The Triumph of Christianity by Bart D. Ehrman

Reviewed by Karl Wenclas

ehrman book

–we need to make a special effort not to think that somehow monotheistic faiths are inherently “superior” and that the movement away from paganism is somehow “progress.” It is not progress. It is not regress either. I am not making any evaluative judgment or asking whether one religious system is better than another and closer to some ultimate truth.

No judgments? Why would someone then pay twenty-eight dollars list price for the book? The subtitle says, “How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World.” Does the book answer the “how”?

THE TRIUMPH OF CHRISTIANITY concludes that, yes, the religion did triumph– but is unwilling to say much beyond that. According to his thorough research (Bart Ehrman is a much-lauded historian; he’s published many books), the obscure sect– begun in his words by “twenty or so illiterate day laborers”– triumphed over hundreds of other cults and sects, and the mighty Roman Empire itself, by using a strategy similar to that of Avon and Amway. Yep folks, that’s it. Have a few friends over while you work your job. Tell them about this neat idea you found out about. And they’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell. . . .

Well, maybe. Or not.

The chief question the book raised for me is why Bart D. Ehrman hedges his bets. A severe avoidance of risk. A Simon & Schuster marketing person must have come up with the hyperbolic subtitle. My question is how intently a Simon & Schuster editor was looking over Ehrman’s shoulder tamping the emotion down. “Can’t offend anybody, you know. Not even pagans. They might be a vocal interest group– they have a good turnout on Halloween, anyway. All those werewolf movies! Nope. Too risky. Be careful.”

I was hoping for more. Ehrman scarcely mentions the Resurrection. Might that have been important? Transformative?

The Gospels? Did their words, depictions, narrative, drama, light a fire under people? Hardly touched on.

resurrection of Lazarus by leon bonnat(“Resurrection of Lazarus” by Leon Bonnat.)

Missing for the most part is the element of fanatical belief.

As for himself, Bart Ehrman indicates he kinda once believed, but now he kinda really doesn’t. But he can’t be sure.

Why does this matter to me?

I have an interest in cultural movements. (My focus has been on arts movements.) I’ve studied them assiduously, looking for clues. I can testify from experience they’re not sustained by the timid, the weak willed. By hobbyists or dabblers. They can be put through only by fearless 100% committed balls-to-the-wall individuals willing to face anything in pursuit of their cause. Anything— from prison to lions to upside-down crucifixion. Such movements require irrational passion– passion nowhere to be found in the careful pages of this book.

crucifixion of peter lorenzo veneziano(“The Crucifixion of Peter” by Lorenzo Veneziano.)

Like most other things in today’s culture, Bart D. Ehrman’s Triumph of Christianity is thin gruel.
****

The-Resurrection_Ricci_Sebastiano_wikimedia-commons(“Resurrection” by Sebastiano Ricci.)

Advertisements

Go-Go Day by Elizabeth Sims

Reviewed by New Pop Lit

go go day

Regina knew perfectly well what Barb and everybody else thought of her. She was a Seybold. Her brothers and sisters, all way older, were gone from the house except Earl, the third oldest, who had been and come back from Afghanistan and was having a hard time getting interested in working. The Seybolds lived in the shabbiest double-wide in Dustin Point, Michigan. You could almost smell the cigarette smoke and dirty feet from the street.
****

ANYONE assessing America’s best short story writers needs to include Elizabeth Sims in their survey.

GO-GO DAY presents four stories– only four, but every one, in different ways, is terrific. They’re sustained by hidden wit and a large underpinning of humanity.

The four tales:

“Dixon Amiss”:  Two one-armed men show up at a man’s door one Saturday morning, ostensibly to look at an old-fashioned printing press, bringing with them much tension.

“The Cashmere Club”:  Two high school girls discuss shoplifting a cashmere sweater in order for one of them to join an exclusive school club.

The best story in the collection,  “The Cashmere Club” is also one of the best stories you’ll read this year, or any year. Like the other three tales, the narrative keeps the reader off balance at the same time it achieves– beyond the complications of plot– surprising understanding and depth. Ultimately, a sense of context about the dilemmas of time and life

“West Forkton Days”:  A young man with expansive dreams arrives back in his Indiana home town from Los Angeles for the funeral of his father.

Hale knew that hardly anybody who wanted to succeed in the film business actually did. Everybody he met in LA told him over and over how hard it was to make it, what a bastard of a market it was to crack. And yet everybody was trying like a maniac to be the one.

This story could be called wise but it’s also hilarious. Hale Hobson is all of us– a striver, a dreamer, but a little bit lazy and more than a bit hapless

“Go-Go Day”:  The title story is about an elderly home owner asked by her city to clean up the swimming pool in her yard, which hasn’t been touched in years. Memories and complications ensue. Catch the double meaning of the phrase “We’re Going Places!” evident at the end

These are four excellent stories which demonstrate that the short story can be readable and engaging, yet also contain wisdom and convey meaning about what it’s like to be a human being in this crazy world. Which is what literature is really about.
*******

Find out how to read Go-Go Day here.

E Sims PS head shot BW

(Photo of Elizabeth Sims.)

1987 and Other Stories by Vladimir Kozlov

Reviewed by New Pop Lit

1987_Cover_V2-page-001

Igor died at the end of the ninth grade in May. He was drinking wine on the bank of the river, then he went swimming and drowned.

Ten tough stories from Russian author Vladimir Kozlov which are distinctly unromantic. Most are set during perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet Union, examining the lives of those coming of age in that system. Incidents include a man picking up a woman on a bus, a boy falling off a roof, punks celebrating Hitler’s birthday; protests and police; classrooms, liaisons, rebellions, fights– a lot of them– and unemotional, often awkward dates. To say this is a world without illusion is an understatement. There are enough glimpses of now to believe things in Russia since then have not greatly changed.

Lenka’s father was an alcoholic and used to be a math teacher. People said he sobered up and fell off the wagon a bunch of times, and that he was fired from his regular job because of it. Now he was working as the school’s security guard at night.

But he also used to be a poet, and ten years ago or maybe longer, his poetry always used to get published in the city newspaper. Lenka hated her parents and they hated her.

The two best stories in the collection are the title story, “1987”– about the arrival of punk music and punk attitudes into a Soviet town– and “Olya.”

I walked on further to Victory Square. I went into the Dawn Bookstore, in the five-story building next to the trolley bus stop. Olya was sitting behind the counter, reading a book wrapped in a newspaper dust jacket. She looked up at me and said, “Hi.”

“Hi,” I answered. “You work here?”

“Looks like it, doesn’t it?” she said.

“Olya” is a pessimistic tale about a young woman with much promise, then with no promise. An analogy to the society. The character is never described, but we can see her, the expression on her face, based on her words and her life. Fallen potential– the story opens with the narrator thinking he glimpsed her twenty-five years later, but he isn’t sure.

The theme of these stories is the absence of dreams– the impossibility of dreams.

“Worker’s is a neighborhood for lame-o proletarians and peasants. The worst part is, the teachers that work at that school get to be the same way after a while. I know they all used to talk about me. But I don’t give a shit.”

Another very good story is “The Major,” which we’re privileged to present as our current fiction feature, for the first time anywhere in English, as translated by Andrea Gregovich.
****

After I read the stories, I went with my contributing editor KMC to a small diner in a depressed community downriver of Detroit. Three high school students, two boys and a girl, lounged in one of the booths. Tough kids. I realized that Kozlov’s stories reminded me of downriver Detroit. The same sense of being trapped in a box; same gray attitude and acceptance of life.

Vladimir Kozlov’s stories are unflinchingly real.
****

Right now you can purchase this collection as an e-book for only five dollars, at Fiction Advocate, here. Buy it and keep up with the authentic literary world.

Vladimir-Kozlov

(Photo of Vladimir Kozlov.)

 

Howls From The Underground

Reviewed by New Pop Lit

howls from

IS the literary underground on the rebound? The new anthology from Screamin’ Skull Press suggests the answer to that question is YES!

Screamin’ Skull is a very cool literary project run by one of the coolest couples in all the lit world, Tony and Nicole Nesca (both whom we’ve reviewed previously). Their wonderful words bookend this collection and are in themselves highlights.

HOWEVER, the big surprise is a host of other indie word talents included as well.
****

Talents such as Ali Kinteh, who contributes two superb essays.

The world is filled with whippets laden by pubertal and piteous interests and I can ill afford to fritter away my time when I have so little of it left. I am only interested in what is equitable and authentic.

-from “The Agony and Ecstasy of Penmanship”
****

Or Laura Kerr, an artist-poet who’s able to turn words into a type of visual artistic display.

I am split screen greens and
scarlet line rockets
upright on my reinforced skyscraper legs
lifting my battery-box torso arched against
election guns and a phosphorescent socket

-from “In The End”
****

C.S. Fuqua has 14 poems in the collection, and also designed the cover.

eyes avoiding eyes,
smiles fleeting, dismissing,
attention centered on phones connected
to the disconnected media of society,
platforms from which platitudes and concern
suicide dive into oblivion.

-from “At the MRI”
****

Definitely among the highlights are three slice-of-life short stories by Chrissi Sepe overflowing with gritty reality combined with wistful melancholy and a dab of cynicism– with humor in the last one about a strange European couple, and cockroaches, and. . . .

sepe two - Edited(Chrissi Sepe.)

They’re stories which give the same feeling as listening to New York City-style punk rock songs. They show the reader life.
****

With his poetry, Scott Laudati gives some of the same feeling.

the city is finally yours.
just a faraway hum of an ambulance.
no taxi horns.

-from “Leave Me Alone”
****

Stephen Moran offers two striking short stories.

“Transitory” is a written-out nightmare. The kind of paranoid dream each of us has on occasion. A sense of disconnectedness and alienation.

“A Parable” has a double theme.

First, the toxicity of males in this society which must be restrained.

Second, a subconscious unspoken unheard complaint at the restraint.

It’s another example of words becoming a painting in which the viewer sees various things– depending on the viewer, of course.
****

G.H. Neale is a fiction writer who pushes at the outside envelope of what can be done with language.

“Carlo, don’t cuss, you should think of your body, hun. You should treasure your body,” hypocritically interjected the beefy American’s double-fatted wife, whose spaghetti-strapped crop top was salami-slicing deeply into her own fleshy chorizo heftiness of unctuous and glutenous lard.”

-from “En La Plaza Mayor”

(Reading this story started me thinking how close writers are to breaking through a literary sound barrier– using words in newly-creative ways, as G.H. Neale uses them, one part of that.)
****

I wish I had the space to quote more from this collection. From Ted Prokash, Thom Young, and the Nescas themselves.

I wish I had the words to convey the experience of opening the book and finding all these variegated pieces together, reflecting on one another like a many-sided cubist three-dimensional painting.

I wish I could more fully express the importance of underground writers creating outside the mental conformity of boxes of one-size-fits-all programs and artistic-dictatorship conglomerates.

These are stimulating reads from a variety of authentically underground talents– in spirit and fact. They present literary punk– literary jazz– with all manner of heartfelt-and-honest notes in between. Literary music. Present and future writing.
****

Check out Screamin’ Skull Press here.

tony & nicole nesca

(Photos of Tony and Nicole Nesca.)

 

The Insatiables by Brittany Terwilliger

Reviewed by New Pop Lit.

Insatiables_front cover

Brittany Terwilliger’s new novel The Insatiables (Amberjack Publishing) is as highly amusing– often hilarious– as its rave reviews have advertised. The surprise is that it’s also one of the best inside looks at the madness of contemporary corporate capitalism as you’re likely to find.

–Generation 3 came of age in a world that created more information in a week than humanity had created in its first two hundred millennia. Reputations could be made and broken at the speed of a Tweet. Socialization went digital, and someone was always watching. The founding work ethic had been preserved, but it was no longer a matter of working from nine to five and going home. The phones stayed on. And as the world spun faster, so did everyone’s need for escape.

THE PLOT: The curiously-named Halley Faust is ready to sell her soul for the opportunity to rise to the upper echelons of Findlay Global Manufacturing. The immediate means to that end is a trip to France to help prepare the launch of Findlay’s mysterious new product– upon which Findlay Global Manufacturing has risked everything.

WILL Halley succeed in her quest– and at the same time find love with a charismatic French business client?

Rousseau and I talked and talked, about travel and getting out of Dayton, about family, and Findlay lore. Eventually, we walked out to the terrace, and he sat next to me on a padded bench. The night started to shimmer, and in a disappearing cloud of spicy cigar smoke I tilted my head back and looked at the stars.

(Brittany Terwilliger writes very well– sometimes with a wry sense of humor standing directly off stage.)

The success of the novel depends upon two factors.

-The atmospheric French setting and unique customs (even little things such as grocery shopping) which Terwilliger is a master at capturing.

-The often-ingenuous, occasionally-crafty personality of Halley Faust, who we come to know well. Halley is a kind of everyperson with whom the reader can’t help but identify. Her dreams and failings are ours. As the story progresses, Halley gains something akin to wisdom– or at least, insight about our crazy society.

How much lovelier life must have been before phones and email. Before computers and electricity. Before humans decided it was necessary to fabricate a whole universe then spend their lives maintaining the fabrication.

Witty and smart; romantic, informative, and fun, The Insatiables is for everyone.
****

You can order The Insatiables here.

Brittany-014

(Photo of Brittany Terwilliger.)

This isn’t one of the stories I remember by Robin Wyatt Dunn

Reviewed by New Pop Lit

dunn book

I had thought I could still make this a story of the revolution, and I do want to. You can see our society has crumbled; made all kinds of horrendous mistakes. Turned us into almost-robots, and all sorts of other things. The shadow of the real …

AS A WRITER Robin Dunn gets away with more than he should.

His ideas are amazingly complex and his imagination is off the charts. He confines himself to no set world or existence– you’re never sure if he’s writing about this dimension or another; about futuristic London or today’s Los Angeles. Or both, at once.

London is the Big Smoke and here in my apartment that is finally its clearest and most literal manifestation, its ultimate meaning: thousands of megatons of pulverized scrap, rubber wood, paper, plastic, silicon, concrete and glass, churning into the sky. In black waves.

(Something devastating has taken place. Or is taking place.)

Where are we? What are our bearings?

My dream self is in an office, working on a poem. Outside, in fantastically bright yellow sunlight, skimpy trees shake in the wind, and brightly polished autos blind me through the window.

The feeling conveyed when reading the Dunn novel is akin to awakening from a dream– half your head in this world, the other in some magical land you just left.

Robin Dunn creates these effects with clarity and beauty.

I’m not precisely sure what genre this novel properly belongs in. Science fiction?

Even if I am a mad scientist, I am still a scientist. I am doing it for you. So that you will know what I have found.

Doesn’t seem technical enough.

Cutting-edge science fiction. Next-level thinking.

Literary? Experimental? Avant-garde?

And what of the forgotten stories? The palimpsests and the echoes encoded into a million tales, each of our words, infinite? Who owns them?

Perhaps Dunn is chiefly a poet.

What’s This isn’t one of the stories I remember about? Part of the magic of reading it is figuring that out.

Is their being something which will retain some marker in the paste of spacetime to insist that its unity and direction, its values and castles and eons– all of it– are true and worthwhile, even inevitable?

Underlining all is commentary, on Dunn’s fictional world, and ours.

While This isn’t is not a novel for everybody, if you’re bored with the usual– if you desire to take your head to unusual places, without dropping acid, and sample one of the more unusually talented writers on this planet– then it’s worth a look.
****

Information on Robin Wyatt Dunn’s books is available here.

Audio of Robin Dunn reading from this book can be heard here.

mammoth2

(Photo of Robin Dunn.)

Police Stories by Don Waitt

Reviewed by New Pop Lit

Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 11.48.13 AM

“I could see the younger brother flat on his back on the operating table. I could see the blood pumping out of his chest, straight up into the air, just like those little flat water fountains that kids drink out of at the park.”

Fiction or memoir?

Regardless, this is reality, written in straightforward prose that hits you between the eyes like a two-by-four. Five not-always-politically-correct tales of a police beat reporter taken from life.

POLICE STORIES contains short pieces, concise, written with total clarity– too much clarity, like the police photos Don Waitt describes in the strongest of the five stories.

“Bam, bam, bam, those photos kept cycling through my head, always in sequence, starting with the embodiment of goodness and purity and ending with vivid photographic proof that evil had taken on a new definition for me, that my understanding of true evil had, in just a few brief seconds, made a horrifying leap from assumption to reality.”

Depictions of criminal evil, mixed with insight and humor.  Veteran detectives investigating the underside of life, and yes, in this tough world which tough men police, those men– flawed, calloused, cynical– are the good guys.

Five stories. All strong, containing excellent writing.

A free copy of Police Stories can be obtained simply by emailing Don’s daughter Devyn Waitt.

Don Waitt’s first book, Leaving Early, is available thru Amazon here.

IMG_6378

(Photo of Don Waitt.)