Abomination!

I have always believed kindness should be applauded. On Mother’s Day morning I was at my local grocery store, and the employees were handing one red rose to each mom as she was leaving. Now I am a mother. I come from a long line of mothers. My mom, for instance, was a MILF, which (I believe) means Mother I’d Like to Forget. The point is – I was really looking forward to getting my red rose.

And just as kindness should be applauded, pure evil should be demolished. That little high school hussy didn’t give me a rose. She saw me walking to the exit, and she went off to talk with her friend – probably to buy drugs.

So I had two choices. I could follow her and politely ask for my well-deserved rose. Or I could go home and stew. Maybe even let it ruin my Mother’s Day. Complain about it to strangers. I knew my decision would reveal a lot about me as a mother.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

Anthem: Coming Soon to Netflix

The back cover of Noah Hawley’s Anthem informs the reader “[t]his isn’t a fairy tale.” The admonition is repeated inside the covers as well. This is either clever misdirection or false advertising, because the story has a wizard, witch, Orcs, goblins, ghosts, and trolls. Despite the presence of strong female characters and an appealing ethnic diversity that looks like America, this tale is as conventional as it gets: a ragtag group of heroes goes on a quest to save a damsel-in-distress. So don’t be deceived or misdirected. This is a fairy tale, and it was written with Hollywood in mind.

Now wait a minute, Gladiola. How can you say that? You don’t know the writer personally. You haven’t pissed with his penis. To which I reply: true, gross, and that’s not how the saying goes.

This is how I know. All the adults are evil and selfish, and the ragtag heroes are sexy teenagers. But, wait, there’s more. Unlike any teenagers you or I know, they immediately cooperate with each other (even though most of them have never met before) and (though they have no training in combat) they are able to take on a group of professionally-trained mercenaries. Sounds like Hollywood’s youth fetish to me. Plus, Mr Hawley’s background is in television and film.

All this should not suggest the story is bad. As a traditional quest narrative, it succeeds. It’s a page turner. But it is also a vision of contemporary society as seen through Hollywood’s dark, expensive sunglasses. Everyone is one dimensional. The heroes have backstories designed to pluck every heartstring three or more times. All the monsters are irredeemably evil and pulled from today’s headlines. The wizard is a pedophile modeled after Jeffrey Epstein. But he is so sexually cannibalistic, Epstein’s perversions appear quaint by comparison. One family resembles the Sacklers of Purdue Pharma infamy. But the fictional version is so greedy and selfish, the Sacklers come across as pickpockets. Donald Trump does not appear in the story, but he is constantly referred to. Except here he is not a sore loser ex-president, he is a God King – something only Trump himself would believe.

Mr. Hawley never preaches. His skills are more formidable. He screams. He rubs the reader’s face in bromides – all of them variants of WHAT IS WRONG WITH ALL THE ADULTS IN AMERICA! Many things, obviously. But perhaps not as many as Mr. Hawley would have us believe.

I am not discouraging you from reading this book if you are so inclined. It’s a fine fairy tale. However, you could simply wait for it to come out on Netflix.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

Flowers and Stars for Algernon

If you enjoy the musical stylings of Sting (and who doesn’t?), you might enjoy Richard Powers’ Bewilderment. It’s creative, intelligent, and pretentious. Everything you want in a good pop song.

The story follows a father and son, Robin, as they cope with the recent death of Robin’s mother. The father is an astronomer. Robin is 9 years old and diagnosed as being on the spectrum – a vague assessment that is less than helpful because, as his father points out, “everyone alive on this fluke little planet was on the spectrum. That’s what a spectrum is.” At any rate Robin is extremely sensitive to everything and has difficulty relating to his “normal” classmates – so they torment him.

To help re-wire his brain, he is enrolled in an experimental but promising neurofeedback program, which works wonders until a nefarious orange-haired politician spitefully cuts off the funding. Robin begins to revert with devastating consequences. It only sounds like a 2021 version of Flowers for Algernon because it is.

The novel works best when it focuses on astronomy and the search for unknown (to us) planets throughout the universe. “The laws that govern the light from a firefly in my backyard . . . also govern the light emitted from an exploding star one billion light years away . . . One set of rules runs the game, in all times and places.” In language accessible to a layperson, the novel discusses scientific matters, such as the Fermi Paradox, which (to paraphrase) states: if the universe favors life (and science indicates it does) then, given all the universe’s time and space, why does it seem no one is out there. These sections are fascinating.

However, the novel gets bogged down when the discussion returns to Earth. The parallels to Flowers for Algernon are obvious, and the reader has a fairly good grasp of where the novel is headed from the beginning. The references to the Trump presidency are strident. Mr. Powers is not a fan. He is angry but so are a lot of people, and he does not bring anything new or all that interesting to the conversation. The novel succeeds when it explores the universe – just not that portion pertaining to Earth.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

Not Too Shabby

If you are a fan of historical fiction, it is hard to do better than Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Both won the Man Booker Prize. As that esteemed literary critic Adam Sandler would say: not too shabby. The third and final book in this sympathetic treatment of Thomas Cromwell is The Mirror and the Light. It did not win the Man Booker Prize. Probably didn’t come close.

Who is Thomas Cromwell, you ask. Congratulations! You aren’t English. Moreover, you are probably an upstanding citizen living a meaningful and productive life.

Thomas Cromwell lived in the first half of the 1500s. But you don’t need to be familiar with the English Reformation to enjoy these books. Wolf Hall describes Cromwell’s brutal childhood and how he rose from obscurity to become Henry VIII’s most influential adviser. His chief adversary is Sir Thomas More, who is opposed to Henry’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn. The book ends with More’s execution. Cromwell has accumulated wealth, power, and a potent ally in Anne Boleyn.

Bring Up the Bodies opens with Henry married to Anne. However, Henry soon grows tired of her and falls in love with Jane Seymour. Cromwell’s alliance with Anne is now problematic, as Henry expects Cromwell to find a way to get rid of her so he can marry Jane. Cromwell accomplishes this and in doing so manages to have some of his political enemies executed as well. But, of course, Anne must lose her head too. The book ends with Anne’s execution and Cromwell at the height of his power and influence.

Anyone familiar with Greek tragedy knows this is where it all unravels for Cromwell – if only the unraveling wasn’t so plodding. Welcome to The Mirror and the Light, which limps along to Cromwell’s demise.

The first 2 books are stellar. Cromwell’s adversaries (Thomas More and Anne Boleyn) are worthy opponents and truly challenge him. In The Mirror and the Light, Cromwell’s only real adversary is himself, and he makes several mistakes that ultimately lead to his execution. It just takes a long time to get there.

The history of this time is fascinating, and Ms. Mantel has certainly done her research. Just as importantly, she knows how to tell a compelling story – at least she does in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Cromwell had an eventful life. But ultimately his livelihood (and his life) depended on the whims of a paranoid, superstitious, and mercurial monarch. As one character describes Cromwell’s predicament: “[y]our whole life depends on the next beat of Henry’s heart, and your future on his smile or frown.” Fortunately, we live in a time when monarchs don’t have the power or inclination to ruin people’s lives. Just ask England.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor