Monday, October 9, 2023

 Post #88  October 9, 2023

Quote for the Day: "...sober honesty compels the admission that authors -- upper case authors -- are as about as rare in Michigan as the 'skunk bear' ever was and that the flowering of literary Michigan is still in the future.

 Michigan has put the world on automobile wheels, (but) Michigan novelists are still jogging along in one-hoss shays." Arnold Miller. Saturday Review of Literature. March 4, 1939. 


Dearborn: Stories by Ghassan Zeineddine.

I knew Dearborn was the home to the largest Arab American community in the country and the home of Ford Motor Company. Sadly, I knew more about the latter than the former and it was one of the reasons I was drawn to this book of short stories. I wanted to vicariously immerse myself in our state's largest Arab American community and even if fictionally meet some Arab Americans. I'm not sure those were the author's goals for writing the 10 short stories contained in this book. I quickly learned something else while reading the book. The author is an accomplished and remarkably fine writer.

All the characters in the stories are either Arab American immigrants or the children of immigrants. They are Moslems and retain much of their culture yet each and every character is unique unto themselves. The author is a master at creating believable characters who share similarities with characters found in the book's other stories yet each are markedly different. Yes they have their faith, whether practicing Moslems or not, and after 9/11 whether a citizen or an immigrant carrying a green card they are hounded by ICE. Those born in Lebanon think of America as a temporary home no matter how many decades they have lived here. While the children of immigrants think of America as home and have little or no desire returning to the Middle East. As with many or all immigrants food sets them culturally apart from others. Yet I found that even including the above clearly cultural differences, individually there are more similarities than differences between this reader and most of the memorable characters brought to life in this book. 

The stories are as varied as the characters. They are sad, funny, hopeful, scheming and on occasion leave the reader wondering what the hell's going to happen because the author stops one sentence short of the denouncement. That kind of ending can be irritating then you realize that maybe the author doesn't know how the character will meet the crises or the problem either. It should be sure thing for making Michigan Notable Books and a truly rewarding immersion in the Arab American culture for any reader.


Dearborn: Stories by Ghassan Zeineddine. Tin Books, 2023, 229p., $17.95 pb.

Invaded on All Sides: the War of 1812 and Michigan's Greatest Battlefield Engagements at Frenchtown and the River Raisin by Ralph James Naveaux.

I'm betting it would be a surprise to many in our state that there is a National Historic Battlefield Park in Michigan and equally surprised that it lies within the city of Monroe. And as the title states the Battle of the Raisin River which was waged over three bitterly cold January days in 1813 turned out to be the largest battlefield engagement in Michigan's history. If your interest is whetted by the title, the following review, or you're a fan of good military history you will not be disappointed in this book. It is a thoroughly researched and very readable almost day-by-day narrative of the campaign that ended in a stunning defeat for American forces followed by a massacre of the wounded by Britain's Indian allies.

America's ground strategy in the War of 1812 was to launch attacks at Detroit, Niagara, and Montreal.  The Detroit campaign is described in fascinating detail and in hindsight seems almost doomed to failure from the beginning. The militia and regular army forces started from several different locations and never joined forces to meet the enemy. A fall campaign continued into January with forces never receiving enough supplies, winter clothing, or knowledge of where other units were located. The troops who eventually faced the British and their Indian allies, "looked like impoverished vagabonds as they plodded along in dirty, threadbare clothes and blankets." Many of the troops had no shoes, were hungry, came down with Typhus, suffered frostbite, and soldiers joked that the cattle meant for rations were so weak they had to be held up to be shot.

The book makes it clear the Americans were poorly led, suffered from poor battlefield tactics, and lacked ammunition. After three freezing days of battle the British left wounded Americans crammed into cabins and failed to guard them from their Indian allies who tomahawked, scalped, beheaded, and burned alive as many as 60 helpless soldiers. The book is exhaustively researched, and is history told on a personal level because the author recounts the stories and experiences of many of the Americans who fought at the River Raisin. The only minor criticism I have is the official battlefield site maps included in the book are just too small to read. 

This well-written, engrossing narrative history of the campaign is a tribute to those who fought and died on the River Raisin, and I hope it will move readers to visit the National Battlefield site. A number of interesting appendices and a short history of the battlefield park follow the narrative.

The Invaded on All Sides: The War of 1812 and Michigan's greatest battlefield engagements at Frenchtown and the River Raisin, Updated, Annotated, &Revised by Ralph James Naveaux. Mission Point Press, 2002, 436p., $19.95.

North of Nelson Vol. II by Hilton Everett Moore.

On the basis of two books of short stories, totaling twelve stories, I have become a big fan of this gifted writer who finds his muse in an isolated cabin in the semi-wilderness of Baraga County. Moore's Yoknapatawpha is Nelson, "A small cluster of homes around the dilapidated village, mostly in ill-repair, sprouted abandoned cars and trucks like so many milkweed plants in a shallow ditch." The villagers and the few hardy or singularly peculiar who live north of Nelson along or near the undefinable line between semi and true wilderness are where Moore finds his characters.

The author writes with a distinctive voice honed by a U.P. that's so far off the beaten trail it's hardly a faint two track. I find that voice gripping, powerful, original, and compelling.  The stories deal with the most basic human feelings from love, lust, guilt, forgiveness, to ones relationship to and acceptance of their place in the environment. Two of the stories clearly dramatize the struggle to accept your environment. Two brothers who own adjoining 640 acres of mostly wilderness land struggle to come to terms with living on the cusp of the wilderness. One brother has purchased two donkeys because, who knew, they can kick the crap out of wolves! Still the donkey owner  occasionally loses a calf to a wolf and it eats at him incessantly. The other brother accepts that no matter how much it hurts, wolves have a right to be there as much as he does. Moore's portrayal of how each brother comes to terms with sharing their land with these predators is surely an accurate depiction of both sides of the wolf argument among Yoopers.

The remaining three stories starting from page one prove unpredictable as to where they will go and how they will end. Each is a revelation to both the story's memorable characters as well as the reader. Therefor this spoiler alert. Do not read the the back cover of this book. It tells you more than you want to know about some stories and will ruin surprising facts or events that build each story to a memorable climax. 

No one writes about living on the ragged edge of society, sanity, survival, and social morays like Hilton Everett Moore. I don't care if it's two years, a year, or six months until I read another short story about the folks in Nelson. It's too long to wait.
North of Nelson Vol. II by Hilton Everett Moore. Silver Mountain Press, 2023, 186p., $21.95.

Somewhere in Crime: A Mackinac Island Novel by Dave McVeigh and Jim Bolone

The authors of the very funny and popular "The Dockporter," which made the Michigan Notable Book List, are back with a prequel that finds future dockporter Jack McQuinn working as Mackinac Island's 11-year-old summer newspaper delivery boy. The year is 1979 and the novel is unfailingly humorous as it captures all of Mackinac Island's ambiance and charm. It also conveys the extraordinary furor that gripped the island that summer when Hollywood invaded the island to shoot the movie Somewhere in Time starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. 

Jack and his family are caught in the middle of the movie frenzy. Jack and his friends become movie extras and his mother who has always been an artist with a sewing machine applies for the  movie's wardrobe assistant and gets the job. Like a pebble hitting a windshield the job creates a small crack in his parents' marriage and, as they will, the small crack soon spider webs throughout their relationship. Even Jack sees divorce may lay in the future.

When Jack stumbles across the story of the unsolved murder of a young woman on the island 25 years ago and a $25,000 reward is still posted he turns detective. He'll take the reward and send his parent's on a journey to Egypt which he is sure will end any thoughts of divorce. That is if he can figure out how to become a detective. Unfortunately he goes to the wrong source to learn. 

The authors have done a great job of creating fully rounded major and minor characters that fit in nicely with the fast moving, attention grabbing plot. And lastly, amid all the fun, laughs, mystery, and Mackinac Island atmosphere is a fine coming of age story. This novel is more satisfying Mackinac Island Fudge.

Somewhere in Crime: A Mackinac Island Novel by Dave McVeigh and Jim Bolone. Independently Published, 2023, 334p., $15.99.


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