More Book Reviews
The Hacks of Life
Perry Busby. Buzz Word Publishing: Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 2017
Author, Perry Busby, in his novel, The Hacks of Life, transports the reader back to the year, 1993. His character, Phil Jacobson, a young, African American programmer lands a prized position at a computer company, Intellect Technology, Inc. (ITI).
While Phil copes with being one of the few minority members assigned to a top-level position, he finds evidence that his job is part of a horrific cover-up. In addition, ITI is heading into an incredible deal with WorldNet Labs to acquire the first internet browser. This contract clearly could be one of the most game-changing technology events of the century.
As the story progresses Phil discovers scandals that threaten to kill the deal. His father, Wes, is a private detective, and Wes has given him training that helps him to uncover the truth about the ITI Company and the WorldNet contract. The information that Phil and one his hacker friends discover reveals some unsavory secrets and affiliations at the center of the business. The founder of the company, they learn, has connections with a secret society called CLANS. The CLANS organization’s background involves tenants that would destroy any possibilities of a legal deal.
All these troubles surround this man, who is supposed to be helping to plan his own wedding within the next few weeks. Busby propels his character into many twists of plot and disturbing challenges in this mystery developing in the earliest history of the Worldwide Web.
The author informs the reader that even the greatest opportunities and experiences of success can carry overwhelming drawbacks.
While I often felt overwhelmed by the enormous number of characters (more than eighteen) that author, Perry Busby, introduces in his novel, I managed to focus on Phil Jacobson and his immediate family and associates. However, it was frequently hard to follow all the subplots.
Busby creates excellent dialogue which keeps the narrative moving and gives the reader many questions to consider. In an early conversation with his father Phil voices concerns:
“Then they offered me a job in a department that I don’t think existed when I interviewed. In fact, none of the people I interviewed with that day work in my department. Now, there’s this guy saying that ITI hired African Americans for meaningless positions to cover up their bogus minority employment numbers. I’ve been at ITI for six months, which is within the timeframe NoMoBoesky says they ran the cover-up. Does that sound so ridiculous now?”
I found that these conversations between the main characters move the narrative along at a rapid and engaging pace. Hacks of Life rates as a well-written story of troubles members of minority populations may experience in careers. It also interestingly chronicles some of the earliest changes in computer technology.
--Margaret Howard Trammell
The Feral Condition
Gaylord Brewer. Negative Capability Press: Mobile, AL. 2018.
Using a backdrop of four starkly different locales, Gaylord Brewer crafts a journey replete with fables of a man observing and interacting with the natural world, before coming to terms with his own "ferality." Through language and imagery both striking and candid, Brewer writes to discover and convey universal truths from his observations of the mundane.
The series of bestiary begin with the narrator taking measures to ensure reverential treatment of the natural world, in a sense imitating pure awe; the same as any human might experience when encountering nature. It is not until the second part of the collection, entitled Catalonia, where we see the poet first grapple with the shame of his fondness for the natural world, noted in “The Woman”:
“I hoped she would let me pass so I needn’t announce my ignorance / I confessed the berries I had foraged, the handful of wild rosebuds cut for a vase.”
Here, we see the narrator’s guilt of disrupting the natural order - ripping flowers up from the earth and gathering berries to consume. The poet’s feelings continue to evolve with the collection, as he begins to recognize the mortality and fragility of the physical, and learns to treasure the unseen. This subtle hint of remorse is amplified in “Pyrenees Wild Iris”, in which the poet picks wildflowers off a mountain top for his own joy, likening himself to a slayer. The words themselves hum like William Carlos Williams’ work with its casually apologetic tone.
“I should have let them be
and done no harm, but I couldn’t
help myself, could not:
I had to have them.”
While each poem reads as meditative, the undercurrent that persists is one of a gnawing guilt and an acknowledgment of humanity’s hunger for consumption and violent ownership. As the collection advances, Brewer’s words shift to highlight this preference over brutality:
“Let’s ignore the routine hell of flies
haloing the donkey’s nostrils and mouth.
They’re not pretty, and do we not seek
the picturesque, a narrative of consolation?”
It is a harsh reminder that beauty remains in our grip of an ideal meant to shield us from the grit of reality. The poem, entitled “Exquisite Human Suffering”, ends with a sardonic showcasing of hikers as they stamp upon thousands of ants carelessly, illustrating a tendency to devalue the perceived unimportant:
“What choice but that the big lives stomp
the small? There, just ahead, a spotted fawn
Shoulder-high in mountain clover!
A goldfinch greets with melancholy song!
Meanwhile, every step another bloodbath.”
Brewer brilliantly divides the collection into four stages of being and observance. Each quarter highlights an aspect of man as he learns to reconcile a jaded understanding of himself with his natural position within the world. The poems themselves are carefully pieced in such a way to effectively communicate the structure of transformation, which builds the confrontation of human cynicism and admiration to an apex at the end of “The Owl”:
“Foolish man. You know nothing
of the wild world. Go from this place.
Go home, if you’ve yet one to go to.”
Finally back home, we see the narrator delight in the regain of control before ultimately coming to terms with his hypocritical folly. It is the ending destination, however, of Costa Rica which finds the narrator having completed an arc, existing in acceptance of one’s small place in the ticking rhythm of the natural world. Brewer’s last lines echo this realization of perpetual cruelty blended into humor and beauty that is the feral condition and leaves his reader a simple outcome amidst all anguish: to rejoice and persist.
To Start an Orchard
Michael Hettich. Press 53: Winston-Salem, NC, 2019.
Bluer and More Vast
Michael Hettich. Hysterical Books Press: Tallahassee, FL, 2018.
Michael Hettich is an extraordinary poet. In his two most recent collections, To Start an Orchard and Bluer and More Vast, Hettich’s brilliance shines brightly. What especially makes his work vibrant is his unique blend of vividly capturing the everyday quotidian moments of his narrators and characters and mixing these flashes with a unique and absorbing surrealism.
In “Ode” from Bluer and More Vast, one of the book’s many prose poems, the opening stanza describes a spacey kid-brother who would “take the wrong bus or walk the wrong direction.” However, the poem’s narrator begins the second stanza in quite a startling new direction:
“One day he hid himself inside his best friend, who was headed to the movies
with his parents. He and his friend sat together as though they were one little boy,
eating buttered popcorn, covering their eyes when the monster in the film chased
the family through the woods. And my brother saw us, his family, up there on the screen, he saw the monster grab our sister as though he would eat her. . . .”
This unique transformation of spacey-brother to a brother who literally takes over another’s space makes the reader do a doubletake and question the vivid, seemly-mundane reality the poet has initially unfolded.
In Hettich’s newer book, To Start an Orchard, a work that sticks with more “traditional-shape” poems, he continues his striking and engaging tack. For example, in “The Lion” the poet peppers us with everyday details in his opening lines: “. . . someone else’s idea / of a life, with rain pouring in through the window / . . . while the TV / blares cop shows.” However, it isn’t long before this beginning twists into new and frightening vision: “. . . birds shaped like private facts-of-life / fly around, shitting on the open books.” Again, we find the character transformed, this time into a lion and then a plant: “I could make my friends dare their heads into my mouth. / That felt like happiness”; “. . . he’s a flower for the rest of the day, / ignoring the bees of his own imagination, / the honey they make from his body, the pollen / they gather from his eyelashes. . . .” The reader is seduced by these turns in the poem’s narrative, willing to go anywhere with a writer who so gracefully captures the world around him before taking us into strange other-worlds.
A new Michael Hettich book, to me, is always an event to be savored. Pick up both these collections. You will not be disappointed by the landscapes he continuously and vibrantly brings to life.
by Claire Matturro, Moonshine Cove Publishing, 2019.
In the prologue of this fast-paced and beautifully written mystery novel, country girl Ruby Randolph--whose boyfriend Billy has been arrested and whose trailer has been burned down--shows up homeless, barefoot and braless at criminal defense attorney Gardner Randolph’s office.
Gardner allows her to stay with him, he defends her in court, and they eventually have sex. They marry and she gets a law degree.
But by chapter one, fifteen years later, we realize she’s working with her bully, abuser and cheater of a husband, Gardner, in a Southwest Florida law firm.
One late afternoon, Ruby takes a trail to the Myakka River and meets a cop named Hank who is tender and kind. Meanwhile, Gardner is picking up a younger woman that same night.
Billy is still in jail, and he’s pissed off that Ruby got away while he is stuck in prison. She promises to get him out, and soon.
Meanwhile, the law firm seems to be in trouble. One partner has stolen a little over $200 from the petty cash drawer. Gardner tells Ruby he’s going to take over the law firm. Unbeknownst to Gardner, the several partners want to oust Gardner from the firm.
Soon after, Gardner is discovered dead in the married couple’s bedroom. Then, the cop covering the case shows up at the door--it’s Hank.
Hank is about the most honorable guy around, yet even as they return to their affair, he wonders if she’s the killer. Ruby wonders if she can trust Hank.
Hank finds no signs of a break in. He’s not sure about Ruby, who he truly loves. He’s concerned about her bankrupted law firm, Billy, Gardner’s lover from the law firm, Tally, and the whole sketchiness of Ruby’s past.
Soon, it looks like Ruby will be going to prison--if she doesn’t get killed first.
And then the novel’s ending hits, which slaps you in the face, yet you wonder how you’ didn’t understand it from hints in the middle of the book.
This story juggles so many possibilities that you cannot stop turning pages.
Claire Matturo has written seven novels, and this one is the one I like the most. It’s complex and scary and some of the characters’ actions definitely shock and surprise. All scenes in the book could truly happen in this day and age.
Nothing like a hot, sticky, sex-filled smart and gritty novel to get you through the night.
--Mary Jane Ryals