Category Fiction

State of Impermanence: A Review of Richard Ford’s “Let Me Be Frank With You”

When I was living a solitary would-be writer’s life in a musty studio apartment above a garage in Dillon Beach, California back in the early 1980s, I took daily constitutionals along the shore with my terrier Bilbo, most always in a reflective, appreciative and occasionally ecstatic mood. On one such late afternoon walk, I reached my usual turnaround point and swung back to behold the tiny town’s cliff- and hillside coastal homes bathed in a misty, diffused and pale yellow light, as if a photographer had placed some giant colored lens cap over the entire landscape.

All the houses and the hills to which they clung looked suddenly small, mute, and tentative, dialed back many degrees from anything approaching sharp relief.

I found myself suddenly seized with laughter.

Not a derisive laughter, but a compassionate and accepting one, as an observation and admission of the depth of human folly, including my ...

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The Cry for Freedom in “The Adulterous Woman”

She is sitting on a bus crossing the wintry Algerian desert, seated tight up against her slumbering merchant husband and surrounded by Arabs tucked deep into their burnooses to ward off the cold and the fine grains of sand that find their way through cracks in the vehicle. Suddenly, she notices a French soldier across the aisle who gives her a glance, carrying just a tinge of suggestion.

That glance and a couple of other feeling states to follow are about as far as the “adultery” in this story’s title ever goes, but it sets in motion a long and impassioned emotional storm inside our protagonist, with the reverberations extending far beyond this story and her life.

What transpires from there in Albert Camus’s 1957 short story, The Adulterous Woman, speaks in profound and enduring ways to the human condition...

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The Difference Between Faith and Belief

I can pretty much trace my initial religious awakening to the fact that my (Catholic) dad married my (Lutheran) mom in defiance of Catholic precepts at the time that forthrightly declared only Catholics could enter heaven. (This view was actually restated by the recent Pope Benedict as late as 2007, though his successor has been sounding a far softer tone.)

When I was in third or fourth grade listening to the priest’s lecture on this matter in a religious education class, I thought of my kindly mom at home, denied entrance to heaven with us because she was reared in a different faith tradition.

This was such self-evident poppycock that I remember being not so much offended or outraged as I was dismissive.

The thought did not escape me that if the padre and his faith could be so blindingly wrong on such a simple and obvious matter…

Believing in a heaven where my mother was denied entrance required suspe...

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A Sermon on “Fiction and the Religious Imagination”

Once a year or so, I’ll fill the pulpit for a lay-led service at my home church, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Santa Rosa. Today was one those days, with the sermon title as noted above.

Oh, what a long, strange and compelling story humanity has written for itself over the eons! Some of this story is reflected in our history books—especially those weighty tomes that tend to sit on our shelves for decades collecting heavy carpets of dust. Under the dust, we can barely make out grandiose titles like The Story of Man…or Civilization. Or, if you want to get more micro about it:  Copper Crucible: How the Arizona Miners’ Strike of 1983 Recast Labor-Management Relations in America.

But there is another class of stories within the narrative of history. Another way of telling humanity’s tale. Rather than focusing on external events—who, what, when, where, why?—this way focuses on internal eve...

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Making Love to Your Life: Light Amidst Philip Roth’s Dark Vision

 In Philip Roth’s otherwise dark and terrifying Pulitzer Prize-winning novel American Pastoral, there is an improbably lovely sequence during which the protagonist, Swede Levov, is romping over hill and dale on his gentleman’s country estate, caught up in reminiscences about his boyhood literary hero Johnny Appleseed. Youthful, vigorous and successful before Roth begins to turn the vise of multiple tragedy tighter and tighter on his neck, Levov is concluding his jaunt by cheerfully pretending to toss apple seeds across his beloved land from an imaginary bag on his shoulder.

Having observed him from an upstairs window, his wife inquires upon his return to the house what he had been doing...

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