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Wichita Paperback – April 24, 2012
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About the Author
Thad Ziolkowski is the author of Our Son the Arson, a collection of poems, and a memoir, On a Wave, which was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award in 2003. In 2008, he was awarded a fellowship from the John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. His essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, Slate, Bookforum, Artforum, Travel & Leisure and Index. He directs the Writing Program at Pratt Institute. Wichita is his first novel.
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So back at the house--there seems to be a need for some yardwork Lewis immeditely notices, actually a lot of yardwork!--we meet Seth, the younger son replete with the bandage covering his latest tat. (Sorry, maybe you are not familiar with that word. Try tattoo!) Note: his latest, maybe well on his way to becoming "the illustrated man." And the back story--the novel is filled with wonderful back stories--Seth provides about his life is in marked contrast to other brother's academic one. And it includes jail time. Rehab. You get the picture. Seth rides the hood of the Escalade as if it were a horse up the driveway. And then he sails off on his skateboard, up a ramp and into the house.
Ah, did I fail to mention that Lewis is also in Wichita to heal a broken heart? Victoria--V--has dumped him. She is from a wealthy Long Island as in Hampton-type family and well, needs a better match than Lewis. In other words wealth.
And here we are just as Abby is about to host the Racquet Club, a bunch of country-club types, all from the same cookie cutter, all Gucci-ed up. And to spice up the meeting--it is from this source that Abby has been able to gift each of her sons with a pad of hundreds equalling five thousand dollars--Seth has suggested that they haul out a couple of L'il Vixen poles from one of Abby's back-when enterprises, sold to women who wanted to spice up their sex lives a little, but doing so at home, not at a strip club. Naturally Seth has been able to entice Toni and Kaylee to perform! Scanty in attire. Strippers by profession we are led to believe. Just some of Seth's friends. You get the picture. And there's the teenager in a wheelchair. And Cody. And... What a cast!
Seth will also suggest L'il Vixen Veal Pens as a possible addition to this endeavor should his mother ever wish to pursue it again. Don't know what those are? You will!
And now Lewis will begin to meet the people his mother and brother surround themselves with, including Bishop who lives outside in a tent. He is in his sixties. And while Lewis makes a feeble attempt to do some much-needed yardwork, pulling dandelions in this case, we meet next-door neighbor Oren, a born-again preacher who quite possibly might be standing on a pile of Bibles to peer over the fence. And from there we learn about Seth's death! Well, his sensing that he has actually once been dead thanks to finding the morning glory seeds in Oren's garage. Have you ever tripped out on morning glory seeds? I know I haven't. But Seth did!
And from there we are introduced to Abby's latest business: Grateful Gaia Storm Tours. We are talking tracking a tornado but with a new-age twist to it, a little ride for tourists complete with accomodations--the works! I guarantee when you get to these pages, 87-89, you will be tripping on laughter. It gave me an idea for getting more tourists to South Beach: Say Howdy to the Hurricane Tours!
And you might not think a writer could have about ten pages of angst from Virgil about Lewis not writing a thank you note to his grandfather funny. Not so. This is one fascinating families. But there are some not so funny things that happen as well.
Thad Ziolkowski is a very gifted writer. He can craft a sentence with the best of the new writers out there. And it is so funny.
But then comes the ending--and I could not put this novel down once I arrived at the actual tornado hunt.
This is a must read. And could I go higher than five stars I would.
Thad Ziolkowski is a masterful writer who draws you in immediately into his world. A great read!
It is a vigorous and, at times, terrifying tale of a familial perfect storm. Family forces balanced only by their extremes come together like the volatile elements needed to conjure a tornado.
At the center of the novel is the relationship between two brothers, Lewis and Seth.
Lewis, who is the academic dutiful older son, and a poetry student at Colombia, has returned home to lick his wounds from a failed relationship. Seth is bipolar and oscillates between Dionysus and Cain. In time Seth shows his older brother the terrifying distances one has to travel to live poetry. How far are you willing to go? What and who are you willing to sacrifice? How much fire can you eat?
The backdrop is the town of Wichita, a stand-in for mythic America, and elements particularly American; pyramid schemes, methamphetamine and tornados (you get the idea). What Lewis has unwittingly returned home to is the latest money making scheme of his mother, Abbey. She and Seth have begun a Tornado chasing business for tourists. This naturally involves a lot of bad decisions for the proprietor as well as any client.
What stayed with me most about the book was Seth. We watch, transfixed by his exploits, perversely willing him on towards destruction (a task he delivers in spades and will “school you on”), yet your empathy for him at times feels more like admiration, you genuinely fear for him. You fear for Seth because by the novels end he plays his best trick yet. He makes you fear for yourself.