Tag Archives: fiction

‘Mountain Song’ is a story about love that might be too broke to fix

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As far as I know, we all experience “first love” and ultimately we all “come of age,” yet these subjects have become so cliched, that they are very difficult for writers to tackle with any hope of getting it right. We know in spades what it’s like to experience what our elders in a other era used to call “puppy love,” telling us it was immature, part of growing up (like falling off a bike), and ultimately wouldn’t matter.

mountainsongcover4We all know the territory, don’t we: the love that seems both fresh and infinite that for reasons unknown collapses without warning as thought it never happened. But we never forget and we could easily bore young people with our stories about it, but just in telling old secrets about long-gone moments, we would appear to be discounting what people in high school and college are feeling right now.

There’s always something heroic about the risks of first love, yet when it comes to fiction, we can hardly turn a boy-meets-girl story in a college geography class into and epic of star-crossed lovers such as Romeo and Juliette. It strikes me odd that such a common occurrence as first love boils down to something each of us must suffer alone when we experience its collapsing.

The world seems to end for us and while it’s ending, we’re mostly silent. From time to time, I read a short story or a novel where the author gets it right. I’ve tried to get it right–but the words never seem to match the experience. Perhaps they can’t because we’ve all been there and have our own stories to tell (should we ever dare) about what it was like.

Based on a true story (kind of)

That said, Mountain Song has kernels of truth in it. I’ve obscured them because the real life characters, one of whom was me, were two people who had a summer romance while working at a resort hotel. By itself, that doesn’t make for a compelling novel because we took long walks in the moonlight and stole guarded kisses while on duty, and there’s just so much that can be said about that.

Plus, the characters had to be very different than their real-life counterparts. Otherwise, one has to worry about libel and invasion of privacy. So, in Mountain Song, the characters’ diverse backgrounds provided the framework for the story. Bottom line, as was true in real life, the two main characters were poles apart in terms of upbringing, home towns, and lifetime goals. But neither of us had the bizarre, flawed upbringings of the characters representing us in the novel.

The people who knew me then, said the true story ruined me. It did for a while. Then I recovered (mostly). If you’ve read everything I’ve ever written about Glacier National Park (and heaven help you if you have), then you’ll know I’ve tried twice before to tell this story. The first time was in an experimental novel that made Finnegans Wake look like an easy read. The second time, I had a publisher who wanted the book turned into commercial fiction. That didn’t work.

I’m not sure whether I’ve gotten it right yet because, truth be told–and it can’t be–I’m not a fan of sentimentality, worse yet novels where the protagonist comes across as a whiner with a “poor me” attitude because, well, nobody likes reading that schlock and one way or another we’ve all had a wedding ring ready and waiting in our pocket for the right moment when things fell apart.

–Malcolm

 

 

Review: ‘The Man Without a Shadow’ by Joyce Carol Oates

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The Man Without a ShadowThe Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a brief illness destroys Elihu Hoopes’ short-term memory, he becomes frozen in time. Long term, he thinks he’s still the age he was when he became ill. Short term, he lives in the now of 70-second bursts of knowledge about what he’s doing and who he’s with. What he’s doing is living with a relative and coming to the university for testing intended to advance scientific knowledge about memory loss. This knowledge will help everyone but Elihu because he will probably never get any better.

In many ways, this novel reads like nonfiction with short scenes depicting the psychological testing Hoopes undergoes almost daily. As the novel proceeds, we learn more about the brilliant young researcher Margot Sharpe who begins work at the lab while working on her degree. She stays on. She becomes three-dimensional to the reader, but–we might speculate–one-dimensional to herself. And that one dimension appears to be an obsession with her “patient.”

The novel’s short scenes, with Oates’ typical reliance on up-close detail, tend to mimic Hoopes’ periods of contiguous present-day memory. As a person with a continuing existence, other characters (and the reader) know more about his life than he does–except for the past which for him is always yesterday. He sees others aging but is not aware he is aging.

As one reads, one suspects Sharpe’s life is in danger of losing it’s wholeness. She’s becoming famous for her brilliance as a researcher while becoming more single minded in her devotion to Hoopes. She questions not only the ethics of the testing, but also her own ethics wherein her feelings for Hoopes begin to look like a one-sided fantasy which has a history for her but not for him. He seems to have some consciousness of her over time even though she has to introduce herself every time she sees him–even if she leaves the room for a minute.

The opening lines of the novel tell you where all this is going:

“Notes on Amnesia Project ‘E.H.’ (1965-1996).
“She meets him, she falls in love. He forgets her.
“She meets him, she falls in love. He forgets her.
“She meets him, she falls in love. He forgets her.
“At last, she says good-bye to him, thirty-one years after they’ve first met. On his deathbed, he has forgotten her.”

It’s a bumpy ride. Some readers will get lost with the repetition of the testing scenes, while others might find their eyes glazing with the titles of the scholarly papers that arise out of what Sharpe and her colleagues learn. Others will enjoy the exploration of Hoopes’ and Sharpe’s loneliness and how their fragmented lives fit together, and then they don’t, and then fit together, and then they don’t, rather like a jigsaw puzzle in a windstorm.

With diligence, and an ability to live only within the present moment while reading, readers will discover this book has something profound to offer them.

View all my reviews

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of paranormal, magical realism, and contemporary fantasy.

Spotlight: Can the evil conjure man really turn into an alligator?

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Today’s spotlight focuses on my recent novel Eulalie and Washerwoman and announces a Kindle freebie for one of my short stories.

Eulalie and Washerwoman

ewkindlecoverThis 1950s story about dueling conjurers features an antagonist named Washerwoman who brags that his famous mentor, Uncle Monday, knew how to turn into an alligator. But can Washerwoman do it as well?

Eulalie, who first appeared in Conjure Woman’s Cat, knows all there is to know about conjure. She will definitely need her skills to stop blacks from losing their homes and then going missing themselves.

I hope you like the magic and the mystery of the Florida Panhandle piney woods where the activities of a strong KKK seldom got mentioned in the sunshine state’s tourism brochures.

Free Kindle Book

willingspiritskindlecoverMy Kindle short story “Willing Spirits” will be free on Amazon January 18-20. The story features the purported St. Louis spirit named Patience Worth who spoke via medium Pearl Curran between 1883 and 1937. Patience was so prolific that she actually wrote critically acclaimed books.

Now, a young high school student has waited until the last minute to read one of those books and write a book report. She considers contacting its deceased author. What can possibly go wrong?

Amazon Giveaway

Later today (1-14-17) I’ll be running an Amazon giveaway for my contemporary fantasy novel Sarabande. It features a very determined young woman from the Montana mountains who fights against more troubles than anyone can shake a stick at to find the avatar who she hopes will stop the spirit who’s been haunting her for three years.

Watch Twitter for the giveaway. They come and go so fast, there’s never time to post about them here once they go live.

UPDATE: Giveaway went live about 12:10 eastern time and within the next 10-15 minutes, the three books available were snapped up. Thank you to everyone who entered.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

 

Review: ‘The Little Paris Bookshop’ by Nina George

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The Little Paris BookshopThe Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a sensual book, filled with logic-numbing regrets, dreams, desires, wines, culinary extravagances, books that heal broken hearts and knit together shattered souls, and dreams larger than the imaginations of people who keep life in check or feel safer walling up their most excessive hopes.

Some say the book is pure sugar. Those who say that have never truly danced the tango as Paris bookseller Jean Perdu was taught to dance the dance by his long-lost lover Manon whom he has mourned for twenty years. (She simply left him one day without a word.) Now he sits on his “Literary Apothecary” barge–long tied up tight against a Paris pier rather than moving like a dancer on the river as boats are intended to move–and almost psychically “reads” the hidden away words of his customers’ stories so accurately that he can recommend the books they need to heal and, perhaps, to dance unfettered.

Unfortunately, he cannot prescribe for himself. Yes, he has danced the tango and set aside thinking for pure feeling and unchained inhibitions. So why has he chained his boat and his total self to a Paris pier when he knows what life can be if he let go of everything but the yearnings of “right now”? The answer is not mine to give you.

I can say that Jean Perdu finally unties his boat and motors down river to find out why he’s been held fast by memories. He meets other people who need but who don’t quite know what they need. Borrowing Hemingway’s words, the journey becomes a “movable feast” and the plot turns upon the question of whether or not Monsieur Perdu will prescribe for himself the charity and clarity he needs to enjoy it.

Like a rare evening meal when the best red wine, the best lamb cutlets with garlic flan, and the best conversation with people who know low to listen with their eyes conjure an experience that memory will often doubt could have been real, “The Little Paris Bookshop” takes its characters–and its readers–into the heart of bliss that will ever seem too unlikely to be possible.

The best way to dance the dance while reading this exuberant novel is to unchain yourself from whatever logical rules and proprieties bind you. Doing that is the book’s prescription.

View all my reviews

Coming December 1: ‘A Woman Misunderstood’

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Thomas-Jacob Publishing will release the second novel in Melinda Clayton’s Tennessee Delta Series, A Woman Misunderstood, December 1. The novel follows Blessed Are the Wholly Broken (2013), with another gritty tale about harsh losses, determined survivors, and the tangled webs of dysfunctional people’s lives.

Publisher’s Description: 

Available for pre-order prior to the release date.

Available for pre-order prior to the release date.

On a sweltering July morning in rural Tennessee, fifty-year-old Rebecca Reynolds visits the family farm, where she literally stumbles across the mutilated bodies of her parents and younger sister, a sister who had spent life in a wheelchair after a birth fraught with complications.

Rebecca’s first thought is to call 911. Her second is to find her estranged sister, Lena, who was disowned by the family years before. Her third is to wonder how long it will be before Lena is arrested for the murder of their family.

As the police gather evidence pointing to Lena, the sisters turn to attorney Brian Stone. Convinced of Lena’s innocence, he agrees to take on the case. But in a family ripped apart by dysfunction, is anyone truly innocent?

Clayton is also the author of the four-novel Cedar Hollow series that began with Appalachian Justice (2013).

Those of us at Thomas-Jacob do not review each other’s books because our words would always appear to be a conflict of interest. I’ll bend that rule ever so slightly by saying that I enjoyed reading A Woman Misunderstood.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism, paranormal, and fantasy novels and short stories.

Brief Review: ‘The Immortal Life of Piu Piu’

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The Immortal Life of Piu PiuThe Immortal Life of Piu Piu by Bianca Gubalke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some books come very close to being holy writ, sacred in their reach, profound in their wisdom, delightful in their humor, well-anchored in the world as we know it, fueled by the worlds we yearn for. This is such a book, with wonderful storytelling as well. You’ll meet Pippa, the girl who loves nature and thirsts for knowledge. You’ll meet Piu Piu, the who takes the plunge into a brief flirtation with our temporal life and thirsts for freedom. Look closely: behind the magic, you’ll probably meet yourself.

Well developed and memorable characters, an inventive story, and an immersion into the well-researched and well-described flora and fauna of the setting. Highly recommended and magical.

View all my reviews

Amazon Give-Away – ‘Conjure Woman’s Cat’

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CWCcoverI’m giving away 5 free Kindle copies of Conjure Woman’s Cat on Amazon via a give-away. Hurry if you want a chance to win one of them because these things go by really fast. Here’s the link.

Enter for a chance to win.

Source: Amazon Give-Away – ‘Conjure Woman’s Cat’ | The Sun Singer’s Travels

Good luck.