10 February 2008

Don't Mind Me, by Terry Hargrove

Ladder Press, 2007. 168 pages. ISBN 0-9790371615

Terry Hargrove is appearing April 5, 2008 at the New Haven Free Public Library

I became familiar with Terry Hargrove through a writing website that I've been frequenting. "Thisisby.us" has a broad range of writers and poets from rank amateurs to real professionals. Hargrove is one of the pros.

He's quite modest, doesn't throw his credentials around or beat the less experienced with the club of his accomplishments, but I did get a hint that he might have a book in print, and sure enough, this is it.

Hargrove is one of seven children, born and raised in Lewisburg,Tennessee, who moved to Old Saybrook, Connecticut with his family. There he writes a column for the Pictorial Gazette, a Connecticut newspaper.

Hargrove's stories are uniformly short and sweet, and I had to prevent myself from racing through his book. It takes only a few minutes to read any one of them, and many are quite good read aloud. (My wife can attest to how many times I stopped her from whatever she was doing and made her listen while I was reading this book.) They remind me a little of the stories I used to hear on NPR read by Bailey White, and I think that NPR would do well to entice Terry Hargrove to read his stories on the air, if he's of a mind to.

There are 47 stories in this book, so I'm not going to go into each one, but I will point out a few that really stand out.

"Damon Runyon and Me" is about Terry's appreciation of Roller Derby, a sport which Runyon invented.

"Tennessee Spring" is tornado season. "Maybe tornadoes are God's construction company, like the one working on I-95 only faster, cheaper, and non-union."

"When Should I Start Being Concerned?" Children don't often fall into stereotypical molds -- they are real individuals right from the start.

"The Face" is about having a mustache, or not having a mustache; dealing with eighth-graders, and dealing with one's father-in-law.

"Lessons From Jam Pot" has serious existential questions -- and answers.

"Easter Duck" remembers a pet that could have inspired Rod Serling.

"A Halloween Tale" deals with death, and fear, and crawl spaces.

"Problems With Math" is a great explanation of what it's like to not intuitively understand mathematics. Terry Hargrove describes getting a bad headache from it; I just get sleepy.

"The Christmas Tree" If I have to declare a favorite, this is it. This is a horselaugh from beginning to end.

"The Age Before Computer Nerds" tells us a bit about the comic book kid, and his future.

"Getting Even" is about getting even, and it's a delight to revel in Glenn's delight.

Mr. Hargrove has given us a wonderful sampling of his work, which will leave readers looking for more. He deals with ordinary life: families, communities, schools, and churches, and the things that happen within them, without sanding off the rough spots or polishing the surface. His stories impress us as true reflections of life, they remind us of things that have happened in our own real lives, of people and places we have known.

I'll be looking forward to reading Terry Hargrove's next book.

07 February 2008

Mortal Allies, by Brian Haig

This was an audio book, which I listened to while driving to and fro for a couple of weeks. The book is read by John Rubenstein in a style that I would describe as "wiseass," but it seems suited to the voice of the narrator. The novel is written in first person, and the narrator is Major Drummond, a JAG officer, army lawyer, who has a background in covert operations.

The novel begins with Drummond arriving in Korea at an army base, dressed in cutoffs and a t-shirt, because he's been summarily wrenched from a vacation in Bermuda and flown here to assist in the defense of a Captain charged with murder, necrophilia, committing homosexual acts, and consorting with an enlisted man. The Captain has a civilian attorney, a woman that Drummond remembers less than fondly from law school. He is assigned to be her military assistant.

The story unfolds into a complex montage of issues: gays in the military, military justice, military protocols, modern diplomatic relations with Korea, the conflict with North Korea, the clash of the cultures, and the clash of Drummond's personality with Katherine Carlson, the beautiful but difficult attorney who leads the defense.

This is a mystery, with elements of spy novel, a thriller, and a social commentary. I was surprised to find myself really liking this book, and becoming engrossed in it about half way through. Haig has done a masterful job of plot construction, and has managed to make a statement in a most unconventional way.

I may have to read some more Brian Haig.