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Book Review “Cinnamon Girl” by Lawrence Kessenich

Book Review  Cinnamon Girl by Lawrence Kessenich

North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc.  Fiction 233 pages

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Cinnamon Girl, the debut novel from award winning poet and playwright, Lawrence Kessenich, is a poignant and compelling story about a young man and his group of friends as they come of age in the American midwest during the height of the Vietnam War era.

John Meyer, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is fighting his own war on an asymmetrical front. He is in the process of leaving the halcyon days and secure cocoon of his conservative suburban family. Meyer questions his entire belief system, as he finds himself drawn into the radical politics of the anti-war movement, new friends, a love affair, experimentation with drugs and a new lifestyle. He struggles to come to terms with the plethora of choices he must make in the face of events that occur at a dizzying pace.

Kessenich skillfully and accurately depicts a thoroughly engaging, nuanced and multi-layered story of a classic love triangle. the overwhelming rush of first love and an impossible relationship all set against the backdrop of social unrest, political upheaval and the tumultuous events of the times.

He writes through a lens of adult wisdom about a much younger version of himself and the dynamics of Meyer’s family life, and his relationships with parents and siblings while they all struggle to maintain balance as the once secure ground is shifting underfoot.

Kessenich’s skill as a story teller is bolstered by his ability to vividly describe events and carefully develop multidimensional characters with the keen eye of a realist. I became so enamored of the characters and so engrossed in what was going on in their lives, that I did not want the book to end.

I connected with Cinnamon Girl on a deeply personal level because of my own life experiences and familiarity with the history of that specific time and the location of the events depicted in Kessenich’s novel. However, given the current political climate and the societal divisions that exist, protagonist John Meyer serves as an Everyman whose story could just as well be happening right now. I think Cinnamon Girl is a story for the ages that examines universal questions about growing up and awakening, adult decisions where nothing is black and white, the responsibilities that come with freedom; and the insecurities, moral conundrums, and choices a young person faces as they move into adulthood. Cinnamon Girl guides the reader through a twisting, turning, up and down journey of self discovery, triumph and defeat, and ultimately redemption. It’s a thought provoking and emotional read; a trip down a rabbit hole that eventually leads back out into the warm sunshine.

About the author:

Lawrence Kessenich has written in a variety of genres, including poetry, plays, short stories, novels, screenplays and essays. He won the Strokestown International Poetry Prize in Ireland in 2010. Other books include Age of Wonders, (Big Table Publishing, January 2016) Before Whose Glory, FutureCycle Press, 2013) and Strange News, (Pudding House Publications, 2008) Lawrence Kessenich lives and writes in Boston MA.

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Book Review: F250 by Bud Smith

Book Review: F250 by Bud Smith

Piscataway House Publications 2014

Fiction 230 pages

“It’s a novel about a noise band, some car crashes, kids with bloody faces, strange loves….” Bud Smith on F250

Thus reads Bud Smith’s hyper minimalist synopsis of his own novel F250. While this does summarize some of F250’s plot points with hilarious, deadpan understatement, needless to say, F250 is much, much more.

Set against a backdrop of the Jersey Shore somewhere around 2003-2004, the novel’s narrator and protagonist, Lee Casey, plays in a noise band called Otter Meat. The band teeters on the edge of either breaking big or breaking up and the dream of moving to LA beckons like some sort of mythical land of Milk and Honey. Lee works a day job as a stone mason. He hauls rocks, gravel and cement, his scant personal possessions, musical equipment, and his friends in his F250, a battered old workhorse of a truck that seems to crash into things like a heat seeking missile. Lagoon House is the dilapidated house in the process of being systematically demolished that serves as living space, party house, crucible and metaphor for a colorful and motley cast of characters going through life’s momentous changes together.

F250 depicts a group of friends whose lives are changing and evolving into something new as their old lives fall away. Preconceived notions of personal identity morph and grow into something new. It’s a story of farewell to youth and coming of age into adulthood and a story of self examination and self realization. F250 celebrates synchronicities and the peculiar kind of ephemeral magic that occurs as peoples’ individual orbits briefly come together before once again separating and twinkling into the heavens like the Perseid meteor shower. It’s about how the flash of one monumental event can change everything forever. F250 is about coming to grips with mortality and human frailty as we learn to understand our own individual gifts and strengths. F250 is about learning to forgive and to accept ourselves for who we really are and others for who they really are.

Some passages of descriptive prose are pure poetry.

“Outside, everything flickered like the world was film being fed through an 8mm grindhouse projector. Splatters of light struck everywhere reflective, creating a slowly rotating light show – glass and high sheen metallics caught the last rays of the falling sun. Reality was exaggerated. Colors were over-saturated: thick green, gold, plum.”

With references to regional cultural icons like Kiss, Bruce Springsteen and Thunder Road, Seaside Amusement Park, beaches, boardwalks, the Pine Barrens, Jersey salt marshes and 4th of July on the Jersey Shore, Bud Smith captures a unique slice of life and a snapshot of Americana at a particular time and place with lyrical agility and an unflinching eye. The book is also an exorcism, Last Rites, Kaddish, a memorial, and a celebration of life and love for each other.

With F250, Bud Smith has written his own “Moveable Feast” of sorts, with reflections based largely on his life as a younger man on the Jersey Shore; woven into a realistic work of fiction that is a totally enthralling and enjoyable read. With passages of cinematic prose and dialogue that captures moment to moment banter in spot-on colloquial fashion and characters large as life, Smith weaves a tale that is so engrossing and compelling that you won’t want to come to the end of it. At least I didn’t. It’s one of those books I could have devoured, but took forever to read, because then what the Hell was I going to do? It was like saying goodbye forever to my best friends.

F250 is a great book and Bud Smith is a hopeless romantic, which is a great thing to be in this fucked up world. I hope that Bud Smith revisits these characters in a future novel. The potential is there, and I would very much like to reconnect with these old friends as our lives once again intersect at some point down the road.

About the Author

Bud Smith is the author of the novel Tollbooth,  the short story collection, Or Something Like That, and the poetry collection, Everything Neon. He works heavy construction, lives in New York City and has a pet jackalope.

F250 Bud Smith

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