A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

 A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole is funny, wise, and as close to a perfect novel as you’re likely to find.

Protagonist Ignatius C. Reilly is a bloated buffoon, a man-baby who lives with his mother, has a troubled digestive valve that causes him to burp and fart with great frequency, and possesses one of the most “unique” worldviews you’re likely to find.

Ignatius is loaf completely at ease with his loafishness:

“I dust a bit,” Ignatius told the policeman. “In addition, I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.”

Ignatius is like a giant child when he considers his career options and argues with his mother:

I suspect that something like a newspaper route would be rather agreeable.

“I dare you to come out in that shredded nightgown and get me!” Ignatius answered defiantly and stuck out his massive pink tongue.

Above all, A Confederacy of Dunces is funny. Laugh out loud is an overused phrase, but COD will make you LOL for realz, yo. The situations are so absurd, the characters so odd, and the dialogue veers between biting satire punctuated by unexpected blasts of pee-your-pants profanity.

“Go dangle your withered parts over the toilet!” Ignatius screamed savagely. Miss Trixie shuffled away.

No mater what the problem, Ignatius always finds a way to blame others.

“Employers sense in me a denial of their values.” He rolled over onto his back. “They fear me. I suspect that they can see that I am forced to function in a century which I loathe.

You must realize the fear and hatred which my weltanschauung instills in people.

He twisted his face into a mask of suffering. There was no use fighting Fortuna until the cycle was over. “You realize, of course, that this is all your fault. 

“You’re full of bullshit.”

“I? The incident is sociologically valid. The blame rests upon our society.”

Sometimes COD goes for screwball comedy and slapstick. Taken as a whole, COD is the mother of all farces.

When he’s not avoiding work or fighting with his mother, Ignatius plots against Myrna, a radical student he once attended classes with. The romantic ending of COD is anticipated but still manages to be unexpectedly satisfying.

Dr. Talc idly wondered if they (Iggy and Myrna) had married each other. Each certainly deserved the other.

Through Myrna’s letters we see she has true insight into Ignatius’ personality:

This “automobile accident” is a new crutch to help you make excuses for your meaningless, impotent existence.

A good, explosive orgasm would cleanse your being and bring you out of the shadows.

Great Oedipus bonds are encircling your brain and destroying you

Ignatius, a very bad crack-up is on the way. You must do something. Even volunteer work at a hospital would snap you out of your apathy,

The valve closes because it thinks it is living in a dead organism. Open your heart, Ignatius, and you will open your valve.

 

Behind his absurdity, Ignatius is sad and lonely, a sorrow that stems from his isolationism:

We both exist outside the inner realm of American society. Myrna was, you see, terribly engaged in her society; I, on the other hand, older and wiser, was terribly dis-engaged.

I really have had little to do with them, for I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one.

I don’t dance. I never dance. I have never danced in my life.

COD is also a love letter to Toole’s native New Orleans:

Patrolman Mancuso inhaled the moldy scent of the oaks and thought, in a romantic aside, that St. Charles Avenue must be the loveliest place in the world.

New Orleans is, on the other hand, a comfortable metropolis which has a certain apathy and stagnation which I find inoffensive. At least its climate is mild.

The balconies of the old buildings hung over my head like dark branches in an allegorical forest of evil.

I won’t get into the tragic personal history of author John Kenndy Toole. The story behind his career and the publication of COD is itself an impossible tale of heartbreaking genius. But the toxic mother-son relationship at the heart of this novel certainly is rife with autobiographical elements.

Ms. Reilly laments Ignatius’ weak work ethic.

“My heart’s broke.”

“Ain’t he writing something?”

“Some foolishness nobody never gonna feel like reading.”

Fortunately, the real-life Thelma Toole felt differently about her son’s work.

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling

The magic of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling lies in its combination of simplicity and familiarity. Like a three-chord pop song, Harry Potter sticks in your head, causing pleasant sensations as it bounces around your brain.

We know this story; an unlikely hero with a regal destiny is sent on an epic quest. We know these characters, too, from source material as diverse as the Brothers Grimm, Mother Goose, Greek mythology, and Disney movies.

The star of the show, of course, is Harry Potter himself, a downtrodden elementary school student who must contend with the sudden responsibility of fulfilling a magical destiny. The well-known coming-of-age tale of finding (and re-inventing) yourself in a new school gives Harry Potter’s high fantasy a connection to real-world grade school drama, which is what makes this book so appealing to readers of all ages.

Harry embarks upon a hero’s quest to find the elusive Sorcerer’s Stone.

The Stone will transform any metal into pure gold. It also produces the Elixir of Life, which will make the drinker immortal.

Harry Potter has stock villains (the real ones, and the ones you only think are bad) and stock friends. Even the guard dog feels like a hybrid of the Minotaur and Cerebrus. Bumbling-but-lovable sidekick, Hagrid, strikes me as part Luca Brasi from The Godfather, and part Bigfoot from The Howard Stern Show.

“Now, don’t ask me anymore,” said Hagrid gruffly. “That’s top secret, that is.”

There’s the wise and patient old teacher, Dumbledore, who walks a trail blazed by Gandolf and Yoda, and gets the lion’s share of the book’s most meaningful quotes:

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.

To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.

“The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”

“Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

This last one is interesting, since Rowling plays an annoying name game with the characters in Harry Potter. The school bully is named Draco Malfoy and his thug friends are Crabbe and Goyle. These characters are snakes in the grass and they live in Slytherin House. The school nerd is Neville Longbottom. A wicked teacher is named Severus Snape. Maybe younger readers find these over-the-top character names endearing, but they took me out of the story a bit every time I encountered them.

Naming quibbles aside, Rowling’s writing is sharp, lean, and constantly moving forward. This is the stuff that page-turners are made off. Keeping her younger readers in mind, Rowling sometimes goes straight for juvenile gross-out:

“Can you smell something?” Harry sniffed and a foul stench reached his nostrils, a mixture of old socks and the kind of public toilet no one seems to clean.

He bent down and pulled his wand out of the troll’s nose. It was covered in what looked like lumpy gray glue. “Urgh – troll boogers.” He wiped it on the troll’s trousers.

Other times, Harry Potter skirts the fringes of horror fiction (while conjuring the legend of Edward Mordake):

Harry would have screamed, but he couldn’t make a sound. Where there should have been a back to Quirrell’s head, there was a face, the most terrible face Harry had ever seen. It was chalk white with glaring red eyes and slits for nostrils, like a snake.

And sometimes Harry Potter brushes against the madness of Alice in Wonderland.

A piercing, bloodcurdling shriek split the silence — the book was screaming! Harry snapped it shut, but the shriek went on and on, one high, unbroken, earsplitting note.

Part of the fun of Harry Potter is the interactive games, wizarding spells, and puzzle solving that keeps the reader engaged the way an old Agatha Christie or Ellery Queen mystery might.

“Wingardium Leviosa!”

Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi.

Dumbledore serves up the novel’s main theme—undying love versus ancient evil—for young hero, Harry:

He (Voldemort) didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign . . . to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin.

Isn’t this the wish of all living beings, to be loved by our mothers, and to be watched over by those who came before us? To be marked by a love so powerful and eternal it will protect and guide you through life?

It’s no wonder the Harry Potter franchise is so popular. It contains characters and situations we can all relate too (even if they’re cloaked in the fantastic) while quietly fulfilling humanity’s deepest wish.

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Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road by Edward Lee, Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene, Bryan Smith, J. F. Gonzalez, Wrath James White, Nate Southard, Ryan Harding, and Shane McKenzie

Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road
Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road

 This is a good book written for a great cause; to help fund the medical bills of writer Tom Piccirilli. Pic’s colleagues in hardcore horror decided to pitch-in on a round robin novel to help support their friend. For that reason alone the book is worth buying.

Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road is written by, and in collaboration with, Brian KeeneJack KetchumEdward LeeJ.F. GonzalezBryan SmithWrath James WhiteNate SouthardRyan Harding, and Shane McKenzie. All gentlemen are heavy hitters in the world of gore-and-sex horror stories, and they all bring the Grand Guignol goods here.

Things start out fine, with a sex-demon prologue preceding new residents Chuck and Arrianne moving into the titular house, the scene of creepy and kinky crimes. Of course, nothing ever dies (when it should) in horror (or elsewhere), which is bad news for Chuck and Arrianne.

Each chapter of Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road is written by a different author or combination of authors. Through a series of violent and sexual scenes, a story of erotic obsession and possession emerges.

But by the third act everything derails. The authors get caught up in a gross-out contest rather than plot or character development, and a sharp detour into meta-fiction near the novel’s end feels like a convenient way to wrap things up rather a serious literary effort.

The funniest lines are delivered by Nate Southard (as himself), who laments the state of the horror genre while acknowledging the novel’s gratuitous nature.

“I can’t believe I wrote that dog bowl shit. You think Laird Barron would do that? Or Lee Thomas? Or Sarah?”

“Which Sarah? Langan or Pinborough?” asks equally-guilty author J.F. Gonzalez.

“Either,” Southard says, but quickly reconsiders. “Okay, well maybe Pinborough would, but you get my point.”

Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road ends up poking fun at horror in general and splatterpunk in particular. The authors clearly have fun with the material even as the story falls to pieces around them. But that’s not important; pick this one up to help out Tom Piccirilli.

Then do both yourself and Tom Piccirilli a favor, and buy as many Tom Piccirilli books as you can find. My favorites are Pic’s noir-flavored The Midnight Road and November Mourns, along with supernatural mystery, The Night Class. Piccirilli is a master of the written word leaving deep footprints on the landscape of mystery, suspense, and terror, and deep impressions on readers touched by his work.

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Header and Creekers by Edward Lee

Header by Edward Lee
Header by Edward Lee
Creepers by Edward Lee
Creepers by Edward Lee

There is something beautiful and poetic about  the splatterpunk redneck fiction on display in Edward Lee‘s novella Header (1995) and the long-form novel Creekers (1994).

Lee’s redneck horror pays homage to Richard Laymon‘s novels of backwoods terror as well as James Dickey‘s classic, Deliverance. Lee’s work is violent and nasty, but his pacing and dialogue are so swift and on-target, you’re knee-deep in foul shit before you even know what happened.

Headers is a twisted novella about rednecks that drill holes in peoples’ skulls and stick their erections inside. Creekers is about backwoods inbreds, and the slick tight rope they walk between an ancient evil and the modern plague of drugs.

The drug trade is the backdrop in both Headers and Creekers. Both stories have lawmen protagonists who are down on their luck and looking for redemption. It doesn’t work out so well for either guy.

Both of these novels are rollicking fun, even if they’re bloody disgusting. Like a Quentin Tarantino movie, Lee’s work seems to revel in a cartoonish level of violence and gore while searching for some kind of existential meaning beyond the mutilation and torment of the physical body. There are lots of dirty sex scenes, too. What’s not to like?

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One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a slow literary slog. This 1967 novel, considered a landmark work of Latin American magical realist fiction, is a major drudge. It felt like it took me 100 years to read. I couldn’t find my way around the Buendia family tree and all its weird, gnarled branches.

Even so, there are amazing and memorable moments in this book, as well as a few genuinely shocking events, including multiple cases of incest (the Buendia family has a proclivity toward incest, as well as a constant fear of birthing a monster baby born with a “pig’s tail”).

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s language is breathtaking and strange:

“He had wept in his mother’s womb and had been born with this eyes open”

Surrealistic fiction means anything can happen, and it often does in One Hundred Years of Solitude. It rains for “four years, eleven months, and two days.” They tie the family patriarch to a tree for decades. There’s a rain of flowers. All this strangeness is taken in stride, which is what makes it so surreal. The overall theme seems to be the Buendia family’s failure to learn from past mistakes.

Family matriarch Urusala notes:

“Every member of the family, without realizing it, repeated the same path every day, the same actions, and almost repeated the same words at the same hour. Only when they deviated from the meticulous routine did they run the risk of losing something.”

The word “solitude” takes on a different meaning each time it appears in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Sometimes it means being alone and/or lonely. Other times solitude is a type of personal obligation or duty that one must endure. Solitude above all seems to be the common thread that runs through the Buendia family, as each member has their own moments of intense personal reflection.

García Márquez mentions “the paradise of shared solitude,” and says of the relationship between Jose Arcadio and Aureliano:

“That drawing closer together of two solitary people of the same blood was far from friendship, but it did allow them both to beaer up better under the unfathomable solitude that separated and united them at the same time.”

There’s undoubtedly a lot of political metaphor here. Marquez’s fictional town of Macondo is a stand-in for Colombia, and I’m sure I missed the geopolitical significance of many of the events in the novel since I’m not familiar with Colombia’s history.  Evidently there are a lot of real-life events seen metaphorically in One Hundred Years of Solitude, like the building of a railroad into the secluded mountain regions, the slaughter of striking workers by government soldiers, and the influence of big business on the culture. (The novel’s “American Fruit Company” is a stand-in for the United Fruit Company, an American company whose rapid expansion into Central and South America countries in the early 1900s brought about the term “banana republics.”)

According to our omniscient overlord, Wikipedia, “García Márquez is said to have a gift for blending the everyday with the miraculous, the historical with the fabulous, and psychological realism with surreal flights of fancy.” It’s true (like everything Wiki tells us, right?) but García Márquez makes it hurt with dense language and ponderous pacing.

One Hundred Years of Solitude may be a literary classic, but something got lost in translation for me.

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Our Great Abbess by C.L. Holmes

Our Great Abbess by C.L. Holmes
Our Great Abbess by C.L. Holmes

In the interest of full disclosure, I was fortunate to read an early draft of C.L. Holmes’s Our Great Abbess, and I enjoyed it so much, I asked if I could publish it. Read more about Abbess below, or go get it here.

Our Great Abbess blends historical fiction and religious horror to tell a compelling tale of cloistered nuns in a secluded mountain abbey, under siege by starvation, disease, marauders, and internal sabotage.

The young nuns of St. Agnes Convent face starvation, and there is no money in the treasury because the former prioress went mad and gave it all away. (Mad Reverend Mother Oxtierna has been banished to the abbey’s dungeon.) The Governing Mothers reach out to Baron Jack for help, but he denies them. A plague has wiped out much of the population of Europe, and war with a neighboring kingdom is imminent. The Baron can’t spare any resources for the Sisters unless he gets something in return: he wants one of the young nuns to serve as a sex slave for his army.

Shocked and disgusted the Mothers reject the Baron’s offer. But things go from bad to worse. The villagers think the woods surrounding the abbey are haunted by vengeful spirits and refuse to help. Friars from a brother are friendly, but also destitute. Scouting parties sent out for help have never returned.

Prioress-by-default Tabitha musters the courage to accept the Baron’s offer. She will sacrifice herself to the Baron’s savages so that the rest of the nuns can survive. But the Baron’s offer has changed. Now he wants all the nuns in the Abby as sex slaves, though Tabitha can spare one girl.

Our Great Abbess traverses some dark waters and doesn’t pull punches. Nightly rapes by masked marauders are just the beginning of the horrors the sisters of St. Agnes Convent must endure. But the novel ultimately empowers women rather than objectifies them.

Abbess is a book filled with powerful women who rise up no matter how desperate the situation or unrightous the indignity. Tabitha kicks ass, outwitting her male suppressors to keep the Abbey going at all cost.

“As Tabitha saw it, the convent was a transition point between the world and heaven.”

Tabitha is joined by a cast of equally strong and memorable women. Wicked and mad Oxtierna. The naïve but not-so-innocent Marta. Suspicious and conniving Isadore. Our Great Abbess is a big, sprawling novel, but the pacing is strong throughout, buoyed by a driving narrative, interesting sub-plots, and beautiful language.

The male supporting cast gets some of the books best lines, like these from a maudlin Baron Jack:

“It is inevitable. Life is just our fattening ourselves for the dirt maw, standing precariously on its lip, then it’s in we go.”

And Tabitha’s faithful servant Clovis contemplates the nature of suffering and God’s plan for each of us.

“There are no ‘supposed to be’s.’ God gives us what we are, and changes his mind on occasion, and we’re left to deal with the reality of it.”

Our Great Abbess reads as if John Jakes penned a round robin novel with George R.R. Martin, Clive Barker and Umberto Eco. The novel bristles with historical intrigue, authentic dialogue, genuine suspense and no-holds-barred horrors.

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A Widow’s Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates

A Widow's Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates
A Widow’s Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates

“Give sorrow words,” William Shakespeare says. “The grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.”

Joyce Carol Oates gives her sorrow words in A Widow’s Story: A Memoir, which chronicles the death of her longtime husband, Ontario Review editor, Ray Smith, and the first year of Oates’ widowhood.

“Widowhood is the punishment for having been a wife,” Oates writes in this powerful and poignant memoir.

If life were fair, couples that have been married for decades (Oates and Smith were together for 47 years and 25 days, Oates frequently points out) should be allowed to die together.

But life is anything but fair, and it’s the job of survivors to carry on after the loss of a loved one, no mater how impossible that may seem, as Oates observes:

   “Losing a spouse of 47 years is like losing a part of yourself— the most valuable part. What is left behind seems so depleted, broken … But this determination to manage—to cope—to do as much unassisted as possible— is the widow’s prerogative.”

Losing a spouse can drain life of flavor and meaning, leaving the survivor a shell of themselves, as Oates notes:

   “As a widow I will be reduced to a world of things. And these things retain but the faintest glimmer of their original identity and meaning as in a dead and desiccated husk of something once organic there might be discerned a glimmer of its original identity and meaning.”

Oates also examines the frailty of life and the delicate balance of bio-chemistry that makes us human:

Harrowing to think that our identities— the selves people believe they recognize in us: our “personalities”— are a matter of oxygen, water and food and sleep— deprived of just one of these our physical beings begin to alter almost immediately— soon, to others we are no longer “ourselves”— and yet, who else are we?

It’s impossible not to compare Oates’ A Widow’s Story to Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. Both women are literary powerhouses examining the depths of grief following the death of their husbands. Oates subtlety references Didion’s work, and her own “magical thinking” during her husband’s short illness and death. Oates and Didion both imagine their husbands “just coming home,” putting an end to the endless nightmare of widowhood. Magical thinking is a nice way of saying delusional or wishful thinking.

Widowhood forces a kind of exile, an otherness, as the widow moves through day-to-day life like a ghost.

   “I could be a paraplegic observing dancers— it isn’t even envy I feel for them, almost a kind of disbelief, they are so utterly different from me, and so oblivious.”

And a life devoid of meaning, isn’t really a life at all, Oates says:

“To be human is to live with meaning. To live without meaning is to live sub-humanly.”

“Giving sorrow words” is both painful and healing, and perhaps the only way back to the “land of the living” for a writer, as Oates notes in a letter to a fellow author.

   “It’s difficult to write when there’s no joy. (I haven’t gotten started again, myself.) Yet it’s our only way out. Isn’t it?”

Though deeply steeped in sorrow, The Widow’s Story: A Memoir is ultimately a story of survival and rebirth. Oates knows whom to thank for helping her through the early days of widowhood.

   “The blunt truth is: I would (very likely) not be alive except for my friends.”

She also finds recovery and reconnection by embracing her late husband’s favorite hobby: gardening:

   “A gardener is one for whom the prospect of the future is not threatening but happy.”

In the end, Oates finds the strength to carry on, even if it’s a “half-life” frequently filled with sorrow and loss.

   “This is my life now. Absurd, but unpredictable. Not absurd because unpredictable but unpredictable because absurd. If I have lost the meaning of my life, and the love of my life, I might still find small treasured things amid the spilled and pilfered trash.”

We can all appreciate the world forged from Oates’ personal pain, a world where life is simultaneously absurd, unpredictable and incredibility precious.

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The Imago Sequence and Other Stories by Laird Barron

Imago Sequence and Others by Laird Barron
Imago Sequence and Others by Laird Barron

Laird Barron writes weird.

Barron is a good writer, but the stories contained in his collection, The Imago Sequence  and Other Stories, are sometimes hard to figure. You’ll need a dictionary, good map skills, and a working knowledge of mythology, world religions, philosophy, horror fiction, and crime pulps to make heads or tails of these tales.

Don’t get me wrong; just because Barron’s style is strange doesn’t mean his fiction isn’t enjoyable. The stories in The Imago Sequence are rich with interesting characters and concepts, and practically drip with atmosphere.

Barron is a skilled writer and you can see his toil on every page. He blends Raymond Chandler and H.P. Lovecraft, in ways both good and bad. Tough guys stumble through the underworld of crime and the Old West against a backdrop of ancient horrors, cosmic interference, and unreliable narrators. At its best, Barron’s gritty prose conjures Jim Thompson and James M. Cain, gut-punching like a trench-coated henchman in an old black-and-white film. Check out these savory one-liners:

“Somebody slapped a bottle of whiskey in my hand and lost the cork…I tumbled off the wagon and got crushed under its wheels.”

“If the best revenge is living well, second best has to be watching your enemy shrivel like a worm on the end of a hook.”

“Underdog and Popeye couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag until they’d had their fix.”

“Karma, brothers and sisters, has a mouth as big as the world.”

Occasionally Barron’s work is undone by his word choice. Just because you’ve got a big vocabulary is no reason to use phrases like, “great chthonian depths,” “uxoricidal brute,” or “compensation for your temerity.”

The title story is the best in the collection. “The Imago Sequence” follows the pursuit of an ultra-rare trio of photographs that drive viewers insane and/or reveal the secrets of existence, perhaps even the very face of God Hisownself. The crime noir vibe builds to a climax that’s equal parts Thomas Harris’s Hannibal and John Carpenter’s The Thing, imbued with meaty philosophical musings:

“Enlightenment isn’t necessarily a clean process. Enlightenment can be filthy, degenerate, dangerous. Enlightenment is its own reward, its own punishment. You begin to see so much more. And so much more sees you.”

Barron’s reoccurring themes include religion, philosophy, and the meaning of existence, all of which are rendered masterfully in “Shiva, Open Your Eye.”

“Men are afraid of the devil, but there is no devil , just me and I do as I am bid. It is God that should turn their bowels to soup. Whatever God is, He, or It, created us for amusement. It’s too obvious. Just as He created the prehistoric sharks, the dinosaurs , and the humble mechanism that is a crocodile. And Venus fly traps, and black widow spiders, and human beings. Just as He created a world where every organism survives by rending a weaker organism. Where procreation is an imperative, a leech’s anesthetic against agony and death and disease that accompany the sticky congress of mating. A sticky world, because God dwells in a dark and humid place. A world of appetite, for God is ever hungry.”

Damn, Laird! That’s the kind of writing that can “turn your bowels to soup!”

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Ido in Autismland: Breaking Out of Autism’s Silent Prison

Ido in Autismland: Breaking Out of Autism's Silent Prison by Ido Kedar.
Ido in Autismland: Breaking Out of Autism’s Silent Prison by Ido Kedar.

Ido Kedar is angry — and it’s awesome!

You can’t blame him. For the first 12 years of his life, Ido Kedar was stuck in an uncooperative body, unable to communicate. Even now, as a teenager, his communication is limited to pointing to letters on a keyboard.

But don’t assume his lack of speech equals a lack of intelligence. As Kedar points out:

“The erroneous theory is this: to speak is to understand. Tell that to Stephen Hawking.”

Ido lives in “autismland,” as he calls it, a scary place fraught with communication problems, sensory issues, and severe anxiety. Kedar’s book, Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison, is a firsthand account of what it’s like trapped at the “low functioning” end of the autistic spectrum. This collection of essays — published in 2012 when Kedar was 16 years old — reveal the author’s beautiful mind, poet’s soul, and warrior heart.

Kedar is a person — a mind, a soul — fighting to be heard. And, once he finds his voice, he doesn’t mince words.

“The “experts” mostly never get it right. They assume we are some autistic, retarded stim-machine, not a trapped, thinking person who has a neurological illness. … Do I sound angry? Well, I am. It’s time autistic people told the experts that they have made mistakes.”

Kedar breaks down many of autism’s odd behaviors. Why are autistic kids so attracted to water? “Because in the water I can feel my whole body,” Kedar explains. He also explains the motivation behind the repetitive pleasure/torture of self stimulatory behaviors.

“In my Health class we are learning about drug abuse and alcoholism. I can’t help but see a similarity in autistic stims… Stims are the drug of the trapped.”

Kedar is both baffled and troubled by the “flight impulse” that sometimes overcomes him. It’s a common autistic trait — in my son’s school they call it “elopement.” Sadly, it’s the same impulse that recently got autistic student Avonte Oquendo killed.

“Traffic is visually stimulating. It may invite some kids to move toward it. I can’t explain that one, but I have felt the impulse to bolt suddenly… It’s not due to ignorance or idiocy. It is the impulses and too weak a body control to fight them off. It doesn’t matter why. We still need supervision to be safe.”

When Kedar writes about the frustration of having a body that won’t respond to his will, he sounds like a philosopher.

“I’m stuck like a stump and my brain is thinking of what it wants my body to do. It ends there. Thinking, not responding. In other words, what good is my free will if I am like a thinking man in a straight jacket?”

Later in the same passage he shows courage beyond words.

“I fight the temptation to despair because I really want to free myself. It’s my job to free my soul. Hopefully one day my body will be free too.”

Ido writes with a wisdom and maturity well beyond his years.

“I’m not a brave person. I am scared of being in front of cameras or interviewers. I have decided to speak out anyway. It’s not my goal to be well known. I like being anonymous, but I am determined to say what has to be said. It’s not always our choice if we are brave. Sometimes it’s important to do, even if you’re scared.”

Like a Zen master who spends decades alone in contemplative silence, Kedar has achieved a kind of enlightenment. It’s no pity party for Kedar. He’s got himself together better than most.

“I think a lot of it has to do with expectations. If you think life owes you something, you can’t appreciate what you have … The way to appreciate your good fortune is to notice your blessings … I see that to hate your life dooms you to a wretched one, even if the life you have is hard. The truth is I don’t need to be normal to make my life meaningful. I need to have freedom to think, loving friends and family, and a recognition that no life is perfect. In spite of an illness I wish I didn’t have, I actually have it better than many people.”

Kedar’s “secret to happiness” is “stopping self pity,” and he reveals the heart and soul of a true writer when he discusses the healing power of words.

“As I write, I see what I should work on. I will continue to write my journey for myself because now I see that writing heals me.”

Amen to that, Brother Ido!

Check out Ido Kedar’s writing here!

 

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Book Review: I’m Not Sam by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee

I'm Not Sam review
Check out my review of Ketchum and McKee’s I’m Not Sam.

I’m Not Sam by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee

What if you awoke one morning to find your wife — your soulmate, the love of your life, the person you know better than anyone else — is no longer herself? Instead, she insists she’s a seven-year-old named Lily.

This is the simple-yet-effective premise that drivesI’m Not Sam by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee. (read full review …)