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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

Review: James by Percival Everett

James is the 22nd book I read by Percival Everett. When I was at book #18, I met the man when he spoke on a panel here in NYC where I live. I'd brought my copy of Erasure for him to sign. I'd chosen carefully—the newest looking of his books on my shelf. I wanted to present him with something pristine.


After the panel discussion, I crept out of the audience, around the circle of panelists' chairs, and, like a teenager with crush, smelling my own sweat, I said, "Mr. Everett, would you sign my book?" He couldn't have been more affable. And as he wrote, I blurted, "I've read 18 of your books." "Oh, so you're the one!" he joked, a line I sensed he used a lot to those of us in what was then a small cult of fans. Undeterred, I further blurted, "When I first discovered your work, I felt like my head exploded."


He smiled kindly and handed me my paperback, fully aware that I was as in love with him as a reader can be from only an author's books, and I didn't know what to do with the feelings.


Every one of Everett's books is different, but having read so many, I feel like all of them have led to James. James is far more accessible than a lot of his other books, and it is perfectly timed to convey his essence to the huge audience he has "suddenly" evoked due to a movie based on Erasure that he had virtually nothing to do with. (I have not seen it because I like the edge in his books, his anger, his uncompromising intellect—even when it is over my head—and his refusal to mitigate any of it with anything that would make his work more accessible, and I've heard that the movie softens all that.)


What is Percival Everett's essence?


For me, it is the thing that made my head explode on first contact: he is absolutely himself. He refuses to fit into any box, under any label designed by someone else. There is loneliness to this kind of a life. A loneliness that can become a choice because at some point you know that nobody—or very few people—will see you as you know yourself to be. (He writes about this in not only Erasure, but in I Am Not Sidney Poitier, Dr. No, God's Country, and many of his short stories.)


In James, he has parsed this out for the masses, using Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn as a launch pad.


Why this book now?


Because it's legal—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, written in 1884, is now in the public domain. But more importantly, perhaps because the masses are now open to hearing that Black people are and always have been individual people with individual thoughts, ideas, and peculiarities just like all human beings.


This sounds obvious, but in our country it is anything but—proved by the stereotypes that make Black men "dangerous" and all the other notions that weave through our culture.


As in many of Everett's books, James disarms us with humor. There are the fools, the clowns whose cruelty is matched only by their idiocy. As in one of my favorite of Everett's short stories, "The Appropriation of Cultures" (in his anthology Damned If I Do), there are ingenious absurd yet logically-obvious-except-nobody-has-thought- of-them plot twists. There is the unpredictable picaresque journey (I Am Not Sidney Poitier, Dr. No). And there is also an undertow of "yearning to be seen and known." (I wrote about how subversive this is in the book-within-the-book of Erasure; I have no idea if Everett would agree with my take, but it's what I felt.) This is what gives Everett's books a subliminal heartbeat . . . and it hurts—in a good way.


New in this book, although there are aspects of it in other books, is the utter exhaustion of the code-switching Black people have learned by necessity by the time they have social interactions. And, here, that is married to the exhaustion of living in a slave culture of "duplicity, dishonesty or perfidy (195)" where you can't tell who is telling the truth or who might act like an ally but turn out to be the worst kind of enemy. But because of Everett's genius, reading James is never exhausting and always entertaining.


And for me, the newest aspect of this book is a full pulsing catharsis—set up by the ending of his remarkable God's Country in 1994, delivered in an almost mythical form in 2021 in Trees, and finally, in James, experienced through the heart of a man who loves his wife and young daughter, who loves the son who didn't know him as a father, and loves life enough to fight for it.


Oh, my heart!

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Peace Lovers Unite

Last night was the second time in my life that I've gone to a synagogue. I'm an Ashkenazi Jew ethnically, but was not raised in any religion. I liked the music and the welcoming atmosphere, but the language was foreign and any references to "God saving us" don't resonate with me.




I'm really glad I went because following the service, there was an enlightening discussion with two representatives of an organization called Standing Together: an Israeli Jew named Alon-Lee Green and an Israeli Christian Palestinian named Sally Abed. For me, the most compelling stuff was this:


After a long discussion of the actions of Israel's right-wing government that has not only indiscriminately bombed Gaza and had a dual system of rights—civil law for Jews; military law with no due process for Palestinians who are Israeli citizens, Sally eschewed "the middle way."


When there is an oppressive authority, one must call it out and reject its binary message: "us or them." The middle way is not an option.


Suddenly lightbulbs popped on in my head.


Imagine it like any container. A jar without a top, for instance: The opening to freedom and joining the atmosphere is right there, but a very tiny portion of life who is dedicated only to holding power, blocks the opening. Because they are proportionally so small compared to who is being contained, they have to use pressure to cover the space, and they press down.


As with any contained matter, eventually the pressure makes it explode, fracture. The more this happens, the more the small group exerting the pressure must press to try to contain us.


When we fracture into binary groups, "us and thems," the oppressive force has an easier time staying on top because it has created chaos among us and there is no cohesiveness pushing back.


The oppressive force does not care about any of the groups. Their sole interest is their position, and the fractured "us and them" groups feed them.


The only way to change this whole dynamic is to wake up to the fact that it is happening. Then refuse to take part in it. Even if you are looking into the eyes of somebody who is rejecting you because you do not agree with them—the eyes of somebody who believes you are their enemy—look with soft eyes, insisting on the truth of our oneness, and at least then there is the chance that they will see and wake up to their own humanity and desire for peace and freedom.


The morning following the October 7th Hamas attack on Jews, Standing Together organized a meeting at the only space that would accept them—a mosque. Sally was supposed to make a speech. Instead, she got up on the stage and broke into tears. As she wept, so did everybody else. Everybody in the mosque cried and cried, feeling their common grief: Jews and Palestinians. And for a brief time, there was oneness.


Let's feel our grief together. And our joy. We all have it. That is the only way to dethrone the bogus "leaders" who choose killing and bullying.


Wake up!

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Review: Our Hidden Conversations: What Americans Really Think about Race and Identity by Michele Norris

Our Hidden Conversations is an almost 3 lb., 9.5x7.75-inch, 471-page world of all of us. I didn't believe I could finish it in the space of a library loan, so I posted an early review to Goodreads, which I'm replacing with this one now that I have indeed slurped it down well before its due date.


This is us. This is everybody—all races, genders, the whole mess.


The book is packed with remarkable stories, history, analysis, and real-people quotes. (It's the perfect follow-up to Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns, which I just reviewed.)


From a section by author Michele Norris:


"I find it deeply ironic that there is such a fierce battle to evade and erase historical teachings about slavery because, in the time of enslavement, there was such an assiduous effort to document and catalog every aspect of that institution, much in the way people now itemize, assess, and insure their valuables. The height, weight, skin color, teeth, hair texture, work habits, and scars that might help identify anyone who dared to flee were documented. The menstrual cycles of enslaved women and their windows of fertility—because producing more enslaved people produced more wealth—were entered like debits and credits in enslavers' ledgers." (178)


Michele Norris's commentary is wise, compassionate, objective, and elucidating, and the effect of all these stories—they came out of Norris's The Race Card Project which invited people to send postcards with 6-word thoughts on race—is to showcase how much we all have in common. Everybody is pained by being judged and put in boxes they don't identify with, asked ignorant questions, insulted by others' lack of understanding that they are even being insulting.


Everybody is in this book, and so that includes plenty of White people who tell their stories of difficulty and deprivation. There are first-person accounts of the struggles we have at other people's assumptions, biases, and projections. Black, White, Native, Arab, Middle Eastern, Asian, mixed-race people and families, adoptees and adopters, gay people, people with disabilities, poor people, White men who are turned down because of being White men. Nobody is left out. And it seems that most of us believe that nobody but similar people with difficulties really understands what we face.

 Read More 

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My Antipathy for My Antipathy

My article "Tulsa 1921: The Trauma Continues" about my family history research and the Greenwood, OK, massacre of a neighborhood known as "Black Wall Street" was just published on Mukoli: The Peace Magazine, produced by the School of Conflict Management, Peacebuilding and Development at Kennesaw State University.


When I posted the link to the article on social media, I accompanied it with an old Polaroid of me and Mom, stating that it seemed appropriate. It is a lovely photograph that is in many ways a lie. (Read the article to understand that.) And I urged all of us to be brave enough to tell the truth.


There was a lot of good feedback from people, and one friend cited a New York Times article about the way the Tulsa Massacre started; the Times piece was far more simplistic, cut and dried, than my understanding. (Again, read the article to understand this more.) And my knee-jerk defense of what I'd written—as well as my defensive feelings—brought up a whole other story. Hence, this blog.


My friend was "puzzled by [my] description [at the end of the article]: "rumors about what was probably an innocent disagreement between two people spread like a virus"—a white elevator girl and a black janitor had an altercation which ignited a terrorist attack.


I replied:

If you read Krehbiel, which I only recommend if you want to dive into all reports ever recorded, he presents absolutely everything. The book is more like a research report of every archival source. He reports theories and then says, but they were wrong, and reports other reports. So I condensed everything, attempting to do it accurately when so many things were hearsay. Some reports say the two knew each other, may have even had a relationship; some say they argued and she yelled when he grabbed her arm; some say he tripped and grabbed her arm and she yelled. The point is, the explanations of what really happened were as viral as the internet today is, to the point where it's a game of Telephone and the truth no longer matters in the hurricane of rage that takes over.

But still I couldn't let this go. After much contemplation, I realized what was niggling at me was my friend's blanket acceptance of simple explanations she'd read, when the whole truth includes many truths. And I replied once more: Read More 

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Women Holding Things Holds Me

Women Holding Things by Maira Kalman

My friend Gretchen gave me treasure: Maira Kalman's paintings and text, Women Holding Things. I was paging through as slowly as possible to make first seeing last longer. Yesterday I was stopped dead.





I was looking at myself and Maya during her last 15 months of life. Just after I gave her her morning infusion, I would carry her to the park. I carried her in a hug against my breasts. My feelings of love and grief and agony were all equal. One morning right after I'd entered the park and was making my way up West Drive, two women came toward me. I had just curled around Maya in a quick kiss and I saw one woman react--BIG. "Can I take your photo?" she asked as we got nearer. Numb, I assented. I didn't pose or smile. I just stood there feeling what I felt. She snapped a photo, I nodded, wordless, and walked on.


You cannot imagine how stunned I was to see this moment in Maira Kalman's book. There was not a doubt in my mind that she was the woman who snapped the photo. But still I emailed and sent a snapshot from better times. Here is her response:


dear betsy.

it was indeed you.

i was struck by your grace and beauty.

unconditional love and devotion in the most poignant and pure form.       

thank you for allowing me to photograph you.

these moments are lessons on how to live life. gifts from the gods.

all very best to you.



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How "Merrily We Roll Along"

Yesterday I went to a 1:00 matinee of Merrily We Roll Along. It was wonderful as only Stephen Sondheim played by actors at the top of their game can be wonderful. The first scene shows a man whose life is a career success and a personal debacle, and then the music asks, "How did I/we get here as we seemed to be just merrily rolling along?" The answer plays out in reverse chronological order.


Everything about this production, from the Playbill cover to the music to the mess that ensued in the last row of the balcony behind me was perfect. But it took till this morning's contemplation to see that.


The successful mess of a character, Frank, was at a crossroads after producing a Hollywood hit: would he completely fuck up his life and his family by giving in to addictions for sex and money, or would he stop himself? It was during the church silence of the moment of this decision that the usher decided to seat an entire row of high school students behind my row. They tried to be quiet, but they were kids, so they disrupted the mood and tension that the entire play had built to.


Shortly after this, at intermission, one audience member took it upon himself to scold the students, whereupon their teacher refused to allow that they'd made the mistake which had disrupted the dramatic tension, and he reprimanded the man for his anger, deflecting with an impenetrable smile and finally accusing the angry man of intolerance, thereby enraging him more. In the teacher's mind—he later explained to me—the entire problem was upper-class theatergoers disparaging inner-city students who they believed didn't belong there. When the "Fuck yous" erupted, the usher took the two men outside.


During their exeunt, I tried to explain to the girl behind me, who'd asked a question right in the middle of the silence, that the problem was that they had interrupted a tense emotional moment; that it's necessary to understand the environment they'd entered.


"It's not my fault," she protested.


The teacher, still with his impenetrable smile, returned and explained to me about mass intolerance of his students. I pointed out that the entire balcony had been jarred out of the play, and finally, he mentioned almost as an aside that the whole thing was his fault because he had thought the show began at 2:00, not 1. (Meaning he had ignored three emails from the theater verifying the time.*)


I asked the girl who'd been trying to understand the plot if she'd like to know the plot. "Yes," she replied with gratitude and relief. So I gave her and the students around her an emotional recap. They seemed to appreciate it.


What dawned on me this morning was that we "principals" all took on mirror roles to the principal actors. I became Lindsay Mendez's peacemaker/explainer, Mary; the attacking audience member became Daniel Radcliffe's irate jilted writing partner, Charley; and the smiling teacher became Jonathan Groff's irresponsible writer, Frank.


All the world's a stage . . . It is mind-blowing how we be. But if we principals in our own plays can see this device as a principle of life, if we can admit what we're really doing, maybe we'll stop being so angry.



*And my need to point this out in this blog is me, once again, taking on the Lindsay Mendez role of being the smart one who's seeing the whole thing, cannot affect it, so she gets sarcastic. Oy vey, it never ends.

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The Story of an Anonymous Saint

The dictaphone I used to transcribe one of the most amazing stories I've ever witnessed

Little did I know almost 30 years ago that my "money job" would render one of the most important experiences of love and altruism in my life. Little did I know that it would birth not only a one-act play that got published but was never read in performance until this year, and that that experience would birth journalism in the form of this essay: "To the Hero on the J Train that Crashed on the Williamsburg Bridge 28 Years Ago.

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3 Novels I've Loved in 2023


Shepherd is a fairly new book-finding site that is trying to mimic the experience of browsing in a bookstore and running into someone who waxes poetic about a book they can't stop talking about. This book lover tells you in personal detail what they loved about the book and how the book made them feel.


Shepherd invited me to recommend my three favorite books read in 2023. Honestly, I can't choose favorites. But I did choose three books that I love for personal reasons that also inform my own writing. And I got to mention one of my novels that I think embodies a lot about the books I recommend.


Here's the link: Shepherd

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Antisemitism Is in the Fabric of World Culture

In an editorial meeting at a spiritual magazine I used to work for, owned by a church, a senior editor proposed we do a feature on all the special knowledge about money known by Jews—have a Jewish writer do it. I gasped. So did another female Jewish editor. She was kinder than I was in her explanation of why this was not a good idea. I wanted to kill the guy. He was dumbfounded by "our" problem with his idea, but finally he gave it up.


Antisemitism is in the fabric of world history. It lurks in places you'd never expect it. The stereotypes, the belief that all of "one people" are one way—although the people who think this would laugh if you put them in such a category: all white people, all Christians, all women/men/children, etc.


People's stereotypes and extreme ignorance of this history of antisemitism, and therefore the experiences of Jews—religious Jews and people like me with no religious or cultural upbringing, but whose faces tell their heritage—remains astounding to me. When you assume that people are monsters for wanting to defend themselves, when you blame people whose children were butchered in front of them, whose families were abducted, you are being unknowingly directed by antisemitism.


I keep thinking about my first novel, Plan Z by Leslie Kove. When I wrote it in the 1980s, I had no idea it would age and therefore morph as I have. First, it was a novel about war, then trauma, then seeing all the beautiful colors in the world, and in this particular moment, about the experience of being a person bombarded by other people's misconceptions of them.


My mother would be 102 today. I just read a letter she wrote to her brother in 1942 where she waxes poetic about a man she wanted to marry (not my father). "Don't let his last name fool you—" she writes, "he's one of us." Code that Jews know well, whether you grew up in the religion or not.

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The Legacy of Trauma—and Positive Change


[This article first appeared in www.Rewireme.com in 2016.]


It's a scientific fact: experiences change markers on the DNA of traumatized people, and these markers can be passed to future generations—making them more likely to deal badly with stress. However, the good news is that since we know that this adaptive evolutionary process happens, we can consciously choose to use it in the opposite direction—creating a legacy of positive conscious change.


I am sitting in the cluttered office of Rachel Yehuda, Ph.D., the very vibrant and very busy Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Director of the Traumatic Stress Studies Division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and Director of Mental Health at the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the Bronx, NY. I am here because of the results of two of her studies on the transgenerational effects of trauma on the DNA of the offspring of Holocaust survivors and mothers who were pregnant and traumatized by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But I quickly learn that these studies are but stepping stones in a research journey that has been going on for decades. And it is the accumulation of stepping stones that has led Yehuda and her team to know how to interpret the epigenetics ("the study of the molecular mechanisms by which environment controls gene activity") of the Holocaust and 9/11 trauma legacy studies.


"We've been saying versions of [the study results] for a really long time," Yehuda says. But the irrefutable finding of a chemical mark on a gene that is passed from parent to child has given validation to something many people sense.


"There's no particular reason to believe that the findings would be limited to the populations that we've studied," explains Yehuda. "It's hard to imagine that if there were such a thing as transmitted effects of trauma or reactions of the offspring to parental trauma that this would only occur for some traumas and not others. So we've got to imagine that this is going to somehow be a universal phenomenon." However she emphasizes the need for more scientific studies in different groups of people.


"I think that people are resonating with [the findings]," she continues, "because they see it for what it probably is which is something more universal that explains a lot of things that have really not had the proper words by way of explanation. People do feel that somehow the experiences from their parents and generations past are meaningful in some way. Epigenetics gives us a language, a vocabulary to begin to talk about these kinds of phenomena.


"I think that people who feel traumatized know that something isn't what it should be, but sometimes they have difficulty connecting how they're feeling to an event. Or perhaps they feel that they're exaggerating or have an exaggerated response to an event. And what concepts like this—concepts of sensitization or things like that—have going for them is that they help us understand why our response to the environment isn't just a response to what's happening to us but may be more of a collective response to how we're looking at things based on events that might have occurred in prior generations. So maybe it's like an overwriting on the genes in some way."


So how can we use this information? Read More 

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New Essay on Next Avenue

I'm so pleased to have a new essay on Next Avenue. "Finding My Mother's 'Talk' in Her Handwriting."


Editor Julie Pfitzinger did a stunning job with the layout.


People say too many words. The talking heads on the news shows I'm addicted to, turning each event into "breaking bombshells!" Everybody on social media. Me.


That's the worst. The spasms to myself about what I did wrong, whatever is my frustration du jour, my judgments about what everybody else is doing — like talking too much. Too much talking is why I write. To get it succinct.

 Read more at the linked title.

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SAG-AFTRA/WGA: Hold Strong; Let's Own Our Own Work


I've always preferred walking to taking transportation, so when I moved to NYC to be an actor in 1972, I walked to all my temp jobs. One day, I had to go to my temp agency first, and they were appalled by my black & white high-top sneakers. "You're NOT going to wear those, are you?" gasped my supervisor. No, I assured him. I just walk to jobs in them, and I showed him my office shoes.


About a year later, when there was a mass transit strike, everybody started wearing sneakers to walk to work. And they never stopped.


My point is: shut-downs birth new things. During the pandemic, we discovered Zoom for theatrical presentations. Dance companies invented new ways of presenting fabulous performances. As did musicians.


My big take-away from the SAG-AFTRA/WGA strike is that we must hold strong and SHUT IT DOWN—TV, movies—until artists get a fair deal. In the meantime, invent, invent. There are fantastic podcasts (Smartless), there still is theater, standup, and humans will create things we haven't thought about yet.


And if we don't hold strong, big companies will appropriate them and own them, and, once again, the artists who birth them will be relegated to being underpaid employees.


I have never felt more strongly that creators must own their own work. Let's find a way.


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Review: Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America by Heather Cox Richardson


In Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America, historian and "people's teacher" (via her social media and newsletters) Heather Cox Richardson has created a sweeping connect-the-dots history of how we got to where we are now. Where we are now—grappling between remaining a democracy or becoming an authoritarian country—has long roots, and in Parts 1 and 2, she starts at the beginning of American history and follows those roots into global history (mostly chronologically, but when she backtracks—specifically tracing the Nazi rally in Charlottesville, VA, back to its historical beginning—it is organic and easy to follow). Once we advance into the events of the last few years, people who follow the news will already be fully informed, but this is a book that will stand as a valuable history for future readers, so it is great to have all this documented in story form.


I cannot possibly reduce this work (or even retain as much as I'd like—this is a book to read multiple times), so suffice it to say: it is readable, fast, understandable, and rather than throwing in absolutely every detail as a lot of historians do, she opts to tell a specific American story efficiently: the story of American democracy—a belief that all people should have equal rights and have a government by their consent.


Because I'm interested in why people are so vulnerable to manipulation, power-greediness, and a herd-like compulsion to move with others even when doing so makes no sense and undermines democracy, I was particularly struck the very first time I read about a nonsense statement that split people into warring cultures:

[In 1971] Phyllis Schlafly said: "Women's lib is a total assault on the role of the American woman as wife and mother and on the family as the basic unit of society. Women's libbers are trying to make wives and mothers unhappy with their career. . . ." (pg. # NA)

This kind of statement, assuming that if anybody gets something (or said another way, if everybody gets equal rights), somebody else must lose something, is key to Movement Conservatism (creating rifts between oneself and others who are deemed "bad") that Cox traces back to 1937. And it is key to the intentional attempt to destroy civil society, establish chaos—which most people will do anything to stop—and thereby lay the foundation for people's desire for a "strong man" to make it stop, evoking authoritarianism and extinguishing democracy.


You could plug into this kind of "this causes that hurt/loss" statement any number of things: true history that includes our racist roots; the right to decide what we do with our bodies; climate change causes; etc. This critical false equivalence (lie), I believe, can only be combatted if people decide to think—use common sense—rather than react in fear of chaos. And common sense is a real possibility: In Part 3 of this book, Cox writes about how powerful common sense was in moving us to independence: Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense rejected the idea that any man could be born to rule others and called "ridiculous" the notion that an island should rule a continent. "Paine's spark set to flame more than a decade of accumulating timber," writes Cox, leading to declarations of independence. The real revolution Americans experienced was in thinking rather than fighting.


Here's my common sense: It is absolute nonsense that women having equal pay and rights could hurt marriages. How? Women who want to be homemakers will not be forced to work. Teaching true history will not hurt white people; I and most white people I know will grapple with questions about our own commitment to what's right and would we have been strong enough to act as an abolitionist? I don't know anybody who identifies with slave-holders. If somebody does not want to accept equality and history of inequality, they don't have to, but true history can still be taught in schools. If somebody doesn't support the right to body autonomy for themselves, they don't have to; nobody will ever force them to have an abortion and if they don't want to make their own medical decisions, they can find some authority to hand responsibility over to. If somebody does not accept that our actions are destroying the earth, they are free to believe that. Yes, pollution regulation will change lives, but I wager that anybody who wants to pollute their home will still be able to do so. Nobody will have to love people they don't love if others have the right to love who they love. You don't have to believe what you don't believe.


There is no loss for anybody if more people do better by telling the truth and having equal rights. The whole notion of consequent loss is nuts! Read More 

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Sun House by David James Duncan

Sublime. That's the fastest way to describe this writing, this story, this world birthed by David James Duncan.


For almost 800 pages I've been swimming in the Ocean of Sublime—an ocean you can just as easily drown in as float. I'll get to that in a moment.


Second and third thoughts: How the f**k did he write this (let alone get it published) and how on earth can I convey what this is to people who may consider it a foreign language as well as the few humans who live for this stuff?


I don't know the answers to either of those questions. In addition, I don't know who besides me would be so drawn into this book.


I can tell you that there is a mythically romantic tone throughout and there are two main characters who start the book in separate stories in Portland, OR, and Seattle, WA (location is as much a character as any person): a boy-man, Jamey, and a girl-woman, Risa. I can tell you that they are idiosyncratic, independent thinkers who feel even more deeply than they think. I can tell you that Jamey is a people-loving, irrepressible clown with a father and a dog you fall in love with. I can tell you that Risa falls in love with Sanskrit sounds and language and Vedic sages and the whole world they birth and then lives with Grady, the funniest horniest philosophy student ever written, and then with Julian, a good-looking prick who is threatened by her love of "Skrit" and the inner journey. And I can tell you that the first-person narrator feels like a person-god, who I don't believe in, but he has such a great sense of humor that I more-than-willingly suspended my disbelief.


There are plenty of other characters who appear first in their own chapters. For instance: a mountain climber and a singer who love, have a kid, then don't love; an ex-Jesuit priest and his twin brother, a street nonpriest-sadhu who gathers a flock anyway, whose epistolary history of the Catholic Church's persecution of the Beguines mesmerized me (if Herman Melville had been this joyfully light-hearted and in love with his history of whales, he could have gotten away with it).


And in a symmetry that makes subliminal sense, these people finally begin to converge in the mountains of Montana exactly halfway through this epic in an "Eastern Western"—meaning "When East [spiritual traditions] touches West [the region of the USA], the central struggle is against cosmic illusion . . . (p. # NA)" And this is when the storytelling starts to crank up, so if you get bogged down in the first 400 pages, but are liking it, stay with it . . . particularly because, very soon after the convergence begins, the god-person narrator actually explains the unorthodox structure of this massive book, and hearing it can make you sparkle, as well as spiritually roar in the backtracked scene when Risa and Jamey finally start their journey together.


I found out the hard way that I needed to take breaks. Everybody speaks within a style of cascading thoughts, although it's slightly different for each character. (Think of Shakespeare's iambic pentameter or Aaron Sorkin's smart-smart-smart speed-demon, fact-laden intellectual torrents.) When I tried to read too many chapters without a rest, the spiritual stream-of-consciousness became tedious. So subsequently I took many breaks, and when I returned, I was open to the Voice behind the voice and ate it up; I realized taking breaks also evoked contemplation about what I'd read, and it was in contemplation that the heavy text got light and worked on me. Also, there are enough heavenly narrative actions and descriptions (see sample below) to break up the thought tirades.


If your life is completely focused on the surface of here and now—plot-plot-plot—and you are uninterested in awareness, enlightenment, or any kind of transcendent journey, let alone the power of the sounds of language beyond its literal meaning, you will not be interested in this book. In fact, you may feel like the distracted bar crowd who "don't get" what makes Risa, Jamey, and readers like me spiritually roar during their ecstatic convergence over a story of Gandhi's death.


But if you are a person who longs for Oneness, who is compelled by the debate between the counter-evolutionary force of ego vs. the evolutionary force of enlightenment (to embody "free nothingness at Ocean's [consciousness, All That Is] service" (p. # N/A)," if you're convinced that enlightening yourself is the only real work to be done in this life, if you pace yourself, eagerly surrendering, even to a language that sometimes strikes your poor undereducated head as chicken-scrawled squawks and the poetry of a holy fool (think Paul Beatty's screamingly hilarious The Sellout, only substitute the literary classics, mountain climbing, and Eastern philosophies for research psychology and The Little Rascals), you may end up in a blindingly brilliant roofless Sun House of indefinable dimensions—happier and more heartbroken than you imagined possible. Read More 

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