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Written Locally, Thinking Globally: A Couple New Books From Local Writers

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Midge Raymond’s Forgetting English

Reviewed by Tuula Rebhahn

 

Ashland Creek Press is a publisher of books relating to the environment, and its co-founder Midge Raymond has written one that spans environments on every corner of the planet.

Forgetting English is a world tour of lost souls, like getting on a cruise with your therapy group. Its characters share a common theme: They have traveled somewhere to avoid something at home, but it turns out that they take their troubles with them. They travel alone, they travel in pairs, and someone on the other side reminds them that they haven’t traveled far enough to get away. Occasionally, it turns out that the answer the character seeks was waiting inside them all along, but something they find abroad is what it takes to lure the answer from its hiding place.  

Raymond displays a knack for transporting the reader to another place. In “The Ecstatic Cry,” a female biologist relishes the solitude of Antarctica—until some tourists come to mess it up.

“It’s hard to believe on an evening like this,” she writes, “with the air sogged with rain and the penguins splashing in a pool of slush nearby, that Antarctica is the biggest desert in the world, the driest place on earth.”

A deep sense of detachment and a certain kind of hopelessness pervades these stories and many of its characters. When a girl in Hawaii steals a ring from a woman who just found out that her husband has been cheating from her, the woman barely bats an eye.

In Raymond’s stories, characters interact with other visitors; locals are a rarity. Perhaps this simply reflects the modern travel experience for Americans.

On the other hand, how much richer could these stories be if these characters actually did forget their native language—and their angst? When Raymond allows her readers to authentically experience the glorious settings, curiosity plays through, and our common humanity is finally found, or remembered.

 

Mike Dickenson’s IQ84

Reviewed by Jordan Marie Martinez

Few things are better than reading a good book in a warm place with a cup of tea. Of course, when the book is really good, the setting doesn’t matter as much because the story takes you to another place.

IQ84 by Mike Dickenson attempts to transport the reader into a story held together by eccentric characters and shocking plot points. In a world not much different than our own––perhaps even a reflection of it––the protagonist David Dingle is an ultra-consumerist. Constantly distracted by his phone and whatever else society offers him, he drives around collecting high government officials’ signatures for documents he never reads. His father tells him it’s an important job, although David feels somewhat aimless and bored by it. However, what David lacks is ambition or drive to find something better, or maybe he’s too afraid to try.

(Editor’s notes: Let’s be clear: Dickenson is local and a sometimes writer for the Messenger. Also, although the titles are incredibly similar, Dickenson’s novel should not be confused with Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s 2011 best seller, 1Q84.)

Nevertheless, the story doesn’t take long to get started. As David is on his normal route collecting signatures for the day, one document in his possession is more dangerous and more personal than he can imagine. One glance at the document makes one’s head explode, causing a chain reaction of exploding heads within the vicinity. Panicked and confused, David learns the document has something to do with him.

Dickenson’s use of action pushes the story forward. David is forced to travel from Seattle to Las Vegas, ending up at a demolished White House with the questions in the document answered, though not to be revealed in this review.

The story’s length is due to the number of characters crucial to the story. Between the President of the United States, a failed terrorist, an aspiring singer named Courtney, and the many more characters adds more to the hilarious and shocking plot that takes David and his roommate Jerry across the country. As the story goes on, the title of the book begins to make more sense, as well as the characters who stick around.

IQ84 is more than simply an entertaining read. It comments on our society’s structure and way of doing things, especially how so many use distractions to disappear from reality. However, when reality finds the person, like it did David, there are times when one has no choice but to confront it. The greatest accomplishment is Dickenson’s ability to use humor to present society’s greatest issues.

 

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