The Divine Dark: Mystery as Origin and Destination

A review by Joey Madia

It has been my privilege as a reviewer over the past twenty years to have the opportunity to track the growth of a handful of writers whose new works I have been sent year after year by themselves or their publishers. For a mind like mine, that looks at all things—most especially narrative—through myriad, multilayered lenses, it is instructive and often inspiring to see psychological growth, refinement of perspective, and narrative skill with the written word develop over time.

William Douglas Horden is one of those handful of authors. Since returning home eleven years ago to find a package from Horden’s publisher on my porch with one of his first books, The Toltec I-Ching, coauthored with Martha Ramirez-Oropeza, I have read, on average, one of Horden’s twenty-plus books every year. Sometimes two or three. Many I have reviewed, although review has become, at this point, an inaccuracy. It has become my challenge to absorb, process, and distill for readers of my reviews the essence of Horden’s work, whether it takes the form of workbook, poetry, or novel.

The Divine Dark is a masterwork. In a recent conversation (he was a guest recently on my weekly Livestream, “Into the Outer Realms,”  I likened this book to the statue that emerges when the marble is carefully chipped away and shaped by the master sculptor. It is a sparse work, in the sense that there is much white space on the page and the words are carefully chosen for maximum power. Continue reading

Bliss

“Life and Death in Balance”

Review by Joey Madia

As a fantasy writer, I know quite well the challenges (and rewards) of writing in a genre with abundant tropes and forebears with names like Tolkien, Lewis, and Martin. There is much to live up to and every opportunity to make anew, with a fresh perspective or unique element, must be seized.

Daniel Lawley has succeeded in honoring the fantasy genre, while emphasizing adventure and religious–philosophical elements that allow his novel to stand on its own amidst excellent company.

Each chapter of Bliss begins with an excerpt from an ancient book, rhyme, song, or proverb. This is a crucial device in Fantasy to give the world depth, history, and substance. These epigraphs also cue the reader to the philosophical themes being explored in each chapter, working, in quatrains, like a Greek chorus.

The world of Bliss has two suns, which is interesting because the story is rich with dichotomies… life and death, light and dark, powerful and powerless, good and evil… all the things we expect in a Fantasy–Adventure novel. As the two suns shine down upon the characters, they are constantly reminded of these dualities, which operate in dynamic tension throughout, yielding notable effects. Continue reading

Airstrip

A Review by Joey Madia

At the core of this hour-long visual–aural post-postmodern mind-jazz journey is John Gartland reading selected poems from his Five Books of Inundations, supported by a high-speed, trance-inducing barrage of techno beats and a far-ranging, superbly subliminal eye-feast of images.

The whole thing opens with white letters on a black screen:

Airstrip
Featuring John Gartland

overlaid with the sound of an airplane taking off.

Other title cards appear along the way, tracking the trip, Phnom Penh to Bangkok, with changes in music and vertigo and vibe to sometimes support and sometimes glean additional meaning by working counter to Gartland’s text.

Gartland, an ex-pat poet and teacher living in Thailand whose novels and books of poetry I’ve enjoyed and reviewed many times over the past decade, begins to speak, his voice at first electronically altered. As the early words implant in our ears we hear underlaid techno-dance boom-boom beats and see in a small square field a series of subtly psychedelic geometric patterns like glimpses into a computer download generating a semi-formed virtual reality dreamspace, wherein lies and rises and deftly dances:

A Marilyn Monroe–esque hourglass blonde in a black cocktail dress (or perhaps Norma Jean herself in her MM facsimile state [pre-echoing 1980s brand-aping by Madonna, Belinda Carlisle, and Melanie Griffith, all in better days and frames]) and the timeless Betty Boop. Continue reading

Chasing Eve

“Each of Us Are All of Us”

A review by Joey Madia

I have to say up front: I am a big fan of Sharon Heath’s writing—especially her characters, such as the brilliant but troubled eponymous lead in the Fleur trilogy (also published by Thomas-Jacob). Heath, a certified Jungian analyst, “writes fiction and non-fiction exploring the inter-play of science and spirit, politics and pop culture.” Creating at the intersection of perceived dichotomies such as these is very Jungian, alchemical, shamanic, and above all, necessary.
Some books provide an escape hatch away from the mounting troubles of a world in crisis. And there are plenty of reasons to seek escape. This past week, another pair of factors—economics and health—ramped up their interplay with the increase in Coronavirus cases and wild gyrations in the Stock Market. (The fact that we talk about economics and health as closely linked because of greedy pharmaceutical and insurance companies and a complicit AMA is a national embarrassment.)

Heath’s books, however, engage us further into the world’s troubles, as she ups the stakes on a macro level while pulling us in with her characters on the micro level.

If literature has real value for the soul, this is it.

Although there are many thematic overlaps with the Fleur trilogy and Chasing Eve, it is the unique features of the latter that I am going to concentrate on here.

Chasing Eve takes place in Los Angeles, a geography with which Heath is obviously intimately familiar. LA is a complex intermix of racial and religious dichotomies, of extravagant wealth and fame, and abject poverty and obscurity within the city’s large population of homeless. In Chasing Eve we encounter those suffering from drug addiction, AIDS, and the pains of basic survival co-existing with doctors, college professors, and a Hollywood public relations specialist whose bad behavior and at times eye-opening coldness to what’s going on around them set the book’s thematic tone. Continue reading

The World is Not Going to Stop for my Broken Heart

“An Unimaginable Loss”

By Joey Madia

It has been rightly said that losing a child is the most unnatural and devastating loss a parent can bear. And, with a yearly rise in deaths from opiate addiction and suicide, more and more parents are having to shoulder this worst of all grief.

Nearly six years ago, Amy Jo Giovannone lost her daughter, Sierra, in unimaginable circumstances involving a beautiful, talented young lady whom everyone loved being prescribed opiates after surgery and finding herself addicted, leading to heroine use, involvement with dangerous and abusive people, a successful stint in rehab, followed by her disappearance and murder at the age of 23.

No one was ever charged. Although there are strong hypotheses, this book, and Amy’s journey, do not center around the pursuit of justice (and, sad to say, there was none).

Instead, Amy has chosen to share her process and philosophy for surviving the death of her daughter.

It is clear early on that the two of them were very close, making the pain all the greater.

What makes this book so valuable and unique (I have read and reviewed several books about death, grief, and loss and have lost several people close to me over the years) is that Amy’s path to healing and wholeness is one less traveled. One that might appeal to those who have tried traditional grief counseling, individually and in groups, and found it wasn’t enough. Continue reading