A Review of John Biscello’s Nocturne Variations — November 5, 2018

A Review of John Biscello’s Nocturne Variations

Nocturne Variations: John Biscello

Reviewed by Kindra M. Austin

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Nocturne Variations is a twenty-first century presentation of avant-garde literature.

Super. But what is avant-garde? Avant-garde is a French term that means advance guard; people and ideas that are ahead of their time. It’s a concept that refers to artists, composers, and writers whose works oppose mainstream values. As a noun, avant-garde is defined as new and unusual or experimental ideas in the arts. Often connected to political activism (think of Theater of the Absurd, Bob Dylan, and John and Yoko), there exists a misconception that avant-garde must always be politically driven.

Regarding visual art, it’s of popular thought that the avant-garde movement began in the mid-nineteenth century with French painter Gustave Courbet and his astonishing gift for realism. A notable example of Courbet’s opposite is fellow modernist Salvador Dali, the Spanish surrealist who created The Persistence of Memory. Courbet and Dali differ in style and perception, but their works are equally avant-garde.   

That’s all good to know, but we’re supposed to be talking fiction. So, what are some examples of avant-garde literature? Literary experts go bananas over James Joyce’s Ulysses; first published in 1922, this epic is best known for its stream-of-consciousness style. Another disturbance to convention was T.S. Eliot’s publication of The Waste Land, a poem that obliterated traditional form and ideals. 1922 had proven to be a formative year in the writing world. Thanks to writers such as Joyce and Eliot, we saw the influence of the modernist movement flourish in the works of Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, and ee cummings.

Fast-forward to post-modernism: radical novelists like George Orwell and Anthony Burgess, and the experimental poets of the Beat Generation continued to revolutionize written expression. In the twenty-first century, however, avant-garde literature, or experimental fiction—whatever you prefer to call it—has become rather familiar. We’re living in an age so saturated with uniqueness, it’s a challenge to produce anything that is not derivative.

Enter John Biscello.

Nocturne Variations is the tale of young Piers, a runaway, huffing enthusiast, and doyen of shadow puppetry. Within the pages, Biscello has created a kind of dystopian subculture where the illusory and the palpable breathe equal air; he’s built a world where even the shadows have distinct voices, and philosophy and folklore weigh the same.

“Of course the Neverlands vary a good deal.”
― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

 Welcome to Tabanid, the L.A. vaudeville nightclub where dark and lascivious characters come alive. We meet our protagonist in the coat closet, engaged in a tryst just as she’s due to take the stage. One develops an opinion of Piers straightaway; seemingly carefree and wild-hearted, what Piers may lack in savoir faire, she makes up for with an offbeat kind of charm. The camaraderie between Piers and her shiny shadow partner, Trink, endears her even more—as an observer, it may be easy for readers to overlook Piers’ addictions in the beginning.

The world in which Piers subsists is a cruel one, and not unlike our own. She is often confronted by a monster called childhood trauma, as well as the devastating knowledge that she isn’t who she is supposed to be. As her story progresses, the spiritual theme presents itself organically through her musings, self-reflection, and interactions. Yes, we learn a great deal about Piers when she must run away from L.A. We also discover that this world can be a kind and forgiving one, not unlike our own; for in the old coal-mining town of Redline, there exists a new life path awaiting Piers.

It takes the relationships that Piers develops with Henry Hook and Gwen to reveal Piers’ actual nature. Once the enlightenment hits, you realize you’re not only an observer; you realize that you want to take care of this tragical shadow being.

“Wait for me somewhere between reality and all we’ve ever dreamed.”

                                                                                                            —J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan 

Nocturne Variations includes an arrangement of features that one might consider too ambitious. On the contrary, these pieces intermingle with the narrative quite naturally. Poems; diary entries; newspaper excerpts; interviews; notable quotes; and notes on cinema all operate as single vehicles with a shared destination. This composite not only makes odd sense, but it excites.

Biscello’s command of dialogue interested me because of the unusual structure, and I’d quickly decided that standard formation would have only disrupted the story’s distinctive movement. This novel is proof that he is one of the great visionary authors of today. He impresses with his employment of unconventional construction, multiple points of view, and cinematic scene direction without sacrificing a single thread of the human element.

Simply put, this novel is bold in design and syntax. As an author, ravenous reader, cinephile, and lover of art, I challenge anyone to argue that John Biscello’s Nocturne Variations does not qualify as both avant-garde literature and multimedia artwork.

Nocturne Variations releases on 30 November, 2018, and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Book Review: Kindra M. Austin’s For You, Rowena, by Mariah Voutilainen — October 1, 2018

Book Review: Kindra M. Austin’s For You, Rowena, by Mariah Voutilainen

Kindra Austin’s For You, Rowena uncovers a mystery about love and relationships, and how loss can come back to haunt you.

By Mariah Voutilainen

Given a choice of literary genres, mystery is never my first to pick up.  Perhaps it is the constant and nagging question in the back of my mind: “How did the author create such a puzzle that I can’t immediately solve?”  The details, perfectly interlocking, lead to an ending that is usually satisfying, but leaves me somehow disappointed with my own inability to catch the culprit before the final chapter, or worse, obsessing about tiny clues in an attempt to solve the crime.  For You, Rowena was a different type of mystery for me:  I didn’t wonder so much at the intricacies of how a crime was planned or carried out; Kindra Austin set the scene and created characters so fascinating and sympathetic that the only question in my mind was “How did it come to this, and how will it end?”  This book goes beyond the machinations of an interesting mystery; it is a stirring exploration of human behavior.

Austin excels at character development through the course of the novella; the titular character, her lovers, and supporting players change very believably, very humanly.  This is especially true of Rowena.  I found her completely unlikeable from first mention; yet as I learned more about her, I grew to understand her attitude of seeming detachment and aloofness, to look beyond the words coming from her mouth and see the revelation of her true character through the actions she takes.

Mara, Lucas and Adrian, Rowena’s friends and lovers, are equally fascinating and surprising in their strange love for a woman whose idiosyncrasies and (at times) warring attitudes simultaneously repel and attract them.  Caught in the gravity of Rowena’s sun, their orbits are elliptical, closer and farther at times, but always revolving around her.  At times, I wished I could enter into the intrigue myself—to step for a moment into Mara’s slippers, or perhaps be a fly on the wall.  Either way, I was equally pulled into Rowena’s circle.

To delve deeper into the novella for this review would require revealing the storyline and its marvelous twists and turns, so I will refrain from spoiling your read.  Austin’s novella, much like her poetry, is full of the imagery of smoky rooms and cocktail kisses, dark evenings and secretive places.  The story of crime was artfully entwined with emotional and romantic loss that touched the deeper spaces of my heart.  Ultimately it left me with a buzz of satisfaction, and the surprise that my detective intuition was not far off.

For You, Rowena, is available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.


Mariah Voutilainen, co-editor at Indie Blu(e), writes poetry and prose about all manner of things at www.reimaginingthemundane.wordpress.com.

Candice Daquin reviews Kindra M. Austin’s For You, Rowena — September 9, 2018

Candice Daquin reviews Kindra M. Austin’s For You, Rowena

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For you Rowena – Kindra M. Austin

Review by Candice Louisa Daquin

I’ll begin by saying, it’s not easy to write a review of a book that you don’t want anyone to know the twists and turns of, because then what do you write about? With this novel I feel almost possessive, usually when you read a novel you really want others to read, you share what you most liked about it, but with a suspenseful and taut thriller that’s incredibly hard to achieve without giving key ingredients away. The reason this would be so devastating is that this novel builds brick by brick and so to read it out of sequence or know anything of what is to come, would spoil the crescendo.

Instead let’s talk about what I can make mention of without any spoilers. If you haven’t read a novel or poem by Kindra Austin then you may not know she’s a woman who absolutely doesn’t hold her punches. Think back 100 years, women couldn’t and wouldn’t do that, but even now, sometimes there is an apologetic politeness or restraint in how women describe the world. When you read someone who is willing to just BE on the page, then you know you have found the truth.

What is truth in fiction? Truth is reading the novel breathlessly and then when you put it down finished, you have emptiness, a feeling of wanting to go back, find the characters again, and inhabit them once more. Truth is relating so deeply to the carved souls of those people written on a page, that they become hyperreal to you. Just like Cathy and Heathcliff were to their generation of readers, we’ve moved on and we can use profanity and be honest about our frustrations as women; we can talk about sex and anger and rage and emotion and do so at a deeper level than we could when we were censored.

Women writers were really censored? You bet they were. And those who did speak truths did so through oblique metaphor rather than carnage on a page. Male writers however had many years of spilling it before women could join the fray and as such, they established themselves as the first of their generation to really ‘tell it like it is’ and women were usually not even part of the conversation. I’m not men-bashing by stating this, but women labored under a longer societal pressure to conform and behave and when they were freed, well fiction like this was born.

Are we talking Capote wearing a dress? By no means. A woman’s truth may be as visceral but it’s entirely different. The emotional landscape is vivid in an intensely feminine way, positively reflective, it goes deeper. The smut and sordidness of life may be equally explained but where a woman can be often two dimensional in male authors work, a woman can explode and show all her layers when a woman writes her.

Lately I’ve been fortunate enough to read some excellent male authors who did sterling jobs of creating female characters that I as a woman could relate to, but this is the first novel I’ve read in some time where I literally crawled beneath the skin of the two female lead characters. If I look up now, I may see them sitting at the table with me, I will smell them as I leave the room, and hear them laughing. They are so uncannily present I believe, it would be challenging for a man to write them with that much alacrity. Just as I could not write a man as well as some of the male writers I know. Does that limit the female and male author to their respective genders? Absolutely not. It simply gives a woman an opportunity to present female characters so fleshed out and present that its astonishing, in a world where male authors are still the dominant force (especially in the thriller genre).

Speaking of genres, I expected this novel to be a thriller of sorts, a psychological mystery. But it really defies any labeling in part because it is wickedly original and flies in the face of being nailed down as one thing or another. I read some female written gothic fiction once that almost reminded me a little, but still didn’t have its edge. At once disturbing, and familiar, you are not sure whether you want to run or continue to read, but you end up reading because of course you do, that’s inevitable. You’re a thing possessed.

I start a lot of novels and put them down, by the first fifty pages I am bored and don’t care what happens to the characters. So often that heady MFA format and predictable collection of characters (the genius who is dysfunctional, the bad-ass girl who happens to be gorgeous) are too routine. When reviewing a book you obviously can’t put it down even if it bores you so it’s always a fear reading a book that it may end up to be insufferable. This wouldn’t be the case here; if I had every novel ever published to read, I’d still want to read For you Rowena. Maybe the simplest way of reviewing this book is to tell you why.

For you Rowena is among other things, a love story, the kind you won’t be expecting and haven’t yet experienced. It has elements that all of us who have ever been caught emotionally in more than one allegiance will understand. In that, it is a very classic tale like Anna Karenina because we, all of us are suckers for love stories with tragic and painful experiences that we can relate to our own love histories, and those that go beyond anything we have experienced we live vicariously with, because ultimately, would anyone be as interested in reading a love story that has no tribulation and only happiness? Alas we are creatures of disturbance and as such, we demand emotional upheaval and not just calm waters. I’m not sure why that is, but an author worth her salt will need to ‘bring it’ and Austin brings it plenty. Hell, she sets it on fire and then invites you to dine on the embers.

Aside that beckoning lure, For you Rowena is also a masterful psychological expose of what makes us humans tick, emotionally. Something few of us really understand without referencing other experiences and looking back in hindsight. Austin gets the emotional jungle we live in, what we crave and we destroy and how we hurt those we love and we do things that make no sense but at the time they are what sustain us. Austin presents us with people we can peer into and discover things about ourselves, sometimes disquietingly. Her characters are shockingly realistic, at the same time there is a fantasy overlaying that and a mystical beauty to Austin’s descriptions of the world about her, which creates a deft juxtaposition between narration, description and dialogue.

Immediately after finishing, my first thought was how visual For you Rowena was. I could literally SEE the scenes and the characters as if they existed on film. It takes a lot to paint so vividly the entirety of a story, not just a realistic dialogue but the full fleshing of person’s you’ve created and then manipulate those creations into coaxing the reader into a sympathetic lasting relationship. Often times you can walk away from a character, you can say ‘I really don’t care what happens’ but that’s impossible here. It is equally impossible NOT to relate to their respective trajectories and the arc the story takes, you are sucked in and kept there, holding your breath until the end.

It would do no good to quote from For you Rowena because everything is within a context and doesn’t survive on its own. That is the intensity of the write, and to say this is simply about love or relationships or murder or desperation or frustration would in no way reveal the heart of this novel. As with any well written novel that stands the test of time, it is the relationship formed with the central characters, our sympathies, anger, and emotional investment that define our impression of the novel as a whole. Does it stand out in a literary sense? I believe it does, because Austin knows the nuance of novel writing requires that fine balance of character versus scene versus dialogue and she gracefully navigates the reader through a very intense hate/love storyline without once losing us.

On a personal note, any of us who have loved passionately and been unsure of our decisions can really sink our teeth into this tale, as Austin presents the quixotic ficklety of human nature, its treacheries, its alliances, and ultimately, its surfaces and depths. I wrote four pages of notes as I read, but I used nothing of them in my review, because they were more my impressions formed from the gut-punch of this book than something I could usefully employ. The ruin and recovery of people is written in the same intoxicating quality as I would expect to find in any memorable novel, adding only a modern flourish. Indeed there is even symbolism, redolent in the significance of broken things, and small observations that speak of loss.

Will it be a novel for everyone? I’m sure some will find the ugly nature of passion disquieting, but more likely there is something missing in all of us that we can discover in For you Rowena. If you have ever had a terrible ache, or shame, and not known how to articulate it, or understood yourself, what led up to its creation, this novel will explain those attachments, as it will bring you right to the edge of understanding how someone can kill. The horror of that and its shocking banality is vividly captured by a writer who can wield a psychological intuitiveness within her characters that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

Perhaps when you have read this you will see why I cannot speak at length about those characters and that story, just as we cannot casually open Pandora’s box. A novel that bewitches us will invariably defy breaking into its composite pieces, it works as if by magic, though the skill required to make those pieces harmonize and fit together is invisibly sewn into every page.

Plainly put, I loved reading this novel. It created in me such an admiration for its authoress and a real fired up passion to find more books that gave me that bequeathed thrill. I found nothing predictable about it, and everything original. For you Rowena literally grabbed me by the throat and held me until the reckoning, and what a reckoning it was.

 

For You, Rowena (release date 31 August) — August 28, 2018

For You, Rowena (release date 31 August)

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What lines would you cross for the one you love?

Rowena is a Helen of Today, dangerously coveted; she’s a paradoxical woman searching for self-certitude through pleasures of the flesh. Only one amongst her myriad of lovers can save Rowena from herself.

This is a story of human connection and its devastating power.


In three days, I release my third book, a novella titled, For You, Rowena. I’m honored to announce that Allane Sinclair has yet again created a cover that encompasses a universe I’ve imagined and put to paper. I couldn’t ask for a better collaborator than Allane. As always, I hope my words serve justice to the emotions that scream from her artwork. Allane Sinclair is the real deal, folks. She pours every bit of her soul into her work, and it shows.

For You, Rowena, at its core, is about self-preservation, true love, and the roads a person might travel to claim that love as their own, despite the obstacles; it’s about abusive relationships, self-exploration, redemption, and revenge.

For You, Rowena is not written in the narrative style of Magpie in August. Though two different animals, I hope that those who’ve read Magpie will recognize both the strengths and vulnerabilities I’ve instilled into the main women characters of Rowena.

For You, Rowena is scheduled for release on 31 August, 2018 in paperback and Kindle format via Amazon.

Candice Louisa Daquin Reviews Nicholas Gagnier’s Leonard the Liar — July 20, 2018

Candice Louisa Daquin Reviews Nicholas Gagnier’s Leonard the Liar

As a kid I read a short story in a magazine that has stayed with me ever since, the poignancy of the story was so powerful I never forgot it. When you read a lot of fiction it takes a unique tale and way of conveying it to be unforgettable, I could probably name all the books I’ve read that have had that impact.

Which is why, reviewing Gagnier’s book has been such an unexpected experience. His little novella is one of those rarified stories I won’t ever forget, alongside Françoise Sagan’s novella, Sunlight on cold water, which has quite a lot in common with, whilst not being in any way similar. I don’t, however, want to compare this book with others; it would be too easy to say Gagnier could be the next Paul Auster (but he could) or that his writing has hints of Flaubert’s tragi-heroine Emma in Madame Bovary (which it does). Neither is it sufficient to note Gagnier has the phantasmagoric echo of older writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and yet simultaneously,  is very much a writer of his generation the way the Beats poets captured theirs. Nothing will truly sum up his alacrity with words and conveying emotion, you’ll just have to read it for yourself.

I will say, this proves novellas, which are making a strong come-back in the field of fiction, are a force to be contended with. In many ways it is harder to put into a short story, everything, yet we know by the likes of Roald Dahl (Kiss Kiss/ Over to you), that it’s not only possible, it’s like an extension of a favorite poem. Gagnier has that alacrity of verse, and his characters get under our skin very quickly and stay there. Of course, the protagonist, Leonard (who is not a liar) has the greater relationship with the reader, but Gagnier pulls off some very believable and well-rounded female characterizations as well as a slew of side-fellows who bolster the credibility and believability of his storytelling.

With the line; “Death is the ultimate break-up,” this novel plunges the reader into a fast-paced emotional rollercoaster, imminently relatable for anyone who has suffered loss or queried the fates. There are some classic lines that complement the strength of the story, including the retort; “Do you always talk like you’re already dead?” There is a lot of pathos and dark humor too; “If he’s a douchebag supreme, you’re engaged to marry him and he’s spending time with dying ex-girlfriends behind your back.” There’s also heart-stopping matter of fact horror and grief alongside a savvy understanding of the male psyche and human condition, this alongside a backdrop of death, which much like a classic black comedy, the theme of death prevails but is not off-putting.

When Leonard considers that; “You are doing this to see how you are,” that’s the crux of his experience thus far, but not his entirety. Leonard is a man who believes dishonesty is the devil’s playground yet continues to struggle to tell the truth, believing himself a broken soul who only messes up everything good he is given, this, therefore, is his story of redemption and discovery. As he says of his own catharsis; “Mom and dad left a house and a gaping hole in the ground. It took two decades to build my own house over them.”

Gagnier’s storytelling is at once a simple shock to the system, as it is wily and philosophical, it would not do his work justice to say he’s a modern author, because he has the informed maturity of a hundred voices previously working their way through his creative process. I am reminded of some of my favorite movies in the visuals this story provoked, namely The Rivers’ Edge, for it has a gritty, bittersweet undertone of youth turning into middle age, infatuation becoming love, connections transforming to loyalty, and the fragility of life. As Leonard says; “Every moment you spend planning for something to go wrong is one less moment you’ll have, in the end, to make things right.” Fortunately, Gagnier ensures his character arc is redemptive and profound, you won’t forget his little book any time soon.

Leonard the Liar is available at Amazon.com