Book Revue

Book Revue: Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar

IMG_3032Jakub, an ambitious young scientist, is chosen to bring glory to his native Czech Republic by traveling into deep space to collect samples from a puzzling, purple dust cloud that may or may not hold the secrets to life itself. In the process, he comes into contact with extraterrestrial life in an unexpected way. And, as his body deteriorates, so does his long-distance marriage.

Kalfar’s prose is fairly sparse, yet powerful, and it suits the setting and narrator rather well. The progress narrative and the love-conquers-all narrative are adeptly challenged, if not de-constructed. The concept of heroism is effectively turned on its head. However, all that flipping doesn’t leave us nowhere; Jakub may have physically escaped the gravitational pull of the Earth, but we don’t go flying off the whole damn Hegelian spiral or what have you.

Those of us who aren’t particular fans of science fiction or space travel will not be bored as well-timed flashbacks about Jakub’s life on earth color the story. We also get a great history lesson on the Velvet Revolution.

So, I’d say that this is a pretty solid novel, and I doubt you’d be disappointed.

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The Second Novel Slump

“You got a ways to go
There’s so much to know
Got a ways to go
Too much to know”

~The Feelies, “Too Much”

My first novel, for all intents and purposes, was “The Eastward Exodus,” a raw, ambitious, contemporary work about a neurotic high school girl who wants to go to NYU and be a playwright. Forget that jive about the apocalypse I did once; the family saga dripping with melodrama; and the political thriller I wrote in high school, titled, earnestly, “Dark Horse.” If “Dark Horse” is even deserving of analogy, it was something like the savage, mutant love child of 1984 and that good ole Robert Redford flick The Candidate. No offense to savage, mutant love children.

My second novel (for all intents and purposes) is presently marinading in my mind, as it should be, for a very long time.

I’d be lying if I said that that makes me happy. It really doesn’t. I hardly know who I am when I’m not fleeing from social interaction, holed up someplace writing a book. I suppose that’s one reason why I’m blogging again. I can’t just keep silent until I have something spectacularly relevant to share with the world, as tasteful and prudent as that may seem.

I’d also be lying if I said that this trip I’m taking to New York isn’t sort of an attempt to jumpstart my second novel. The beginning of the novel is the most important part, as probably any writer would attest to. If those stakes aren’t sizzling at the beginning, when will they be? When you get all tangled up in your own plot twists and run out of clever pop culture references at around 30k words?

The trip may do the trick, or it may not. Certainly, it will help me as a writer in some way somewhere down the road. Yet, it’s doubtful that I’ll be like, “Eureka! Now I know exactly how to start my second novel that sets out to chart the course of history from the perspective of a parasite, filtered through a story about an autistic girl, a synesthete law student, and a pack of cigarettes with a lifetime warranty.”

Yep, I don’t really see that happening. You can’t plan an epiphany like that. It’s even pretty hard to plan a trip. I feel like I’m wanting to saturate myself with stuff about New York (a crash course in American history and architecture would not be out of place), but it doesn’t seem like I’ll ever know enough to put everything in context, and, what’s more, it’s not like I actually know what’s going to happen to me there. Nor do I want to know; that’s kind of the point, not knowing.

And so, why don’t I just spill something onto a page and see what happens? The reason is that every good thing I’ve ever written was etched onto my soul long before it touched paper (as cheesy as that sounds), and so far, this isn’t. I’m certain that anything I would write at this point would be half-baked and painful to read, and I respect myself too much as a writer to even expose my laptop to such a shameful display.

Listen, you know you’ve got writer’s block when the best working title you can come up with for your second novel is: “Luridly, Leena Lights Up.” A part of me (the rational part) despises this sorry excuse for a title, which begins with a weird adverb and only goes downhill from there. And another part of me is like, “well, it’s self-aware, and it does rather nicely undercut the pretentiousness of the title of your first novel, ‘The Eastward Exodus of Julie Ashbury.'” True as that may be… it really is a piece of shit title, and until I can get my brain waves out of murky territory they must be wading in, it probably isn’t even safe for me to be writing.

 

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On Traveling Alone

I’ve never really travelled alone before. In the literal sense I have, but not in the sense of being by myself in a different place for any extended period of time.

When I was in London for study abroad last summer, I declined a trip to Cambridge with my companions to nurse my under-the-weather feeling and hopefully get some antitrust law reading done. As it turned out, I didn’t get much reading done, and I started getting restless once I realized that I didn’t have a cold after all. My work ethic in those early days of the trip was all but nonexistent. I decided that a lunch break was in order. I took the tube to Brixton. I’m certain that I’d never heard of Brixton before arriving in London, besides from that song, “The Guns of Brixton.” That was really all the encouragement I needed.

As I emerged from the Underground, I was greeted by the sound of steel drums coming from the street above. I suppose I did what any self-aware white girl would have done in that situation. I went to a movie theater bar to have an eggs Benedict. I witnessed what appeared to be some kind of bizarre racial tension boiling over in the streets. I wandered the outdoor market, bought two mangoes out of homesickness, and perused a record store. Then I found myself at this festival in a park eating chocolate Digestive crackers I got from the nearby Sainsbury and drinking terrible beer until I felt bored and guilty about not doing my antitrust reading. IMG_0170
Honestly, it wasn’t a bad afternoon. I felt like I was engaging with my environment in a way that I wouldn’t have if I had gone with someone else. Dull as it got towards the end, I had the vague realization that this could work. could work on my own.

Well, I’ve booked my flight, my hotel, a ticket to an off-broadway play, I’ve told people at work, sort of… and I’m going to New York.

I’ve been waiting to go for years. I was devastated when my eighth grade class went, without me (my mom didn’t think I was old enough to go at the time). Crushed when my plans were derailed once again the summer before I started law school (I’d even done my homework on New York pizza).

It’s like life is trying to get in the way of my travel plans once again. I’ve been feeling very tired lately and having nighttime panic attacks intense and frequent enough to tickle my hypochondriac sensibilities. Not to mention that I sort of freaked out on a ferris wheel a couple weeks ago (have I, at the age of 21, developed a fear of heights?!). And salty food has not been treating me so good lately, which is not cool because this is supposed to be my pizza odyssey.

Well, I guess all my neurotic stuff can take a walk, because I’m still going. Next month may not be the best time, but it’s the time. I suppose if there is a place to learn rugged individualism, it’s New York.

And then there’s the traveling alone for fun stigma. This is the least of my worries. You can’t have individualism without self-reliance. And I’m simply not going to wait around for people to validate my experiences.

So, that’s all for now. Let’s see if I chicken out between now and then.