Category Archives: Book Reviews

Early Review for the novel Brother Cobweb by author Cheryl Townsend

Opening with the ranting of a Pentecostal preacher into the mind of seven-year old Calvin Elkan, who in lieu of attention, creates art in a drawing pad as his derrière numbs atop a hard pew. A caricature of near monster features, Brother Cobweb is born, a minister of pseudo-satanic lunacy.

 

Growing up in a blue collar home with a younger, innocent brother, his over-worked, typical father, religiously crazed mother, and beacon of sanity and hilarity great-grandfather, Calvin is juxtaposed to creativity and suppression as the mother battles for his sinking soul against anything not in praise of God. Might I add that those battles were truly such. Abusive, spiteful and manipulative, mother Nancy was “Carrie’s” mother to the nth degree.

 

Needless to say, great-grandfather “Pop” (an atheistic Jew) is the comic relief in this drama. Calvin, still grappling with what to believe, is steadily leaning alee from the absurd. The ensuing disgust of his my-way-only mother is simmering like the fires of Hades. Bonding through music and creative imagination, Pop and Calvin sequester solitude in a bedroom off limits to the tyrannical mother.

 

When Pop passes, there is no safe place for Calvin. The abuse intensifies, as even his passive father defers to Nancy’s rages. But there is music. Sweet movements to quell. Savage beasts be damned!

Making it to art school, with scholarships, Calvin is instructed to study the predecessors of his preferred era. Professor Hillcrest nurtures. Calvin learns and flourishes. After a final attack from his mother, he moves out, barely surviving on meager wages. Life feels hopeless, he succumbs to despair.

 

Finally finding his niche with a group of artistic friends, Calvin gets into a gallery and begins a new phase of life. There is a woman whom he begins to hang out with and eventually relents to marrying her out of her bad home life. But it’s not for him. She is not the one.

 

Always there are men of religious beliefs that filter in, good or bad, to steer him. A life of subjugation renders him easily persuaded, but he does hold fast to his anti-stance against any holy rolling, tongues spewing ravers, welcoming the company of two Catholic priests.

 

Revelations surface, secrets expose themselves, attempts to rectify are extended. Calvin finds his soulmate, his place, and his release. As happy as such a life can be expected, there is a resolved ending. A hip hip hurray with even a resounding amen!

 

Snips of theological insight, musical and artistic education are an added bonus to an engaging read that should assuredly make you think hard on your own spiritual path. When and if Calvin creates his own church, I hope one comes nearby.

 

Cheryl A Townsend is a poet, photographer, and previous editor/publisher of Impetus/Implosion Press and owner of cat’s Impetuous Books. 

*Early unused cover art for the novel by Todd M Coe

Early Review for Brother Cobweb by artist/author Michelle Moore

Alfred Eaker’s Brother Cobweb is a unique coming-of-age story that explores religious fanaticism, childhood powerlessness, the reverberating effects of abuse, and other influences that shape the adults we ultimately become. A tale of resiliency, reconciliation, and redemption, with plenty of ass-kicking and comeuppance along the way, Brother Cobweb is a powerful account of self-discovery that will resonate with readers long after the final pages . . .

 

Michelle Moore, Artist and author of two poetry chapbooks: The Deepest Blue (Rager Media) and Longing for Lightness: Selected Poems of Antonia Pozzi Translated from the Italian (Poetry Miscellany Press). My poems, interviews, and reviews have appeared in many publications, including Commonweal, Heavy Bear, Apalachee Review, Black Dirt, Rattle, Penguin Review, and White Ink: Poems on Mothers and Motherhood published by Demeter Press.

*This is early, unused cover art for the novel by Todd M. Coe

Early Review for Brother Cobweb by Keith Banner (Author: “The Life I Lead,” “The Smallest People Alive”)

Alfred Eaker’s Brother Cobweb is a great example of a whole-hearted Bildungsroman – a novel that finds humor and a little horror in the coming-of-age story of Calvin, an artist living in an evangelical universe that constantly enthralls and disgusts him.  Eaker writes about Calvin’s journey with up-close panache, and a sort of Pop Art irony fused with newfound faith.  By the end of Brother Cobweb, you have insight not only into what it means to be free of a religion you don’t need, but also what it feels like to find an actual spirituality that can carry you through.

 

Keith Banner is the co-founder of Visionaries + Voices and Thunder-Sky, Inc., two non-profit arts organizations in Cincinnati.  He is a social worker for people with developmental disabilities full-time and has taught creative writing part-time at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) for over 20 years.  He has published three works of fiction, The Life I Lead, a novel (Knopf, 1999), The Smallest People Alive (Carnegie Mellon Press, 2004), a book of short stories, and Next to Nothing (Lethe Press, 2014), his second collection of stories.  He has published numerous short stories and essays in magazines and journals, including American Folk Art Messenger, Other Voices, Washington Square, Kenyon Review, and Third Coast.  He received an O. Henry prize for his short story, “The Smallest People Alive,” and an Ohio Arts Council individual artist fellowship for fiction.  The Smallest People Alive was named one of the best books of the year by Publisher’s WeeklyNext to Nothingwas nominated for the Lambda Literary Award in 2015.

 

*This is Todd M. Coe’s early, unused cover art for the novel

Ealy review for the novel “Brother Cobweb” by Jonathan Montaldo (co-editor of “Soul-Searching: The Thomas Merton Story”)

Alfred Eaker’s Brother Cobweb is a portrait of Pentecostal crazies that could populate a short story by Flannery O’Conner. The book’s main character, Calvin, survives religious hypocrisy and a mother’s physical abuse with the help of a tolerant, benevolent great-grandfather, the real hero of this tale of crooked lines whom “God” fails to make straight. The novel is a roller-coaster of highs that drop forward and lower quicker than they ascended. No easy, happy endings to this well-told, fast-paced story about the role of “God” in freakish human experience. Eaker’s novel draws a complex picture of religion in which the Weird is graphically made flesh.

Jonathan Montaldo, co-editor with Morgan Atkinson, Soul-Searching: The Thomas Merton Story

(note: this is an early, unused cover art of the novel by Todd M. Coe)

NORMA LEE’S “TRANSITIONS IN HEALING”

Transitions in Healing

Norma Lee has an MA in communication disorders. She went through a struggled period in the late 1990’s and emerged from that with the aid of transpersonal psychotherapy. Over a decade later, Lee wrote and published her salving work: Transitions in Healing. A Journey.

Published by Balboa Books, Transitions in Healing has reaped praise from several in the psychotherapy field. 52 archetypal images; vignetted stations of a pilgrimage, are accompanied by themed writings. Lee, a self-taught artist, created her images with pastel and colored pencil. With no formal art training, the images are rendered analgesic in a primordial homily. The employed, rudimentary aesthetics aptly serve this Edenic quest.

Lee begins with The Abyss. John of the Cross’s Dark Beacon constitutes the void, emerging from it. The Child and The Knowing reflect Psalmic womb through Debussian filter.

A gossamer Genesis departed, the experience of traveling commences. Lee’s depiction of the experience does not succumb to the conceit of  astutely defined passage. Rather, hers is a course of senses.

Nostalgia threatens to overtake this course, encompassed within the discharge of pathos,  transformative butterflies, and the symbology of a utopian rose. Yet, by balancing celestial guardians with corporeal sentinels and pragmatic mortality, Lee reveals these as merely inevitable, primordial movements within the existential terminals.

The matronly Proverb is grasped. The holistic reach does not preclude the venerable, liturgical reflection. Here, Lee employs vibrant, crucially polarizing transitions. The Jobian Leviathan, the pearl, and the chalice are egalitarian balm found in the Utopian pursuit.

http://www.transitions-in-healing.com/

RICHARD PROPES’ THE HALLELUJAH LIFE

I have never met Richard Propes and knew nothing about him until a few years ago. A colleague advised me to send a recently completed film to a list of critics. Propes was among that list. I was warned that Propes was a hard critic, which sounded refreshing. I checked out his site: The Independent Film Critic and was surprised that he was also a local. Having written film criticism myself for a number of years, I discovered a colleague who approaches criticism with a pronounced aesthetic sensibility. Of course, I still knew nothing about him. He remained enigmatic.

Richard Propes has written and published his first book; The Hallelujah Life. It is categorized as autobiography. With The Hallelujah Life, Propes has shattered the enigmatic facade. Normally, the temptation to resist such a dismantling is considerable. However, Propes’ power and confidence goes beyond the anecdotal.  His narrative enlarges and snaps the type of framework we are accustomed to. He is not bound by contemporary, dogmatic attachment to linear structure. Rather, he infuses biography with well-focused confession, a poetic prologue, and 100 hallelujahs: Propes’ epilogue of self-styled hymnals. Propes’ has crafted transcendent self-portraiture, which inspires identification, becoming the potential biography of everyman. That identification, of course, goes beyond the bullet points of a particular life. The identification reaches to the context through which we can immediately grasp his human state.

Probably with thanksgiving, few will find identification in the content of Propes’ biography: He has a lifelong handicap in being a paraplegic/double amputee with spina bifida. The remaining details are equally unorthodox: a victim of sexual abuse, a period of homelessness, the widower of a suicided wife. The Genesis of his biography is a brutal one.

Alas, too many may find identification in observing, like Gauguin’s Breton women, Propes’ battle with the hierarchal-stamped ideologies of apathetic religion. That battle was seeded early: “When my mother, a lifelong Catholic, had a priest who suggested that perhaps she should let me die, she instead left Catholicism. Unfortunately, when Catholicism failed her, my mother turned to Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

With the trading of one hierarchical structure for another, the seeds of revolution are set in motion. Like many who have been exposed to the chaotic obsessions found in wooden pews, Propes, in rebelling, puts one foot in front of the other and finds himself stepping into a succession of absurd doorposts.

Yet, missteps within a tenacious purgatory sows an arising intoxication for genuine spirit. Propes enrolls in a Catholic college, Martin University. He earns a degree in psychology and minors in drama. Remarkably, he never succumbs to a prosaic atheism. Instead, he embarks upon a vibrantly circular theological moving. He rightfully pays homage to his educators and becomes a distinguished member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association.

His theology is eclectic; a mix of what he has thoughtfully absorbed and discarded. He categorically rejects the sophistic labels so often married to theological tenets and, instead, embarks on his first The Tenderness Toura 3,000 mile wheelchair journey raising awareness on child abuse and domestic violence issues.

The Hallelujah Life certainly has elements of biography, but these are more impressions of remembering, without flinching and minus a misplaced sense of nostalgia. Nostalgia stifles the desired state of flux, sentimentally suffocating potential humor and well-earned sarcasm: “The best place for gimp sex in Indianapolis is Crown Hill Cemetery. Lucas Oil Stadium is a close second. Laundry is more difficult than it looks. A tattoo of your true love’s name is a bad idea. The Bible is best placed in the humor section of a bookstore. I’ve never believed in a plucking God.”

These are not mere examples of firework displays. Propes’ memoir would have no validity if he only submitted to shock for the sake of shock. Propes is too smart, too much in possession of authentic spirit, and  too much of an optimistic tender mess for that.

MARY AND THE CATHOLIC IMAGINATION: AN IMAGINATIVE GEM

A sublime manifesto. Brief, but no mere trifle. Simultaneously lucid and poetic, Wendy M. Wright’s “Mary and the Catholic Imagination” dips its pen into a desperately needed Sophiastic inkwell.

An excerpt from her introduction:

“I encountered the fascinatingly polymorphous religious symbol and touchingly intimate presence who answers to the name of Mary…She occupies a generous space in the hearts of those who speak tom look to, identify with, implore, honor, and hope in her. In a conceptual world in which sacred presence is powerfully sensed, she is among those presences most poignantly and deeply felt.”

That last line could just as well be applied to this book, a multifaceted, diaphanous gem amongst seemingly countless essays. Wright invites us to cling for dear life to Her image, opening us to “the breath of the spirit to hear the whisper of mercy and conceive of justice in a world where it does not exist.”

This is no touchy feely, Stuart Smalley type of meditation, but a profound, imaginative work of art, which may feed those willing to partake.

Fr. Justin Belitz O.F.M. Success:Full Relating (Spirituality for the 21st Century and Beyond) Australia Retreat

Fr. Justin Belitz O.F.M.. The above are images from his retreat at the Infant Jesus Parish in Morley Western Australia, April 2010. In March, 2011 Fr. Justin returned to the parish for a follow up retreat.

Fr. Justin’s retreat centers around the teaching of his latest book, Success:Full  Relating. This is Fr. Justin’s third book in the success series. It is a guide to successful life goals and relationships. Success:Full Relating is also the most theological of his books, outlining the matriarchal/creation model of spirituality and the patriarchal/ fall/redemption model. Fr. Justin’s approach is lucid, optimistic, and inspiring.

Fr. Justin will be celebrating his 50th jubilee as a Franciscan priest this summer.   He promotes interfaith expression, practical theology and renewal in the model of Augustine of the Retractions, John XXIII, The Little Flower, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fr. Justin is a licensed teacher of the Silva Method but here he gives us the Justin Method. Justin’s method incorporates Franciscan spirituality, the Silva Method and a lifetime of experience into a celebration of life, love, art, and spirit.

SUCCESS:FULL THINKING. FR. JUSTIN BELITZ O.F.M.

Success: Full Thinking by Fr. Justin Belitz O.F.M

The symbol of a heart often is utilized to express love, yet we recognize that this is a mere sign pointing the spiritual reality we know and experience as love. So Fr. Justin Belitz O.F.M begins by admitting that expressing the spiritual is, ultimately, inexpressible, but like the mystics before him, he is certainly going to continue trying. 

This is the second (to date) of three books by Fr. Justin, the first being Success: Full Living and the latest, Success: Full Relating. On the surface, one might be tempted to think this triptych to be yet another in a long line of mass-produced self-help books. They are much more than that. Belitz goal is accessibility, simplicity and clarity in his psychology, science, cosmology, philosophy, and ecumenical, mystical theology. Considering the tendency towards dense language often employed in those arenas, Justin’s “right here, right now”, earthy approach is as fresh as the clear mountain spring water that he occasionally writes about.

As much as Fr. Justin writes about those things we identify as spiritual, in the theological sense, he also writes extensively of nature, space, music, art and we are reminded that Gustav Mahler, while grasping for the infinite in his existential language, was also a mountain man. I suspect there is a bit of a Gustav Mahler mountain man in Fr. Justin. This may also be why I prefer listening to Herbert von Karajan’s recording of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony while reading Belitz. Shortly after a life-threatening surgery, Karajan approached the famous adagio finale with zen-like optimism, as opposed to cataclysmic pessimism. This much-lauded recording puts me in a similar world to the one I inhabit while reading Belitz.

 “I and the Father Are One”, Jesus said in an attempt to express oneness with spirit and even Jesus had difficulty expressing this, writes Belitz. Often, expressions are feared and or labeled. When earlier cultures spoke of “Sun God” or “Earth Spirit” they were not used to identify the Earth or Sun as “God”, but were used to point to the divine as expressed in the Earth or Sun and, later, when one group expressed their understanding of the divine contrary to another group’s style of expression, the result was, of course, charges of heresy.  Belitz writing resonated when, in the Criterion (local Catholic newsletter) an article reported that Pope Benedict would be commemorating the anniversary of his predecessor’s interreligious prayers service at Assisi. Of course, some representatives, from all sides, are advising “caution”, lest someone be praying to the wrong God.

 

 

Belitz channels the simple Cure of Ars, the Little Flower, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Teresa of Avila, Ghandi, John XXIII, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, not as plaster saints or heroic facades, but as examples of the servant leader.  Belitz applies what he has learned from the Silva Life System Method (founder: Jose Silva) and filters it through his own sensibilities, personalizing it with shared stories , along with reflections on everything from Matthew Fox, Deepak Chopra, the Quantum Theory to reflections on the music of Beethoven, no doubt influenced by an education in music.   

 

  

 

 

Belitz critics have accused him of subscribing to New Age agendas, but, as the author points out, no one can really define what exactly qualifies New Age. When pedestrian attempts are made to define New Age, what is often described could actually be described as quite Old Age, dating back to Hildegard of Bignen, St. John of the Cross and Meister Eckhardt. Essentially, when addressing business ethics, espousing healthy living, positivism, left-brain/right-brain balance, mantling a co-creator attitude towards Earth and Nature,  adherence to a true catholic (universal as opposed to uniform) spirit, Belitz speaks as one of the mystics, “Religion is big business; spirituality is your connection with God. Organized religion should be dispensing spirituality, but I don’t think that is necessarily true today.If you look at the person of Jesus, you will find that he had very little, if any, structure. He was involved almost totally in spirituality.”  

 

  

As a Franciscan priest, Belitz contemplates often on Vatican II and Roncalli’s call for a  return to the spirituality of Jesus. That was a call that echoed the matriarchal spiritual movement, the creation model as opposed to the patriarchal institute’s fall/redemption model. In many ways that call was modeled on the creation centered, aged Augustine of the Retractions, rather than the earlier patriarchal Augustine of Confessions.

 

  

 

Unfortunately, Roncalli’s call began to shift into reverse before the pope’s corpse was cold, such was the fear generated by the winds of change. Remarkably, Belitz, an advocate for that call, does not resort to  judgemental pronouncements, and he mantles a matter-of-fact assessment that a true movement takes a generation or so to take hold. Belitz, like that Karajan performance of the Mahler Ninth, stubbornly subscribes to zen-like optimism. Once that call does take hold, the possibilities for nothing less than a mystical revival, are boundlessly expansive.

 

 

 

This, and Fr. Justin’s other books may be purchased at:

http://frjustin-hermitage.org/oscommerce/catalog/

 http://frjustin-hermitage.org/