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“The Gospel of Lazlo” ~ a Book Review

February 24th, 2010 10 comments

Wake Up!!

“Strip away the penguin bombers, kung-fu gothic clowns, and underground cafe societies and what you have left is a boy and a girl…” ~Jeff Begley – Author of The Gospel of Lazlo

I delightedly received an advance [reviewer’s] copy of a new book, and was of course asked to review… the… book.  The fact that I don’t know the first thing about writing a review didn’t deter me – I like books, what could go wrong?  I figured, like the seven words you can’t say on TV, I’d find a “what not to say” list and muddle my way through. Here’s Carlin’s list:

[Everybody knows these seven cuss words, if not, follow the link] Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that’ll infect your soul, curve your spine, and keep the country from winning the war.

Wow, pretty easy. Certain that the “thou shalt nots” were fewer and easier than the “thou shalts,” I found my list of “don’t words” on the  New York Times:

“Poignant, compelling, intriguing, eschew, craft, muse, and lyrical” [those are the heavy seven. The ones…] It’s possible to (mis)use all seven words in a one-sentence book report: “Mario Puzo’s intriguing novel eschews the lyrical as the author instead crafts a poignant tale of family life and muses on the compelling doings of the Mob.”

At this point I knew I was screwed. I should have mentioned the title and author’s name right up front – oh wait, I did! While I still think I’m screwed here, let me tell you why the book is a must read without the above words… on the second list. So pretend this next paragraph is the first 😉

Jeff Begley’s freshman novel, The Gospel of Lazlo catches the reader by the throat up front and promptly throws him into the company of Lazlo, our protagonist and primary narrator. The details throughout are as real, graphic and gritty as the characters in this thrust at the fringes of dystopian cyberpunk. I say the fringes because, like the opening quote, it’s more than cyberpunk – it’s got a romance of the best sort, the kind that happens while you’re busy getting on with life. More on the romance later – I like the religion, sex, and politics!

The book is about an out of work, homeless, skeptic of a journalist named Lazlo Epps. Though initially stumbling his way through the process of living, he manages to stumble into both a bit of journalistic work and a home. The stumbling continues as Lazlo finds himself making choices that disquiet both he and the reader and put him in the middle of a cultural rebellion. The story is well plotted and spends more time on narrative (action and storytelling) craft (oh shit, I’ve used two of the forbidden words) than description or exposition.

Begley, like Richard Bach in Illusions – The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, leads us to the problems between perceptions and reality and the contingencies involved with individual experience. Again, it’s graphic, gritty, and to the point. Where Bach leads us gently, “Perspective – Use It or Lose It. If you turned to this page, you’re forgetting that what is going on around you is not reality. Think about that –” Begley grabs us by the short and curlies and shakes us where we live and lets us know “It’s horrifying how the lens of your life can change with a single event.” This lens shifting is a recurrent theme that is put to excellent use and is introduced early with Lazlo’s recounting of his divorce. The perceptual shifts, the accretions of gradual and sometimes horrifyingly abrupt curtain lifting, cause us to share the lens shifts experienced by Begley’s well formed characters.

For example, Lazlo is involved in a “reconditioning service” specializing in cleaning up after suicides, murders, etc. Describing the lens shift suffered by the clients availing themselves of this “reconditioning service” Lazlo graphically shows us:

For the customers of Discrete Reconditioning Services this was also the case.  Before they required our help, their home was a sanctuary, their default location, and a safe haven.  After their loved one bled out in the bathtub or ate some buckshot, their home was a tragic site.  Their default location became their cars or any public place they could sit and avoid their house.  Their safe haven was the source of their insecurities, fears, and pathos.

Their promise of a father or husband replaced with a crime scene.  Their sanctuary, a forensics exhibit.

When his daughter is graduating from high school and she thinks how much she wished her father was there, she’ll have a moment where she remembers his head broken apart in the bathroom.  When his widow makes the final payment on their house, she’ll feel the irresistible need to go look at the toilet where they found her husband.  She’ll remember all the invented fictions of their retirement before it happened, two old lovers working a garden into their twilight, and in the middle will be her husband sitting in front of a wall turned into a semi-truck mud flap for brains.

This particular day, we were working for the Army on a “rapid, wide-effect cranial evacuation,” DRS lingo for a head blown all over the wall.  To tell the truth, most of our work was military.  Channy sat on a barstool that looked like a giant yellow suction cup for his ass.  This was a Sergeant Major’s house.

Lens shift.

Discussing his friend Channy’s lens shift, Lazlo relates the old aphorism that there are no atheists in foxholes. Begley manages to put a wry smile on our faces while still maintaining a firm grip on our throats:

But there’s nothing natural about having the upper left quadrant of your skull shaved off with a bullet.  Nothing natural about a tipped over baby carriage exploding next to your truck sending scraps of metal and screws into your belly and pelvis.  That type of stuff makes it hard to be an atheist.

I didn’t really know that Channy was an atheist.

In Bosnia I was Catholic.

Channy never really talked about God or an afterlife or anything, other than to criticize religion.  For all I knew he was Wiccan.

In Kosovo I was Buddhist.

Now here’s the hard part… how do I keep going without giving up the story? Do I tell you the obvious? Life isn’t a fairy tale. That it’s important to take the time to look behind the curtains as best we’re able? Life has good things for us too. Like that romance stuff I said I’d return to later… There’s this girl named Sophie…

“Alright, Mr. Epps.  Do you want me to be in your fairy tale?”

Could I handle a woman who might catch glimpses of my mind through passwords when I didn’t want her to?  I wasn’t sure.  But that wasn’t what she was offering.  She was offering to catch those glimpses and then let them go.  I didn’t think it would work, but if I didn’t say ‘yes’ I’d regret within moments not knowing for sure.

“Yeah, I want that kind of fairy tale.”

Sophie winked at me and half-smiled.  “Then the last two hours never happened.”

“Just like that?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said, “Just like that.”

Something made me believe.  Big eyes and a pair of breasts could get me to believe a lot, but this was different.

…Sophie made her whippet-sniffing grin permanent; it was carved into her face and wasn’t going away.  I shrugged off my seatbelt and climbed into the back seat with her.  I didn’t want the distraction of Mack.  The hardest part of being a romantic is other guys watching.

So then, I’ll give you some privacy to pick up a great little novel that pushes a few boundaries, conjures up notions of spiritual growth without being religious, and provides transformations as stunning as Neo in the Matrix or Bach’s reluctant messiah. As soon as it’s available, I’ll remind you and post a link for the purchase  HERE at my site!

Update: Also available here! and here!

Stony River’s Microfiction Monday #9

February 21st, 2010 17 comments

It is that time again, Susan’s Microfiction Monday that is – and it happened before I managed to get my post on the Middle East up and running! I’ve a book review going up later that will introduce a talented new writer, so buy the book when I give the link!!

Microfiction Monday is hosted by Susan over at Stony River, and it is a wonderfully direct and short short short story based on a picture she provides. In fact, the story is so short, well, it’s tweetable! Tell a complete story in a 140 characters or less – and join the Monday Fundays.

This Monday’s Trigger:

Lapine? A Language?

Lapine? A Language?

Of course I’d like to be El-ahrairah Fiver,

he’s only the best trickster ever.

Were I like him I’d have us to Watership Down in no time!

I suppose I lamed that one a bit by relying so heavily on a book… but my kids and I LOVED that book! It’s a great one to read aloud to kids – it reads like poetry – it’s the best kind of prose for the young and young at heart… if a bit scary!  Stay tuned here, a book review of one of our fellow players is due here shortly!!

Cheers fellow travelers!

Ever Wanted to Experience a Conversion?

February 20th, 2010 3 comments

I stumbled across this video on American Digest from Spy Films on Vimeo. Their title “Something Transformational” is wonderful, so I kept the theme but not the classic nature of the title. When the author said, “Watch and be amazed…” well, I was amazed. Sit through the video and be moved by the music and video artistry. You’ll need this uplifting bit of popular culture before I get down to some serious name calling….

Enjoy!!

Nuit Blanche from Spy Films on Vimeo.

Stony River’s Microfiction Monday #8 – Late

February 16th, 2010 7 comments

What with taxes and more doctor’s appointments than I care to keep, I’ve been remiss in my duties here. I especially like Microfiction Monday, a fun little writing exercise hosted by Susan at Stony River, that encourages a 140 (or less) character story triggered by a picture.  Be sure to drop by and check out the many thoughts on a single image. Join in and have some fun with the crowd that follows her around that weekly image ;-) Hope to see you there! Better late than never… arrrgh!

And of course, ala Richard Hugo, The Triggering Town:

She saw me timbers on the horizon
and I yearned for her beautiful self –
with the roiling clouds I vowed
to conquer her tempestuous estuary!

Alright, a bit on the corny side, but a fun stab at me fellow bilge rats a runnin’ for the fo’c’stle! (That’d be “forecastle” to ye landlubbin’ sprogs! …er the pointy end up front) 😛 Can’t help meself, bein’ a retired sailor and all… so speakin’ of the seafarin’ life – the scuttlebutt (rumors around the watercooler) is that I’ll be posting a book review in the very near future – featuring a great freshman novel by one of our fellow mates a travelin’ the sea lanes here… So! Be on the look out for a bit of well deserved high praise for an author who is all too typically not quite satisfied with his own work 😀

I’ve a few posts and sites to catch up on, so fair winds and following seas my fine shipmates!

Cheers!

Tuesday’s Tunes #1

February 9th, 2010 4 comments
I stumbled across this nifty little widget at Playlist.com (Hat Tip to Amy Kane) and had a ball wandering through playlists and music. I figured I’d do the same (didn’t realize quite how time consuming this could be), and make a small blues list that ventures across genres… sounds oxymoronic, I know, but trust me – it works 😛

If you’re wondering why Classical Gas, a tune that resides solidly in the jazz apartment, it’s what drew me to guitar driven music in the first place. I lived in Morocco when I was younger, and my parents brought me to a Jazz Festival in Tangier that will remain burned into my consciousness for the rest of my life. I was privileged to see Dizzy Gillispie, Mason Williams (Classical Gas), B.B. King, and a host of others that played with local musicians. They played prepared works and thrilled us with some astonishing improvisational heaven! That’s why Classical Gas is on this blues listing… along with a little bluegrass…

If you have to ask why Crossroads appears twice, once by Clapton and once by Robert Johnson, well, shame on you 😉

Enjoy, I’ve a review to write 😀
Cheers All!


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Stony River’s Microfiction Monday #7

February 7th, 2010 18 comments

Susan at Stony River hosts a fun little writing exercise each Monday that encourages a 140 (or less) character story triggered by a picture.  Be sure to drop by and check out the many thoughts on a single image. Join in and have some fun with the crowd that follows her around that weekly image ;-) Hope to see you there!

And the triggering town this week?

[200.GIF]

Great invention?! Arghh!

Now that lickspittle can break up without facing me –

and with that tone “this’ll hurt me more than it’ll hurt you”

That was tough. Hard for me to find a direction for that picture – my brain turned to mush this week. So here I come to check out everyone else’s great entries.

Cheers!

Mau-Mauing the Mockers

February 5th, 2010 2 comments

Amy Kane slays with her recent post highlighting a “bloody effin brilliant” satirical music video by SOOMO Publishing. I urge you to drop by and follow every link she’s listed and join in the conversation concerning our own declaration of independence… and “kickin’ it into the 21st century!” Join in the conversation, contribute, comment. So then friends, get off your “effin apathy” and do something – at the very least, join in the conversation.

Cheers all, and Thank you Amy Kane!

Obeying Your Thirst

February 4th, 2010 No comments

Another Sort of Temple

The shingled gray of clouded
thunder shook me in the trees
on Little Digger Mountain.

Roiling the rain,
white flashes of lightning
seared holes in the sky, and the air

clapped back in on itself, with me,
standing there in the trees
on Little Digger Mountain.

I stepped off the bank,
knee deep, and let the river rush
through me.  Swelling, rain gorged,

the Alsea slapped my thighs.
I cupped my hands
and drank the sky.

Marginally injured, feeling a little creative (Thanks Jeff and Susan), so your stuck with photography and a poem this Thursday 😉

Cheers all!

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