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This is Why I Came: A Novel
This is Why I Came: A Novel
by Mary Rakow
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.00
33 used & new from $14.71

5.0 out of 5 stars Hand-to-hand with God, November 21, 2015
Bernadette has become estranged from God, or perhaps it is God who has estranged her with His deliberate or thoughtless callousness as to her welfare. But, thirty years later, she enters a church to attempt reconciliation. She wants to believe in Him, but she is not there yet. She is transfixed on the hook of that niggling conundrum: Why should a loving God allow suffering? Why did a loving God allow her to suffer so much?

‘This is why I came?’ is Bernadette’s path to that moment of attempted reconciliation, but it is, intentionally or otherwise, something rather less mundane than the process of a lapsed Catholic seeking to negotiate her return to a relationship with God. The Gnostic Christians – the Greek Socrates- and Plato-influenced Christians who were eventually to be declared heretics by the Catholic Church – believed that, in order to come into true communion with God, you must write your own gospel, your own testament, to explain to yourself Jesus’s teachings and how you will follow them, to embed them in your psyche, to complete the ‘two into one’ where your actions reflect your thoughts that in turn reflect the wisdom of Jesus’s teachings. In a way, ‘This is why I came’ is Bernadette’s personal gospel, taking the Bible stories she loves, or finds resonant, and fashioning them to her own compelling narrative, to her own sense of faith.

Bernadette clearly has issues with God. In the Old Testament, God is traditionally depicted as an authoritarian patriarch who feels he has been traduced by the perfidy of mankind. In Bernadette’s appraisal, he is definitely Cluster B: He is needy; He demands to be continuously center-stage in mankind’s consciousness; He is vainglorious (not unreasonably, I suppose for God); He is an extreme control freak; and, when crossed, He is viciously and massively homicidal. Noah and Jonah find themselves in deep water with him, and Abraham kills his children in repeated and desperate attempts to appease Him, although the relationship matures – or perhaps mankind matures – by the time we get to Moses, at which time God retreats into being a nagging control freak, laying down the law in a ‘not under my roof’ kind of way, for just about everything a human being could consider doing. Cain, on the other hand, simply matches God’s psycho-pathology and kills Abel because he has stolen his limelight.

Then, in the New Testament section of the book, Bernadette comes closer to Eric Emmanuel Schmitt’s line in ‘The Gospel According to Pilate’ [‘L’Evangile selon Pilate’] in which Jesus gradually comes to the realization that he is God when He has performed too many miracles to credibly deny it to Himself, except in Bernadette’s version He feels considerable amounts of survivor guilt for escaping the Massacre of the Innocents, and for his cousin, John the Baptist, losing his own father in the process for refusing to disclose John’s location to the assassins.

‘This is why I came’ is both gorgeous and heart-felt – heart-wrenching – in its humanizing of all the characters it touches – including God’s – in this succession of Bible stories. I suppose this work could also be considered anathema, although it certainly has no intention of promoting any unorthodoxy. Indeed, in many ways it is surprisingly traditional. It still accepts that the flight to Egypt and the Massacre of the Innocents actually happened – which most modern Christologists now doubt – and it repeats the idea that Mary Magdalen was a prostitute, which, again, modern Christologists consider to be to conflate two entirely different people: Mary Magdalen, a wealthy woman who supported Jesus and his disciples materially, and the prostitute who washed Jesus’s feet with her hair. But perhaps sticking to the 6th century CE interpretation of Mary Magdalen’s character enables Bernadette to explore more interesting avenues and to tell a more profound truth – that Jesus simply didn’t, and doesn’t, care who or what you are.

So, in short, to read ‘This is why I came’ is to dive into the murky waters of theological speculation and hopefully to emerge purified, re-baptized in Christ. I am sure that this was Mary Rakow’s intention, and she has achieved this intention with elegance, charm, music, poetry and transcendent humanity. Obviously it is easier to know that God exists and that He is benevolent, but the very next best thing is to struggle with all the confusions of man’s relationship with God, and to do so in this kind of translucent work that it is Mary Rakow’s unerring gift to offer to us. As the confessional priest declares at the end of the book, “To doubt the God you believe in is to serve him. It’s an offering. It’s your gift.”

Say Goodbye to Crazy: How to Get Rid of His Crazy Ex and Restore Sanity to Your Life
Say Goodbye to Crazy: How to Get Rid of His Crazy Ex and Restore Sanity to Your Life
Price: $9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life saving, October 31, 2015
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This book is not written for me, it is written for my second wife on how to survive my ex-wife, Crazy. However, I am the one reading it, as my second wife, a social worker of over 20 years, is even more hardline than Dr. Tara Palmatier and Paul Elam. After six months of watching me trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement and continue my relationship with my children, she simply told my ex-wife, "You will never talk with Tim again and never email him. This stops!"

Dr. T and Paul Elam's advice is exceptional and everybody who is involved with Crazy, or has ever been involved with Crazy, should listen to it, then follow it - with one exception: You should never, ever try to have any further relationship with your children.

Think of Crazy as Mama Bear. Think of your children as bear cubs. Think of yourself as human. Is it wise to get between Mama Bear and her cubs? Is it wise to try to take them away from her, even for a visit? Of course it isn't. What's going to happen? She's going to come after you all claws and teeth. And what will the children do? They'll run to Mama Bear. After all, they are bear cubs, Mama Bear is a bear, and you are human (or sub-human as she will describe you).

It's hard. You love your children. You have long loved your children massively more than you have loved Crazy, and a large chunk of your sense of self-worth is tied up with them: You have made a total mess of being with Crazy, but at least you can try to make things right for them. Right? No, absolutely wrong. You are absolutely wrong.

Switch analogy - your previous marriage was infested with smallpox; your children are smallpox carriers. It doesn't matter how much you love smallpox carriers. Nor does it matter that you cannot catch that smallpox, that you are immune by now. But anyone involved with you in the future is not immune; they will catch that smallpox. There can be no relationship with your children because they will give everyone smallpox. Ask the North American Indians, or South American ones for that matter, who died in their hundreds of thousands after coming into contact with smallpox.

Very, very sadly, your relationship with your children is one you can no longer afford. If you love them, if you love anyone, let them go. They won't care that much: they love Crazy. You were always somebody they knew in passing, however important they were to you.

Never say a word to Crazy again. Not saying a word to your children again will make that strategy much easier, and better for absolutely everyone. When we say we stayed with Crazy for years because we love our children, it is not an excuse - it is utterly true. And once you leave Crazy, your worst fears are realized: You will never spend another happy moment with your children again. It is something you will deeply regret, but something you must bring yourself to accept. You made a mistake that you and your children may well suffer from forever; it doesn't mean anyone else has to.

Thank you, Dr. T and Paul. You have done so much for all of us.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 1, 2015 7:54 PM PST

Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life (and Comedy)
Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life (and Comedy)
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $13.99

4.0 out of 5 stars I wanted to know the secret of comedy, October 29, 2015
Judd Apatow has been interviewing comedians for most of his adult life - actually starting a little before that - so he probably wanted to distill the essence of comedy too.

I cannot say I discovered the answer in this book, indeed none of the interviews is very funny, and few are even insightful about the process of comedy.

What I did learn was that comedy is a kind of factory, almost like any other product - including that much of the product comes from very few factories, such as SNL and Second City. However, unlike in most factories, these factory workers really like hanging out together.

I would have guessed that hanging around in a club waiting to go on would be excruciating, but it is more like a fraternity get-together.

Being British, I missed a lot of the references. I have hardly ever even seen SNL, so I had few shared cultural references. Most of mine are Monty Python or Not the Nine O'Clock News, or Spitting Image or Have I Got News for You - very political and heavily sketched-based.

I think stand-up must be one of the hardest jobs in the world, and to my unaccustomed eyes often looks it.

The regularly referenced exemplars are Steve Martin, Billy Crystal and Chris Rock. These people apparently transformed comedy. They did? I thought that was John Cleese and Spitting Image, or more recently Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I obviously have a lot to learn, but reading this on a Kindle, where I could immediately jump to YouTube, helped a lot. Still, if I were stuck for decades kicking my heels, I think I would choose as my companions John Cleese, Stephen Colbert, Fluck and Law, Robin Williams and Jim Carrey (my wishes would not be reciprocated). Or maybe members of the Republican Party, plus Bill O'Reilly. They are truly hilarious and might even turn me into a comedian.

I'll never become a comedian but I am very envious of the fun they seem to have together. It turns out it isn't a lonely profession after all.

The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin
The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin
by Joe McGinniss
Edition: Hardcover
137 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Brave and insightful, September 24, 2015
Well, the USA has certainly dodged a bullet in burying Sarah Palin (if only Gabrielle Gifford could have dodged it too), and here is Joe on tap to explain exactly why, at considerable personal risk to himself.

The Palins are right up there with the Duggars to show us what espoused Christian Right values can do for our families. They could both have been invented by Seth MacFarlane in one of his darker moments, but Joe got the reality check in first.

Never Enough
Never Enough
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $7.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Just read all Joe's books, September 24, 2015
This review is from: Never Enough (Kindle Edition)
Certainly Joe had the material - an evil woman, attached parasitically to an international business turnaround king, who decides to club him to death rather than let him go - but Joe has such style that it's like being told tales from the back woods by Abraham Lincoln around a camp fire.

The tale is expertly told, and despite the fact that neither Rob nor Nancy were ever role models for the human race, I was fully engaged throughout. Rob's father and brother are definitely bonus features to the story, adding yet more pantomime villains to an already crowded stage.

Almost Paradise: The East Hampton Murder of Ted Ammon
Almost Paradise: The East Hampton Murder of Ted Ammon
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Generosa is certainly hard to ignore, September 24, 2015
I came to this book after reading two of Joe McGuinniss', 'Rogue' about Sarah Palin and 'Never Enough' about Nancy Kissell's murder of her husband Rob. Wow, there are some scary mothers out there.

The Kissell story is almost an exact match for the Ammon one, both corporate super-performers ending up bludgeoned to death at the hands of their soon-to-be divorced wives, and both women coming straight from central casting where they recently played the Wicked Witch with extra attitude

Kieran Crowley doesn't quite have Joe McGuinniss' finesse but that is just quibbling. It's a most enjoyable, jaw-dropping read, then you can watch '59 Main Lane' made by Ted and Generosa's adopted Ukrainian twins.

59 Middle Lane
59 Middle Lane
Price: $2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The truth but not the whole truth, September 24, 2015
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This movie is a bit like doing a documentary on JFK and leaving out his assassination, or on George W. Bush and failing to mention 9/11 or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which really intrigues me.

What is famous about Ruslan and Svetlana (aka Grego and Alexa) is that they were Ukrainian twins adopted by ruthless yet charming corporate raider Ted Ammon and his wife Generosa, before Ted was brutally murdered at the very least with the strong encouragement of Generosa, and quite likely with her active participation.

According to virtually everyone who knew her, Generosa was a heinous, screeching psycho who hated Ted's guts and was relentlessly abusive of everyone who entered her orbit, including her children.

Yet Ruslan and Svetlana speak of her in the movie as if she was a warm, loving mother whose life was tragically foreshortened by cancer. How does that work?

I have to say that this question hovered silently over what is otherwise a fascinating movie about the twins rediscovering their roots in order to regain possession of themselves. They seem to have a tremendous relationship today, and you can quite see how they clung to each other amid the wreckage of an appalling childhood in the Ukraine, an adoption into another country, then the hideous murder of one parent by the other, followed by the surviving parent's almost immediate painful and protracted death.

Watch this movie for many moving and feel good moments, then read 'Almost Perfect' by Kiernan Crowley to catch up on the rest of the story. Maybe you will end up being as perplexed by the missing content of this movie, or maybe you won't.

Nobody's Fault
Nobody's Fault
Price: $2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Wrongx-files, then sandbagged, July 12, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Nobody's Fault (Kindle Edition)
Terry Tyler is an engrossing, intelligent, sympathetic and keenly observant writer, riding a plot line that takes a couple of turns that completely change the direction of the book. I wasn't quite sure whether I wanted to make those turns with her - I was enjoying the novel's natural trajectory - and, to be honest, I'm still not quite sure, but I couldn't put it down without finishing it, so the proof is etc. I was expecting a cozy trip down bitter memory lane, and instead found myself contemplating, alongside the author, an unbearable future. I'm just off to see what else she has written.

The Memory Room: A Novel
The Memory Room: A Novel
by Mary Rakow
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.44
49 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mesmerizing, sensational, June 12, 2015
Barbara had a childhood where she suffered abuse at the hands of her father, as her mother connived in (maybe even willed) his abuse, and had to watch her siblings also being abused. She got through it, she married, she had a child, she built a career. And then her husband left her and she started to literally, at least according to her self-perception, fall apart. She saw no continuity in her body - it was a series of dots without connecting lines - and that was only when she believed her body existed at all, which she mostly didn't. In a way, in her better moments, she saw herself as a quantum physicist would see her body, as ephemeral particles contingently massed to give the illusion of solidity and permanence, which is the paradox of sanity: to be sane is necessarily to delude oneself as to the realities of life; often to be insane is to see life with crippling clarity.

'The Memory Room' is therefore the story of how Barbara develops enough of an illusion of solidity and permanence to be able to address the possibility of living her life again, of achieving at least minimal actions, like attending an event, actions that most of us take for granted. Mostly Barbara is incapable of taking anything for granted, and indeed expects everything to be withheld, withdrawn. In attempting to thread herself and her life back together she leans on her love for the enduring nature of the arts (music, poetry, paintings, religious writings), her almost impossibly patient therapist, and her next-door neighbor who doesn't understand her but is at least trying to be there for her.

The book is built around the poems of Paul Celan, a Holocaust survivor who, like Primo Levi, killed himself in a peace time that accorded him no peace. Barbara is aware that the metaphor of the Holocaust for child abuse is overwrought, but that is the function of a metaphor, to describe similarities and differences in the same thought, and that thought certainly helps her cling on sufficiently to life to earn the chance of redemption.

Survivor books are very popular, but straightforward prose is incapable of delivering the sense of lack of integration and disintegration that survivors really feel, so Mary Rakow stunningly addresses this conundrum by recounting her tale in a kind of epic stream of fragmented thoughts, using combinations and sequences of words that I can only describe as 'delicious,' as inapt and inept as that description might seem within the context. Yet, to her, poems and music and paintings and religious writings are the delights that elude her in everyday living.

This is, therefore, not a standard recounting of child abuse and its survival and will inevitably be inaccessible to many. To enjoy this book you will probably also have enjoyed works by Italo Calvino, by Jorge Luis Borges, by Carlos Fuentes, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is American magical realism, formed by brushstrokes and pointillism. That said, for those attuned to this type of approach to literature, it is mesmerizing, a page-turner, because underlying it there is a powerful driving force toward tentative resolution as the narrative engages senses beyond the five that we are accorded scientifically - gestalt, the intuitive appreciation of art, a feeling for transcendence.

For me, this is one of a handful of really important books I have ever read, one that explains a predicament I have never felt precisely evoked before. Call it seminal, call it a masterpiece, call it high literature, and if those descriptors put you off reading it, you are probably right - it probably isn't for you. But if you are looking for a profound, fulfilling, emotional experience you have never encountered before, then dive straight in. It is like drowning in warm honey and much more enjoyable than the cold sweat Barbara is depicted as wading through.

Edward Seymour - Duke of Somerset
Edward Seymour - Duke of Somerset
Price: $0.99

1.0 out of 5 stars One Star, May 23, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
In short, very, very short.

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