"You humans are practiced executioners." Zanti Leader, The Outer Limits
Rebecca Lloyd's collection from Tartarus Press, 'Mercy and Other Stories,' shows that humans need no knives to inflict hurt or pain, and that narratives need not have monsters to show the monstrous emotions of which humanity is so clearly capable.
Our own minds prove to be a perfect breeding ground for the fantastic, a place where cause is irrelevant even though effect is irrevocable. Our knives and monsters are ever ready, and as real as we need them to be.
Lloyd's approach in the stories here involves a careful matching of narrator, prose style and plot. The stories veer in and out of reality and the fantastic with utter aplomb as to any expectations the reader might bring along. After all, every world in our mind is as real as can be. You cannot argue with our emotional perceptions. If we're certain that a legendary monster has stolen our spouse, one need only be reminded that jealousy legendarily has no bounds. This is not to say that Lloyd is shy about writing to a fantastic premise, but rather, that she infuses all the stories here with an all-too-human frailty.
For the most part, you'll find stories on the shorter side in 'Mercy,' and the extremely well-crafted aspect of them rises slowly to our attention. The title story takes a cue from the Fortean Times and just about every newspaper you've ever read to get inside the mind of devotion. "The Stone" invests a most ordinary object with properties that only human emotions could imagine. It's an extremely creepy vision of city life. But Lloyd brings a gentleness to the prose and narrative that's disarming.
Readers who want to sleep the night without disturbance will want to schedule their reading of "The Meat Freezer" for midday. Like many of the stories here, there's a certain opacity at work at first. By the time the story finishes, you might wish it were still in place. It's a gripping reading experience, but definitely not for the faint of heart.
While most of the stories are certainly in the shorter form, Lloyd excels in longer stories as well. "Gone to the Deep," a story of re-location and dislocation and loss, crafts an evocative landscape that births a glorious, dangerous vision. "Maynard's Mountain" is actually pretty funny as well as a gritty, grotty brand of disturbing. "All That Follows" twists up a love story, while "The Reunion" does the same to family.
The stories collected in 'Mercy' are excitingly, invitingly, engagingly human. With each tale, Lloyd offers us the premise that our hearts are a mystery. As her storytellers reveal what lies in their hearts, as their voices seep into our minds, as their emotions become ours, we gradually realize that mirrors indeed show no mercy.
12-30-14:Kathy Freston 'Quantum Wellness'
For an upcoming podcast focusing on health, science and spirit, I was asked to interview Kathy Freston. To prepare for the interview, I read two books of hers; reviews follow.
The self-improvement genre is ever bountiful. We are lucky if we're somewhere between being profoundly unhappy with who we are or simply ever seeking to become better. Kathy Freston's approach in 'Quantum Wellness' is holistic, which in itself is not new. Nor, to be certain, are many of the components she discusses.
What is new is her happy ability to combine brevity and variety in the service of not suggesting that there is any single solution to making our lives better. For all that the word "quantum" conjures up our most incomprehensible branch of physics, here the words has other connotations. To my mind, 'Tipping Pont Wellness" might be a better description of what Freston is after. She is simply suggesting that the upshot of many, small, actually makeable change can be that much sought-after quantum leap.
Freston is nothing if not straightforward. She begins the book with a brief meditation on just what happiness might be, then follows up with suggestions on how to use the book. She then lists what for her are the "Eight Pillars of Wellness": meditation, visualization, fun activities, conscious eating, self-work, spiritual practice, and service. RaEach of these very reasonable concepts gets a nice once-over. Then it's on to "Clearing the Way," "Laying the Groundwork," "Overcoming Obstacles," and "Making the Leap." Tally-ho!
Freston takes herself seriously enough to offer sound advice, search for science to back up her suggestions, quote experts in the various fields early and often, and use everyday logic and arguments to back up her strategy of incremental change. She uses analogy and metaphor well, and does not overreach. This comes easily with the main thrust of her book, which is that small changes, easily made, can add up to big results. Stated in this review that may seem obvious, but as a reading experience, Freston knows how to lead a reader along a variety of paths that balance intelligence and simplicity.
Freston is also keen enough to realize that not everything works for everyone. She emphasizes trying what works best, coming back again to what does not, and in general, making and keeping your goals attainable. She makes a strong and important case for spiritual well-being, eating well, and quite importantly, and uniquely, having fun. If you like the idea that having fun is an important part of self-improvement and a happier lifestyle, then Kathy Freston's 'Quantum Wellness' is definitely a book that you can work with. In fact, no matter what your mind set, 'Quantum Wellness' has something to say worth hearing, worth reading, and it does so with admirable succinctness.
12-29-14:Kathy Freston Embraces 'The Lean'
Series of Successive Approximations
Ever since reading what was then called 'The Confessions of Zeno' (but has since been re-translated and-retitled 'Zeno's Conscience') by Italo Svevo, I've been a fan of what I understood as "Zeno's paradox." I understood this to mean that in order to get anywhere, you have to go halfway there. You then have to cover half the remaining distance, and so on, infinitely, assuring that you can never arrive.
Svevo is a fantastic and highly under-rated writer, but I digress, assuring you that I have not yet even actually begun to review the book at hand. I shall, by increments, get to the point, for increments are themselves the point in the latest work from Kathy Freston, author of 'Quantum Wellness.' For all that the former was a Mission Statement for incremental self-improvement, this time around Freston offers the polar opposite.
'The Lean' proves to also be a deceptive title, though the follow on, 'A Revolutionary (and Simple!) 30-Day Plan for Healthy, Lasting Weight Loss,' gives a better idea. Still, Freston is not talking about "lean" as in "thin" or "low in fat." She's talking bout "leaning into" change, one do-able bit at a time. In this book, she takes a very practical how-to approach. For each of thirty days, Freston suggests one simple change you can make to your behavior or your diet. The upshot of all these half-journeys may not cover the hole distance but it is quite likely to get you somewhere.
Freston starts out simple — drink water. She pretty much keeps it simple as well, but she's definitely leaning into a vegan lifestyle. While I am thoroughly omnivorous st this point in my eating career, her inclinations in this direction manage to be thoughtful without being strident. For that alone, I have to think that there's more here than the sum of the parts — but that is the point.
Freston's chapters are short, easily read, and her changes are not difficult to implement. She emphasizes flexibility, not rigidity. She offers and suggests change across a wide variety of platforms, many of which will be familiar to readers of 'Quantum Wellness.' If you like the ideas in 'Quantum Wellness' then you'll like the practical approach in 'The Lean.' Even if you don't end up with runway model good looks, the chances are you'll make some sort of pleasing changes. And that, according to Zeno, will get you halfway there.
New to the Agony Column
09-18-15: Commentary : William T. Vollman Amidst 'The Dying Grass' : An Epic Exploration of Simultaneity
08-21-15: Agony Column Podcast News Report : Senator Claire McCaskill is 'Plenty Ladylike' : Internalizing Determination to Overcome Sexism [Incudes Time to Read EP 211: Claire McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike, plus A 2015 Interview with Senator Claire McCaskill]
Agony Column Podcast News Report : Emily Schultz Unleashes 'The Blondes' : A Cure by Color [Incudes Time to Read EP 210: Emily Schultz, The Blondes, plus A 2015 Interview with Emily Schultz]