Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (a review)

Lets take a break from motorcycle-related stuff and visit yet another literary piece worthy of rediscovery.

Since most of my reviews deal with serious fiction, the following review may come as a surprise to some. Nevertheless, the old saying 'Never judge a book by its cover' (taken literary in this case) nails it right on. There are some wonderful treasures hidden in children's literature, some very dark, fascinating treasures, which we adults often fail to discover. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is one of those treasures; an exceptionally well-written book, with a timeless, at times dark and depressing, story of the human spirit. Never mind the fact that the main protagonist, a china rabbit named Edward Tulane, is not a human. And while I would not venture as far as comparing the author's intentions to those of surrealists, her use of a non-living object (a doll) to portray human consciousness in its full depth, creates a stark contrast between what we come to expect and what we come to experience.


Edward Tulane is a china rabbit...

The bulk of my reviews deal with serious fiction and not with children's literature. Therefore, you may ask yourself, "What does a china rabbit have to do with literary fiction?" Well, to answer that question honestly, I must say: "Nothing...nothing at all."

There is no question that a children's book about a china rabbit is an unlikely contestant to end up in my `favorite books' pile. After all, this book is not about a character contemplating the murderous attitude of the world. Nevertheless, the book is about a character - a china rabbit named Edward Tulane. Therefore, we should be asking ourselves whether Edward merits closer attention, and whether Edward's story deserves to be considered a work of literary fiction, and I must answer with an: "Absolutely!"

A couple of years ago, a dear friend introduced me to Kate DiCamillo's writing. As a reader who prefers serious fiction, I was a bit skeptical at first. Nonetheless, the first book lead to another, then another, and one more yet. Among these, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is, by far, my favorite. In my opinion, although designed for the young reader, this book has all the attributes of a work of serious fiction, and can be enjoyed at any age.

Edward Tulane, as mentioned previously, is a china rabbit. He is not just any china rabbit, but the most exclusive, finely handcrafted rabbit. Frankly, Edward is the best rabbit money can buy. He lives in a wealthy household with a girl who loves him and cares for him, he owns the finest silk suits, and even wears a gold pocket watch. Unfortunately, Edward is fully aware of his superficial qualities - too aware to care about anything but himself; and although he is a doll, Edward has a soul. A clouded, dark soul empty of love for anything but himself.

In majority of the books I love, a character grows...undergoes a certain metamorphosis. For Edward, the transformation begins with a crude awakening: Thrown overboard, Edward ends up on the bottom of the sea, in a place where the starlight does not reach. It is there that, for the first time in his existence, Edward begins to feel. And, once the wheels of consciousness start turning, they cannot be stopped no matter how hard he tries.

Tormented by self-pity and fear, Edward is eventually rescued by an old fisherman who brings him home. Edward, initially full of arrogance, grows to recognize a new feeling inside of him - love. Yet, he is not destined to experience it fully, as he is soon torn away from the world he is becoming familiar with. And this is where his story really begins - not in the house where he was loved, not at the bottom of the sea, not even with the fisherman's family - but at the moment he realizes what love is, and the pain that comes with loving. And, this is where I leave the particulars of the story, so as not to spoil it for any potential readers.

Edward's journey, nonetheless, continues for many years. With it, and each turn his life takes, Edward's consciousness comes alive, fed by multitude of encounters and experiences. The love he initially felt for the fisherman does not disappear, but becomes the first building block in the foundation of his understanding of what loving someone really entails. Edward experiences joy and losses, growing bitter at times when he wishes to no longer feel anything, yet, having no control over his life, he must continue on wherever chance takes him. When he witnesses death, he wishes to no longer live; however, this serious story could not be complete without a sort of redemption at the end, but not before he goes through hell, for one must often lose everything to find himself.

DiCamillo's writing is simple and precise (after all, the target audience for this book is younger), but the way she delves into the depth of consciousness more than makes up for it. She doesn't waste time with fancy words one needs a dictionary to understand - she delivers a superb drama without them. She is very comfortable in the world that exists just under our skins, an often-dark world of human emotions where love and hate coexists side-by-side, separated by a very thin line.

One thing is for certain: no matter how many times I read this book, it never fails to stir things up inside of me; and that is, in my opinion, a mark of an exceptional literature.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Thin Wall - a review

Here is yet another review I previously posted elsewhere. Nevertheless, this author’s work deserves more than a quick glance.

The author in question, Cheryl Anne Gardner, is an artist with the bite of a pitbull when it comes to human emotions. She has the gift, and insight, to find the mark and to sink her literary teeth deep into our consciousness – into that spot which we know exists but tend to shy away from nurturing.

Cheryl is the author of four (soon to be five) novellas, and in no work is her talent more apparent than in The Thin Wall. In addition to writing, Cheryl also regularly contributes on POD People.  

Unlike many authors, who strive to please the traditional publishing model, Cheryl writes without regard for the mass market, concentrating instead on staying true to her own ideas and form. This, in turn, permits her to deliver exactly the kind of writing too long neglected by the large publishing houses that fill the shelves of our bookstores with mediocre literature. Her choice, the novella, while popular with European writers, is virtually non-existent in American literature today. Why is this, is beside me. The novella format allows for full-fledged characters and stories, without being overly literary with overdone descriptions. In other words, a reader picking up a novella can expect full, well-crafted story and not risk being bored.


This work is probably the hardest review I had to do yet. While I had read two previous books by Cheryl Anne Gardner, The Splendor of Antiquity, and Logos, The Thin Wall is a radical departure from Gardner's romantic roots into the realms of darker, subconscious psychology and individual philosophies she masterfully delves into in this work.

One word to describe this book for me? Drastic.

I would lie if I were to say that The Thin Wall is an easy read. It isn't. Where the storyline is subtle and woven deep between the actions and events, dialog and behavior are crucial to understanding the story. While utilizing sex as a tool to slice into the depths of human consciousness, this book is not sexual in nature, and neither is it erotica. To be honest, I am not sure if there is another way for me to classify this work other than Literature. Gardner has masterfully adjoined elements of romance, erotica, literary fiction, and psychological realism to create a story that is both entertaining and frightening at the same time. At least for me it is. There are scenes in this book that I had a hard time reading, nonetheless, these scenes are indispensable if one is to come to a conclusion at the end. At times lighthearted, at times gruesome and violating, the story follows four characters on their quest for happiness.

United by a common rejection of society and its superficial norms, Laleana, Tom, Julian, and Ioan live their lives the way they want to. Admirable as this may seem, it comes at a cost -- Emotional cost. While all four have in common their well-to-do background, they do not capitalize on the power of their families to achieve any of the goals society deems important. For one, our four friends have completely different desires; at the same time, they are nonconformists. While their sexual behavior is somewhat extravagant (in my eyes) it is a major part of the story itself. But as with everything else in this work, even the sex is a metaphor. The story deals with love and the pain of loving; it deals with codependency, submission, voluntary torture (be it psychological or physical, accepted or self-inflicted) and most importantly, with trust. The kind of trust only a few of us may experience (or be able to give), the kind of trust only very good friends are capable of.

The story is told through the eyes of Laleana, a librarian and a writer. Gardner's portrayal of the character is immaculate -- an intelligent, educated, independent woman whose love for the written word comes through even in the most casual of conversations. And this is where Gardner truly shines -- having read her earlier works, Gardner, as an author, is growing. From a literary standpoint, The Thin Wall, in my opinion, is her best work yet. The language is eloquent and even poetic at times, and no words appear wasted. However, there is something about this work that did bother me. A subconscious "me" was struggling with the conscious "me"... an inner battle I have not experienced in quite some time. Does this make The Thin Wall any less appealing? Certainly not. I am sure that there will come a time when I will reach for this book and read it again. Perhaps, with a different mindset than the first time, I will discover some hidden meanings, which might have escaped me the first time. But such is the case with any piece of good literature.

One thing is for certain: The Thin Wall will not leave you cold. Whether you will find yourself emotionally involved, shocked, cursing, disgusted or with a hard-on, (or perhaps all of it), The Thin Wall will seep under your skin and stay there for quite a while. And so is Gardner -- an upcoming author whose works are only getting more intense with each new release.

More reviews of this work can be seen here: The Thin Wall

To learn more about Cheryl and her projects, please visit Twisted Knickers Publications

Monday, January 3, 2011

Ibiza and Farewell Archipelago

Today's two poems continue the unofficial series of poetry dealing with special places. The first one, Ibiza, was written about the island of Ibiza in the Mediterranean Sea. The island itself is a striking battleground of ancient culture dealing with the influx of modern-day entertainment, with its secluded coves and fields where advancement seems to have stopped a few centuries ago, and its bustling tourist centers to which nightclubs lure thousands of partygoers each day.

The second poem, Farewell Archipelago, was written about the island of Tenerife, in the Canary Islands Archipelago. The island of eternal spring, as it is sometimes called, has a very unique atmosphere and the local attitude is one of no-rush, there is always tomorrow to get done whatever needs to be done today. Shops and restaurants still close for 'siesta" in the afternoons, and the locals always seem to have time for a glass of brandy or wine, a friendly chat, and something tasty to munch on. Yet, if one stays long enough, this easy-going atmosphere can take its toll on one's mind. 


Wandering and lost
in the labyrinth of life
I arrived at your shores.

Your hard shell
the caves and rocky beaches
became my comfort zone -
though -
even the plants that grow out of your soil
have thorns.

Yet, they were my soft sheets
as I laid under your starry skies
each night refreshed by your scent
like opium enchants my soul.

Your windy roads, your rolling hills
the Carob trees and almond fields
your native people.
All that reminded me
that life is not lost - not yet
at least in this remote part of the world
where the madness ceased
for a fraction of the time.

I admire your resistance
your culture, your rhythm
your rocky land and your harsh people
but most of all
the way you stand up,
against the waves of change
amidst the madness of advancement.

Farewell Archipelago

As I stroll on the shores
black sand seeps between my toes.
The fig trees whisper in a gentle breeze
and down bellow the surface waters
only the octopus hears my secret thoughts.

Encased in my solitude
still, it feels like a thousand years
passes above my head with each dusk
with each dawn
I welcome in this rocky land.

The island of eternal spring
where time had died
only to return in small fractions
unable to alter
the tranquil flow amidst the hibiscus leaves.

I didn’t age a single day after so many years
the vacuum carefully crafted by your spirit
stole my anxieties, my inner battles.
Only now I come to realize...

Your mysteries, your dark spells
the power you hold over me -
- sheltering me, killing me inside!
 I have to leave, never to look back
never to return.