Thursday, May 24, 2012

Guest Post: A Book Review

Today's guest blogger is Erica Cresswell. When I asked for guest blogger Erica sent me a awesome post on Autism but then she asked if I would post a book review instead...I totally loved the idea. 

I can guarantee there is a story for everyone in Mike Speele's first book, “Pen & Platen: Short stories written the long way.” Whether you're looking for humour, fantasy or a chilling story you're sure to find it in this book.

In his story, Loading dock, 2am, I was immediately sucked in by the vivid scene description of two workers at a loading dock. Speegle instantly introduces the reader to the characters and their long standing connection, never making the reader have to work at filling in the details or leaving us with plot holes. Nope, he gets right to the point. Of course almost every writer loves to read a story about writing, correct? The narrator is described as having failed at multiple MFA applications yet he never gives up on his writing. But the story is about much more than that. It is about putting life's challenges in perspective.

The narrator tries to get help from his co-worker Rudy for a story he's writing about an “ex-pat... from Cuba.” This is something Rudy has first-hand experience with. Rudy gives in and tells the story of how he came to America--the “Promised Land”-- as he refers to it.

He tells us about the struggle to find food back home in Cuba and how the struggle to get water proved even more challenging. The story goes on to tell very vividly Rudy's trip with his family from Cuba to the United States. Rudy's wife does not speak on the trip nor say anything when introduced to the new place where they would be staying nor anything about the fact that “the room” they would be staying in “was the size of our entire house back in Cuba.”

In a dramatic scene, Rudy and the cousin find Rudy's wife sobbing “like a little girl” in front of the sink as water pours from the tap. Rudy says, “...It was all too much, and she didn't understand that she had made it until she turned on the water and it just worked.” When asked if that was the kind of story the narrator was looking for the narrator remains mute feeling ashamed about how he is a “Fuckin' white kid all sad about how he didn't get into his top five schools and here's Rudy all glad that he has running water.”

In Media Res is a chilling story that starts off innocently enough. I won't spoil the ending but I will say you won't see this twist coming. The tension in the story is fabulous. I was totally drawn into the story from the get-go.

Speegle does a great job of childhood first-person narration. The piece starts by looking back on a simple event at school (“It was twenty-five years ago that I raised my hand and asked if I could use the bathroom.”) The narrator, Stanley, doesn't seem totally sure but believes that it was that event where everything started to go wrong.

All of us have had teachers that seemed to make it their duty to torture us. In Media Res that teacher is a “hatched-faced shrill named Moreno” who has a sick obsession with defecation. Strange yes but Speegle makes it work. There is nothing unbelievable about Stanley's early school experience, it's all there: the public humiliation at the hands of Moreno; the taunting by his peers after he gets caught peeping at a female in the washroom (who as it turns out in a very unfortunate set of circumstances is his own teacher, Moreno.)

The effects of being “caught” have clearly left a strong mark on Stanley who feels he must defend his honour 25 years later. Speegle interweaves past and present narration smoothly, flawlessly. Stanley tells the reader, “I'm not a fucking pervert. Every woman, every woman I ever fucked was over eighteen...” Speegle describes the effects of “peeping” on Stanley's wakening sexual arousal, the
associated guilt to the peeping experience and the impact the experience will later have on his sexual life.

Speegle writes: “But the sight of that brown thigh, the hem of that print dress hiked up to the hips, the fact that I was seeing her when she couldn't see me awakened something within me. Something that lived inside me for the rest o my life, returning to me at the moment of release, whether I was with a woman or the hollow company of my own hand. Something dark and barely acknowledged.”

Speegle seamlessly shifts the story to Stanley's placement in boarding school. (After being caught peeping his parents decided they had to “do” something about the “problem.”)

Speegle vividly describes the sexual abuse Stanley receives at the hands of the teachers and the humiliations endured by cruel upperclass men. Needless to say these traumatic experiences all have a strong negative impact on the narrator and the reader can feel the tension rise to a boiling point. We feel that Stanley is careening to certain doom but we don't know how that doom will represent itself or what damage will be done along the way. The reader is hooked, unable to stop watching the “trainwreck.” We're brought along for the ride- the highs and lows. At a certain point the “love of a good woman” as the expression goes—seems as though it will save Stanley but it does not. The ending is very chilling and memorable. You'll have to read it to find out.

Speegle's writing is crisp and vivid. He writes, “On numb legs I walked out into the hallway and sat in one of the plastic discipline chairs that flanked the door.” Who among us has not walked on “numb legs” as a child knowing we're in trouble?

Speegle writes: “From a poster on the door, a happy bookworm was encouraging me to DEVOUR A BOOK TODAY! Creepy bastard. He didn't have to take a piss. He was easy like Sunday morning.” He could simply have written he was “relaxed” but instead chose to evoke the image of an easy Sunday morning instead. The story is littered with evocative and playful images.

The stories are truly enjoyable and I would recommend “Pen and Platen: Short stories written the long way.” Support our Indie authors! They work hard and deserve our recognition. If you're on Twitter use the hashtag #AmazonLikes to show your support. Review “Pen and Platen” on GoodReads and Amazon or on your blog. You won't be disappointed. Enjoy!

For more about the author please visit:
He's also on Twitter – go say hello @Mike_Speegle and see what projects he's up to right now.
If you're at all interested in typewriters he's your go-to guy. He has his own collection. In fact, he wrote “Pen and Platen” on his Olivetti Lettera 32 typewriter.

You can find Erica writings on Erica Cresswell: Read, Write, Repeat and on twitter and be sure to check out her great post about Autism.

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