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- Micro-Review #127: North of Normalby stevenowad
Haven’t seen the movie, but the book tells an absorbing true story. Cea’s family leaves California in 1960s for the rugged wilderness of western Canada. The journey that follows takes her from a childhood spent in the bush to a First Nations reserve west of Calgary and then, after many colorful times with her inveterately contrary family, the runways of Europe as a fashion model.
As a counter-culture family memoir, this story is unique. The wanderers never sought Shangri-la in the mountains of Canada. The goal was simply to escape civilization. Rules were meant to be bent or broken. Mom refused to hop off the hedonism train. Papa Dick wouldn’t stop getting naked at inappropriate times. It’s easy to imagine all this leading somewhere dark. Luckily for the reader, Cea has enough strength of character to bring us to a happy conclusion.
- Micro-Review #126: Geniusesby stevenowad
From our Obscure Works file, here’s a 40-year-old play that’s guaranteed to make you laugh like a Filipino ferret. Four movie people are stranded together in the Philippines during a typhoon. While the blockbuster movie’s insanely expensive sets sink into the mud, a writer, an actor, an art director and a makeup artist take turns showing us just how out of whack they—and the movie business—are.
The humor is bold and there’s no political correctness—and also nothing offputtingly heavy. The script is pure fun. You’ll read it in 90 minutes, and a year or two later you’ll read it again (for instance, after you’ve finished reading some dour tome that has been asking you to commit suicide). Reynolds was one of the uncredited writers on Apocalypse Now (two of his lines made it into the movie), and he clearly knows whereof he speaks in terms of the movie world. Find the book on Amazon or eBay. There are still a few old copies kicking around.
- Micro-Review #125: No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prisonby stevenowad
A Kurdish asylum seeker flees Iran and boards a leaky boat chugging toward a better life in Australia. What follows are six years behind bars on Manus Island, Australia’s off-shore detention center north of Papua New Guinea. The conditions are harsh, the tropical weather is unforgiving, and freedom feels further away than ever.
This “prison memoir” shows us the day-to-day challenges of living behind bars in a present-day hellhole, but it’s also short on personal details. For all the descriptions of cruelty, near starvation and poor sanitation, we never really come to know Boochani. What was his life like back in Iran? What about his family and his hopes for the future? Personal details are ignored in favor of theoretical ponderings about the kyriarchical system of oppression. We come to know the pain, but not the person who feels it. This creates an unfortunate distance between us and a man who suffers so needlessly for so long.
- Micro-Review #124: The Last Womanby stevenowad
Here is some bite-sized post-apocalyptic fiction about a woman who might be the last living female on earth. A virus has decimated humankind while Faye Wills lay in a coma. After waking up in a corpse-filled stadium, she has to repair her body and mind and find her way in a drastically changed world.
As dark pop fiction, the story gets a B grade. The opening is too similar to 28 DAYS LATER, and plot contrivances do abound, but the spare prose and relentless pace keep you from asking too many pesky questions. It’s a short book (almost a novella), which is good if you just want a hit of pure escapism before tackling a heavier tale.
- Micro-Review #123: Margeryby stevenowad
Aging hiker Jeremy is keenly aware that the clock of life is ticking. To prepare for senescence, he finds soulful nourishment in lonesome backpacking trips through the mountains. One day he wanders off the beaten path and comes across a young couple who lead him to a hidden, bucolic community where life moves to strange rhythms and the denizens are so odd and inscrutable that maybe he’s dreaming the whole thing up.
This literary meditation on death and aging is strangely captivating. Despite Jeremy’s doubts and fears, he gropes toward a kind of understanding. He avoids trite or banal answers and shows us the redeeming value of being honest and vulnerable when seeking emotional wisdom. His is a gentle, contemplative journey without superficiality or pretense.