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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Charis and Kristin at Wuthering Expectations

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I am so pleased that two of my books have been discussed at the stellar Wuthering Expectations! Please take a look at the new post on Charis in the World of Wonders. See posts on both Charis and The Book of the Red King HERE.

Novelist Eugene Garber on The Book of the Red King

Illumination by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Pb available via indies, Amazon etc.
Hc & pb available via  Phoenicia Publishing
I have read The Book of the Red King. It is an extraordinary work. It put me in mind of how much I enjoyed Yeats’s early fairyland poems. The poems remain steadfastly otherworldly. They transport the reader to an existence apart. I’m reminded of James’s definition of a romance vs. a novel. In the former the writer cuts the lines that tether the fiction to the earth. Seems to me you do, but there are occasional details that let us know that you know there’s a world below, one more familiar to us and one with real pain. I found this in pages 102-109 and liked the modulation of tone. The poems have their own rich mythology, but I appreciated the slant or even explicit references to Christianity—grail, baptismal basin, baptism by fire, phoenix and no doubt others. The language of the work is rich and often exotic. I especially, though, responded to the varied rhythms. I’m no good at prosody, but I think I found lots of variety—iambic regularity, heavy beats approaching Old English strong stress, and long liquid melodious lines and no doubt more. I especially admire your frequent use of enjambment and the way it moves us across lines. Also stanza forms and a great variety of line breaks.

Some more thematic things. I was often wondering, does the Fool have a self or is he just a pastiche of jester-like roles. On page 27, in an especially beautiful poem, is an image of wholeness in a face even as it’s broken by sunlight and water. This is reassuring. At the bottom of page 111 the matter is in doubt. In “The Silver Cord” an even deeper doubt arises—the specter of nothingness. “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” Which reminds me that your allusions—Shakespeare, Milton etc. are always apt. So if the book is really the King’s and not the Fool’s (P.127), a proposition not easily accepted given the space given the Fool, then the Fool’s ontological status is one of total dependency. On what? Some God-like presence, or something less? Meanwhile, eternity winks at us. On page 44 we learn that wentletrap can sing a song of endlessness and thus potentially liberate the world of the Fool from time and change. And in the wonderful “Great Work of Time” we have some assurance that our microcosmos is indeed a miniature of a greater cosmic reality. But at the End of “Fool’s Sacrifice,” in a rare moment of metapoetry, we must face the possibility that the whole book is just words and nothing more. Or an art critic might say the book is painterly, its brilliant surfaces defying a downward gaze. Thus, much is left in the balance, not to be resolved in this book or in life.

This is as far as I can go except to say that I think “Raven Castle” is a masterpiece.

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Portion of a letter, 
shared by permission of Eugene Garber.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Go, little pandemic book!

Hurrah for reviews!

At The Wine-Dark Sea, Melanie Bettinelli has published a long, thoughtful review of Charis in the World of Wonders that dives into wonders, grace, character oppositions (sometimes as structure), transcendentals, freedom, language, narrative mode, variation in "Puritan" thought among late seventeenth-century characters, the wilderness, and beauty. I'm glad that she found something very different from what she expected, and that she tells us about what she did find with such care. Every writer wants reviews that explore a book and extend a reader's sympathy to its aims, and this extended treatment is just that.

A couple of clips:
The period vocabulary never feels forced or strange not like a gimmick; but rather, like a key that unlocks the door into the past. The novel never makes the mistake of imbuing the heroine with an anachronistic worldview that will be more familiar and safe for the 21st century reader. Rather, it invites us to enter in to Charis’ world of wonders, a place rich and strange and not always comfortable, a true foreign country and not at all like my current day Massachusetts.
I’m not usually a fan of first person narration, but Charis employs it to good effect. The novel is as much a portrait of a soul as the story of a journey and the exploration of a time and place. Charis’ internal life is rich and poetic, informed by the poetry of Anne Bradstreet, the Bible, and the classical literature to which her father has introduced her— she’s studied Greek and Hebrew alongside her brothers. Youmans is a poet and Charis’ narration is thick with metaphor and imagery and the language often has the heightened quality of poetry. But it never feels overwrought or strained. Rather it feels like the very texture of the thoughts of a highly literate woman who, formed by all she has read, sees the world through a lens of language and metaphor. 

Charis means grace and this book is very much about the movement of grace in a fallen world of sin. I was surprised at how much the novel’s worldview was imbued with faith— you don’t often find that kind of faith— simple, unalloyed with skepticism and untainted with hypocrisy— in contemporary literary novels. What’s more, in addition to the expected faith that had the familiar “Puritain” strains of fascination with sin, the devil, witchcraft, and hellfire; Charis also has a faith that is more familiar to me: one that is infused with a deep awareness of grace and mercy of a loving God. Certainly Charis is aware of those in her community who emphasize sin and the presence of the devil, but her personal vision of God is as a God of wonders, a God of love and mercy. And much of the drama and beauty of the novel is watching her navigate between those different worldviews (the Satan-haunted and the grace-haunted) which are both present not only in Charis herself but also in her community. 
There's a great deal more, so please fly here to read more. I don't usually see reviews that talk about faith animating a character, about the structural use of oppositional characters, or about the world (as in her treatment of Hortus) as a symbolic place. And as I have long loved Hawthorne, I was pleased to see that she tackles the book's relationship to works like The Scarlet Letter: "a very different thing, going in a 180 degree different direction."

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A few comments plucked from the past five days...
two writers, one actor, one painter...
on twitter and facebook...
used by permission

sebastien doubinsky @sebdoubinsky: I absolutely love @marlyyoumans's universe. If you don't know it yet, you should really give it a try. Beautiful, magical and thought-provoking. 9 June 2020

Chris Phillips @MobyProf: A bit of a sequel to my tweet a couple of weeks ago about my latest book-buying: @marlyyoumans’ Charis in the World of Wonders is THAT GOOD. The pacing is masterful, the world is pungent & tangible, & Charis’s inner life is exquisitely done. Thank you, Marly! 8 June 2020

Patricia Heaton @PatriciaHeaton: I’m loving your book "Charis in the World of Wonders!" What a unique voice you've created!  4 June 2020

Mary Bullington, painter and poet: Last night, I started Marly Youmans’ new novel, “Charis in the World of Wonders" and was 63 pages deep when I made myself turn off the light. In midst of an Indian attack on her tiny Puritan settlement in the spring of 1690, a teenager begins to tell her life story, even as she makes a harrowing escape into the forest with her 7-year-old sister. Charis's lens on the events and people of her time is devastating. At once innocent and clear-sighted, she speaks to all that she sees, imagines, and feels. Parts read as though Goya’s Disasters of War --“This I saw”-- were told not by a mature and cynical court painter, but by a devout, well educated young woman who has no choice but to observe and participate. 9 June 2020

Image by Lizza Littlewort
The second of the "smalls and tinies"
(fictions and fiction-like pieces)
out or forthcoming at The North American Anglican 
over ten months

And if you're interested in current online poems, look through recent posts...

Friday, June 05, 2020

Clive in the mood for Thaliad

Art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
See Clive's posts on Thaliad here
Book design by Elizabeth Adams

in pb via indies, BookshopAmazon, etc.,
and in both hc/pb from Phoenicia Publishing

Clive, this morning in Wales: 'Ark', a chapter heading from Marly Youman's poem/novel, 'Thaliad'. I set out on my 'Thaliad' adventure with some trepidation, wary of its author's description in several e-mails of being a post-apocalypse-themed epic-poem. Ahead of reading it I wondered what I might offer to add to its words, but as I worked through the manuscript making my notes, I became completely lost in it. Though I've loved all the works I've illustrated for Marly, this is a personal favourite. It was also the first book in which I felt I really began to understand how to 'decorate' the pages of a text. I'm going to return to it when I've finished my current read. I feel it's what I need right now. It was published by Phoenicia Publishing and is still available from them.

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I'm glad that Thaliad is still in print, still trickling out into the world, and I'm happy that Clive thinks it right-for-right-now. (We need to outlaw the phrase, "trying times," and a few others that have sprung up like dandelions. Well, I don't mean to insult those little starry suns in our yards and meadows. How about these? Like Japanese knotweed. Like bishop's weed. Like unwanted periwinkle.)