Review: Letters from Alaska

Letters From Alaska: A Novel Trilogy

(Book II)

Author, John Shields (2008)

ISBN: 978-1-4357-3093-9

Price: $17.04, Paperback, 349 pages

 

Author, John Shields’ book is exceptional; he is a highly descriptive writer, in the genre of academic fiction. There is no question as to what his book is about. Shields’ prose is written as precise as a careful surgeon. His structural narrative with the minds and movements of his characters and plot, exhibits the theme clearly, and is well balanced. This book is second in Shields’ trilogy, which illustrates the middle years of the life of the protagonist, Ansley Perkins, as he was the intellectual collegiate, yet inexperienced young man, whose intellectual philosophy in the Postmodern view manifest fully in these college days, displaying his disconcert with the status quo as he views society in the light of the 60s in America: Viet Nam, Civil Rights, and animosity toward our country’s political machine. Shield’s knowledge of the subject is comprehensive.

 

Book II of Letters From Alaska depicts the collegiate community and Hippie Generation, being described through the eyes and intellect of graduate student, Ansley Perkins, an astute and ingenius young man who himself personifies the time period as it has never been understood before. Events, such as the war in Viet Nam, the Civil Rights Movement, the Hippie experience and the profuse hedonism of the 60s—sex, drugs and rock and roll—all reflecting the age of Postmodernism—are constructed precisely within the mind of the protagonist, who begins his journey in Alaska, at Alaska University, forming the ideas that he believes are a natural reaction to the professions of American patriotism, conformity and convention. It seems Ansley’s vision is to change the world and return man to man’s true place in nature and the universe, by examining traditional America head on. He is constantly challenging his peers, parents, and students with controversial behavior and claims, like outrageous poetry, like crow screetches, sarcasm, cynicism about professors, teachings of societal flaws to students; but also, courageous outbursts, and sincere searching through the newly developing postmodernist ideology.    Ansley de-constructs every traditional idea and rails every chance he gets, against the status quo, to prove mostly to himself that he will not fall into the same patterns as those before him, one of the reasons why he chose Alaska University, teaching in a wilderness setting, yet unspoiled by the larger American society. He is obsessively concerned with man and society’s destination—he is obsessively concerned with his own life and his choices.

“It’s like the Freudian ego,” and I put ‘ego’ on the board beside Freud’s name. ‘Ego is the false self,’ I said; ‘ego is the mere appearance of the true self. It’s what stands there waiting to be adorned by roles and labels; it’s what bounces off society’s reflective screen. How society regards us is how we are to regard ourselves. There is no reality apart from society.’ (61)

Ansley relishes in his new wildlife surroundings, while being given classes to teach, and while working on his master’s degree, amidst the Alaskan wildlife. He is ever entranced and raptured by its natural state and beauty: “Rabbits abound; birds: an exceedingly large and rotund variety of pale gray jay. Mice, I imagine, amongst the mushrooms and fecund leaves; perhaps a shrew or two nosing around. No snakes. No snakes in Alaska.”(11) But he also has those yearnings in him that try to understand where he comes from, who and what his roots are, and why he has to listen to anyone or anything about the things he considers to be his own consequence and direction.

 

Ansley is the quintessential consciousness of the Postmodern Ideology at work. Throughout the book he analyzes his peers, his professors, his family, his fiancee’s family, and every one of the establishment. The reader explores the spirit within the man of the 60s generation—you can’t get any closer to the 60s than this, from the standpoint of an educated revolutionist in. Though subjective and from the standpoint of a particular type of man, it is a perspective and voice from the 60s generation, nonetheless.  Ansley is anti-establishment, anti-war, and anti-conservative American thought at the boiling point of the post-modernist unrest. His motive seems to be to prove himself capable of living on the fringe of society, while not really believing in it, and not really accepting it, yet using it as he chooses. He wrestles with the need for it, the need to be in it, to work within the confines somehow, without being actually touched by it.

 

While Ansley still lives within the confines of society—like frequenting established eating houses, drinking and carousing with his friends, and enjoying the vehicles made by the grand machine of conformers, he still scoffs at all that there is, in favor of some  primal return, and we see that Ansley Perkins is not only highly intelligent, but highly young and inexperienced in life, wanting to create in himself a kind of man different than the men he knows through his father, Suzanne’ father, and his sister’s husband, and other sell-outs.

 

This book, only one of  the trilogy, will give you a deep understanding of one specific subculture of the 60s and its concepts about life and society, as well as one man’s personal growth, personal love, and personal identity.

 

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Revisiting a Bridge of Nostalgia

I just re-read “The Bridges of Madison County,” don’t ask me why, I guess I just wanted to look into that theme again. I have seen the movie, too. I simply needed to reconnect with it and think about it again41F1aS+XUkL._AC_US160_.

Let me give  you a quick synopsis. It’s about a mid forties woman who longs to have chosen differently than being a farmer’s wife in the middle of a small town in Iowa. She is Italian, and was brought to The U.S. during her husband’s wartime stay in Naples. She meets this somewhat “drifter” who is more like her personality as he is artistic, creative, as she is, and they fall in love.

They have all of four days together, and he wants to tell her husband “sorry, this just happened, we are very much in love, and Francesca is leaving with me.” But she says “NO,” she cannot do that to her husband or her two children. She loves him terribly, but she does not want to leave a wreckage behind. So he leaves, they never come together again, and there is more but I’ll leave that to your reading.

I cried again. I have cried at the movie, cried when I first read it, and cried again. I cannot understand why we do the things we do, but this story was somewhat true (partly fictional of course, partly true), by reading letters, legal docs, etc. Or maybe it’s all fictional, and the author Robert James Waller, made it all up; authors are creative geniuses, you know…

The writer’s style of writing reminds me of the Tennessee Williams style: simple, warm, down-to-earth writing of middle America, and explaining how his characters get through his plot and their simple existence, but when it is needed he knows how to bring out the emotional guns, with words of bittersweet and desire.

I have been trying to re-read “the Catcher in the Rye,” but it isn’t happening for me       right now. I had read recently “Love Medicine” by Louise Erdrich, and that book made me cry, too. It’s theme was more the human condition, whereas “Bridges…” was more about the need for deep love.

My main point for writing this review is for myself, because the author, Waller, really doesn’t need a review, as his book was a mega hit; see the movie. I wrote it because I just wanted to share my feelings about unrequited love, or love that cannot be. My heart went out to the husband as well, for he had no idea what went on inside his wife’s heart, but that was partly his own error, for he did not seem to know ANYTHING that was going on in his wife’s heart, hence, her looking for someone who would love her heart. It is an archetypal character who suffers in love; and the plot of being unable to remain with whom you love, but instead sacrificing for the right reasons of conventions, kindnesses to family, not to wreak havoc to those who would be left behind, and so forth. Nonetheless, the one who gives that love up is sacrificing a great deal, and somehow, they will never be the same whether it was the wife, or the husband. That, folks, is a very painful choice, and it is sad. A good read, short, easy, finished it in a day.

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A Review of: The Roads We Take

Most of us have heard of J. D. Salinger, and the famous novel: “The Catcher in the Rye.” In fact, that novel (1951), and the author, Jerome David Salinger, who has since died (1/27/2010) at the ripe age of 91, has been a mainstay in high schools across America for what the novel deals with: complex issues of innocence, identity, belonging, loss, and connection (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._D._Salinger). But that was then; this is now.

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Author, Ethan Edgewood is a new writer of the modern age, having written his first novel “The Roads We Take” (2016), and I might say it deals very much with some of the same “complex issues” of innocence, identity, and so forth, except not in high school, but as with many young people in their twenties, today. So this novel is quite frankly a very good assessment of today’s young people who are looking for direction in their lives. Probably a good read for the college level young adults, starting out.

What is different–and yet, the same–is the nostalgia, and sometimes poignant truth of the difficulty of getting through life’s lessons as a young person: either one grows, or falls short and into trouble, and that is the biggest theme of all, how taking one road can lead a way that helps one progress, or another road, that can lead the way you do not want to go. The excitement is in the trip, where two young men full of youth, restlessness, and mischief, find themselves wondering what might happen if they take a road trip and decide to give it a go.

During the timeframe of a week on the road, the reader finds out who these two young men really are, and what makes them do what they do, on which roads they plan or don’t plan to travel, and why.

Perhaps some may say the story’s been told, but one must remember, every story in the world has been told: it takes a good storyteller to tell it again. And this is what I’ve found. J.D. Salinger might have died, but he may have been reincarnated in Ethan Edgewood. If not, Ethan has a good grip on Salinger’s style, albeit, not exactly the same in semantics, syntax, and grammar, but close enough to say this author, Edgewood, knows how to tell a story, make the reader a part of that story, and makes the reader think about those thematic truths within the story, whether we’ve heard it before or not. I liked it, and I loved reading about the angst of and sometimes tormenting choices in, youth and human progress. To read it, one might find a wide ray of hope in humanity, once again.

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Up for Review: “The Roads We Take”

I have met some wonderful people recently. One of those wonderful people I met online, still not a physical meeting, and that’s okay, but we’ve become fast friends because we are both writers and love to write; as well, we have something to say.

Anyway, my friend was in the midst of writing, and I believe he had a writer’s block for a short period, but lo and behold! He cranked that puppy out, and he published his book!

In the shortest amount of time I can muster, while reading about six book at once, I am going to get into this book of his, and I am going to finish it, so I can write a review on it. I’m not sure if he would like me to, but I had decided this myself; a review would, I think, help him keep going, because he is rolling out those doggies!

So please check back here very soon, for the new review of Ethan Edgewood’s book, “The Roads we Take.” I am looking forward to reading it, and I am looking forward to telling you about it. Meantime, enjoy the week, and the coming summer, and watch here for as many books as I can post for review, so you can plan your summer reading.

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Confessions of an OCD Genius

Have you ever found yourself reading three or four books at once? Well, not “at once,” exactly, but taking turns, reading some of one tonight, another tomorrow, and a little of yet another the afternoon, and yet another in the evening before bed, and…. you catch my meaning..

It sometimes concerns me that I am acutely bored easily, and I have to continue changing the venue. Then I think of some people who had the exact same problem with certain obsessions of theirs, which I believe now has a clinical name: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Consider Picasso, or Einstein, or even Leonardo Di Caprio; think about someone like Nicola Tesla, or Edison, and there are a multitude more.

The nice thing though is that this kind of problem is equated with high intelligence, so I’m on the clear… although so is it also equated with bipolar, or mental illness in some… so… anyway…

I would like to think that I am in that “highly intelligent” category. The problem with my reading so many books at once is that it takes me longer than average to finish a book, by virtue of the fact that I only read a very small amount per week, because I am reading so many within the same period.

This can be a concern as well, due to the fact that I am terrible about deadlines. Now, what author do you think should be terrible with deadlines? Right! None! but then, I read somewhere that one of the greatest minds today never meets deadlines:

“I always deliver what I say, just maybe not in the time frame that I say it” – Elon Musk.

That’s right, folks, Elon Musk, a great mind and a brilliant entrepreneur. He does not meet deadlines…

Now, before anyone cries out that I am advocating leaving deadlines behind, and acquiring OCD, remember, these are regular quirks for specific kinds of people. Whether or not they offer a unique breath of fresh air is beside the point; the point is, it is a painful process at worst, an annoyance at best.

So when someone asks me to read their book for review, or a professor asks me to submit a paper by the end of the year, I must tell you, I am hard pressed to do so, and I am harder pressed to finish anything but in my own timeline. I was never very good at following the pied piper, you see; I’ve got my own calling of a different drummer.

Stay tuned for my multiple reviews AFTER I’ve finished all these books I’m reading presently! I guess I started this entire blurb to cover my…slowness, to finish reviewing a number of books I am supposed to review. Au revoir!

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IBC

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Let me know…

The one thing that concerns me is when someone demands a speedy reply, and then you do not get a speedy response in return; after all this fuss about wanting a reply immediately, they do not respond to your reply, which is needed, for some time, or not at all.

I am embroiled in a conversation with someone who claims to have missed me after I managed to reach them after a long while, and they say: “Why didn’t you just call, or if not a call, yahoo, or hotmail me, or Skype, or Zoom, or something!”

And I say… nothing. I just managed to reach them after complete, long silence,  and they reprimand me for not reading them…is that not contacting first?

How does that make me feel? It makes me feel quite discomforted, because though they are trying to excuse the truth: that in reality, they care not whether or if they ever hear from me again, but since they did, they use social norms to address you being the culprit of the matter, lying through their teeth all the way. Or, they simply do NOT care whether or not you see them as a fool. Finally, they ARE a fool: they cannot remember you from their Auntie’s baked pumpkin bread.

How inappropriate for them.

Have you guessed yet, what I’m doing? I am attempting to speak without insults, slang, or poor English language. Yes, we can do it! Come on, folks, just try. You do not have to be rude when you address one of my postings, nor do you need to find fault with the way I present an argument, unless it is within your purpose in life to do so. Just use proper English, social etiquette, and supported argument documentation, and I will relent.

Let  me know if you know how to write. If you write how you speak, it’s okay, as long as you are clear in your communication. But if you want to present something of value to either me or the audience who may be reading this, then it should be academically presented, or at least generally accepted formal English.

Heck I can change on a dime, and be like a doodle-cherry mixed up hockenberry fool, me-self! But I choose to write my best, to respect your reading time, and hopefully I can be entertaining as well. Keep those comments coming!

Just write!2015-05-28 06.33.55

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