm thick seawater.