2020 Reading Challenge

2020 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 6 books toward her goal of 240 books.

Introduction to DEWDROPS by Dan Flanigan

>Today I’d like to introduce you to a new collection of three stories by Dan Flanigan. Dan is a novelist, poet, and playwright, as well as a practicing lawyer. He has also written the full-length plays-Secrets (based on the life of Eleanor Marx) and Moondog’s Progress (based on the life of Alan Freed).

Growing up in the cold war era; struggling with self-destruction and addictive behavior; waiting for just one thing to go right…
Dewdrops, Some Cold War Blues, and On the Last Frontier (the stories that comprise the collection) reflect on the past, pull at the
heartstrings, and evoke something all too very familiar for so many of us. The book is a must-read for lovers of beautifully written literary fiction and storytelling that really pushes emotional boundaries and makes you think.

Without further ado, I’m delighted to introduce the stories…

Dewdrops is almost entirely composed of dialogue. Most of the characters are introduced within a group therapy setting and quickly they become familiar as their secrets and vulnerabilities are exposed. The main characters are Ray, drug smuggler and felon turned gifted clinician, and Angel, a stunning, talented rock star. Through conversation with Peter, the head of the center, Ray reveals that his group is very one of the most difficult he has experience, almost all of them victims of serious abuse: in addition to Angel–Duke, a grizzled old man who seems beyond change and growth; Paula, stunted and trapped, a victim of molestation; Alex, coping with dire consequences of his addiction; Liz, complicated and suicidal; Joe/Joey, who has made his living as a street prostitute.

The primary story arc is Ray’s mental and emotional deterioration and ultimate relapse. Ray is considered excellent at his job, due mainly to his ability to connect empathetically with his patients and point them toward a path out of despair. But his deep connection with the suffering and pain of his patients and the world in general makes it difficult for him to balance his professional and private roles and his mental and emotion health proceeds on a downward arc. At first glance, it would seem that Angel has it all, money, fame, talent, and the adoration of fans. She is addicted to that adoration and the adrenalin rush of performance as much as to alcohol and cocaine. But the persona she has created is false, compensation for deep insecurities and a fundamentally nihilistic view of the world. She sees in Ray a soul-mate and craves a romantic relationship with him, sensing his vulnerabilities, becoming his constant temptress, seeking to penetrate the ethical wall that is supposed to separate clinician from patient (“no fucking the patients” as Ray says). Ray’s eventual relapse spurs Angel to leave treatment and seek out Ray in the outside world. Their part of the story ends with each singing their separate soaring arias of sex and drug fueled ecstasy and doom. The other characters, whose stories have been told along with Angel’s and Ray’s, continue to struggle in the group setting, each beginning to find a path toward redemption by embracing the humble reality of a life with limits.

On the Last Frontier
This is a story about an old woman in Juneau, Alaska coming to terms with her life on what is both literally and metaphorically “the last frontier.” Opening in 1980s Juneau, Katie has lost her waitressing job and heads to her favorite bar to drown her fear, shame, and dread in alcohol with her friends, all men. Conversation is at first light and teasing but quickly unravels as she and all the others get increasingly drunk. There is no hope left for her, it seems, except maybe with her common law husband George, who has moved even farther into the frontier, in a small settlement on the Yukon. He constantly begs her to join him. In flashbacks we see how Katie and George came together decades ago, in the 1950s, in Kansas City where she was the married mother of two and he was a friend just back to town. Foolishly undertaking an affair with George, caught red-handed, thoroughly shamed and facing the loss of her children and the prospect of being branded forever with a scarlet letter, she and George “lit out for the territories”—Alaska. But she and George, after many years together, grew further and further estranged, due mostly to her continuing guilt and shame (and possibly an implicit blaming of George for her plight) and his continuing drive to escape both the atmosphere of blame and to explore a new frontier. When he embarks for the Yukon, she will to go with him.

In the present day, Katie is trying to rid herself of the mentally challenged (Korsakov’s syndrome—as Katie says, “from drinking too much Sterno and Acqua Velva”) and child-like Reuben, who serves as both her guardian angel, her conscience, and, increasingly, as needing care himself and as a stand-in for her abandoned children. His presence seems to exacerbate her feelings of guilt and shame now that she has lost her job. She sees herself as becoming a bag lady soon. She attempts suicide but is thwarted by Reuben’s “untimely” interruption. She decides that there is nothing left for her, as she is “poor and old and cold in Juneau with winter coming on,” but to join George on the Yukon. But that involves leaving Reuben alone. He rides in the taxi with her to the ferry , where she and George docked from Kansas City decades before. She thinks how she followed George then and now is following him again. She looks back and sees that Reuben appears lost and the taxi driver is leading him back to the taxi. As the taxi driver deposits Reuben in the cab and begins to leave the ferry parking lot, the back door of the cab opens and Katie piles in with her suitcase. And they drive on back toward Juneau.

Some Cold War Blues
Jack is the 11-year old central character in this story set in the 1950s. Child of an abusive and alcoholic mother and stepfather, Jack is trying to navigate a rough and perilous world, more so inside his home than out. It is Saturday morning. A perfect snow has fallen outside, and he and his Catholic-school buddies know just the thing to do. Build a snow fort and have a snowball war with the kids across the alley. It is an equal contest until several “hoods” (hoodlums) join their opponents. Finally, all on Jack’s side retreat and abandon him. He holds his own for awhile, ready to suffer almost anything other than have to resort to the uncertain “refuge” of his own home. But finally his mini-heroic resistance so enrages his opponents that they storm his fort, intent not just on extracting his surrender but injuring him. Finally, Jack must seek the forbidding “refuge” of his back porch, as the hoods hurl chunks of ice and stones at his back door, and Jack must seek protection from his domestic tormenters against even more brutal tormenters from the outside world.

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