Author: authorwilliamcook

About authorwilliamcook

I grew up on the east coast, where I attended two Catholic seminaries before getting my Master's Degree in Social Work at the State University of New York at Albany. I moved to Oregon in 1989, continuing my career as a mental health therapist. I am now retired and I divide my time between babysitting for my 15 grandchildren and writing.

Christmas Letter 2019

Christmas 2019

 

Dear Family and Friends,

 

Truth be told, I didn’t want to write a Christmas letter this year. As you know, 2019 has been a terrible year for me. My son died suddenly, at the age of 42; my dear son-in-law’s father died after a long, debilitating illness; my former mother-in-law, the mother of the mother of my children, died. A Trifecta of tragedy.

I know St. Paul tells us not to grieve as do those who have no hope, but I have found that very hard to do. I’ve raged at God for many weeks. In fact, I may not be finished with that yet. I’ve read books on grief. (They didn’t help.) I confess that I rather liked one book for its raw honesty: Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved), by Kate Bowler.

I haven’t really prayed or worshiped much in the last six months. I cry or get choked up every day. When Sharon isn’t home, I’ll scream a string of profanities to the empty house. I do read a chapter of Scripture daily, and I attend church every Sunday. I tell myself it’s for the discipline, but maybe it’s just an old habit. That said, I’ve found the messages during this Advent season to be profoundly disturbing. More than once, I’ve heard the pastor encourage the congregation (and me—right between the eyes) to let go of anger and bitterness, to surrender the rage and confusion and doubt. Then last Sunday, I was reduced to tears just before the communion service.

I’m not schizophrenic (at least, not yet!), and I don’t usually hear voices, but it felt as though God were speaking to me. “You had your son for 42 years. My son had only 33.”

I suddenly realized something that’s quite cliché, but that I had never really appreciated before. Everything—all our relationships and all our possessions—are on loan to us. Spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, friends are on loan to us, and we don’t know the term of the loan. As a pastor friend told me at breakfast last Tuesday, “Do you want to be bitter about the years you won’t have with your child, or rejoice in the ones you did? Choose now.” I want the latter, but it’s an excruciating, uphill battle. And as I write this right now in the Red Fox Bakery in McMinnville, I’m reminded of the origin of the term “excruciating”—”from the cross.”

So if you’ve left for work, and you had an argument with your spouse on the way out the front door, stop now. Turn around and go back home. Kiss him or her and open your heart. If you’re not on speaking terms with a sibling or a parent or had a shouting match with your son or daughter, fix it before you do anything else. It’s your last chance. After all, we never know when the term of the loan is coming due…

I raise a cup of coffee to you now—and later today, a glass of wine—to family and friends near and far. In tears of sorrow and joy, Sharon and I wish you a blessed Christmas and a better New Year in 2020.

Book Review: The Party House: Texas Gulf Coast Schemes and Dreams, by L.Wade Powers

I was hooked (as in “hook, line, and sinker”) by the end of the first page: “There were memorable characters in the inside world in those days and some of them need to be protected, I suppose. Some of them don’t deserve to be, but my lawyer said to go easy and change the names. She also said to be free and loose about the facts and not too heavy on history or memoirs, at least not to the extent that people would recognize themselves and file papers. We don’t want that, do we? So, if you happen to be reading this, which I doubt, and recognize yourself or someone you think you know, well that’s just too damned bad. Oh, I mean, it’s probably just a coincidence and it ain’t you at all.”

It’s the early 1970s, and Peter Gilbert has come to Port Tarpon on Mustang Island (where there are no mustangs), to conduct field research on the behavior of fiddler crabs for his doctoral dissertation. Against the advice of his academic colleagues, he gets inducted into the gang of misfits who frequent The Party House, a tavern with an indelicate reputation. Before long, he is tending bar part-time for extra cash, seduced by the lure of the hard-drinking and hard-loving locals. What follows is a droll, sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking exploration of the quirkiest characters and relationships in recent literary memory.

Powers is a master of his craft. His characters are fully alive and draw on our sympathy, even when they do the most outrageous things. Their adventures become the stuff of personal legend—stories I’m sure the narrator will tell to his friends over and over again decades later. I still find myself laughing when I recall “The Great Barroom Bicycle Race” or the launch of “The Good Ship George Dewey.” And who couldn’t cheer for a south Texas softball team that calls themselves “The Armadildos?”

There is sorrow here as well—relationships that misfire, love that grows cold, the intrusion of “reality” into the hijinks and carousing. Ultimately, time wins every battle. The capriciousness of youth gives way to the sobriety of age, and something vital is lost along the way. And there’s no going back.

My only criticisms are petty ones: I wish the Kindle version had a table of contents so I could more easily navigate to favorite chapters and re-read them. I also wish the author had kept the whole novel in the first person, told by Pete. A couple chapters are in the third person and they caught me off guard.

That said, I give this book my highest recommendation. It’s a funny, poignant, bittersweet masterpiece, and it will haunt me for a long time to come. Kudos, Mr. Powers!

Here’s the link: The Party House

Movie Review: Joker

How to describe a movie I found so disturbing it was hard to talk with my son as I left the theater? Joker is a grim and unrelenting descent into darkness by a man who strives unsuccessfully to manage his mental illness in an unforgiving world. To call it a “comic book movie” does it a disservice. It is a harrowing meditation on the roots of violence and the nihilism it spawns. As such, it is definitely not for everybody (NBC News and The New York Times hated it). It is dark, somber, and cringe-worthy at times. The first two-thirds has the slow pacing of an art-house film, until it erupts in violence. Then all hell breaks loose. By the end of the film I was reminded of the anarchist riots we have endured here in the Pacific Northwest.

But if you want to see a performance by an actor at the top of his game, you might want to consider it. Joaquin Phoenix is on the screen for the entire running time, and he is outstanding. Slam-dunk Oscar nomination. But be warned: it is not a movie I would even think about bringing my wife to see—and I’m not being sexist in saying that. The movie’s bleak portrait of humanity may leave you desperate for an antidote. If that’s the case, go see The Peanut Butter Falcon, which will leave you smiling and grateful to be human. Or re-watch Yesterday.

Book Review: Coming to Terms by K.D. Girsch

K.D. Girsch has created that elusive holy grail of literary novels: a story that captures in simple but elegant prose the complexity of human emotions and relationships. Her protagonist Ellie suffers devastating losses and struggles to come to terms with what life can possibly mean when, as she says, “Everyone who loves me dies.”

But as excruciating as Ellie’s grief and despair are, they are not the whole story. With painstaking care, the support of a new love, and the wisdom of a compassionate therapist, Ellie begins to heal and rebuild her life. A sliver of hope enlightens her darkness. Beyond denial and distraction, she finds ways of integrating her losses into the new future she is creating for herself.

I do have two minor criticisms, but they may be too idiosyncratic to be entirely valid. Rage is conspicuously absent from Ellie’s panoply of emotions. I would have expected Ellie to be furious at what Camus called “the benign indifference of the universe,” an indifference that could allow such tragedies to occur. Instead, she seems almost too stoic.

My other observation is that the novel does not seem to be as anchored to place as it is to person and time. We know that Ellie’s story happens in the Finger Lakes region of upper New York, New York City, London, and on a Yorkshire farm, but the descriptions of those places are so sparse I felt I had to invent them myself. I may be too cinematically oriented, but at times I felt the characters were acting before a “green screen,” with the environment to be added later by the reader.

That said, I don’t wish to quibble, and I cannot diminish Ms. Girsch’s accomplishment. She has written a lucid, luminous novel, and I give it five enthusiastic, well-earned stars. It is truly excellent—and just short of transcendent. Here’s the link: Coming to Terms

Book Review: Moon Over London by Shawna Reppert

It’s back to Victorian London for the second outing of the Werewolves and Gaslight series, with the unlikely sleuthing trio of Detective Inspector Royston Jones, Catherine Fairchild (a.k.a. Dr. Charles Foster), and Richard Bandon. Jones is the bastard son shunned by his wealthy family. Fairchild is a champion of women’s rights but finds that her society makes her practice alchemy under the guise of a man. Bandon is an aristocratic scion who must keep his true identity as a werewolf secret or be expelled from his family.

This is a society where the class to which you belong means everything, and the lowest class is werewolves—often denied employment and their most basic rights, seen by many as sub-human.

Now werewolves are disappearing at an alarming rate. Jones suspects they are being abducted, experimented upon in ghastly ways, and murdered. He enlists his colleagues in a frantic quest to apprehend the culprits before more victims are lost.

The setting in old London, the vocabulary and pacing, all lend authenticity to the writing. But don’t be mistaken. This is not merely a steampunk, urban fantasy take on the Conan Doyle/Sherlock Holmes archives. As in the first book in the series, A Hunt by Moonlight, Reppert has crafted an allegory for our current day, critiquing the way we treat our most marginalized citizens. Both entertaining and thoughtful, I give this novel an enthusiastic five stars. Here’s the link: Moon Over London

Book Review: Of Mice and Money by Winifred Morris

“I even found a realtor here in Broken Pine–a one-street town just past Postage Stamp, on the way to Bakeoven–who, once he figured out I wasn’t lost–at least not geographically–drove me around in his pickup truck and showed me the perfect place.” The perfect place for Kiva is a “classic farmhouse,” a falling-down, mouse-infested relic on the dry side of Oregon. What better place to hide away with the trunkful of cash she’s stolen from her drug-smuggling, soon-to-be-ex-husband Carlton? No one will find her here!

Except everyone does, including her husband, who decides she’s purchased the perfect safe-house for his operations, her estranged daughter, who may want to get even for being abandoned, her “ex-hippie” parents, who aspire to selling Thai sticks to seniors in casinos, and the “gorgeous hunk” who’s just crawled up out of the ravine in her backyard. And maybe the Feds, who are following her and listening in.

I hate to sound like a snake-oil salesman, but as with Morris’s novel Bombed, Of Mice and Money is a cure for what-ails-you. The pages crackle with her understated, self-deprecating humor. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, the story gets funnier as the quirky characters get more entangled in their bizarre goings-on.

If you enjoy the wacky humor of books like Skinny Dip, by Carl Hiaasen, or Lunatics, by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel, you’ll find that Of Mice and Money delivers the goods. I personally feel it’s way, way better than Prozac, but I have to acknowledge, the FDA has not approved of this review. Enjoy!

Book Review: Falling in Love and Other Misadventures, by L.Wade Powers

How to describe so diverse a collection of short fiction? Between these covers, the reader finds 22 stories of romance, humor, suspense, sci-fi, and sober reflection on the stuff of life and death.

Powers has peopled his quirky tales with a cast of characters who are sometimes deceptively ordinary: an Air Force trainee pursuing his first sexual encounter; a ten-year-old boy shoplifting a roll of Life Savers candy; a self-conscious woman trying to escape a nightmarish first date; a young door-to-door encyclopedia “consultant” seeking his first sale.

On the less ordinary side are the man willing to risk all in his exploration of lucid dreaming; the attractive alien taking a job as a waitress in a country diner; the man seeing ghost birds no one else can.

All of these stories—these “misadventures”—are vehicles for the author’s wry observations of the human condition. They become reflections on love and death and the passage of time. Powers holds up a mirror before the reader: The joys and sorrows and fears we see are our own. Kudos for a masterful work!

Click here for the link to the book.

Click here for his website.