Tuesday, May 30, 2017

“Jung in Larger Context”: A Review of Toni Wolff & C. G. Jung: A Collaboration, by Nan Savage Healy

 (Los Angeles: Tiberius Press, 2017). ISBN: 978-0-9981128-0-0 (paperback)

In the interest of Disclosure, I served as the editor for this book. That said, and keeping in mind the relationship of editors like Maxwell Perkins with their writers (in his case, no less than Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and, somewhat synchronistically—to use Jung’s term—Thomas Wolfe), this should not preclude a fair review. Indeed, editors are reviewing books all the time. The difference is, they have the opportunity to provide different eyes to the author’s work before the fact, as opposed to reviewers, who do so after the fact (although I have done a number of pre-publication reviews that precipitated changes before publication).
But enough of that. I agreed to the editing contract for the same reason that I am now reviewing Toni Wolff & C. G. Jung—Nan Savage Healy’s detailed and insightful exploration of Jung’s unsung and nearly obliterated collaborator shines a powerful light on Jung, whom I, like others, practically deified as I have made my own journey through Jungian staples such as Archetypes, Dreams, the Shadow, and Myths.
I have reviewed many books by Jungian psychologists (e.g., Lawrence Staples and Erel Shalit) and have read many of Jung’s books. His work is an essential part of my own in Storytelling and I put him right up there with Joseph Campbell as one of the giants whose shoulders I stand upon.
An essential question that I have struggled with in the nearly three years that have elapsed since I first heard from Nan with a request to edit this book is this: Has my estimation of Jung decreased, increased, or stayed the same as I have learned about his relationship with Toni Wolff, who first met Jung as a patient and soon became a Lover, Muse, and Collaborator? I would say, after careful, continued reflection: all and none of the above.
My reasoning for this answer serves as the basis of this review, as I am sure that many of the reviews written by Jungian analysts and various historians and academics of Toni Wolff & C. G. Jung cover the nuts and bolts of the psychology and the finer points of who came up with what theory, who wrote which part of each book or essay, and who we really owe the credit to. This review is perhaps more personal, which may help this outstanding book to reach an audience segment it might otherwise miss.
Make no mistake—this is a work of deep academic excellence. The notes take up 52 pages, and the acknowledgments illuminate the depth and width of the resources—human and documentary—that Healy pursued to bring this book to fruition. She spoke with descendents of Wolff and Jung and went where the winds of inquiry took her. There is plenty of synchronicity at work, from her first stumbling upon an essay by Toni Wolff up through the book’s completion and I can tell you that I edited the book not once, but twice (and I understand considerable work was done after the fact while adding the 101 images that bring the words to life and give the reader a different kind of insight into Wolff and Jung), all the result of Healy’s commitment to tell Toni Wolff’s story as best as she can.
Toni Wolff’s story is very much inextricable from Jung’s, and from men’s in general. Coming from a wealthy household, college was not a proper option for her—and her lack of a degree was something she continually worked to overcome. After the death of her father and the subsequent responsibility she took for the family’s well-being and finances, she sought therapy from Jung (who took his own father’s death hard as well), and he instantly saw her genius. At the time she was a poet and very much in tune with her dreams. As she moved from patient to lover, muse, and collaborator, Toni abandoned poetry, focusing on the more concrete world of psychology. In fairness to Jung, he always regretted her leaving her poetry behind.
Fairness is a key strength of this book. It would be easy for Healy to put it all on Jung, to portray him as an unethical doctor who preyed on his female patients (there were others besides Toni), ignoring the dangers of Transference for his own selfish reasons. But she does not. Indeed, the primary reason Jung does not diminish as a thinker, writer, and artist in my estimation through this journey is because Nan Savage Healy Humanizes Jung, illuminating his Quests for answers in the deep void of symbolism and the subconscious, a Quest he inspired me to take nearly two decades ago.
In line with his Humanness is Jung’s recognition of the Shadow and the warring aspects of one’s personality. I have called my own warring halves Joe and Joey since college, a realization I came to intuitively in a moment of shamanic crisis—it was not until a decade later, listening to Michael York’s masterful reading of Memories, Dreams, Reflections that I began to understand what was at work through Jung’s own experiences. It truly changed my life. Since that time, I have worked through theatre, storytelling, shamanic studies, and voracious reading and diligent spiritual practice to get to know my Shadow and integrate the two halves of my personality. To this day, Treaties are broken and the war ensues again. Studying the Liber Novus and Black Books and undertaking similar projects of my own keeps the casualties down and treaties ever renegotiated. Toni Wolff & C. G. Jung has been invaluable to that process (see pp. 68 and 74–77).
The one area where I am most suspect of Jung’s motivations begins to be explored in depth in chapter 5, “Spiritual Wife.” Some of Toni’s most important contributions to psychology stem from an essay she wrote called “Structural Forms of the Feminine Psyche,” in which she outlines four structural forms for the “chief perspectives of women” (p. 90): Hetaira, Medial, Amazon, and Maternal. Space does not allow me to define and explicate them… and I could not do better than Healy in doing so. For my purposes here, it is enough to say that the Medial operates akin to a Muse for the creative man, while the Maternal is self-explanatory. Here is where it gets complex. Jung did not believe that one woman could be both his Muse and the head of his household—his wife Emma served in the role of the latter, raising their children and overseeing the home, while Toni served as the Medial. One might bleed this down into the vulgar Madonna and Whore, but that is impossible to do while absorbing Healy’s portrait of Toni.
Perhaps I am lucky (as was Joe Campbell with Jean Erdman, although they did not have children)—my own wife has been both for me (the Medial is a “prophetess and psychic seer,” p. 90; fittingly, my wife is a psychic medium) and so, for me, Jung’s thesis looks more like Convenience than Truth. This dual role in one woman, I should say in fairness, can at times be destructive when we consider Jackson Pollock’s muse and wife, Lee Krasner or Sylvia Plath to Ted Hughes, although destructive marriages for artists and poets are not all that unusual. In the case of Jung, Toni, and Emma, this triangle, which went on for decades, was awkward and painful for Emma and Toni both.
There is no doubt that Toni shepherded Jung through dark nights of the soul at her own peril. At one point, she was determined to marry him, a notion that Jung rejected out of hand. It could be said that this tumultuous relationship led Toni Wolff to pay the ultimate price: death by broken heart.
Toni Wolff & C. G. Jung, like a good analyst, operates on many levels. Healy covers the history of analytical psychology, from the main ideas to the Clubs and gathering places funded by wealthy American heiresses as well as illuminating the key phases of Jung’s career through the contributions of and disagreements with Toni Wolff. For instance, Toni had no use for Alchemy, and Jung took on another Medial in order to push that segment of his work forward.
The man who built towers like Bollingen out of stone as well as scientific and mythological towers out of sheer intellect and depth journeying was complex and suitably human for the tasks at hand. Toni Wolff was indispensible to the process. Nan Savage Healy mediates between the two with the effortless grace that only comes from years of committed toil.
We should all be thankful that she stumbled upon that essay by Wolff those many years ago.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

“Not Your Grandma’s Tao”: A Review of The Tao of Cool, by William Douglas Horden

(Ithaca, NY: Delok Publishing, 2017). ISBN: 978-1544629834 (paperback)


“You’re not cool, you’re chilly. And chilly ain’t never been cool.” [George Carlin, from one of his HBO specials]
You best get ready—this isn’t your (normal? regular?) traditional review. I am not even sure, after reading The Tao of Cool, that a review is even a COOL thing to do, nontraditional or not. Nothing about this book, which is [loosely] (as in, shares a common word in the title and the same number of chapter-poems) based on the Tao te Ching of Lao Tzu is presented in an expected way. For instance, the subtitle is on the back of the book, and reads: “Deconstructing the Tao Te Ching [:] from the Notebooks of Snafu Trismegistus [,] Bodhisattva of Universal Cool.”
Now, (normally) I would question such a statement. In one of my other lives as an academic editor, at least once a year I edit papers from a writer who promotes himself as a “thought leader.” That always makes me cringe. But, in this case, Bodhisattva of Universal Cool sort of elegantly, exactly sums it up.
As I sat down to read The Tao of Cool [perhaps it’s even better standing up… a problematic psoas muscle kept me from testing this idea], my academic side dutifully pulled my copy of the Tao Te Ching, translated by D. C. Lau. Turns out, synchroserendipitously, that I had read it exactly 13 years ago. Cool, I thought.
Perhaps not so much.
What is a deconstruction, anyway? I am not going to pull a definition from some online dictionary, because I am now cooler than that. I’ve done my share of deconstruction, which, to be of any value, involves some kind of re-construction. But isn’t that what authors (cool ones anyway) always do? Everything is through a lens, through experience, just like the actor.
And that seems to be the coolest, most hipikat [definition on p. 9 of the Introduction] way to engage with The Tao of Cool. The deconstruction came and went in the sublime Darkness of the writer’s toil—what we get between the covers is pure Light.
Horden pulls no punches in the Introduction. He tells it like he sees it. “It” being a, well, scathing survey of the politico-social landscape. He says that the book has taken “twenty years to ripen” (p. 5), which seems to be the requisite time for any novice to become a master—and it takes a master to produce a work like this. Perhaps the Introduction is a good litmus test to see if you are cool enough to withstand the barrage of wisdom that takes the uncool and melts it into oblivion. If you can’t get through the first 10 pages, read something else, as Horden says (better than I) on page 1.
I have to say, prior to reading the 81 chapters, I thought I was pretty cool. But when one reads, in chapter 6: “Only the profoundly Uncool talk about spirituality/religion/and the sacredness of everything” (p. 18) I had to question where I was on this particular scale. The more I progress, the less I talk, but talk I still do.
For those inclined to make a comparison between The Tao of Cool and Lao Tzu’s text, try chapter 10. Then, really, just put Lao Tzu away. Flipping back and forth, line by line, is the opposite of Cool.
Chapter 15 and some subsequent chapters brought to mind what the Beats were doing with words and mind-jazz decades ago (“The Uncool is muzak./The Cool is Jazz,” p. 88). Lines like “Dig./True hipkats are so far gone they’re already on their way back” (p. 27) recall Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Corso. If anyone was channeling hipikat outside of the actual jazz musicians like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, it was them. Difference is, the Beats were chasing story down a highway full of traps—they were ultimately consigned forever to a town called Uncoolsville when the rhythm-car spit-spit and blam-blammed amid their own frailties and distractions. Jim Morrison was on the right track for awhile as well, especially with his poetry: “The Cool is always having a near-death experience” (chapter 25) but he ultimately kept going. Same with Hunter S Thompson, who came to mind during my read of chapter 41. Before we judge any of these would be hipikats too harshly, however, it seems that especially Kerouac and his buddy Neil Cassady weren’t too far off the mark, as chapter 45 tells us: “Joyriding is better than anything else” (p. 57) and the whole group—especially in this case, Corso—got close considering “A healthy fascination with death is hipper/than an unhealthy fascination with life” (p. 62). Maybe Tom Waits is a hipikat. If he is, he’s too Cool to say.
If I have any hope of being Cool, even for a moment, I had better leave it here, and give Snafu Trismegistus, the Bodhisattva of Cool, the (nearly) last word:
“Setting your watch to geological time takes astronomical Cool” (p. 52).
Dig.




Thursday, May 11, 2017

“The Reader as Mediator”: A Review of Rupert M. Loydell’s Dear Mary

 (Bristol, UK: Shearsman Books, 2017), ISBN-13: 978-1-84861-519-9
Dear Mary, Rupert M. Loydell’s twentieth collection of poetry, is a series of meditations on the Virgin Mary and the circumstances of her miraculous conception. True to form, Loydell, a painter as well as poet, approaches the mystery through the dual lens of words and images. And one does not have to be raised Catholic like myself to appreciate the large number of images available to us that take as their subject Mary’s receiving of the news from the angel Gabriel and her subsequent life as mother of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Indeed, “the appearance/of the angel,” as Loydell says in the poem “A Process of Discovery”: “the event/the moment/as pregnant/as the Madonna” (18). With this encounter heavily weighted from the onset, Loydell explores the crafting of the image, as in “Colour by Numbers,” although he does not take the elitist angle of painting as something only for the highly trained—especially with religious matters as its subject—but something for everyone, something as simple as a color by numbers painting, which you can “take… to the next level” (26). This is more Bob Ross than Old Masters, and refreshingly so.
In the poem “Cimabue” he writes: “everything in Italy/is a love letter to God” (28) a statement that recalls to me the atmosphere and impact of the art in the Martin McDonagh film In Bruges. Even the lowest and bleakest of souls are not immune to such pervasive and powerful displays of Holy, Heavenly art. The next poem, “Hidden,” continues and expands this theme: “There are hidden angels/everywhere in Tuscany./If you find one keep quiet/and speak of it only to yourself/let meaning turn to whisper” (29).
Given that the Angel and Mary are the lead characters in Dear Mary’s narrative, we have to ask who or what serves as the Mediator between the Spirit and the Flesh. The very act of the Immaculate Conception (real or metaphorical) elevates Mary to near-Spirit, but she is still (and importantly) Flesh. Loydell’s poems and the vast array of paintings out in the world serve as Mediators, but the Reader must function as Mediator as well. I left the  Catholic Church at 21 to become the Mediator of my own experience, rather than relying on priests, nuns, and long-gone prophets.
“How to Say It” uses the Painter as Mediator: “He does not know how to say it,/how to talk about the moment/he has been asked to paint,/so he simply colours the story in” (39). Loydell leaves ample space in his poems for the Reader to do the same.
Let us not confuse “simple” for “easy” here. On some level, even the Writer “colours the story in” with a transcendent element beyond words, if the angels/Muses are kind and the artist remains open to the experience, as Mary was. Extending this metaphor, the Inspiration fills the artist’s vessel like the Savior fills Mary Mater’s womb.
From pages 51 to 59 is a multi-part poem titled “Shadow Tryptych” (“after Francis Bacon”), a rich tapestry of insight on the Vision and Voice of the artist. It sits at the exact midpoint of the collection and serves appropriately as the central Furnace and Core of Dear Mary.
A highlight of the collection is “Alien Abduction.” The nexus of angels/demons and aliens is inescapable to ponder, and Loydell’s well-informed but tongue-and-cheek take will get you smiling while you think.
“How Grey Became” takes us back to color, and keeps you thinking. Loydell writes: “The colour grey is preferred by people who are indecisive;/grey is also the colour of evasion and non-commitment.” He then goes on to say: “Grey is the colour of intellect, knowledge, and wisdom” (65). This latter interpretation is the one I tend to favor. It’s a proposition put forth even further in the Live song “The Beauty of Grey.” As I exist day after day mourning the death of Complexity, I wish there was more grey. More mix. More middle. Given that, perhaps both interpretations work.
“Out of the Picture” is about none other than Joseph. My namesake. The biblical character I have most pondered in my life. Loydell gives him a voice too long in coming. Talk about Complexity…
A more modern take on Mary and Gabriel is “Surveillance System Annunciation.” What if it all was recorded. Would it clarify or even further muddle?
The collection is bookended by two essential pieces.  First is the Preface by Dr. Jim Harris, who is the Teaching Curator at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford. I highly recommend taking the time to read it, even if it means reading it after the fact so that your own experiences of the poems are not colored by his insights, sound as they are. 
The collection ends with a Notes section, which illuminates the source material and inspiration for various poems (for instance, “Dear Mary” is assembled from the song lyrics of 11 musical artists and other texts).

Like Catholicism itself, the sources and inspirations that make up Dear Mary are myriad, and the Mystery is left to the Reader as Mediator to ponder.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

“How to Manage the Void”: A Review of Sharon Heath’s The History of My Body, The Fleur Trilogy, Book 1

(Deltona, FL: Thomas-Jacob Publishing, LLC, 2016), ISBN-13:  978-0-9979517-0-7
I am going to be up front here. I love this book, which is in large part due to its main character, Fleur Robins, daughter of an ultra-Conservative US Senator from Pennsylvania and an alcoholic mother who had Fleur as a teenager. Fleur is one of the most delightful, complex, and often contradictory child characters since Holden Caulfield in JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Sheila Tubman in Judy Blume’s Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great—two characters that had a profound impact on my childhood and, subsequently, my life.
Perhaps it is my own growing fascination with Complexity and Chaos Theory, but I have been noticing a recent trend in storytelling—be it novels, television, or (to a lesser extent) film—that comes into play with Sharon Heath’s approach. It began with the male anti-hero in television shows like The Leftovers and Walking Dead, who is flawed, isolated, and oftentimes just plain Wrong. That trend has now broadened and extended to not only female characters, but to entire families. I just finished watching the debut season of Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix. Not only are the relationships between spouses, parents and children, bosses and co-workers, neighbors, and so on incredibly Complex and always on the verge of or in the midst of Chaos, but these multi-level flaws create a much richer, deeper view of Life as We Know It than I think was ever possible before.
It is through this lens that I read Sharon Heath’s novel. Fleur is a study in Dichotomy. Her Nobel-level brilliance couples with a naivety that makes her the prey of the opposite sex; a brilliant vocabulary and a tendency to misinterpret what people are saying make for socially awkward instances and relationship troubles; a dynamic tension between the Private and Public drives her onward through her pre-teen and early teen years with a speed and recklessness fraught with peril and outsized Consequences.
Indeed, aren’t we all, in this post-post-Modern age of sound bites, tweets, and swiping left or right, struggling with the same? The connection between brilliance and lack of common sense; our struggles for True Communication in a world of digital shorthand and diminishing attention spans; of the Public and Private masks that we switch on and off with increasing rapidity; the lessons that come so fast while we are multi-tasking and trying desperately to problem solve on micro and macro scales—it all adds up to a life of Contradictions and Complexity.
This is the life of Fleur Robins. We know from the subtitle that the first book is part of a trilogy and that Fleur is talking to us, not from the present, but from the future.  This is a brilliant device on Heath’s part because we experience two points in time simultaneously—Fleur’s experiences (and they are myriad and at times cringe-worthy) and her later self’s recording them after the benefit of time, processing, and maturity.
Given that Fleur, mistaken for learning disabled when she was actually capable of groundbreaking discoveries in Quantum Mechanics when she was barely in double digits age-wise, is obsessed with questions of the Void and Time and Life and Death—questions that work in tandem with the events unfolding in the novel.
But Fleur is not on her own as far as the heavy lifting in all of this relentless Complexity and Chaos. There are her aforementioned parents, who have clear arcs of their own; Fleur’s grandparents; the domestic staff; and the classmates, teachers, and colleagues whom Fleur encounters on her accelerated journey through the educational system (which takes her from a loose version of home schooled to a school for the gifted and talented, to Stanford University).
Although I am tempted to reveal details of Fleur’s experiences, they are all so wonderfully delightful in their unfolding that I will instead keep my remarks general and focus on the overall themes the author employs. As indicated by my choice of title for this review, the Void is a central feature. Calling to mind the alchemical term nigredo, which is the starting material from which everything is created or, even better, a place of infinite possibility, I began to notice the myriad alchemy at work in The History of My Body. There are gardeners and cooks, and quantum physicists—masters of alchemy all. And the journeys of love and forgiveness the reader experiences are of course the heart and soul of alchemy—the transmutation of baser emotions into love. And the journey is difficult for everyone involved: It was hard to see Fleur’s starting condition of “she is too dim to be helped” morph into “she’s such a genius, she doesn’t need help” before continuing on to something resembling a healthy balance. In line with the quantum physics elements of the book, Fleur’s philosophy demonstrates an early working of a Theory of Everything—a rich landscape of overlapping, intertwining, complementary, and at times contradictory metaphors, thought-arcs, and theories Fleur is always apt to test with full fervor.
Heath must be commended—there is a thin, dangerous line for a novelist between such complexity being the beautiful quirk of main character and an indication of poor planning and execution by a writer unable to bring their broad worldview into manageable scope. It is clear that Heath has been purposeful and exacting. Like the best sit-com writers, she repeatedly sets up a “plant” that plays out more fully as the story it resides in reaches its crescendo, creating a “mini-explosion” of meaning of which Fleur would wholeheartedly approve.
Because of her inclination toward diving in head first and asking questions later, Fleur really does remind me of Holden and Sheila. And also of Michael from the hit sit-com The Office. As much as I loved and rooted for him (and precisely because of this connection) I cringed at least once an episode as his incomplete understanding of a situation or some mixed-up mathematics that altered the actual equation of his reality led him to embarrassing and hurtful moments. And Fleur has more than her share of all of these for a girl her age.
To paraphrase Fleur, stories were made to fill the void. Especially ones as richly written as this one. I look forward to continuing Fleur’s adventures when Book 2 comes out.


Friday, January 20, 2017

“Of Redemption and Forgiveness”: A Review of Smoky Zeidel’s Redeeming Grace

 (Deltona, FL: Thomas-Jacob Publishing, LLC, 2017), ISBN-13:  978-0-9979517-1-4
By Joey Madia
Some writers have a gift that sets them well above the rest. Being a teacher of writing as well as an author, Zeidel deftly augments her natural talent for storytelling with sharply drawn characters, tight plots, seamlessly woven research, and a high level of symmetry and macro/micro structure.
            I was first introduced to her work several years ago, when I received The Storyteller’s Bracelet for review. I was very taken with the mythological nature of the Native American–based tale she told, so it was with great pleasure that I received this special release.
            Engaging the dogmatic/religious more than the mythological, Redeeming Grace centers on a family’s ongoing struggles following the separate deaths of two children and their mother in late 1920s rural Maryland.
            The title character, the oldest daughter of a hardcore minister named Luther, marries a somewhat older man, Otto Singer, to get her and her sister away from Luther’s physically and emotionally abusive ways. His grief has poisoned his mind and instead of being the kind-hearted family man and well-respected religious figure of years passed he has become an abusive mis-interpreter of the Bible.
            But all is not well as Grace and her sister Miriam move in with Otto and his brain-damaged brother Henry, because, as good a man as he is, Otto holds a terrible, terrible secret.
            With descriptions of Depression-era America that rival those of John Steinbeck, Cormac McCarthy, and Nick Cave’s And the Ass Saw the Angel, and a subtle but inescapable resemblance to George and Lenny in Of Mice and Men in the relationship between the two brothers, Redeeming Grace examines the foundations of family and cautions that the ways in which we interpret the Word of God and the stories of the Bible can be as destructive as they are uplifting.
            Perhaps the greatest compliment that I can pay to this well-told tale is that I could not put it down during the final third of the book despite surpassing my allotted reading time on three consecutive days. I found myself genuinely rooting for redemption, vindication, and forgiveness and Zeidel ratcheted up the tension in the most delightful of ways.

            If you are looking for a well-crafted, insistently paced story with good old-fashioned humanity and complex characters, I highly recommend Redeeming Grace. In an age of CGI and blockbuster building-bashing, both on screen and in our literature, it’s all the more necessary for us to engage with books like this.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

“Past Lives Matter”: A Review of Giving Voice to Dawn, written and illustrated by L. S. Gribko

(Morgantown, WV:  Milkweed Rising, 2016). ISBN: 978-0-9978388-1-7
by Joey Madia
“I am a neophyte mystic…”
Thus opens the debut novel from L. S. Gribko. I hesitate to use the word novel, as this book is so much more. Its use of amalgam characters engaging in the Socratic method to explore the spiritual journey evokes Carlos Casteneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan and Dan Milman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior while the vivid descriptions and level of research of the Civil War battlefields and leaders that form the core of the book would make both a historian like Bruce Catton and a novelist like Michael Shaara proud. It is part travelogue, part spiritual handbook, part Ted Andrew’s Animal Speak, and part family saga. That Gribko weaves it all together in such a way as to make a deeply moving page-turner that speaks to the Seeker in all of us is no small achievement.
As though the rich prose were not enough, Gribko fills the book with poems and illustrations that bring her words and encounters to life and give the reader a reflective pause from the at-times dense, descriptive action.
The book’s first person narrator (whom we find out near the end is named Ellie) is an archetype with which I have become quite familiar in my work with the small and independent press as both an editor and writer. She is someone who has had her fill of the shifting sands and endless compromises of the Corporate Life into which she and several other characters have bought and is at the threshold/precipice of committing to a more Artistic and Spiritual Life. Gribko’s array of characters create a continuum of attitudes, stories, and hopes that is so well represented that any reader, no matter his or her place on their own journey, can find someone with whom to identify.
Reminding me of Socrates in Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Ellie’s main guide is a mysterious figure named Mick that she talks to while she rides the Metro in and out of DC. Commuter trains are a sobering metaphor of those who, as Sting sings in “Synchronicity II” (pay attention to that title) are “packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes/contestants in a suicidal race.” We can’t help but root for Ellie and her co-worker, Neil, as they throw off the chains and go in pursuit of answers to a series of questions their mystical experiences provide.
Once again showing Gribko’s depth of research, her narrator visits (and exquisitely describes) the National Museum of the American Indian. I had the pleasure of visiting there several years ago and Gribko took me right back. Her descriptions of the landscaping outside and the dome above the main entranceway call attention to how much care and detail went into honoring the elements and nature in the architectural design. This same descriptive flair is repeated when Ellie and Neil experience the National Portrait Gallery.
One of the strengths of Giving Voice to Dawn is how it operates on numerous levels at once, a point I touched on earlier. For instance, it can be read as an historical adventure, albeit with what could be called paranormal aspects. But Gribko opens the door for those skeptical of the “New Age” of spirituality by giving creed to the notion that all that the main characters experience can be chalked up to Imagination. This is in no way meant to give the power of Imagination short shrift—hence my use of the capital “I.” On the contrary, as Einstein told us: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world.” Imagination in this book goes even further, embracing the entire Universe. Without spoiling the surprises, it must be said that Gribko makes a great case for the importance of history and getting to know—beyond dates and dry facts—those leaders who shaped our country and our world. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s phenomenon of a musical Hamilton attests to this as well.
Perhaps the most challenging spiritual facet in the book is the notion of past lives. More and more research is being done in neuroscience and memory, and quantum physics makes a strong case for time being nonlinear and effect operating on cause as well as the other way around, but past lives are still largely a matter of faith. Regardless of where you stand, the experiences of the main characters as they visit the Antietam battlefield and its surrounding area are deeply profound and Gribko’s writing shines in these moments most brightly.
For those readers who pay attention to animal totems, Giving Voice to Dawn is full of references to especially our flying companions. There is excellent advice sprinkled throughout the book about paying attention to and interpreting the signs of animal totems, as well as the correlations between certain personality types (i.e., those of the prevalent military men and politicians that figure into the story) and their animal totems.
I mentioned Synchronicity when quoting Sting. Although it is nothing we learned in Literature class or in reading groups, the resonance of a book, especially one such as this, can be measured on some level by the amount of synchronicities it generates. Giving Voice to Dawn generated synchronicities for me on an almost daily basis. Its energy derives from a potent combination of Gribko’s research, writing skills, and ability to translate the spiritual into understandable, applicable examples and suggestions.
I believe that Giving Voice to Dawn could (and should) hold a place in the spiritual seeker’s library beside the books I mentioned in the opening and such best-sellers as Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. It resonates with the messages of contemporary adept spiritual practitioners and lecturers such as Caroline Myss and the late Wayne Dyer, offering numerous pathways to enter its fields of wisdom no matter where you are on your journey.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

“Saving the Best for Last”: A Review of The Journal of Vincent du Maurier III, by K. P. Ambroziak

(Published by the author, 2016). ISBN: 9781535511193
by Joey Madia
Why are we so satisfied with trilogies? I think of books like the Lord of the Rings cycle, the Blake Crouch Pines series, and the Oedipus cycle of Sophocles, and film series like The Matrix and the original Star Wars and I can think of little more satisfying than a triadic installment of a well-told tale.  In my book on storytelling I talk about trilogies and triads; about 3-Act structure and the Rule of 3s; and about Aristotle being the first to point out to us not only that good stories have a beginning, middle, and end, but what each of them should accomplish, a launching point I have built on for years in my “Three 3s of Good Storytelling” worksheets and workshops.
There is no doubt that there is something fundamental in our DNA as storytellers and story absorbers that makes a trilogy one of the perfect delivery mechanisms for a tale worth sharing—sharing being a two-way feedback loop of writer–reader on a journey that takes the writer’s IOUs and spreads them out over not just a chapter or book, but over a series of them.
K. P. Ambroziak has accomplished a great deal in the Vincent du Maurier trilogy, as I’ve examined in my reviews of the first two books. All that succeeded in the prior two books is strengthened here, with much added in the way of mystery and elegance in how the meta-mystery origin stories unfold.
Before I get into the structure and tone of the book, I’d like to make a more general comment on where vampire novels such as this and monster-based horror stories in general tend to be going in the twenty-first century. By the late 1800s, when the world was getting acquainted with such characters as Dracula, Victor Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Moreau, the operative metaphors were the suppression of sex, the fear of Western European blood being polluted by Eastern Europeans, and Eugenics. Underlying it all was the struggle to come to terms with rapidly advancing fields in the sciences. In the twenty-first century, as those scientific fields have grown into the many-headed hydra of genes and their mapping, isolation, and manipulation, the vampire/monster genre’s metaphors have become ever-more concrete: The Strain, Tru Blood, and Prince Lestat all take aim at the blood–gene bulls-eye and their vampires are fascinated with the potential for power and control it promises (making them more like politicians and the military than ever before). Even men-as-monsters use genetics, as evidenced in Dan Brown’s Inferno. In this new world, as in the old one, scientist is synonymous with either God or God-maker.
Ambroziak embraces this evolving trope, making it the driving force of the final book of the trilogy. She takes complicated science and makes it understandable and plausible, while twisting and turning the plot like the double helix. On a parallel track, with all the complications of a strand of DNA, the plot moves back and forth in time, in and out of reality, folding over and back upon itself numerous times. Not wanting to give anything away, I will talk only broadly about the narrative “how” of it all.
Intertwining with what I’ve just described (as if that weren’t enough of a feast) is a strong rooting in mythology (once again making me think of Dan Brown. Honestly though, Ambroziak is an equal storyteller and superior writer).
As many trilogies do, this one goes from small in scope—centering on Du Maurier and the pregnant woman he protects in book I—to quite large, spanning countries and timelines as back stories are illuminated and mysteries are solved. Du Maurier is right in line with the twenty-first-century male anti-hero—the deeply flawed man who tries to keep his family together while making mistake after mistake. And what constitutes “family” in this third book is expansive and complex, which is an apt parallel with present times, where family is ever-more nontraditional and broadly defined.
Vampirism as addiction is further developed in this final book of the trilogy, interlocking thematically with humans and hybrids who willingly give their blood to the most dominant of the vampires. If we consider that vampirism in the sense of psychic vampirism is a very real thing in most people’s lives, this device gives us plenty to think about in our own familial and social networks.
Coming full circle, the brilliance in this trilogy is that the story unfolds through numerous perspectives, akin to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, which celebrate 40 years with its twelfth book arriving in November of this year. Du Maurier, in the third book of this trilogy, chooses a young Norse monk-like figure to set down his tale, reminding me of the opening of Rice’s Blood and Gold.

Without giving away the end, I hold out hope that one or more of the facets of the diamond that is the newly defined family of this trilogy goes on to continue the tale.