Friday, March 18, 2022

Josh Weiss

Josh Weiss is an author from South Jersey. Raised in a proud Jewish home, he was instilled with an appreciation for his cultural heritage from a very young age. Today, Weiss is utterly fascinated with the convergence of Judaism and popular culture in film, television, comics, literature, and other media. After college, he became a freelance entertainment journalist, writing stories for SYFY WIRE, The Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, and Marvel Entertainment. He currently resides in Philadelphia with his fiancée, as well as an extensive collection of graphic T-shirts, movie posters, vinyl records, and a few books, of course.

Weiss's new novel is Beat the Devils.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Weiss's reply:
As of this writing, I’m still at the halfway point of the first Dune novel. This is about the third or fourth time I’ve tried finishing Frank Herbert’s massive sci-fi epic, and it’s gotten a bit easier since I switched from my Kindle to an actual hard copy.

The second two books in the original series — Dune Messiah and Children of Dune — are currently sitting on my shelf, awaiting their turn beneath my gaze. A recent comment from my aunt boggled my mind: she said that she’ll often pick up Dune (an 800-page book, mind you) for some comfort reading every now and again.

Comfort?! She is a stronger person than I could ever be. In any case, I’m determined to finish before Denis Villeneuve’s next blockbuster adaptation comes out next year.

I’m too deep to quit now, damnit!

This isn’t to say Dune is bad novel — it’s just long (and very dense), and when you work the hours that I do, staring at a computer screen for hours at a time, the prospect of clearing 800 pages seems like trying to climb to the peak of Mount Everest without a single piece of climbing equipment. Maybe that's not the right metaphor. Here’s a better one: it’s like trying to mine melange on Arrakis without a spice harvester.

There, much better…
Follow Josh Weiss on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

D.W. Buffa

D.W. Buffa's recent novel is The Privilege, the ninth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. The tenth, Lunatic Carnival, will be published in the spring. He has also published a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, most recently, America in the twentieth century in Neumann's Last Concert.

Here is Buffa's take on Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma:
Marie-Henri Beyle wrote under the name Stendhal on his two most famous books, The Red and The Black and The Charterhouse of Parma. No one reads Stendhal anymore, but he was one of John F. Kennedy’s favorite authors. Kennedy, like Churchill, read history and everything else important, and tried to learn from what he read. Beyle wanted to be involved in great events, and because he was the nephew of “the famous and industrious Daru, one of the strong arms of Napoleon,” he was not only “in the Emperor’s service,” but followed him to Italy, witnessed the battle of Marengo, enlisted in a dragoon regiment, and became adjutant to General Michaud.

Like Fabrizio, the main character in The Charterhouse of Parma, Beyle was frequently undone by women. After the peace of Amiens in l802, he returned to Paris to study, met an actress and followed her to Marseilles. His father cut off his money, and Beyle was forced to work as a clerk to a grocer. It is not known whether the actress was impressed by this sacrifice; it is known that she left him immediately to run off and marry a Russian. Whether this broke his heart, or merely cleared his mind, Beyle returned to Paris and from l806 until the fall of Napoleon served in the Grand Army’s commissariat. In l822, he wrote his first book, Essay on Love, which sold all of seventeen copies in eleven years. The Red and The Black, which he wrote in l830, did not do much better, and, in fact, the only thing he ever wrote that had any popular success was The Charterhouse of Parma, his last novel, published in l839, three years before his death.

The novel was read in manuscript - read three times - by HonorĂ© de Balzac who then wrote a review of nearly seventy pages in which he insisted that The Charterhouse of Parma was far too great to ever attract much of an audience. Stendhal had, in his judgment, “written The Prince up to date, the novel that Machiavelli would write if he were living banished from Italy in the nineteenth century.” A novel like this, wrote Balzac, “can find readers fit to enjoy it only among … the twelve or fifteen hundred persons who are at the head of things in Europe.”

Balzac could have added that Stendhal’s novel is also Machiavelli’s Mandragola up to date, a comedy in which a priest, for the benefit of the church, convinces a beautiful young woman that adultery is not always a sin. The Charterhouse of Parma is full of men and women for whom adultery is sometimes a necessity and often a badge of honor. Everything takes place in Parma, a small principality in the north of Italy, ruled by a despotic Prince, Ernesto IV, who since the day he had two Liberals executed is so afraid of retribution that he searches under his bed at night for hidden assassins. Ernesto, who dreams of becoming the ruler of a united Italy, has a full length portrait of Louis XIV to mark the scale of his ludicrous ambition. He relies, at times entirely, on the intelligent indifference of Count Mosca della Rovere Sorezana, Minister of Police and Finance, who has separated from his wife, “solely because she insisted on taking as her lover” a friend of the leader of the opposing party.

Mosca meets Signora Pietranera - or Gina - a widow of twenty-seven who is as beautiful as Lucretia Borgia and as lethal as Lucretia’s brother and sometime lover, Cesare Borgia. Mosca is overwhelmed, driven mad with desire, but, for all that, quite able to grasp the situation. He is married; she is a widow, but this, instead of a problem, is the solution. He arranges to have her marry an old, extremely wealthy man who is desperate for an honor, the Grand Cordon, to establish beyond any question his nobility. Mosca imposes only one condition: immediately after the wedding ceremony, the groom is to leave Parma and never return. Gina - the Duchessa - is not unwilling to do this; it is part of the game she is playing. She is desperately in love, not with Mosca, whom she only admires, but with her nephew, Fabrizio, a dozen years younger.

Fabrizio had defied everyone, especially the authorities, to join Napoleon’s army in time to wander around the battlefield at Waterloo, wondering whether he has really seen the battle, and, if he has, whether it was really Waterloo. The fragmentary picture, the chaotic movements of generals and soldiers thrown this way and that by what was happening directly in front of them, the absence of any coordinated plan, the lack of any governing intelligence, all this, what Stendhal wrote, taught Leo Tolstoy what he had to write about the battle scenes when he wrote War and Peace. But while Tolstoy would write about Napoleon’s mistakes and how they led to his defeat, Stendhal writes about the dedication of men like himself and Fabrizio to Napoleon and what he stood for. Fabrizio “loved Napoleon, and, in his capacity as a young noble, believed he had been created to be happier than his neighbors, and thought the middle classes absurd.”

Fabrizio means it. Told that he can be saved if he joins the Church, where he would soon be promoted to the highest place, he tells his aunt that he would rather go to New York and become a soldier of the Republic. When she explains “to him the cult of the god Dollar, and the respect that had to be shown to the artisans in the street who by their votes decided everything,” Fabrizio changes his mind and spends the next four years doing what Mosca has suggested he must: hear mass every day, take as his confessor a priest devoted to the monarchy, and confess “only the most irreproachable sentiments.” He also remembered, if he did not always follow, Mosca’s advice to never open a book printed later than 1720, “with the possible exception of the novels of Walter Scott.” At the end of those four years, Fabrizio has become a monsignor and one of the best looking men in Italy.

Balzac, in his review, credits Stendhal, or rather Beyle, with having been the first to reveal the composer Rossini, “the finest genius in music,” to the French. Balzac does not notice that, like Rossini, Beyle, in writing The Charterhouse of Parma, has written an opera, an opera full of love and betrayal, violence and vengeance. Everything is bigger than life, every emotion extreme, death itself nothing more than the occasion, and the opportunity, for an act of exaggerated defiance. Fabrizio, gone for four years, returns; his aunt, overwhelmed with joy, stares at him in a way that reveals to Mosca what her real feelings are. Fabrizio meets with the Prince, Ernesto IV, tells him that a subject owes “blind obedience” to his king, a statement so prudent that Ernesto immediately views him as a danger, someone who may follow the highest principles, but will always be “first cousin to Voltaire and Rousseau,” those two prophets of human freedom.

Fabrizio kills a man who attacks him because he thinks Fabrizio has been seeing the woman he loves. His aunt persuades the Prince to let him go because he had acted in self-defense, but the Prince, angered by the arrogance, the sense of entitlement with which she has made a request seem a demand, takes his revenge by ordering Fabrizio’s arrest. Sentenced to twenty years in prison, Fabrizio falls in love with Clelia, the daughter of the governor of the prison. The Duchessa can do nothing, and so decides to do everything. Mosca had learned, and often recited, one of the great maxims of the French, that “It is better to kill the devil than let the devil kill you.” The problem, as she sees it, is not one of morality. “Yes,” she says to herself, “but if it is only suicide for me, it will be murder for Fabrizio; his fool of a successor, our Crown Prince…will have Fabrizio hanged as my accomplice.”

The Duchessa plans Fabrizio’s escape, but Fabrizio is unwilling to leave Clelia, the girl he has only twice in his life been close enough to speak to. The girl, who has thought about joining a convent to escape her father’s demand that she marry one of the useless rich who know nothing except how to count, insists that he has to escape, that he will die of poison if he does not and that with his death take away her only reason to live. They have never touched, much less kissed, but they know each other better than they know themselves. Clelia helps smuggle in the rope he will need to descend more than two hundred feet from his cell.

In the meantime, the famous Ferrante Palla, a physician, and one of “the greatest poets of the age,” a man Mosca once told the Duchessa was “a lunatic of our country, but also something of a genius, whom we have since sentenced to death, fortunately in his absence,” offers the Duchessa his life. He has never met her, but he has seen her from his hiding place in the woods, and, seeing her, has abandoned his mistress and the five children he robs people to feed. Robs them, you understand, only in the amount he needs and with the promise to repay what he has taken should he ever come into money. He tells her - and if this is not proof of an opera, it is hard to know what is - “My joy is to die in harming the tyrant; a far greater joy is to die for you.”

Unwilling to have on her conscience the refusal of another person’s joy, she agrees to signal him when it is time to act, to murder with poison the Prince. Stendhal explains this with the remark, “I am inclined to think that the immoral happiness which the Italians find in revenge is due to the strength of their imagination; the people of other countries do not properly speaking forgive; they forget.”

The governor of the prison, Clelia’s father, is rendered unconscious, by what at first is thought to be poison, but later known to have been laudanum, so the ropes can be brought to Fabrizio. Clelia feels responsible for what has been done to her father. She keeps her promise to help Fabrizio escape, but in an act of contrition, promises the Madonna never to see him again. She tells him, “If you perish, I shall not survive you a day; Great God! What am I saying? But if you succeed, I shall never see you again.”

Fabrizio escapes to Piedmont, and Clelia keeps her promise. As atonement, she promises her father to marry the rich man she does not love. Fabrizio’s aunt, who has arranged the death of the Prince and the escape of Fabrizio, realizes that her nephew, in love with Clelia, will never have anything like the same feeling for her. She has all of the imagination Stendhal explained and, to take her revenge, does everything she can to hasten Clelia’s marriage. Once she is married, Clelia keeps her vow: she never sees Fabrizio again. Never sees him, that is, in the strict, literal sense. They meet every night, in the dark, and in the blind euphoria of love conceive a child.

If The Charterhouse of Parma were a novel of the traditional sort, Fabrizio and Clelia, who, when they saw each other after an absence of several years had been “spell-bound by the sight of each other,” would be seen leaving Parma with their young son, on their way to France or some other, faraway place where they would live forever in the wondrous joy of simply being together. But The Charterhouse of Parma is more an opera than a novel, and the ending is, more than tragic, infinitely sad.

The end does not say: The End. Those words never appear. There is instead a dedication: “TO THE HAPPY FEW.” Stendhal - Marie-Henri Beyle - it must be remembered, loved Napoleon and despised the bourgeoise and its measurement of everything in wealth. This gave him a different understanding of the meaning of a great achievement, which is exactly what The Charterhouse of Parma really is, even if, or rather especially if, as Balzac had predicted, not more than a few people would ever read or understand it.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 7, 2022

Sam Wiebe

Sam Wiebe is the award-winning author of the Wakeland novels, one of the most authentic and acclaimed detective series in Canada, including Invisible Dead (“the definitive Vancouver crime novel”), Cut You Down (“successfully brings Raymond Chandler into the 21st century”), and Hell and Gone ("the best crime writer in Canada").

Wiebe’s other books include Never Going Back, Last of the Independents, and the Vancouver Noir anthology, which he edited.

Wiebe’s work has won the Crime Writers of Canada award and the Kobo Emerging Writers prize, and been shortlisted for the Edgar, Hammett, Shamus, and City of Vancouver book prizes.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Wiebe's reply:
Naben Ruthnum’s A Hero of our Time is both brutally, achingly funny, and precision-tuned to nuances of identity and commerce. Authors, academics—all of us—perform a fair amount of self-mythologizing. In some ways it’s inevitable. What Hero does so well is express the cost of these narratives, question their inevitability, and challenge the hypocrisy of cloaking your ambition in an “origin story” designed to get what you want. What happens when someone challenges your well-crafted story—or in the case of the main character, hoovers it up into their own? The highest praise I can pay A Hero of Our Time is that if it were written worse, the ideas simplified, the edges rounded off—if it were more dishonest but just as well-written—it would win every literary award in the country.

Any praise I can heap on Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy has been matched by much sharper reviewers. What makes Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, and The Mirror and the Light so great, so much more than an attempt at explaining the Tudor era, is that the characters are drawn with details and dialogue so well chosen, the conflicts so clearly and brilliantly illustrated, the books feel like reading about contemporaries. Thomas Cromwell is impossible not to admire, pity, and root for over a couple of thousand pages. Wolf Hall was recommended to me a decade ago by my Shakespeare professor and grad supervisor. I’m just finishing the third book now. Well worth the wait.
Visit Sam Wiebe's website.

My Book, The Movie: Invisible Dead.

The Page 69 Test: Invisible Dead.

The Page 69 Test: Cut You Down.

Q&A with Sam Wiebe.

The Page 69 Test: Hell and Gone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Suzanne Redfearn

Suzanne Redfearn is the bestselling author of five novels: Moment in Time, Hadley & Grace, In an Instant, No Ordinary Life, and Hush Little Baby. Her novels have been translated into twenty-two languages. In addition to being an author, Redfearn is an architect specializing in residential and commercial design. She lives in Laguna Beach, where she and her husband own three restaurants: Lumberyard, Slice Pizza & Beer, and Yard Bar. Her books have won numerous awards including Best New Fiction Book, Platinum Quill, and Goodreads Choice Awards Finalist.

Redfearn’s new novel is Moment in Time.

Recently I asked the author about what she is reading. Her reply:
I absolutely loved Amor Towles’s A Gentleman In Moscow, so I was thrilled to discover he had a new novel out, The Lincoln Highway. It’s a coming-of-age story set in the fifties and is told in true Towles’s style, full of rich details and fully realized characters, so well done, each time I pick it up, I lose myself in the pages. And when I put it down, I’m sad to know I’m that much closer to the end and then it will be over.

Before that, I read The All of It by Jeannette Haien. This short, 145-page novella was re-released in 2009 (originally published in 1986) thanks to Ann Patchett because she loved it so much she talked her publisher into republishing it. It was my book club’s choice last month and transported me to Ireland, to a small coastal village that moved slower than time. The book was a literary gem full of stunning descriptions and hidden meanings, and it made me reflect on longing and what it means to be human.

Sometimes as an author you are given the opportunity to read a story before it’s released and asked to give a blurb. I was fortunate enough to be asked to take an early peek to Julianne MacLean’s soon-to-be-released novel, Beyond the Moonlit Sea, which brilliantly intertwines myth and science to create a stunning story full of romance and intrigue that had me on the edge of my seat from the first page to the last. The novel releases in June.
Visit Suzanne Redfearn's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Suzanne Redfearn and Cooper.

My Book, The Movie: Hush Little Baby.

The Page 69 Test: Hush Little Baby.

The Page 69 Test: No Ordinary Life.

Writers Read: Suzanne Redfearn (February 2016).

My Book, The Movie: No Ordinary Life.

My Book, The Movie: In an Instant.

The Page 69 Test: In an Instant.

Q&A with Suzanne Redfearn.

My Book, The Movie: Hadley and Grace.

The Page 69 Test: Hadley & Grace.

--Marshal Zeringue