BETWEEN THE LINES

Message from a Blue Jay: a review

May 28, 2014

Tags: Message from a Blue Jay, Faye Rapoport DesPres, memoir in essays

A couple of months ago I was invited to participate in a Virtual Book Tour for Faye Rapoport DesPres’ debut book, a memoir-in-essays titled Message from a Blue Jay: Love, Loss, and One Writer’s Journey Home. I didn’t know how to respond. I don’t know Faye, and I mostly read and write fiction, dipping into nonfiction primarily as research.

On the other hand, I wanted to be helpful, to pass on the generosity other authors have shown me. So I went to the author’s website and learned that the book “examines a modern life marked by a passion for the natural world, a second chance at love, unexpected loss, and the search for a place she can finally call home.” I was intrigued and agreed to read the manuscript and participate in the Book Tour.

I’m so glad I said yes.

DesPres’ twenty essays are beautifully structured, weaving encounters with animals and landscape, with meditations on growing older, on illness and complicated loss. Whether her subject is the availability of Wi-Fi at Walden Pond, her Holocaust survivor father sobbing when his car kills a deer, rescuing caterpillars on a back country road, finding love, or the betrayal of her body, DesPres writes with warmth, clarity, and a sharp eye for details both physical and emotional.

I was struck by the author’s courage in naming not-so-pretty emotions – claiming and examining them with the same detail and curiosity she brings to a blue jay standing in the road. As a fiction writer I’m used to mining myself and everything around me for stories. But in fiction we can change the identifiers and let imagination transform the facts. It takes a different kind of bravery to put your real face, your unadulterated self, on the page and claim it.

As promised, the natural world is always present in these pages. It might be magpies quarreling with squirrels, a red canoe leaving its triangular wake and ripples on a pond, the pure white feral cats who sleeps 15 feet up in a hollow tree, or – in my favorite essay in the collection – a conversation with a blue jay in the January rain. These essays are lyrical and poignant. They weave memory and yearning. They are reflective and surprisingly hopeful.

Like I said, I'm glad I said yes. For all the above reasons, and because reading this book reminded me of the benefits - the pleasure - of reading outside my usual comfort zone. Thank you, Faye Rapoport DesPres.

This blog posting is the last stop on Faye Rapoport DesPres's Virtual Book Tour. The publisher is offering a personalized, signed copy of Message from a Blue Jay plus swag to the winner of their Virtual Tour Giveaway. We invite you to leave a comment below to enter. For more chances to enter, please visit these Facebook pages and click on the Giveaway Tab:
Buddhapuss Inc.
Message From a Blue Jay.

Life and art

May 7, 2014

Tags: SCOTUS, On Hurricane Island, Hedges v. Obama, NDAA

Art and life

The Supreme Court recently declined to hear Hedges v. Obama, a case challenging a section of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This section permits the U.S. military to kidnap U.S. citizens and hold them indefinitely in military detention centers without access to lawyers or trials or any of the other rights we think of as ours, in a so-called democratic country. In this ruling, attorney Carl Mayer writes, the Supreme Court “has turned its back on precedent dating back to the Civil War era that holds that the military cannot police the streets of America.”

This ruling throws a minor theoretical monkey wrench into my second novel, due to be published early next year. ON HURRICANE ISLAND tells the story of a U.S. citizen kidnapped by the military and taken to a secret detention center for interrogation. A second character, a woman already imprisoned at the facility, is an attorney working on a case very much like Hedges v. Obama.

When I started writing this novel four years ago, I figured that “extraordinary rendition” on U.S. soil was a possibility, but it was still a “what if” in my writer’s brain. After the novel sold, I contacted Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitution Rights and an expert in this area of law, and asked him for a “blurb.” He read the manuscript, and wrote,

“On Hurricane Island is a chilling, Kafkaesque story about what happens when the United States does to citizens at home what it has done to others abroad. Meeropol puts the reader right into the middle of these practices through characters about whom you really care and a story you can’t put down.”

By refusing to consider hear Hedges v. Obama, and to revisit the issue of detention of citizens by the military, the Supreme Court ruling moves my “fictional” nightmare scenario that much closer to reality.

Sure, I can probably “fix” the manuscript. I can tweak the text and maybe add a sentence or two about the recent ruling. That’s not the big problem. The big problem for me, for all of us, is what we can do to take back our country.

(for more information about Hedges v. Obama, click on Truthdig.com link to the left)