Book Review: The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story, by Alfred J. Garrotto

[Reviewed by Bruce Roberts]

Imagine the most horrific treatment one human being could inflict upon another. Then skew the moral compass even farther from the norm by having the victims be a nun and a priest. This is the springboard situation on which Alfred J. Garrotto’s novel, The Saint of Florenville, a love story,” is based.  And in spite of the horror,  the book–as the title suggests—really is a love story.

The horror in this book comes through flashback, occasioned by the death in prison of the monster who committed the crimes—even killing Father Jensen, the priest. A young Brussells reporter, Celeste de Smet, has been assigned to write a story about this notorious twenty year old crime. To this end, she travels to Florenville, Belgium, to interview Mother Superior Marie Therese of the Servant Sisters of Mary and Joseph, now the only survivor of this terrifying event. And this is where the actual plot takes off.

Celeste is young, in her twenties. Heading away from home to get her story, she has little idea what to expect. The daunting concept of a Mother Superior, of nuns in general, of life in a convent, of the victim of a terrible crime—all of this leaves her apprehensive. But when she meets Tess—as Sister Marie Therese says to call her—she must stop and reevaluate. “Her high forehead and prominent cheekbones promised intelligence. Gray eyes, gentle and wise, invited trust. . . . A hint of dimple at the corners of her mouth created the gateway to a ready smile. I sensed I was in the presence of a woman who had come to terms with any demons from her past.”  (p. 32)

Bruce Roberts is a poet and ongoing contributor to Synchronized Chaos Magazine. Roberts may be reached by at brobe60491@sbcglobal.net.

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Book Review: You Deserve Nothing: A novel, by Alexander Maksik

[Reviewed by Christopher Bernard]

You Deserve This Book

I’m a notoriously slow reader – but I swept through this lengthy, idea-packed volume in a little more than 24 hours. My friend put me on notice “to put that blessed book when I’m talking to you. Or else . . . !”

As the author’s existentialism-obsessed protagonists would have been the first to remind me, I had a choice . . .

For Alexander Maksik’s debut novel is that fine and rare thing, at least on these shores: a compulsively readable novel of ideas, both stimulating and addictive; it is also a major contribution to the renaissance of existentialism that has emerged since 9/11.

In an ambience steeped in the romance of the Left Bank and Baron Haussmann’s boulevards, we follow a year in the life of a charismatic teacher, William Silver, at an elite high school in Paris during the period just before and during the American invasion of Iraq. He runs a seminar for seniors where they explore the moral paradoxes of Sartre, Nietzsche and Camus, only to find those paradoxes searing his own and his students’ lives with a precision and ferocity that perhaps should not have shocked either teacher or students but that enlightens the reader as only certain shocks can.

We watch the emotional conflicts inflicted by existentialist questions, and some of the most provocative answers given to them, on young people at their most impressionable and vulnerable – conflicts that then explode the most well-considered ideas like so many landmines.


Christopher Bernard is a novelist (A Spy in the Ruins), critic and poet, and co-founder of Caveat Lector magazine.

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Writing by Blanca Jones

How Can There Possibly Be a God!?

How can there possibly be a God, One who people say sent his one and only son that we may be saved, when we live in a world of decay, a world of such chaos and turmoil?

Destruction and death fills the air, incurable diseases and illnesses devouring mankind supposedly so “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:14 Lives of people are buried and swept away through the destruction of natural disasters within this world.

The deaths of young children tear at the hearts of parents who helplessly stand by.  Tears fall and cries arise from the depths of their souls as they watch their beloved young die, for reasons that run the gamut from disease, to the violence of the streets!

The cries of innocent children go unheard, overwhelmed and ashamed over what has befallen them, at no fault of their own but by the hands of those they were born to love and trust as they are neglected and abused!

Death comes to men and women fighting side by side in honor of defending their country and what they believe in.

Man persuaded and brainwashed to believe in evil disguised as the goodness of truth, dying for what they believe will unite them with the redeemer while bringing with them terror to those in their paths.

Hunger and thirst befall those unfortunate enough to be born in third world countries outside of wealth and prosperity, or the homeless living in the streets of the wealthiest cities. Hands reach out to passersby for a morsel; hearts reach out for love, for the ray of hope!

People succumbing to powers seemingly beyond their ability to control, beloved brothers and sisters who are “born” that way, unable to change that who they say they are, taking them away from what is supposedly morally right. And they ask, “why does it makes it morally wrong!?”

A mother fights with all her power, loving her children with all her heart, both young and old, doing all that is scribed in the “Holy Book” in raising her children so that they follow the path of righteousness only to live in heartache as one or more fall out of her reach.

Eyes and ears are turned and decisions by those governing are obscured by the influence of wealth and corruption, depleting the world of its richness and depriving the people of trust.

Oh how can there be a God when we are daily bombarded with the heart ache and immorality of this world supposedly made in 6 days by the One who said his creation was good!  So good that on the 7th day he rested and blessed it, making it Holy! Referencing Genisis 1:31,  2:2-3

How Can There Be a God!?

Blanca Jones may be reached at blancaejones@gmail.com.

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A Conversation With Sarah Katherine Lewis Part II: Self-Publishing

[Article by Tapati McDaniels]

Our first installment focused on Sarah Katherine Lewis’ new book, My Boring-Ass Rehab Diary* and the issues surrounding addiction and treatment. Sarah Katherine Lewis and I discussed sexism and classism in rehab, religion and powerlessness, and explored how the current paradigm might exclude some people who could benefit from rehab programs that were less rigid. The conversation then turned to the choice Sarah Katherine Lewis made to self publish after publishing her previous books, Indecent: How I Make It and Fake It As A Girl For Hire and Sex and Bacon: Why I Love Things That Are Very, Very Bad For Me, traditionally.

TSM I’m delighted to see you self-publishing.

SKL I feel like the old publishing system is pretty much obsolete because it’s so expensive. There’s so much overhead, you’re literally paying for paper, paying for ink, paying for the physical brick-and-mortar storage of the physical artifacts of your book. I just don’t think we need to do that anymore. I think that’s really an outdated technology.  I’m really interested in what happens when we decide we’re not going to pay for that anymore. I get a small amount of royalties from books that I published traditionally. I think it works out to–when somebody buys one of my books for fifteen dollars I get about twenty-five cents. The rest goes to editors, proofreaders, people with physical jobs and benefits that they go to 40 hours a week that I’ve never met, people in cubicles, warehouse workers that stamp boxes of my books, paying rent on those warehouses, paying for forklifts to move those boxes. And just all of that is not necessary anymore. We can just cut all of that loose.

TSM Major publishing houses all have expensive offices in New York. We’re paying for that too. I put a whole bunch of links about self-publishing on my blog. Some of them break down the money and the numbers. I’m actually considering it myself because it used to be that it was worth it to go through the big publishing houses because they would send you on a book tour and do all this stuff but now they only promote what they think might become a best-seller–the key words being what they think would become a best-seller. Most people don’t fall into that and they don’t do much of anything for you. I figure well if I’m going to be marketing my own book anyway I may as well get more of the money.

Tapati McDaniels is the former publisher and editor of Uppity Women Magazine and is currently writing a memoir. Excerpts can be found at http://tapati.livejournal.com/ where you can contact her with questions or comments.

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Synchronized Chaos Magazine – Oct 2011: Art Solace

Art Solace is about establishing a home for oneself by way of creating art and literature. It’s about having artistic freedom regardless of any would-be barriers.

The act of painting and drawing is a welcomed refuge for Artist Bobby West who has spent decades in federal prison. His cultural, abstract work gives us an intimate look at his struggles and loneliness.

Jamie D. Meissner, who is currently incarcerated, can also relate to finding passion in painting. Her work is reflective and emotionally-driven.

In the poem, Tears On Her Guitar, Jaylan Salah expresses finding solace in music…an attempt to drown out depression and distractions.

Additional poetry contributions are from Corey Mesler, Joseph V. Milford, Lucinda Troth, Linda Sheppard, and Sam Burks. In these poems, there are some thematic commonalities regarding distractions, bodily sensations, and isolation.

We have several book and performance reviews along with a few special articles to share with you this month:

Book reviews:

  • Laura O’Brien on Sugar Zone, by Mary Mackey
  • Christopher Bernard on Visions & Affiliations, A California Literary Time Line: Poets & Poetry 1940-2005, by Jack Foley
  • Sarah Melton on Fire Monks, by Colleen Morton Busch
  • Nicole Arocho on The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy, by Priscilla Gilman
  • David A. L. Brown on Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice, by Alia Malek

Performance reviews:

  • Bart S. Alvara on Opera San Jose’s production of Idomeneo
  • Suzanne Birrell on The Encyclopedia Show, which was recently held at the Famous Four Colors Gallery in Oakland, California. The reviewer was so inspired by the show that she completed the review in verse.

Articles:

  • Michaela Elias’ interview with Dulcimer Players Patricia Delich and Wayne Jiang
  • Tapati McDaniels’ conversation with Sarah Katherine Lewis about her self-published book, My Boring-Ass Rehab Diary
  • Christine Aratas unique article on the challenges and rewards of caregiving

Also included is a heartfelt short story by Megan Guernsey entitled, “Harry and the Potting Soil.”

As always, be sure to read Leena Prasad‘s monthly Synchronized Chaos column: Whose Brain Is It? Presented as a mystery with fictional characters and clues, this is a monthly column with a journalist’s perspective on brain research.

Please do also check out the artwork from Fabio Sassi. Sassi’s use of interesting patterns and shapes creates an industrial vibe for the viewer.

We hope you enjoy reading this month’s issue! If you haven’t already done so, check out the Synchronized Chaos Magazine Fan Page on Facebook! “Like” us and you’ll be able to stay in tune with the magazine, use it as an event and gallery resource, and network with like-minded individuals.

Compassionate Caregivers: Experienced Voices Heard

[Article by Christine Arata]

Compassionate Caregivers: Experienced Voices Heard

“There is time for work. And there is time for love. That leaves no other time.” Coco Chanel

When I was 5 years old, my mom went to work and I became a latch key kid. I remember lying on my mother’s bed as she went through her closet to find clothes for her day. I also remember times waking up and she would be gone, to work. Little did I know later in life she would need me and I would get that time with her back. My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2006. I was working full-time. I was also living with her at the time. Her needs gradually increased and I decided it best to quit my job in 2007 to work part-time. It is now 2011 and I have worked on and off as my mother has progressed in the disease. Aside from her need to work in my early years, my mom has always been a great support to me. I could always count on her. In her weakness, we became even closer. I am thankful for these years I am spending with her and I am happy I can keep her home with me. She earned her home and garden. Luckily, my brother and sister agreed. It’s not all easy; I don’t want to make a fable out of caregiving. It does take its toll, but it’s the reason you do it that can carry you through it. Instead of statistics to explain the issue, I have compiled stories from a few caregivers in the San Francisco Bay Area and one from Arizona.

Ashlee found herself caring for her grandmother while raising her daughter of only a few months. Her grandmother enjoyed having the young companionship that often brought smiles. She too found it was quality time with her grandmother and that she learned valuable lessons from her. Her family was close and her grandmother had done a lot for them all, and despite having a difficult life, she remained positive and was a strong woman. Ashlee added, “We felt our time taking care of her was in return for the wonderful things she had done for all of us, we had a family support system. This led me to my strength and patience.” Ashlee admits she gave up some freedom and a normal social life being a live-in caregiver. She found this challenging at first, but found her balance over time. She states, “We need a support system, when we receive it helps our positivity.” “…People forget to give back to their community and lend a hand. Caregivers are making a difference and leading to a rewarding life by learning something valuable from our patients.”

Christine Arata may be reached at christine.arata@me.com.

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