Circus Elephants Are Free

Yesterday, after 145 years, was the last elephant act for Ringling Bros. circus.  Good.  It’s about time. How we have abused these majestic creatures for our own profit and amusement is unconscionable. I wrote about it here.  However, there are still plenty of circuses that force elephants to perform under the most cruel and deplorable conditions.  Performing at all, never mind the conditions, is cruel in and of itself.  

If you want to help, please consider giving to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.  It rescues circus and zoo elephants who are too old to turn a profit for its masters.  It’s a wonderful cause.  Also, in a bit of shameless promotion, I’ve designed a simple t-shirt that makes the point that elephants don’t belong in circuses.  You can get one by clicking here.  

Hell Freezes Over: Frost’s “Fire and Ice”

robert frost

via Wikimedia Commons

In 1920, Robert Frost wrote what became one of his most anthologized poems, “Fire and Ice.”  It is a particular favorite of mine, and having committed it to memory, I recite it to myself often.  One of the reasons I like poetry is the ability to internalize it so it becomes a part of one’s self, a thing that is there to use at will to evoke a feeling, a thought, a memory, a description, a lesson.  It is an art form that is immediately accessible because of its portability.  I can conjure up a painting in my mind or reminisce on a novel or short story or remember music, but there’s still a disconnect with the art itself; I’m not actually seeing it or reading it or hearing it or playing it.  But with a poem, it is entire and complete the moment I say it to myself, and, like prayer, I can do it whenever and wherever I desire, and no one knows I’m doing it.  It is mine alone, a private gift from the poet. Dickinson, Tennyson, Shirley, Millay, Rossetti, Whitman, and Wilde have all bestowed such gifts, but it’s Frost’s “Fire and Ice” I’ve been accepting lately.

Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Like any great poet, Frost has the ability to compress much meaning and profundity into just a few lines, nine here to be precise.  And what does he mean?  Per critic Tom Hansen, American astronomer Harlow Shapely read the poem quite literally.  Shapely recalled that Frost had asked him once how the world would end:

I told him that either the earth would be incinerated, or a permanent ice age would gradually annihilate all life on earth.

He read the “some say” of the poem as a reference to him.  Most don’t agree with this interpretation, but I think it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.  Certainly, this story, if true, could have been the impetus for the poem, and a literal interpretation is a valid one of many, all of which can claim to be the true meaning. However, most read the poem symbolically. 

Some say the poem reflects an inner struggle between Frost’s desires, i.e. his passions and emotions, and his own self-hatred.   Others read it more broadly as an indictment of man’s ability, generally, to destroy with both his passions (selfishness, vanity, jealousy, misbegotten love) and his hatred. One could read it even more broadly as a reference to the apocalypse of war (World War I had just ended in 1920) where passions could be xenophobia, racism, and nationalism and where hate could be man’s hatred of men different from themselves.  

Many read the poem as a reference to Dante’s Inferno.  Critic John Serio asserts that the nine lines represent the nine circles of hell. He further points to Frost’s use of an unusual terza rima, the aba/abc/bcb rhyme scheme Dante invented.  Serio also believes that Frost has adopted Dante’s Aristotelian ethics that sins of passion and desire are not as bad as sins of reason like deceit, treachery, and hate.  

Frost associates fire with the senses and places it first or, so to speak, near the top of his poem as the lesser of the two types of sin: “From what I’ve tasted of desire / I hold with those who favor fire.” The verbs are sensuous and although not direct allusions, they recall characters in Dante’s upper hell such as the glutton Ciacco the Hog (“tasted”), the adulterous lovers Paolo and Francesca (“hold”), and the hoarders (“favor”). In addition, by aligning the poem’s speaker with a group of others (“I hold with those who favor fire”), Frost implies this is a more common and less serious sin.

When Frost speaks of hatred, however, instead of seeing it as an emotion or feeling, like anger, he presents it as a consequence of thought, of conscious choice: “I think I know enough of hate / To say that for destruction ice / Is also great / And would suffice.” The emphasis here, as in Dante, is on reason, or better, on the perversion or misuse of reason, because it is employed not for Christian love but for hatred. The intellectual distancing contained in the repetition “I think I know” the change from the present perfect tense, implying a past action (“I’ve tasted”), to the present tense (“I think I know”), and the utter isolation of the repeated ‘T’ without any reference to others mark hatred as worse than desire. Frost underscores this by making it the cause of a second death (“But if it had to perish twice”) far more terrible by implication than the first. The pun on the word “ice” in “twice” and “suffice” accentuates the bitter coldness of hatred, and the triple repetition of “ice” at the end of the poem recalls Satan’s futile efforts to escape – it is the very beating of his wings that causes the river Cocytus in the ninth circle to freeze.


I believe that all the interpretations are true on some level or another, and this depth of meaning is just one reason I like it. Another reason is the juxtaposition of the apocalyptic with a casual syntax and sentence structure as if Frost were talking about some mundane subject and not the end of the world.  “Fire and Ice” is both provocative and banal, which is as good a description of my view of the world, mood depending, as any. 

So, for over twenty years now I’ve had this thing, this gift, this poem with me and for me.  It is mine.  And it makes me richer for it.


Democracy Is A Popularity Contest

flickr photo by Disney | ABC Television Group shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license

flickr photo by Disney | ABC Television Group shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license

This is why Sanders won’t and should not be the Democrats’s presidential nominee: he’s gotten over 2.3 million fewer votes than Clinton, and he’s yet to show he can build the broad coalition of voters that propelled Obama to two victories. Winning the whitest states via caucuses whilst losing more diverse (and significantly larger) states via primaries doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in his appeal to rank and file Democrats, those same Democrats that his supporters dismiss as conservative or not progressive. His plan to win the nomination is to walk into the convention with fewer votes by the people than Clinton and then flip superdelegates, which is neither progressive, nor democratic. I don’t endorse the superdelegate system; I endorse the will of the people.  So far, the will of people hasn’t endorsed Sanders.

You Say You Want A Revolution? (umm…not really)

Louis XVI's execution

Louis XVI’s execution

Sanders and his supporters are forever going on about a revolution.   Ditto Trump.   The French had a revolution; our forefathers did, too, and the English’s was glorious. But the Sanders and the Trump campaigns are rebellions maybe but not revolutions. The word is overused, bandied about by earnest millennials and angry white men and lazy journalists and commentators.  I get it’s a metaphor, but as David A. Bell recently wrote in Politico, it’s not a very good one:

[Sanders and Trump] are using “revolution” as a metaphor, hoping to conjure up an image of a mass movement so powerful it will allow them to break the power of special interests (the super-rich for Sanders, the “politically correct” establishment for Trump) and enact radical change. 

Yet the metaphor is a deceptive one. Revolutions may be the great political myth of modern times, and that is because, today, they are the political equivalent of a get-rich-quick scheme. They offer the beguiling but illusory promise that substantive change can be brought about by sheer willpower, by merely wanting the result strongly enough. They promise to shake up the entire system, but offer no clue as to how the system could be reconstructed, or worked with.

Bell’s assessment of the metaphor is particularly apropos of the Sanders campaign. As I wrote here, he makes a lot of (revolutionary) promises he cannot deliver.  Bernie proclaims at every turn about the revolution— “It’s happening!” “It’s coming!”—but it’s not.  The people are not rising up, embracing his ideas, and supporting him.  At least the majority of the voters in the Democratic primaries and caucuses aren’t. Ponder this number:  2.4 million.  That’s a lot, right?  That’s how many more votes Clinton has gotten than Sanders has, but to be precise it’s 2,403,691 as of the vote in Wisconsin.  Over two million people have chosen her over him.  Sanders has inspired younger voters in a way Clinton has not, but Obama was able to do the same, so I’m not sure what’s revolutionary about it.  Clinton has been able to inspire middle-aged and older voters and black voters and Hispanic voters in a way Sanders has not, but she doesn’t go around talking about revolutions.  

Revolutions are exciting.  They’re sexy.  They’re really, really rare.  And we are not in the midst of one.

Whence Baroque Rock?

J.S. Bach: godfather of baroque

J.S. Bach: Godfather of Baroque

After reading my recent post on the Mamas & the Papas, someone asked me which of their songs was my favorite. That’s a hard question to answer.  It’s akin to asking an English major to name her favorite book.   I began running through their catalog in my head.  The hits, the minor hits, the obscure—I finally said I’d have to get back to him.  I eventually landed on “Look Though My Window,” which hit #24 on the Billboard Top 100 chart in 1967.  John Phillips wrote it in 1964 when his wife, Michelle, left him for a brief period. He thought she had gone across the country to California when, in fact, she was still in Greenwich Village staying a few blocks from him.  The lyrics are interesting, but that’s not why I chose it.  The blend of their tenor, baritone, soprano, and contralto voices is particularly tight and effective on this song, perhaps one of the best examples of their ability to create overtones that sound like a fifth voice, which they nicknamed Harvey.  But still this is not the reason for the choice. It’s that they’re singing with a string section—that’s the reason why.  The cellos, violins, violas, and harp take their singing and harmonies to another more complex and ornamental level than most of their other songs.  Orchestration will do that, which made me ask the question, “How did strings and horns find their way into rock music, a place of electric guitars, bass guitars, and drums?”

Starting in the mid-60’s bands sought to add a new sophistication and depth to their music.  It was a natural progression, a culmination of the increasing complexity of rock music which had its beginnings in the 50’s.  Conjure in your mind the sound of the following artists and styles, chronologically, and you will hear what I mean: Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, doo-wop, Elvis, the crooners, girl groups, Motown, surf pop, Phil Spector’s “wall of sound,” the British Invasion, the Beatles, folk rock, psychedelic rock, and on into the 70’s and beyond.  But beginning with bands like the Zombies, the Beach Boys, and the Beatles, artists started adding elements of classical music to their arrangements. Because of their use of violins, cellos, harps, and harpsichords, among other instruments, this new sound was dubbed “baroque rock.”  Of course, at first no one called it that; the sobriquet came later.  Baroque rock can be defined as follows:

Baroque Pop emerged during the mid-’60s, a time when artists including the Left Banke, the Beach Boys, producer Phil Spector, and composer/arranger Burt Bacharach began infusing rock & roll with elements of classical music, achieving a majestic orchestral sound far removed from rock’s wild, primitive origins. Layered harmonies, strings, and horns are all hallmarks of baroque pop, as is the music’s dramatic intensity. At the time of its inception, it was rock’s most mature outgrowth to date, and its spirit lives on in everything from the Philly soul sound of the early ’70s to the like-minded chamber pop sound of the mid-’90s.

Most of the bands that incorporated classical music into their works did so on some of their albums, but not all.  Think Pet Sounds or Revolver by the Beach Boys and the Beatles, respectively.  An exception would be the Left Banke whose entire sound was the fusion of pop and classical, hence their being baroque artists and not artists with baroque influences.  

This spectacularly new (in 1965 that is) sound is one of the reason I love 60’s music. There is no other time period in rock that music evolved so quickly into something completely new in such a compressed amount of time.  In 1962 Elvis was singing “Return to Sender,” but by 1967 Jim Morrison of the Doors was singing “Light My Fire.”  In 1963 Leslie Gore was singing “It’s My Party,” but by 1968 Janis Joplin was belting “Piece of My Heart.”  It’s 2016.  Has music changed dramatically (or even at all) from 2011?  No, it has not.  The last big shift in rock came in the early 90’s when grunge supplanted hair bands of the late 80’s.  

Horns and violins in popular music is nothing extraordinary today.  But a harpsichord in 1966?  That was something.  So, it’s Michelle Phillips’s violin to Cass Elliot’s cello on the baroque rock influenced “Look Through My Window” that takes the honor of being my favorite.  Incidentally, it’s Michelle’s soprano accompanying the violin at the 1:25 to 1:32 mark below that is my favorite part of the favorite song.  “Pretty Ballerina” by the Left Banke follows.



Quotable Quotes: Coco Chanel

(public domain)

(public domain)



“In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.” 

― Coco Chanel

50 Years of The Mamas & the Papas (30+ Years for Me)

The Mamas & the Papas on Ed Sullivan 1967 (public domain)

The Mamas & the Papas on Ed Sullivan 1967 (public domain)

Anyone who knows me well knows I am obsessed with The Mamas & the Papas.  This cannot be overstated.  Obsessed is such an ugly word; however, words such as admire, appreciate, like, or even love are not strong enough, so I suppose obsessed will have to do.  

my uncle's record

my uncle’s record

I remember, vividly, how it began.  I was 10 years old and visiting my grandmother in Florida. One morning, I walked into the bedroom where my uncle was, undoubtedly, sleeping one off. I woke him up, and instead of yelling at me to go away, which would have been my response had I been him, he told me to play something on his stereo.  I asked what he wanted to hear, and he told me to choose, so I began flipping through his extensive record collection.  Some of them were familiar because my parents had the same albums (The Doors’s Soft Parade, The Beatles’s Abbey Road,  the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar), and I regularly played them, but I was looking for something new, at least to me.  His Alice Cooper and KISS albums looked scary as did Black Sabbath, so I passed them by. Eventually, I hit upon an album with two men and two women looking like hippies on the cover.  I liked the way they looked, and holding the album up to my uncle, who by then was sitting up in bed smoking a cigarette, I asked, “What about them?”  He said it was good enough hangover music.  I lifted the gray, smokey glass lid that covered the turntable, and put it on.  The Mamas & the Papas.  I’ve been hooked ever since.  

Like most people, it was the harmonies that moved me.  They were like none I’d heard before or since, for that matter.  Lots of bands are known for harmony such as The Beach Boys, The Eagles, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, The Association, et al., but none of their harmonies was as intricate and layered as The Mamas & the Papas’s were. Fleetwood Mac comes closest (“The Chain” being a good example) to the vocal acrobatics of the M&Ps, but they still don’t measure up, which is not to say Fleetwood Mac isn’t good; they are brilliant vocally but in a different way.  

circa 1967 (public domain)

circa 1967 (public domain)

It was 50 years ago that The Mamas & Papas’s debut album, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, was released.  Lou Adler, their producer, had a habit of closing his eyes when he was auditioning a band so as to concentrate without any distractions on the music as it would sound on the radio. The band sang what became the first album.  He couldn’t believe what he heard, and when he opened his eyes, he couldn’t believe what he saw:  John Phillips, the leader, looking like Ichabod Crane in a chinchilla hat; his wife, Michelle, looking like a model, which she had been; Denny Doherty looking like a scruffy Errol Flynn; and Cass Elliot, robust and rotund, looking like a hippie earth mother in a paisley muumuu and go-go boots. He signed them on the spot with the title of the first album already in mind.  This was late 1965.  

By the mid-60’s, America, which had invented rock and roll, was being inundated by the British Invasion. English acts dominated the airwaves and the charts.  The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, The Zombies, The Dave Clark 5, among others, had relatively little American competition.  The exceptions were Motown acts and surf rock acts like the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean.  And then America struck back with folk rock, hippies, and counterculture.  The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Sonny and Cher, and The Mamas & the Papas began controlling the airwaves and influencing society. Not only did these bands sound different, they looked different, too. The Mamas & the Papas were the first sexually integrated group, and unlike the English bands of the early to mid 60’s, they did not wear uniforms, suits, or other matching garb.  They often looked like they had rolled out of bed, put on whatever was closest, (boots, hats, muumuus, vests) and sometimes maybe washed their hair or shaved.  Clean cut they were not.  When Dick Clark told his talent scout to book The Mamas & the Papas on American Bandstand, she asked if he had seen them.  She said she couldn’t put them on the air because they looked weird. He replied that everyone looked weird now.  Times were a changin’.  

MamasAndPapasIfYouCanIf You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears shot to the top of the charts in May 1966 propelled by “California Dreamin'” and “Monday, Monday.”  The album was banned in certain places, though, because of the indecent, vulgar cover:  the four of them slung up in the bathtub of a dirty bathroom next to a toilet. Dunhill Records had to pull all the albums from stores and reissue a new cover that hid the toilet. Collectors (me) will pay a few hundred dollars for an original exposed toilet cover.  The album has since become a classic.  Rolling Stone named it #127 of the top 500 albums of all time.  

Over the last 30 odd years since I discovered The Mamas & the Papas, I’ve not lost any of the wonder I felt upon hearing them for the first time whilst sitting on my uncle’s bedroom floor.  This is evidenced by the fact that I have every record and song they produced, five different books about them, including the Phillips’s dueling autobiographies, three documentaries, four dolls, one per band member (don’t ask how much those cost—it’s obscene), and autographs of them all, which is no small feat considering Cass died in 1974, and both papas are now dead.  I listen to and watch videos of them almost every day.  They enrich my life, so in this case, the obsession isn’t such a bad thing.  Maybe we can call it something else.  An eccentricity?  A peccadillo?  Nah, obsession is the only word for it.


I Support Sanders But Will Vote For Hillary


flickr photo by DonkeyHotey shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

I watched Sanders’s stump speech last night.  If you’ve ever heard any of his speeches, then you didn’t miss anything.  Wall Street has hijacked our democracy.  Agreed.  The minimum wage needs to be raised to $15/hr.  Agreed.  Billionaires have perverted our electoral process.  Agreed.  The middle class is shrinking and being left behind. Agreed.  I agreed with everything he said, but I’m still not voting for him.  He can’t deliver on any of his promises.  

I’ve gone to his website and looked at his issues and how he proposes to pay for them. Copied verbatim:

Plan Payment
Rebuild America Act: Sen. Sanders has proposed a$1 trillion plan to rebuild our crumbling infrastructureand put 13 million Americans to work. Paid for by making corporations pay taxes on all of the“profits” they have shifted to the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens, which the Congressional Research Services estimates may currently create losses that approach $100 billion annually, and other loopholes.
College for All: Sen. Sanders has proposed making public colleges and universities tuition-free and substantially reducing student debt, in a plan that would cost about $75 billion a year. Paid for by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculators that would generate about $300 billion in revenue.
Expand and Extend Social Security: Sen. Sanders has proposed expanding Social Security and extending the solvency of this program until 2065. Paid for by lifting the cap on taxable income above $250,000 so that the wealthy pay the same percentage of their income into Social Security as working people.
Youth Jobs Program: Sen. Sanders has proposed a $5.5 billion youth jobs program to create 1 million jobs for disadvantaged young Americans. Paid for by ending the carried interest loophole that allows billionaire hedge fund managers to pay a lower tax rate than nurses and truck drivers.
Paid Family and Medical Leave: Sen. Sanders has proposed at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to all workers. Paid for by a payroll tax that would total $1.61 a week for the typical American worker. According to Sen. Gillibrand’s office, this would be “a self-sufficient program that would not add to the federal budget.”
Protect Pensions: Sen. Sanders has introduced a plan to prevent cuts to the pensions of over 1.5 million Americans. Paid for by closing two tax loopholes that allow the wealthy to avoid taxes on money they inherit and expensive artwork they collect.
Renewable Energy and Clean Jobs Transition: Sen. Sanders has a plan to invest in clean, sustainable energy sources powered by the sun, wind and Earth’s heat. He also has a plan to provide comprehensive benefits to workers as they transition to making the solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries of tomorrow. Paid for by stopping taxpayer-funded giveaways to oil, gas and coal companies.
Sen. Sanders has introduced a plan to expand health care coverage to every American. Paid for by a 6.2 percent income-based health care premium paid by employers, a 2.2 percent income-based premium paid by households, progressive income tax rates, taxing capital gains and dividends the same as income from work, limiting tax deductions for the rich, adjusting the estate tax, and savings from health tax expenditures.


Every solution calls for a tax or the closure of a tax loophole none of which can a president do unilaterally. He will need a Republican controlled Congress to do all of these things for him.  Good luck with that.  How will he succeed where President Obama has not, especially with proposals as radical as his? The obstructionist party of “No” will become the party of “Hell, no!”  Even if the Dems take back the Senate, he’s not going to be able to get his agenda through the House. 

He’s been in Congress for 25 years and has sponsored (not co-sponsored or attached amendments to) 353 bills of which three became law.  Three. Think about that.  The forces that permitted him three laws enacted won’t be changing if he gets elected. Clinton only had three bills of 409 sponsored passed into law, but then again, she was in Congress for only eight years. Sanders knows he’s been accused of being ineffectual, and this is how he has responded:

At one recent campaign rally, he insisted that there is “nothing that I am telling you today that is pie-in-the-sky utopia.”

Speaking to NBC’s “Today” program” last week, he said he would do a better job than President Obama of breaking congressional gridlock and getting his agenda passed.

“I will do it differently [than Mr. Obama],” he said. “Because at the end of the day, what they are really upset about is that big money controls what goes on in Congress. And the only way that we change that is when millions of people come forward and demand the government represent all of us and not just the billionaire class.”

Sanders says he will do it differently than Obama.  Again, how?  He has said it will take a revolution.  He’s right, but the revolution can’t come from the top down.  A radical, and I don’t use the word pejoratively, president cannot unilaterally affect the change Sanders so passionately believes in and advocates for.  The only way real change and proposals like Sanders’s can happen is when the people elect revolutionary men and women to the Congress, and just because that person is a Democrat does not mean he or she is revolutionary, by the way.   This takes time, a generation probably, but someone has to light the fuse. Sanders has, and I am grateful for it.  

Our country needs him to shine the light on the darkness of greed and corruption that has infected our political system.  We need someone to advocate for the 99% in a meaningful way.  We need to rethink our values.  We need a person like him to run for president so that his ideas get discussed at the national level even if they don’t get enacted.  This is how change begins.  

But what happens if Sanders wins, and he proves to be an ineffectual, wild-haired socialist who’s just screaming into the void?  What does that do to the revolution? Will it take all the wind out of the revolutionary sails?  I don’t know. But for the country to get where Sanders wants to take us, the electorate must vote out Republicans who gerrymander districts so the most radically conservative of them will never lose an election, vote out Republicans who try to deny voting rights to the poor and to minorities, vote out Republicans who appoint judges who protect the oil, coal, gas, pharmaceutical, and big agra cartels and who permit dark money to infect our democracy.  Some of the Democrats would need to be voted out, too.  

Sanders is a quixotic figure, and I respect the hell out of him.  But, I am a pragmatist, so I will be voting for Clinton, all of her flaws notwithstanding.  I agree with her platform and think that she will be able to make good on some of it.  I agree that her platform is not revolutionary in the way Sanders’s is, but that doesn’t mean she won’t bring her own change for the better on some issues to the country.  In short, while I admire and support Bernie, I will be voting for Hillary.  It’s a start in the right direction.

President Trump?


flickr photo by Gage Skidmore shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

I’ve been saying for months that Trump will never be the GOP nominee for president.  I’m sticking with that but with much more trepidation than before.  Who knew his opponents would run such stupid campaigns?  Only days before Super Tuesday, which Nate Silver currently has Trump the overwhelming favorite to sweep the states except Texas, has anyone come at Trump hard.  If that had happened six months ago or even two months ago, then the question of a Trump presidency would have been on par with a wild hypothetical like what if Hitler had won the war.  

Cruz’s campaign is over; he just doesn’t know (or will admit) it yet.  Rubio still has a chance, but only if these attacks on Trump in the last few days do any harm.  I think some of them will.  The conventional wisdom has been that nothing can stick to Trump—that he can say or do outrageous things and his numbers don’t fall, and in some cases, they rise.  However, we’ve yet to see Trump being attacked.  Saying outrageous things still has him in control of the narrative.  But being called out on undocumented workers, a scam college, taxes, bankruptcies, etc. is different.  He’s no longer in control.  Sure, he can try to change the subject (the Christie endorsement), but he’s never had to defend himself, and so far, he’s not very good at it.  

If Rubio doesn’t win something on Super Tuesday, then I will have to admit I’ve been wrong about Trump, but as a Democrat, I’m not sure I want to be right.  I think Trump will lose in a landslide and take GOP Senators up for re-election down with him.  Rubio has the better chance of beating the Democrats’s nominee.  So, where does this leave me?  

Go Trump?! 

Read This: Hide by Matthew Griffin

hIde_matthew_griffinRecently, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, weekly short stories or novel excerpts chosen by authors or critics, featured an excerpt from Hiding, a first novel from Matthew Griffin.  Based on the excerpt, I’ve bought the book so intrigued I am by the exquisite descriptiveness of Griffin’s writing and his ability to build characterization so economically.  In just a few hundred words, Frank, one half of a gay couple whose decades long relationship must be hidden, is rendered fully born like Athena from her father Zeus’s forehead. (Occasionally, I can be descriptive, too. Ha!)  A description of the novel from Amazon where it was named a book of the month:

Wendell and Frank meet at the end of World War II, when Frank returns home to their North Carolina town. Soon he’s loitering around Wendell’s taxidermy shop, and the two come to understand their connection as love-a love that, in this time and place, can hold real danger. Cutting nearly all ties with the rest of the world, they make a home for themselves on the outskirts of town, a string of beloved dogs for company. Wendell cooks, Frank cares for the yard, and together they enjoy the vicarious drama of courtroom TV.

But when Wendell finds Frank lying outside among their tomatoes at the age of eighty-three, he feels a new threat to their careful self-reliance. As Frank’s physical strength and his memory deteriorate, the two of them must fully confront the sacrifices they’ve made for each other-and the impending loss of the life they’ve built.

Tender, gently funny, and gorgeously rendered, Hide is a love story of rare power.

You can buy it here.

%d bloggers like this: