Review: The Thirty-Five Timely & Untimely Deaths of Cumberland County

Not entirely sure how to write this review. Ideally you’d go buy a copy, then we could discuss it in the comments. That would be easiest. Still, nothing is ever easy…

The events may occur in two separate realms: the every day life of a small town Maine doctor, John M. Bischoffberger aka Bisch; a parallel world that may, or may not, co-exist within the mind of said Bisch.

The primary inhabitants of this parallel world, the old woman, the welp, and the thin man, are of a mythical nature. While reading i found myself trying to fit them into roles, assign them meaning, which it is entirely unclear that they have. Nonetheless, could the old woman symbolise time, the forces of nature? Could the welp be war, chaos, anarchy? The thin man, is he pestilence, disease, famine?

They talk of love and hate, of time, of a time that has come. Of a job to be done. In the end are they just the neurotic fever dreams of a mind that has experienced the horrors of war, and struggles to maintain a grip on a gritty rural reality?

It’s a beautifully written book, the writing is descriptive, rich and earthy, but it leaves you enough room to imagine. Space in which to find your fears. I don’t read a lot of fiction anymore, and i don’t watch any cinema, but this felt very cinematic – the pages playing out as a film.

Don’t want to say any more. Go read it.

Oh.One of the Unbounders made a reference to Cormac McCarthy. It’s a difficult comparison to live up to, but its easy to see why it was made.

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The Thirty-Five Timely & Untimely Deaths of Cumberland County

a76912_15457306fd7c4409a85eb82e6e2222c6~mv2I’m currently reading ‘The Thirty-Five Time & Untimely Deaths of Cumberland Country” by my long-time friend / collaborator / co-conspiritor Mason Ball, and am excited to report that it is terrifying… and terrifyingly good!

If you didn’t support him during the crowdfunding process on Unbound, you should go find yourself a copy in one of those bookstores of yore… or here, or Amazon. The writing is rich, keenly observed, textured, sombre, and playful – people die… a lot of people die, but somehow there is a current of humour (dark humour, dark as to appear black no doubt) running through it all.

One of the first questions that i had reading, was when Mason had spent enough time in Maine (where the tale is told) to develop a sense of the place… and it turns out it wasn’t just me:

Confession time: I have never been to Maine, where the book is set. Had I the funds I most definitely would have done but as it stood I had to make do with research, both online and in print; oh, and Google Earth and Google Street View were invaluable!

You can read the rest of the interview on Book Trails.

I’ll post a review when i’m done… but you should get a copy regardless.

Edit: Mason’s notes on buying the book:

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Parting Shot

Umberto Eco died today. Over the years he’d entertained and bemused me in unequal measures. It always felt as though he was on a perpetual search in his works of fictions for the appropriate follow up to Name of the Rose. A case of ‘peaking too early’ perhaps?

His more scholarly, but entertaining nonetheless, writings existed in a tradition of european intellectualism that was not always accessible to me – the layers of meaning, playful exploration of ideas across languages, epochs, civilisations… i’ll miss the erudition he so obviously enjoyed displaying.

Today is a good day to remind small-minded england of the great european tradition of intellectualism, of thinking, and of the “european experiment” which has sought to bring peace to so many people. Here is an extract from Eco’s essay on Ur, or eternal, Fascism:

7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the U.S., a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson’s The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.

Fuck your special pleading. Fuck your culture of entitlement and greed. Fuck your appeals to xenophobic instincts. Fuck your attempts to enshrine diminished empathy in law. And most obviously: fuck you dishface.

Book Covers

Tangentially related to the previous post…

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That’s Iain’s latest book (or maybe it isn’t – a few months have passed…) The cover is a crop of the following photograph of mine, taken with the previously maligned Natura Black 1.9:

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Not sure it’s the crop that i’d have made, but i’m notoriously bad at cropping my shots.

It strikes me as somewhat unusual to have covers that are “full bleed” photographs at the moment. Maybe it was never a thing… but certainly the current trend is to more designed and graphical covers. The IWTFY books have eschewed that direction and, to my eye, look all the more distinctive for it.

Both IWTFY covers have also been fairly abstract portraits of M., taken in the bath with a digital P&S… that is a trend which seems difficult to continue.

Maugham – Collected Short Stories Volume I

51edWkqid+LThe story ‘Rain‘ seems to be well known / famous… but it had never crossed my horizons until now. What a way to start a collection of short stories!

Simply saying that these pieces are “good” doesn’t begin to cover the range of styles, emotions and weights that they touch. And while the overall sense of ‘white man’s burden’ is obviously pervasive, it’s explored from such varied angles that it doesn’t really get repetitive.

It’ll be interesting to see if i feel the same about them at the end of the next volume.

親愛的,這是寫給你的

This will be one of the odder posts.

The I Wrote This For You book has been translated to complex chinese and published in Taiwan (and some other places… Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, maybe Malaysia… but i’m not sure).

The publisher is doing delightful things like publicity. And, in that spirit, i present you the IWTFY promotion video!

Now i’m waiting for the Japanese publishers to get in touch… not that they haven’t already turned us down en masse!