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The Half Life: A Novel
The Half Life: A Novel
by Jonathan Raymond
Edition: Hardcover
27 used & new from CDN$ 2.90

4.0 out of 5 stars The Oregon Trail in the 1800's to Portland in the 1980's, July 16 2004
This review is from: The Half Life: A Novel (Hardcover)
Friendships, entrepreneurialism and the generational influences are at the heart of this beguiling, but predictable and slightly over-wrought book by Jonathan Raymond. With its duel narrative, that readily switches backwards and forwards in time, The Half-Life, is at once a successful historical epic set in the 1800's, and an effective portrait of the mid-eighties Regan era. Two friendships are separated by generations but bound together by a dark mystery: A pair of skeletons are discovered at the edge of Portland's Forest Park which sparks a clash between forensic science and Native American rights. The identity of the skeletons is the mystery at the heart of the story, but the eventual unveiling of them will come as no great surprise to the reader.
Stretching from the late 1820s to the early 1860s, the earlier of his two narratives follows Cookie Figowitz whom the reader first encounters as a camp cook for a party of fur trappers whose supplies of food are running out. As he forages for food one evening with the hopes of placating the increasingly restless men, Cookie stumbles over Henry Brown, a man on the run from violent Russians looking to settle an old score. The two friends have a desire to become rich so they devise a trading scheme that takes them to China, where under very different circumstances Cookie strikes up a new friendship with a calligrapher, King Lu.
The more recent story line, from the 1980s, involves two teenage girls: Tina Plank, a recent transplant from California, and Trixie Volterra, who earlier came from California shrouded in a shady, drug fueled past. They're the only young people living among aging hippies in a commune on the fringes of Portland, and the bond they forge leads to their own scheme - a film project, which they throw themselves into with indisputable enthusiasm. When, in the midst of filming, the two skeletons are unearthed on the property, the nexus of the two narratives converge and the lives of Cookie and Henry, Tina and Trixie converge in unexpected ways.
The Half-Life has the right ingredients of a mystery - two unidentified skeletons from the past, a man trapped in a prison in a foreign country, and a battle between forensic science and the spirituality of native heritage. But rather than constructing the plot around the conventional thriller Raymond is more concerned with questions of history, and he insists that we become aware of the complex and shifting base of our identities and our behaviors. The world of this novel seems polarized between two radically different time periods, however, the characters, in both times periods, are assertive, entrepreneurial and excitingly individualistic. The novel also effectively juxtaposes the modern with the historical Pacific Northwest, and there are some beautifully disquieting passages highlighting Raymond's skill as a prose writer.
However, this reader felt that The Half-Life sprawled in too many directions and had far too many forced narrative developments. Raymond is trying to say too much, and towards the end, as the mystery becomes clearer, the narrative tends to loose focus. The Half-Life, however, does have some moments of surprising power and grace, revealing the pleasures and heartaches that can unavoidably bind us to one another. The ambiguities of friendship, the fact that a person's life is completed only by friendship, and that friendships can be formed under the most unlikely of scenarios, is at the thematic heart of this novel. Mike Leonard July 04.

Scary Movie 3 [Import]
Scary Movie 3 [Import]
DVD ~ Anna Faris
Offered by importcds__
Price: CDN$ 20.20
21 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "Sex, violence and the weather", July 13 2004
This review is from: Scary Movie 3 [Import] (DVD)
Loosely based on the summer blockbuster movies The Ring and Signs, and strangely enough, the Eminem film, 8 Mile, Scary Movie 3 provides more of the toilet humour and juvenile laughs that we have come to expect from this series. Unfortunately though, this installment is pretty light on the laughs. The first two movies were actually funny and clever, and although they were unashamedly audacious in their tackiness, there was a kind of enduring honesty to them that left the viewer chuckling for more. When watching Scary Movie 3, the viewer is more likely to be laughing in embarrassment, and wondering why Hollywood could malign and continue a franchise that has become so obviously tired.
If you've seen Signs or The Ring, you'll have a pretty good idea of the plot of Scary Movie 3. Like in the previous Scary Movies, lead actress Anna Faris is back as Cindy Campbell. This time, she's dropped into the middle of a combination alien invasion/ghost story. After watching a killer video tape, she has only seven days to live, and, in that time, she has to stop a deranged ghost living in a well, fall in love with a white, self-doubting rapper named George played by a bumbling Simon Rex, and help the President - a tired, embarrassed looking Leslie Nielsen - stymie an invasion by aliens who have a fondness for the corn field of a minister-turned-farmer, played by the desperate Charlie Sheen. Along the way, Denise Richards, Queen Latifa, and Camryn Manhem, Simon Cowell, and the big-breasted Pamela Anderson pop in for a visit.
Anna Faris is her usual perky, big-eyed self, Charlie Sheen appears somewhat ashamed to be in this rubbish, and Simon Rex is probably the unlikeliest and most unlikable love interest one will ever see in a movie. Then there's the sad case of 77-year old Leslie Nielsen, as a bumbling lame-duck president who spends his limited screen time trying to re-create the kind of comedic bumbling that became his meat-and-potatoes when he re-invigorated his career in the '80s. Now, this routine is tired, repetitious, and devoid of energy - which is a pretty good way to describe the movie as a whole.
Absent for this third installment are the Wayans Brothers who are replaced by David Zucker and his scribe-for-hire, Pat Proft, which is unfortunate because it is the Wayans Brothers gift for irreverent humour, that made the first two so funny, even though they were bordering on the offensive. There are about three or four genuine laughs in Scary Movie 3, and a lot of failed jokes in between. The comedy is lame and flaccid with characters that are either constantly falling over or bumping into things and there's a child that is continually hit by a car and thrown out a window. There's also some gross-out material and various indignities are performed on a corpse. The weaving together of the primary three storylines is done awkwardly, and the narrative is fractured and hard to follow. With so much of the humor failing, it becomes increasingly obvious that there's not much of a storyline to fall back on, and that makes Scary Movie 3 a gigantic waste of time and almost unwatchable. Mike Leonard July 04.

Shifting Through Neutral
Shifting Through Neutral
by Bridgett M Davis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 36.95
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4.0 out of 5 stars Papa says I was made from love. But love is complicated, July 4 2004
Family ties, adolescent angst, father-daughter relationships, and the choices that we make in life are at the heart of this gorgeously written and quite captivating novel from Bridgett M. Davis. Like the shifting gears of a car, Davis weaves together a wonderfully symbolic tale of a young girl's drive through the road of life. Set in Detroit between 1967 and 1980, in the African American community, the narrative cleverly shifts backwards and forwards in time, centering on the perceptive Rae Dodson and her efforts to cope with her kind-hearted but bitterly dysfunctional family. While administering to her father, JD who lays dying in a hospital bed, Rae remembers the highs and lows, the trials and tribulations of her childhood and adolescence as she matures along side the city of Detroit, watching it go from "resentful and surly child of white forces to wild and excited youth of back power."
With a fierce and undying loyalty, Rae vows to look after JD, a General Motors assembly-line worker, who is plagued by throbbing headaches and hypertension. JD spends his life laying around and mitigating the pain with loose aspirin, and later, sleep-inducing injections of Demerol. "That's how her father remained alive to her all these years - simple actions, slow movements, and perpetual rest." Rae's disturbed mother Vy has been reduced to taking Valium at the edge of a king-sized bed in order to ease her bad nerves. She calls her state a "sophisticated illness" and she stays hold up in her bedroom waiting for Cyril, her lover and the father of Rae's older sister Kimmie, to rescue her from the unfaithful JD. Vy sleeps during the day then stays awake all night playing Stevie Wonder albums, and reminiscing about happier times.
Vy and JD had a marriage begun with pregnancy that produced a stillborn child. Their union was formed with an expectation and promise that never delivered. Yet Vy has the power, and rules the household because "she controls the cash flow." When Kimmie, exiled to the South by Vy at a young age, returns to Detroit as a sluttish, free-spirited teenager, Rae is overwhelmed with joy. Kimmie's return is like a breath of fresh air, a "rush of light wind in the motionless air of family life," but her presence ultimately disturbs the precarious balance between her mother, her father and herself."
Caught between her love for Vy and her undivided loyalty to JD, Rae decides to stay with her father in Detroit, rather than return to the south with Vy, Kimmie and Cyril. But a terrible car accident, and the arrival of JD's irascible, god-fearing sister, Aunt Essie - one of the most lovable characters - force Rae to grow up fast. Rae comes to the realization that the idea of protection, of a reliable shield against fate is nothing but a mean farce. Rae loves her "papa" and resigns to stay with him through thick and thin, because his love for her is unconditional and absolute. As a teenager, she sees other men as either weak or mean, letting their women steal away in broad daylight, trapping themselves into sad marriages or violently beating their girlfriends. Rae soon learns that men take what they can get, but women can control things - there's a "power dance around money."

David has written a lively coming-of-age tale that is infused with the sounds and sights of the seventies - the music, the Afros, and the bell-bottoms. The sounds of Stevie Wonder are constant, and his own mother is one of the supporting characters who come to play cards, drink and socialize with Vy. Davis's writing has a force and precision, which is so careful and pressurized, that sentence-by-sentence, word-by-word, she locates a true, nuanced path through this potentially disastrous story. The characters are funny, plausible, and tragically frail; but it is the shear niceness of them, especially Rae, that keeps the reader involved in the story. Shifting Through Neutral is nicely paced, has a lovely sense of timing, and is probably one of the best accounts of "growing up" I've read in a long time. Mike Leonard July 04.

After: A Novel
After: A Novel
by Claire Tristram
Edition: Hardcover
9 used & new from CDN$ 2.90

4.0 out of 5 stars She was searching diligently for something she had lost, June 30 2004
This review is from: After: A Novel (Hardcover)
Written in alternating points of view, After is a poetic, fluid, and highly original novel. Readers will appreciate its short length and its charged, and gutsy style. The story centers on one man 'the Muslim" and one women "the Widow," both nameless and mysterious in their intensity and passion. For the Widow, everyday events are falling apart, and after telling her therapist that she wants to choose a Muslim lover, she happens to meet one at a work trade show. Their connection is instantaneous. She knows immediately that she will sleep with him, and their rendezvous is set to take place at a run-down, empty seaside hotel. As the narrative progresses, the inexplicable motivations that drive each character's actions become clearer. They erotically and emotionally bond, performing a type of perverse and viscous sexual role-play, each letting out their pent up angst and torment.
The woman's husband was murdered at the hand of Muslim extremists - probably on September 11th - and she writes grief stricken, purge-filled letters to his ghost. She imagines sleeping with "the Muslim" because it is something forbidden, unexpected, a way of repaying her husband, and something so clearly outside the role, which she has been forced into by her circumstances. The man she chooses is a married Iranian who immigrated to America after the Shah's fall. He, in being drawn towards "the Widow" also has "a gap, a hole, a tragedy in need of resolution and healing." The Widow's interest compels and sustains him, though her "fervent melancholy" and obvious grief trouble him. He's a married man with two young girls, but he feels he is wedded "to an empty dress, as shallow as cotton." Understanding his wife's inner thoughts has eluded him, and he has fallen into some restless purgatory where "waves and waves of thwarted desire rise up and threaten to engulf him."
After is a quietly deceptive novel where the clues to understanding both characters' motivations unfold steadily and in the end, prove to be quite revelatory. The story is quite topical in its portrait of racism and cultural dissidence; the characters are living a world where, more and more, we can be killed, not for who we are, but for what nationality or religion we happen to be. The language of regret is also quite powerful - the memories of her dead husband that the widow can't quite catch are "like bits of trash blowing over and over along the sand." And as her grief changes shape, what is left is not quite grief at all, but something she could only describe as desire. Yet she has sadness, where the love acts mean no more to her "than memories of the grave." Both characters are erotically responsive, but both keep so much of their anger, fear and emotion internalized. Their disconnectedness comes from a sense of everything having changed, and where times are dark and unstable. Seething in their own psyches, it's probably an effort for them to get even this far. Mike Leonard June 04

Strangers: Homosexual Love In The 19th Century
Strangers: Homosexual Love In The 19th Century
by Graham Robb
Edition: Hardcover
17 used & new from CDN$ 31.97

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Curious fragments from a vanished civilization", June 28 2004
Graham Robb has probably written one of the most comprehensive, authoritative and commanding accounts of homosexual love ever. Academic, inclusive, and wide-ranging, Strangers, is at once, entertaining, but also incredibly enlightening, as Robb effectively succeeds in dispelling many of the myths associated with Victorian sexual mores. His findings on gay love in the nineteenth century are quite surprising. Victorian attitudes towards homosexuality were in many respects relatively enlightened, especially in comparison to the early twentieth century. Also, the gay community found ways to thrive, and in many European cities, truly blossom and flourish. Homosexuals, or "inverts," "sodomites," "uranians," and "pederasts" as they were called, not only had thriving meeting places, but also were able to develop whole networks and communities through the subtle bourgeoning of art, music and the written word.
Robb tackles the obstacles gay love encountered and the societies it created by talking about the criminal statistics of the period. He explains the laws that existed against sodomy in various countries, and the efforts of the police force, particularly in England to stamp out any "unnatural lewdness, and "immoral acts." Robb then juxtaposes the nineteenth century with the twentieth century and the eventual "medicalization" of homosexuality. Homosexuality didn't become such a vitriolic and contentious an issue until the beginning of the twentieth century when medical and psychological views of it began to became fashionable. In the twentieth century, homosexuality began to be studied as a condition, something to be treated and perhaps cured, therefore certain diagnostic, analytical and investigative processes were attached to it.
Much of the book debunks the myths surrounding homosexual society during this century. There was, in actuality, a highly politicized sense of sexual rights, a calendar of events and anniversaries, social clubs with international links, cafes and brothels and well-established cruising grounds with organized patrols. This well organized network allowed gays to communicate with one another almost throughout the whole of Europe. There's also an interesting chapter on homosexuality in literature, where Robb analyses many of the works of some of the most famously known gay writers. He also examines the hidden gay meaning behind some of the fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen, who is described as "humiliated, effeminate youth."
Throughout he narrative, Robb talks of Karl Heinrich Ulrich, the only known gay man to actually "come out" in the nineteenth century, Oscar Wilde, and his subsequent prosecution for indecency, and the German doctor Magnus Hirschfeld, who thought he could tell a homosexual by the direction a thread will swing when tied around the right index finger. Homosexuals known to be "out" are also mentioned, such as the Ladies of Llangollen, Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler - two lesbians living in recluse in Wales, Anne Lister - a famous society lesbian of Shibden Hall, and Frederick "Fanny" Park and Ernest "Stella Boulton, two much loved effeminate music hall artists.
The reader will also find fascinating the comprehensive appendices, which give some interesting criminal statistics on indictments for sodomy and related offences in England, Wales and the United States. There's also a riotous questionnaire based on an original by Magnus Hirschfeld, which was supposed to help readers decide whether or not they were homosexual. Strangers, is not an easy read - Robb does at times, bombard the reader with a few too many names, dates and citations, which some readers may find a little overwhelming. Generally, though, Strangers is a fascinating social history of a little known world that once thrived and was, in its own way, immensely prosperous and successful. Mike Leonard June 04.

The Hamilton Case
The Hamilton Case
by Michelle de Kretser
Edition: Hardcover
30 used & new from CDN$ 0.83

5.0 out of 5 stars "The past was retrievable. He was certain of it", June 25 2004
This review is from: The Hamilton Case (Hardcover)
In 1802 Ceylon was made a colony of the British Empire. Immediately, dissensions within the kingdom gave the British an opportunity to interfere in Ceylonese affairs. Restrictions on European ownership of land were lifted. The British adopted a unitary administrative and judicial system for the whole island. They reduced the autocratic powers of the governor and set up Executive and Legislative councils to share in the task of government; unofficial members of government were gradually appointed to the Legislative Council. English became the language of government and the medium of instruction in schools. Opportunities were created for the Ceylonese entrepreneur, and employment was plentiful for the English-educated.
The Hamilton Case, an absolutely gorgeously written novel, is set against the backdrop of this profound social change. The novel tells the story of Sam Obeysekere, an Oxford-educated, a lawyer, the son of a "mudaliar." Once regional leaders, the mudaliars became colonial administrators for the British, making them extremely rich. Sam is a loyal British subject who "obeys by name, obeys by nature."
Sam's Ceylon is a country of champagne parties, dowager ladies, servants, cricket matches, and elephant hunting. Sam's father, extravagant and wasteful, is killed early on in the story. His mother, Maud, is vacuous, with a weakness for "fornication and whatnot." Sam bitterly resents his mother's philandering ways and her decision to let his fragile sister Claudia, marry Jaya, a bourgeois friend from his childhood whom he bitterly resents. Sam takes his unspoken anxieties out on his family - a family further addled by being mortgaged to the hilt. Preservation of the family money becomes a war that is waged hourly, skirmish-by-skirmish. Sam thinks he has "weight and quiddity" but his life is like a "gale raging off stage, mocking him with losses."
The novel centers on the scandalous murder of Hamilton, a British landowner. Through what he believes is brilliant detective work, Sam "proves" that Hamilton was killed by another Englishman. But as the story progresses it becomes apparent that the case was interpreted according to the different interests of the particular political and legal parties at the time. Each protagonist, such as the Tamils and the British - were forced to choose his side in a colonial structure on the very brink of breaking down.
In the center of the novel, the narrative shifts back to Sam's dysfunctional family. Claudia, wracked with guilt at her child's death, commits suicide. Maud, with her fading beauty, is entombed in Lokugama, the family estate, where she is left to decay and wonder the corridors talking of enchantment. Sam's under appreciated and troubled wife Leela - whom he only marries out of a sense of filial duty - is ensconced in Allenby House, where in "every room the sea mourns with her." The final part of the novel involves Sam's troubled relationship with his son, Harry. Sam wants Harry to have the best of everything being "British" can offer, but Harry eventually turns on is father's fussy, archaic ways and ultimately betrays him
The Hamilton Case has an absorbing narrative drive and a rich texture. It is a complex book with some beautiful prose - witness the "sky as a moonstone feathered in gray" and "the moon, a silver sprat held in a mesh of leaves." De Kretser portrays some powerful colonial themes of race, class and readership, and she does it with a style that is, at once, languid and intellectual. Sam Obeysekere is obviously a boorish, self-absorbed man, and he does some terrible, misguided things, but in the end, he is heartrending in his dreadful, self-inflicted isolation and loneliness. Mike Leonard June 04.

Pillars of Gold
Pillars of Gold
by Alice Thomas Ellis
Edition: Paperback
13 used & new from CDN$ 20.56

4.0 out of 5 stars The lives and loves of the British "chattering classes.", June 23 2004
This review is from: Pillars of Gold (Paperback)
The trials and domestic worries of the British "chattering classes" are the subject of this wry, droll and witty novel from Alice Thomas Ellis. I must confess, that I've never read any of Ellis before, so I was looking forward to reading her work after another reviewer recommended her. Pillars of Gold, although thin on plot, takes place in contemporary North London, where the main characters spend their time visiting each other's houses, shopping on the "high street," taking tea, going to the pub, and exchanging clever, comic and sharp barbs with each other, about life, love and the world around them.
One morning at breakfast, Brian reads a paragraph in last week's local newspaper, detailing the dragging of a bloodstained body of a woman from the canal at Princes Lock. The heavily neurotic Scarlet, Brian's wife - obsessed with alternative dieting and out to please, yet hates the world - begins to think that the body may be Barbs, their socially conscious and "alternative" next door neighbour. Barbs has strangely vanished all of a sudden, leaving her makeup and handbag behind. Scarlet's, rebellious and smug daughter Camille, who sort of cares about Barb but for different reasons, would rather play truant from school and hang out at the local bar with her best friend Sam, than worry too much about Barb. Scarlet, unsure of herself, her marriage, or her relationship with her daughter, seeks friendship and solace from her smart, and erudite neighbour, Constance, a self confessed girl from working-class roots. But Constance has issues with her Turkish boyfriend Memet - she doesn't trust him and thinks he's being unfaithful. Constance distrusts the world, and is all too ready to impart her cynical observations about society to Scarlet and anyone else who will listen.
As the story unfolds, the characters weave in and out of each other's lives, discussing issues of class, religion and politics, while continually trying to outsmart each other with amusing diatribes. Ellis undoubtedly has a gift for glistening and comic dialogue combined with a talent for incorporating wise, shrewd and intellectual observations on family and social class. The characters are absorbing, and the narrative is peppered with sardonic twists and unanticipated turns. There's also so much humorous word play that the reader will undeniably be left laughing out loud, especially at some of the riotous "kitchen table" exchanges between Scarlet and Constance. It is obvious that Ellis - although critical of her characters and the choices they make in life - can't help but love them. The reader will probably also grow to love these characters, as they are just so endearing, and also so very "British." Mike Leonard June 04.

Coal Run
Coal Run
by Tawni Odell
Edition: Hardcover
28 used & new from CDN$ 1.63

4.0 out of 5 stars "You always belong where you're from", June 22 2004
This review is from: Coal Run (Hardcover)
Tawni O'Dell's lyrical, ambitious and tension-filled novel seems to emerge and explode onto the page. The story is rendered in such a tightly disciplined prose that the reader will probably be left overwhelmed by the strength of the author's vision. Ivan Zoschenko "the Great Ivan Z" is an aging, former football hero and drifter who has lost his father in a mine explosion that shattered the town of Coal Run thirty years ago. Now living in Florida he is sent a newspaper article telling him that an old teammate, Reese Rayner is about to be released from prison after fifteen years for murder and is heading back to the town. Reese had violently and brutally mutilated his wife, who was so badly battered that she remains hooked up to life support in a convalescent home run by Ivan's compassionate and kindly mother. Ivan returns to Coal Run a weather-beaten man intent on revenge - a man who remains bitter, angry, and with a penchant for wayward drinking. He scrapes out a living working as a local deputy, and sleeps either in his truck or on the sofa at his sister, Jolene's house. The story takes place over one week, from Sunday to Friday, as Ivan, conflicted with pent-up and astringent fury, begins to settle old scores, face the mistakes he made in his careless youth, and reconnect with the people he's either treated badly or ignored.
Packed into this bitterly powerful novel, is a dazzling array of well-chiseled, colorful characters: Ivan's former teenage idol Val Claypool, hangs around the town, and reminisces with a sense of palpable regret his time in the Vietnam War, where he lost his friends and his leg. The climate of mutual need is blended with a deep-seated contempt in the Raynor family, where Jeff Rayner, unemployed, desperate, and unable to provide for his wife, Bobbie and their children, is driven to the brink of fury and despair. The spent anger, the family dysfunction, the desperation, and the sense of disappointed lives going nowhere permeate this hard-edged story. Coal Run is not just a searing portrait of one man's chronicle of personal tragedy, but also a bitterly acute commentary on one community's disaffected and disparate inhabitants.
The book is strongest when it sticks to the poetic descriptions of and the destruction and the sense of hopelessness of Coal Run and the surrounding areas. The explosion in "Gertie," the local mine, left a town visibly on fire, and an entire community gone: houses raised, buckled sidewalks and driveways leading to nowhere and nothing, lawn ornaments and bicycles left behind in weed-choked yards. The coal that had once provided the town with life has turned to poison beneath it and caused its death. Questions of regret, disappointment, love, loss and the fragility of human life are woven together as Ivan tries to understand how he can dislike a town he still loves, how he can envy a way of life he doesn't necessarily want to have, and how he needed to leave his home in order to realize that it actually is his home.
Coal Run is richly and tautly rendered, and O'Dell has the shear narrative skill to present a story that is both complex and multi-layered. Her prose is meticulously whittled and surefooted and her powers of description are exacting and uncompromising - for one terrible instant Ivan feels he's been manipulated and pitted against the town for reasons he just doesn't understand and by forces beyond his control. Coal Run is narrated in a generous, patient, and intelligent voice, and the author almost presents the subject matter from the perspective of an insider, clear eyed and without sentimentality. This is a fine novel, about a man and a community who feels they have lost everything, and consequently, stands empty handed. Redemption and deliverance do come to Ivan and the townspeople of Coal Run, but only after much soul-searching, hurting, and pain. Mike Leonard June 04

The Priestly Sins: A Novel
The Priestly Sins: A Novel
by Andrew M. Greeley
Edition: Hardcover
51 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars "I fear I seek my own image rather than His honor and glory", June 19 2004
The Priestly Sins is a powerful account of one man's battle against an overly bureaucratic and ineffectual institution that looks after its own and seeks to cover up scandal. Father Herman "Hermie" Hugh Hoffman, a stoic, and moral young man, finds himself at the center of a sexual abuse controversy when he witnesses the rape of the young altar boy, Todd Sweeny, by the lascivious and predatory fellow priest, Leonard "Lucifer" Lyon.
The story begins with an eight-page partial transcript where Hermie reveals when and where - as a newly ordained farm boy, six weeks into his first assignment - he saw Father Lyon brutally sodomizing Sweeney. Hermie, in an act of incredible stoicism, then goes onto explain the whole culture of denial, stonewalling and cover-up that happened when he reported the crime to the Monsignor and Archbishop. As the story progresses, it is slowly revealed how Lucifer Lyon, who should never have been ordained - "everyone knew who he was, but were afraid to ban him" - was sent away for "rehabilitation." Hermie, as he tries to bring the corruption to light, is discredited and defiled at every turn by a collection of local clergy led by "Slippery" Louie.
Much of the novel centers on the life of Father Hermie Hoffman, and the events that led up to his involvement in this abuse case. Hermie is a quintessential stolid, stable Russian German, a "Volga deutsche" who lives on the small prairie town of Lincoln Junction that is like a Swiss village "without the mountains," where homes are painted bright colors, and shops have vivid window displays. "A type of mirage in the midst of the American prairies." From an early age, it is clear that Hermie was called by God to be a priest, a parish priest, with a mission to work and pray for the people, to share his life with them, and their lives with him. He wants to give decent homilies, greet his parishioners after mass with a smile, and be good to their kids. However, his mission to sainthood is derailed by his adolescent love for the beautiful, smart-mouthed, and fiery redhead Kathleen Quinlan. Kathleen, whose mother suicides when she was a little girl, has become a budding young woman and invades his fantasies, along with the spirit of Irene, his dead great grand mother - a mysterious, spiritual visitor who comes to him throughout his journey to become a priest.
As Hermie further defies the church, the church, in turn, tries to discredit him by packing him off to a recovery center, where he's drugged and accused of being gay. It soon becomes clear that the priests are irrevocably standing together and taking care of their own, "just like cops, doctors, and farmers." The church, with their "deep pockets, and slick lawyers," operate in an environment where most abuse victims lack defense, are persuaded to settle, or just become tired of fighting the Church.
Greeley paints a portrait of a fearful institution that has become mired in debt, and is suffering from failed decision and policy making. The ever-increasing critical media coverage, the sex abuse scandals, and the fear of gays infiltrating its ranks, hasn't helped its reputation. Greeley's Catholic Church is an institution that is peppered with oddballs and sexually dysfunctional people, and yet when threatened, sweeps corruption under the rug and tries to exert control over the media, the courts and the juries. I liked the topicality of the novel, and the author's journalistic style - the use of court transcripts and letters suits the subject matter well. But this reader couldn't help thinking that the story, although well told, could have perhaps benefited from a more "literary" and erudite style.(...)

Angels Crest: A Novel
Angels Crest: A Novel
by Leslie Schwartz
Edition: Hardcover
23 used & new from CDN$ 1.90

4.0 out of 5 stars "The time for rescue is over. It's too late.", June 18 2004
This review is from: Angels Crest: A Novel (Hardcover)
A few years ago local author Leslie Schwartz wowed the literary community with her debut novel, Jumping the Green - a searing tale of drugs, alcoholism and sexual politics within the San Francisco art world. In Angels Crest, she continues with her themes of showing disparate, desperate people living on the edge. Suffering, sadness and tragedy are combined in a gloomy, maudlin, and quite funereal tale that involves a terrible loss inflicted upon the small mountain community of Angels Crest, in the California Sierras. On a beautiful winter morning, Ethan Denton, in a brief, unthinking spell of inattention, leaves Nate, his three-year old son alone in the car for a few moments. When he returns, the boy is missing and it is this moment that changes the lives of everyone of Angels Crest. Nate's tragic death undulates outwards through the community, and irrevocably changes the town.
The narrative unfolds from the point of view of several different people - a style that is, in itself not that unusual, yet is a suitable set up for a book in which not much seems to happen and the story's juxtaposition of the present, with the slowly emerging past of the characters, seems to be of prime importance. The novel is richly and tautly rendered, and Schwartz has the shear writing skill to present a story that is, at once, complex, intricate, and multi-layered. The plot twists, when they do happen, are understated and nicely controlled. The deeper you go into Angels Crest the more you realize that the characters are kind of refugees, exiles from history, and are ultimately running from conditions of their own making.
Intertwined with the aftermath of the accident is the account of Jane and Roxsan, the two "out" lesbians who have come to Angels Crest to escape from city life. Roxsan seeks solace from the world in her beehives, and is constantly haunted by an abusive father from her past. Jane, wracked with guilt, was driven away from her son twenty years ago by her fear and her lust, "and the need for all the things that she thought would better serve her." Now with her son returning she feels herself caving in, "the world, a big open circle growing smaller and smaller." Cindy, Nate's failed mother, spends her time anesthetized by drink, yet seeks to be pardoned for all her weaknesses and moral lapses, and for all her pettiness and little fears. Glick, Ethan's best friend, who ultimately betrays Ethan, is whipped by his memories of unjust jail time, his vain and stupid longings, and the parade of his immediate failures, first with Cindy and then with Ethan.
Judge Jack Rosenthal "a fair and descent man" whose son, Marty, drug addled, thin and dirty, has been lost to him, provides the moral compass of the story, and is himself torn between the duty to enact secular law, and his own response of "piety, and reverence, to God and mankind." And then there's Angie, alone in her house with her troubled memories of her daughter, Rachel, abandoning her, and leaving her to care for Rosie, her granddaughter, without Rachel's clemency. She's grown wary and scarred by the imbalance of her life being filled with such sorrow.
The characters seem compelled to live out their existence more and more under the malign influence of ghosts whether real or imagined. And their rackety and dysfunctional lives eloquently illustrate the fundamental messiness and illogic of the human condition. Schwartz, in writing this novel, effectively demonstrates just how a baffling, intractable, and multifaceted a thing life can be. But more importantly, she is also showing the world of human suffering, as it really is - a world that is full of woe, misery and wretchedness. Having faith regardless of earthly pain and suffering, and being able to reconcile suffering with a just God, is perhaps at the heart of this somber and solemn story. With a palpable sense of regret and spent anger, Angels Crest is a moving and quite heartrending account of one community's chronicle of tragedy, misfortune, and heartbreak. Mike Leonard June 04

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