Book review: Flypaper Dreams

Flypaper Dreams, by Jay Kendall. 165 pages. Paperback. $13.95

Reviewed by Tena Starr

There are both pros and cons involved in self-publishing a book. The pros are that it’s difficult to get a book, even a very good one, published these days through traditional means. Self-publication allows some books that would have never, otherwise, seen the light of day to get into print and be read.

One of the bigger drawbacks, however, is that the self-published seldom seek outside help — as in an editor to advise on how a manuscript could be improved — or even a proofreader to check for obvious typos, misspellings and the like. We’ve seen many such books and find it unfortunate. Mechanical error, as well as implausibility, detract from the dignity of a story.

Jay Kendall’s Flypaper Dreams does not suffer from those flaws. His is a well and cleanly written story.

Mr. Kendall is currently retired and lives in Arizona. But he grew up in Newport, in Skunk Hollow. He graduated from UVM with a degree in English and went on to be a teacher and counselor. As a graduate school field worker for the Dictionary of American Regional English, he collected the dialect of the Northeast Kingdom where he grew up, and in this book he does what so many have tried and so few have been successful at: He recreates both characters and language that ring true to this small part of the world.

Largely, this novel explores a young man’s relationship with his father, who has recently died. It was a fraught relationship, characterized by violence and disappointment, but also love and eternal hope. Upon his father’s death, Zack, a grown man now with children of his own and a fulfilling job as a teacher, goes home for his dad’s funeral and journeys through childhood memories. But all is not what it seems. The man he knew, and the man others knew, does not appear to be the same.

This is very much a Northeast Kingdom story. Troubled father-son relationships are generic — they can happen anywhere. But in this case we’re talking redneck and tradition, about a father’s disappointment in a son who is not inclined to kill a deer, stinks at football, and doesn’t “man up” when he has to have an infected toe cut off and walks with a limp.

Henry, Zack’s father, runs a hard school.

As a freshman, Zack decides he’d like to smoke a pipe. His father, a storekeeper, says, okay.

Questioned by a customer about the wisdom of that, Hank, says, “‘Absolutely! It makes all kinds of sense. It shows he’s growin’ up. I was younger than he is now when I started smokin’ corn silk behind my father’s barn.’

“So Henry helps his son choose a pipe from the store, and then the tobacco, and he carefully shows him how to tamp it.

“‘I myself smoke Union Leader, but we’ve got quite a few others,’” Henry tells his son. ‘All right, so now you’ve got your pipe, and you’ve got your tin of tobacco. The next thing is to learn how to pack it. Now this is something that takes practice. You don’t want it too loose or too tight, just a nice even smoke. Now you watch me do it once.’

“His father showed him the procedure, adding comments and cautions as he went. Then he knocked the tobacco out and handed the pipe back to Zack. ‘Okay, now you try it, and I’ll watch you to make sure you’ve got the hang of it.’ Standing over Zack, Henry was completely attentive and encouraging.

“Zack had never felt such a close connection to his father before. By lucky accident he’d discovered a common interest and launched the kind of father-son relationship he’s always wanted. He tried to blow smoke rings like his dad’s, and Henry laughed at his attempts. But the laughter warmed Zack, and he thought about Sunday evenings in summer when they’d sit on the porch and smoke together. Then his dad would teach him how to blow smoke rings, and they would talk and talk about… whatever fathers and sons talked about. The smoke had made him a bit queasy, but it had been worth it.”

But Zack’s new, intimate relationship with his father isn’t to be.

“Henry’s voice dropped an octave, becoming intimate and sinister. ‘Now I want you to smoke this whole can of tobacco tonight. And you know I mean it, mister. Don’t you try to cheat, because I’ll be watchin’ you,’ he threatened. ‘You won’t need to do any other work tonight. And as soon as you’re done, you’re getting’ a good big dose of castor oil. So that’s what you’re doing’. Get started.’

“That was the first and last time Zack smoked a pipe.”

Zack’s father is also obsessed with the notion that his son is not his son, but has been fathered by one of his friends. His long-suffering wife is a terrific character, who isn’t what anyone would call a deep thinker, but she’s realistically portrayed. She’s a fusser and fretter.

“You know I can’t help it,” she tells Zack at one point. “I worry. It’s what I do.”

It’s a bit hard to write about this book without giving its surprises away, and the surprises are what keeps the narrative going. Zack, always believing that he was a failure in his father’s eyes, learns otherwise through talking to the old man’s friends, as well as his mother. He learns that his father was far more like himself than he could have dreamed.

Contacted by phone, Mr. Kendall said his parents were the studies for his work on the Dictionary of American Regional English, and the models for this book, which is largely autobiographical. He grew up on Hill Street in Newport with a mother who was French Canadian; English was her second language. Her family moved to Vermont when she was four, and she didn’t start school until she was ten, he said, so she only learned Northeast Kingdom English. She used the word “spider” to refer to a frying plan, for instance. And the first time he heard himself on tape, Mr. Kendall said he was surprised to hear his own accent, which he has since tried to remedy.

Mr. Kendall said he started writing novels —this is his second — when he found himself responsible for teaching a creative writing class. The summer preceding the class he took a creative writing class himself and was asked, “What do you write?” Up to that point, he hadn’t written much beyond letters and notes on class work. “They said, can you think of a piano teacher who did not play the piano every day?”

So Mr. Kendall set out to write, and to write what interested him. That turned out to be a novel, his first book, The Secret Keepers, published in 1998.

Yes, he said, he misses the Northeast Kingdom. One of his sons still lives in Newport, and he tries to get back here from time to time, but he also loves Arizona.

“The Northeast Kingdom is very much in my thoughts all the time.”

The book is available online through Amazon, and it’s worth a read.

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Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating & What You Can Do About It

copyright the Chronicle August 3, 2016

 

Reviewed by Joseph Gresser

Larry Olmsted’s useful and frightening book manages to repeatedly stimulate and quell the reader’s appetite. He highlights some of the finest foods and drinks the world has to offer and explains why the average eater and drinker will probably not be provided what he or she is expecting.

In some cases the difference is obvious. Few people believe that Kraft Foods puts genuine imported Parmesan cheese in its green cardboard cans. It may come as a bit of a shock to find out that the can’s contents include very little that can be categorized as cheese, but the harm done is slight.

That may not be the case when someone buys what she thinks is extra virgin olive oil or seafood. Mr. Olmsted’s research reveals that the supermarket bottle that claims to contain fine Italian olive oil may hold a blend of oils that includes peanut oil, a deception that could put an allergic person’s life in jeopardy.

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An energetic and updated performance of Annie Get Your Gun

copyright the Chronicle August 3, 2016

by Joseph Gresser

Annie Get Your Gun is an early product of the golden age of American musical theater. It was first staged in 1946, just a few years after Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma, which kicked off an era of musicals that lasted into the 1970s.

Seventy years later Annie Get Your Gun is playing on the Greensboro town green, in an energetic production by the Greensboro Arts Alliance and Residency and Mirror Theatre Ltd.

The show was directed by Sean Haberle based on a revised version of the script put together for a 1999 Broadway revival.

Anyone who has ever seen the movie version of the show, made in 1950, will recognize the potential pitfalls the original version might encounter in an era more attuned to ethnic and gender equity. …To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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Book review: New Kinsey collection is a double offering

copyright the Chronicle March 16, 2016

Galvanized, New and Selected Poems by Leland Kinsey. Published by Green Writers Press, Brattleboro. 381 pages. $24.95 in paperback.

Reviewed by Chris Braithwaite

As its subtitle suggests, Barton poet Lee Kinsey’s new book is a double offering. It begins with a dozen new poems; then a rich selection of his finest work drawn from earlier books that stretch all the way from Northern Almanac (1991) through Family Drives (1993), Not One Man’s Work (1996), Sledding on Hospital Hill (2003), and The Immigrant’s Contract (2008), to Winter Ready (2014).

Galvanized is a double offering in another sense, as well. To readers who know anything of this area and its history it is a beautifully drafted, richly detailed, four-dimensional map through space and time.

But Mr. Kinsey also takes his readers to the wilds of Labrador, the relentless heat of Africa, the wheat fields and dinosaur-rich badlands of western Canada, and the bars of Havana long before Castro tamed them.

Except for the latter, from which Mr. Kinsey was barred by U.S. law, these are first-person accounts of the poet’s travels. He was toured through Tanzania by a cousin, Erwin Kinsey, who has made agricultural development there his life’s work. And in one of the new poems, “Shouldered,” it is good to see that, even removed from the Northeast Kingdom by a generation and the Atlantic Ocean, the Kinsey spirit survives.

Trying to be helpful, Erwin’s three pre-teen boys roll a large boulder out of a steep, sandy road. The huge rock doesn’t come quietly to rest on the shoulder, but rolls through a coffee plantation, a fence, a garden, a small dam, and two shops before coming to rest against their school.

The poet reports:

The day they told me of it

we walked and talked down every thrashed,

apologized for, paid for, proud inch.

Proud, indeed. Another story for the Kinsey family annals.

When he combined the stories he’d collected from an elderly friend into The Immigrant’s Contract, Mr. Kinsey felt obliged to visit Alberta. His friend had gone out west on a train to help bust the prairie sod, driving one of five ten-horse teams across a perfectly flat landscape.

Mr. Kinsey made the long drive in three days, sticking as close to the railway line as he could.

In the poem “Alberta Wheat Fields” his protagonist, who emigrated to the Kingdom from Quebec as a young man, notices something missing:

I waited for ledges and rocks but the disks

wheeled on, cutting for hour after stoneless hour.

 

In another of his new poems, “Fish Eggs,” Mr. Kinsey is in Labrador. He’s set aside the eggs he stripped from a catch as a gift for the expedition’s cook. But they don’t make it back to camp. The poem closes with a fine demonstration of Mr. Kinsey’s gift for rhythm:

Eggs, and no gull noticed,

gull, and no eggs to be seen,

no one’s rights involved,

just, quick as that,

life’s magic

act.

But it is the work that emerges from the poet’s precise map of the neighborhood that this reader finds most compelling.

It is intimate stuff, but in detail, Mr. Kinsey warns us in “Horseshoeing,” we must grant him some measure of poetic license:

But any path to or through

the past is an icy road,

whatever the pace,

distorted by speed.

Some of the incidents in his poems are completely accurate, Mr. Kinsey said Saturday in an interview. “Others I manipulated. I’m not trying to write my autobiography. I’m trying to write poems.”

In background detail, however, the poems ring perfectly true. From “Children Sledding on Hospital Hill” he evokes:

… an icy night

so cold the roads weren’t slippery.

 

And from “Upland Birds,” the grouse’s perfect imitation of machine:

All day I heard the muffled thumps

like the tumble and thuds 

of my grandfather starting

his old John Deere tractor

There are surprising similes that could only occur to a writer who grew up on a rock-cursed dairy farm in the Kingdom. From “Swing,” catching fastballs hurled by his father across the stubble of a hayfield:

the slap in our gloves like the sound 

of punching an ornery cow

Mr. Kinsey turns the surprise around in one of his new poems, “Army Worms.” As they eat their way across a crop of rowen, he writes, the worms sound like horses eating hay:

or like the rub of taffeta against my leg

at prom balls in my earlier life.

There is a great deal of loss in the work of Leland Kinsey. He writes, in “Last Crops,” of the family gathering to harvest the fruits and vegetables husbanded by his sister Helen, who has died of cancer.

And in “Picking Stone” the family comes to the aid of a cousin, Jeff Kinsey, who is too weakened by the cancer that is killing him to do the job himself.

Jeff is given the last word:

“Well, I know you must love me,

I never thought I’d see you pick stone again.”

                        Little enough burden.

 

The book is bracketed by poems about the poet’s father, Fred Kinsey. There’s bitterness in the final poem, an angry homage to an unstoppable force who lay dying in hospital:

You worked your life in the Northeast Kingdom

with power,

and no glory,

ever.

And there’s great joy in the new work that opens the book, “The Skinny.” A young Fred and his brother Bob are caught skinny dipping in the Barton River as a train pulls by carrying the King and Queen of England on a royal visit.

… they stood and waved

and thought or pretended the Queen responded,

at a window the sweep of a hand

a pleasant face

moving away at considerable speed.

There is in fact a map of Mr. Kinsey’s world. Shown to him recently by his mother, Louise Kinsey, it shows the road from the family farm to South Albany, past Hartwell Pond where a car is parked. In the pond, the tiny bobbing heads of the Kinseys, reaping their cool reward for a hot day spent in the hayfield. If a child spent too much time out of sight, a parent would call out and wait for the answering “Here I am.”

When he drew the map, at age six, Mr. Kinsey could not have known it would illustrate one of his poems, “Swimming Late.” In it, this master of brilliant closing lines that can cast deep shadows across what seemed a simple narrative, remembers such a night at Hartwell:

Tonight, after a long hot day

I’ve worked through, I say softly

“Here I am.”

to no one’s call,

to no one expecting an answer

 

After another long hot day, in “Double Digging the Garden,” Mr. Kinsey reflects that he grows more food than he and his wife can eat, more than they can give away:

I could join the farmer’s market

but don’t like meeting new people.

My legacy may consist of refuse.

But then comes my favorite conclusion of all the poems in Galvanized. He’s writing about his garden, but the lines serve as a metaphor for Mr. Kinsey’s real legacy:

Here is life’s habit on grand exhibit

and the hard work hidden.

Editor’s note: Leland Kinsey will read selections from Galvanized at Green Mountain Books in Lyndonville on March 25 at 3 p.m.; at the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick on April 5 at 7 p.m.; and at an Osher talk and reading at Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury on May 5 at 1:30 p.m. The book’s official publication date is April 8.

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An old song becomes a new classic

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WEB freeman book cmykcopyright the Chronicle November 25, 2015

The Devil In The Valley, by Castle Freeman. Published by Overlook Duckworth, New York City and London, 2015. Hardcover, 191 pages, $24.95.

Reviewed by Joseph Gresser

In jazz there are tunes known as standards. Those songs usually have harmonic structures that musicians find interesting. The point of the standards for the performer is not just to play them, but also to fashion them into a new, original composition.

In literature, the story of Doctor Faust is something of a standard. Since at least the time of Christopher Marlowe, writers have taken the tale of the man who sells his soul to the devil and remade it to suit their own purposes.

As the plot is usually set out a man offers up his immortal soul and, in exchange, gets his heart’s desire. In the original Faust story that’s a return to youth and the love of an innocent woman.

Of course the deal has a time limit, historically seven years, and a fiendish… To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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Suspended Worlds — an excavation of long ago community life

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Suspended Worlds — an excavation of long ago community life, a book by Christine Hadsel.

Suspended Worlds — an excavation of long ago community life, a book by Christine Hadsel.

copyright the Chronicle September 16, 2015

Suspended Worlds: Historic Theater Scenery in Northern New England, by Christine Hadsel.  Published by David R. Godine, Boston, 2015; 188 pages, hardbound, $40.00.

reviewed by Joseph Gresser

With Suspended Worlds Christine Hadsel has created a coffee table book that belongs in the library of every Vermonter.  As a record of the work of Curtains Without Borders, the organization, it gives a clear account of an imaginative partnership that has, so far, saved 185 theater curtains from neglect.

Both her project and the book serve a deeper purpose in excavating a part of New England community life that has been largely forgotten as times and styles changed over 100 years.

In so doing Ms. Hadsel and her many collaborators have revealed an important part of the region’s artistic heritage that in… To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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History as seen through the novels of Jeffrey Lent

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A novel by Jeffrey Lent

A novel by Jeffrey Lent

copyright the Chronicle September 2, 2015

by Paul Lefebvre

History as seen in the novels of Jeffrey Lent: In the Fall (542 pages), published in 1999 by Atlantic Monthly Press, and A Slant of Light (357 pages) published in 2015 published by Bloomsbury.

To write out of time, or write imaginatively about a century that transpired 100 years ago, is a tricky proposition for any writer to undertake. Historical novels have evolved to become a genre of their own, but the best ones are arguably those that focus on a particular event. The one that comes readily to mind is the American Civil War novel Killer Angels, written by Michael Shaara. It’s a novel so good at recreating the pivotal three-day battle of Gettysburg that more than one reader has mistaken imaginary characters for real ones.

Much of the novel did revolve around…  To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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At The Museum of Everyday Life:  the charms and trials of dust

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At great personal sacrifice, Linda Elbow refrained from cleaning her house for four months and put some of the results on display.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

At great personal sacrifice, Linda Elbow refrained from cleaning her house for four months and put some of the results on display. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle June 3, 2015

by Joseph Gresser

GLOVER — The Museum of Everyday Life, located in a retired dairy barn just off Route 16 south of Glover Village, opened its fifth season Sunday afternoon in the kind of damp weather that represses the subject of its new exhibit—dust.

In previous years the museum looked through its skewed lens at common items that generally have to be bought — pencils, matches, safety pins, and toothbrushes. Dust is with us whether we like it or not, and the museum’s chief curator, Clare Dolan, offers visitors a chance to examine a multitude of its many aspects.

Samples of coal dust, sawdust, grain dust, and gold dust were elegantly presented under a series of bell jars, along with detailed descriptions of the hazards or benefits each represents….To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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contact Joseph Gresser at [email protected]

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Book review: Writer exhumes surprising stories from Brighton

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WEB IP bookcopyright the Chronicle May 27, 2015

Island Pond Reflections, by S.J. Campbell. Paperback. 130 pages. Self-published. $19.99.

Reviewed by Tena Starr  

Island Pond Reflections isn’t a scholarly history of Brighton, which has also been known rather charmingly as Gilead, Random, and the less romantic Lot 31.

Instead, Sharon Campbell says in the book’s introduction that she’s written a collection of “true stories and tales long forgotten.”

The stories come from books and newspaper articles and date back centuries.

“They provide a tantalizing glimpse into the lives of the people who lived here and describe the developments that shaped their environment,” Ms. Campbell writes. “Through the centuries Island Pond grew big enough to accommodate a whole host of characters. Their trials and tribulations were deemed worthy of being reported by newspapers in cities as far away as Boston, Seattle, London, and Montreal.”

Ms. Campbell says that Brighton, and Island Pond, the village within the town, was, at one time, quite a diverse place, populated by Italian stonemasons, Syrian storekeepers, and Lebanese Christians escaping religious or political persecution….To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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contact Tena Starr at [email protected]

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Guide gives rise to the baker within

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WEB bread book covercopyright the Chronicle April 8, 2015

Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes, 2nd Edition, by Jeffrey Hamelman, illustrations and photography by Chiho Kaneko; Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey, 2014; Hardbound, 478 pages; $45.

Reviewed by Joseph Gresser

For anyone interested in learning to bake good bread or, even better, improving their baking skills, I can unreservedly recommend this book.

I was a lapsed home baker when a good friend gave me a baking book several years ago. The book was useful in some respects, but the recipes were riddled with mistakes, and my return to bread making was nearly cut short.

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