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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Our Daily Bread

By Lauren B. Davis 
Published by Wordcraft of Oregon (October 2011) 

Bestselling novelist Lauren B. Davis balances horror, humor, and humanity throughout the pages of her latest book, Our Daily Bread, which was announced just last Saturday as one of The Globe and Mails best books of 2011. A gifted writer, Davis describes violence and despair without bludgeoning her readers, thereby creating an unforgettable read, frightening at times, but as enlightening and redemptive as it is disturbing. So good, in fact, that this reviewer read the book twice, to savor again gems of prose like these:

“It was one of those brilliant first days of true spring when the world heaved itself out of the long silver somnolence of winter.” (p. 56)

“His clothes were pushed to one side. And on her side: empty hangers, skeletons where the flesh of cloth had been.” (p. 122)

“Tom’s thoughts were dust devils, whirlwinds sucking up dirt from below and shooting it up in a fierce scatter of possibilities.” (p. 157)

Many books tell us of unfathomable abuse of the powerless, particularly children, against backdrops of extremity: poverty, ignorance, hypocrisy, ostracism. What sets Our Daily Bread apart? Though inspired by the real-life Goler clan of Nova Scotia, this novel spares readers the gratuitous salaciousness found in certain memoirs and documentaries. Indeed, there’s far more narrative about the daily lives of “the townies,” the Gideonites, than about the demented Erskine clan of North Mountain.

Spellbinding chapters that describe the brutal lives on “the mountain” begin and end this novel, sandwiching narratives about townspeople like Tom and Patty Evans and their two children, Ivy and Bobby, and a matronly widow named Dorothy Carlisle. The moral center of the story, Dorothy finds herself mentoring and protecting 10-year-old Ivy, despite her unwillingness to become involved with “children and their war games.” Ivy’s steadfast father, Tom, struggles stoically to take care of his family and to understand Patty’s restlessness. Why does she continue to reject his marriage proposals? 

Meanwhile, 15-year-old Bobby hooks up with an unlikely counselor in crime—Albert Erskine, a 22-year-old burglar and dealer of the best weed around—yet conceals the friendship from his parents and swears Ivy to secrecy as well.

Several of Gideon’s residents are hooked on what the Erskine clan is selling: moonshine, marijuana, and meth. Not surprisingly, the children on the mountain suffer most. Albert is no longer a child, yet his uncles remind him with their shotguns, fists, and boots that Erskines don’t talk and they don’t leave. Townies refer to Erskines as “those people,” lost for generations, so there’s nothing can be done about it—except to isolate “Satan’s shit” on North Mountain away from the pious residents below.

Events escalate and the story zooms in on Albert as he tries to protect Bobby and the children, who are all, boys and girls alike, in danger of being raped and murdered by fiends, the Erskine uncles maddened by meth. The book becomes a riveting page turner as it rushes toward its fiery and surprising climax. 

Reviewed by Clare MacQueen (Associate Editor, Serving House Journal) 

(Our Daily Bread, 258 pages, ISBN: 978-1877655722) 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Winter Tales: Men Write About Aging

By Michael S. Begnal, B’Fhiú an Braon Fola

I have an essay (and a couple of poems) in a book collection titled Winter Tales: Men Write about Aging (Serving House Books, 2011), edited by Duff Brenna and Thomas E. Kennedy. The title gives you the basic idea of the subject matter. My essay is called “Paul Tillich Never Took Ativan.” I take as my starting point Tillich’s assertion that “The fear of death determines the element of anxiety in every fear. Anxiety, if not modified by the fear of an object, anxiety in its nakedness, is always the anxiety of ultimate non-being”—in other words, my take on aging here is in reference to its ultimate outcome, but in a specific rather than an abstract way.

Other contributors include Norman Mailer (interviewed shortly before his death), Mario Vargas Llosa, Robert Pinsky, Steve Kowit, Stephen Dunn, Liam Mac Sheóinín, and many more. I like what the editors have assembled, and I think that Serving House is quite the up-and-coming press. A companion volume of women on aging is planned.

(Winter Tales: Men Write about Aging, 262 pages, ISBN 978-0983828907)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Get Drunk in a Public House of Literary Art: Serving House Journal 3 is now available!

by Thomas E. Kennedy

A Serving House is another term for a Pub or a Public House or Road House or, to put it more bluntly, a bar: a place we visit to drink and get high, to get drunk.

Thus, the name Serving House Journal is constructed of a couple or three puns: It serves America—nay, it serves the world!—by serving fine poems and prose; it is a house in both the literary sense and the bar-room sense of the word; and it is a journal. And like a Serving House, it serves the purpose of literature prescribed by Baudelaire: Enivrez vous! Translation: Get drunk! Or as Odin put it in The Sayings of the High One, Get drunk on the best kind of drunkenness—where afterwards your head is returned to you in better shape than it was before.

Let’s cut to the chase: Serving House Journal 3 (SHJ-3) is now available, and under the guiding literary consciousness of Founding Editor/Novelist Duff Brenna, Creative Nonfictionist R. A. (Ricki) Rycraft, Poet Extraordinaire Steve Kowit, and the gorgeous technical ministrations of Clare MacQueen, it shows itself—once again—to be, quite simply, an outstanding bar to hang out in and eat poetry, drink ink, get drunk in the best of ways where you escape for a little while—in a flagon of fiction, a pot of poetry, a keg of prose—only to return afterwards with a greater understanding of literature and its relationship to existence, not to mention the good time you will have had!

In SHJ-3, we have a taste of This River, a memoir by James Brown—no relation to the musical king other than that they both put some quake in your quaker, some shake in your shaker, some rock in your sock! Read Brown’s excerpt, “Some Kind of Animal”—a harrowing explosive account of road rage—and we dare you to resist running out to buy the book! (You don’t have to run out—you can buy it via the link provided.)

Among the essays and CNF, flash and short fiction, interviews, poems, reviews, translations, and three distinguished poets talking about their poems (with a full-length conversation between Duff Brenna and Jack Driscoll), you will meet exceptional authors like Chauncey Mabe, Walter Cummins, Vance Bourjaily, Dorianne Laux, Thomas Fleming, Vladimir Nabokov, and no less than a new translation of a poem by Johann Wolfgang Goethe—to name but half a baker’s dozen—and find a multitude of words to quench your thirst for beautiful language and bring you closer to an understanding of existence.

You will also read an account by publisher-poet David Memmott of yet another local American attempt to override the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America and abridge the freedom of speech—(Mommy and Daddy? Which words do you not understand of the following: Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech...)—in this case yet another group of “concerned parents” (god save us from “concerned parents,” especially the church-going sort!) versus a high school play. The beauty of the story Memmott tells, however, is that this time the First Amendment wins!

Side features of SHJ-3 include “The Bookshelf” —a thumbnail reference to timely titles and what they are about.

Poem for poem, story for story, essay for essay, word for word, Serving House Journal 3 is a bargain. How much does it cost? Nothing. That’s right: Zip. All it takes is to click the link below and imbibe your fill.

Hey, man, free drinks! Let’s go! Run—don’t walk—to the nearest Serving House!

About Thomas E. Kennedy