Thursday, November 08, 2018

"The Doolittle Raiders: What Heroes Do After The War"



"As a grammar school kid in Willows … in the late 1940s," George Nolta writes, he met a man named Jimmy who was on a hunting trip with a group that included Nolta's uncles Floyd and Dale. "Jimmy" turned out to be Jimmy Doolittle, the man who commanded "sixteen B-25s that took off from the deck of the USS Hornet on April 18, 1942. Each carried a crew of five: pilot, copilot, navigator, bombardier, and flight engineer/gunner."

The mission, America's response to Pearl Harbor, was "the first bombing raid on Japan during World War II." Ted Lawson, pilot of the seventh crew, told the story in "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," written with newspaper columnist Robert "Bob" Considine. It was turned into a movie starring Spencer Tracy as Doolittle, Van Johnson as Lawson, and Phyllis Thaxter as Ellen, Ted's wife.

The Lawsons eventually settled in Chico. Ted died in 1992 "and is buried in the Chico Cemetery." After Nolta, who now lives in Citrus Heights, published a piece on Ellen for the Colusi County Historical Society, the two became friends. Ellen asked Nolta if he would use her research on the crewmembers to create a book documenting their lives, not only pre-raid but post-raid.

The book is called "The Doolittle Raiders: What Heroes Do After The War" ($16.99 in paperback from Schiffer Publishing); its vivid and clearly written narratives trace the accomplishments, and the heartbreak, of the eighty Raiders. Sixty-four survived; the remaining were lost in a crash landing, drowned, or tortured and executed by the Japanese.

In an email Nolta notes that "some of the Raiders flew up to the Willows Airport to do some last-minute short takeoff practice after their planes had been serviced at McClellan Field in Sacramento. …" 

Doolittle received the Medal of Honor and late in his life told a writer that "I believe every person has been put on this earth for just one purpose: to serve his fellow man. … If he does, his life will have been worthwhile." He was ninety-six when he died in 1993. Richard Cole, his copilot, the only surviving Raider, celebrated his 103rd birthday in September 2018.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

"Murder At The Columbarium"



The novels of Chico writer Emily Gallo (emilygallo.com) trace the interconnected lives of some unlikely friends. Her new tale focuses on San Francisco's famous Columbarium, a real place on Lorraine Court "with the walls containing thousands of niches holding urns of every variety."

Jed Gibbons, "a tall, sinewy African-American in his early sixties," and a survivor of the Jonestown massacre in Guyana, has become the caretaker. His wife, Monica, is a social worker at Glide Church and HIV positive. One morning, as Jed opens the gate in front of the columbarium, he finds the body of a woman strangled to death with her own hijab. And more: A baby, alive, lying next to her.

"Murder At The Columbarium" ($13.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle) is by turns an engaging mystery (Jed plays detective and comes under suspicion himself) and a family drama (Jed wants to adopt the child but Monica is not so sure given their age and her condition). At least they can provide foster care for little Aja (the name they choose), but it's clear Jed is smitten, even as he tries to find the child's relatives and (perhaps) relinquish Aja.

San Francisco police and the FBI get involved, and some strange doings go down at the columbarium, from vandalism to a neo-Nazi, tattooed with "1488," who buys a niche and installs an urn in the shape of a KKK hood. A couple of mobster-types visit the columbarium as well, and other unsavory characters seem to come and go. The solution to the case has international implications.

Eventually Jed is led to Garberville and a pot farm run by an old musician named Dutch Bogart. Jed's friends help care for Aja, including Tony, who takes over as caretaker for a while, and Malcolm and Savali (a "third-gender" Samoan).

The novel's inclusivity is never preachy but rather a kind of gentle force against those who would take another's life.

Gallo will be signing copies of her books during "Mystery At Monca" (the Museum of Northern California Art at 900 Esplanade in Chico) on Thursday, November 8 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. There will be mystery games, refreshments, and admission is free.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

"Edgewater"



Garry Cooper, Chico State University grad and Durham resident, plunges into the sometimes shocking world of small-town life with his first novel. Using the name of a development in the Marysville area, his "fictionalized" community harbors, as the subtitle puts it, "Deep Love, Savage Betrayal, Tragic Loss, And Overwhelming Pain."

The tears on the cover suggest immediately that all is not well with at least some of the residents of "Edgewater" ($16.95 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle). The page-turning melodrama never abates as Cooper traces the intertwined lives of high school friends who find life after the high can be low indeed.

Though Edgewater is a particular "small river delta town … it is every town, big or small," Cooper writes in the prologue. "After all, a big city, besides the traffic, is really made up of groups of people. The people interact the same. Some are pure, some aren't. Some love deeply, some won't--some can't. … It's okay to cry--both happy tears and the sad ones. You will laugh, you will feel anger and hate. You will feel true goodness and love. You will feel aroused." (The sex is explicit.)

Abel, abused as a kid, is unsteady as a friend in his teen years and beyond. His friend, Seth, drinks overmuch but finds compassion in Mylee (with whom he is secretly in love), while Mylee is swept off her feet in high school by Tony (who captains the football team). 

Tony seems the consummate lover; the two seem headed for a blissful life together--at least in Mylee's dreams. But Tony carries on affairs with nearly every woman he meets and "nearly all in Edgewater knew of his trysts, but none were ever willing to violate the small town's social code of silence and tell Mylee." Mylee will be rocked to her core when she finds out (and you know she'll find out). Then comes her diagnosis.

Layla waits for Ian to return from war, and their love is made more powerful when he doesn't return whole. Achingly, in the midst of a joyful outing, tragedy strikes. 

Samantha faces revenge from a corrupt police captain. 

And so it goes in Edgewater.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

"Alone In Harmony"



Raised in Paradise, Anna Quimpo Maguire published "Searching For The City Of Love" in 2016, when she was eighteen. Since then she has established Three States of Mind (threestatesofmindpress.com), "an inclusive poetry press," with presentations scheduled in Los Angeles and beyond.

Her new book features nearly sixty short poems "about personal struggles and finding self-love through it all. … This book is intended to help others find peace in being alone."

"Alone In Harmony" ($12.99 in paperback from Three States of Mind Press) is borne out of the poet's realization that strength comes, perhaps can only come, from wrestling with those things that appear good at first but that turn and bite us.

The opening poem, "Gone," sets a somber mood.

"I have lost myself these days/," the poet writes. "It all comes out to play/ I have killed the life inside/ Or is it trying to hide/ I have taken in too many lines/ that are going to kill me over time/ I do not know where I stand/ I do not know who I am."

Drugs bite back. But "lines" has a larger reference, to all the come-ons we are prone to fall for. Even the well-meaning are not especially helpful. In "What I Have Dealt With," the poet says, "You think you know me/ When I do not even know me/ … You think you met me/ When I do not even get me…."

In response, the poet moves inward, toward "Self-Love," which contrasts with others' social expectations. 

"I cannot love myself/ When I have to give it to everyone else/ I have been too selfless/ It is time to be selfish." In "Giving Up, the poet asserts, "I am the creator of my own fate/ In my hands is a clean slate." 

But life is not so easy. In "Darkness," "I am searching for a high/ Dying a little every time/ All I need is love/ I pray, looking above/ This is hurting far too much/ Living day to day and such/ Let me find the light/ Let me get things right."

There is painful self-discovery along the way, but, in the end, a ray of hope, a way forward.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

"The Underground Railroad"



Colson Whitehead won a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for his searing novel, "The Underground Railroad" ($16.95 in paperback from Anchor/Doubleday; also for Amazon Kindle). He is scheduled to speak at the Shasta College Theatre in Redding on Tuesday, October 16 at 7:00 p.m. as part of the school's Community Speaker Series. The event is free and open to the public; details at bit.ly/2QAGdWu.

The story begins with Cora, a young slave on a Georgia cotton plantation before the Civil War. The stunning audio version is voiced by Bahni Turpin who, as Publishers Weekly put it in a starred review, "takes great pains to handle the nuances of dialect without resorting to caricature." Caesar, another of the slaves on the Randall plantation, surreptitiously invites Cora to join him in his departure through the "underground railroad."

Whitehead imagines an actual railroad, hidden in a series of massive tunnels under the South, maintained by abolitionists. Cora can hardly believe what she sees. "The tunnel, the tracks, the desperate souls who found salvation in the coordination of its stations and timetables--this was a marvel to be proud of. She wondered if those who had built this thing had received their proper reward." 

Lumbly, the station agent, replies: "Every state is different. … Each one a state of possibility, with its own customs and way of doing things. Moving through them, you'll see the breadth of the country before you reach your final stop." 

Cora will take the name "Bessie" in South Carolina, becoming a nanny to the Anderson children. Her treatment is a far cry from the unspeakable horrors the Randall brothers inflicted on their slaves (Big Anthony is tortured for days; then, "visitors sipped spiced rum as Big Anthony was doused with oil and roasted"). But it becomes clear the state is no haven for runaways.

More escapes. There will be journeys on the underground railroad to North Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana. Throughout, the slave catcher Ridgeway haunts Cora's path; the final bloody confrontation speaks volumes. 

Possibilities? Maybe. But even at times when Cora experiences relative freedom, she realizes that "whether in the fields or underground or in an attic room, America remained her warden."

Thursday, October 04, 2018

"The Gospel Of Trees: A Memoir"



Apricot Anderson Irving (apricotirving.com) describes herself as "a recovering missionary's daughter"; when she was six, in 1981, she and her "parents moved to the north of Haiti to be missionaries--not far from where Columbus sank the Santa MarĂ­a."

Later she pieced together their complicated relationship with Haiti. It's told in "The Gospel Of Trees: A Memoir" ($26 in hardcover from Simon & Schuster and available at the Chico Library; also for Amazon Kindle). Irving's exquisite prose focuses on her parents, and especially her dad, Lee Anderson.

"My father, a missionary agronomist," she writes, "is a man of the earth, his fingernails perpetually stained with berries and dirt. His first language is trees. …" Her mother, Flip Divine, "a skateboard city girl with curls that bounced against her backpack, waltzed into his life without a permit (or so he claimed)."

The book details the missionary service in Haiti as the family expanded to include little sisters Laura Meadow and Rose Ember. Apricot's mother experienced misgivings about the privileges she as a white missionary, a blan, received. "'What am I doing here in Haiti?' she asked the family journal. 'Has God brought me to Haiti to enjoy the luxurious lifestyle? I don't think so.'"

Apricot's relationship with her father is fraught (both are strong-willed), and her memoir is unstinting in its honesty. As a kid she loved the lizards; as a teenager she felt imprisoned; as a daughter she observed her parents' fragile marriage. 

Years later she returned to Haiti to cover the horrendous earthquake of 2010 for This American Life. Earlier she had realized that "beauty, it seemed, had been here all along: a wild summons, a name for God that did not stick in my throat. It felt suddenly absurd that as missionaries we had come to teach Haitians about God. God was already here. Maybe our only job was to bear witness to the beauty--and the sorrow. Without denying either one." 

Irving is scheduled to appear at the Chico Library on Thursday, October 11 at 6:30 p.m. for a reading and signing. The event, sponsored by Chico Friends of the Library, is free and open to the public.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

"Franken-Fatale"



Chico area novelist H.J. Bennett, "heavily inspired by pop culture, comics, video games, the horror genre, and classic literature," has created an alternative realty in what publicity materials call an R-rated story full of "drugs, violence, sex, language, and unsettling themes." There are enough f-bombs in the first chapter alone to populate a wheelbarrow full of more conventional modern novels. Yet, strangely enough, the larger story is one of resilience, self-discovery, and the true meaning of friendship.

Imagine a music group composed of a guitar-playing monkey, a pregnant young woman called Denver, a hulking monster stitched together from body parts, and a fading but gorgeous 1980s pop star who has died many times (literally). "Franken-Fatale" ($19.99 in paperback from Blurb; also for Amazon Kindle) is the name of the band and the name of the novel. (The cover is by Wamberto Nicomedes.)

Best known locally as a mixed-media artist ("primarily acrylic, but I am known for using strange media as well such as eyeshadow, wine, tea, hair dye, and coffee"), Bennett has created a world with bits and pieces of our own (including a narrator, that pop star named Rita Venus, obsessed with celebrity) but that is definitely not our own.

It's a world in which reanimation is common so death is no deterrent. Body parts are bought and sold. Those with the bucks (like Rita Venus) can afford to be reanimated in style; others have to make do with standard reanimation chambers. Marilyn Monroe still lives, as provocative as ever, but those who have died once and are reanimated are no longer quite human. It's not exactly blood that courses through their veins, but a blackish substance, and no one has to eat. 

In fact, there are few "warmbloods" populating the earth, and Denver's quest to find an island of non-dead humans animates Bennett's story. In an author's introduction, Bennett writes that while humans are ego-driven, the "desire for belonging and social validation … drives us to behave in more charitable ways." Along the way the self-absorbed Rita is murdered multiple times, finds help in a floating brothel, and confronts a Victor Frankenstein figure that would make Boris Karloff shudder.

Then the story gets weird.