The Infinite Echo

B. Thomas Cooper is a freelance journalist, photographer, blogger and historian. Topics include Political Commentary, Satire and History

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Location: Phoenix, Arizona, United States

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Book Review - TimeQuake by Kurt Vonnegut

B. Thomas Cooper - Editor

“Ten years of déjà vu all over again!” At least that is what Kurt Vonnegut would have wanted us to believe when he penned what would ultimately be his last full length novel, Time Quake. It’s all classic Vonnegut, as we live and ultimately relive ten years with our aging, bag lady of a protagonist, Kurt’s alter ego, Kilgore Trout.

Of course, it’s always fun and games where Vonnegut is concerned, providing you appreciate his particular political leanings. Vonnegut survived the bombing of Dresden while being held captive by the Germans during WW11. The experience left him bitter and resentful toward the powers that wage war, and rightfully so.


"Many years ago, I was so innocent I still considered it possible that we could become the humane and reasonable America so many members of my generation used to dream of. We dreamed of such an America during the Great Depression, when there were no jobs. And then we fought and often died for that dream during the Second World War, when there was no peace.

But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America's becoming humane and reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas".

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt knew Time Quake would be his last full length work, and he takes the opportunity to share his wit in true Vonnegut style. It isn’t always pretty, but then it isn’t always meant to be. Indeed, a world without Vonnegut is a world without his stubborn moral conscience.

Time Quake asks us the proverbial question: What if we could go back ten years and do it all over again? Would we make changes? What if we were forced to turn the clock back ten years, only to repeat the same mistakes we were destined to make the first time? Does man really learn from his mistakes, or do platitudes simply come cheap?

When Kurt past away April 11th, 2007, he left the world a wealth of absurdities. He left us Bokononism and Ice Nine, and more than a handful of unforgettable novels. Time Quake may not have been Kurt’s best work, but it leaves the reader satisfied and longing.
Longing for the days when we could count on Kurt Vonnegut to spin a yarn so wide and so deep, only the U.S. Marines could save us from the quagmire. God bless you, Kurt Vonnegut. Time waits for no man.

B. Thomas Cooper - Editor

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Lake Wobegon Days - by Garrison Keillor - Book Review

B. Thomas Cooper - Editor

“Dogs don’t lie, and why should I?
Strangers come, they growl and bark.
They know their loved ones in the dark.
Now let me, by night or day,
Be just as full of truth as they.”

Garrison Keillor
Lake Wobegon Days

For those not familiar with the work of Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days represents an ideal place to get acquainted. The reader accompanies Keillor as he reminisces about the good old days, through his eyes, those of a timid observer, rather than active participant. It’s a ruse, of course. One designed to draw the reader in, similar to the way a fisherman gently tightens the drag just before giving a firm tug on the line. Before you have a opportunity to react, your hooked. Come to think of it, I suspect Garrison would appreciate the fishing metaphor.

Garrison CT001

Garrison may have dreamed-up the sleepy town of Lake Wobegon, but he certainly didn’t imagine the setting. Lake Wobegon represents any one of perhaps thousands of small towns and lakes for which Minnesota is known.
Keillor shares with us Wobegon’s most memorable residents, living and otherwise.

Keillor serves as the narrator, and it’s all in good fun, as we meet the neighbors, an array of aunts and uncles and many distant relatives of varied sorts. We tour their living rooms, we attend their church services and we even meet the ministers wife. We sit it the freshly painted pews, and on occasion, we tell a few dirty jokes. Well, actually, Garrison does. It’s a feel good experience from cover to cover, and one that leaves the reader longing for rutted back roads, and a slow drive past the old alma mater.

Lake Wobegon days is packed full of colorful people, and the stories of their equally colorful lives, and in some cases, deaths (RIP Wally Bunson). Sometimes we laugh when we shouldn’t , but I guess that is part Garrison’s mastery, cajoling laughter from dark corners.

Finally, Lake Wobegon Days is therapy for the weary of heart. Oh, and it’s an easy read, a pleasant stroll around the old spur. I think Sister Arvonne put it best. “They’ll never remember it“, said Sister Brunnhilde. “It’s too complicated”. “It’s beautiful”, said Sister Arvonne. “Besides, everybody knows the story anyway”. She was right of course.

B. Thomas Cooper - Editor

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

House of Sand and Fog - by Andre Dubus lll - Book Review

B. Thomas Cooper - Editor

House of Sand and Fog, a dark tragedy of loss and relentless crisis, as two families from divergent cultures struggle for sociological integrity in a system void of compassion. Our antagonist and protagonist are one and the same, as each steamroll forward on an antagonizing and ultimately fatal collision course.

Book Glasses 001

The author, Andre Dubus lll walks the reader through the process of tax foreclosure and the damage it inflicts on it’s victims. He reminds us that time and again that when dignity becomes cheap, a man can do things never imagined. Meet Colonel Behrani, former man of wealth turned struggling immigrant:

“After cutting the grasses, I thought of phoning the gentleman at the county tax office who supervised the auction, perhaps make an inquiry of this woman, but I was not able to pick up the telephone; if there is no snake at your feet, do not lift rocks at the side of the road.”

The woman of which he writes is the former home owner, Kathy Nicolo, who has lost everything, and now stands to lose her house as well. It is a fight she cannot win. Meanwhile, a love story of sorts develops, but only as fodder for greater and greater disruption and disillusionment. At times the tension becomes readily palpable.

The writing is exceptionally well crafted. House of Sand and Fog flows from page to page with great ease, the heart pounding harder with each passage. I won‘t give it away, but predictably, the story does not conclude with a happy ending. Quite to the contrary, I’m afraid, leaving the reader exasperated, and perhaps more than a tad empty. House of sand and Fog may well be remembered as a literary classic for the ages, but a feel-good story it isn’t. Dubus carves his ground carefully. The subsequent scars run deep.

I wouldn’t recommend this novel to just any reader, as the subject matter is at times, jarring. This is highbrow literature at it’s finest and we would be wise to expect more extraordinary works from Dubus in the future. Still, House of Sand and Fog is a cautionary tale, and was not written with the light hearted in mind.

B. Thomas Cooper - Editor

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

B. Thomas Cooper - Editor

"The further you are from the last big earthquake, the nearer you are to the next". - Perry Byerly, Department of Seismology, University of California.

Everyone knew it was coming. Still, no-one could be certain when the next great earthquake would arrive. It did arrive. At precisely 5:12 a.m. on the morning of April 18th, 1906.

The city of San Francisco was devastated by the massive quake. The Earth ripped and buckled. It bucked and swayed. Throughout the city, church bells clanged with unbridled urgency, as damaged structures collapsed in a tempest. From Russian Hill to the Mission district, destruction reigned, unstoppable, as man and beast alike searched for sanctuary among the ruins.

Then came the fires.

Enrico Caruso was awakened from his sleep by the violence of the quake, which shook his room at the Saint Francis Hotel like a rag-doll in the jaws of a bulldog. The legendary tenor had performed brilliantly only the night before. The Opera House, by morning, now a victim of the destructive forces of nature. In the hours ahead, Caruso's life would change forever, as would the city of San Francisco.

Perhaps the subsequent fires could have been prevented, but such was not the case. What began as the Ham and Eggs Fire' soon spread, touching off other fires, quickly engulfing the city in flames. Backfires were set and entire neighborhoods dynamited in an effort to slow the advancing inferno, resulting in greater and greater devastation.

Looters and law-breakers were often shot on sight. The military, more ruthless than precise, demonstrated little compassion for the citizens they were sworn to protect. With every hour, the city was increasingly becoming bedlam. Streets were strewn with the living and the dead alike. Rats, formerly stealth in nature, now gathered in great numbers, bringing with them fears of plague.

And still, the fires burned.

Earthquakes unleash a certain type of destruction. Fires another. When the two happen together, in succession, the results are nearly indescribable. Photographs from the disaster reveal a beaten but resolute society, scraping the soot from their shoes, as they set about the task of rebuilding their city.
Even the very shape of the San Francisco was different now. The shoreline had changed as well, whipped mercilessly by a sudden shift in a fault-line hundreds of miles in length.

Market Street was reduced to rubble. Kearney Street, also lie in ruin, the Hall of Justice, a monument to the destruction. Within hours, much of what did not fall, would burn. Even the Palace Hotel, in all it's splendor, could not be saved. Total loss of life has been estimated at between seven hundred and two thousand lives.

Today, the city of San Francisco waits, as yet another devastating earthquake approaches. When it arrives is anyone's guess, but it will arrive, and with equally devastating results. Is this great city on the coast ready for such a cataclysmic event? Can San Francisco survive another monumental quake like the one that struck in April of 1906? One can only wait and wonder.

B. Thomas Cooper - Editor

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