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jabiz has commented on (5) products.

Gain by Richard Powers

jabiz, July 18, 2011

If I don’t write this post/review right now, tonight, I will never write it. It has been festering beneath my skin, down near my bones for a little over a week. I keep telling myself to wait till the time is right. Wait until it comes oozing out and the words write themselves, but I am not sure when that time will come, so before this post becomes infected and pusses into a disgusting wound, I will try to get it out.

I am having a difficult time sharing my thoughts on the novel Gain by Richard Powers, because it could be one of the best books I have ever read. It deserves more than the sloppy stream of consciousness style post on which I am making my name. It needs a dissertation, a New Yorker article. At least a well planned essay. Perhaps I need to teach it as a graduate course novel, as Mary the person who recommended it to me, has done. But I haven’t the energy for such intellectual pursuits at this time. So let’s start with the basics:

In Gain, Richard Powers puts our modernity through the wringer once again. This time, though, he points the finger at one villain in particular: rampant, American-style capitalism, as exemplified by a conglomerate called Clare International. His novel, it should be said, is no piece of agitprop, but an intricate lamination of two separate stories. On one hand, Powers describes the rise (and fall and rise) of the Clare empire, beginning in its mercantile infancy. The author's Clare-eyed narrative amounts to a pocket history of corporate America, and a marvelously entertaining one. Lest we get too enamored of this success story, though, Powers introduces a second, countervailing tale, in which a 42-year-old resident of Lacewood, Illinois, is stricken with ovarian cancer. Lacewood happens to be the headquarters of Clare's North American Agricultural Products Division, and lo and behold, it seems that chemical wastes from the plant may be the source of Laura Bodey's illness.

These two stories are woven together with such subtle delicacy that I was left wanting at the end of each chapter. In the story about the rise of Clare, the reader is treated to a muck-raking ,journalistic narrative seeped in historical fiction. A clear and objective narrator tells the tale of a small soap company that transforms into a multi-national corporation over the course of a hundred years. The voice telling the tale is born of both Ayn Rand and Upton Sinclair, in that the reader is never quite sure what it is trying to tell about the rise of capitalism in the Untied States. At times, the narration is sharp and critical of the often ruthless purity of the American business-- “Industry’s raw inputs were endless, the land fecund enough for any machine dream. A nation come of age possessed no greater peacemaker than power.”

This is not solely an anti-capitalist tirade, however. At times, Powers begs us to consider that perhaps business, tainted with it’s altruistic hue of science and technology, only exists to make our lives better and easier. But, no matter which side of the moralistic coin you choose to dwell, this is a novel that will force you to think about the current state of global capitalism by examining it’s history.

The novel acts as textbook for American history, economics, business, class struggle, marketing, as well as chemistry, environmentalism, and technology. It is a petri dish of discussion topics. But the beauty is that, it is not a textbook, but rather a beautifully crafted novel of intense beauty and poetry. The words drift and float leaving traces of sentences that when sorted into paragraphs leave lasting impressions. The sections of the book that tell the story of Clare, undertake a more formal tone, but are accented with hints of Whitman wordplay and Dickens storytelling in their charm and civility.

Then there is Laura. There is the cancer. The anguish. Tears and soft smiles and goosebumps. The deterioration of the same dream building up on the other side of history. Just as easily as Powers unleashed his powerful lecture on the rise and sometimes awe inspiring beauty of capitalism, with a voice of unquestionable expertise and authority, he now tells the fragile and honest story of a family in crisis in a voice much like Franzen. A quick wit and humor infused with a underlying joyless reality are the back drop of the story of Laura’s cancer. The reader will be left laughing with tears in their eyes at the injustice of a disease that can only survive by growing beyond it’s means-- cancer or capitalism?

Please do not accuse me of hyperbole, when I say this is one of the best books you will ever read. I will read this book again. I will read everything Richard Powers has ever written. Someday I will teach this book. If you respect my opinion on anything, please do yourself a favor and read it.

Be warned, you will not look at the world the same again. It has altered the way I think about technology, science, marketing, America and the very objectives of our species--We have been taught to think that America is leading the train. That science and progress and technology and the cloak of marketing in which it has all been wrapped will save us from the terror that lurks in nature, that somehow the myth of Genesis married to Manifest Destiny, married to expansion and growth and progress and pre-emptive war and the American Dream will somehow save us. From what? No one stops to ask. There has to be something different out there...this novel will force you to stop and ask why you have never thought to question a system that is killing us all in one way or another.
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The Book of Dave by Will Self
The Book of Dave

jabiz, July 7, 2011

As is the case with most dystopian novels, I began feeling lost and confused. I immediately regretted having strayed from my literally routine of handpicking each book I read. The novel begins in a bizarre futuristic English landscape where the characters speak in a muddled language called Mokni, an invented dialect of English derived from Cockney, taxi-drivers' and Dave's own usages, text-messaging, and vocabulary peculiar to the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

It took about a hundred pages and a trip back to the twentieth century for me to finally find my footing in the language. But once I did, I began to see the beauty of what Self was doing- Using a sharp and critical satirical prose, he carefully crafts an intricate novel of amazing depth. There is not much more to say- there is never a point where The Book of Dave is not extremely well written. The stories from the past, present and future seamlessly intertwine to create a biting mirror reflecting the hypocrisy and absurdity of religious dogma. I will end the review here, by saying that this is a novel that is worth your time. Before I end this post, I did want to make some comments about the thoughts that were alighted because of this text.

While I often expose an aggressive atheism, I like to think that I tote a robust and healthy spiritualism. I am a seeker and enjoy contemplating spiritual matters. Never one to shy away from discussions about the purpose of life, morality, or the human condition, I am always looking for conversations about topics steeped in mysticism and exploration.

What has always turned me off religious discussions is the certainty of truth. The reliance (faith) on dogma and holy books. The prescriptive rules and hoop jumping of organized salvation is not for me. Let me wallow in a Walt Whitman poem, or Rumi, or Bukowski, till I see a light that guides me through the darkness. Your “book” may be the outline that leads you to peace, but it lost me when it demanded that I should have dominion over all the creatures of the earth, or when it took it upon itself to classify certain forms of sexuality as abominations.

Be kind. Love your enemies. Show compassion. Treat others as I would like to be treated. These are ideas I can get behind, and honestly the holy books hold no monopoly on these ideas.

What does any of this have to do with The Book of Dave? Throughout the novel, Self creates a world that illuminates the childishness of relying on scripture as self-evident truth that should be followed to the tee.

I often found myself shaking my head at the idiocy of the men of Ham as they were misguided by the madness of Dave Rudman. Dave unleashes a rant at the zeitgeist of a psychotic breakdown, that becomes The Book for the future denizens of Hampstead. I couldn’t help to think how much of the material from our holy books could have been written by, if not madmen, than surely by the non-evolved minds of a tribe of desert nomads two thousand years ago. The realization that so much of our world is dictated by interpretations of random thoughts of ghosts from the past would be ludicrous if it were not so sad

Whether you are religious or not, this is a thought provoking novel that will leave you questioning how much of the holy books were meant to be questioned and how much was meant to be lived. What do you think? Do we still need such a prescriptive guideline to direct our morality? Be kind. Love your enemies. Show compassion. Treat others as you would like to be treated. We haven’t even gotten that right yet. Isn’t that enough? Maybe once we can learn to be openminded and loving we can begin to worry whether or not women are less than men because they came from a man who was made from mud in the image of a loving/vengeful god.
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Termite Parade by Joshua Mohr
Termite Parade

jabiz, October 9, 2010

Joshua Mohr’s second novel, Termite Parade, can best be summarized by the scraps of its own prose. The regurgitated chunks of text when spread out on a blank page are all one needs to understand the painful themes he has so tactfully woven into the perfectly paced plot. Ignoring any traces of sophomore novel angst, Mohr unabashedly allows the reader to wallow in the “vibrancy of creation” while he holds up “a mirror to humankind, so the animals could see themselves.”

The idea of humans as animals is the backbone of Mohr’s tale. He forces the reader into the cages of three characters who “reveal every contortion of their flimsy spirits,” in everything they do and say. He unhurriedly creates a tapestry of shame, guilt, and regret. But rather than pity these lost souls who are trapped in their self-inflicted “dilapidated zoo,” and floundering in their “arrogant betrayals,” Mohr forces us to see ourselves in their malice and indignity.

Mohr’s characters and their abusive existences act as a reminder to us all that the human spirit, while masquerading as noble and benevolent is really just, “seconds from crumbling away.”

Early in the novel, Mohr states, “maybe there is no difference between evolution and devolution as long as it leads to change.” He then spends the remainder of the book deconstructing his three characters down to their most base emotions, and he painfully unveils the animal in us all. By allowing us to relate to their self-loathing, Mohr helps us unhurriedly peel back the duplicity we all hide behind to survive. “What’s the difference between lying to yourself and being redeemed?” He asks. Mohr dares us to admit that we don’t all constantly lie to ourselves.

While Termite Parade is a book that forces you to acknowledge the “neglected, hoarse conscience,” within us all, ultimately it is a novel of hope. Mohr may expose the hypocrisy of human happiness, but at the same time he alleges that perhaps when broken down to our most animal instincts we can, help the unveiled animal get “it’s voice back and sing.”

This novel is an honest and tender testimony to what it means to be human in the face of a world trapped in it’s own apathy and tedium. With every sentence carefully crafted, and every word chosen for immediate impact, it is littered with intense visceral scenes. You may be able to read it in one sitting, but this is a novel that will stay with you every time you look in a mirror and lie to yourself.

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Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

jabiz, August 23, 2009

It is 2:48pm and I have been reading since about 7 am. Just last night I sent a friend an email stating that the new Dave Eggers book was off to a slow start. One sitting and 337 pages later, I think it is safe to say it picks up steam.

I am a sucker for demarcating unique and carefully crafted prose in the books I read. Highlighter in hand, I scour books for passages that may somehow be of use to me at later times, and Eggers has always been provided me with page after page of highlight worthy prose, but his latest book Zeitoun is different. I read all day and nary a page was marked.

In Zeitoun, Eggers subtly removes himself from the story. The language is concise, crisp, journalistic, and inconspicuous. There is little emotion, embellishment, or superfluities of any kind. Instead he unfolds an economic, yet beautifully told story of the failures of the US government in the wake of Hurricane Katrina through the experience of one family.

This book will not wow you with its complexity, but rather it will engross you with its simplicity. While the book lacks expressive prose, the experiences it narrates will have you shaking your head in disbelief.

A timeless story of loss, anger, and hope. Dave Eggers proves once again that as a writer he is merely a voice of the voiceless. I am glad to see, once again, that anything he touches turns to gold.

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Getting Our Breath Back
Getting Our Breath Back

jabiz, May 28, 2009

In Getting Our Breath Back Shawne Johnson has sculpted a sensual and raw narrative, with a prose that reads like a mantra seeped in organic imagery and sexuality. As the plot unfolds Johnson chisels and carves away aspects of the characters lives, allowing the reader to better understand the women who inhabit this breathtakingly beautiful debut novel.

Masterfully weaving in-and-out of major themes like racism, sexism, family, death, and sexuality, Johnson is never preachy. She chooses the turbulent sixties and early seventies, heavy with the residue of revolution, free love, and the Black Panther movement as the perfect backdrop to the narrative. This is a novel about pain and women and struggle and growth.

The recurring motifs and rhythmic language make this book read more like a poem or a song then a novel.

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