Saving Grace by Michael Graeme


Today I enjoyed the luxury of reading Saving Grace by Michael Graeme, on Wattpad. Michael is one of my favorite writers and this new one lived up to everything I expect and get from his novels – interesting and complex characters, beautiful writing, settings that make me want to know more about them, well-crafted plot lines as well as timely surprises, the unexpected. As always, highly recommended!

It’s a curious thing to read fiction when you have a history and familiarity with the author, when you know how they view things in general, when you know what they’ve been thinking about, when you have some glimpses of their private life. I’m a follower of Michael’s blog, where some of his themes play out; his love of cars, of touring around Britain, of poetry, his takes on inequality, Brexit, other such topics.

In some ways he is also a rare kindred spirit of mine – a writer who self-publishes his work for free (having experienced the conventional way), who writes for the sake of it, for the stories themselves, for the freedom of expression if provides. Also in terms of protagonists, he tends toward the loner-loser types as I do (though he is so much more insightful) and has them caught up in fraught situations partly due to their own clumsiness and partly due to random acts of fate. His leads are the inverse of Patricia Highsmith creations – softies at heart who hesitate to hurt a fly even as the sticky paper of their nature gets those very flies in trouble anyway.

I smiled at references to Slaughterhouse Five (a recent blog comment reference), to the vanishing art of reading, to bookstores and self-publishing, all while totally absorbed in the mystery and the tangle of poor Mike Garatt, who had only good intentions but the law, the mobs, social media, the world outside align their forces against him for the mere fact of his having smiled at a pretty customer.  As in many of his novels, Graeme’s Hamletic hero once again finds himself befuddled and bewitched by an array of women he can’t hope to comprehend. They will have their way. He can only hope to survive.

This and That – a Feed Book (completed)


Finished up today and posted on Smashwords as well as Kindle and Wattpad (where it was born and bred). Sometimes you just have to stop and say it’s done.

Description: Told in the style of a combined social media feed, ‘This and That’ relates several overlapping and interwoven stories; a woman facing treatment for cancer, a man held hostage for no reason by a foreign government, a global corporation enamored of its power and reach, an unstable future world disorder, and more. Filled with drama, pathos and dark, dark humor, ‘This and That’ is a piece of performance fiction that was improvised live as it didn’t actually happen.

Submission, by Michel Houellebecq

This was such an interesting novel and I want to jot down my thoughts before I go off and read everybody else’s reviews. Politically, it’s a very prescient critique of the decline of the traditional political parties in the West, something that just came to pass with the rejection of the usual politicians in Brexit and Trump, and that bids to occur far and wide in the coming months. This makes the book not as shocking now as perhaps it was when the book first came out, with an Islamic party taking over France. Now, anything seems possible, even reasonable!

The book is so cynical that it had me in stitches. The protagonist is such a model of decadent modernity it’s laughable. He has his ‘big thoughts’ but they are always interruptable at a moment’s notice by anything related to fucking or food or booze. His own ‘conversion’, like that of his civilization, really comes down to getting fed, getting high and getting laid. The novel makes a key point about how the far-right political parties (and evangelicals, here in America) and Islamism are so close in their fundamentals, which boil down to return to patriarchy and re-asserting ‘traditional’ male dominance over women. The misogyny in the novel, and in the world it presents, is not merely repulsive, it is absolutely essential to its focus. Needless to say, the women in this novel are nothing more than “vessels”. It’s incredibly revolting – and revealing.

Will this reality come to pass? Will ‘modernity’ be rejected in the West, and will we go forward in retrograde toward a new Dark Ages  (for women, gays, the poor, liberals, disabled people, anyone not of the ruling class, basically)? Maybe. I wouldn’t bet against it. History is long and it’s mostly been shit for most people. We like to think we’ve been moving beyond that now, but in ‘Submission’, Houllebecq presents a credible and realistic case for reactionary success, and it’s a bold and scary prospect.

Recommended: More Wattpad Goodness

I’ve nearly completed half of my pledge to take a year off from writing fiction, and it’s helped that I’ve been swamped at work, putting in around 60 hours a week at the old open-floor-plan-paradise-prison that passes for the norm in Silicon Valley these days. With a partial clearing in the release schedule, though, I’ve found a bit of time to catch up and hunker down with some of my favorite writers on Wattpad.

@DawnAdrie – Rules of Escape – is a journey into the linked minds of otherwise institutionalized autistic young people. This story is quite original and succeeds very well in shifting perspective among several characters, some of whom are inside, and some of whom are outside the telepathic circle . There are abundant twists and turns and I’m genuinely excited every time a new chapter pops up in my mobile notifications because I never have any idea whose turn it’s going to be or how it’s going to advance the story.

@ShalonSims – The Dreaming: Dark Star Book Five – the next in an exciting and ambitious tale of a world where totalitarian rulers harness the power of dream walkers in a battle of unlikely factions, featuring the old and the young, the innocent and the suspect, the foolish and the wise, the human and the alien. There’s a lot to unpack in this and its related series, all well worth looking in to.

@LaraBlunte – Blame the Devil – she’s at it again. Yet another irresistible page-turner from the unstoppable @LaraBlunte, a writer of such talent and mystique that she even has me reading romance fiction, almost against my will, and enjoying it immensely, because of her great style and perspective. I always say that my favorite feature of reading is how it lets you remotely occupy the mind of another person. It’s always a treat visiting this one.

@MichaelGraeme – The Sea View Cafe – and speaking of treats, Michael is rolling out another instantly hypnotic story of individuals pulled along by their own incomprehensible inner forces. In other words, literature. Michael’s writing always reminds me of the classics, writers like Conrad and James, Thackery and Eliot. He’s a masterful stylist and quietly burrows you deep inside his characters’ souls. His The Price of Being with Sunita is still resonating, months after I finished reading it.

Highly recommended, all.

In a general note, I’ve enjoyed that past few weeks of having my last story, ‘How my Brained Ended up Inside this Box’, featured on Wattpad. It was even on the top row of the app for a few days there and got a bunch of ‘eyes’ looking at it (also thanks to the beautiful new cover someone made for me (I won’t mention their name here so they don’t get besieged with requests!). Another friend recently made some new covers for some of my other stories – what a great treat. I’m so grateful. But what I started out to say was that you have to enjoy these moments as they happen and not try to hang on to them forever. As a bookseller for many years I became accustomed to the rhythms of the business, and the cycles of sales enjoyed by books as they came and went throughout the years. You’d come across gems and want everyone to read them but their time is always limited. Whenever I think of ‘success’ in fiction I think of The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, an excellent writer who had several stories featured famously and one book which had its shining moment in the sun. His own moment, his life, was sadly far too short, ending in suicide. I believe we ought to love our time as best we can, and let the things we do, the things we create, have their own time, detach them from our selves, and let them go. They are not us. We have our own stories to live.

Recommended: Leena Krohn – Collected Fiction

If it were possible for a writer to be a major influence in your life in reverse chronological order, then I would say without a doubt that Leena Krohn is now one of my major influences, though I never heard of or read her before this past week. I think she would be 0kay with the concept. Her writing is a bright piece of a puzzle that’s been forming in my mind like a personal mandala over a period of decades, sitting alongside the Stanislaw Lem of Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, the Italo Calvino of Cosmicomics, the Macedonio Fernandez of The Novel of Eterna, the Cesar Aira of How I Became a Nun, the Julio Cortazar of Cronopios and Famas,and on down the line of the great absurdist/existentialist/philosophical/sci-fi-ish/masterful fiction writers that have every now and then burst upon my imaginary world and dazzled it with all-new impeccable fireworks. All of them I feel would be comfortable inside each others’ pages.

The Collection Fiction is packed full of treasures, novels and stories all in small byte-size pieces that add up to a polynomial of their wordcount. You could easily mistake it for one work altogether written over many years that’s sole intent is to open a window into a fascinating soul. A book is like a mirror, Georg Christoph once said, but some books are more translucent than others, and allow a depth perception in more dimensions than the visible.

In ‘Hakan and the x-creatures’, one of my favorite bits, Krohn describes how creatures in higher-dimensional spaces (say five, seven or even thirty-five dimensions) can know everything about those in the lower orders, but we lower ones can not even imagine them, yet they are certainly there, always present, never perceived. Throughout this particular novel (Pereat Mundis) an online advice counselor interacts with a man suffering from “eschatophobia” – the fear of the end of the world. The client’s communications are full of the possible end-time scenarios, while the counselor responds with trite advice about attending to one’s love life or perhaps volunteering in some do-gooder organization. They talk right past each other and neither takes notice of the other. It’s as infuriating and hilarious as any online comments section. I’m especially enjoying how she uses the same character (Hakan) for multiple characters – now he’s a hybrid human/chimp/wolf/goat, now he’s suffering from rapid aging syndrome, now he’s the eschatophobic client, now he’s a customer service rep for a cryogenics company – and why not? All the Hakans are wonderful!

These stories, along with their inventive playfulness and serious insights, are also beautifully written, charming and disarming. They make me happy and at the same time make me wish ‘if only I could do something like this’, wouldn’t that be great?

Recommended: The Price of Being … With Sunita

If only I were capable of giving a fine book the review it richly deserves, I would be doing that right now for ‘The Price of Being .. With Sunita’ by Michael Graeme (on Wattpad from the link above). Like many of Michael’s books, this story is classifiable as sci-fi/fantasy but is also literature in the classic sense. Michael is right there in my mind with the great patient chroniclers of human behavior, a Thackery or Zola for our time.

The novel begins with a very ordinary and even uncomfortable situation – a middle aged man is shyly ogling a beautiful woman. She, we soon discover, is far more than that. She is a being with powers, but far from simply serving as a metaphor or an archetypal goddess, Sunita is a complicated creature whose abilities raise difficult moral issues, the permutations and ramifications of which Michael carefully and thoroughly explores.

If you could do good for others, merely by wishing it, what would be the consequences? In a fabulous turn of wish fulfillment, Sunita is also noticing our poor, bland middle-aged dude, Derek. She believes he also has powers, and wants to train him in the ways. Derek is happy to follow along, he’s a puppy with a heart of gold and as they journey together in ways beyond mere mortals, they come across a series of obstacles, all of which are very much rooted in the present – terrorism, the surveillance state, racial profiling, and the lust of evil men, while at the same time encountering the limits of charity and good will.

Nothing is as easy at it seems, not even for those with magical powers. There is always a cost, a price to be paid, and sometimes the price can be ‘being’ itself.

Michael tells a great story and he writes with style, grace and patience. I was fortunate enough to be able to read the story as he was writing it, serially, eagerly anticipating the next chapter. It is now complete, and I believe he brought it off well. Highly recommended.

Recommended: The Sixty Five Years of Washington, by Juan Jose Saer

What I love most about literature is the rare experience of encountering a worthy mind. It’s not just about the story or the plot or the arc or the characters or the formula or the climax or the talent or the craft, it’s about how this other sees the world and expresses what they see. I want to know how their mind works, the connections it makes, the impressions it conveys. I don’t want to merely read to find out what’s going to happen, or how it’s all going to end, or what it’s going to make me feel. I don’t want to be nothing more than a passive subject operated upon as if mechanically by some technician who knows precisely how to manipulate my emotions. I can always watch a movie for that! When I read I want to come in contact with a mind through which I can discover new perspectives. This book – The Sixty Five Years of Washington, by Juan Jose Saer,  gave me such an experience.

I felt like I could live in this book, and it’s not something easily done. The structure of the story is simply two men walking together down a city street for less than an hour one morning, and the plot, if you can call it that, centers around their conversation about a birthday party that neither one attended. But I felt I was on that street with them, walking along beside them, listening not only to their words but to their internal digressions, their meandering thoughts, and feeling my way along with them through the pedestrian and vehicle traffic. The two men are not friends, just mutual acquaintances, who meet by accident and happen to be going the same way, but their worlds intersect and criss-cross on many levels. What matters in the book is, to put it in a word (or as the author says, “in two words, to be more precise”), “every things”.

There’s a lot I liked in the author’s style, the translation, the language, his “bag of tricks” so to speak, but ultimately I kept reading with excitement to see what he was going to say next, what he was going to make me see next, what new world I was going to be able to glimpse.

Recommended: The Conversations, by Cesar Aira

Cesar Aira has so much fun messing with his readers, but I fall for it every time. Here, in The Conversations, he starts us off with an erudite gentleman who enjoys ruminating over his recent chats with his various highbrow friends, so naturally we think we are in for something sophisticated and trenchant. He recalls one such conversation in which he pokes a little fun at a mistake in some crappy Hollywood film, where a peasant is caught with a Rolex on his wrist. How ridiculous, but these things happen. Our intellectual narrator is ready to move on to loftier topics, but his friend stops him and says, “what are you talking about? I saw that film and that was no mistake!” The next thing you know, Aira flings us all down one rabbit hole after another as our protagonist’s greatest fear may come true, that in fact his friends might turn out to be utter morons, in which case might not he be as well?

Someone less generous or more aggressive might have been pleased to discover that a friend of his was stupid. It would make him feel superior, safe in his narcissistic integrity, more intelligent than he thought: in a word, the winner. This was not the case for me. I felt depressed and distressed, like someone on the verge of losing something of great value.

As a famous American football coach (Jim Mora) once said, “you think you know, but you don’t know, and you never will”, and that is never more true than when reading Cesar Aira, from one page to the next.

Parade’s End: The Book and the Movie

I recently watched the BBC mini-series production of Parade’s End (by Ford Madox Ford) and liked it well enough that I wanted to read the book (or books – there are four which comprise the set). I got the sense that the book ought to be much better, because there seemed to be a lot of subtleties and complexities to the characters. It turns out to be more than that. The screenplay (written by Tom Stoppard) was confusing to me and as I read the book I realized that more than just the teleplay, the major fault of the show was in the stars (ha – a play on words on The Fault in the Stars, the book and movie and cultural event currently dominating this week in America). The stars were great, and that was the problem. Who, at this point, does not enjoy watching Benedict Cumberbatch do whatever? And Rebecca Hall was brilliant as Sylvia. Adelaide Clemens, as Valentine Wannop, was irresistible – but they were all too much. The main character, Tietjins, has zero to no charisma in the book. Cumberbatch is bursting with it. Sylvia is gorgeous, vain and cruel, but more shallow than played by Hall. And Miss Wannop is not a pure angel – a good person, yes, but a hard-working and somewhat serious young woman in the book. We liked the characters in the television series more than they should be “liked”, because we like the movie stars. The characters are not meant to be loved, they are meant to be experienced. They are complex, but not confused, and in literature – great literature – you can pull that off. Books let you three-dimensionalize in your mind. Movies and TV by their nature flatten and level things out. I still enjoyed watching Parade’s End, but reading it is a treasure.