King John (The Lost and Founds Book 4) Kindle Edition
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Before I started writing this, I used the miracle of Google and looked up pictures of Burning Man, 2002. Manning’s description is faithful, excellent, in fact; but I’m a visual person and I wanted pictures of some of the things he describes. I’ve got friends who have been Burning Man aficionados for years. It never sounded like my thing – but it is clear to me how it is their thing. It’s also evident why Edmond Manning set his latest in the Lost and Found Kings series at Burning Man. It tells us a great deal about Vin Vanbly and, quite honestly, is the only place this particular episode in the Vin Vanbly epic could possibly take place.
Dressed as a Bedouin, Vin strolls through the untrammeled hedonism of Burning Man, reveling in its gift economy (no cash exchanged) and atmosphere of radical acceptance (Burning Man, like the world at large, is mostly straight people, but gay people are welcomed, unlike the world at large, even now). He is on the hunt for a potential king; but what he discovers throws him off track. Faithful Manning readers know that Vin is always fumbling forward – forever making mistakes that force him to rethink his plans and create new machinations to succeed in finding his king.
But this book takes it a step further. Vin is off track for most of the plot; we see him so completely disoriented that we understand this is a very different story than the others. Once again, because we see everything through Vin’s eyes, we are dragged into his bewilderment just as we share in his joy. There is nothing more emotionally distressing than a control freak who’s completely lost control. “King John” becomes as much about Vin’s kingship as about the subject of his attention. It is a lot of fun – if you find emotional rollercoasters fun.
You have to be a certain kind of person to embrace Manning’s world of lost and found kings. You have to be somewhat silly; but you also have to have the kind of emotional makeup that allows you to tap into deep personal emotions as you read. As a reader, you have to participate in the book personally. You have to be willing to cry on the NYC subway.
Confession: Burning Man is the kind of purgatory I imagine I’ll end up in if I’m punished for sins in my lifetime. All my life I’ve been about control, carefully groomed outward appearance, scripted public behavior. There isn’t much appeal to me in a place where all my calculations are thrown out the window. And the lack of access to showers and plumbing. *shudder* This is why the notion of Woodstock never appealed to me, either. But somehow, I know that if I was kidnaped and taken to Burning Man, it would do me good; just like reading Edmond Manning’s books does me good. Through Vin’s adventure I can vicariously shed all my armor and let loose all my fears. There is always something cathartic about reading these Lost and Found Kings books. This is Manning’s genius – and it derives from the great heart this writer clearly has.
So why only four stars? Manning has chosen to end this book with a sort of emotional cliff-hanger unlike the endings of his previous books in the series. Intellectually I see why; indeed the ending made me anxious to read the next volume. But the calculated choice to end his book on a note of psychological and emotional suffering undermined the exaltation that preceded it. I didn’t feel better at the end of this book. I don’t think Edmond had any choice. He did what he had to do. But sometimes authors have to take a few hits when they do what they have to do.
That doesn’t mean I love him any less.
Here’s how it happened.
Vulnerability. It’s real, we all know what it feels like and many of the things that make most of us experience it, forcing itself upon us. They’re different for everyone, the exact causes, but there are some we have in common, like grief, fear, and love. We’re able to sense it in someone else. What we do with that knowledge automatically gives us power. One of the most difficult things to do with that power is forgive. More importantly is when we use it to forgive someone when they really need it and are unable to grant it for themselves.
Both Alistair and Vin are the walking talking examples of this, the changing tides in a relationship fraught with the need, and the power, of forgiveness.
The glaring dichotomy inside each of Vin and Alistair is they’re slow on the uptake, considering how powerfully in tune they can be, and yet they’re so ready to use their energy on someone else who needs it. This goes hand in hand with their shared talent of self-denial. The facts of their lives are quite different but they are cut from the same cloth. (I just looked in my notes… even Vin knows this to be true.) That these two men meet at a time when neither is at their strongest, when their defenses are at their thinnest, is impactful and unpredictable in terms of outcome. I was unprepared.
As usual, Manning’s way with word combinations feel fresh, enlightening, and it creates a direct conduit to emotions, putting forth long-known truths.
~ * ~ One of those times where you feel you belong here, like the universe is magic, and you were meant to chill out with these exact people. ~ * ~
The note next to this highlighted passage on my kindle? “Yes!!!!!!” You can experience your “burning man” home of a connection anywhere. You can find your tribe anywhere. When you meet those of your tribe, you know it. The joy splits your face with all the smiling and barely constrainable feelings of belonging, relief, and HELL YEAH. It can happen at any point in your life. Burning Man, and everything and everyone within it, feels like ‘tribe’ for Vin.
Also, did you catch that ‘magic’ bit? Magic is a tricky ingredient in this story. Squirrely and unavoidable. It feels like it’s everywhere and yet invisible and not quite believable. Is this how Vin feels? I think more and more, yes.
Home. Just saying the word pulls emotions quickly to the surface, all of them rushing ahead, wanting to be the first in line to be recognized and become the energy it takes to do everything. This, more than anything, squeezes my heart and makes me cry with Vin. I cried. It also made me angry. Angry on Vin’s behalf, as if it could somehow give him strength, or the knowledge of his own strength. Does that even work? I don’t know, but it’s how I felt. Maybe “home” will happen for Alistair. Maybe for Vin? I desperately want it for Vin. I want him to recognize that he does have the strength to see it. And live it. He’s worthy.
**shakes it off**
How about more of those beautiful word type things as we take a deep, cleansing breath, eh?
~ * ~ With the sun running in slow motion to the horizon… ~ * ~
Ok, there we go, much better.
Now then, one of the many things I love about Vin is his appreciation and usage of proper curses words that fit the occasion. Maybe it’s because like recognizes like. Curse away, my friend, let ‘em fly. Sometimes it’s the best thing to do in certain situations.
I also enjoy his humor. Interestingly, he’s at his best when he’s around other people, when they’re a part of it, as opposed to when he’s alone and it’s internalized. Huh. Another sign, Vin? Hmmm? Me thinks so.
~ * ~ Could Alistair be like me? Is he – is he a King Finder? ~ * ~
The note on my kindle for that? Also one word: “Interestinggggggggggggg”. **pats word gently** I’ll just leave that right here.
Know what else is interesting? I just realized what I was doing with that gesture up there: using sarcasm in an attempt to hide my own vulnerability that I’m still feeling after having experienced this story. My comment is straight forward, but the gentle patting is sarcasm working as the handy tool that it is in the way I use it.
Back to that Vin being worthy thing…
~ * ~ I think we’re all connected, and the more attuned I become to the connection, the more I feel it. ~ * ~
Let it in, Vin. Let them in.
This is the deepest in crisis I’ve ever seen Vin. It’s right at the surface. Further, he has Alistair who is someone more like Vin than any other King or potential King I’ve encountered. He’s right there with Vin. Seeing him. And the fiends at Burning Man, they’re getting to know Vin, the real him. It’s all so much. Too much? Or is it right thing at the right time, is it what HE needs in order to finally start his own journey towards getting Kinged?
Vin is a contradiction, something I touched on earlier. He cares so deeply, often knowing instinctively what someone needs, not just what they want but what they need. He knows what should be done, how to attempt to save someone. Yes, he falters and isn’t right all the time. No one is. Yet, he doesn’t do any of this for himself, he doesn’t allow anyone else to try for him. My heart is crying out for someone to do this, for him to allow someone to do this.
He’s at a turning point. He’s at a breaking point, Vin is. When will he realize he can do this? Who will be the one to help him? When he does, when he realizes of what he’s truly capable, truly worth… oh my gosh, I got chills. He’s valuable. He’s worthy.
What about Mai? I kept thinking about him while reading this. I wonder what that means? Is he to be the one? Will he be a part of Vin’s crossing the gate, to see Vin’s sparks? Vin deserves a witness, a companion, a love that will see his sparks.
There’s a large part of this story I feel I shouldn’t even mention, for it could be quite a spoiler. I just know that I experienced exclamations ranging from, pinballing back and forth between “bloody brilliant!” and “omg Vin… Vin” and “what does this mean??” and “joy just might have a shot” and “forgiveness… powerful, exhausting, and challenging”.
~ * ~ When two magicians dance, it’s hard to say. ~ * ~
You ain’t kiddin’.
At the end, I had this strange and unexpected mixture of feelings. I was bereft and yet peaceful, uncertain and hopeful, angry and loved, gutted and giggling, and back to angry. How in the world am I supposed to reconcile all of that? How do I wait to find out? How can I be ok, knowing what Vin’s feeling? I don’t like it and yet I love it.
That’s King John for me.