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ALL MEAT - A Redneck Meets LSD-25 Paperback – September 24, 2014
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About the Author
John Aalborg, aka "Mo'hammer" — a somewhat reclusive writer — no TV interviews, no book signings, no fawning to the suits who control print media. His book-length work, however, is anything but neutral or fugitive, and, like Elmore Leonard, "I leave out the parts readers would skip." John is a no-nonsense, card-carrying member of the working class, and his novels are hard-boiled page-turners. His girlfriend, Cheater, calls his ever-present notebooks "splurt books", but after the notes are pounded into the keyboard you can taste them. Aalborg has worked at jobs rich in uncommon personal experience, all the while jotting down those experiences in notebooks or on legal pads. Three years comfortably living off the German black market (culminating in his being deported back to the USA); five years as a licensed locksmith in "The Magic City" ( Miami), where many of his less ethical assignments were for law enforcement; five years as an EMT for a rural Florida hospital and ambulance crew; many more years driving OTR (interstate) for long-haul trucking companies; and winter respites from the road by working the graveyard shift at local fuel-stops on exits off I-10, where he and Cheater packed guns and took care of their own law enforcement. The writer's eyes, in other words, are the reader's look into worlds normally unseen.
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What changed was that Harry had become a less selfish person, not in the approved manner of our culture's Christian mythology by overcoming adversity and strengthening his character through church and prayer but rather through a new outlook gained from smoking Marijuana and consuming LSD. These two drugs gave him insights that his normal beer drinking frame of mind did not provide him with.
Harry had roughly the same amount of hardship in his life before and after psychedelics, but because of his newly found more cosmic and less self-centered outlook, he started treating his wife and children better. He stopped being the self-involved character he was before psychedelics.
And psychedelics put him in touch with new people, hippies and rich people. For a while, psychedelics bridged the class gap between Harry and his new-found friends, but as the novelty of psychedelics faded, class appeared to reassert itself. The theme of change in personality and social relations brings back the general question, whatever happened to the sixties? What happened to love and the brotherhood of man? Was Harry's transformation genuine or did his former selfish character reassert itself in the end the way the bond of getting high with his rich friends faded causing Harry's rich friends to drift away from him?
This novel is set in the sixties, and as the synopsis at the back of the book promises, there is plenty there of drugs, changing race relations and free love to keep the cultural voyeur entertained. But if that was all there was, I wouldn't give Harry another look.
The chronicle of Harry's redemption is the primary reason I liked the book but the book also does a good job of putting me on the keys off the Miami coast where a good deal of the action takes place. The author paints a seductive picture of the subtropical landscape that puts me there in my imagination.
So get the book and then, when you're hooked, read the rest of the Harry Schaffner trilogy.
First of all it is Harry Schaffner’s debut, at least in full-length novel form. We first read of him in ‘Harry and Ivory’, written after ‘All Meat’ but published a few years ago. That book covers the years after the events of ‘All Meat ‘ and gives the reader a very different Harry to the one that first appears, dropping anchor off Old Rhodes Key and lugging his gear ashore for a solo weekend camping trip. Harry meets a group of men and women society called ‘hippies’; free spirits who live close to nature, at least when on the island. The hippies introduce Harry to marijuana, they ‘turn him on’, in the vernacular. Harry begins to change as he explores drugs further. He eventually drops acid, LSD-25, and becomes a very different person from the arrogant, selfish, abusive thug he once was.
Having read Hunter S. Thompson’s classic ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’, I have to say Aalborg gets me high a lot easier, quicker and far higher than Thompson. His descriptions of the trips Harry and the others go on are realistic; as contradictory as that may sound for something as surreal as an acid trip. As someone who has never dropped acid, Aalborg has fed my curiosity and taken me there and back without my having to score a pill or risk a bad trip. His writing is that lurid, that deep, that enveloping.
This is all about Harry and the change he goes through in his life as he becomes aware, enlightened, accepting. He begins as arrogant, racist, bigoted, wife-bashing, self-centered; but ends as someone you’d like to swing on a porch with and get to know. Excellent characterization by Aalborg brings so many people on the page to life. Annie, Harry’s wife. His kids, Perry and Janey; the black neighbour Ruby, Bo his boss and of course the hippies: Gill, Neeta, Surrendra, Comet and the elusive Faylie among several more. His writing brings to life thoughts, emotions, experiences and even sounds; truly a talented writer writing at his early best. For me there are passages within All Meat that just talk to my soul, the inner, true me. Aalborg has this knack with his writing of getting Harry (and others) to think and say the things we all think, but too often fear saying them aloud or even acknowledging to ourselves we think them.
His descriptions of the people who wander in and out of the pages are spot on, often drilling right down to the core nuance of something which belies a power of observation every writer envies in those who have it more than themselves. That ability to really see the people around us, those who make up our society and to throw in little details that really make the character live, sets Aalborg apart from so many writers and puts him alongside the greats of American literature like Hemingway, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald.
Having read ‘Harry and Ivory’ first, I can now better appreciate why I so fell in love with that book. It was poured from the crucible of ‘All Meat – A Redneck Meets LSD-25’. That title didn’t really mean anything to me when I started the book but it certainly makes sense, perfect sense, now I have read it. I do wonder if I would have been better off meeting the horrible Harry of old, the ‘before’ Harry instead of the ‘after’ Harry that sails out of the end of ‘All Meat’ and onto the pages of ‘Harry and Ivory’. I confess to being somewhat disturbed, upset even, that Harry was such a mongrel at the start of ‘All Meat’; not the Harry I knew and loved from ‘Harry and Ivory’. But that is the reality of Aalborg’s characters and his writing. We all change as we go through our lives. Hopefully for the better, but certainly none of us are the same person we were a decade ago.
Criticisms, as there should be some of any writing, include a note about the ending. The book doesn’t really have one per se; but then neither does Harry at that time. I can see how there is no ‘climax, denouement and roll credits’ because real life doesn’t have them. Harry carries on with his life and we can follow that in ‘Harry and Ivory’. It doesn’t end because just he has an acid trip on a Florida key. His life doesn’t end because his hippy friends drift away to respectability or new interests; life just went on. In this way the novel is not a novel as much as a narrative, chronicling some of the events in the lives of people who are very, very real. Real people do have to get up the next morning and go back to work and then do it all over again the day after that and Harry is very, very real. As real as John Aalborg’s writing and really, that’s as real as it gets. Harry could make sense of all that reality, trust me.