DISTILLED INTO EFFERVESCENT PURITY: Zinta Aistars on Pamela Erens’ The Understory


understory

The Understory, Pamela Erens, Ironweed Press

Many, many years have passed since I read Knut Hamsun’s Hunger. I read it in its Latvian translation, a young writer eager to learn from the masters—and the Danish writer Hamsun was that. It was a novel about nothing, really. No car chases, no maddening mysteries, no ravishing love stories, no epiphanies. It was a simple story of survival—a homeless man coping with hunger—but it has remained with me all these decades later while so many other books I’ve read have faded into oblivion. It was a book touched with greatness.

I recall Hamsun’s Hunger now because in reading the slim novel called The Understory by Pamela Erens, winner of the Ironweed Press Fiction Prize, I sensed the same effect. Yes, the same touch of literary greatness. This, too, was a story about nothing. It is simplicity itself; not even a story, but an “understory.” The story behind the story, you might say, the diving deep into the mind and heart and soul of a man. There is little action, almost all the recording of observation, the gradual coiling and tightening of a spring, and all leading up to a stunning conclusion—that one moment of action—that is the perfection coming together of all that we have read to that point.

As in Hamsun’s masterpiece, we experience truth, as a human being experiences truth that is found in the minutiae of the every day. Life is like this, after all. The earth shattering upheavals and volcanic happenings are remarkable enough, easy to nail down on paper, memorable (or not) without even trying, but genius enters when one can create reality sharper almost than reality itself. Erens follows this haggard, lonely man in his unremarkable every day without missing a detail, and so brings him into the room where we sit, brings us into his room where he lives his solitary life, and lets us taste of it. He is poor, he is alone, he is a child abandoned by his parents through a car accident that took their lives, and so has learned to live in this quiet, unobtrusive way. He lives a life that happens mostly inside his mind. He reads and mulls over what he has read as a gourmet savors every bite of an exquisite meal. Indeed, when he is evicted from his home—an apartment where he has lived for 15 years as something of an imposter of his deceased uncle of similar name on a $500 monthly stipend left to him in a will—he wonders how is it that we do not value the thinkers in our society? Only the doers. Someone has to read all the books? Someone has to think all the thoughts? He is that someone.

Even when something does happen in this man’s days, it moves in a kind of slow motion, giving us time to note all the details of the scene, evoke the emotions one might have living the moment in real time rather than sound bite. We watch the building burn. We watch him resist leaving the ashen shell of his home, living among that ash when all others have moved elsewhere. We see him creep into odd emotions of need and want, not falling in love, but more a kind of cell by cell transforming into a man who wants another man. His presence in the room, just that. We settle into the cramped corners of his brain as he becomes obsessed.

So there it is, all of it, after all, but without the distraction of special effects. There the story of survival, the story of loss, and grief, the love story, too. Distilled into effervescent purity. A moment in the abbey, where he takes refuge for a while, is fully as remarkable as a moment of encountering human need at its most base:
Night is the worst time. After the long regimentation of the day, the enforced silences, the men want to talk. At first it doesn’t matter what about: TV, movies, travel, jobs. I lie on my side on my mattress as the words pool around me, reciting to myself the botanical classifications for peach, cherry, apple. Magnoliophyta, Magnoliopsida, Rosales, Rosaceae… I smell the smell of other bodies: stale skin, flatulence, cologne. I long to open the windows and let the fresh air sweep the smells away, sweep the bodies away, too. Gradually one man drops out of the conversation, then another. Soon there will be only two men left speaking. And these two—they are not the same two every night—will drop their voices, speak in an intimate murmur. Perhaps they are only gossiping about one of the monks. Perhaps they are complaining about the food. But no, there is a reticence that lets me know that they are trying, clumsily, to reach each other. (27)
He is obsessed with two. Two in connection, twins, kindred souls, brothers, lovers, even as he himself is profoundly one. This solitary man who cannot connect even in a crowd, eventually implodes, and explodes, and the sense of following him through this process is a literary meditation I will long not forget. It is for this kind of fine literature that I hunger all my reading life, and find all too rarely.

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Zinta Aistars, writer and editor-in-chief for The Smoking Poet.

DETROIT THRIVES AGAIN: Zinta Aistars on Michael Zadoorian’s The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit


the lost tiki palaces of detroit

The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit: Stories, Michael Zadoorian, Wayne State University Press

The Made in Michigan Writers Series showcases some of the state’s best new, or not so new, writers. Michael Zadoorian is one of these writers, not so new, with two novels (The Leisure Seeker and Second Hand) already on the shelf. While the country struggles and just begins to show signs of emerging from economic muck, and more often than not, the national finger is pointed at Detroit as the example of the worst anywhere, dying and in parts already dead… Zadoorian rises from those ashes and finds the grit and pearl of story to tell.

No mistake, these are pearls. Found among junk piles and old photographs, abandoned houses and euthanasia rooms, marriages ravaged by adultery, homeless men turned into exhibitionists—these stories of Detroit, separated into west side, east side and downtown, record a city turning back into dust but with heart stubbornly beating on.

“To Sleep” introduces us to Zadoorian’s talent with a grand entrance on the entire collection. The story’s narrator works in the Euthanasia Room for animals, and if the metaphor of city in its death throes holds, we witness that handling death of the innocent on a daily basis cannot leave one unmoved. Watch the life go out of the eyes of a living creature often enough, and madness seeps into the mind. The executioner becomes ever more eccentric, finally building altars to the dead creatures, performing elaborate ceremonies and dances (Louis Armstrong, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk apparently create jazz that is perfect for felines) to see them off into the other world. Zadoorian’s writing remains in ours, sharp and haunting:

That flicker in their eyes just a second after the Pentothal reaches the viscera, that moment, that last hundredth of a second of being as it folds into what comes after. The look in their eyes, during the wiping away of life, burns in on your soul like a klieg light on the retina. You can shift your vision elsewhere, but you still see the shape of the light, an after-image, superimposed on everything you look at—on a stop sign, on the page of the book late at night when you can’t sleep, on your own guilty hand when you hold it before your face.

But unlike the after-image from a bright light, this one doesn’t go away in a few moments. It’s there for keeps. And after you eradicate a few thousand of God’s living, breathing, sentient creatures like I have, you begin to believe that there’s nothing left to burn. But you’re wrong. There’s always more work to be done, more animals to be put down. Before long, you’re thinking that part of you, the part your parents told you was what made you special, the good girl part, the part that would remain even after you died, is not yours anymore. It’s just a charred, scarred accretion of the ghosted eyes of thousands of animals, the kind of scabby hard stone-cinder that we as children used to call a clinker. (page 9)

Science has shown with brain scans that certain images, viewed long enough and often enough, do indeed create a chemical burn on our brains and can never be erased. These images change our view of the world around us forever. Zadoorian sends shivers of subtle horror through us as we eye this image of those who must compartmentalize to survive what they do to other living beings. They do not survive intact.

Other stories play in similar fashion with the gradual breakdown in human beings, in relationships, in a city. “Dyskinesia” is the story of a younger man who befriends an older woman who is deteriorating from Parkinson’s disease, but learns to, more or less, manage it by painting wild and colorful canvases through her tremors. The younger man is not necessarily in any better health, although his ills are less physical. The story opens with him standing in a grocery check-out line with his wife. He points out to her a woman’s magazine on the rack with a headline about women who love too much and co-dependency. “That’s you,” he says. She buys the magazine. Reads the article. “You’re right,” she says, and without another word, packs her bags and leaves him, co-dependent no more. So he fails at other attempts at other relationships, finally able to connect only to this ailing older woman, spending ever more time with her to escape his own void. Yet even she, finally, escapes him—into a world where he cannot follow.

“War Marks” is a story of healing and forgiveness, possible only when one human being looks deeply into the eyes of another. War is the ultimate objectifier, and political powers have always understood that to enable one human being to treat another with hatred and disrespect, he must first objectify. This story touches with the meeting of two “enemies” of an old war who cannot but know respect for each other’s humanity when they meet one-on-one.

“Listening Room” is yet another exploration of how the mind and spirit deteriorate over time when the emotional abuse is a constant drip-drip-dripping presence. A boy must listen in the night to the sounds of copulation in the bedroom next door that his parents “loan” to other couples who have come to believe it is a lucky room for getting pregnant. They think nothing of what their son must listen to night after night through a thin wall, how it erodes him and changes him forever.

In “Noise of the Heart” we are almost reminded of Edgar Allen Poe’s “Telltale Heart,” as a man is driven mad by the sound of his own beating heart. It is, of course, not really his physical heart, but his metaphorically symbolic heart that drives him to attempt suicide, as he finds out about his wife’s affair with another man. He hears her tell her lover with glee about what an innocent he is, has no clue, when it is she who can’t see past her own lust—and a lover who is more interested in the competitive edge of stealing someone else’s mate than he is in her—while the cuckolded husband silently absorbs the disrespect of her actions and struggles with that ever beating and louder heart.

“Traffic Reports” explores road rage, as everyday people burst at the seams from stress and randomly shoot each other on Detroit roads. “Spelunkers” brings us into the seedier buildings of downtown Detroit , as if on an archeological dig into another time, recording it all, as Zadoorian himself does in these stories, as an art form of the dead and dying of an American city. Finally, his title story, “The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit ,” pulls the collection together with a homeless man on a city bus who insists he will no longer be invisible. The only way he can seem to get other people to see him is by an act of indecency. He drops his pants and exposes himself to everyone’s stunned and immediate attention. One hopes the city itself won’t have to go quite that far.

If Detroit can produce such literary talent as Zadoorian, however, it may just thrive again. These stories awaken, alarm, grieve, giggle a bit, but mostly observe what we may wish to toss away, yet should first look directly in the eye—so that we can understand something more of our own condition.

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Zinta Aistars is a writer and also editor-in-chief of The Smoking Poet

Of Women Everywhere Fighting Silent Wars: Zinta Aistars on Agate Nesaule’s In Love with Jerzy Kosinski


in love with jerzy kosinski

In Love with Jerzy Kosinski, Agate Nesaule, University of Wisconsin Press

Whatever the form of abuse, wounds take a long time to heal, if ever they do, and the scars remain forever. The work of novelist Agate Nesaule often handles the theme of abuse and its long-term repercussions. In her acclaimed first book, Woman in Amber, Nesaule examines her own experiences of living through World War II and losing her home, Latvia, then becoming an immigrant—a stranger in a new land (the United States), coping with exile.

All wars are the epitome of abuse, but for women, this abuse extends to deeper levels yet, as women historically have been viewed as a kind of “prize” in war—too often, even by their own countrymen. War in all its chaos unleashes the predator in Man, no holds barred, and women as war bounty up for grabs. And so, long after the war has ended, it continues in its aftereffects, leaving women as the walking wounded, susceptible to other forms of abuse—domestic, for instance.

If Woman in Amber revealed to the reader the emotional and psychological devastation of war and exile for a woman, then Nesaule’s new novel, In Love with Jerzy Kosinski, delves deeper into the psychology of a woman in her life after war. The opening scenes in both books resemble each other. However, where Woman in Amber opened on a bedroom scene in which an older couple has made love in true companionship and intimacy leading to pillow talk of unfolding memories, In Love with Jerzy Kosinski opens on a bedroom scene in which Anna Duja is faking orgasm to please (or appease) her abusive husband. She goes through the motions, makes the obligatory sweet moans, assures her man how “great” he is in bed. He doesn’t have a clue. His ego eats it all up, while she has learned to protect herself in fakery, preserving her own peace. Women, after all, have been taught in a man’s world that she is here to serve, here to please, and should he ever stray—it is her fault.

And so, the scene unfolds upon a life of wearing masks in self-protection, even while it is the mask, paradoxically, that holds Anna back from true healing and connection with others. Dishonesty of any kind, even when in self-protection, can never lead to any good—certainly, not to a good relationship. Stanley, Anna’s husband, is portrayed as the typical abusive husband. No wife-beater, Stanley’s abuse comes in more subtle forms through hints of humiliation (she won’t leave if he keeps her feeling unworthy), control over car keys (he maintains control over her ability to move freely), schedules (his needs always come first), friends the couple keeps (his), patronizing insults that eat away at Anna’s self-esteem (his control depends on her submission). It is precisely this type of emotional abuse that can be most poisonous, because outsiders see only a polite and caring, even charming, if somewhat overbearing Stanley. Her friends tell her how lucky she is.
Anna lives in a world of lies, and because she comes from an abusive past, not only the war, but also a father (the original role model for all men) whom she could never please, she allows the degradation to continue while going out of her way to preserve and protect the public image of Stanley as a “great guy.” Anna is the classic enabler. She has connected her own self-identity to his. If people knew how Stanley really treated her, in her mind, it was not his shame, not his failure, but hers. Anna represses her feelings in whatever way she can, to survive, but those feelings emerge in other ways, as in, for example, obsessive-compulsive housecleaning. It is as if she could clean up the mess that her life has become, but for all the cleanliness and order on the outside, the dirt and chaos on the inside of this relationship cannot be swept away.

Dignity is so important to a man, Anna reminds herself. She does all that she can to suppress her own dignity while protecting the dignity of her man. She sweeps away his copies of Playboy ignoring the evidence of an escalating problem even as she finds her husband is posting single ads and personals (he waves this away as mere flirtation and tells her she is being “too sensitive”). When for all her efforts he cheats on her anyway (more than once), she blames herself. She is “not enough.” Even so, her plans to leave Stanley begin to take shape, tugging her away, then back again, tossed about by doubt and guilt,
How could she go back like that to certain humiliation? …Did she fear or love the man who tormented her, or did guilt and pity keep her chained to him? Why did she not pull herself together and start taking care of herself? (61)
Meeting other women with similar refugee-immigrant backgrounds, Anna recognizes herself in their “exile eyes.” These are women are exquisitely polite and kind, even flirtatious with the men around them, as if to prove that life is nothing more than a fun game. Their giggles mask their fear and pain,
They all had exile eyes: eyes that had lost everything and seen the unspeakable but were determined nevertheless to keep looking, eyes that remained wary and disillusioned even during shy smiles and suppressed giggles. Anna had seen those eyes before: in photographs of Latvian women and men who survived Siberia , and on TV as Rwandan girls were being questioned by a journalist. A Hmong woman passing on a Greyhound bus, the Chilean woman doctor who used to clean Marge’s house, and Anna’s father—they all had eyes like that. (73)
Ironically, it takes the attention of another man to help Anna ultimately break free from her abusive husband. While being around Stanley had always made her feel “not enough,” even ugly, being around the attractive Andrejs wakes Anna up to the lies she’s been told, the lies she had accepted as truth. The way he looks at her, the way he treats her, the way he romances her, all work a small miracle on the beaten psyche of the battered woman, until she too sees: she is an attractive woman with much to offer.

Alas, as is so often the case with the emotionally battered woman, she loses the ability to detect truth from lies. No one charms like the man who wishes to seduce and control. Andrejs turns out to be just another version of Stanley , and Anna finds herself in yet another cycle of abusive behavior. Anna swears to herself, she will not “lie with her words or her body again,” and when at last she recognizes that her new lover is a narcissist, initially attentive, but then increasingly cruel, she struggles yet again to loose herself. He plays mind games with her, telling her one thing one day, the opposite the next day, until she cannot tell what is real and what is imagined. In a poignant scene in a public women’s bathroom stall, she overhears two women talking and recognizes herself in their exchange. “He’s a liar,” one woman says in frustration to the other. Bipolar, dysfunctional childhood, addicted to his vices, a jerk, a bum … but the other woman in meek voice responds only that her man needs more time. Time, patience, love, these will be her cures for what ails him. Listening, Anna has an epiphany of the part she has played in this all too common scenario of domestic violence.

No one can save us from ourselves, but ourselves. Anna has looked for answers and healing in other women, but she finds the man-bashers repugnant, her own ethnic community too stuck in their own denial and bitterness, the feminists too disinterested in getting along with men at all, her women friends to be mostly guilty partners in enabling society’s mistreatment of women.

What does this all have to do with Polish writer Jerzy Kosinski? one might ask. Kosinski, a literary hero of Anna Duja’s, is the thread that weaves through this story as a kind of mascot for the damaged soul of those spit out by war. Neither dead nor fully alive, living lives of quiet agony, sometimes producing great art, imperfect and battling various vices to escape their isolation and pain—these are the children of war. The framework for Anna’s own story, Kosinski is rumored to be an abusive man if brilliant writer, and Anna remains doggedly devoted to his image as it is constructed in her mind. Deep inside her are words. She, too, wishes to write. And while much of her life she has looked to Kosinski to write the story of those damaged by war, having survived time and again her own personal war as an emotionally battered woman, she now realizes … she must tell her own story. When news reports come to light that her literary hero has committed suicide, beaten by his own demons, she suddenly realizes that she is free.
She would have done anything for him … But even as she formed the words, she knew they were not true. She was finally beyond doing everything he or another man might demand. She would not lie for Jerzy. She would not collude with him … to uphold a false version of his childhood. She would not write his books. She would not give him her story. She would write it herself.

She knew now she was not powerful enough to save another person … Only he could have received the miraculous grace that helped some survivors to open their hearts, to forgive, and to find peace … she knew the real reason he had killed himself: he was a child during the war; he was one of the hunted; he was one of the millions marked for death.

He would never write the book she had wanted him to write that would explain why wartime lies continued for years afterward. (199)
Anna will write that book herself. No one can tell her story but Anna herself. She hears rumors of her ex-lover Andrejs telling other women she was “no raving beauty” but an intelligent companion to him, eventually a disappointment. When friends ask her if she misses him, she says, honestly, no. She does on occasion miss the companionship of a man in her life. A man as he should have been, might have been. But she has now chosen her “final solitude.” Within this solitude, she plans to write her book,
But maybe stories can help. Maybe those who have suffered more will listen to those only on the margins of the great horrors. Maybe all will be able to rest in the compassion of others. Maybe instead of clashing and competing, all the stories will weave together into a great tapestry, each thread part of an intricate, somber pattern. Maybe tenderness will prevail. (210)
One after another, Anna has been disappointed in the men in her life—her father, her husband, her lover, and finally, even her literary idol. She will always be the child of war. She will always be a survivor.

Nesaule’s book is a heartbreaking story of women everywhere, fighting their own silent wars. Whether combat on the battlefield, or combat behind the closed doors of many homes, women suffer the wounds, and men with them, of a lack of dignity and compassion for the human condition. Her stories may seem simple enough, but they accomplish what Anna dreams about: a linking of people, both genders, in a better understanding of what we all need—forgiveness.

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Zinta Aistars is Editor-in-Chief of The Smoking Poet (www.thesmokingpoet.net).

Poetry that Jingles, a Good Value: Zinta Aistars on Katy Lederer’s The Heaven-Sent Leaf


heaven-sent-leaf

The Heaven-Sent Leaf, Katy Lederer, BOA Editions

What do poets know of money? What do poets know of capital? Katy Lederer asks and answers such questions in A Nietzschean Revival and throughout her new collection of poetry, The Heaven-Sent Leaf. And why not the poet, perhaps the best stockbroker of all in tendering the crumpled and transparent leaves of the spirit, exhibited here as expert in capital. Life is, after all, all about transaction, barter, the give and take between human beings, or between oneself and oneself—the hardest bargain of all. Katy Lederer, poet and author, is also Brainworker,
To learn to keep distance.
To learn to keep drear managerial impulse away from the animal mind.
Along the dark edge of this reason. Along the dark edge of this mind’s little prison,
inside of its bars now a silky white cat.
Howling.
Crawling in its little cage.
Inside of its cage is the bright light of morning.
Inside of its cage is the light of disease.
To learn to be an animal. To learn to be that primal.
To know who will slip you the fresh dish of milk.
To long for your manager’s written approval.
So soon am I up for my year-end review?
The moon above settles into its shadow.
I am howling at you.
Lederer titles more than one poem, Brainworker. There are four of them, in fact. And so you begin to sense the spinning we do in our every day routines, work work work, and then home, and then work work work, and all of it about transaction, some profitable, some not. This collection is money (transaction) put into poetry, and if at first glance that seems an odd fit, Lederer proves the fit is very near like that of a glove.

To know something of Lederer’s background explains this fascination. She is also author of several books, notably a memoir, Poker Face: A Girlhood Among Gamblers (Crown, 2003), included on Publishers Weekly list of Best Nonfiction Books of 2003, which tells of her family ties to some of the best known names and faces around Las Vegas poker tables. For the poet, it could just as well have gone the other way, to becoming a card shark, but instead, her pull is toward poetry, even while working as a “brainworker” at a hedge fund in New York City.

I can’t speak for her poker-playing skills, no doubt remarkable, but Lederer’s poetry chinks into place, has the solid feel of coin on a green felt table, and slips easily into a rich bank of poetic capital. There are plenty of lines such as, “In the wallet of his soul he files the crisp new bills of morning,” (from The Tender Wish to Buy This World) to keep the analogy flowing. And they work, mostly. Although it doesn’t take many pages in to already sense the Lederer style: a naming of observations, almost a grocery list at times (“To avoid the whole mendacious thing./To sign yet another financial release.”); fragmented sentences and phrases (“Orange-red eyes like small, derogatory suns.” “Not wanting to do.” “Systemic and assembles with great calm.”); questions without answers (“We can’t let go? Why are we laughing now?”). This is not an entirely bad thing, not at all. A writer, a poet, seeks to find one’s own recognizable voice. A reader can find in it an agreeable echo, a mirror to one’s own, and so become a fan. The line to toe here is to not become overly predictable, still leaving room for the occasional surprise.

Lederer’s use of the analogy of money as capital to be traded in for pieces and parts of life does not narrow her range. With this premise, she explores the topics all poets adore: love, sex (what more profound transaction!), the daily aspects of a life well or less well lived, and, finally, death. She sets her stage against the backdrop of the big city, but the big city clamor still reverberates against any landscape where people meet. Money is a great symbol and so is not limiting, no more than she who possesses it imbues it with meaning and power. The exchange of value for value, or value for lack of it, resounds through every line, and with it, the echo of a void inside the self, “the lobotomized wishes—/Where brains once were …/Hear the awful racket of their want.”

This is a collection of poetry that jingles in the mind like loose coins in a deep pocket long after it’s read. You’ll pardon the analogy stretched here, but it is accurate. If on first reading, the poems seem simple enough, almost predictable in style (list-fragment-question), you can’t help but find your fingers wandering the linings of that pocket and playing with the coins, testing their value, enjoying the jingle, rubbing them one against the other, until they are warm in the palm and ready for trade. Lederer’s poetry is a good value.

A Much, Much Darker Palette: Zinta Aistars on Temporary People by Steve Gillis


Temporary People, Steve Gillis, Black Lawrence Press

temporary-people

Years ago, I saw the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show about a man whose entire life, unbeknownst to him, played out on a movie stage while the rest of the world watched. Steven Gillis’s novel, Temporary People, reminded me of that movie only with a much, much darker palette of colors. Add a touch of the surreal and you have Gillis, aptly likened to Kurt Vonnegut.

Temporary People is called a fable by the author in the first pages of his story. In this tale, the island of Bamerita, floating unattached some 2,000 miles south of Iceland, has become a movie set directed by the madman, Teddy Lamb (aka the General):
The scenes for Teddy’s movie are shot out of sequence and no one can say for certain what the film’s about. Even when the soldiers come and order us into our costumes, we’re not shown a script. At best, we hear rumors that the movie’s a multi-generational saga weaved through the telling and retelling of a 3,000 year old fable. The focus of the fable changes, however, each time the rumor’s repeated. Teddy reviews all the daily rushes, assesses the caliber of our performance. Everyone’s uneasy about how they appear. The perception we give is not always intended. Our fear isn’t artistic but rather a concern for our safety. In evaluating the scenes, Teddy’s impatient with people who disappoint him. Those found deficient are removed from the film and rarely heard from again. ‘That,’ Teddy says, ‘is show biz.’
Under this guise of movie making, Teddy rules as a slaughtering dictator would, doing so with a perverted sense of humor. Madness, if you will. The previous government officials are filmed as they are tied to logs, and then pulled in two, set to float on the ocean waves. The population of Bamerita falls quietly into place after that until, of course, they rise to revolt as any population given time and wearing away of patience with brutality will. A crew of “actors” (i.e. citizens) takes the lead with characters such as Andre Mafante, an insurance salesman who tries to promote non-violent means of revolt, and his friend, Emilo, whose rebelliousness culminates in sewing his own ears, eyes, and mouth shut. One of Gillis’s most disturbing scenes is when Teddy torments Emilo into unwilling laughter and pained screams, effectively tearing up his stitched mouth into meaty shreds.

The satire is effective. Gillis is successful in painting madness—the irrational behavior of an oppressive government, the mass fear in response, and the distortion of reality that taking away basic liberties must involve when one manipulates many. If this echoes current political scenarios, it should. In his characters, Gillis illustrates different forms of resistance and rebellion—indifference, self-serving cowardice, passive and active resistance, heroic if perhaps misguided protest and bloody coups—with of all of it done with a touch of Hollywood.