Posted in Poetry, Prose, Published Piece

From Reaching Beyond the Saguaros: “Layton, Utah”

Layton, Utah

____

Being from Northern Utah: On a quick drive westward from Utah’s capitol, through beige desert ranges, we stopped at the Bonneville Salt Flats on the way to a little gambling town. (Possibly for my last time in a long time.) When the wind picked up, we could taste a desert sea blowing through the peaks, and almost see where the earth curves amongst rippling refractions off asphalt and salt. Images to imprint.

The Wasatch, Uintah, and Oquirrh surrounding Home have just been my whole life. Always to the east. Their millions of years of memory seen through my infinitesimal birthdays.

“You’ll miss the mountains,” my sister said. “Their absence is an ache.”

Summer weekends up the Ogden, Farmington, Little, and Big Cottonwood Canyons to find the evergreen amongst golden brush turned into tinderboxes. To visit an old saloon, where they put brats on top of hamburgers and see where people have stapled signed dollar bills to the walls and ceiling. And there are initials everywhere of lovers, families, and friends. You can find my graffiti at the Shooting Star in the ladies room.

I’ll miss memories the most.

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©Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com, 2015-2017. “Layton, Utah” was first published in “Reaching Beyond the Saguaros” Serving House Books, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Header image was taken with a Samsung phone by Tami Forbes in May 2017. Image 2 were taken with an iPhone 6 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in September 2016.

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Posted in Poetry, Published Piece

The Pearl Farm

Farm

“The Pearl Farm” was published in Issue 7 of the Yellow Chair Review.

©Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com, 2015-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Image taken with iPhone 5 at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ in August 2015 by Ginger Lee Thomason

Posted in Academic, Book Review, Close Reading

Honesty in the Unreliable Narrator of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky

The writer must be the authority of the story, whether the characters are the same is an entirely different matter. Characters, and narrators, like Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower may have streaks of unreliability for several reasons. Stephen Chbosky’s protagonist, Charlie being an introverted teenager who has trouble socializing is one. That he is writing letters to an anonymous person (maybe to the reader, maybe not) is another. Drug use and shades of mental illness also unravel some of his veracity throughout the book. But in the midst of the potential compromises of Charlie’s authority in telling his tale is unfettered honesty, which may negate the unreliability of this unreliable narrator. It is in his bluntness, born of his past and his personality, which allows the reader to understand and perhaps empathize with this extraordinary character and the way he tells his story.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel, with the letters addressed as “Dear friend.” In the first letter that Charlie writes, he admits to what many boys are told not to admit to—crying. Throughout the novel “friend” is never revealed, but in closing the first letter Charilie says “I don’t know why I wrote a lot of this down for you…The reason I wrote this letter is because I start high school tomorrow and I am really afraid of going” (6).

The next several letters detail his difficulty in adjusting to high school, again with blunt honesty, and how his two favorite classes are English and shop. The latter because of a student named Patrick who sometimes goes by the nickname “Nothing.” When recalling Patrick’s dealing with people who teased him, Charlie says to the anonymous recipient of his letters “I think I will stop putting quotation marks around Nothing’s name because it is annoying and disrupting my flow” (13). In the early pages of The Perks of Being a Wallflower Charlie is establishing his authority, despite the seeds of the unreliable narrator starting to show. His honesty is assured in his letters by their unfiltered content and he is making confident decisions about how he relays information to “friend” and readers.

After a football game and the homecoming dance, Charlie forges a strong friendship with two seniors, Patrick and Patrick’s stepsister, Sam. At one point in the beginning of their friendship Charlie relates the story of Patrick’s hidden relationship with one of the school football players. “They had sex for the first time that night. I don’t want to go into detail about it because it’s pretty private stuff, but I will say that Brad assumed the role of the girl…When they were finished, Brad started to cry…” (44) That Charlie would consider Patrick’s feelings in regarding what truths he reveals in his letters might add a “plus” to the column that Charlie is in fact a reliable narrator. There is not deception involved in the relaying of this confidence between friends, either between Charlie and Patrick or between Charlie and “Dear friend”/the reader. In the end though his honesty means more that Charlie is the authority of his story, not a reliable narrator.

Misdirection and mistruths are planted throughout the story as per the usual tropes of an unreliable narrator. Most of these occur when Charlie is under the influence of drugs and alcohol, when he has fallen out with his friends, or when he is looking back on memories of his Aunt Helen. But still Charlie does not dial back; he continues to draft his letters as uncensored as he can. Midway through the school year Charlie writes a letter while in the midst of a bad LSD trip. In the next letter to “friend” he says, “To tell you the truth, I don’t really remember much of it…(I) walked down the hill past the trees to the post office because I knew that if I didn’t put it in a mailbox that I couldn’t get it back from, I would never mail the letter” (98).

The main character’s penchant for honesty, whether intentionally or as a result of his introverted nature that makes him seem obtuse in some social situations, is brought to a peak shortly after his LSD experience. “Patrick gave me a dare…‘Kiss the prettiest girl in the room…’ That’s when I chose to be honest…I knelt down in front of Sam and kissed her” instead of the girl he was dating (135). Here the reader can see Charlie’s declaration of honesty is not only for the recipient of his letters, but also with himself.

In the last “Dear friend” in The Perks of Being a Wallflower Charlie’s current location may set in a reader’s mind about the state of his reliability as a narrator. Still, there is only an honest account of the truth so far as he can tell us. “…They brought me to the hospital where I stayed when I was seven after my aunt Helen died” (208) If the reader is paying close attention, Charlie repeats a grammatical choice as he did when he decided to drop the quotation marks from Patrick’s Nothing nickname. “…Everything I had dreamt about my aunt Helen was true…I realized that it happened every Saturday when we would watch television” (209). His molester no longer has the right to a proper title. The reader knows through this choice that he is telling the truth, revoking any unreliability in his letters.

There are many reasons to call Charlie an unreliable narrator. He fits many of the typical traits found in other stories, but unlike in the others he is dedicated to telling both “friend” and the reader what happened in his freshman year. Chbosky reaffirms through the intimacy of these letters, and this particular character trait of a socially awkward introvert, that one can rely on Charlie’s authority to tell his story.

 

 

Works Cited

Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Gallery Books. 1999. Print.

 

©Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com, 2015-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Academic, Book Review, Close Reading

Invented Words in “A Game of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin


“Until tonight. Something was different tonight.”

On the second page of this brick of a fantasy novel, George R.R. Martin starts the setting for the lands of Westeros in A Game of Thrones. The book opens on someone who reader soon learns is a person of little consequence. Nonetheless he starts the initiation into this world. At the end of the prologue, the reader learns of Stark family of the North in the first chapter and a vast cast of other characters in the pages beyond.

The author has stated in several interviews and on his blog that he is not a linguist like J.R.R. Tolkien (“Klaatu…”). Martin’s modifications to the English language, or the “Common Tongue” as it is called in the novel, are very subtle. He has seemingly invented very few words and he has breathed new life into words that have fallen out of regular linguistic use.

Proper nouns are peppered through the first few pages in the first chapter of Bran Stark’s third person point of view. He tells the reader of his father’s duty to execute a deserter of the Night’s Watch, the man in the prologue. A great sword is given to Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark, and Ned performs his duty in the name of King Robert, relaying the long royal title full of proper nouns. The sword, called Ice is “spell-forged and dark as smoke…nothing held an edge like Valyrian steel” (AGOT 14). In a few words Martin has created a new word and backed it up with power and arcane feeling.

Through dialogue and point of view, and this new word “Valyrian,” the readers have entered a world that is not their own. Martin doesn’t overwhelm the reader with words of many apostrophes and hyphens. In fact, he does not even use italics to denote that “Valryian” is a foreign word. It’s not to Bran, his father, brothers, or anyone else in the chapter, and now, the reader.

Across the Narrow Sea in Essos, Martin begins Daenerys “Dany” Targaryen’s part of the story. Dany’s family once ruled the continent Westeros. After her brother Viserys tells her she is to be wedded to Khal Drogo, she recounts the war in her memory. She also gives the reader the names of places like Braavos, Myr, Volantis, and Lys. Places discernibly far from her homeland shared by Bran Stark in a previous chapter. Until this point most of what Dany reveals is familiar to her, as Valyrian was familiar to Bran. When she hears her brother and their benefactor, Illyrio, talking about Khal Drogo words like “khalasar” are singled out for their unfamiliarity in italics (34). Both the reader and Dany denote that “khal” is the ruler of a “khalasar,” which is the tribal structure of the horse riding Dothraki people.

While Viserys, and Illyrio, await Khal Drogo’s arrival for Dany, they also speak of Ser Jorah Mormont (36.) The word “ser” is unknown, out of context, to the reader and Martin, via Dany, clarifies this: “The last name caught Daenerys. ‘A knight?’” The author has transformed the well-known, but seldom presently used, title of knights from “sir” to “ser.” This adds a sense that the Common Tongue of the novel, is perhaps, as distinct from the English language as Dothraki is.

In many fantasy novels, an invented world isn’t complete without an invented religion, or even several religions. The Dothraki customs, which Daenerys marries into, involve worshiping a horse god. There is also mention of a red god in Essos. In Westeros, the Starks and others in the North follow the Old Gods. The Old Gods eventually gave way to the Faith of the Seven.“The ringing went on and on, and after a while they heard other bells answering from the Great Sept of Baelor. The sound rumbled across the city like thunder, warning of the storm to come.” (544)

The Faith has clerics called setpons and setpas, and churches are called septs. Here Martin has taken the Latin word for seven and given it to his Westerosi religion. In the way that the Trinity is synonymous with the Christian God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the Seven are the personifications of the Gods of the Faith.

In the epic hundreds of pages of A Game of Thrones the Common Tongue presented to readers in American English, some of the words are left without translation. The reader comes to know that “khal” is equivalent to a “chief.” Martin could have called it the “Great Temple of Baelor,” but the occasional use of invented and altered words enriches his volumes. A writer need not be a linguist of J.R.R. Tolkein’s caliber to breathe new life into words and craft amazing worlds for their readers.

 

Works Cited

Martin, George R. R. A Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam, 1996. Print.

Martin, George R.R. “Klaatu Barada Nicto…” Not a Blog. LiveJournal, 12 Apr. 2010. Web. 14 Sept. 2014. <http://grrm.livejournal.com/148593.html&gt;.

 

 

©Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com, 2015-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Academic, Book Review, Close Reading

The Memoir Within “Old-School Comfort Food: The Way I learned to Cook” by Alex Guarnaschelli

 

Upon a first thumbing through the pages of this glossy cookbook, the reader sees the typical recipes paired with photographs of succulent looking scallops or a cake with a slice removed to expose the alternate layers of chocolate frosting and yellow crumb. There are several pages that catch the eye that are styled like a journal or scrapbook. The author has transposed drawings of parsnips and notes about duck fat and livers into these pages. Old-School Comfort Food reveals itself to be, not just a cookbook, but also a memoir of how she came to love cooking and food with such fervor. Chef Alex Guarnaschelli uses her words and experiences to guide the reader as a friend on a culinary journey through these pages and in to the kitchen.

As hinted in the subtitle, The Way I Learned to Cook, the author starts her readers in her mother’s kitchen. As a child Guarnaschelli watched her mother, a cookbook author, whip up trusty classic recipes as well as inventing new ones. We are introduced to a memory that revolves around a cheese soufflé being brought into existence. It is served as soon as a pile of manuscripts are removed from the dining table.

“ ‘Al, I just got a great book proposal for a thousand-page book about garam masala. What do you think?’ ” (8). If the reader were a layperson when it comes to the names of exotic ingredients they might ask themselves “what is garam masala?” Yet, we are in Alex’s memories right now, and it doesn’t matter that the reader, or a child, knows what garam masala is. The reader is brought to the revelation of “old school,” or as it is described in oversized font “…sometimes the very things that started it all” (9).

The reader experiences the continued childlike wonder of cooking and food through the eyes of young Alex. She then takes the reader from the culinary encounters in her mother’s kitchen to those of high-end professional establishments in the US and Europe. Her journey is the reader’s as she uses present tense to describe things that started happening in New York City in the early 90’s. “I bop into the kitchen….and explain I am there to work for free– to stage. He (the head chef) looks up and gives me a once-over. ‘I’ll see you here tomorrow at 9 a.m. sharp’ ” (13).

When Guarnaschelli transitions from her memoir to recipes the tense transitions as well. The author goes from the present tense of honing her skills and palate into past tense and concrete gastronomic authority. She gives the reader a lesson in a well-stocked kitchen, emphasizing not just the pantry, “my motto: buy imperfect, buy what you love” (30) but also on tools “outside of the Knife Bag and on to the Kitchen Counter” (28).

The featured photography goes from old family photos to those familiar in most cookbooks. Recipes captured in perfection by the test chefs and food photographers. The journal/scrapbook style continues though with sidebars of information and images of handwritten notes. One sidebar, an “Old-School Tip” reminds the reader of a less than pleasant experience many have had with meatloaf. “Ever bite into a meatloaf and end up with a piece of undercooked onion (or garlic)….adding them to raw meatloaf sometimes results in steamed (read: tasteless) or even crunchy bits of vegetable…cooking them on their own first, the garlic and the onion meld into the meat” (105).

This cookbook is organized like many others organized chronologically through a meal: snacks and salads to the main dishes of meat, poultry and seafood. In the second to the last chapter she covers dessert. As dessert is the ending of meals, and many cookbooks, she writes:

“While I believe dessert can take many forms– big or small, simple or complex– it should always be something you absolutely crave…it should take me back to my childhood and bring up all kinds of taste memories” (217)

Old-School Comfort Food: The Way I learned to Cook embraces a multi-layered approach to cookbook writing. By using both memoir writing and food writing Alex Guarnaschelli is able to create a new experience of reading food. Then the reader can open up their pantry, take out the ingredients and tools they love to either recreate the recipes, or go “old-school” and return to their own taste memories and comfort food.

 

 

Works Cited

Guarnaschelli, Alex. Old-School Comfort Food: The Way I learned to Cook. New York     City: Clarkson Potter/Publishers. 2013. Print.

 

 

©Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com, 2015-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Poetry, Published Piece

Ode to Margarine

 

I have something to say—
And it’s only a little thing

But in the face of French cuisine,
corn on the cob, and toffee

And for ghee and for toast
I say: fuck you, margarine.

Why are you 99¢ a pound
while butter is $5?

 

Published in the March 2015 issue of Icarus Down Review.

©Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com, 2015-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Image taken with iPhone 5 in London, UK in January 2014 by Ginger Lee Thomason

Posted in Poetry

New Orleans After Work

 

The piano plays and drinks
With a trumpet horn broken heart and bad liver

And after many staggered shots of Bushmills
A scarred and barley-malted voice croons

In the tobacco-air and sex-hazed jazz club floor
Scarlet lips press to scruff cheek

When Matilda waltzed four sheets to the wind
In an invitation to the blues

Now step right up for a buck and small change
As the jitterbug boy watched the one that got away

 

 

*This is a found poem inspired by the song titles from Tom Waits’s 1976 album Small Change.

©Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com, 2015-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Image taken with iPhone 5 in London, UK in January 2014 by Ginger Lee Thomason