Monday, May 31, 2021

"Invisible Ink" by Patrick Modiano


Jean Eyben is a young private detective, working for an older, far more experienced boss in a detective agency. His boss gives him an assignment from a new client – find a missing woman, or at least find out what happened to her. 

Jean dutifully undertakes the job, but he soon learns two things. One, so little is known about her or her last whereabouts that every lead is a blind alley. And two, his boss certainly knows more than he initially let on and appears to have held back certain key pieces of information that might have made the assignment easier.

 

The search ends in failure. Jean does not find the missing woman.

 

Three decades later, Jean is prompted to resume the search. His boss is long gone; the trail of the missing woman is absolutely cold, with places, buildings, and people gone or irrevocably changed. But the no-longer-young detective feels what is almost a compulsion to resume the search. And this time, in spite of all the obstacles from the passing of 30 years, Jean begins to learn and see things he didn’t as a much younger man.

 

Patrick Modiano

Invisible Ink
 by Nobel Prizewinner Patrick Modiano is the fascinating, at times riveting story of Jean’s search for the mysterious Noelle Lefebvre. It is, and it isn’t, a detective story, for like many literary novels, it is the story of man really searching for himself.

 

Born in 1945, Modiano has published more than 35 novels, novellas, and screenplays. He’s known for using the genre of the detective novel as a platform for creating more literary fiction. A bestselling author in France, he’s received numerous awards and recognitions for his writing, including the Nobel Prize for literature in 2014. 

 

Invisible Ink is a captivating story of a private detective conducting his own cold case and slowly realizing how much of that case involves himself. 

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Once a stranger


Ephesians 2:11-22

You were once a stranger, 
a stranger in a strange land,
cut off from the living,
wandering in the desert,
in the wilderness, and you
barely knew it.

Then a stranger found you,
gave you rest, bathed
your wounds, a metaphorical
good Samaritan, and you
were the man injured
by the roadside.

He brought oneness,
making you whole
and wholly a part.

Photograph by Perry C via Unsplash. Used with permissio

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - May 29, 2021


I once worked for a CEO who loved people in the abstract but was callous (at best) when dealing directly with people as individuals. Ronni Kurtz at For the Church says there’s a lesson about loving people as opposed to loving the idea of people – from one of the brothers Karamazov.  

We know the story of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII and mother to the eventual Elizabeth I. Henry had her executed for alleged adultery and other reasons, the main one being she had not given birth to a son. In her last days before execution, she kept a prayer book with her, and it turns out that the book contains hidden inscriptions suggesting how it was preserved. David Kindy at Smithsonian Magazine has the story.

 

Glenn Arbery at The Imaginative Conservative argues that contemporary culture is encouraging cowardice, and it is a dangerous development.

 

Sometimes we don’t need complex explanations of the familiar. Sometimes, a simple explanation may be the most insightful. David Qaoud at Gospel Relevance provides a simple explanation of the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer.

 

More Good Reads

 

Life and Culture

 

Rapid-Onset Revolution – Colin Smothers at The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

 

Waking up from “wokeness” – New Criterion.

 

The secret university – Jessica Douglas-Home at The Critic Magazine.

 

The Revolution Comes to Julliard – Heather Mac Donald at CityJournal.

 

Faith

 

What Exactly Is “Sola Scriptura” Protecting Us Against? – Michael Kruger at Canon Fodder.

 

Karl Marx and Charles Spurgeon’s Epic Struggle for Souls – Larry Alex Taunton at The American Spectator.

 

How to Lose a Sense of Wonder – Debra El-Ramey at Pure and Simple.

 

Poetry

 

Sunset – Michael Miller at Society of Classical Poets.

 

First Communion – Adam Zagazewski via Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).

 

A Sonnet for the Venerable Bede – Malcolm Guite.

 

Adrienne Rich’s Solitudes – Ed Pavlic at Boston Review.

 

The Empty Bed – Phil Rogers at Society of Classical Poets.

 

British Stuff

 

A Door in Cornhill – The Gentle Author at Spitalfields Life.

 

Fifty Years Since the Stepney School Strike – Alan Dein at Spitalfields Life.

 

Holy Water – We the Kingdom



Painting: Girl Reading, oil on canvas (circa 1861) by Seymour Joseph Guy (1824-1910)

Friday, May 28, 2021

Live men running


After Ephesians 2:1-10

It comes as a spark,
a change from without,
a touch from the fingertips
of God, a gift, creating
life from death, life
from grace, life from
community of the saved,
plucked from death
to sit in heavenly places.

Don’t miss the central point:
Grace.
That’s what life is about:
Grace.
That is what inspired
the fingertips to move:
Grace.
Nothing that we do,
nothing that we could do,
could rival this gift:
Grace,
the power of live men running.

Photograph by Braden Collum via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

"Phantom Echo" by Eldon Farrell


Nathan Miller and Tommy Roquefort are police officers in Union City, Virginia, called to a crime scene. A young woman from Syria, in the United States on a student visa, has been found dead in a really seedy part of town. She doesn’t belong there, which is one part of the mystery. She appears to have been strangled. Her dorm room has been ransacked. All signs point to her brother, who just happened to be in the U.S. at the time and whom the young woman seemed to fear. But a neighbor’s video shows someone else leaving the scene of the crime. 

Miller and Roquefort are known for unorthodox methods, bending the rules. and bad jokes. They drive their boss crazy. They drive each other crazy. But because Miller is absolutely convinced the brother is responsible, the two take some time off – and fly to the Syrian family’s hometown of Aleppo. After some rather wild doings there, and barely escaping from both terrorists and the police, the two make their way to London.

 

Because something big is coming down, and London is the place where it’s supposed to happen.

 

Eldon Farrell

Phantom Echo
 by Eldon Farrell tells the story of Miller, Roquefort, and the potential destruction of Britain’s largest city. It’s an action-packed thriller, so action-packed that it often feels like reading a movie script, including a nail biter of a cliffhanging climax. The story is billed as a “sci-fi thriller,” but there’s very little “sci-fi” and a whole lot of “thriller.”

 

Farrell has written numerous thriller novels, including DawnSingularityResistanceHorde ProtocolRealm of ShadowsUnitedStillness, and Taken. An accountant by training and trade, he describes himself as an unapologetic fan of DC Comics and a “child of the 80s.”

 

With Phantom Echo, be prepared for rough language. And be prepared for a non-stop thrilling ride that almost leaves you breathless.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

“Unpaused Poems” by Alice Scott-Ferguson


Poetry is always personal, personal to the poet in the subject and expression and personal to the reader in the response and understanding. Unpaused Poems by Alice Scott-Ferguson exemplifies this. The poems explore hurt, hope, sadness and depression, celebration, friends, and theology. And they take readers on a journey of exploration, tugging us out of our comfort zones. 

Consider the sadness in the death of one’s father, yet discovering there’s also joy.

 

The Open Grave

 

Waves are lapping on the smooth white sands

   he so often strolled

on a day in the budding, promising month of May

   the first green blush on the fields he ploughed so often

He loved the sounds and smells of the living earth

   of the newly turned turf awaiting the seed

A small group of the people he loved

   huddle by the open grave on this May morning

 

We are bereft

 

The casket, the dirt waiting to receive the remains

   to cover him in the dark dirt of his island home

Then the larks—a pair of them soaring and sweeping—

   trill over the open grave

We lift our heads to see the song

   of a pair of birds, a pair of lovers reunited!

The light of heaven fills our sorrowing souls

   My mother and father together again

   after thirty long earthly years

 

Two images in this poem are particularly striking. First is the father’s love of the “living earth,”

newly turned to be planted with seed, and the dirt (also living earth) that will cover his grave. And second is the pair of birds, soaring overhead, an image of two people reuniting after a long separation of 30 years. The earth receives its seed, ashes to ashes and dust to dust, while the heavens express eternal love.

 

Alice Scott-Ferguson

All of the poems are personal. Some bring a smile – like when contrasting one’s perspective of a toothless smile when it’s expressed by a baby and when it’s expressed by a grandfather. Others reflect deep experience and prompt deep thought, like the gift of having a disabled child. Even the section on “Takes on Theology” are intensely personal, reflecting the personal experience of a miracle by Jesus, his final words on the cross, and seeking God in pain. 

 

Scott-Ferguson is the author of Pausing in the Passing Places: PoemsMothers Can’t Be Everywhere, But God IsReconcilable Differences (co-author with Nancy Parker Brummett), and Little Women, Big God. She was educated as a nurse in Scotland, holds a B.S. degree in Health Services, and works primarily in the psychiatric field. She was also the founder of a women’s ministry in the U.K. She now lives in Arizona.

 

Unpaused Poems is what I might call a “somber delight,” surprising and informing in so many different ways. Scott-Ferguson looks at life with a practiced eye, and she finds the profound in the simple. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Poets and Poems: Loren Broaddus and “Joe DiMaggio Moves Like Liquid Light”


Loren Broaddus writes poems about baseball, and life.

Stories, and poems, about baseball are often about something else entirely. Baseball, at least in America, is a filter, or a picture frame, for many things other than a sport – our ideas of who Americans are; what we think about our country; and why playing by the rules is so important, because rules reduce the playing field to skill and talent. Baseball is also a way we consider our childhood, those neighborhood sandlot baseball games, those baseball cards we collected or attached with clothespins to our bicycle wheels, the intense discussions that would go on about the World Series.

Joe DiMaggio Moves Like Liquid Light by Loren Broaddus is a collection of poems about baseball, but, like baseball, it’s about a lot more. Baseball is how we look backward at where we come from, how we remember significant events in our lives, how we hoard treasured memories, how we understand history, and how we understand ourselves.

 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, May 24, 2021

“At the End of the Matinee” by Keiichiro Hirano


Satoshi Makino is a classical guitarist, but not just any classical guitarist. From a young age, he was always a prodigy, playing and performing his music with a skill that was breathtaking. He has never married, too focused on his music and his career. He’s now approaching 40, and he’s no longer a “young” prodigy. But his music is still enthralling. 

Yoko Komine is a journalist. She’s based in Paris, has had two rotations covering the war in Iraq, and is currently off-assignment. She had her mother heard the 18-year-old Makino perform in Paris and were enchanted. She’s now approaching 41, engaged to an American economist, and preparing to begin a new chapter in her life.

 

The guitarist and the reporter meet one night at a dinner in Tokyo. The attraction is almost instantaneous, if left unspoken. But both seem to know, even if they don’t act on their feelings. 

 

And so begins At the End of the Matinee by Keiichiro Hirano, translated by Julia Winters Carpenter. It is the second of Hirano’s novels to be translated into English, the first being A Man

It is the story of two people, separated by thousands of miles, previous commitments, and even deliberate deception, who know they love each other but seem fated to remain separated. It is a moving story, often heartbreaking but always true to itself. 

 

Keiichiro Hirano

Like A Man, it is a story about identity, duty, commitment, honor, and love. It’s a story of how easily love can seem to slip away, how self-understanding often must change, and how nothing involving relationships is ever simple.

 

Hirano received a law degree from Kyoto University in Japan. In 1999, he submitted his unpublished novel Eclipse to a literary competition, and it won the Akutagawa Prize, going on to sell more than 400,000 copies. His novels include Farewell to the DepartedRipples of the Dripping ClocksDawnFill in the BlanksThe Transparent LabyrinthAt the End of the MatineeA Man, and others. He’s also published several collections of essays and interviews, and he’s been deeply involved in art and music. A Man won the 2019 Yomiuri Prize for Literature.

 

I worried at how At the End of the Matinee might end, but the ending is absolutely perfect. It’s a beautiful story, beautifully told.

 

Related:

 

A Man by Keiichiro Hirano.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Dead men walking


After Ephesians 2:1-10

It’s rather stark and jolting
to be called dead, dead
men walking, following
the pied piper, whoever
he might be at the moment,
or following the owner
of the pied piper, the source
of disobedience and lust
and desire and violence.

It’s rather stark and jolting
to be called children of wrath,
just like everyone else,
nothing special about us, 
children of wrath in our DNA,
our inmost self, our heart
of hearts, our every thought,

until.

Photograph by Jose Lopez Franco via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - May 22, 2015


You might have known that Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the only speaker for the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg in 1863. Speechwriters (of which I was one) love to tell the story of how the featured orator for the occasion was actually Edward Everett, who spoke for two hours. Contemporaries were impressed with Everett’s speech, while they were surprised that Lincoln only spoke for two minutes. Of course, it was Lincoln’s speech that ultimately became the best-known one.  

But I didn’t know that there was another speaker, Secretary of State William Seward, who spoke for 40 minutes. His speech was forgotten, until it was rediscovered in a box in Wyoming 160 years after the event. And it’s becoming known as the “radical Gettysburg address.”

 

Matti Friedman, a former reporter for the Associated Press in Gaza, penned a longish background article on the recent Hamas vs. Israel conflict. She also talks about what AP didn/t / wouldn’t cover. It’s been several years since I began to discount anything published by AP, which is a shame, because they used to be a fairly authoritative source that was better than most newspapers.

 

Almost 50 years ago, when the United States celebrated the nation’s bicentennial, the company I worked for bought air time on CBS – one minute a day for two years – and told the network it wanted short summaries of important events associated with the American Revolution. And thus, “Bicentennial Minutes” was born. Eric Sterner at Emerging Revolutionary War Era has the story. (I can’t even imagine that same program happening today.)

 

More Good Reads

 

Art

 

To Plow His Furrow in Peace: Jean-Fran├žois Millet – Nathan Beacom at Plough Quarterly.

 

Culture

 

Funding the Resistance – David Deavel at The Imaginative Conservative.

 

The Role of Profit in Responding to COVID-19 – Hugh Whelchel at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.

 

The good leader delusion – Patrick Hess at The Critic Magazine.

 

What is Critical Race Theory? – Samuel Sey at Slow to Write.

 

Americans and ‘Cancel Culture’: Where Some See Calls for Accountability, Others See Censorship, Punishment – Pew Research.

 

Labour of Love: Cultivating grounds for hope and good work – Jeffrey Bilbro at Comment Magazine.

 

British Stuff

 

A Brief History of Change – Gillian Tindall at Spitalfields Life.

 

News Media

 

The Future of Social Media is Private – Chris Martin at Terms of Service.

 

American Stuff

 

Burying Their Friends: The VMI Cadets at New Market on May 17, 1864 – Sarah Kay Bierle at Emerging Civil War.

 

Poetry

 

 I, Judas – Jeff Kemper at Society of Classical Poets.

 

Faith

 

Grace as Deep as the Sea – Greg Lucas at Wrestling with an Angel.

 

Quick, hide your Bibles! – Lori McLatchie at The Critic Magazine.

 

Writing and Literature

 

‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ on Netflix: Everything We Know So Far – Kasey Moore at What’s on Netflix.

 

The Case for ‘War and Peace’ and Rereading – Bryan Van Dyke at The Millions.

 

Dear Alice – Matt Cerini, CGI Animated Short Films



Painting: Young man reading and writing, Harry Anderson, illustration for Good Housekeeping Magazine, 1940s.

Friday, May 21, 2021

In a cell, daily


After Ephesians 1:15-23

What is it to sit in a cell,
day after day, waiting
for some movement,
some progress, some
anything on your case,
but hearing only 
the silence of the night,
the scurrying of the rats,
the groaning and nearby
whimpering, punctuated
only by occasional 
shouts of guards and
slamming of doors?
It is endless waiting,
an existence of gray, 
until news is heard,
news from a thousand
miles away, news that
serves to remind that
a work once done
bears fruit and returns
as many more works
still being done, that
a visit years ago has
left growth and
flourishing behind it,
tangible expressions
of faith and love,
and you’re sitting
in that cell, desolation
crowding your soul,
and you hear of that
good thing, that life,
and you know that
your life is not in vain,
that this waiting, too, 
has its purpose and is
itself another good work.

Photograph by Michael Jasmund via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

"The Grave Tattoo" by Val McDermid


The Grave Tattoo
 by mystery novelist Val McDermid is one of the most unusual mysteries I’ve read in a very long time, perhaps the most unusual ever. The main narrative is based on a true story and a long-held rumor connected to that story. The actual crimes, when they occur, happen very late in the story. And while drawn very well and in great detail, it’s difficult to muster sympathy, or empathy, for any of the characters. 

That said, the story is so well done that you’ll read it to the end.

 

Jane Gresham is a university lecturer in London, specializing in William Wordsworth and the Romantic poets. Her parents and brother live in the Lake Country – Wordsworth county – and that’s where Jane grew up. A long-held belief by people in the area concerns Wordsworth and a fellow school classmate, Fletcher Christian, he of Mutiny on the Bounty fame. The legend is that Christian returned to England, made contact with Wordsworth, and Wordsworth wrote down Christian’s story and transformed it into a poem, one never found. 

 

Jane is ambitious; she’s seen a hint in a misfiled letter in the archives as the Wordsworth Museum in Grasmere, and she knows that if she can find it, her career is set. As it is, she has to hold down two jobs to make ends meet and live in a council house in London. She’s been “adopted” by a 13-year-old girl named Tennille who lives there as well; the girl hates school but loves poetry. Her mother is dead; she’s being raised by an aunt. Her father is rumored to be the gangster who runs all the illegal activities in the council housing project.

 

Then a “bog man” is discovered, a body found in the peat bogs common in the Lake country and preserved. This one is about 200 years old and bears tattoos common in the South Sea Islands. Jane, and others, think it may well be Fletcher Christian. She convinces her university boss to let her search for the Wordsworth manuscript and returns home. Then things get really interesting. Jane’s not the only one looking for the lost manuscript. And people begin to die.

 

Val McDermid

If there’s a characteristic common to all of the characters in the story, it’s ambition, and often unbridled ambition. Jane wants to make her name. Her brother Matthew wants to get some of the credit; he and Jane aren’t on good terms. Jane’s former boyfriend is deceitful. The forensic anthropologist investigating the bog man wants to make her name, too. No one really stops to wonder at the ruthlessness masked and sometimes shown to elderly people who might know something, or some the barely legal activities the characters engage in. Even 13-year-old Tennille is on the run for trying to cover up a crime. 

 

Yet The Grave Tattoo is so compelling that you continue to read on. Is there a manuscript? Will it be found? Is the bog man Fletcher Christian? And who’s killing people? Like I said, it’s an unusual mystery story.

 

A native of Scotland, McDermid attended St. Hilda’s College in Oxford and spent 14 years as a journalist in Devon, Glasgow, and Manchester. Her first novel was published in 1987, and she left her journalism career in 1991 to write full-time. Her crime novels have sold more than 16 million copies worldwide and been translated into 40 languages. She lives in Manchester and Edinburgh. The Grave Tattoo was originally published in 2006.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Poets and Poems: John Martin Finlay and “Dense Poems & Socratic Light”


Reading the poems of John Martin Finlay is like meeting someone you should have known, figuratively and literally. 

Finlay (1941-1991) received his B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Alabama. For his Ph.D., he chose Louisiana State University because of Donald Stanford, then-editor of LSU’s Southern Review. He enrolled in 1970 – when I was a sophomore at LSU. We never met, but we likely came close a few times. I was a journalism major, taking two courses in English literature – the ones the English majors took. And I read the Southern Review

 

But I moved in undergraduate journalism and campus political circles; Finlay moved in English, literary and graduate school circles. We likely passed each other in Allen Hall, the building where most of the English classes were taught and where the professors had their offices. But we never met.

 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, May 17, 2021

"The Garden House" by Linda Mahkovec


Miranda has turned 50, and she’s having something of a mid-life crisis. Happily married to Ben and living in a home she loves in Seattle, her two children are grown and both recently moved away. She’s considering returning to the art she loved in her youth but keeps putting it off. Her husband and her friends offer advice; it’s well-meaning but leaves her dissatisfied. A visit to drop a donation off at a homeless shelter for teens leaves her confused after sharp words from one of the girls there.  

She loves her garden. And she loves the garden house, a small two-story structure her kids used for play and parties. But it’s empty, not unlike what she feels about her life.

 

She begins to have dreams about threatened children. There’s a boy and a girl, and they’re both in danger. Miranda (and Ben, when she tells him) writes them off as a response to the anxiety and dissatisfaction she’s feeling. But the dreams continue.

 

When a young professor rents the garden house for two months, Miranda doesn’t at first know whether to be pleased or not. She likes William Priestly, and he’s a quiet, keep-to-himself tenant. But her dreams come to be associated with him, and Miranda worries that something is clearly wrong.

 

Linda Mahkovec

The Garden House
 by Linda Mahkovec is a slowly building suspense story that avoids becoming a super-charged thriller. I’d call it “quiet suspense,” one that raises questions about dreams, personal crises, and how the past controls our lives.

 

Mahkovec is the author of seven novels in the Christmastime Series, set during the World War II period, and two short story collections, Seven Tales of Love and The Dreams of Youth. She’s currently working on her next book, The Tower: A Small Town Tale of Dreams. A native Midwesterner, she holds a Ph.D. degree in Victorian literature and lives in New York City.

 

The Garden House tells a realistic story of a woman dealing with significant changes in her life, unsure as to what direction she should go, overlaid with dreams of danger involving children.