Thursday, March 04, 2021

Consummately Plenty and More in SOULJOURNER, the new ‘Karmic crime’ novel


Consummately Plenty and More in SOULJOURNER, the new ‘Karmic crime’ novel

by Paul Steven Stone

article by Michael T. Steffen, Correspondent for Off the Shelf

Tucked in with a good deal of intimations of immortality, in a suggestively boundless discourse on Eastern philosophy, underscored by a belief in reincarnation, with many references to the teachings of Bapucharya, the actual narrative of Paul Steven Stone’s new novel, SOULJOURNER (ISBN: 978-1-912526-4-9, Fahrenheit Press) by contrast beds the loftiness of the protagonist David Rockwood Worthington’s consciousness in the halting mundanity of his current life circumstances, serving a life sentence in a federal prison, haunted by the memories of three failed marriages—the last by murder, hence the prison.

The scope of the novel, in these terms, between the summits of cosmic wisdom and the abysses of human betrayal and depravity, brings up comparison with literary greats like Dante. Not that Stone would lay claims to such an aspiration, nor would the lack of a clearly intentional design in the novel. Importantly, nevertheless, SOULJOURNER does propose and relate a powerful belief in the stakes and eternity of our spiritual lives, with the twist, heralded by the book’s epigraph from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin—

We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings

on a human journey.

In a sense, it’s not the discerning fortitude of the protagonist that sugars David Worthington to the reader’s taste, but his vulnerability, which we in our times uphold as definitively human, in the long vein of the modern and post-modern antihero. It has the psychological leverage of turning the same criminal-heads-side coin to its tails-side of victim, with the incidents of Worthington’s unstable mental state due to blackouts ensuing the death of his daughter, Maggie, from his first marriage, to the dazed recollection of being himself strangled in bed by Anna, his third wife, and so acting in self-defense strangling her.

Along with the labyrinthine narrative threads are woven psychic pressures from the “other world” by David’s rather sensible if bothersome alter-ego, Sam the Muse, and from the diabolical Karma of his deceased second wife Roza Rostova. Add in numerous bizarre occurrences, including an out-of-body experience in an elevator, an in-prison IRS audit, visits with an endeared prison physical therapist, an inimical prison psychologist (who inserts session notes into and is ultimately responsible for curating Worthington’s narrative after having the prisoner’s pc taken away), and we have everything and more, including stashed fortunes and dustings of political and geopolitical furniture, to keep the highly versatile Internet-age reader busy. That, “busy,” with “wide-ranging” and “unpredictable” characterize the novel and set it on those edges likely to lose or keep readers, between credence and curiosity.

The great virtues of SOULJOURNER lay in how Stone manages the complexity of his enterprise sentence by sentence simply with deft and vivid writing, as in the description of Roza’s ridicule: “the cackle would always shrink and wither behind her fingers into a shrill hyena’s laugh that would quickly vaporize.” (p.28)

The author is able, moreover, as already pointed out, to reveal the higher inner spheres of the sensitive reader’s consideration. Stone sets forth didactic intentions, a classical primary function of writing which has been largely eschewed and difficult to approach plausibly in “creative” fiction since perhaps Dickens. The author’s self-proclaimed nonce one-sentence first chapter hints at this didactic intention, conferring the enlightening labor to the reader, as a reader of one’s own life in the semiotics of a former existence:


This is a warning from the previous incarnation of your soul.

It must be said there is an equal effort on behalf of the author to entertain us as we go along, from glimpses of the ordinary, sharing a bucket of chicken wings, to awakening sensible insights: “the power of intention has surprising potential to shape reality.” (p.77) This is no small pronouncement in our age of vast communications—intentions—with their scarce, tip-of-the-iceberg “reality” which we lack and so dread and crave. That is, we are prone to the credulity of our easily expressed intentions.

Far from standing us on firm psychological ground, SOULJOURNER invites us to the difficulty of acceptance in realms high and low at the brink of our considerations, to both expel and manifest our deepest fears, those beyond our control, residing in higher powers and our own strained and reactive subconscious. At the same time, toeing down to earth, in the disappointing carnality of lovers and lawyers and mobsters, the novel stiff-arms any pretention at riding one’s ideals beyond the time’s determinations and data. It has aptly been described as “light-hearted, weird and charming” in its complexity, and proves consummately to fulfill a good book’s task of keeping the pages turning in its reader’s hands.

****** author Paul Steven Stone is a member of the Somerville Bagel Bards

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Why I Never Worked at Hustler By B. Lynne Zika


Photo by Ben Dufeck

Why I Never Worked at Hustler

By B. Lynne Zika

How I came to interview with Hustler is a circuitous tale involving the requisite heartache of extramarital affairs, replacement lovers, overdue rent, a history with Playgirl, and a stint in public relations. The replacement lover (she replaced me) was an Art Dept. bigwig at the magazine and set up an interview for me. It was my consolation prize.

One Tuesday in March I drove myself to a glitzy office in Century City, California. Larry had been shot by then, and Althea was running the show. A twenty-something, good-looking fellow fetched me from the reception area and led me to the throne room. An areca palm waved from the eastern corner directly opposite the usual walnut credenza crowned with an amber liquid in cut crystal. Althea looked up from whatever papers she was absorbed in and indicated I should sit. That command was delivered with an imperious thrust of an almost-dimpled chin. The good-looking minion took his place behind her right shoulder. Rah.

My interview consisted of the usual questions and answers. Nothing remarkable. Except...

Althea used every opportunity to demean and castrate her assistant. Men in power have been diminishing women for centuries. Althea was turning the tide. Each time she grabbed the fellow’s figurative <ahem>, he tensed, then oh-so-slightly ducked his head. She commanded; he complied.

Althea asked me about my position at Playgirl. I had been Photo Editor. Yes, I had enjoyed it. Magazines, like newspapers, have a put-to-bed moment soon followed by an actual product, something you can pick up, read, keep in your professional hope chest (portfolio). They're tactilely gratifying.

The queen scanned, queried, whacked her assistant, queried more, and the interview was over. They'd be in touch. The minion, a kindly fellow when safely out of her range, escorted me out.

It can be a long fret between interview and result. Hustler was surprisingly gentle on me. The minion called me the next day.

Althea wanted to know if I would come on board as their Director of Public Relations. I'd been in PR before, but I knew the real reason she offered me the job.

During my interview, Art Dept. had brought in a layout for her approval. An enormously busted blonde stretched, squatted, hunched, pooched, and splayed. Althea looked it over, said, "No, we need more pink," glanced up at me to gauge my reaction, and handed the layout back.

I hadn't flinched. My mother's training in Act as if Everything Is Fine held me in good stead in the world of public anything. Althea liked my staunchness. Apparently she believed I could be unflappable for Hustler.

I remembered the matter-of-fact bludgeoning of her male assistant. I remembered something else. Althea sat at her executive desk in short sleeves. Midway between her wrist and inner elbow was a tidy, geometrically designed track mark. There was a center line with straight tree limbs branching off in regular formation. At the end of each branch was a dot, the pop mark. Althea was a junky, with enough money at her disposal to satisfy a long-term habit.

Did I want to work for a rich, castrating junky who ran a porno magazine? I turned down the offer.

At the other end of the phone the minion sputtered. "But she said you could name your salary." I thanked him, declined, and got off the phone.

The next day he called again. Althea wanted to make certain I understood that money was no object. A private office and executive privileges went without saying. I thanked him and declined again.

It was clear by his silence that I'd astonished him. He didn't know what to say. Maybe he was anticipating his exchange with Althea when he had to go back and tell her he'd been unsuccessful with me. He finally voiced a baffled "Okay" and said good-bye.

Another art director friend—Baily—told me when he heard the tale that I'd made a huge mistake. His counsel: "Never say no to opportunity."

Time weighed in on the issue. Baily didn't say no to drugs and alcohol and died. Althea had enough money to say yes to all the smack she wanted. She died.

Forty-plus years later I can look back on it. Some opportunities are opportunities for disaster. I don't regret that I never worked at Hustler magazine.