Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sad Stories of the Death of Kings by Barry Gifford - A Review

Barry Gifford has strung together a set of vignettes and moments-in-time about Roy, a kid who lives in Chicago, at various points in Roy’s life – from when he’s about nine to when he’s nineteen, and everything in between. But it’s not chronological; Gifford has thrown the stories up in the air and the reader gets them as they’ve landed, presenting an interesting space-time discontinuum that provides perspective and dissonance, epiphany and revelation. Roy navigates the icy, windy backstreets of Chicago in the 1950’s like a modern-day Huck on the river. It’s almost always bleak winter, or end of autumn, or just before the spring—the weather is a palpable presence, and it’s not particularly friendly.

I think that thoughtful, introspective teenagers would find this book speaks to them; I know as an introspective adult, it really spoke to me. Of course, being from Chicago myself made it an extra special treat, but that’s not a requirement. Gifford’s Roy sees the world with calm and wondering eyes, very nearly innocent, which of course changes as he grows, but he’s very likeable and interesting. He has a weary mother and a pragmatic, wise grandfather, and lots of goofy friends who drag him into questionable activities. But we see Chicago as Roy sees it, with all its harsh city life, public school days angst, and a young man’s dreams, through a filter of curiosity and compassion that helps us read life itself more thoughtfully. 

This review first appeared in the Historical Novels Review, February 2011.

Sad Stories of the Death of Kings
Barry Gifford, Seven Stories Press (New York) 2010, 201 pp., pb, YA/Adult
ISBN: 978-1-58322-922-4

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Green Man and Telling the Bees

It's a fine spring day in San Francisco and we're 15 days away from the Vernal Equinox. Images of the Green Man I have gathered from the internet appear and fade away on my computer screen (like these here) and haunt me with ideas. My next novel is theoretically woven around the tales and mythology of the Green Man although I can't quite get the story in my head as yet. An excellent video of Norwich Cathedral's famous Green Men "grotesques" (like the images on this page) can be seen here on you tube accompanied by some compelling music. 

And speaking of music, I have just become acquainted with a wonderfully dark and folksy band called Telling the Bees -- I haven't seen or heard anything like it since 1968 with its folk festivals and free spirits dressed like knights and ladies with real flowers in their hair -- I was one of them, and still am at heart. Their music has lifted my spirits and makes me yearn to go to England. Their song "Wood", which you can hear at the link, says so much about being connected and grateful to the natural world which gives us so much! I want to walk around Stonehenge and Avebury and Glastonbury Abbey's ruins. I want to hear fiddle music and the drone of bagpipes and sackbuts. I want to feel the presence of ancient spirits in the forest and streams. Can one be nostalgic for a time and place one has never lived in? Maybe in another life... Anyway, I guess I'm afflicted with spring fever in a seriously romantic way, so maybe I can take another look at that new novel and see if I can write today!