Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dee Dee Day by Mykola Dementiuk

Reviewed by Lloyd Meeker
Published by Extasy Books

A rootless young man untroubled by theft, accustomed to squatting in abandoned buildings and scrounging food where he can finds an ad for an apartment in a building owned by Dee Dee Day. Gradually they become friends. Their May-December relationship is passionate, but is less a romance than a mutual agreement to be less lonely together, characterized by tentative sweetness and Dee Dee’s hard-edged misery.

Flickers of tenderness illuminate the relationships of the three main characters, but they serve only to emphasize stony survival in the gritty present in spite of the tragic past. The lack of any real compassion or hope for the future among them was remarkable to me.

Dementiuk is either so bravely romantic that he eschews even the simplest romantic device, or he is an unapologetic existentialist who has embraced the pain of the world just as it is, and does not care even to comment on it in passing.

Whatever he is, he is a compelling writer. I had no choice but to believe what he told me through his intelligent, bony prose that most of the time kept me feeling slightly off-balance. He tells the story through a miasma of memories buffered by alcohol, a scratched lens of resignation, regret, bitterness, and capricious cruelty.

The 120-page story is well crafted and engaging, its atmosphere powerful. The characters are defined as much by what they don’t do as they are by their actions, which speaks to Dementiuk’s writing.

Occasionally Bill, the narrator, jumps from past tense to make observations in present tense, as if he were telling the story after many years and was making a current interjection. The technique made more sense toward the end of the story, but I did find it jarring.

My only real beef was with production. The manuscript certainly could have benefited from more careful line edits and proofreading.

If you are looking for happy, non-threatening diversion this story is not for you. If you are willing to hurt a little—with characters you may not like caught in circumstances that you may not want to explore—in order to ponder humanity from an unusually harsh angle, read Dee Dee Day. I’m glad I did.


Book Review: The Nan Tu – Southern Swallow Book II By Edward C. Patterson

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: CreateSpace

The Magical Adventure Continues

As a reviewer for my own glbt literature site as well as writing for three other review sites, I read a lot of glbt themed books. Many of these stories are cut from the same stamp, and I rarely enjoy them. Many are about sexy vampires and shape shifters and such, which doesn’t really twirl my skirts. Some deal with true life issues in such a way that touches me deeply, and I cherish those. But every once in a while a book comes along that has a unique voice, a fresh and vibrant set of characters, and has the ability to transport me into another world for an adventure far beyond my limited imagination. Tolkien certainly did that for me, as did Frank Herbert and Arthur C. Clark and several other fine writers. I recently experienced another such writer who took me on an adventure filled with history and magic and valor found in unexpected places. The author is Edward C. Patterson and the adventure is called the Southern Swallow series. The first book was The Academician, which delighted me with a rather touching love story. I’ve now read the second book in the series called The Nan Tu, which is the maturing of that love story into a tale of intrigue, loyalty and honor.

The Nan Tu takes the reader back into ancient China during the Sung dynasty, when the Emperor was considered the “Son of Heaven” and vast armies trembled at his every whim. Out of this rich history comes the journey of a few men who try to remold an empire out of the destruction and chaos left by warring hoards from the north, all the while being hunted by blood-thirsty bandits and The Jackal, who leads an army bent on their destruction.

One man, Li K’ai-men, must utilize the magic power of the Jade Owl to form an alliance between five men that will form a supernatural force to battle the enemy. Another man, Emperor Koa, must assume the responsibilities of The Son of Heaven, and somehow stay one step ahead of assassins and traitors long enough to form a stable government. A third, Fu Lin-t’o, the ever-faithful lover of Li K’ai-men, is challenged with keeping the Emperor’s court out of harms way. And, of course, K’u Ko-ling, Li K’ai-men’s rather clownish manservant, who has matured and become a key player in protecting the realm. There are rich descriptions of all the characters, each one bigger than life and easy to imagine.

This is a story about loyalty, duty and honor. Loyalty (and love) from scholar to his emperor, from servant to master, from lovers to each other, and from all to country and ancestors.

As with The Academician, this story is a vivid, imaginative, and often humorous romp through a pivotal point in Chinese history. Book II blossoms into a tense tale of intrigue, court politics, treachery and war. The plot is much more complex that the first book, and more interesting. It kept me up several nights, not wanting to put it down.

The narrator starts and finishes each chapter with his 1st person point of view, but the bulk of the story is told in 3rd person. I found these POV switches to be seamless, and greatly added to developing the depths of the main characters. This is a character driven story, and Patterson skillfully presents these characters with even greater depth than the first book, with an excellent blend of tragedy and humor.

Because of the many different characters and locations, any reader would be greatly confused without first reading The Academician. Much like Lord of the Rings, this is one continuous story that spans several volumes, and needs to be read in order. It is not an easy read. There are so many important characters always appearing and reappearing, and so many different locations, that one needs to concentrate to keep it all in order.

The one issue I had with his book is that, because there is more story to come, it felt like the ending was flat. I was left with a feeling of incompleteness, and somewhat miffed that I must wait for another installment or two to finish the story.

The author’s consummate skill at crafting prose and his well-researched details kept me fully engaged until the last page. I would recommend this read to anyone who enjoys multifaceted characters, humor, and a well-crafted story.


Monday, February 8, 2010

The Lonely War by Alan Chin

A Brilliant Work that will Linger in your Heart and Soul,

Reviewed by Edward C. Patterson

The Lonely War is the story of a Chinese-American youth who is raised in a multi-cultural environment, schooled in Buddhism, and then is thrust into the world at war -- the US Navy during the Pacific conflict. Andrew Waters encounters every known flavor of intolerance, but because he is well grounded, strong in his pacifist convictions and emerging from the mysteries of the closet, he manages to survive events that the average person could not withstand. The issue, however, is that Andrew hasn't figured out the reason for his own existence and fosters the best part of all who encounter him, from hateful bigots, to duplicitous clergy, to prison commandants, and to wayward young men. A reader has no better guide to World War II than through Andrew Waters' soulful heart.

Alan Chin has created a realistic war novel, not the kind we imagine, but the ground level view that many veterans will easily recognize. However, whenever we feel afraid of the progression of the tale, the characters bind us to reality -- that duty and patriotism and even a hint of bravery can overcome the direst circumstances. Even death becomes a transitional state in this brilliant work. One does not generally expect tender imagery in a war novel, but Mr. Chin constantly provides us balm without becoming tedious. The only problem I had with the book is that it kept me up well after two AM each night, because I could not put it down. Just one chapter more. Just one. This happens perhaps with one in twenty or so books, and when I get one like it, I look for other works by the same author.

Two points: I particularly enjoyed the characterizations in this character driven novel. Even the "bad-guys" developed into memorable homilies. When they are exposed to the proper light, everyone can find their way to the heart of humanity. I especially enjoyed the character of Hud (Hudson), and I will say no more on that, because that would spoil the experience. I also enjoyed the absence of the usual labels for men on men relationships. They happen so organically in this novel that anyone who knows about these things will say, "Yep, that's it exactly."

The level of research is amazing. The various cultures revealed, especially Japanese and Chinese, are to the point, and I can attest to that having degrees in East Asian culture. Naval logistics are right on the money and the descriptions of Kyoto tell me that Mr. Chin has visited there in order to take me with him.

A brilliant book. I recommend it to anyone who wants a good read and lingering joy.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Big Diehl by George Seaton

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by MLR Press

Big Diehl (pronounced Big Deal) escapes his going-nowhere ranch life in Laramie, Wyoming the day after he graduated high school. But leaving does not erase the emotional pain inflicted by eighteen years of life with his trailer-trash father.

Diehl’s search for his place in the world leads him to an army recruiting office in Casper. While waiting for the army to process his paperwork, he is temporarily adopted by a pair of hospitable lesbians who own a local bar. They put him up at their ranch where he meets Tony, another “waif” that the ladies have taken in. As it turns out, Tony had been an exemplary Marine until he ran face first into a brick wall called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Diehl and Tony begin to forge a relationship, but the Army intervenes and ships Diehl to boot camp.

Diehl finds Army life satisfying except for the need to hide his sexuality. Opportunities come and go with other desperately lonely souls like himself. He takes advantage of some, not others. The need for stealth limits all relationships to a one-time thing. Or is that Diehl’s emotional pain won’t let him get close to anyone?

After 9/11, Diehl finds himself a squad leader in Iraq, trying to keep his boys alive. The horrors of war and Army life shape Diehl into a man, a troubled man to be sure, but none the less a man of grit. When Diehl’s Iraq tour is suddenly cut short, he finds that he now has the strength to face his pain and confront his past. But does he have the will to fashion a more satisfying life, one where he can settle down with one man? You can ask but I won’t tell.

I found this to be a completely satisfying read. The characters and situations are completely believable. In fact, having spent four years in the Navy, during which time I hid deeply in the closet, Diehl’s experiences brought back many memories of living stealth – so many terribly lonely nights and the constant fear of being caught. This story makes a strong and clear statement about the emotional pain suffered by brave men and women honorably serving their county.

I found this read occasionally touching without becoming overly so. And although the ending is not happily ever after, it was a strong and sensible conclusion.

In addition to being emotionally stratifying, I found this story extremely well structured and well written. It has a clipped language that took me several pages to become accustomed to, but once I did I love the author’s voice.

The character of Diehl is well drawn and completely likable. If I have any minor complaint about this story is that some of the other characters could have had more depth. My only other complaint is that the story is a bit short, about 85 pages. I saw many opportunities to expand the story into something longer, but hey. I’m nit picking. I highly recommend Big Diehl.

For more information about this book, press here.