Wednesday, June 14, 2023

A Genre-Busting Nordic Thriller

The Berserkers, Kindle edition, Recital Publishing 2023

Prominent on the lists of popular commercial fiction and television today is a category called “Scandi-Noir” or “Nordic Noir,” characterized by a police point of view, plain language, bleak landscapes, a dark and morally complex mood, and murder, of course. As I began Vic Peterson’s novel The Berserkers (Kindle edition, Recital Publishing, 2023), I was anticipating exactly that sort of genre experience. The first chapter, depicting a crime scene investigation on a frozen lake, did not begin to alter my expectations until its final two paragraphs:

“A pale tangle lay beside the hole the girl had been sunk in. It then dawned on me that the pale tangle was the girl. Her body lay sprawled on top of the ice, displaced by the minor tsunami of the sinking car, and ejected from the ice like the cork from a champagne bottle. Her clothes spread about her in wet snarls lurid under the dim sun, a cape and corset and stockings. 

The girl's pallor was blue and ruinous. My jaw slackened. I tried to utter some words, any words, whether of shock, wisdom, or warning. No sound emanated from my lips. For a pair of large wings had begun unfolding around the corpse, beautiful, wispy, shivering with each gust like the pinfeathers of a hatchling drying in the dying light.”

We quickly learn in the next chapter that No, this is not a dead angel, nothing supernatural is going on. The murder victim is a girl in a Valkyrie costume. More police arrive, character quirks and hierarchies continue to be established, certain foibles of the narrator (decidedly not a detective) are exposed, a subtly comic tone suggested in the first chapter becomes more pronounced, and, well… maybe we could still be in a Nordic Noir novel. But the third chapter removes all doubt: something else is going on here. What is it?

Genre-busting, in my view, is a key consideration in dubbing a work “literary.” I’m always intrigued when an author rejects the security of meeting reader expectations in order to follow a more personal muse. Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy subverts detective story tropes. In Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon leaps past science fiction conventions. Cormac McCarthy’s western novels are much more than their settings and cowboy details. These authors are using genre elements as vehicles to explore themes, philosophies, or even writing styles that reach beyond what most readers of a commercial genre expect. 

Peterson is doing something like that in The Berserkers. We follow a Pynchonesque assemblage of characters through fabricated Scandinavian settings on a wild ride that is at once a Gothic comic book, a Sword & Sorcery quest in a gritty industrial landscape, an exploration of heavy metal music and soccer hooligans, a moody mystery told in lyrical prose, a comedy of errors, and an homage to ancient Norse sagas. 

The story’s narrator, Grammaticus Kolbitter, is a hapless police records clerk who moonlights in an aspiring heavy metal band named in honor of the frenzied Viking warriors called berserkers. He finds himself on a quest for justice accompanied by two other misfits, a retired (or rather, fired) cop and a legend-loving young woman who suffers from gigantism. The villains they chase are like the Kray twins on motorcycles, but with A Clockwork Orange bloodlust and collars trimmed in wolf fur. Other vividly drawn weirdos populate the cast, but I want to focus on one in particular: the Constable.

The nameless Constable is the imperious police authority whose whim or precognition assigns Kolbitter to the case for no apparent reason. He wears a black cape-like greatcoat and glasses with the left lens blacked out to cover an empty eye socket, and he has two pet ravens, Minne (Memory) and Tanke (Thought). Odin, king of the gods in Norse mythology, is also blind in one eye and keeps two ravens as familiars. The Constable is often behind the scenes, his presence felt but not seen. One of the elements that elevates the novel beyond its plot is the strangeness of the Constable’s two contradictory autobiographies, found in pages that Kolbitter steals from the Constable’s home. These texts-within-the-text are both exotic fictions, each describing a different bizarre family, youth, education, career, dramatic loss of an eye. His first autobiography opens with this:

“Shall I venture a brief yet grand portrait of the man? When I look at his face, what do I see? His face, in a mirror, a shop window, a pond? Volutes of hair, their mercury sheen. Epidermal crevasses. A black lens. Although this blemish has traveled with him, or me, many years, it is in this scar I recognize the creature most fully—him, myself—and oblivion. Attributes of a sorcerer, indeed. 

So begins my authentic biography.

Facets of a hidden clockwork. His humors play out in planetary swings. His relationships are secretive, reckless, trusting, and gravid with both admiration and disappointment. Harsh. One might suppose this man hewn with a mallet and chisel, like a woodcut. I have observed him in private moments, when he thought himself least on display, surprisingly happy, voice strong, engaged among police cadets, those earnest youths with muscular forearms and razor burn and shower-wet hair.”

This version of the Constable was “the son of a hipster couple who lived in an avant-garde circus, street buskers borne on stilts and trapezes, with lefty and lofty political intentions.” The son grows up to choose a different kind of life: he becomes a quantitative analyst in the investments business, a wealthy capitalist viewing the world from a glass tower. But then, as financial markets crash, an aged business colleague gives him a strangely potent drink and stabs out his eye. He is now “A one-eyed specter haunted the corridors, fingertips running the walls to keep his balance under his new optic discipline, his face a bombed church.” 

Several chapters later comes the Constable’s second autobiography, in which he is a spoiled young nobleman tormenting his parents with feigned madness in a brutish kingdom centuries past, where the oppressed masses threaten revolt. Drinking and gaming in a tavern, he encounters a riddling old man with a magic drink that “was icy and stung my throat. It was as if a shard of glacier had pierced me; yet, simultaneously, as if I had licked honey straight from the comb.” A few moments later:

“Thus, swifter than I could have supposed, the old corpse made a poniard appear in his claw and thrust it at my face. I threw my forearm up in what was a useless gesture. The steel slit the flesh of my left eye. I fell to the floorboards. The liquor winked silver on the hearthstones. Blood ran between my fingers.

‘You wanted release?’ the mad stranger hissed. ‘This is your release. The vast cycle of ages will advance without disruption. The price? Sight for sight; vision for vision. You will remember everything, and see everything, and you shall wander haunted among mortals, seeking meaning.’”

When he returns to his great ancestral hall, it is in ruins. He seeks out his parents:

“I immediately recognized their forms, impossibly hardened into statues of glass. Clear, shimmering glass, glowing with a misted light from within. Deliquescing. Father in his opera hat, worn too low, the corners of his thin mouth sloped down toward the folds of his cheeks. Mother, liripipe framing her face, clutching a sprig, staring off into an unpeopled country.”

Clearly, none of this is standard Nordic Noir fare. And these florid passages are not typical of the prose style in the rest of the book. What do these weird tangents have to do with the plot, the police investigation, the quest to bring to justice the murderers of the winged girl in the ice? Nothing. These flights of fancy are not there for the purpose of advancing the plot. Nor are they simply character development. They are atmosphere, enrichment, art for art’s sake: color, brushstroke, chiaroscuro, counterpoint, dissonance, coloratura—confidently applied. Their effect is to lend the entire work a moody strangeness, an edge of unpredictable lunacy, a dark ballast of aesthetic complexity underpinning the humorous, TV-friendly surface. This is not the artistic choice of a calculating follower of genre formula.

So… the odd crew of justice seekers lead us from the frozen lake through bleak northern cities, antique library volumes, a mead factory, a tawdry brothel, a clash of hardcore soccer fans, a bar fight, a tangle with a trio of rune-casting witches, a risky chase and deadly combat inside old mine-shafts in an island mountain, a heavy-metal battle of the bands, and more—all rendered with Peterson’s unusual mix of JRR Tolkein and David Lynch and Henning Mankell

But the Constable’s autobiographies are what I found most fascinating. When Kolbitter asks him about his conflicting life stories, the Constable is suitably cryptic. “‘Sometimes,’ he says slowly, ‘a fable tells the greater truth. Not easy to get your head around, but poetry takes a little bloodletting. Look at the changes wrought in you since that day on the frozen lake.’” But how many autobiographies can one person have? According to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, perhaps an infinite number. Maybe that’s what all of us who write fiction are doing: just writing an authentic memoir from another dimension in the multiverse.


NOTE: This review appeared originally in The Dactyl Review 12/29/22.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Imaginary Auster & Double Layers of Story

Ben Orlando’s debut novel, Lost Journals of Sundown, is two things at once: a fascinating exercise in metafictional homage, and an unusual standalone mystery story.

For readers who are not familiar with the work of Paul Auster, Orlando has created an entertaining, oddly slanted pseudo-detective story. In a slightly off-balance version of New York City, a suicidal writer adopts a false identity as a private investigator and desperately embarks on a vague quest to protect a couple of misfit strangers from their villainous father. He imagines this adventure will keep him away from the noose in his closet. During his rather inept surveillance, he uncovers the father’s darker, more twisted campaign to ruin lives and potentially destroy civilization, one psyche at a time. He faces the dual challenge of both stopping the madman and finding his own salvation.

But there’s more. Readers who know Paul Auster’s “City of Glass,” part of The New York Trilogy, are treated to an extra layer of meaning and enjoyment. If you’re in the know, you can smile at Orlando’s sly wink from the very outset of the book, with the wrong number phone call, the detective pretense, the name Stillman, and more. Orlando has crafted his story to parallel the plot of “City of Glass”—with key correspondences, structural touch-points—but also to ultimately be entirely different in both broad strokes and finer details.

Auster’s The New York Trilogy is known for subverting detective story tropes to go beyond the genre mystery into some new form of hybrid literature. The trilogy can be seen as a prototype of "metaphysical detective fiction," in which the world is one of questions, not answers; interpretations, not solutions; and the sleuth is seeking not "Whodunit" but "Who am I?". For more on this subject, see an earlier blog post of mine.

Orlando’s authorial style and concerns are entirely different from Auster’s. Where Auster is spare, Orlando is colorful. Where Auster is philosophical, Orlando is psychological. Where Auster raises questions, Orlando seeks answers. His book sits more squarely in the mystery genre, while tipping its hat to the outsider, Auster. Orlando’s most impressive feat is the balance he finds, in which he pays metafictional tribute through both imitation and conscious reference, yet at the same time maintains his own vivid style and tells an entirely unique story—all the while addressing two audiences.

Late in the book when Auster himself shows up as a character, and the actual “City of Glass” is unmasked as the template for a con job, the two different types of readers have different experiences. Those not familiar with Auster accept the story twist and either learn about an author they didn’t know before, or perhaps simply assume he and his novella are fictions—either way, the story outcome is the same. The Auster fans, however, see their secret insider’s knowledge suddenly made public, an experience of both satisfactory vindication and, perhaps, a twinge of disappointment. At the same time, it’s fun to see a fictional version of a real person brought into holographic second life on the printed page. And perhaps they nod—yes, all this nicely reflects the way The New York Trilogy and other Auster books investigate blurred identities and “doubling.”

As an Auster aficionado, my experience with Lost Journals of Sundown was pleasurable on a couple of levels. Since I’ve read much of the substantial Auster academia (he seems to inspire scholarly analysis), I enjoy seeing new additions to the catalog. Also, I see Orlando’s book as perhaps a companion work to my novel, Ponckhockie Union, influenced in both style and content by Auster, and in which Auster himself appears as a secondary character, but fictionalized to be an unpublished novelist working in small-town journalism. I wonder what other writers may be putting their Auster inspiration right out on the page. I’d like to read those books too.

On another coincidental side note, I even enjoyed the references to a tiny hamlet in the Catskill Mountains called Sundown, which in real life is just 18 miles from my house. Orlando has created a history for that town that, as far as I know, is a wild fabrication—but that’s his privilege. He’s a fiction writer.

In both our books, the imaginary Paul Auster is a good guy. He attempts to bring some sanity to the scattered, impulsive mind of Orlando’s protagonist, Daniel Reed, and is a fatherly helper behind the scenes as the story nears its end. In my book, he assists the narrator, Ben Rose, in his escape and hideout from a shadowy assassin, and the writings in Auster’s journal act as a Greek chorus of sorts, commenting on and interpreting some of Rose’s story. Orlando drops in the names of characters from Auster’s oeuvre (another wink), and I include mention of Auster’s real-world wife and daughter, even as I construct their lives to be alternate-timeline fictions.

In both cases, readers experience two levels of story: one on the pages and the other in “reality.” Like memory, like deja vu, like dreams, they operate simultaneously, overlaid upon one another like double-exposed film. Orlando has Auster tell Reed that life is like a lucid dream: with awareness and a little attention, it can be controlled. As humans, we are story-making creatures, and stories are dreams made physical. We walk through multiple dimensions every day.

So… how many ways can two different stories exist in the same book? It all depends on the mind-frame of the reader. When you read Lost Journals of Sundown you’re bound to have an entirely different experience from mine. That’s as it should be. Writers and readers are co-creators. As the Talmud says, "We don't see things as they are. We see things as we are."

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Coincidence, Precognition, Rock Stars

I’m writing this in a cafe where I am the sole customer. A forkful of herbed chicken salad with greens, a bite of crusty peasant bread, a series of keystrokes, a sip of iced tea, repeat. Words and phrases emerge from the blank white screen. Out the window is a forest shrouded in mist under a low gray sky. The old Lovin’ Spoonful tune, “Didn’t Want to Have to Do It” plays softly in the background, taking me back to high school days in Colorado, when I had all their albums, when John Sebastian was a hero of mine. Is it a coincidence that much later and thousands of miles away, I am growing old in the town where he lives? That I had a nice chat with him at a mutual friend’s home?

This is not about John Sebastian. Maybe it’s about coincidence… I’ll find out as I follow the lead of my fingertips.

Recently I’ve been thinking about coincidence (a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection), wondering about how it overlaps with precognition (knowledge of something in advance of its occurrence) and intuition (the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning). I’ve wanted to boost my ability to recognize coincidences in my life. I’ve been thinking about writing on the subject, but no door was opening.

Until right now. Maybe this is a form of serendipity (a happy accident): I was wanting a way into the coincidence topic, and then while I’m having lunch this old song plays….

I’ve recently connected with Dr. Bernard Beitman. He is a psychiatrist and the author of Meaningful Coincidences: How and Why Synchronicity and Serendipity Happen. He has initiated The Coincidence Project to gather people’s stories of meaningful coincidences in their lives, to encourage awareness and discussion, and to bring the study of coincidences and their meaning into the field of science. Synchronicity, serendipity, seriality, simulpathity, the psychosphere, the collective human organism (CHO)… Learn more at and on YouTube.

Now the cafe soundtrack is “Small Town Talk,” written by Bobby Charles and Rick Danko, first recorded here in the town of Woodstock, NY – but what I’m hearing now is the great Paul Butterfield’s Better Days version, also recorded in Woodstock. This is the version I loved since I first heard it when I was 21, living in Utah – when I hadn’t the faintest clue that the album cover image was taken in the Catskill Mountains just a few miles from where I would spend my senior years. I live on the same road where Butterfield once lived. It All Comes Back, indeed. *

What does it mean that the literary podcast I now co-host is recorded in a home studio not a hundred yards from where Bob Dylan lived at the time of the mysterious motorcycle accident (1966) that allowed him to retreat from the cacophony of fame after his electric revolution, and do the woodshedding with The Band that would result in yet more world-changing music that I listened to avidly as a young man… what does it all mean? Is this some sort of cosmic synchronicity?

Well, let’s think clearly about this. These were famous people loved by millions all over the world. I’m just one of those millions. And Woodstock is a very small town. If you live here for a few years, odds are extremely high that you’ll come into direct contact with the artifacts of its world-famous musical history. The few incidents I’ve related barely scratch the surface of my experience.

Also, Woodstock is a destination town, a lovely, artsy little place just two hours from what John Lennon called the capital of the world, New York City. Many people visit; some stay. Its association with the widely known 1969 concert that bears its name is, of course, one reason. My wife-to-be had moved here from “the city” in the early 90s and I soon followed her. So… if synchronicity (meaningful coincidence) is defined by numerical odds, then the fact that I ended up here surrounded by reminders of my heroes of the distant past is probably not synchronicity, not even coincidence at all.

Nevertheless, it feels meaningful. To me, just a nobody from an anonymous suburb out west, it feels highly unlikely. After all, to live in Woodstock was never a goal of mine, and none of my high school or college friends ended up here. If synchronicity can be defined by the feeling of meaningfulness, then maybe it qualifies.

Does precognition create coincidence? Can tastes be shaped by precognition? How does precognition figure into my youthful attraction to Sebastian, Butterfield, Dylan, others who are specifically associated with the town of Woodstock? Did the fact that I would feel the pleasure of living in their neighborhood as an older man guide me to their music as a younger man? Why was it these particular artists whose music I loved? I was the only person among my high school friends who was a serious Lovin’ Spoonful fan. And my choices as a limited-budget record buyer did not go in directions that many people my age followed – toward, for instance, Led Zeppelin, who have no connection to Woodstock. I was certainly a Jimi Hendrix fan… but Hendrix lived for a time in a house just two miles as the crow flies from where I live now. He practiced for the Woodstock concert at Tinker Street Cinema, the little movie house near the center of town.

Did I precognize my future? Is it a case of “retrocausation”? I’m sure Eric Wargo would have some ideas about that. Wargo has been a recent guest on Dr. Beitman’s podcast but I have followed his blog, The Nightshirt, for years, and my fiction writing has been influenced by his ideas. His latest book, Precognitive Dreamwork and the Long Self, is a tool I’m currently using to explore my dreams and how they interact with my waking reality.

Quantum physics has shown that, at the most fundamental levels of reality, no distinction can be made between cause and effect. The relation between two events can be either causal or retrocausal. I imagine time not as a line but as a surface – let’s say the surface of a pool. An event in my consciousness, perhaps given power by emotion, is like a pebble dropped into the pool. 
Ripples flow outward in every direction in time. As a 15-year-old, I felt a connection to John Sebastion because fifty years later I would meet him. But wait… doesn’t the power in that moment come only from my pleasure in encountering my boyhood hero? What if as an old man I hadn’t met him – would my young self have paid no attention to his music? What is cause and what is effect? It’s an endless loop, an Escher image of the mind, like the cover of Eric Wargo’s first book, Time Loops.

The time loop trope is common in fiction, but I don’t use it. My novel Ponckhockie Union and my story collection The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility, as well as another novel and another story collection in progress, use coincidence, synchronicity, and other riddles as the atmosphere in which recognizable characters like you, me, and our neighbors face life’s multiplicity of challenges. My premise is that the world is not as it seems – it’s much more wonderfully mysterious. The unanswerable questions are my inspiration.
But… skepticism is also very high on my list of values. I do my best to live by the motto: Believe nothing; question everything. I am always self-monitoring for cognitive bias, confirmation bias, or any unfounded assumptions. I am a self-diagnosed “epistemological obsessive,” always demanding of myself and others, “How do you know?” So with all this talk of invisible interdependence, I have to ask: How much am I a victim of apophenia? Apophenia – a common condition that in its extreme form is a precursor to schizophrenia – is the tendency to perceive meaningful connections between unrelated things. The conundrum here is: who decides what is “unrelated” and exactly how do they decide? While I don’t want to be apophenic, I also do not automatically accept someone’s authority about whether I am or not.

Speaking of untrustworthy authority, which is increasingly evident as the world falls to pieces around us – is there a valid reason for rambling about coincidence and fiction? One writer friend of mine can’t write because of his anxiety about the problems in the news. Another only wants to write about the problems, in protest. My own preference (or is it intuition about what is healthiest for me?) is to follow my perennial interests no matter the current events, but I harbor an old secret fear of being a dysfunctional daydreamer – most likely, a vestige of parental voices in my head. Right now I am consciously putting that fear aside – my own small gesture of sovereignty.

I appreciate Wargo, Beitman, and others such as Dean Radin (see his book The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena) in their efforts to give solid scientific study to “psi” or parapsychology. After all, who knows what truths about the universe we may be missing when ultimate authority is given to reductionist, materialist Scientism?

So I continue with my quest to enhance my awareness of coincidences in my life, and to interrogate their meaning. Old songs, rock stars in Woodstock, my meandering path to this place and time… I’m glad intuition led me to follow that unexpected trail of thought as I ate lunch. What does it mean? After some pondering, I can say this: coincidence, synchronicity, precognition, intangible vectors of influence – the vast, intricate web of interconnectedness that sparkles just outside our normal sight – this is what inspires me to create. And creation is what keeps me sane and somewhere on the edge of happy and content in this Insanity Stew of a culture. Without a doubt, my fiction will continue to explore those mysteries.

“Artmaking is making the invisible visible.” ---Marcel Duchamp

* For more information about the musical history of Woodstock, see the book Small Town Talk by Barney Hoskyns.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Missing Ted Denyer

Ted Denyer
This month marks 15 years since my dear friend Ted Denyer left this planet. I miss him a lot, but I'm also glad he did not have to see the dismal condition of the world today. He would have been bewildered and sad.

Ted was a painter dedicated to making visible the invisible. I'm extremely pleased to see his life's work catalogued on this fine website:, a creation of his son-in-law Efrem Marder and grandson Ben Marder. I hope you'll check out the evolution of his paintings, and take 16 minutes to watch a video documentary that my wife Wendy and I produced about him in 1996.

As I began to write here, I realized the futility of attempting to capture the profound impact one human being can have on another. Every two weeks for ten years, Ted and I had dinner together in a cozy little loft room that overlooked his painting studio in his home in Mount Tremper, NY. I grew from my forties into my fifties, he from his seventies into his late eighties. Our conversations ranged widely, but the words and topics were not the important part of those evenings. There was often a feeling of timeless suspension. Perhaps it's not going too far to say we entered a parallel dimension of communion. We were in tune, sympatico, kindred spirits, but also... I had never been close to an older man before. My own father had frequently felt like a stranger. Ted's warmth, interest in others, fascination with truths below the surface, cultural hunger, self-reliant individualism, curiosity, laughter, young-heartedness, even his sometimes too-crusty opinions about art, gave me a role model. This was the kind of man I wanted to be as I too moved past middle age toward the final days.

By way of tribute via imagination, I gave Ted a very brief appearance in my novel Ponckhockie Union, which is primarily set in my local environs in the Hudson Valley. The character called "Ted" is one of the elements in the protagonist's recovery from a devastating life crisis. His one "on camera" scene is in a chapter that focuses on some of the history of the town of Phoenicia. You can hear me read that chapter and answer some interview questions on the podcast I co-produce, The Strange Recital. I was glad to be able to say a little about the real man that inspired the character. The episode is 24 minutes long.
(See this previous post for more audio glimpses of the novel.)

Another tribute to Ted that I wrote not long after his passing, is this odd little venture in prose (less than 2 pages), called "The Abstract Painter."

The future on this planet seems potentially very strange and difficult, not what I'd hoped for in my later years. My memories of Ted, the example he set for how to live a creative life and face death with courage, are among the things for which I am most grateful.

(Photo of Ted Denyer by Susan Quasha)

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Sample My Novel: 1-2-3

It seems necessary to acknowledge this truth: a blogger I am not. My last post here was nearly two years ago. I had reached "The End" of my novel Ponckhockie Union, not knowing it would grow a bit and get better in the next few months. Occupying too much of my time and attention to allow thoughts of blogging, the book finally completed its gestation and was born into the world in July of 2019. Since then I've been on the road of promotion, while also launching two other books through our startup Recital Publishing, plus maintaining a twice-monthly schedule on The Strange Recital podcast.

Time to catch up! But why the weird title? What does it mean? Come back to this blog for a future post about that. For now, here's the description from the back cover:
Benedict Arnold Rose is a documentary filmmaker in a troubled marriage. His history-focused life is suddenly derailed by shadowy assassins with multiple identities, indoctrination in a dark cell, seduction, betrayal, the finality of fire, and the unexpected kindness of a stranger. He must journey within, but what is real? And who is asking? Coincidence and paradox abound as Rose negotiates his passage into a new life…but the questions without answers still remain.
Encounters with a fictional version of the well-known author Paul Auster, and with a mercenary soldier who is also a devotee of the Indian spiritual guru Nisargadatta Maharaj, entwine the metafictional with the metaphysical in a speculative swirl of mystery, history, and self-inquiry. Check out John Burdick's insightful viewpoint in Hudson Valley One.

If you’d like a direct glimpse into Ponckhockie Union, here’s a good start: three episodes of The Strange Recital that feature audio excerpts from the book, but also have a little fun with supplementary material (as in “author interviews” that go a little astray). And music!

Start with this one, the opening of the novel, with a particularly local focus (thank you, Woodstock, NY):

This one features an important character (not Ben Rose, the protagonist) and a different voice:

And here’s a bit of the backstory, some context for the marriage crisis that is a key element in the plot:

I’d love to hear from you if you have thoughts or questions about what you just heard. Find me on Facebook at or Instagram at

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Memoir in Fiction, Truth in Lies

Note: if you prefer audio-visual media to reading, here's an opportunity -- skip to the bottom and listen to the podcast while looking at a pretty picture! But I do hope you'll read first, then listen.

Even I, despite my intentional avoidance of mainstream news media, know that a lot has been said recently about the nature of truth -- a lot of words but not much substance. "Alternative facts," "fake news," etc. -- phrases whose very existence necessitates an opposing argument, but the entire exchange devolves into Us against Them. "Truth" deserves different definitions depending on the category of reality we're talking about. But the sound-bite world can't tolerate discussion with any depth.

Simplistic thinking is a cultural trend that may never abate, but I intend to continue quietly defending the boundaries of a tiny territory where everything co-exists in equilibrium with its opposite. Where there is no two, only one. Call it Nonduality Nation.

In the literary realm, this might be expressed in the old dichotomy between Memoir and Fiction. Granted, this is useful categorization for the marketing and selling of books -- but that's a mundane level that doesn't interest me much. Also, in my own internal experience as a writer, the distinction is very clear in intention and process: memoir is reportorial, fiction is imaginary. The act of writing in each of those modes simply feels different from the other. So yes, there are categories in which the dichotomy is accurate.

But for some people, Memoir = True, Fiction = False. In Nonduality Nation, this proposition is not valid.

Memory (on which memoir is based) has been proven highly unreliable. See the work of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, then go even further with the bizarre speculations of The Mandela Effect. So there is certainly no direct correspondence between an author's memory of an event and the objective "truth" of that event, if such a thing even exists. When we write memoir, we just do our best to remember and report. It's a faulty venture at best, but it can be a very rewarding one.

Fiction is a different exercise. My own fiction is subtly and inextricably laced with events and characters "borrowed" from my actual history. I suspect every fiction writer does this to one degree or another. We make conscious decisions to pull a scene, an image, a bit of dialogue, from our database of memories when it feels right for the otherwise entirely imaginary story we're telling. Or maybe those memories inspired the story to begin with. They are the foundation, and they get heavily embellished with imaginary (yet equally important for the story) scenes, images, characters, events -- which, by contrast with memory's "truth," must be "lies."

In that way, truth begins to mix with falsehood to make an undifferentiated soup. To anyone who's thought much about the subject, all this is obvious. But it's only the beginning. My conscious decisions to create that mixture are not as powerful as the inevitably unique expression of my subconscious mind. Every idea, emotion, image, sequence of events -- even word choice, sentence structure, punctuation -- is an expression of me. If I attempt to strictly control those things, as if to bypass my subconscious, the control itself becomes the expression. I can't escape it.

Fiction or non-, every book is a portrait of its author. (I have more to say on this subject... in a future post.) It's entirely possible that a work of fiction might contain more psychological and emotional truth than does a fact-filled memoir by the same author. "The Starry Night" might say more about Vincent Van Gogh than any of his self-portraits. Of course, nothing is certain.

So, in that light, my newly completed novel, Ponckhockie Union (yet to be published) is both true and not true. Also, here in Nonduality Nation, events in imagination are just as concrete as those in conventional actuality. The story takes place in a reality that is almost, but not quite, the same reality you (the reader of these words) and I (their author) are in right now, in this present moment. But the continuum of "real" to "not real" is just as subject to over-simplification, or just as blurrily overlapping, as "true" and "false."

That's one reason why I prefer questions over answers. Here are a few of many questions raised by my novel: Was my protagonist, Ben Rose, actually threatened by a shadowy international assassin, or is it all in his mind, a metaphor? Who would the well-known author Paul Auster be if he had never had publishing success? What if Yasser Arafat of the PLO was actually an impostor controlled by a hidden elite? Did a mercenary killer ever sit at the feet of the guru Nisargadatta Maharaj? In what ways does national history entangle with personal history? And how much of the book is actually autobiographical (in other words, haha, "true")?

I get a secret pleasure from the idea that my readers are asking the autobiography question as they read -- always wondering what is my "true story," or memoir, and what is "made up," or fiction. I hope they come away with an ineffable understanding that it doesn't matter. Those things are one and the same.

With all this in mind, I wrote a very brief, confessional, tell-all memoir. No more secrets and lies! I call it "Vagabond for Beauty." Tom Newton and I recorded it as a podcast for The Strange Recital. My reading is followed by a lovely bit of guitar music by David Temple, then an author interview that explores some of the foregoing ideas, and offers others. The whole thing lasts 23 minutes. I hope you'll listen.

(The photo of Delicate Arch is by me, taken over 30 years ago.)

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Alternate Lives: Books by Paul Auster and Jim Murdoch

A picture of two books.... Okay, so in their physical presence these two novels are completely different. So what?

4321 by Paul Auster is a 6.5 x 9.5-inch hardcover with dust jacket, 866 pages (a brick!). Published by Henry Holt and Company, a subsidiary of Holtzbrinck/Macmillan, one of the Big Five.

The More Things Change by Jim Murdoch is a 5 x 7.75-inch paperback, 329 pages. Published by Fandango Virtual, a homegrown effort.

The point of this little essay is not to compare them, but rather to explore them and to honor them, with an eye toward their shared meanings. And part of the context here is an invisible (so far) third book: my own novel, currently undergoing final edits. My book (working title: Ponckhockie Union) is perhaps more different from these than they are from each other. But I mention it here because of the topic of alternate lives. A key character in my novel is "Paul Auster," an unpublished novelist working as a local journalist in the Hudson Valley, married to a successful writer named Siri. He is almost, but not quite, the world-famous Brooklynite, husband of Siri Hustvedt and author of The New York Trilogy and so much morejust as the world in which my book takes place is almost, but not quite, the one we live in and think we know.

4321 is Auster's latest, and longest, novel. It has already been much praised andlike all Auster's workmuch criticized. It tells four stories in one: four of the perhaps infinite number of possible lives of one young man, Archie Ferguson. Starting from the same point (birth in New Jersey, 1947), each Archie takes a different path as a result of apparently random occurrences in his life and the lives of his parents, family, and friends. Part of Auster's impressive achievement is the depth of well-observed and well-imagined detail with which he describes the hopes, fears, interests, challenges, and loves of each Archieall seem equally authentic. Which one is Archie's "real life?" They all are. For me, this gets into the territory of the "many-worlds interpretation" of quantum mechanics, which suggests that all possible alternate histories and futures are real, each representing an actual world or universe. On a less scientific plane, it evokes the Mandela Effect, in which memories don't seem to match realitypossibly explained by the suggestion that some of us occasionally slip between parallel, very similar, realities, or "timestreams."

Jim Murdoch is a Scottish author living near Glasgow. I've reviewed past books of his on this blog: a story collection, a poetry book, and an earlier novelThe More Things Change is his latest, and longest, novel. It tells the story of Jim Valentine, a teacher-turned-author, an ordinary guy whose journey is anything but. He is living a life without distinction, job and marriage in a state of torpor, dreaming of being a writer but never actually writing. As Murdoch says, "Jim was forty and had been since he was thirty." Then one day in the park he meets an old codger who claims to be God. They have a long philosophical conversation over the following days, and the next thing Jim knows, he is standing in front of an apartment door, key in hand, with no memory whatsoever.

A fresh start, a re-birth. Thus begins Act 2 of his life, in which he writes a major bestseller and a less successful follow-up. This part of the story is told from 20 and then 40 years later, after he's fallen again into isolated obscurity, been divorced by his wife, and come to the end of his ability to write. Or has he? Could there be a third book in progress, one that circles us back to the beginning? Once again he meets the old man in the park and their dialogue (or is it repartee?) brings into focus the alternate life Jim has just lived, and the next (or is it simultaneous?) life he may be embarking on. He is, after all, a character in a book, subject to the metafictional whims of the Author. As, perhaps, are you and mesee this article about the "simulation hypothesis."

Murdoch is a master of a particular kind of narrative voice: a very subjective, internal flight of fancy, a torrent of ideas large and small, busily skewering cliches and deconstructing conventional thought, a careening monologue in which the events of a storyline seem almost incidentalall delivered with wry wit and good humor. His narration is funny, but never at the expense of his characters, for whom he always has affection.

Auster's book is also full of affection for his characters, perhaps more heartfelt than any of his past novels. I was surprised to find myself moved almost to tears more than once. But he is a storyteller first. Even when his story is twisted and strange, he moves straight ahead to address the question "What happened next?" I see Murdoch, on the other hand, as a philosopher first, entwining his plot in a complex tapestry of playful ideas and big, unanswerable questions. And he's funnier than Auster could ever be.

Both of these books are dense, presenting pages of text rarely broken by paragraphs and more rarely by dialogue. These authors ignore the tired writing-school trope of "Show, don't tell." To their credit, this indicates the courage to be true to one's own unique expression, rather than courting the biggest possible audience. Also, both use unusual structures. I've already mentioned Murdoch's jumping through time, but he also spices the book with short enigmatic snatches of dialogue in playwriting format, a way of embodying another layer of reality. Auster's four parallel lives are tracked in interleaved segments numbered 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, then 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, and so on. It's very organized but the reading experience can blur the framework. I soon surrendered to the experience of never being sure, when I began a section, which story I was following. I found this a sort of delicious disorientation that served to blend the four lives into one, a perfect way of making a concrete reality out of a mental concept: how thin the boundaries are between one life path and another.

A final note about Auster's book: I only wish he hadn't dealt me a final twinge of disappointment with a too-easy, reality-bound ending, which I won't spoil by revealing. Perhaps there are many readers, those who like mysteries to always be solved, who will be glad for that ending. I appreciate the fact that Murdoch chose, with a smile and a wink, to keep the questions alive beyond his last page.

Bottom line: I enjoyed both of these books very much. Both are smart, brimming with verbal and cultural intelligence. Both are impressive achievements in the craft of writing fiction. So the question arises: what makes some people famous and others not? Could it be that each of us plays a scripted role, as I explored in my story "Wild Roses"? (Hear the story in audio form here.) Maybe, in some alternate life in a parallel universe (or simulation), Auster is the obscure one (as in my novel), and Murdoch, like his character Valentine, enjoys (or endures), a brief, brilliant moment in the well-deserved limelight.


Relating Writings: Follow this link for more of my thoughts about underlying meanings in Auster's work, and go even further with this link to a long-ago post. Follow this link and this link for other book reviews that explore thoughts about the connection of memory to "self," as well as my opinions about the "mystery" genre.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Five Audio more

A blogger I am not. An entire year has passed since my last post here, the one about my father.

It's been a busy year, as all years are. Like kintsugi gold, the cracks between the priorities of family, job, and home have been filled with two things: finishing a novel (celebrate!) and continuing my collaboration with Tom Newton on our twice-monthly fiction podcast, The Strange Recital ("a podcast about fiction that questions the nature of reality").

Among the 40 episodes we've released are several of my own stories. Some are new, some are old. Some are read by me, some are not. Each episode is roughly 20 minutes long and includes a bit of good music plus an "author interview" that may be a little twisted (in a good way 😉). I'd love it if you would listen and let me know your thoughts.

In reverse chronological order, here are the stories of mine that have come out in the past year. Just click the player arrow below the picture:

Barney Rudolph

"Barney Rudolph was a solitary man. This is what he silently said in his private story of self. Alienated, a loner, lone wolf, outsider. Always an outsider."

Can a movie be made that is not a movie? Can a man be not a man? Maybe each of us is just something happening in a sea of happenings.

Ferret Love

"It was last spring, early, when I fell in love with the ferret woman. The first beautiful day, exquisite whirlybird of a sunny blue day, and I’m in the park, lying on the lawn."

Where does obsession come from? Why do people have pet ferrets? And shouldn't somebody warn the boyfriend?

Wild Roses

"On the border between Millbrook and Pleasant Valley, just off Route 44, there’s a little patch of woods where my boyfriend hanged himself."

A visitor from the other side... real or hallucination? Should you heed their message? Yes or no, it's already written in the script.


"In the final year before the onset of Destruction, on the blessed anniversary of my birth, there will occur in the heavens an astrological Grand Cross. Yea, verily, He hath spoken!"

There are many kinds of messengers in this world. Hmm... should we heed the messages, or not?

Dewey and Fern

"When Dewey Bustle found the shriveled monkey finger, he just didn’t know what to think. He asked his buddy Fern...."

Can love persist in the face of harsh circumstance? Maybe we are all like these, the small and the lost.

Many thanks to Tom for his audio wizardry and good ideas.
Thank you for listening, and stay tuned for glimpses into my forthcoming novel (title TBD)!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Thoughts About My Dad

My dad and me, 1952
If my father, Cal Jack Robison, were still with us in this temporal reality, he would be 90 years old today. I last saw him alive twenty years ago, the day he turned 70.

In December 2015, I took advantage of a few days in an Authentic Writing workshop to explore some thoughts about him. Here are some of those exercises. The headings are the writing prompts we were given. I hope you'll read to the end.


The snow began drifting down not long after we started walking. The sky was low, the color of old porcelain, above the many shades of gray-brown and muted green of the rocky, brushy slopes, where stands of pines filled the ravines. Duane had moved on ahead of us and disappeared, his rifle slung over his shoulder. “That long-legged son of a gun,” my dad said. “We’ll have to meet back at the cabin later.” They knew from many hunts together that my dad’s short legs could never keep up—his pace was better matched to mine, the kid, ten years old. I’d be taller than him in just a couple of years, and I already told him frequently how to spell words, but now, out here, there was no sense beyond this: he was a man, I was a child.

I walked behind him, staying quiet, no sound but the crunch of our boots on stones and leaves, and the snow continued to fall, heavier, thicker. I often wondered: why is there so much walking when we go deer hunting? Wouldn’t it make more sense to stay still? Aren’t we scaring them away just by moving, just by entering their silent home with all our loud rustles and creaks and snapping twigs?

We hiked higher and higher, where the view of the surrounding wilderness should have widened, but by now the wind had picked up and snow swirled around us so thickly I could see nothing but my dad’s back, his rifle over his shoulder, his boots making one track after another. The ground was no longer visible under the deepening snow. Pines would appear as looming shadows in the white-out, then pass away behind us. Flakes caught on my eyelashes and I knew my hat and earflaps and shoulders were covered in white. A gust blasted my face. We kept walking. Should I be worried? I stayed silent. With him, this was my way.

Out of the swirling whiteness appeared a huge fallen tree, it’s tangle of roots jutting up as tall as my dad. He walked around it, where the other side was against a huge boulder. He stopped and turned to me.

“In there,” he said. “Quick.” Under the roots of the fallen tree, walled in by the boulder, was a little dry space, no bigger than a bathtub, all earthy dark brown, perfectly sheltered from the blizzard.

We crouched in the tiny cave together and suddenly I knew that he was scared. But he tried not to show it. “Hell of a storm, I’ll tell you what,” he said. Together we found a few sticks and dry leaves and started a miniature fire. We warmed our hands. I didn’t know if my dad and I were going to freeze to death, buried under a mountain of snow—whether I would ever see my mom or my little sisters and baby brother again. But somehow, I didn’t care. There was some sort of fierce joy in me—with my father, facing the elements in a battle for survival. I was being taken care of by him, but at the same time, and more importantly, I was somehow his equal. Two men, strong, smart, brave, surviving together. The rest of the world didn’t matter.

I don’t know how long we sat there in our little shelter. Maybe it was only an hour until the blizzard died down and we climbed out, resumed or ended our hunt, met up with Duane again, drove down out of the Uintah Mountains to our little cowboy town. Back to school, church, then my dad’s different jobs that took him away more and more, then moving to another town and another like vagrants… the routine that continued until, gradually, before I reached the end of high school, he was entirely gone from our lives, off with a new woman and a child on the way.

And I was expected to be the man of the family, a job that no hour under a tree in a blizzard could prepare me for.


In 1993 I lived in downtown Jersey City but had explored the streets of Manhattan well enough to give good directions to out-of-towners. No other members of my family had ever been there. It was Christmas time and I was 41, newly in love. I decided to take my New York born and raised girlfriend to Utah for her first time, to meet my family—my mother and her husband, my father and his wife, my teenage son and daughter. In Salt Lake City we picked up my kids from my ex, piled into a rental car, and headed south. First up, my mother’s house in Orem, next door to Provo, the home of Brigham Young University, the dark heart of Mormon country and my mother’s lifelong home. Surely my mother had no idea what to make of this tall young woman in her beret, black leather jacket, long scarf and slim black jeans, but I had long-since ceased to care and we enjoyed a surfacey chit-chat amongst the family photos and Jesus tchotchkes. Then on the road again.

I hadn’t seen my father in many years—possibly only once since my younger brother’s funeral in 1982. It might have been ‘88—I had driven down to Washington, DC, to meet my dad and his third wife for a tourist afternoon. His only trip to the East Coast, made for the sake of visiting his wife’s daughter in Virginia, but driving a half-day north to New Jersey to visit me was more than he could do.

Now he lived in a ranch house development in the small desert city of Saint George, in the southwest corner of Utah, retired from the oil field, working part-time in a country club shop and playing golf in all his spare hours. Maybe I’d been opened up to hope by the dizzy state of new love—I had the notion that he and I would do a lot of warm and honest talking. We’d reconnect.

But it was only an hour into our conversation in his living room, barely enough time for introductions and shallow catch up, that I saw an exchange of glances between him and his wife. Then his expression changed to one I’d seen before: the guilty, apologetic little boy. He seemed to squirm as he said something about having made a reservation for us in a motel nearby. At first I couldn’t take it in, as if he were speaking a different language. Then I understood. They had been expecting us for days and had never told me that we weren’t welcome to stay in their home. There was room for all of us; that wasn’t the issue. It was only later that I realized: his wife had never liked me. She thought I was a bad son, and my sisters were bad daughters, for not somehow spending more time with the father who abandoned us and never made an effort to reconnect himself. And through adult eyes I now saw the man I’d only glimpsed before: an overgrown child who followed his own convenience and the wishes of whomever was closest to him at the moment, never living by any principle or deeper thought.

But I was also the hurt boy, the artsy introvert, whose loud, unconscious dad had never understood him. I stood up to my neck in the motel pool under the red sandstone cliffs and raged in a whisper to my new love, my wife-to-be, about this man who was the father of my body but never of my soul.

Tentative Love

There is a photo of my dad standing in a doorway—young, grinning, cocky—his torso from neck to waist and his entire left leg encased in a white plaster cast. Under one arm, a crutch, and in the other: me, a baby under two. He had fallen asleep at the wheel, driving alone at night. A broken back and leg did not cure him of that narcoleptic habit; it was forever a source of tension on family trips.

Maybe it was to keep him awake that I was sent with him on an overnight trip away from home to another small Utah town some hours away. I was a pre-teen, maybe younger, and remember nothing about the purpose of the journey and nothing about our conversation, if it occurred at all. I remember only the rugged scenery out the car window and, most vividly, our night in a dingy roadside motel. I had never seen a Gideon Bible before. I felt awkward about sleeping in the same bed with my dad and I lay still and awake in the darkness, listening to an amazing parade of noises—rustle, shift, creak, sigh, cough, burp, shift, rustle, sigh again. He probably farted but I must have blanked it from my memory since my mother never allowed such things. Eventually he snored and I slept too. But it made me wonder: is this what it’s like to be an adult, a man? To have a big noisy body that can’t relax, that fills a dark room with its presence?

Maybe it was the next morning, or maybe it was some other morning on some other trip, just him and me, that we drove a drab main street of a little Utah town in the slanting light of dawn. A ragged, drunken Indian man staggered across the street in front of us. We went into a divey coffee shop, all shadowy with glints of chrome, and sat at the counter with a few other silent men. No children, no women. Men. I had never done this before. My dad actually ordered coffee, something no Mormon is supposed to drink. Of course I said nothing. I was just the student, learning. I suspect he ate eggs over-easy with plenty of pepper, and maybe I did too—although I preferred scrambled—to copy him, to try out being a man. My memories are as if I was not physically present at all, but was only a pair of eyes, always watching him. Looking up.

There is another photo from over thirty years later, 1997. I stand with my dad, my two sisters, and my half-sister from his second marriage. We are in front of his house in Saint George, Utah. I am the tallest in the image. He barely stands to my chin. It’s been many years since I had to look up to see him. We’re all smiling in our summer clothes in the sunshine, although it’s only the end of March, there in the southern Utah desert. The only indication in the photo that anything might be wrong is that his head is bald. No sign of the thick, curly, dark hair that had begun going silver. We are gathered from several states, with our children, his grandchildren, to celebrate his 70th birthday. To celebrate while he’s in a good period, feeling healthy for now, during his battle with leukemia—the leukemia caused by a doctor’s prescription of two contraindicated medications while he recovered from heart surgery. The doctor who retired before any justice could be served. Not that my father or his wife wanted to sue for malpractice—too much stress, you know, and that’s not how you should treat doctors anyway. Better just to die. 

Three months later in the sun-blasted heat of June, I was back in Saint George to speak at his funeral.

The Right Way

"The right way to live is according to the revealed word of God as delivered to his chosen servants: the Prophet, his two Counselors, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Any other way of living will lead only to unhappiness in this life, and to an eternity of disappointment in the next."

My grandfather the Mormon bishop made sure this message was taught to all his children, but I suspect that by the time his sixth child and youngest son, my father, arrived, his teaching energy was fading. Cal Jack had a bit of a wild streak. He knew the right way—all Mormon kids do—but it hadn’t imprinted in his cells deeply enough to guide his behavior. He was too full of fun to walk the straight and narrow path.

For that I am grateful. When I imagine who I would be if my father hadn’t had a spark of rebellion in him, the vision is too horrible to contemplate.

Let’s say he had denied his urge to roam, to hunt and fish on Sundays, to drive cool cars he couldn’t afford, to wear kangaroo-skin boots and polished agate belt buckles, to flirt, to drink, to whistle while he worked, to tell crude jokes and laugh loudly. Let’s say he had settled into a bank job, stuffed himself into a suit, stayed twenty years in one suburban ranch house with his wife and kids, instead of following the oil wells across all of the far-flung deserts and mountains of the west, dragging family along, or spending months alone in his little geologist trailer at the end of a hundred-mile dirt road, communing with wolves and moose. And let’s say he had bowed his head and stayed a Mormon, never missed a church meeting, done his duty in pious silence. Let’s say he did that—then who would I be?

I’d be dead. The spark that makes me live would have been snuffed out before it had a chance to grow. For all the ways he failed to live the right way, I thank him.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Calling by Jamie Turndorf

I am not typically a consumer of the "whodunit" genre, but I have studied its tropes as part of my self-education as a fiction writer. I can confidently state that The Calling by Jamie Turndorf will satisfy aficionados of the genre: a twisty plot launched by a late-night anonymous phone call, an atmospheric murder scene, a hero with inner conflicts, cops with their own agendas, ambiguous clues, courtroom shenanigans that distort justice, a time-pressured chase for final answers... oh yes, and sex. One entire chapter is dedicated to an explicit scene that is best described as a universal male dream come true. Definitely more fantasy than realism, but hot!

Full disclosure: Dr. Jamie Turndorf has been my therapist for nearly a decade. Her deep understanding of the effect of childhood emotional wounds on adult behavior is one of the strengths of this novel, lending empathy and subtlety to the psychological struggles inherent in following a priestly calling… or deciding not to. A foundational theme addressed in this book may present a serious challenge for dutiful Catholics: the story is a loud statement of opposition to the rule of celibacy for priests.

The fact that this tale’s lone hero investigator is a Catholic priest puts the novel on the fringes of the popular priest-as-detective tradition that may have begun a century ago with G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown. But The Calling’s Father Bernardo is no amateur sleuth looking for crimes to solve; he’s a reluctant detective forced by circumstance to try his best to save the life of an unjustly-accused fellow priest, his childhood friend. He succeeds because that is the genre convention: the mystery must be solved. The mystery cannot be allowed to remain a mystery because questions without answers are just too uncomfortable! Or so the conventional wisdom insists.

In this case, another agenda is added: the mystery must be solved so that a real-life Church coverup can be exposed. Jamie Turndorf’s late husband and co-author of this novel was once a prominent Jesuit, so he provides authentic insider knowledge. According to the marketing blurb, the novel is “Based on a never-before-revealed Vatican cover-up….” While the promise of Vatican-level intrigue is never fulfilled, we do get a priest’s convincing view of rampant sexual hypocrisy in a northern Italy diocese in the 1960s - 70s.

For me, the best “mystery novels” are those where the plot’s mystery (the unsolved crime) is really just a pointer toward deeper mysteries, existential or even cosmic, the unsolvable kind -- questions without answers. So that’s what I look for. In The Calling, the most important investigation, in my opinion, is not about the murder at all. It is Father Bernardo’s search for his elusive Self -- that congruent core that is his truest inner being, free of the controls of Mother, Duty, or Church. In those passages, the book enters my preferred realm of “metaphysical detective fiction,” in which the world is one of questions, not answers; interpretations, not solutions; and the sleuth is seeking not "Whodunit" but "Who am I?"

(For more on this subject see my earlier post: Nondual Auster, Metaphysical Detective.)