Monthly Archives: May 2008

BOOK BEAT 69 – Dudley Clendinen

See this moving essay by Dudley Clendinen:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/10/opinion/sunday/10als.html?_r=2

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   May 29, 2008

by Philip K. Jason

Florida is not the fountain of youth; rather, it is the fountain of extended old age. It is home to many retirement communities, as well as facilities designed to meet the needs of those elders who can live independently and those who no longer can do so. Dudley Clendinen, who provides a close, compassionate look at one such enterprise, presents in microcosm a portrait of what he calls “the New Old Age in America.” His book, “A Place Called Canterbury,” is at once a biography of his mother, a family history, and a history of Tampa. It is also a probing examination of the meaning and texture of extended old age.  Beautifully written, it recounts the closing decade of a remarkable generation whose lives spanned most of the 20th century and, in diminishing numbers, a bit of the 21st

When it was time for Clendinen’s mother to give up the family home, to scale down her responsibilities and activities, and to enjoy the virtues of communal dining and a range of professional services, she joined many of her long-time friends in Canterbury Towers, a geriatric apartment building constructed in the 1970s. In her apartment, she reproduced the ambience of her home as best she could. She maintained her habits of personal grooming and social intercourse. And she involved herself in a larger community of people, many of them strangers, who had come from elsewhere to enjoy similar benefits. Each had all made a deal with the devil of reality, giving up some aspects of their complex identities to maintain and even enhance others.

Her son, Dudley, had assumed many of her decision-making powers. Over the many years of Mrs. Clendinen’s residence at Canterbury, Dudley visited frequently and sometimes for extended intervals. His visits added up to something just short of 400 days. Over that period, this reporter, editorial writer, and columnist exercised his curiosity and skills as well as his heart-felt familial responsibilities. He came to know the residents and staff members of the Canterbury community intimately, and he came to know what a lot of middle-aged children come to know about their parents; that is, how little the children actually know.  

 Clendinen explores the structured relationships between parents and children in his own family. Sharing insights with members of his own generation, he finds his observations reinforced: locked in roles, parents and children often have surface relationships, and, as the children become adults – eventually with their own retirement years in view – they miss opportunities to ask the important questions, to hold the potentially revealing, intimate conversations. And then, too soon, it is too late.

The author interviewed and re-interviewed his mother’s core group as well as many fascinating new acquaintances. He left between the covers of this book a memorial of their fight for dignity and of their quest for the redemption of all those extra, unexpected years.

We read of their love lives, past and present. We receive glimpses of their childhoods and their wartime experiences. We see them at play: dancing and putting on entertainments, as well as extending their sex lives. We are witness to the steady and often embarrassing breakdown of their bodies. We marvel at their resilience and at their mutual support for one another. We discover all the ways that they find reasons to be alive while choices, appetites, and mental faculties are taken away by time.

We also get to meet a handful of skilled and dedicated caretakers.

Yes, the book has streaks of melancholy and nostalgia – and even heartbreak as Mr. Clendinen’s mother, a stroke victim, is relocated from her apartment in the towers to the nursing wing. She gradually loses her mind, and even more gradually – perhaps too gradually – loses her life. 

Dudley Clendinen’s mix of exposition and story-telling is just right. His descriptions of place, his handling of dialogue (especially the capturing of southern dialect), and his personality portraits are masterful. One might not expect it, but humor is abundant through this book. Clendinen allows the natural humor hovering around solemn situations to manifest itself. This humor is never disparaging, but rather bracing and respectful.

“A Place Called Canterbury” is a glorious piece of wisdom literature without the preaching. It is clearly one of 2008’s nonfiction masterpieces, a marvelous evocation of a new frontier – the “New Old Age.” You might find a signed copy at the Naples Borders, where Clendinen had a book signing on May 18.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club.

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BOOK BEAT 68 – Tina Wainscott (3)

BOOK BEAT    Naples Sun Times    May 15, 2008                                                   

by Philip K. Jason

On a superficial level, Tina Wainscott’s new “What Lies in Shadow” resembles her recent “Until the Day You Die,” the New England setting and the obsessed stalker motif being the two most obvious points of comparison. However, the two works are radically different in tone, complication, and characterization. And the dilemma that Wainscott’s protagonist, Jonna Karakosta, falls into has no resemblance to anything in the previous novel. Jonna has blogged herself into danger. 

She begins innocently enough, developing a more adventurous version of herself, “Montene,” who entices an internet audience with her confessions and aspirations. Obliquely, through the Montene persona, Jonna reveals the unsatisfying state of her marriage. She and her husband have somehow been blocked from the kind of intimacy Jonna craves, and the blog that Montene generates brings forth an electronic suitor, Dominic, whose courtship of Montene via the blog turns into the preliminaries for an off-line relationship. Montene’s readers are privy to this affair-in-the making, writing in their own advice at each step of Montene’s journey and living vicariously through her adventure. The blog that Jonna has created is a huge success, with an audience ravenous for each successive entry.

And so Wainscott’s audience is hooked as well.

Jonna enjoys the excitement of her veiled popularity; she has certainly found a vein of frustration and yearning among her comment-posting readers. However, unknowingly, she has set herself up to be a victim of the man who calls himself Dominic. And once she finds out, which is soon after she decides to meet him, her excitement becomes tinged with and then dominated by terror. Jonna’s story, then, is a moral tale of the “be careful what you wish for” variety. 

Wainscott artfully shifts narrative point of view, giving us glimpses of what Dominic and other characters are thinking without ever giving away too much. Provided with partial revelations about Dominic, about Jonna’s husband Rush, and about her best friend Beth, the reader attempts to anticipate and ride the waves of the unfolding plot.  And this plot, revealed in part as a string of disguised motives, carefully guarded secrets, and formative influences from the characters’ early lives, moves swiftly and steadily ahead, sometimes in unexpected directions.

It is also a story of insecurity, suspicion, and betrayal. One of the novel’s strengths lies in the convincing dramatization of the emotional masking and distance that has paralyzed the relationship between Jonna and Rush. The mix of attraction, duplicity, and mistrust that swirls through each of these characters keeps readers longing for a breakthrough: “Hey, dummies, just be honest with one another.” But we all know how difficult that can be!

Another dimension of the story that works well is the efficient way in which Wainscott paints the working lives of Jonna and Rush. Jonna has a budding business as an event planner and Rush is co-owner of AngelForce, a company that finds investor funding to nourish young technology companies. There is just enough detail, just enough integration of their working lives into the characterizations and plot, and yet not too much. This material builds the credibility of the characters, connecting them to others in both commercial and social ways, and making them more than merely emotional bundles in a crumbling relationship.

“What Lies in Shadow” is a satisfying thriller by an established professional who just happens to be our neighbor. Find out more about her at http://www.tinawainscott.com.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club.

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BOOK BEAT 67 – Silvia Casabianca

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   May 8, 2008

by Philip K. Jason

Have you ever felt guilty after swallowing yet another pill to mask symptoms of a disease or injury? Have you wondered if there was a better approach to physical (and spiritual) well-being than going on an antibiotic regimen or ingesting medicines designed to reduce inflammation? Silvia Casabianca causes us to ponder such questions in her new book, “Regaining Body Wisdom: A Multidimensional View,” published by Eyes Wide Open.

Casabianca’s mantra is that most of our remedies for discomfort and disease are at odds with the body’s natural responses to various types of invasion or imbalance. In her view, much of what is labeled conventional medicine overlooks and often hampers the necessary and natural communication between organs and the flow of vital energy that maintains health.

One of the simplest examples is that, when suffering from illness and injury, we do everything we can to minimize rest – and yet our bodies are screaming that rest is required. Our medicinal shortcuts to resume habitual modes of work and pleasure defy the body’s wisdom (in this case, the strongly felt call for rest), and often at significant peril. Recovery is actually jeopardized, and the opportunity to discover a dimension of the self is lost.

After a brief prelude of enticing stories that set her theme, Casabianca packages her material in three sturdy sections. The first of these, “The New Perspectives,” covers quite a bit of ground in surveying holistic approaches to well-being. For this reader, the most intriguing discussion is the one labeled “Curing vs. Healing.” Here, the author clarifies an important distinction. She writes, “Curing means removing a symptom,” which is not the same thing as discovering what caused the problem or seeing it in the perspective of a life history and the overall condition of the body.  Healing pays attention to these latter concerns, and it has more than physical dimension. “Healing,” writes the author, “is the product of our inner search for lost integrity; the developing and broadening of our awareness that allows us to recognize ourselves as creatures of the Universe and helps us assume responsibility over our body, our actions, our environment, our relationships with others, with ourselves and the world.”

The second section of the book, “The Body Wisdom,” explores the various bodily systems (connective, circulatory, respiratory, immune, etc.) and illustrates, in lay terms, the functions of each as well as the interrelationships among them.  This section of the book also elaborates the concept of the “inner healer.” For Casabianca, it is learning to hear and heed the inner healer that is the key to physical and psychic well-being. In a passage titled “The body speaks to us,” Casabianca insists not only on the need to be receptive to the body’s messages, but also to recognize that anything that affects us “affects the whole of us, even if we can only see part of the picture.” We need to enhance our receptors and learn to act on the full range of information and wisdom that is always being broadcast and to which we are not sufficiently attuned.

Finally, in the third section of her book, Casabianca – a licensed Reiki Master – introduces readers to “Reiki and the Art of Healing.” Here she traces the history and precepts of a philosophy for personal growth and healing through balance. The relationship between practitioner and recipient is explored, as is the full embrace of consciousness and self-knowledge requisite for harmonious existence.

Generally clear, straightforward, and nonacademic in style, “Regaining Body Wisdom” is still underpinned with scholarship and references to a wide variety of sources that Casabianca most often weaves together with sure-handedness and grace. Yes, there are passages in the book that could use one more level of stylistic revision; however, most of the material is presented with precision and – more importantly – the passion of conviction. If I would ask for one more ingredient to make this valuable book even more valuable, it would be an analytical index.

Information about the author, including ordering information for this and her other books, is available through the intriguing bilingual website: silviacasabianco.com.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club.

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