Our press flyer for the Studio Lounge reading with myself (Tom), Doug Rose, Robert Vaughan, and Ken Walker.
“I can talk up a very romantic image of God. But to make the Bible the official science textbook of the whole earth? I heard another man who had stopped in off the highway exclaim out loud, ‘What kind of bullshit is this?’ I looked at him and we shook our heads in disbelief.” From final chapter, Badlands.
Unfortunately, we did not have time to stop in and go through the museum. I have before, and it’s a trip, and I wished my family could have gone through it. Next time.
I mean, it is worth the trip to be able see just what kind of disinformation creationists are promoting. While they claim the truth about creation, they seek to discredit science. From their own website, “The Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum presents the Truth of God’s Word using the latest in dinosuar and fossil exhibits, paleontological, geological, archaeological, and scientific discoveries.” They are not short on bombast.
I would recommend visiting the museum for the fun of the experience. I don’t mean to mock the museum. It’s very entertaining and quite dynamically displayed, but I think the main reason to visit the museum would be to pass the word about the disservice creationist “scientists” are offering. To claim the Bible as the only true word of God and thereby the Official Truth of all things, so to speak, is really irresponsible promotion of closed mindedness, self-righteousness, and intolerance for other religions and most notably, for science.
The review is published on the US Review of Books official site
by Thomas Biel
reviewed by John E. Roper
“I wanted my own bed and my own ceiling, something confined, not the vastness of the stars, the puzzle of endlessness. I wanted to go home but I couldn’t move.”
Some writers have mastered the art of spinning fantastic tales, trotting out lies of mystery, romance, and high adventure that while barely believable still manage to entertain us. Others choose to cut closer to the bone of truth, making us turn to the author’s blurb at the back of the book to see whether or not what we are reading is fiction or fact. Biel falls into this latter camp with his debut collection of linked stories, episodes from the life of his youthful protagonist, Matthew Davis, that seem too painfully real to be imaginary.
Set in the fictional community of Riverside in eastern Montana, Badlands blends the traditional elements of a coming-of-age story with an unvarnished portrayal of the cultural changes that were beginning to permeate small-town America during the Vietnam War era. While these aspects alone might make the book worth reading, it is Biel’s development of other characters in his narrative that set this collection apart. For example, in the process of chronicling his narrator’s personal journey to manhood, he is also exploring the lives of key individuals whose own successes and tragedies as they interact with his protagonist help shape the person Matthew will eventually become. In fact, Matthew’s development at times seems almost incidental to the author’s rich treatment of the other people he brings to life. One such individual is Matthew’s best friend, Idaho Wells. In the earlier tales their adventures resemble those of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Yet as the years pass it becomes clear that Matthew doesn’t have the innate leadership skills or cunning of Tom, while Idaho is a darker and much more tragic figure than Huck ever was. Idaho is a flawed hero, a fierce protector, and a doomed lover. Biel imbues him with incredible potential, but also paints his life with a realism that precludes a happy ending for him. Matthew’s father is another complex character whose struggles to reconcile his growing atheism with his career as the pastor of one of the local churches impact the futures of those around him, especially his son. The pathos brought about by other characters such as Monica Rose and, especially, Terry McAuliffe also serve to enrich the narrative and draw the reader even further into Matthew’s world.
Although the rich characterizations are arguably the finest elements in the book, a strong contender is the dead-on realism of the atmosphere. For instance, the almost warlike rivalry, hatred, and prejudice between the residents of Riverside and Pyramid, a neighboring town, should be easily recognizable to anyone who grew up in mid-America during the ’60s and ’70s. Many readers will also remember the intense polarization between certain segments of teenagers which erupted into periodic battles between groups labeled “Rednecks” and “Freaks.” Nor does the author ignore some of the even darker dangers that have always faced some young people growing up such as pedophilia. In just twelve stories Biel manages to successfully revisit the drama, the rampant alcohol and drug use, the anti-war sentiments, and the rising social changes of the era.
Those who prefer their fiction to be softer or more far-fetched will need to search elsewhere. But for readers who enjoy stories that portray life as it was without sugar-coating the language or the truth, Biel’s well-written look at growing up in a turbulent time period is a must read.
Let Him Go, Larry Watson’s latest novel, packs a punch. I highly recommend reading this novel, or any of Larry Watson’s novels, including Montana 1948 and American Boy, but this one is a great, tense, entertaining read. It is, as they say, a slow burn. But burn it does.
For you Milwaukee folks, Larry is one of our own. He is a professor of creative writing at Marquette University. I was drawn to him as an author primarily due to Montana 1948 which is set in north eastern Montana, and since I’m a native Montanan, the connection is simple.
Here’s an interesting coincidence: My book Badlands and Larry Watson’s Let Him Go, both published in the same year, are set in the same town in eastern Montana, though the town is fictionalized differently. In reality, the actual geographic setting of both novels is Glendive, Montana.
In Badlands, Glendive is hardly disguised as a town called Riverside. In Let Him Go Glendive is renamed Gladstone. While in Badlands the setting is a realistic image of Glendive in the late 1960s and early ’70s, in Let Him Go Gladstone is a much more fictionalized Glendive set in the early 1950s, but it is unmistakenly Glendive because the town is located between Wibaux and Miles City, Montana.
I wonder if Glendivians know this–not that Glendive is situated between Wibaux and Miles City–but that its city is the setting of two recent works of fiction. I would highly recommend Larry Watson’s novel, and while you’re at it, mine too! Thanks.
Mark Twain? I am not going to argue with the overreach here, but really? I’ll take it. I think I’ll go build a raft and float down the Milwaukee River.
Badlands, Thomas Biel, Three Towers Press – The author is a master storyteller in the tradition of Mark Twain and Garrison Keillor, creating characters that readers care about through the unexpected twists and turns of events. His stories stretch playfully like a rubber band, then unexpectedly snap with new understanding, emotion or consequences. Narrator Matthew Davis relates boyhood hijinks with his best friend, Idaho Wells in a small town near the Montana Badlands. Beneath the situational humor, there’s truth—sometimes painful, sometimes awkward or uncomfortable, but always reaching into the guts of humanity. Davis’ father is a Presbyterian minister who’s lost his faith; his brother is a draft dodger; another friend, “Mona Lisa,” is suspected of being gay, but his reality is a bigger secret. Each chapter stands alone, but are also part of the larger fabric of the book. The book is funny, dramatic, tender, and sad, with characters so real you forget that they are fictional.
To view the review page, link: http://www.theusreview.com/USRhoffer.html#genfic
Yesterday while perusing the Journal Sentinel I found an article on John Green, author of the phenomenally popular YA novel The Fault in Our Stars, that included a description of the reception he received at the Book Expo America (BEA) in New York City last week.
Evidently, when Green showed up for his autograph slot, he was greeted by hundreds of screaming fans, as delirious for his attention and giddy with excitement as they would be for One Dimension or Beyonce.
Well, I was at the BEA last week too. And we had some similar authorial experiences, John Green and I. I too had screaming fans, well, I had one screaming fan. That was my wife. And she was screaming all right. “Wipe that pizza sauce off your face, now! My god! You can’t go in there looking like that!” Having a fan so concerned is unique and very endearing, not to mention motivating.
The thing with being an author of an immensely popular book is that this clamoring for your attention by fans doesn’t stop. My fan for example was screaming at me the night before too! This time we were heading out to a couple Indie book awards banquets in NYC. She was screaming for my attention: “Are you really wearing that shirt! That’s it? You didn’t bring a tie!” Now how many authors get that kind of fan support?
The attention is almost overwhelming. Fans of John Green probably want to touch him too, maybe even get a lock of his hair or something. I totally empathize. My fan can’t get a lock of my hair because I don’t have any, but she did scream out in delirium (or horror, I’m not sure which), “My god! I could braid those eyebrows! You want me to braid those eyebrows? Jesus, Mr. Author, look at your ears! Are those spider webs in there!”
It is really wonderful to be so close to your fans. I’m sure that not one of John’s fans felt so at ease with him that he or she could suggest that he trim his ear and nose hair.
You see, guys like John Green don’t get all the attention. Oh yeah, sure, he had a time slotted at the BEA for autographing and a stage all to himself. Okay. That’s just slightly more than I had. I only paid to get in the door, went in as an Educator (because it was cheaper than to go in as an author, plus, I am one when not being besieged with attention from my fan), and went around to all the industry booths telling people I was on break from my own booth and in the meantime, I have a book I’m promoting. Now, that is some industry recognition.
As for the books themselves, sure John Green’s is moving and touching and heart wrenching and being made into what will undoubtedly be a blockbuster movie, but my book, Badlands, which also has been hailed as a Young Adult phenom (runner up for Young Adult literature in the Midwest Independent Publisher Book Awards) has all kinds of wholesome drug use and mild swearing of all types. And it also has some great lines about stars.
So there you have it. Two fine books. One which received incredible attention and has become an industry in itself, called The Fault in our Stars, and the other, Badlands, with the undying support of the best fan, who will keep the author’s eyebrow and ear hair under control—and the pizza sauce off his face!
One more award came in last week, an IPPY. Don’t know exactly why they call it an IPPY, but the award comes from the Independent Publishers Book Awards, which is known as “the world’s largest international and regional book awards” <http://www.independentpublisher.com/ipland/ipawards.php>. How about that. Badlands was awarded a gold medal for best fiction in the West-Mountain Region. http://www.independentpublisher.com/article.php?page=1794. I feel very good about the book being able to represent the West. It is not a book written or told in a typical “Western” voice, but it is a voice that comes out of the west and it is a tribute to eastern Montana and its stark beauty, its people, it’s dusty and sometimes booming and sometimes busting towns, and the area known as Makoshika just outside of Glendive.
Lena and I are off to NYC to attend the Next Generation Indie Book Awards reception. Most definitely looking forward to participating in that, at the Harvard Club, which already makes me want to sip brandy and puff on a good cigar.