I joined a writing group and made enemies. They were looking for an emotional support animal but I was a laughing hyena who found all their tender elegies hysterical. Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief
Despite what Prius driving, pious posing virtue vigilantes may tell you heritage and hate are not kissing cousins. They do not share a liver like those conjoined twins - unfair housing and workplace discrimination. The truth is heritage detests hate just as wasps despise Jews. Heritage and hate are shackles on entirely different whipping posts. They are lynching trees located in separate parts of the park. Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief
Dead Lions: Worst Children’s Game Ever
Dead Lions is the second spy novel in Mick Herron’s Slough House series. The first one, Slow Horses, was a great romp about a small group of disgraced MI5 spies who get sent to Slough House. They’re given nothing to do, and the hope is they will simply quit. I thoroughly enjoyed Slow Horses, so I was prepared to be disappointed. You know, that sophomore slump thing. If you’ve seen the Indiana Jones movies, you understand. I didn’t need to worry. Dead Lions delivers though the ending is anti-climatic. The enemy’s ultimate goal doesn’t seem to justify the effort required. But it’s still a fun ride.
A middling spy from the Cold War era turns up dead on a bus near Oxford. Jackson Lamb, the head of Slough House, knew him from his Berlin days. He decides to investigate and finds the dead man’s cell phone hidden on the bus. An unsent message reads Cicadas, which refers to a myth about the Soviets planting undercover spies in England. These spies would fully assimilate and do nothing untoward for years or even decades until Moscow would finally give them an assignment that would devastate the country. Here’s the catch. MI5 long ago determined the Cicada program was a false flag. It only existed as a myth. But now there is this dead old spy on a bus. Slough House has a new assignment. And, remember, “When lions yawn, it doesn’t mean they’re tired. It means they’re waking up.”
Slow Horses and Dead Lions succeed because Jackson Lamb is a guilty pleasure. He’s a misanthrope who delights in denigrating . . . well, everyone. Lamb’s an HR nightmare. But he knows what he’s doing. “Lamb had done both field and desk, and he knew which had you gasping awake at the slightest noise in the dark. But he’d yet to meet a suit who didn’t think themselves a samurai.”
So is Lamb chasing a ghost or is the threat real? Well, here’s another animal reference for you. A black swan is a “totally unexpected event with a big impact. But one that seems predictable afterwards, with the benefit of hindsight.” Does that answer your question?
It was a “yes” or “no” question, so not really. But I have one more. Why call the novel Dead Lions? Several reasons, I suspect. The most explicit one is “Dead Lions” purports to be an English party game for children. “You have to pretend to be dead. Lie still. Do nothing.” At the game’s end, all hell breaks loose. Goodness, those English folks sure know how to have fun.
Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor
Jelly in a Jar
Look at old Alabaster in all his power and glory grasping his silver spoon in a palsied grip. He knows the spoon holds power and power is jelly in a jar. If someone somehow gets a spoonful it must have been taken from him
Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief
White Noise: Always There, Just Like Death and Commercials
In White Noise Don DeLillo notes “All plots tend to move deathward.” I’m not sure if he is surprised by this, but he shouldn’t be. All life moves deathward. So how can plots do otherwise?
Let’s put that question aside and simply agree that DeLillo in White Noise is obsessed with death. But Gladiola, white noise is my favorite noise. How can it be linked to death? Sorry, my friend, white noise is always there in the background. Just like death. And Jack (the narrator) can’t stop thinking about death. Even when he’s thinking with his penis, his penis is thinking about death. He chairs the Hitler Studies Department at a small college on the hill. Why Hitler? “Some people are larger than life. Hitler is larger than death.”
Jack is married to Babette, and they have a blended family with a child from their own marriage but also children from several prior marriages. Babette is taking some kind of medication that she refuses to admit she’s taking. Like Jack, she is terrified by death. Even when she’s thinking with her vagina . . . well, you get it. “We (humans) are the highest form of life on earth and yet ineffably sad because we know what no other animal knows, that we must die.” When a train accident happens on the edge of town, a deadly toxic cloud gets released. Jack is exposed to the poison, and his fear of death becomes all-consuming. The novel explores the reckless ways Jack and Babette try and fail to manage this intense fear.
Published in 1984, the novel also skewers consumerism and our culture’s reliance on television – a precursor of the internet and social media. “When TV didn’t fill them with rage, it scared them half to death.” And it touches on inequality and inequity. During the toxic event, Jack thinks “These things happen to poor people who live in exposed areas. Society is set up in such a way that it’s the poor and uneducated who suffer the main impact of natural and man-made disasters.” The novel succeeds best when it is focused on these themes. But back to death.
The lengths Babette and Jack go to calm their fear are hard to relate to. When they wonder why no one else is overwhelmed by the fear as they are, Jack acknowledges that “Some people are better at repressing it than others.” He’s wrong. Everyone is better at repressing it. They become the poster children for repression and denial being the correct strategy. And that’s good news for me because I repress and deny everything. So I must be healthy as hell.
Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor
Grab Some Afternoon Delight
There’s a new trend affecting today’s children – especially teens. It’s an anti-social attitude and behavior that’s rather shocking. I am not the first to notice it, but I am probably the wisest to comment on it. This belligerent attitude is reflected in the music young people listen to. Bands like The Rolling Stones (I can’t get no satisfaction”), The Clash (“Let fury have the hour, anger can be power/Do you know that you can use it?”), and The Cure (“Let’s go to bed”). This music is beginning to change how young people interact with their superiors. But the music is a symptom of the real issue. These children and teens have too much free time.
Having elegantly explained the problem, I will now artfully bring you the solution. Repeal child labor laws. Instead of allowing these children to watch MTV all day on their personal handheld devices, let’s put them to work. Then they would be too tired to be anti-social. Who knows? Our youth may start listening to wholesome music again. Musicians like Starland Vocal Band (“Gonna find my baby, gonna hold her tight/Gonna grab some afternoon delight”), Sheena Easton (“My baby takes the morning train”), and whoever sang “God save the Queen/we mean it, man”).
While we’re at it. We should also repeal minimum wage laws as well. We could hire a lot more children without those pesky laws. Plus, the government has no expertise in this arena. No one knows better than me and my business clients what your children are for and how much they’re worth.
Treacherous Gulp, Esquire – Counsel for Pungent Sound Technical College of Technology
The Power of Prayer
Sheer frustration and desperation drove me to my knees, naked before the Lord - certain I heard snickering somewhere. But I persisted and prayed for you to turn up on time, not make simple mistakes, or embarrass me before clients. And you, who glued bumper stickers to your Prius proclaiming miracles happen every day - you have made me an atheist through the power of prayer. Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief
The Great White Heron in a Floppy Hat
My father, long retired and recently afraid of becoming irrelevant, has become a pest. A master gardener, himself, he has volunteered to teach the Wampanoag children of Cape Cod how to grow vegetables the way 80 year old white men do - by stabbing cold metal hand shovels into the sandy soil and throwing dry seeds in the gaping wounds. The Wampanoag women of Cape Cod prefer their traditional methods. The warm heels of their feet create the needed homes for the pregnant seeds. Dad visits their community garden unannounced, uninvited, and unaware he may be perceived as a great white heron in a floppy hat attempting to poach fish from their pond. The tortured history here would recommend a gentler approach, but he is forever surprised by the frosty welcome. He suspects they want his money more than his help. His plans for Thanksgiving, my sister and I think, are bound to make matters worse. Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief
Absurdistan: Love and Geopolitics
Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan is a geopolitical romp that ends on September 10, 2001. But the book was published in 2006 – so make no mistake – 9/11 hangs over the narrative like an ominous cloud. Don’t make this mistake either – though 9/11 was a tragedy and geopolitical catastrophe, the novel is a raunchy and satirical examination of life when you’re a geopolitical pawn. And we’re all geopolitical pawns.
As the narrator, Misha Borisovich Vainberg, tells us in the prologue, this is a “book about love. But it’s also a book about geography.” The story opens on June 15, 2001. Misha is 30 years old and the son of the 1238th richest man in Russia. That’s because his father is a kleptocrat.
During the 1990s Misha attended Accidental College in the mid-west. As a result he adores America and rap music. His rapper name is Snack Daddy, because he loves all the snacks that have turned him into a self-described “fatso”. Unfortunately, his father called him back to Russia, and he is stuck there because dad killed a politically connected Oklahoman in St. Petersburg. Now the U.S. won’t let Misha back.
Misha hates Russia and its corrupt transition from the Soviet Union – even though he has benefitted tremendously from that corruption. “These miscreants were our country’s rulers. To survive in their world, one has to wear many hats – perpetrator, victim, silent bystander.” He’s desperate to get back to his girlfriend in the Bronx – so desperate he travels to Absurdistan, where he has been promised a Belgian passport that will enable him to finally return to the U.S.
Absurdistan does not exist in the real world. I googled it. However, in the novel it is one of the Stans in the former Soviet Union. It consists of several ethnic groups, and they all hate each other. As soon as Misha shows up, civil war breaks out and the borders are closed. Each ethnic group wants to use Misha for its own political purposes, and Misha wants to use them to escape to the Bronx and his girlfriend. Sex, humor, and violence ensue.
Similar to Candide, Misha is a “holy fool” who is wrong about pretty much everything. Near the novel’s end he confesses, “I thought I was Different and had a Special Story to tell but I guess I’m not and I don’t.” Fortunately, he’s wrong about that as well.
Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor
Each Spring Beckons Me Out the Door
A fuzzy pink sweater adorns the cherry tree and all the ladies half my age are smiling at me. Or so it seems - maybe they're just smiling near me. It's hard to see with such watery eyes, as if I'm looking through melting ice. Each spring beckons me out the door, but I'm moving slower than the year before and can't keep up as the ladies walk past. When did these women get so fast? Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief