Saturday, October 1, 2016


As one contributor pointed out to me a while ago, it's not always easy to know how much of our memories is invented. Our minds tend to embroider, elaborate, exaggerate some and suppress other parts of the stories we "remember" from long ago. No matter how clear the memory appears to be, there's inevitably an element of fiction in what we believe to be factual.

I say this in part because I've just finished reading a work of fiction where "boyhood memories" play an important role. William Luvaas, whose story The Beating you might recall as having appeared in this "Boyhood Memories" blog, has just published a new novel, Beneath the Coyote Hills. Its hero--more accurately an anti-hero--Tommy Aristophanes is a believer in destiny. Unfortunately, in his case, he believes it to be a bad one. Pretty much destitute and homeless--he's camped out in a shack in an olive grove in Southern California--he's writing a novel about his fictional nemesis, V.C. "Volt" Hoffstatter, whose wild and seemingly unstoppable material success is the polar opposite of Tommy's bad-luck karma.

(Volt, we should note, is short for Voltaire--a reference to the 18th century writer/philosopher whose fictional hero Candide, you'll remember, was plagued by the same inescapable bad luck as Tommy. His mentor, the Leibizian philosopher Pangloss, preached the gospel that "All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds." Luvaas has created with all this a nearly impenetrable web of ironies!)

Relevant to us, here in this blog, are Tommy's recurrent, traumatic memories of a boyhood plagued by "spells," or fits, whose advent was heralded by a mocking "Lizard Man"--a malevolent figure that continues to haunt and taunt him through his present miserable existence, and one that is readily confused with Tommy's abusive father, another mocking and intrusive presence in his life, for whose accidental death the son blames himself. His mother, by the way, was a bedridden wreck, quite unable to provide him with the protection little Tommy obviously needed.

If all this sounds a bit like a bad acid trip, well, it is. The wildly eccentric characters flitting at apparent random in and out of Tommy's adult life read like something out of either Mad Max or Alice in Wonderland. The lines between reality and fiction increasingly blur as the story progresses in a bewildering, sometimes brutal (and always highly entertaining!) mind game, until a final apocalyptic inferno intervenes to incinerate fact and fiction alike into an aching void. Voltaire's Candide ends with its hero's abandonment of the Panglossian ideal and his sad resignation to the immediate realities of life: il faut cultiver son garden ("we must tend our garden.") William Luvaas concludes on a strikingly similar note: "Maybe, if I'm lucky," (Tommy writes) "I will find myself another olive grove somewhere. There is always hope."

Forlorn, we suppose, though it may be.

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