Category Archives: Fiction

‘The Scent of Water,’ by Elizabeth Goudge

 “Yes, I will,” that is my song. I had not known before that love is obedience. You want to love, and you can’t, and you hate yourself because you can’t, and all the time love is not some marvelous thing that you feel but some hard thing that you do. And this in a way is easier because with God’s help you can command your will when you can’t command your feelings. With us, feelings seem to be important, but He doesn’t appear to agree with us.

Long years ago, when World War I veterans still walked the earth and I was only a teenager, my mother handed me a paperback copy of Elizabeth Goudge’s The Scent of Water. “I think you should read this,” she said.

As some of you know, my relationship with my mother could be described, charitably, as “problematic.” So I did not make haste to read the book. It sat in a drawer for a long time. I picked it up a couple times, but it didn’t grab me. It was written by a woman, after all, and showed no signs of anybody getting killed in it.

Fast forward more than fifty years. Recently somebody commented on Facebook that Elizabeth Goudge was one of C. S. Lewis’s favorite authors. My mind went back to that old paperback (which had gotten lost in the interval) and I thought it would be interesting to read it now and divine, perhaps, what secret message my mother had meant me to learn. I bought the Kindle version.

I don’t know if I figured Mom’s message out or not. I have a couple ideas. But I did enjoy the book.

Mary Lindsay is a 50-year-old unmarried lady living in London in the early 1960s. Once a teacher, she now works in a government office. She lives an ordered life and has an ordered retirement planned.

But one day she learns that her namesake Aunt Mary, a distant relation, has left her her home, “The Laurels” in the tiny village of Appleshaw. Mary only met the old woman once, when she was a young girl, but they connected immediately and her time with her is one of her happiest memories. Suddenly, to her own surprise, she decides to leave her job and retire to the Laurels. She’s been a Londoner all her life, she reasons, and she’d like to experience traditional country living before it disappears forever.

What she finds is the most charming little community imaginable. The whole village is built on and around the ruins of an ancient monastery – her own new house was the infirmary. She gets to know her neighbors – the nouveau riche “squire” and his chattering, insecure wife; the curate and his disabled but courageous sister; the impoverished blind poet and his neurotic wife; and especially the children next door. The children are prepared to hate Mary, because they’ve been accustomed to view her garden as their private playground. But Mary knows exactly how to handle children, and soon she becomes their friend and teacher. Especially the little girl Edith, who will be a surrogate daughter to her.

Through her interactions with neighbors in a community where there are no real secrets, and through reading her late aunt’s journal, Mary enters onto a spiritual pilgrimage. She learns humility and gradually embraces the Christian faith.

There’s a fantasy element in The Scent of Water, I think, and I don’t only mean the dream sequences where Mary envisions the life of a hunchbacked medieval stonemason. The world of this book is one where people can act in thoughtless, weird, and even criminal ways and be met, not with outrage, but with understanding and compassion. The people of Appleshaw are divided among the very wise and the very foolish, and the wise have mercy on the foolish. This is not realistic, but it’s charming.

One of the central images of this book is Aunt Mary’s glass case of “little things,” small figurines that Mary and little Edit both love. The Scent of Water is like a collection of “little things” — a multiplicity of small observations, descriptions full of lists of flowers and trees and everything Mary delights in. It gives the book a rich, baroque quality that leaves a memorable impression.

I don’t think I’m going to become a Goudge fan, but I enjoyed reading The Scent of Water, and was deeply moved by it. I think a lot of Brandywine Books readers will love it.

Musing on ‘The Princess Bride,’ by William Goldman

Look, (Grownups skip this paragraph.) I’m not about to tell you this book has a tragic ending. I already said in the very first line how it was my favorite in all the world. But there’s a lot of bad stuff coming up, torture you’ve already been prepared for, but there’s worse. There’s death coming up, and you better understand this: some of the wrong people die…. and the reason is this; life is not fair. Forget the garbage your parents put out. Remember Morgenstern. You’ll be a lot happier.

Last night I watched the film, “The Princess Bride” for the umpty-third time. Laughed and cried.

What’s not to love? It’s the perfect confection, almost parody but not quite. Self-aware, over the top, but entirely without condescension. Everybody involved seems to be having fun, and they welcome the viewer into the fun.

I first saw the movie in its first theatrical run. It got good reviews at the time, but wasn’t a major hit. Only when home video became available did it find its audience. Now it’s one of the most beloved – and quotable – movies in the world. With good reason.

But before I was a fan of the movie, I was a fan of the book. It was published in 1973, and I must have picked it up around 1978. Frankly, I bought it out of base motives – the original cover blurb called it “A Hot Fairy Tale!” I found something way better than I expected.

The big difference between the book and the movie is what I guess you’d call the “metanarrative.” In the movie you having a charming, funny adventure story, framed by a sweet series of vignettes involving a grandfather and his grandson.

The frame of the book is much broader and more complex. Goldman fictionalizes his own life, claiming his father was an immigrant from Florin, one of the imagined kingdoms in the book. He presents himself as a screenwriter who’s gone full Hollywood. He’s lost touch with his son (in real life Goldman had two daughters). Out of guilt, he tries to connect with the boy by giving him the book his dad used to read to him, The Princess Bride, by S. Morgenstern. Only he discovers that the book isn’t what he thought – most of it is a long, dull satire on the politics of Florin and Guilder at the time of the book’s writing. The real adventure stuff was just a minor narrative threaded here and there through the text. His dad had only read him the “good parts.” So Goldman has decided (he claims) to produce a “good parts” version of The Princess Bride.

But he can’t resist adding his own commentary, in pretty large doses, in footnotes and parenthetical interpolations. He talks about his childhood, his dreams, his disappointments. The movies he loves. The movies he wrote, and what he was trying to accomplish with them. How his life has consistently fallen short of the aspirations that romantic books and movies arouse in him. The book ends differently from the movie. The movie’s ending is sweet and heartwarming. The end of the book is ambivalent. They lived happily after…. But.

What The Princess Bride (novel) is about is the tragedy of impossible yearning. Most of us respond to the great stories. Our hearts are moved by the happy ending, the eucatastrophe, the fulfillment of True Love.

But we live (and who would know this better than a Jewish author?) in a world where True Love doesn’t guarantee that your beloved won’t be killed by a mugger or a pogrom or a stray meteorite. There’s something in our hearts that tells us True Love has to conquer all. Yet all around us we see that it doesn’t.

I have no idea what William Goldman’s spiritual beliefs were, if any. If he’d asked, someone could have told him about a True Love that does guarantee a miracle resurrection.

Glimmerglass, by Marly Youmans

Who didn’t have ghosts? And she was diminishing, changing–her face momentarily strange in the glass. She had hold of the tail end of middle age; she was an attractive woman, often mistaken for one much younger. Her hair still shone black, with only sparse threads of snow, and her skin was unwrinkled. There might be something left for her, here in the gatehouse beyond the village. Hadn’t she long ago combed her hair with the teeth of pain, eaten the poisoned apple, and married the prince of fire? What more could hurt her now?

I picked up Glimmerglass by Marly Youmans, thinking it was a fantasy written by a poet. That’s exactly what it proved to be, but it took reading three quarters of the book to get there. Most of the time the fantasy might be simply metaphor. I mean, a house with seven doors and talk of Snow White doesn’t actually bring dwarves into the story. But elements of fairy magic and oddness, as we read in Lars’s novels and other deep-rooted fantasies, abound.

Cynthia Sorrel arrives at the village of Cooper Patent on the southern tip of Glimmerglass lake (a fictional variation of Cooperstown, “America’s Most Perfect Village,” on the southern tip of Ostego Lake in New York. Village and lake call back to James Fenimore Cooper). She’s open to renting the gatehouse but has no real plans for anything yet. She’s just lost. The spritely, frail-looking caretaker who gives her the keys talks her into staying by assuming no alternatives.

Cynthia keeps to herself for a while and slowly begins to connect to the quirky people in the village, the vicar’s wife first, the Wild brothers, and later the vicar himself. The Wilds turn out to be her landlords, and with them come the main fantasy elements. Their mansion is a labyrinth of rooms that butts into the forest hill. There’s a locked door into the hill, a curious aura radiating from it. One of the Wild cousins went through that door many years ago and was never seen again. And there’s a pale, shirtless boy who stares at her from the woods before disappearing into them. Is that the ghost she felt must be lurking in a house or village like this?

Glimmerglass the novel may be like Glimmerglass the lake. It’s beautiful from the shore, warm, inviting, even with hints of danger and mystery, and alien, if not weird, under the surface. When Cynthia falls into the icy lake, metaphorically speaking, she emerges among chain-smoking ghosts, feathered angels with parasols, minotaurs, and palace dance halls. Sure, it sounds trippy, but it works beautifully well.

Read about this and her many other books on Marly’s blog.

Photo by Parker Amstutz on Unsplash

‘Romeo’s Stand,’ by James Scott Bell

“I can’t do this ish,” Sam said.

“Ish?” Ira said.

“Ah, something my dad told me to say instead of the S word.”

I said, “You don’t say the S word, but you’ll shoot a man?”

“I know,” Sam said. “It’s effed up.”

“I approve of his language choices,” Ira said.

Mike Romeo, James Scott Bell’s improbable intellectual tough guy detective, is back for more fun in Romeo’s Stand, Book Five in the series.

Mike is on a passenger flight that makes an emergency landing in the Nevada desert. The woman sitting next to him has a rough landing, and he helps her get off the plane. Then she’s driven away. When Mike gets to the nearby town of Dillard, he asks about her at the hospital, and they give him the runaround.

Then a local tough guy tries to beat him up.

Then the sheriff tells him to get out of town by sundown.

This is not the way to get Mike Romeo out of your hair.

Through a series of unlikely fights, captures and escapes, Mike discovers and, working with the FBI, brings down a major criminal operation centered in Dillard. While making a couple new friends along the way.

Lots of fun. No bad language. Recommended. Maybe not as good as the earlier Romeo books, but plenty good for a summer read.

‘The Art of Making Sense,’ by Andrew Klavan

The reason we want stories to make sense is because stories are a way of speaking about reality – and reality makes sense. This is a wonderful thing about reality that we don’t appreciate enough. When you see something in reality that doesn’t make sense it’s only because you don’t know enough about it. You naturally want to find out more in order to find out what sense it makes.

In the wake of reading Andrew Klavan’s The Nightmare Feast, I decided to pick up his collection of essays and speeches from last year, The Art of Making Sense.

In four pieces, entitled, “Can We Believe?”, “Can we Be Silent in a World Gone Mad?”, “The Art of Making Sense,” and “Speaking Across the Abyss: Building Culture in an Age of Unbelief,” he discusses the crisis of western, post-Christian civilization from the perspective of a creative, Christian mind.

I was delighted – but hardly surprised – by the way Klavan constantly returns to the central idea, that reality exists, that it is created by God, and that in the end the truth glorifies God. Knowing this, the Christian artist should be fearless.

I, of course, am not fearless. But ideas like this encourage and delight me. I enjoyed The Art of Making Sense very much, and recommend it. Especially for Christians in the creative arts.

‘Night Tremors,’ by Matt Coyle

There had to be something in me that liked it this way. Something crooked that I couldn’t make straight. Or didn’t want to.

The saga of Rick Cahill continues in Matt Coyle’s Night Tremors. Our haunted La Jolla hero is no longer managing a restaurant. He’s doing something more suitable to his talents – working for an old friend’s private investigation agency.

But that job mostly involves sneaking photos of adulterers, not a pursuit nourishing to the soul. So when a lawyer approaches him with a case involving undoing an old injustice, Rick takes a leave of absence. Eight years ago, Randall Eddington was convicted of the murder of his parents and sister. Ever since he has stoutly maintained his innocence. Now the lawyer has turned up a witness, a genial stoner who says he heard a motorcycle gang leader boast of committing the crime himself. He even said where he’d thrown the murder weapon. If that weapon can be located, it will be enough to get Randall a new trial. Rick’s job is to look for corroborating evidence, and to keep an eye on the witness’s safety.

Rick takes the case up with a sense of mission. This is what he’d become a cop to do, back when he was a cop. The motorcycle gang is a dangerous one, with even more dangerous connections in organized crime. And the corrupt La Jolla police department, now headed by his old nemesis, is particularly determined that one of their proudest solved cases should remain solved.

But this case is about more than that. Rick is a man who can’t be satisfied with easy answers. His compulsion to tie up every loose end will lead him where nobody wants him to go. And some people will go to any lengths to keep the secrets that remain covered up.

As was the case with Yesterday’s Echo, the first book in the series, the writing in Night Tremors is very good indeed. Rick Cahill is an intriguing character who draws your sympathy. The plotting is relentless.

My only real complaint here is the same as it was for that book – it’s really gloomy. I’m planning to continue with the next entry in the series, but I plead with the author – give us a little hope, please! If Rick’s luck doesn’t turn a little, I’ll have trouble comprehending why he just doesn’t commit suicide. And you’ll lose me as a reader.

‘Yesterday’s Echo,’ by Matt Coyle

I recognized the house from my infrequent trips up to the cross at the top of the Mount Soledad. Unassuming from the front, its backside hung off a cliff, splayed out like a giant glass-and-copper crab ready to pounce.

I think it was President Truman who said, “If you want a friend, get a dog.”

That might be the motto of Rick Cahill, hero of Matt Coyle’s hard-boiled California mystery series, of which Yesterday’s Echo is the first installment.

Rick’s life has been a series of betrayals. First when his policeman father, whom he worshiped, was thrown off the force for corruption. Then, after he himself became a cop, trying to restore the family honor, his wife was killed and he was blamed. He was never convicted, but he was fired, losing all his friends but one. That’s his old buddy Rusty, who runs a steakhouse and bar in La Jolla. Rick manages it now, and studiously keeps away from most relationships and anybody’s problems. He spends quality time with his black Labrador, Midnight, and that’s enough for now.

Until Melody Malana, a beautiful TV news reporter, walks into the bar and is accosted by a couple drunks. Rick steps in to protect her, and they begin a relationship – the first one Rick has really cared about since his wife died.

Then a couple of guys surprise him and beat him up, demanding to know where Melody is. And Melody is arrested for murder. Rick goes back into cop mode to try to clear her, but only manages to become the subject of an arrest warrant himself. The (corrupt) La Jolla police department is taking its orders from very high places, and Rick is working against the clock and very short of friends.

I mentioned narrative voice in hard-boiled fiction in a recent review. For me, that Philip Marlowe voice, slightly scratchy from cigarettes in one’s imagination, is almost a necessary element of hard-boiled. I’m sure good hard-boiled in the third person has been produced, but I like that imaginary voice-over. Rick Cahill has an excellent hard-boiled voice. I took to him from the start. The writing was crisp and evocative in the classic Chandler style.

My main reservation is that this book is very dark, and presents a world with very little hope in it. I enjoyed reading Yesterday’s Echo, but it left me sad.

Oddly enough, I didn’t notice much objectionable language. There were a couple misspelled words.

‘tHe Nightmare Feast,’ by Andrew Klavan

He was smiling in that friendly way friendly fascists smile in California. I guess the sunshine makes our fascists mellow.

Andrew Klavan continues his Another Kingdom fantasy series with The Nightmare Feast.

If you recall the plot of the previous book, Another Kingdom, Austin Lively is a pretty unremarkable Hollywood loser, working as a studio script reader. All that really distinguishes him is his dysfunctional background – neglectful academic parents who ignored him and his little sister but heaped attention on his golden boy older brother. Only recently has he learned the full extent of their betrayal – they are part of a world-wide conspiracy organized by a power-hungry multibillionaire, Serge Orosgo.

But Austin has chanced to get a look at a rare manuscript, a book called Another Kingdom, which Orosgo will go to any lengths to get his hands on. Austin’s brief reading of it somehow bestows on him the power to pass through portals into a medieval world called Galiana. In Galiana, Austin has become a knight and been sent on a quest to deliver a plea for aid to the distant Emperor. On the way he must fight monsters and magicians and sinister illusions (interrupted, of course, by unexpected forays back into our own world, generally just at the moment someone is trying to kill him). In our own world, after somehow eluding multiple assassination attempts, Austin comes face to face with Orosgo himself, and draws closer to locating his sister, who is in hiding with the manuscript.

Andrew Klavan is a past master at plotting an exciting story – readers of The Nightmare Feast will need to make time to catch their breath, because the author gives them none. Granted, as a fantasy snob who approves very few authors besides Tolkien, Howard, and myself, I found the fantasy elements just a little thin, though at least the horse gets a rubdown this time out. Anyway, stuff keeps happening so fast, who has time to nitpick details?

I got a kick out of The Nightmare Feast, and eagerly await the next volume. Not for younger kids.

‘The Good Son,’ by Dustin Stevens

This is the second book in a series of police procedurals by Dustin Stevens. The first was The Boat Man, which I reviewed here. Now comes The Good Son.

Reed Mattox is a detective on the Columbus, Ohio police force. He suffers from PTSD since the killing of his (female) partner. But he continues working the night shift, which allows him to operate mostly alone, except for his new K-9 partner, a Belgian Malinois named Billie.

During a stretch of blistering summer heat, EMTs are called to an old woman’s house. She’s dead when they get there, but what’s curious is that someone called 911 for her, though there’s no one in the house and no phone in the room where she died in bed. Soon there are other deaths – by different means, but always with a 911 call. Somebody is killing people but summoning help.

As Reed and Billie hunt for clues where none can be found, we also observe the unnamed murderer, whose back story is as pathetic as his motives are opaque. Reed will have to work with other cops (something he’s reluctant to do) and take some risks to catch the killer.

As a non-cop, I got the impression of a pretty high level of realism in this book. Sadly, that also tends to make the book less exciting than its competition – Reed spends a lot of time doing the mundane shoe leather work and paper work that real policing demands. However, the dramatic tension does rise steadily, and the payoff is fairly satisfying. There is a problem of homonym confusion — close-sounding words used in each others’ places. A copy editor would be helpful.

I’m not over the moon about The Good Son, but it wasn’t bad.

‘Superego: Fathom,’ by Frank J. Fleming

“Don’t threaten people while you’re bleeding on the floor,” I interrupted. “It comes off as insincere.”

Intergalactic hit man, genetically engineered psychopath, and inadvertent hero Rico Vargas is back in his second satirical Sci Fi thriller, Superego: Fathom.

In the previous book, Rico brought down the criminal syndicate that was taking over the Galactic Alliance. Now the remnants of that alliance are faced with an even greater threat – the Fathom. The Fathom is a mysterious organization nobody knows anything about for sure, except that they have dangerous agents who seem to appear anywhere at will, and a huge mother ship with tentacles. They are rumored to be aliens with strange powers.

Rico finds himself in the unusual – for him uncomfortable – position of working with a team. One of them is Diane, the woman he’s unwillingly fallen in love with, and from whom he’s been trying to distance himself, for her own good. He maintains his strength, speed, and lightning reflexes, but now he suffers from a handicap. Due to a dose of a powerful drug, he now suffers excruciating pain after even the slightest injury. Which means he’s only good on the offensive, and needs back-up.

Also, he’s about to sink to moral depths he’s never reached before: he’s going to become a politician.

As the story proceeds, there are plots within plots, wheels within wheels, and every fresh surprise only sets the stage for a larger surprise to come. The final payoff is very gratifying for the reader, only it’s not the final payoff.

Lots of fun, and very funny, with serious spiritual themes underlying the black comedy. I enjoyed Superego: Fathom very much. Something different for your light reading.

‘Superego,’ by Frank J. fleming

I like honesty. You hardly ever see real honesty in the universe. Nothing scares people more.

Rico, the hero of Frank J. Fleming’s novel, Superego, is an intergalactic hit man in the distant future. He is particularly good at his job due to being genetically engineered. First of all, he’s remarkably strong, with extremely fast reflexes. Secondly, his brain is wired for multitasking. Thirdly, and most importantly, he has no empathy at all. To him, innocent bystanders are just part of the furniture, entirely expendable.

Until one day, on a planet where a major interplanetary conference is about to start, he kills a group of terrorists and (wholly unintentionally) saves many innocent lives. Suddenly, Rico is a hero – which gives him no pleasure. The local police ask for his help (though, annoyingly, they keep taking his guns away), and he finds himself working with a police woman named Diane. Diane doesn’t trust him (which only shows her good sense). But gradually – as they survive several other hairy situations and become even bigger heroes – he starts having feelings for her. This has never happened before, and he hadn’t thought it was possible. Which only complicates his life, which is already complicated enough as one surprise after another begins to reveal the true scope of the corruption within the Galactic Alliance.

I’ve known author Frank J. Fleming for many years – first through his hilarious blog, IMAO, and more recently as a leading light at America’s new Paper of Record, The Babylon Bee. I wasn’t sure what kind of a novelist he’d be. But I was pleasantly surprised.

Superego provides a fusion of Hard-Boiled thriller and space opera, and works extremely well on both levels. But what makes the book really work (as with all great Hard-Boiled) is the voice of the narrator. Rico’s psychopathy gives the ironic tone an extra punch, and Frank J.’s signature sense of humor provides many a (black comedy) laugh.

Oh yes, there are Christian themes here too – Diane is a Christian and attends church, and Rico even attends a Bible study. His awkwardness with that social situation exactly corresponded to my own experience, by the way, and that gave me a moment’s pause even as I laughed.

Recommended. There’s a sequel, too.

Secret Wars, by Jonathan Hickman

What would you do with omnipotence? What would you do if the universe had collapsed around you, everyone and everything had died, and you were now the omnipotent being who could put something back together again?

That’s the question in the final collection of issues in Jonathan Hickman’s lengthy story of Avengers, Illuminati, alien doomsdays, and multiversal collapse. (Finally, the end! See all previous posts by searching for Jonathan Hickman or other tags to this post.)

At the end of Time Runs Out, the Illuminati team run out of options and devised a lifeboat that they hoped would save enough people to restart the human race, if that chance ever presented itself because they weren’t equipped to recreate anything. The man who was equipped for the task was the Fantastic Four’s arch-rival Victor von Doom. You could say he was in the right place at the right time.

With the help of Doctor Strange and The Molecule Man (who were with him at the aforementioned right time), he pulled together as many fragments of the multiverse as he could or wanted to into a small, planetary reality lamely called Battleworld. What I read in this Secret Wars collection is the metanarrative that holds many other stories together. I had thought to say the world wasn’t filled with battle and you could hardly call what happens her a secret war, much less wars, but I didn’t read the many other issues tied to this this set. Who knows what madness ran around in its diapers over there?

But here Doom, having reconstructed bits and pieces of Earth and the known universe, reigns as a god. He seems to have gotten everything he’s always wanted–worship, unbridled power, and Susan Richards, his enemy’s wife. But after a few years, scientists discover a lifeboat ship and Thanos and his crew are onboard.

The story works, and I’m glad it’s over. The only unsatisfying part of the conclusion for me is the complete avoidance of the rebirth and reconciliation of Captain America and Iron Man. Since so much time was spent on them in the third act, I thought Hickman was bring them into the fourth act. But the story shifted to the Fantastic Four characters, which was compelling on its own, and the inclusion of two Spidermen added a nice spice.

‘Fallen Hunter,’ by Wayne Stinnett

Saying that a series is losing my interest is not precisely the same thing as saying it’s lost its way. I have definite (and limited) tastes; lots of books that don’t interest me have wide and enthusiastic followings. So what I’m about to say about Wayne Stinnett’s Fallen Hunter shouldn’t be taken as a condemnation.

Series hero Jesse McDermitt is back on his private little island as Fallen Hunter begins. He’s still recovering from a personal loss, but now he feels ready to start engaging the world again. A friend’s wife tells him of a problem in her family. Her father, a shrimp fisherman, has gotten himself into trouble. He agreed to make a few deliveries for a drug smuggler to get his business over a tight spot, but now he wants out and the smugglers won’t let him go. In fact, they’re talking about more dangerous goods.

Jesse arranges to take over the shrimping operation for a while, presenting himself as an enthusiastic scoundrel eager to play ball with the smugglers. Then he learns that the “more dangerous” cargo they’re talking about is armaments for a terrorist group. That sends Jesse to his covert operations buddies, and they draft a plan to stop the terrorists.

In his spare time, Jesse meets an attractive local woman and begins dreaming of a new future.

My personal problem with Fallen Hunter was that it shifted the series (not surprisingly, in light of the previous book) into military thriller territory. As a large number of fighting men (and women) converge on Jesse’s island and start doing their operational stuff, I began to grow bored. That the second half of this book consisted largely of people pretending to be on a diving vacation, doing rather languid tourist things while waiting for the action to start, did not increase the suspense.

I was also annoyed, as before, by Jesse’s over-willingness to confide in people he hardly knows. And the final climax of the book was pretty melodramatic.

Still, I like the character enough to give him another chance. I’ll probably read the next book. But not right away.

Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison

I wanted to give you a thoughtful reaction to Ralph Ellison’s unfinished work, Juneteenth, at the appropriate time of the year, which is now, tomorrow being June 19, the day commemorating the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the States. But I couldn’t wade through it, only getting halfway. It’s a rambling novel that probably is best read in the company of well-read and thoughtful friends. Maybe, as you can tell from my recent posts, I’ve slouched away from that mindset.

“Ha, Bliss, so you remembered Eatmore, Old Poor John. Now that there was a great preacher. We did our circuit back there. Revivals and all. Don’t laugh at fools. Some are His. Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty. Which of Eatmore’s did you preach ’em, Bliss? Which text?”

Dreamily the Senator smiled. “They needed special food for special spirits, I preached them one of the most subtle and spirit-filled–one in which the Right Reverend Poor John Eatmore was most full of his ministerial eloquence: Give a Man Wood and He Will Learn to Make Fire . . . Eatmore’s most Promethean vision . . .” Hot here.

The story focuses on Senator Sunraider, quoted above, and the man speaking to him, a preacher and father figure named Hickman. In the beginning, Hickman and forty-three black men and women arrive in Washington hoping to meet with the senator for a few minutes, but he doesn’t give them that moment over the next two days. Then he is shot from the gallery while giving a speech.

I believe the rest of the novel is spent running memories through the Senator’s mind while Rev. Hickman is talking to him beside his hospital bed. Calling him Bliss, the name he’d given him as a child, Hickman remembers long sermons and revival meetings he did with the senator as a pre-teen. Bliss would be carried into meetings in a white coffin and wait for the right moment in Hickman’s preaching to rise up with his little, white Bible and preach with him in heart-tugging drama. It scared the boy and thrilled the crowd.

At another time of their lives, they went from town to town trying to sell the idea of a movie that showcased the town’s best qualities. Bliss was a young man then and naturally he discovered young women everywhere he went.

The reverberating tone in what I read points toward the senator, though himself a white man who has argued against black American equality in public life, understanding that his black heritage has formed him as a man and an American. No matter what he wants to believe, he has been shaped by black hands and black, American grassroot experiences.

In the introduction, John Callahan, who edited the draft that become this book, writes, “On many levels Juneteenth is a novel of liberation . . . Ellison, who took part in more than one ‘Juneteenth ramble’ as a boy in Oklahoma, speaks of false as well as true liberation and of the courage required to tell the difference. Even in the face of deepest betrayal, Hickman keeps his word to stand by Bliss, although the little boy is now contained within the frame of a man whose public words and deeds repudiate Hickman’s acts of kinship and fatherhood.”

It’s tough reading and maybe there are or should be better novels to capture this idea of liberty for all of us, but I’d sooner say I’m just not the right reader for this novel at this time.

Avengers: Time Runs Out series, by Jonathan HIckman

Great! Walk away! It doesn’t matter. You’ll be back.

But make sure when you do come back–because you need me–that it’s on your knees. Both of you! Repentant!

Because I can’t save any of you, unless you realize that you need saving! And that I’m the only one on this entire planet who can do it!

In my last post on this apocalyptic Avengers series, Captain America went on a series of time jumps that appeared to clarify his moral compass. “I rescue the helpless. I raise up the hopeless.” That’s what he said. That’s what Captain America said.

And someone said to him that Tony Stark had caused a universal load of trouble for everyone and needs to be stopped.

The next set of issues, Avengers: Time Runs Out, Volume One, the story picks up eight months later, so yeah, a few gaps in the story would be fine. But why does Steve Rogers look thirty or forty years older and appear to have handed the mantle of Captain America to Sam Wilson (who is seen more on the character list page than any panel)? How did Thor lose his arm and what is this about being unworthy to wield Mjölnir? Did Bruce Banner take his own multiverse trip and bring back an alternate version of himself? As a casual comics reader, this is off-putting (there are other off-putting things I won’t mention).

The story told over this four volume collection doesn’t follow a linear pattern, which is mostly good. When you have so many characters doing so many things, it’s normal to tell the story slant with some flashbacks and revelations from conversations you didn’t see the first run through the timeline. Threats are reexamined and mysteries explored by characters revisiting what they understand and seeing it in new light. Hickman has an interesting, spralling story here.

But Steve Rogers is labeled the good man and life; Tony Stark is labeled the monster, death. And Rogers spends 90% of his time hunting his former friends and wanting to beat an apology out of Stark for lying about the end of the world. Stark is blamed for corrupting all reality and lying to the other Avengers that they had a chance to save Earth. “You knew we were all going to die!” Rogers charges him. “Say it! You lied about that and everything.” At one point, Rogers says that bringing the Illuminati team to justice was more important than anything else, completely forgetting that they would need to act when another planetary incursion comes. A little later he accused them of doing nothing over the last eight months to save the planet.

Of course, they had been knocking out various impossible things every day before taking an early lunch. That and running from their friends.

The story doesn’t run out at the end of Time Runs Out, Volume Four. No, sir. It just keeps going. Which is good in one sense, because the heroes had run out of options and everything actually dies. But I was left asking where was the man would not entertain necessary evils, who was committed to saving as many people as he could? When they learned of great cosmic destroyers–Rabum Alal, the Ivory Kings, the Mapmakers, and the Black Priests–how could they set that aside to blame everything on Tony Stark?