Book reviews currently posted:
Bones Beneath Our Feet by Michael Schein (Reviewed by J. Glenn Evans)
Way Out There: Lyrical Essays by Michael Daley (Reviewed by J. Glenn Evans)
Broker Jim by J. Glenn Evans (Reviews by Ann Lubic, Michael Magee, & bevans)
The Mental Environment by Bob Gebelein (Reviewed by J. Glenn Evans)
Val Laigo's Passion by Barbara A. Evans (Press release)
Val Laigo's Passion by Barbara A. Evans (Reviewed by Christine Swanberg)
Bones Beneath Our Feet by Michael Schein is a powerful and deeply moving historical novel about the conquest of the Puget Sound area by the “Bostons” as white people were known in the mid-nineteenth century. Based on research of the actual historical record, the story brings alive the struggles for justice by Chief Leschi and the Nisqually tribe who were being cheated out of their land by the infamous Governor Isaac Stevens. This story is a gripping one and beautifully written with vivid descriptions of the landscape that we all love. The characters, both historical and created, come alive as they fight and love throughout this big book. I especially loved his descriptions of the culture of the indigenous people, much of which may be lost today. We need the wisdom of the native peoples more than ever to balance the degradation of the landscape. I highly recommend Bones Beneath Our Feet to all who love the land and its history as well as those who love a damn good story with fine writing. And it has all the elements needed for a powerful movie. Having read Michael Schein’s first book, Just Deceits, I anticipated that his second book would be one that I would want to purchase and Bones Beneath Our Feet has my highest recommendation!
Way Out There: Lyrical Essays by Michael Daley is one of the most satisfying reads I’ve had in a very long time. The feeling one gets from reading this book is that there is this giant of a man who has been well hidden by his modest demeanor as reflected in his daily life. Michael Daley’s array of life’s experiences ranged from that of a student priest, to that of a hobo, fisherman, tree planter, laborer, foreign traveler, teacher, husband and father, poetry publisher, and poet.
Daley loves language and takes risks with it to tell stories. The extended relationships between myth, history, ritual and narrative become important concepts in considering his own destiny. The collection of essays presents something on different levels to satisfy the reader’s curiosity. Events are situated in time and space but they provide a framework for the author to give expression to the human dimension.
His style of writing is different from the usual essay. You find yourself there with him in the moment. Sometimes you are caught off guard by the transitions between scenes or incidents, but as the story moves on, it evolves into a concise and neatly plotted way of revealing philosophy, feelings and knowledge about the world in which we live. The narrative style is restrained and not sentimental, but he is not afraid to admit to love or rage and to a healthy libido. He adds something of his own in the search for human values. In this way he confronts the condition of mankind rather than just his own personal problems.
His experiences as a seminary student are startling, not only at the hands of a pedophile priest but also that the final selection of those chosen for priesthood depended at least in part on a toss of white and black beans in a bowl. We enjoyed the revelations of sinning while still in seminary—coupled with his introduction to and indulgence in Ezra Pound.
He reveals his love and empathy with the plight of the common man, especially those who cross our southern border to pick our lettuce, avocados, apples, oranges, and hops. …
He engages us in what “illegal immigrants face in this country and what their fate may be if they are deported” It’s life on the lam. Whether it’s the poor refugees seeking safety of life and limb or the inquisitive journalist-hobo on a train to Yakima at harvest time—seeking what? Danger? Adventure? The voice of the oppressed finds its rightful place in the narrative, and it is the writer who restores the human dimension.
Traveling south of the border, he is confronted with the effects of our foreign policies on the economies of their home countries. He is willing to go to the dark underbelly of society to learn, to know and to see how the other side survives. This kind of travel carries its own risks.
Born and raised in the East, Daley sees the West with an unexpected and keen ability for observation and reflection. He sees America as we all should, from a train. And as most of us collect photos and souvenirs of our travels, Daley makes a more profound journey. His revelations and experiences weave their way into life’s deeper meanings. He wants what we all want: meaning to our lives and some form of earthly happiness.
Writing in the moment is the framework with all the historical and cultural events coming together in a single narrative. Wherever he is traveling or working, Daley takes it all in. He absorbs the reality of the streets, the cities and towns, the history, the people, their customs and languages, the land and its rivers and rocks.
His ingenuity in weaving his personal experiences into the structure of the narrative is impressive. The narrative gives us a succession of moments in the present, seemingly independent of each other but their juxtaposition is organized into the story with a sensitivity that he absorbs into a vision. One of the most exciting aspects of his writing is his sense of mythology and how it makes its way into the writing alongside the accounts of real honest labor. As Daley explores his relationship to the past and what there is to learn on how to be in the world, we too learn about the world of ideas and politics.
In the essay “My First Poem” his journey of self-discovery and “apprenticeship” extends, as expected, into poetry, the work of the poet replacing that of a priest, complete with costume of black cape, boots, and white fur hat (instead of the black beret). This is against the backdrop of Vietnam and racism. We breathed a sigh of relief with his commentary on poetry styles and the pitfalls of parrot-like imitation.
Early on Michael Daley assumed the role of the poet as witness and active participant in the antiwar movement, the rights of the indigenous people and the environment. His active participation in civil disobedience to the wars in Vietnam and Iraq and the presence of Trident subs in our backyard makes our hapless attempts at protest seem even more poignant. The protests against the Trident submarines continue to this day and Daley’s powerful account of the encounters with the Coast Guard leads him to the drawer where his father kept his newspaper clippings.
As “the son of a warrior,” Daley experienced the immediacy of emotions looking at Life’s Pictorial of WWII and seeing the carnage of Japan’s cities and the newspaper clippings kept by his father. As Daley describes it, his “father was the radio operator/gunner on a B-29 that flew in the Tokyo invasion, his first of 30 missions. He didn't say much about it, but kept some newspaper clippings, medals, and other records, from which I was able to piece together those poems and three essays: "A Letter to Dan Peters," "Hibakusha" & "Witness."
Daley’s writing on how the Northwest works is pure poetry. His daily living finds its way into ruminations on our connectedness with the history of a region and how we make a living through the extraction of a region’s resources with its resulting environmental effects. His essays are balanced by an appreciation of honest physical labor and the ability to express joy in ordinary things. Some of these essays show an unusual sensitivity and interest, not only in nature, but also in the cultures of indigenous people. His meditations on the indigenous peoples and their cultures are interwoven in the narrative of his own personal journey. Meandering through history, culture and geology, he immerses himself in his surroundings, all the while gathering together the images that fortify his vision of the world and his quest for roots. That knowledge then resonates with his own relationships with nature and demonstrates that our political involvement becomes necessary and our responsibility.
In the 1970s Michael Daley plunged into publishing a poetry magazine. “Running on Empty,” one of the longer essays in the collection, describes the pitfalls of producing literature by a regional nonprofit press. Empty Bowl Press would focus on regional, native and historic themes of the Northwest, or the Pacific Rim, as stated by Daley. His commitment to publishing was sustained by the satisfaction of gathering with a loose knit group of colleagues for discussion of what to include in the next issue in the Dalmo’ ma series. This is fascinating reading.
The final essay titled “Wild Art” is provocative reading, especially in the treatment of silence and our mental explorations thereof. His ruminations on education, the degradation of nature and his mental debate with Barry Lopez on the subject of road-kill are startling in their breadth. When Daley tells his students that “the only knowledge is self-knowledge,” we hope he will follow up with an essay on autodidactic learning.
The best explanation of what Daley does in this collection of essays is on page 211: “I begin, usually without warning, to rhapsodize, clicking off one connection after another. And again on page 212: “The love of an idea, the glory of language, the validity of our animal natures, the faith in pure art, etc.” How else does one awaken one’s consciousness to justify one’s self, to provide energy for the fierce joy of living? We tend to surround ourselves with what is familiar. Daley embraces the totality of experience and rhythms where everything is present: the countryside, the wind, the people, and so on. Those elements provide a continuity to life and the possibility that the contemplation of those bonds is a sense of happiness, i.e., lyrical. This kind of lyricism keeps him (and us) from sinking into despair. And maybe that is what life is about: “doing work for good purpose.”
These essays all come together in a cohesive “lyrical” whole. Daley’s meditations on events and forces that influence our lives for better or worse are very human. The areas of darkness that span the period between birth and death can be brightened by the small pleasures and kindnesses we identify with and that remind us of our humanity. Daley’s writing parallels life itself and he has come to terms with what life has dealt him and has brought him serene self-awareness. We rejoice that Daley is a part of our world and the power of his writing will have a lasting effect on humanity. You will want to read this book more than once. I rate it on par with Pablo Neruda and Carl Sandburg, two of my favorite poets.
Broker Jim by J. Glenn Evans
Mark Twain, Joyce Cary and Kingsley Amis wrote novels full of comic goodwill and characters who wrestle with their own individual morals amid those of society. Jim Bradley, the protagonist of Broker Jim, navigates with his own moral compass the world of women, money and the stock market. The combination of dead-serious innocence and eccentric humor in the author's unique voice makes this novel a hilarious romp that is unforgettable. Kingsley Amis once said that the "mode of speech" is the writer's most powerful card for drawing strong characters in a novel. That being said, Evans's good ear for dialogue and his ability to create memorable characters owe much to his writing of poetry.
Evans tells the story of Broker Jim against the backdrop of America as a nation in transition—from the sexual mores of post-World War II America to the greed of the 1980s. Evans's narrative brims with the authenticity that comes from more than twenty years as a stockbroker and investment banker. He writes the story in the first person so we share Jim's interior world in which an earnest young man struggles to make it in the world of buying and selling dreams. Jim makes some dumb decisions, but you root for him anyway. In and out of one crisis after another, he still lands on his feet. Although he doesn't have a golden parachute to weather the storms, he does have the ubiquitous Seattle umbrella to get him through the rainy days.
Unlike those guys at Enron or Worldcom with their golden parachutes, Broker Jim has only an umbrella. This lusty, but very innocent, ambitious young man tries to make it on the square. Faced with temptations and setbacks that would shatter most people with his jaw-breaker encounters with life; Broker Jim may not be perfect, but you are right there with him through all the stumbles and temptations of both sex and money. You know what he’s thinking but never the outcome until it happens. Readers of the book say it’s the author’s voice and the character of the guy that makes this book funny, sexy and suspenseful. You share the ride with Broker Jim as he slugs his way through a corrupt world.
A good read from start to finish. From his roots in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl to his ascension in a large brokerage house, Jim Bradley is an unlikely hero. With his own moral compass, Jim tries to navigate his personal odyssey through a variety of temptations, including women, money, and fortune. A stable of memorable characters, including Winona Flowerbell, Tidler, Saul, his dubious friend, and hard-boiled bosses, all test Jim’s resolution. As we drift through the Southwest and finally the Northwest, Jim’s journey is leavened by Evans’s humor, a good ear for dialogue and laced with colorful vernacular reminiscent of Mark Twain. Broker Jim is the “Lucky Jim” of American finance. Jim’s true entrepreneurial spirit leads him to the end of a rainbow even he could never have anticipated.
A remarkable achievement! Broker Jim’s decisions always seem to take him to the brink but we root for him all the way. A funny, sexy narrative about a stockbroker, this is a story that flows from beginning to end. Rich in humor, colorful dialogue and an unforgettable group of characters, it brims with authenticity. The author’s seriocomic voice makes it a fun book to read.
The Mental Environment
by Bob Gebelein
We are drowning in a sea of verbal and written muck, but Bob Gebelein has thrown us a lifesaver to sort through the waves of misinformation thrown at us from all directions. The Mental Environment: (Mostly about Mind Pollution) is one man’s awakening on how to sort through the real and the unreal by doing one’s own thinking through personal experience. His thoughts are fresh air to those of us who are suffocating from the mental pollution of modern society, where the “experts” and the “talking heads” tell us what to think, how to think and what we must not think.
Bob Gebelein explores the mental feedstock that we are raised on from our parents who probably got it from their parents. He tackles the pervading climate of the so-called “experts” both scientific and spiritual who try to spoon-feed us. He relates how the scientific, academic and spiritual “experts” often pooh-pooh new thinking that does not jibe with their belief system or frame of reference. He discloses how those occupying positions in the prestigious establishments often assume a particular position and others will fall in line, giving the matter little further thought. For example:
Concepts, not yet disproved, such as PSI (paranormal perceptions commonly referred to as ESP) and reincarnation are explored. Gebelein’s own personal philosophy fills a vital need in this age of misinformation where the gems of truth are often hidden in the forest of information thrown at us daily. It is a fresh look at that material and will help in the extraction of the true grains of wisdom and knowledge in the windstorm of chaff that blinds us.
Gebelein is not the usual suited Harvard graduate turned loose on the world. He relates a story about his experience when he attempted to join the Navy in 1956.
You may not agree with everything Gebelein writes, but you will be a wiser person after having been introduced to the topics of discussion that he covers. I enthusiastically recommend this book as something everyone should read who seeks the truth and realizes you can’t believe everything you read or hear. The Mental Environment: (Mostly about Mind Pollution) is available through your local bookstore or can be ordered from Amazon.com or Omdega.com or your local bookstore.
VAL LAIGO’S PASSION by Barbara A. Evans
Val Laigo’s Passion by Barbara A. Evans is a unique memoir on the most important Filipino American artist of the Northwest, Val Laigo (1930-1992). A study of the artist, his works and the Filipino family and culture that produced him, it captures the spirit and personality of an extraordinary human being whose drive to live was such a powerful force in the creation of his art. Born with two holes in his heart, Val Laigo was not expected to live. Instead, he defied all predictions of his early death and lived each day as if it were his last.
Val Laigo taught art for many years at Seattle University. Born of immigrant parents, his father was murdered when he was six years old. His mother, a talented teacher, seamstress and artist in her own right, then married Mike Castillano, a longtime chef for Ivar Haglund. Mike Castillano proved to be a devoted husband and stepfather who willingly assumed the responsibilities of his new family of five.
Val Laigo's Passion makes liberal use of quotations from the artist, his family, friends, and other artists. It is a story that the general reader can read with delight and understanding. Generous endnotes and a selected bibliography are also provided.The book not only gives insights into the family’s struggles to survive, but it captures the personality of the artist who was a romantic visionary, and whose non-stop conversations, style of dress, whose world view of man and his role in the universe, made Laigo one of the most astonishing artists of our time. Laigo used the canvas to explore worlds where he could not go and in so doing, created bold and imaginative images that fascinate, puzzle, please, or astonish.
Val Laigo’s works on public display include the three-panel mural of creation displayed in the Lemieux Library at Seattle University. Another commissioned piece located across from Amazon.com’s headquarters on Beacon Hill is a colorful free-standing double-sided triptych sculpture of ceramic, glass and cement portrays elements of Filipino culture on one side and the coming together of the Eastern and Western cultures on the reverse side. Another sculpture in the park honors the Filipino patriot and martyr, José Rizal, the George Washington of the Philippines. Laigo’s mural done in the 1960s for Boeing’s Scientific Research Labs on the Duwamish River, was just as free-wheeling in its treatment of man’s aspirations for outer space as was the academic environment at BSRL.
Barbara A. Evans, a retired health care professional, knew Laigo as an artist, cardiac patient and friend over a span of more than thirty years. She also spent over seven years as the editor of a literary magazine, PoetsWest and currently edits and co-produces a weekly radio show of poetry, stories, music and interviews for KSER 90.7 FM. Is editor for www.poetswest.com, a resource for poets and poetry throughout the Pacific Northwest. Co-recipient of the 1999 Faith Beamer Cooke Award of the Washington Poets Association for work in the Northwest poetry scene. Former editor for the Poets Against the War web site, the project begun by Sam Hamill in response to the war against Iraq.
Last week’s column talked about PoetsWest, a support network for writers created by J. Glenn and Barbara Evans of Seattle. In that column, I promised to write a review of Barbara Evans’ excellent nonfiction book, Val Laigo’s Passion.
I often found myself thinking: “Oh, that’s interesting… I didn’t realize that… I can see just what she means.” I enjoyed both the arresting and interesting style of the book, as well as the story itself.
So, who was the artist Val Laigo (1930-1992)? Here is a portion of Barbara Evans’ introduction:
In short, Val Laigo was a Filipino-American painter whose work brimmed with color, passion, style and intellect, which were also the components of his life.
The chapters of the book include the following: 1. A Palpable Joie de Vivre 2. East Meets West 3. A Beginning and an End 4. The Strengths of Bibiana and Mike 5. Heaven and Earth 6. Bombs and Ballads 7. Seattle University 8. Forms and Figures 9. Chata Laigo 10. Reality and Realms of the Imagination 11. Lemieux Library Mural 12. Buhr Hall 13. Family and Community 14. Stability in the Seventies 15. Crisis in the Eighties and an Afterword.
In addition, the endnotes and bibliography of the book are painstaking and generous. Within the 200-plus-page book are illustrative photos of Val Laigo, his family, and some of his major works. With detail, precision and intellectual speculation, Evans creates a powerful and comprehensive rendering of art and artist.
Throughout this book, we learn what makes an artist of such passion and compassion “tick.” We get to know his family, his travels, his trials and tribulations. Barbara Evans comments about his ongoing style as both a human being and an artist. Furthermore, we glimpse into his spiritual dimension, particularly by looking at his diversely spiritual paintings and murals that include images such as artichokes, chalice, bowl, tomato, garlic, lily, rose and a child’s toy.
We feel compassion for his chronic ill health, as well as his struggles against stereotyping as a Filipino in America. His ancestors and family are included in this complete discussion of artist and man.
With her superb grasp of international and Northwest art history, Barbara Evans shows us who and what influenced Val Laigo, what he did and did not want to emulate, and how these various forces—as well as the politics of his era―created Val Laigo.
If you are looking for a vibrant and intellectual book to sink your teeth into, or if you are an artist who simply wants to learn all that you can about another artist, I highly recommend this book. The ISBN is 1-4241-7634-4. For more information about the book or to order it, see Val Laigo’s Passion, by Barbara A. Evans, www.publishamerica.com, or write directly to Barbara Evans at PoetsWest.
Christine Swanberg is a local author and poet who has written several books of poetry and formerly wrote a column called “The Writer’s Garret” for The Rock River Times.