The Permanent Press, which will be publishing my novel Locus Amœnus, announced its 2015 titles today. I am pleased to find myself among some very talented writers. I am also happy to discover that several of the sixteen novels on the list have anti-war themes; one takes on drone warfare, another economic disparity; a couple of them are pretty quirky; one even invokes Hamlet, as mine does.
I like the company.
From the catalogue:
LOCUS AMŒNUS by Victoria N. Alexander
In this beautifully nuanced dark comedy, a 9/11 widow, Gertrude, and her son, Hamlet, have retreated from Brooklyn to the idyllic rural countryside upstate, where for nearly eight years they have run a sustainable farm. Unfortunately, their outrageously obese neighbors, who prefer the starchy products of industrial agriculture, reject their elitist ways (recycling, eating healthy, reading). Hamlet, who is now eighteen, is beginning to suspect that something is rotten in the United States of America, when health, happiness and freedom are traded for cheap Walmart goods, Zoloft, endless war, core curriculum, and environmental degradation. He becomes very depressed when, on the very day of the 8th anniversary of his father’s death, his mother marries a horrid, boring NIST bureaucrat named Claudius. Things get even more depressing for Hamlet when he learns from Horatio, a conspiracy theorist, that Claudius is a fraud. The deceptions, spying, corruption, will ultimately lead, as in Shakespeare’s play, to tragedy.
by Ivan Goldman
Fresh from prison, young Bento stumbles into a job at a quirky collection agency, joining an unconventional crew that works out of a former warehouse (bats and pigeons roost in the rafters). Collectors scavenge among hammered victims of an economy that never seems to work for them. Debtors include patsies, cheats, liars, bewildered , and furiously dedicated deadbeats. All bought the American dream but couldn’t pay the price. “Bill collectors are like priests,” says a crew member. “You can tell me anything.” Battered “schmoes” do just that, sharing secrets with collector-confessors who in some cases only recently exited the list of shame themselves. A blue-skinned survivalist cop dreams of acceptance as he schemes to steal drug money; a young woman with a master’s in library science waves to drivers from inside a chicken costume; a world-renowned author is picked clean by an ex-girlfriend; an Air Force navigator loses control as he transports corpses of the fallen back to the States, and lovers find each other at the other end of a collection call. Meanwhile Bento struggles to elude a cell that’s awaited him all along. As their paths intersect, characters’ lives throb with humor, suspense, and the intensity that flows from human beings under relentless pressure.
The Debtor Class is the fifth novel from New York Times-best-selling author IVAN G. GOLDMAN. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Columbia Journalism Review, The New York Times and elsewhere. He lives in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.
MY IMPENDING DEATH by Michael Laser
Cynical. Obese. Misanthropic. A saint? Angus Truax—Mr. Misery to his colleagues—profiles victims of misfortune. His articles touch hearts and inspire charity. Unfortunately for Angus, he loathes his job, his subjects, and his life—so much that he decides to end it. More Fool than Hamlet, this unlikely hero jokes his way to the grave, soothing his own despair with rude, audacious honesty. But even a suicidal hermit can’t shut out life completely. Before he can make his exit, one last unlucky soul comes knocking at his door, pleading for help, and Angus finds himself falling into what he calls the world’s oldest trap. To his astonishment, he discovers that his story isn’t over yet.
MICHAEL LASER enjoyed impersonating the outrageous Angus Truax, but will now go back to playing the well-behaved husband and father. His previous novels include Hidden Away, Dark & Light, and Old Buddy Old Pal. He has contributed articles and essays to the New York Times and other newspapers, and also works (invisibly) as a ghostwriter. To read about his books and see some intriguing odds and ends, visit michaellaser.com.
RADIOMEN by Eleanor Lerman
There are two themes to Radiomen. First, that if there are aliens interacting with our world they are likely just as confused about who or what God is as human beings are, and second, that whoever the aliens are, they’re probably just as fond of dogs as we are. A woman who works at a bar a Kennedy Airport doesn’t remember that when she was a child, she met an alien on the fire escape of a building where her uncle kept a shortwave radio (she believes this encounter was a dream). The radio is part of a universal network of repeaters that are maintained by an unknown alien race; they use the network to broadcast prayers into the universe because, like human beings, the aliens are as confused about who—or what—God might be as we are. The woman meets a psychic who is actually part of a Scientology-like cult (the “Blue Awareness”) and also a late-night radio host; all these characters, for their own reasons, are interested in unraveling the mystery of the lost radio network. There is also a dog involved, a strange animal given to the woman by her neighbor who is an immigrant, a member of the Dogon tribe—people who believe they were visited by aliens long ago and repeat to each other a myth about how the aliens brought dog-like animals with them. Dogon dogs are supposedly all descended from that animal. At the end of the story, the dog will figure in the resolution of the conflict that develops between the Blue Awareness leader and the other characters, as well as act as an intermediary between the humans who want to understand why the aliens need the radio network and the aliens who need the humans to help them find a lost element of the universal network.
ELEANOR LERMAN is a writer who lives in New York. Her first book of poetry, Armed Love (1973), published when she was twenty-one, was a National Book Award finalist. She has since published several other award-winning collections of poetry—Come the Sweet By and By (1975); The Mystery of Meteors (2001); Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds (2005); and The Sensual World Re-Emerges (2010), along with The Blonde on the Train (2009) a collection of short stories. She was awarded the 2006 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets and the Nation magazine for the year’s most outstanding book of poetry for Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds and received a 2007 Poetry Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2011 she received a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her first novel, Janet Planet, based on the life of Carlos Castaneda, was published in 2011. Her latest collection of poetry, Strange Life, was published in 2014.
THERE’S A MAN WITH A GUN OVER THERE By R. M. Ryan
There’s a Man With a Gun Over There is described by its author, R.M. Ryan as a “novel /memoir” based on his own experiences. An antiwar activist while in graduate school, he received a draft notice after the Tet offensive in 1968. Not interested in killing or being killed in Vietnam or anywhere else, he was allowed to finish his academic year. Like others (including his publisher), he knew he could always seek refuge in Canada. But in 1969, before having to flee to our northern neighbor, he was visited by an Army recruiter with the proviso they would send him to language school where he would learn German. After training would be sent to Germany as an MP—a member of the Military Police—to investigate, along with German investigators—American soldiers who were profiting from smuggling goods obtained while in the service. This would keep Ryan’s narrator physically out of harm’s way but cause severe and unexpected emotional consequences: collaborating with former ex-Nazi’s while spying on American soldiers for mostly minor law-breaking, which would violently escalate when he attempts to arrest a black American sergeant, living with his young German girlfriend, for buying cigarettes at the commissary and selling them to Germans at astronomically higher prices. About his book Ryan offers this: “All of us men with guns were pretty fucking scary. My MP boss in Germany led a platoon of Military Policemen guarding the Pentagon. His men were the ones with the guns the hippie girls put flowers in. “What may be even more scary about us men with guns is the realization that most of the people who come through the American military are trained killers. These people are your neighbors. They’re your relatives. I always enjoy telling lady war supporters this—especially those with sons in the military. We need to face up to what we’re doing, both to peasants in the Third World and to our own children. “I was trained to kill one enemy soldier. People in the artillery can vaporize hundreds. People in the Air Force and Navy can kill tens of thousands—even, occasionally, millions. “I hope my story will serve as an object lesson. I will be happy if it convinces just one person to stay out of the military.”
Acclaimed by the New York Times as a writer who works “at the juncture of rapture and rupture,” R. M. RYAN is the author of Goldilocks in Later Life, The Golden Rules, and Vaudeville in the Dark. He served in the US Army from 1969 to 1972 and is married to biographer Carol Sklenicka.
THE HOME FRONT by Margaret Vandenburg
The Barrons like to think of themselves as a typical American family. Never mind the fact that Todd drops bombs on Afghan targets one minute and sits down to dinner with his wife and kids the next. A drone pilot stationed in Nevada, he manages to compartmentalize the conflicting demands of combat and family life until their son Max is diagnosed with autism. His wife Rose deploys an army of specialists, surfing the outer limits of the World Wide Web for a miracle cure. But Max clings to compulsive isolation and order—wearing the same tan clothes, eating the same round foods, lining up trucks or Legos or whatever else needs to be lined up—to fend off the chaos of normalcy. Unhinged by their son’s prognosis, Rose resorts to New Age magical thinking to cope with her own sense of losing control. Todd feels curiously indifferent, watching his wife and son retreat further and further into la-la land. It’s a familiar feeling, symptomatic of his Chair Force job waging virtual war. The Barrons continue to drift apart until a gifted behavioral therapist intervenes, reviving the dream of discovering a common language. The Home Front is both deeply personal and culturally relevant, a family portrait of the uncanny connection between autism, drone warfare, and virtual reality. Without a real diagnosis of the problem, the prognosis isn’t good.
WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION by Margaret Vandenburg
For patriots like Billy Sinclair, the Iraq War starts on 9/11. He is primed to kill in the backwoods of Montana, hunting with his buddy Pete under the tutelage of his grandfather, a decorated World War II veteran. When they kill their first deer, Grandpa smears its blood on their faces in honor of Pete’s great great-grandfather, a Sioux scout who corralled the first wild horses bearing the Sinclair brand. A more sublime boyhood is unimaginable, a more tragic adolescence unthinkable. Nobody sees it coming. Pete’s inexplicable suicide steels Sinclair’s resolve to join the Marines. The moral certainty of the War on Terror fills the void left by his best friend’s death. But Sinclair’s faith falters when his platoon is forced to attack equivocal targets in Fallujah. Mosques. Cemeteries. Home after home after home. Urban combat is tough enough without Urban combat is tough enough without being haunted by the specter of defenseless women, let alone children. Sinclair summons his training, holding his doubts at bay until a suicide bomber triggers flashbacks to the role he unwittingly played in Pete’s death. Ultimately, his own survival will depend on solving the riddle posed by these two suicides, mirror images of self-destructive compulsions at home and abroad.
MARGARET VANDENBURG, critic, writer and lecturer at Barnard College, has published works in a wide range of genres. Her novel The Home Front, published by The Permanent Press this February, is being submitted for all the major literary prizes: the Pulitzer, National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award, among others.