May 13, 2014

Favorite Posts: Death of a Muse: When Love Implodes

"Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love." 
                                                                    – Charlie Brown

I watched love implode last night. It was horrible to see; to witness love denied; to virtually hear the tortuous rending of a heart broken into a thousand sharp pieces.

It must have started with honest and devoted intentions. However, as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) said in the 11th century (yes, he said it first, and was later misquoted), "Hell is full of good intentions or desires." This, my friends, was about to be fresh hell; pain with the half-life of uranium-238.

I was at a bar with friends one night.  A thunderstorm of epic proportions had unleashed its worst and blown out to sea. It was warm and muggy. The wind had whipped and battered and chased tourists off the beach and into the chain restaurants that line A1A, but the bar was relatively empty. Two older gentlemen sat drinking to my right, waiting for their steaks. We chatted with them, engaging in the mechanical conversation people strike up with strangers when bonding over drinks. In town for Bike Week, they had waited out the crowds and stayed for a while before returning to their home up North. They had just come from one of the local strip joints and were planning to go back after a dinner break.

A slightly-built, somewhat forgettable young man, with dark hair, glasses, and an air of barely-legal, walked up and sat down at the left end of the bar. He placed his smart phone in front of him and asked the bartender to pour him two Chardonnays. He was expecting someone. Ten minutes passed, and as the once-chilled wine glasses began to sweat, a somewhat memorable young woman with long, dark blond hair joined him, drew her wine glass to her glossy lips, and drank.

“Oh, that’s really good,” she said as he kissed her briefly on the cheek. She drew back a bit without looking at him. She set her phone in front of her, checked her texts, and took another long swallow of the wine. They began to talk distractedly, their eyes frequently straying to their smart phones, at the others at the bar, into the restaurant. Just before she drained her wine glass, the young man ordered another round.

Our conversation turned to travel, vacation destinations – Italy, Greece, Portugal – where to go, where to stay, what to do. After a few minutes, we noticed that the couple's conversation had become less stilted and quiet. The boy called for the wine to be poured again and the conversation became more animated. World problems were discussed and solved; playlists compared and debated. Still the wine flowed. It became difficult not to overhear them.

The young man tried to convince her of something; she argued against it. He moved closer; she backed away. Their conversation became distinct as he insisted that he was going to tell her father that he wanted to marry her. The alcohol had made him bold. Their movements were loose and their words, blaring and blurry. He pled his case to her; she denied him satisfaction of similar feelings. Suddenly he became aggressive:

“I know what I want, and what I want is you,” he slurred stupidly.

“Well I’m sorry if I’m only 25 and don’t know what I want,” she retorted defiantly, bitingly.

She rose unsteadily to go to the restroom.

“Give me your cell phone,” the man said.

“No way!" She shook her head violently, her voice rising. "I’m not giving you my cell phone!” 

He demanded compliance. “Give me your cell phone!”

“No!” she shouted and left the bar, her gait loose-limbed and uneven.

We sat, stunned. The boy took off his glasses and hung his head, as though the world no longer existed. He was destroyed. I wanted to put my arms around him and tell him that she wasn’t worth it; that he had plenty of time to find someone who would appreciate him. One of my male friends wanted to slap him upside the head and say, “You idiot! Why are you acting like such a putz?” We both have sons.

It was almost 11:00 PM. The dining rooms were empty, chairs on the tables. The gentlemen from up North had made their goodbyes and departed for the strip joint. The restaurant was getting ready to close.

We looked at each other, stricken by his possessiveness; his fear that she would text her friends or call home or whoever and tell them what had happened and laugh at his ridiculousness and naiveté and escape out the back door. His desire to control her was terrifying. We doubted she would come back. I whispered that I hoped she had not come with him. Someone said they had come separately.

She did return, and they left together, but we could not stop talking about what had happened. I still think about them and how it had ended there; wondering how it eventually had played out. I imagine the drama, the rage, the tears; the final scene.

I have too vivid of an imagination. Sometimes I hate it.

Love is like a mirror; when shattered,
’Tis far better to leave it in a thousand, jagged pieces
Than to bleed, laboring to put it back together.       
                                                – Mo’Li’

May your muse be just around the corner
and put a smile upon your face.

- Mona L.

May 30, 2013

Book Review: The Last Policeman: A Novel By Ben H. Winters

Three monumental events have happened since I first read The Last Policeman: A Novel by Ben H. Winters in July of 2012:
  1.  February 2013:  Asteroid 2012 DA14 disintegrated above the Urals, Russia, as video cams caught the fireball for the world to see on YouTube. With a diameter of 55 feet and weight of 10,000 tons, NASA estimated the energy released was about 30 times the size of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. The fallout in Russia injured more than 1,200 people in and around Chelyabinsk, Russia, where most of the damage took place.
  2.  May 2013: The Last Policeman: A Novel by Ben H. Winters is released in paperback.
  3.  May 2013:  Ben H. Winters wins the 2013 Edgar Award for BestOriginal Paperback, beating out Complication by Isaac Adamson; Whiplash River by Lou Berney; Bloodland by Alan Glynn; and Blessed are The Dead by Malla Nunn. (Hardly surprising for early adopters, who now breathlessly await Countdown City, the second of a planned trilogy, to be released in July. – ed.) For those of you who haven’t had the undeniable pleasure of reading The Last Policeman, I’d like to take this opportunity to encourage you – strongly – to do so. Quickly.
This page-burning, sci-fi/police procedural takes place six months before Asteroid 2011GV1 is expected to slam into the earth – exact destination unknown – and wreak total destruction on mankind. The psychic devastation has already begun:

“In a little more than six months, according to the most reliable scientific predictions, at least half the planet’s population will die in a series of interlocking cataclysms. A ten-megaton explosion, roughly equaling the blast force of a thousand Hiroshimas, will scorch a massive crater into the ground . . . then will come the ash cloud, the darkness, the twenty-degree dip in global temperatures. No crops, no cattle, no light. The slow cold fate of those who remain.”  

Its similarity to actual events in Russia begs the question:  Ben Winters, what did you know and when did you know it?

In this vastly original story of a thinly-veiled, fictitious and pre-apocalyptic world, there are no more real McDonald’s, 7-11’s, or Dunkin’ Donuts; cell phone service has broken down; companies have gone back to paper because the networks are incredibly slow; and people have sold their assets and moved to the islands or abandoned their responsibilities to live out their bucket lists. Morality has all but disappeared:  why bother when we’re all going to die? For those who stay behind and can’t handle the future, there are plenty of illegal opiates to dull reality; or the old fallback, suicide.

When Chapter One opens, Detective Henry Palace has just discovered his ninth “hanger” of his short tenure with the Concord, New Hampshire, police force, in the bathroom of an ersatz McDonald’s:

“I’m staring at the insurance man and he’s staring at me, two cold gray eyes behind old-fashioned tortoiseshell frames, and I’m having this awful and inspiring feeling, like holy moly this is real, and I don’t know if I’m ready, I really don’t.”

Characters are thoroughly developed and believable; even likeable, and dialog aims consistently and comfortably true. Palace’s frequent “holy moly” harkens back to the innocence of the ‘40s,  Captain Marvel, and doing right even when no one is looking. Although everyone around the cop shop is satisfied with marking this down as another sad suicide, it doesn't sit right with Palace. He’s determined to find the murderer despite the ribbing and resistance he gets from his co-workers. And, of course, the plot continues to bubble, boil, and steadily thicken.

Details are gritty and unflinching, as when Palace observes the victim:

"I've had nine of these [hangers] in the three and a half months since I became a detective, and still I can't get used to it, to what death by asphyxiation does to a person's face: the eyes staring forward as if in horror, laced with thin red spiderwebs of blood; the tongue, rolled out and over to one side; the lips, inflated and purplish at the edges."

And Winters breathes life into his characters much like J.D. Robb breathes life into those in her Eve Dallas detective series; yet Winters’s characters seem so much more believable and approachable. These aren't over-the-top types at all; just good people doing their jobs because . . . it’s the right thing to do.

With men and women like these leading us into the chaos of the 21st Century, we might just have a chance. Godspeed, Hank Palace. We’re behind you all the way.


Ben H. Winters is the author of six novels, including The Last Policeman, an Best Book of July, 2012. His other books include Bedbugs, Android Karenina, the New York Times bestseller Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and the middle-grade novels The Mystery of the Everything and The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, a Bank Street Best Book of 2011 and an Edgar Award nominee. Ben is also the author of many plays and musicals for children and adults, and he has written for national and local publications including the Chicago Tribune, Slate, and the Huffington Post. 

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