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VOTE JUNE 7!

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La Rose. Louise Erdrich. Harper Collins. New York. 2016. 373 pp.161134

Louise Erdrich has done it again. She has managed, yet again, through her elegant prose to tell us a story we needed to know. As I was reading LaRose the word immanence kept coming to mind, that shadowy certainty of glimpsing the divine in the mundane.

This story is a deeply painful one, of crushed family relationships and broken spirits, of the toll of the drugs and alcohol characters turned to for relief, of the loss of Native American traditions to Indian schools and the grinding poverty of reservation. At the center are the two families—one native living on the reservation and one white just across the line—who struggle throughout the book to deal with a tragic loss that occurs on the book’s second page. But there are also their children, their children’s friends and enemies, a Catholic priest who can’t stop dreaming about a war, a drug-rattled guy with a grudge. And the old people, now living in the Elder House, who tell the old stories and who share risqué comments about each other. Within this rather grim structure of sorrow and loss, Erdrich weaves a shimmering tapestry of truth and magic. And in the end there is the ability to overcome it all with re-kindling old family ties and pride in each other even across blended family lines.

Having read other books by Erdrich, I was struck again with her subtle nod to the redemptive power held in everyday reservation routine like making fry bread or beading, and carrying on family traditions through naming (LaRose is a fourth generation LaRose) even as CNN, Power Ranger figurines, drugs, high school sports, and poverty loom large in daily life.

The story is rich, engrossing and in the end, numinous. Please read it.

Unknown-2Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, & My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker. Lauren Kessler. DaCapo Press, a Member of the Perseus Books Group. Boston,MA. 2015. 254 pp.

This book shares only the genre—memoir—with any other book ever reviewed here. The tribulations a woman, who left her dreams of dancing behind in adolescence when faced with the cruel biology of a “wrong body” type, trying at middle-age to dance in the Nutcracker just doesn’t seem to fit this mold. However, the exception has been made here for two reasons: first, the author is from Eugene and Eugene’s Ballet figures prominently in her dreams. And second, (like many an aging used-to-wannabe dancer) the thrilling possibility of ever dancing on a stage in a professional production is a story too tantalizing to pass up.

This is certainly a quick read, easily accessible and fast-paced. And the physical practice and more practice the author undertakes to re-connect to her long-lost youthful dreams is a real tribute to her desire and dedication to an idea which began as a small voice in her head urging her on after a coast-to-coast Nutcracker marathon. She approaches the Eugene Ballet’s Artistic Director who agrees to give her a try, provided she makes herself over into a passable dancer.

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Self-Portrait of the Author

The rest of the book details how she does that, what it’s like to be in a dance company as a non-dancer (she recognizes that, unlike professional dancers, she interprets with her mind not her body), take a road tour, overcome tripping on her costume and all the other highs and lows any dancer faces.

Lauren Kessler describes her writing as “immersion journalism”, and while not necessarily a path many would take, the results are wonderful, funny, insightful. And in some ways profound as she also assumes the role of life coach, gently prodding the reader to re-consider the excitement of starting over by re-positioning one’s middle-age secure self, back at the beginning of a big jump (dare I say grand jeté) into something entirely new.

Laura Kessler on right as the Maiden Aunt

Laura Kessler on right as the Maiden Aunt in Eugene Ballet Company Production of The Nutcracker

John Irving. Avenue of Mysteries. Simon and Schuster. New York. 2015. 460 pp.

So, John Irving has written a new book, Avenue of Mysteries. This was not a book atop my must read list. Truth to tell, I don’t like John Irving’s writing much. As I read in the jacket bio his “all-time best selling novel, in every language” is A Prayer for Owen Meany, a book I found almost distasteful. I had to force myself to finish it. Nothing much in it worked for me.

images-1I brought home Avenue of Mysteries promising myself I could just stop if I wanted to; I wasn’t in school anymore. I am longer compelled to read Irving, just because Time magazine notes “He is as close as one gets to a contemporary Dickens in the scope of his celebrity and the level of his achievement.” Besides, even reviews of Avenue of Mysteries have been less than five-star. Some reader/reviewers had flat out given up, even after mentioning they’ve loved every other of Irving’s books.

Surprise! What I found was a book of rare language, amazingly colorful larger-than-life characters, and some plot premises so absurd I had to fall in love. It didn’t hurt that this book has undercurrents of magical realism casting its spell beginning with a Mexican setting with suitable miracles preformed by various “Our Ladies”. But it is the characters and their development that has such a latin ring. Irving uses magical realism’s method of repetition of the full names of characters with just a handful of substitute descriptors for each (e.g. the main characters,  a limping Juan Diego and his mind-reading younger sister Lupe, are described repeatedly as “the dump kids”). Catholicism plays a pivotal role, as does the circus, characters who don’t appear in photos taken of them, ghostly veterans, transvestites, and dogs, lots of dogs.

At some points I felt I could be reading a novel based on a Fellini movie rather than John Irving, originally from New England, now from Toronto. The book is overdone at times for sure. But the rhythm of dialog, the zany cast and the tragedy cum comedy kept me pushing on to his conclusion: “Not every collision course comes as a surprise.”

While we’ve been gone from our home state much has happened here on the coast to cheer about.

Jordan Cove LNG Terminal Permit Denied

LNG pipelinesPerhaps the biggest and brightest win here on the coast was the denial by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) of the Canadian-based energy company Verisen’s application for a permit to construct a liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal on Coos Bay’s north spit.

Through 14(!) years of shenanigans that began with the coy proposal that Jordan Cove would be for import (which local activists doubted from the start) and ended with the old switch-a-roo to export, ultimately the Jordan Cove project sunk when the company couldn’t prove the need for it. (Currently there are no potential overseas buyers for the LNG.) Additionally the company had been unsuccessful in securing the rights-of-way for the pipeline linking Wyoming’s gas fields to the oceanside facility. Verisen would have had to rely on eminent domain to seize the necessary land route (long, costly and likely to create very hostile [ex]landowners).

Both sides were stunned by the decision which came without warning Friday March 10. While local activists cheered, Verisen pledged to re-submit. But for now the terminal, located in a tsunami zone and near a school, is dead in the water.

For more information see: http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2016/03/feds_deny_jordan_cove_lng_term.html

There are also previous posts on this blog. Search “Coos Bay LNG terminal”.

Bandon Biota Abandons Golf Course Plans for State Park Land

Bandon Property Boundaries courtesy of the Oregon Coastal Alliance

Bandon Property Boundaries
courtesy of the Oregon Coastal Alliance

In September 2015 Bandon Biota LLC, the developers who brought the south coast Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, abandoned plans to use a piece of undeveloped state parkland south of Bandon in a land/money/gorse clearing swap that included helping to purchase land in Eastern Oregon for a new park. Folks in Eastern Oregon weren’t too happy about that, nor, it ended up, was the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) who originally passed the Bandon coastal land to State Parks. BLM nixed the deal because the original documents of transmission stated that the land would remain permanently undeveloped park, no matter the apparent enticements offered. Many had argued from the beginning that agreeing to swap state park land would set an unfortunate precedent and were greatly disappointed by the State Parks Commissioners April, 2014 decision to give the project the green light. Since it turned out it was really BLM’s decision to make, they untimately stepped in and stopped the project.

You can see more about it here: http://www.oregoncoastalliance.org/victories/bandon-biota-exchange-a-controversial-project-ends/

There are a number of previous posts about this “deal” also on this website. Enter “Bandon biota” in search.

Next Up: Oregon phases out Coal and the hottest February ever.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. Alfred Knopf. New York. 2015. 179 pp.

Two unexceptional people in Holt, CO (the a small Colorado plains town setting of all Haruf’s books) strike up a highly unusual (and often speculated on by the town’s busybodies) friendship. In the short summer that they are together they act as “parents” to the woman’s grandson, a five year old, hurting from the constant battles between his dad and mom. Perfectly normal events take place: the three go to the rodeo, get a dog, go camping, tend a garden, sip iced tea and eat sandwiches. They put the little boy to sleep and then climb into bed together and talk.

images-1It’s the climbing into bed part that gets her son, his daughter, and the town riled up even though there is nothing “going on.” Just two lonely old people, a widow, a widower, trying to get through the endless nights.

This gem of a novella is perfect in its construction and execution. Haruf tells the story with crystalline and exceedingly simple language. Short chapters run through their days. Haruf has abandoned the use of quotes, even though the majority of the text is dialog. At first it’s somewhat disconcerting, but in a few pages the lack of those annoying punctuation marks becomes another metaphor for the story. It’s plain, unadorned. The dialog needs no more attention drawn to it than any other normal thing that takes place in this uneventful summer.

Still, there is foreboding and ultimately a truly tragic ending. But like the rest of the book the power is derived from the sheer mundaneness in which it evolves and is described. The final line: “Dear, is it cold there tonight?” is at once wrenching and incredibly beautiful.

As I reached the conclusion I wept, for the characters and the story, as well as for the realization that this is final gift that Kent Haruf will give. Sadly, he died shortly before its publication.

Peace

Here is Christmas. Here is Grace. Best hopes for 2016.

Peace.

http://www.nytimes.com/video/us/politics/100000003766925/obama-sings-amazing-grace-.html?