A Children’s Bible That’s Not for Children

In A Children’s Bible, Lydia Millet draws from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and Revelation to tell a modern story about a world devastated by climate change. Appropriately enough, the narrator is Eve, whose affluent parents decide to spend the summer with several college friends. These families rent an isolated mansion, which brings Eve and her brother, Jack, together with 10 other children. The parents spend their time drinking alcohol and taking drugs. The children are left alone. So it is a pretty sweet vacation.

During one brief moment of sobriety, a parent gives Jack a children’s bible, which becomes his fifth favorite book to read while sitting on the toilet – just as any book by Bill O’Reilly is our fifth favorite bathroom book. Soon, a hurricane hits the area and there is massive flooding. The parents are catatonic and unhelpful. However, a small man, Burl, literally washes up on the premises and leads the children to relative safety on a nearby farm, where he provides the children with clean drinking water and a decent supply of food – think manna from heaven. It appears that Burl has saved the children, but then the men with guns show up.

It does not take a brilliant adjunct professor from Pungent Sound Technical College of Technology to point out all the biblical references, but we will do it anyway. There is flooding that even Noah, who is played here by Jack, would have difficulty handling. The parents worship false idols (drugs, money, and alcohol). Burl is a Moses-like character leading the 12 children (or 12 tribes of Israel) through a dismal landscape. There is even one section where a remote God-like character sends via Burl rules, which sound a lot like the Ten Commandments (however, the one about honoring your mother and father is conspicuously missing). Eve is Eve (duh). And there are angels, who appear as aging hippies, so they smell bad and sing corny songs. They also always seem on the verge of performing Godspell, which is obviously one of the signs of the Apocalypse.

The novel is fast-paced and gripping – at times humorous and then deadly serious. Eve is an engaging narrator. She has an unblinking eye and a razor tongue. Like most teenagers, she is repulsed by her parents and adults in general. “They had double asses – asses that stuck out, then sagged and bulged again. Protruding veins. Back fat like stacks of donuts. Red noses cratered by pores, black hair escaping from nostrils.” She is merciless like an ancient prophet. She also tells a really good story.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

Precious Little Useless Things

   What do we call the innocent?
   Those precious little useless things
   we honor with large words
   and then largely ignore.

   As we do ethics.  Or courtesy.

   Better yet - 
   those prophets of doom
   with science degrees.
   What do we call them?

   Oh, yes, we call them fools.

   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

Americanah the Beautiful

When discussing race or immigration in the United States, the maxim “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” applies. In Americanah Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrestles both issues without lace gloves and without apologies. And while we cannot say for certain that she is an angel, Ms. Adichie is clearly no fool.

The title refers to a Nigerian who travels to the U.S. and returns with the affectations of an American. That sounds like high praise to us, but surprisingly the term is not considered a compliment in Nigeria. Yes, we are confounded, too. The main character, Ifemelu, is a young Nigerian woman who comes to the U.S. to attend college. Upon arriving, she is confronted for the first time with the concept that she is black, and she describes this experience humorously and forthrightly in her blog. “Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care. So what if you weren’t ‘black’ in your country? You’re in America now.” And as the book details, being black in America (whether you are American black or Non-American black) means the backpack you carry as you climb the steep mountain that is the American dream is heavier than anyone else’s.

Now we know what you are thinking. Forget this awkward race stuff. Ifemelu has a blog? Oh, that’s so original (said with dripping sarcasm like maple syrup running down a stack of pancakes). Everyone has a blog. They are as ubiquitous as sunblock on a Block Island beach in August. True. But Ifemelu’s blog is intelligent and successful (that’s how you know the book is fiction), and it allows Ms. Adichie to shrewdly and effectively comment on all sorts of racial issues in the U.S., such as (a) Why Dark-Skinned Black Women – Both American and Non-American Love Barack Obama; (b) Understanding America for the Non-American Black: What do WASPs Aspire To?; (c) Job Vacancy in America – National Arbiter in Chief of ‘Who is Racist’ ; and (d) A Michelle Obama Shout-Out Plus Hair as Race Metaphor. Major Metaphor Alert: the novel opens in a hair salon for a reason, and Ms. Adichie’s use of hair to illustrate her points about race is compelling and engaging.

Race is a major theme but so is immigration. Ifemelu’s high school sweetheart, Obinze, leaves Nigeria for London soon after Ifemelu arrives in the U.S. Neither leave Nigeria to flee poverty or war. Their reasons are far more complicated and intriguing. They leave to escape the “oppressive lethargy of choicelessness.” As Ms. Adichie writes, they were “raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in the somewhere else.” They (and other similarly situated immigrants) were “now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty.” Ifemelu’s and Obinze’s divergent paths allow Ms. Adichie to comment on the different immigrant experiences in England and the U.S. “[I]n America blacks and whites work together but don’t play together, and here (London) blacks and whites play together but don’t work together.” Glib, perhaps, but not devoid of truth. Ironically, Ifemelu’s and Obinze’s individual quests bring them back to a vibrant Nigeria.

More than anything, Americanah is a love story between Ifemelu and Obinze. It follows them from the early romantic stages (where just the heart is engaged) to a more complicated stage (where both the heart and brain are engaged). It develops into an “aware” love, which also could describe Ifemelu’s feelings for America and Nigeria.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

Love Mark

Love dashed out the door with a surprising speed not suspected before.
So I pulled on my pants and chased her to the lawn, but Love
had turned the corner and she was gone.  Love must have had
her running shoes on.

So I jumped in my car and drove all around, searched the whole town
with a trusty bloodhound, but when Love left she covered her track.
Now my wife's jewelry is gone, and Love demands bitcoins, or
she won't bring it back.

Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief

Considering

   I can justify anything I fail to do
   simply by saying I have done my best
   considering the meager gifts given me.
   For example, I can't run fast
   but I have done my best
   considering the vast distance between us -
   how the terrain is so treacherous
   and my flat feet can only shuffle
   because my shoes are sandbags with iron laces.
   So though your need is great (as it always is)
   I will come to you when I can.
   I am doing my best, considering . . . 

   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

Gilead: Nothing is Small

Yesterday, we sat with friends on the expansive sun-filled patio at Big Lick Brewing Company (biglickbrewingco.com), which is not the worst craft brewery in Roanoke. Tuco’s (tucostaqueria.com), which is not the worst taco joint in Roanoke, is across the street, and we had ordered take-out; sat at one of the tables on the patio; and ate savory food and drank golden beer. It was a gorgeous autumn day, and the mountains ringing this small city were blue. This is Roanoke at its wondrous best.

In Gilead, which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Marilynne Robinson explores the tempestuous beauty of life. And it is wondrous. Gilead is a fictional small town in Iowa. However, it is small in the same sense that Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County is small – in the same sense that the universe is small. Similarly, Faulkner’s admonishment about the past not being dead or even the the past is equally apt here. And like Faulkner, Robinson does not traffic in trivialities. She draws water from the well’s deepest depths.

The story is a letter from an elderly father, John Ames, to his young son. Ames rightly believes the letter is necessary because he will not live long enough for his son to really know him. Ames has lived his entire life in Gilead and has never desired to live anywhere else. He understands that nothing in life is small – regardless of where you live. Speaking of Gilead, Ames declares “[i]n eternity this world will be Troy . . . and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets.” The people living in Gilead are ordinary, which Robinson understands to mean they are extraordinary. “There have been heroes here, and saints and martyrs.” There have also been villains and lost souls desperately seeking redemption. Relationships are rich and at times fraught. Thoughts are deep. Answers are complicated, if they exist at all.

While the novel’s conceit is a letter, it is really an extended meditation on religion and spirituality. Ames is the son and the grandson of preachers. His best friend is (yes, you guessed it) a preacher. But a life dictated by Christian norms and tenets has not made Ames a lazy thinker, so do not expect to find anything glib, easy, or trite here. Ames states “[i]n the matter of belief, I have always found that defenses have the same irrelevance about them as the criticisms they are meant to answer. I think the attempt to defend belief can unsettle it, in fact, because there is always an inadequacy in argument about ultimate things.” The meaning of life cannot be known. However, regardless of its occasional pettiness and torment, life is miraculous. We can not match the spare beauty of Robinson’s prose on this (or any) topic, so we will give her the last word. We need to “acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.”

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

Ms. Breathless Responds to Donne (Exclusive)

As mentioned in our last post, Raven Breathless (formerly known as Death) gave Pungent Sound her response to the Haughty John Donne and asked (told) us to publish it. Now some may wonder why it took Ms. Breathless 400 years to respond. As Neil Gaiman (who is not the worst writer we’ve read) points out in his stunning graphic novel, The Sandman, Death is one of the Endless. Time is an entirely different concept when you are Endless so really 400 years is a pretty quick response. Plus, she has been dreadfully busy over the last 400 years.

To our knowledge, this is the first time in the epoch of life that Ms. Breathless has responded in writing to anyone or anything, so this is quite a coup for Pungent Sound – similar to when we discovered Shakespeare’s lost play As You Lick It. Please enjoy.

Death Responds to Mr. Donne

I have heard many silly taunts
in my extensive time,
and they are never more clever
just because they rhyme.
Ignorance should whisper
like a muffled chime.

I am not proud
though you are too proud to see
that when the Grand Bungler
created you it also created me.

I am not mighty or dreadful.
I do not overthrow.
Those are your birthmarks.
You are your foe.

Poison, war are a scaly brood
for which I have no need.
They hatched in the nest with you,
and you are the fodder on which they feed.

Chance is a monkey
whose mischief ends at the tomb.
Fate and sickness are encrypted
when you are in the womb.

You are the slave 
of desperate men and kings,
who look like lice to me -
or other insects without wings.

I am a lantern at the end of day.
I am not the Magnificent Fumbler,
who gave you feeble DNA.

I bring peace after you have done your worst,
and while I may eventually die,
you will die first.

Raven Breathless, Chief Contributing Editor-in-Chief.

First Published in Parody.

John Donne – Brilliant Poet / Foolish Man

Hello! History is full of artists who were brilliant in the impractical world of art, yet they were idiots in the practical world of living. Take the haughty John Donne. He wrote Death, Be Not Proud – one of the most famous poems (a sonnet no less) in the English language. In doing that, he needlessly pissed off Death (who has changed her name to Raven Breathless). Guess what. He died. Spoiler Alert.

So the clear lesson is DON’T TAUNT DEATH, OR YOU WILL DIE. Ms. Breathless snuck up behind Professor Prig (Donne’s nickname), clutched his heart in her fabulously manicured hand, whispered “Who’s dead now, bitch?” and twisted her bejeweled wrist.

You should not mock Ms. Breathless even if she is proud. She won’t change just because you want her to. And, candidly, if you look at her success rate, she has every reason to be proud. Instead, we advise you to sit on The National’s porch (which is not the worst place to have a cocktail). Admire the harbor view on a Block Island day full of indulgence and gentle blues. Try not to think of anything that Ms. Breathless may construe as an insult, maybe she will ignore you for a while.

Incredibly, Raven Breathless has decided to respond to Reverend Fussbudget (that’s what Donne’s wife called him), and she has chosen Pungent Sound to publish her response. We are both honored to do so and petrified not to do so. That will be our next post, so look for it because it’s what Raven Breathless wants. Your life may depend upon it.

Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Professor for Student Loans

Let’s Talk About Us – But Really Just Me

Hello! I am consistently amazed at the number of modern poets who can’t get published. Mostly, however, I am amazed that I can’t get published.

That’s why we started the Pungent Sound Journal of Pulp Poetry – to celebrate great poets whose greatness (for some stupid reason) has not been recognized by . . . anyone. So let’s start celebrating by reading one of my poems.

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 and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

Richard Python and Gravity’s Rainbow

We recently read Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.  The book is considered one of the GREATEST AMERICAN NOVELS EVER WRITTEN SO HELP ME GOD (20th Century Category).  Thousands of people say they have read it; hundreds of people have actually read it; and 4 people have enjoyed it. 

No one has understood it – making it the quintessential modern (or is it post-modern – we get confused) novel.   The story (if you can call it that) is like gentrification in your major cities:  New York, LA, Roanoke, New Shoreham.  It’s sprawling but it’s also dense.  It is literary and sophomoric and occasionally pornographic – just like Block Island.

Assuming he is still alive, Mr. Pynchon is a remarkable person.  We say “assuming” because he is a recluse, and no one actually knows if he is still alive.  There are very few pictures of him, and even slimy celebrity “journalists” have been unable to hack into his computer and steal all the naked selfies he has undoubtedly taken.  That alone is remarkable.   

The most interesting thing about the book (and Pynchon) is this.  In 1974 Gravity’s Rainbow won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction.  Actually, it shared that honor with another book no one reads.  Instead of attending the ceremony, Mr. Pynchon authorized a comedian to go in his place.  The comedian accepted the award on behalf of Richard Python and then gave a bizarre and funny acceptance speech.  In this era of attention seeking, I cannot imagine anyone (other than perhaps Bob Dylan) doing that. 

As for my comments on Gravity’s Rainbow, we didn’t actually read it.  We only said we read it.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor