Category Fiction

So Much From So Little: Claire Keegan’s Novella, “Foster”

I’ve gotten to an age where I’m starting to do some basic math on how many 400-pages-and-more books I have left in me to read. Faced with one highly regarded tome of 500 pages and two others of more or less equal interest at 250 pages each, my tendency in recent years has been to go with the latter, particularly when stretching the timeframe out to the 10 or 15 or more years I might reasonably hope to live (should I be so fortunate, every new day being its own blessing).

Sure, if I choose to limit my reading most all the time to books shorter than some self-imposed limit, I will miss out on countless enriching opportunities.

But the plethora of truly remarkable literature readily available today at every page count, from every corner of the world, pairs with my guaranteed mortality to tell me I am going to miss out on countless terrific opportunities no matter the length of the books I read the rest of my ...

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The Ennui of Age and Empire: Lawrence Osborne’s “On Java Road”

An aging expat journalist, British-born and bred but now 20 years in his country’s last colonial outpost of Hong Kong, is battling his own sell-by date while ostensibly trying to report on the historical forces that had long been unleashed by the island country’s 1997 handover to communist China. Largely student-led protesters make nightly appearances in the streets, trying to evade tear gas and police batons as they decry the oft-predicted reality that China’s promises of a hands-off policy toward Hong Kong’s mostly democratic rule are proving empty.

Meanwhile, the journalist’s pal from his university days at Cambridge, scion of a wealthy Hong Kong family, is up to his ears in the duplicity and semi-recklessness peculiar to a certain kind of privilege. The journalist ultimately makes the decision to report on that recklessness when it leads to deadly consequences.

Or did it?

This is the basic setting for ...

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Sophie’s Choice After Choice After Choice At Kabul Airport

William Styron’s 1979 novel “Sophie’s Choice” stands as an iconic description of a moral dilemma pushed to the furthest extreme of human cruelty and torment. A Nazi physician stands at a train station fronting massed and miserable Jews in 1943, directing some left, some right. Word has spread that one group is bound straight for the crematorium, while the other will be spared for the moment by going on to Auschwitz.

Sophie is a Polish Catholic who has landed here for smuggling a ham for her ailing mother in violation of wartime rules reserving all meat for the military. As she approaches the doctor with her young daughter and son in tow, the following conversation ensues:

Doctor: You’re so beautiful. I’d like to get you into bed with me. I know you’re a Polack, but are you also another one of these filthy communists?
Sophie: I’m not Jewish!. Or my children—they’re not Jewish either!...

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Dementia’s Mottled Shadows: Alice Munro’s “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”

Dementia hovers over America’s 54 million seniors (most recent 2019 figures) like a slightly noxious cloud that either already affects some 7 million of them or has the remaining 47 million (and their families) making nervous jokes about constantly misplacing their keys. While dementia comes in various forms and severities (some 70% from Alzheimer’s disease), its common core is heartbreak.

These emotional impacts are borne not only by those who fall to it, but in many ways, even more heavily by family members and other intimates who must watch their beloved not merely decline and die, but in the often long dying, turn into someone almost unknowable, alien to who they had been.

Canadian writer and Nobel Literature Prize winner Alice Munro, now 90 herself, explored some of this heartbreak and the adaptations caregiving spouses try to make in coping with it in her widely hailed short story, “The Bear Came Ove...

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Engineeered Apocalypse: Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God”

The end of the world has weighed heavily on the mind of humankind since we emerged onto the 4.5-billion-year-old planet we call home some 200,000 years ago. Variations on the apocalypse have coursed through every form of expression since we started painting on cave walls, blinking into each dawn, cowering from storms and eclipses, imagining all-powerful gods to whom we might appeal for benevolence and mercy.

A kind of existential angst and sometimes outright terror underlies much of the literature and other arts that have emerged over the eons to grapple with the specter of not only our own lives ending, but the final destruction of the world.

Indeed, our powerful, sometimes outright narcissistic sense of Self should probably be forgiven for wondering whether the world should even go on without us—how dare it?!

These ‘prophets’ tend to have one hand pointing to an exact date of doom and their other in th...

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