Background Reading for My Novel: “Last Summer” by Michael Thomas Ford

Last Summer

Earlier this year I read Changing Tides by Michael Thomas Ford which I found very enjoyable. I found out that he has written or co-authored a large number of books covering a variety of genres over a twenty year period and added a couple of them to my To Read list. Last Summer was the one that most intrigued me in part I think because it takes place in Provincetown.  I came out as a gay man while living in Boston oh so many years ago; since P-Town was an easy two-hour drive from Boston and also has a sizable gay population I often went there over a three-year period to relax, enjoy the sun and surf, and be a bit mischievous.

The story takes place from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Rather than focusing on just a few main characters, the reader is introduced to an ensemble of individuals who find themselves there for the summer. Some are long-time residents, some are people looking to simply relax and have a good time and some are there trying to escape their past. The story begins with Josh Felling who has left his apartment in Boston after finding out his long-time boyfriend has been sleeping with someone from his gym. He goes to Provincetown with the notion of having a long weekend by himself to sort out his feelings and winds up spending the summer there. Toby Evans is a somewhat naive seventeen year-old who has traveled by bus from Missouri to escape the condemnation of his parents for being gay. Emmeline also came here to escape parental rejection many years earlier. He/she performs in a drag show and is working to save enough money to have a sex change operation. Jackie has lived in town for 20 years, owns a popular restaurant/bar/nightclub and has recently ended a relationship with her long-time partner Karla. She is also about to turn forty and questioning where her life is headed. Reilly Brennan comes from a family that has lived in P-town for generations. He and his fiancée will soon be getting married but he finds his fantasies are disturbingly about members of his same sex. Ty Rusk is one of the hottest new stars in Hollywood and is fantasized as husband material by millions of adoring fans. What they don’t know is that he is a long-term relationship with his producer, Reid Truman. Devin Lowens is a local who has aspirations of making it big-time in New York or Hollywood but has begrudgingly moved back from NYC into her family’s home. She has an enormous student loan to pay off and feels bitterly beaten and defeated by having to live with her parents again. Marly Prentis is the successful director of the Arts House, married and with one child, who is now finding her life dull and hoping to find something or someone to re-energize it.

It is these characters and others who populate this well-written book. The story is told from the third person POV. Each chapter is brief, typically ten pages or less, and each chapter changes its focus from one of these characters to another. Ford executes this process very skillfully; in the hands of someone else the shifting emphasis of character might be confusing but I found it flowed very smoothly. The book in some ways reminded me of two other works, one a movie, the other another novel. The movie I have in mind is the 2004 award-winning Crash, the book or more correctly books of which this reminds me is the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin. The analogy is that all of these have an ensemble cast, not merely two or three main characters, and their lives are on a collision course with one another.

While I enjoyed Ford’s 2007 work Changing Tides, I feel this earlier work is superior. Last Summer won the Lambda Literary Award in 2004 for Best Romance Novel. If I had to find one fault with the book I would say that it has a little bit too much of a happily ever after ending. I think that’s a pretty minor criticism though. Ford wrote this book to entertain and he does a top-notch job at that. The story moves quickly and the characters are well-developed and believable. I’m surprised the story has not been adapted for either the big or small screen although maybe even in 2013 it has too much of a gay theme to make that happen. If they ever did do it though Joseph Gordon-Levitt would be perfect-casting for the role of Josh.

Even though I read the book right before Christmas, I would say put this on your summer reading list, preferably reading it on the beach or on a chaise lounge sipping one of those silly summer drinks with an umbrella in it.

Favorite Books That I Read in 2013

I’ve had the good fortune to have read some incredible books these past twelve months. Earlier this week I posted a rant here about the books that appear on a goodreads thread titled Best Books Ever, a list to which I took strong exception. So for the record the works I mention below are the ones I read this past year that I most enjoyed and which I believe have helped to make me a better writer; each of them I found truly outstanding. I will not attempt to rank these; each was superb in its own special way. Thus they are arranged in alphabetical order by title. These authors have all truly inspired me as I work to complete and get published my own first novel. I have also included my Honorable Mention List. A number of the books on both lists were the author’s first published work, wonderful encouragement for those of us who hope to see our own first book in print. The date following the author’s name is where you will find a more detailed review of each of these works in the Archive section to the right. Happy Holiday Reading!

A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham: (May 2013) One of my new favorite authors, the story centers around the relationship between two people who meet as young boys, experiment sexually with each other, move apart and reconnect later in life. Beautiful, heartwarming, funny and sad. This book preceded his Pulitzer Prize winner, The Hours.

Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman: (Feb. 2013) Set in the Italian Riviera and viewed from the perspective of someone looking back on events that happened in the distant past. Aciman creates an erotic energy between two young men that is not consummated until late in the book. Rarely have I ever seen such a beautiful mastery of language and images. I was in complete awe by the time I finished this brilliant literary novel.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: (Feb. 2013) The tragic, heart-breaking story of doomed love set in 1950’s Paris. One of the great breakthroughs of 20th century literature and one perfectly executed.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: (Aug. 2013) What can I possibly say that has not been said ad infinitum about one of the greatest pieces of American fiction? How did I ever get this far into life without having already read it? A masterpiece without question.

Where You Are by J.H. Trumble: (Nov. 2013) I read two books this year by this incredibly gifted author. This one dares to take head-on the taboo subject of teacher/student intimacy forcing the reader to not think in black & white terms. She creates a beautiful, complex and thoughtful work in the process.

Winter Birds: A Novel by Jim Grimsley: (Dec. 2013) A grim, painful and frightening novel set in a poor rural North Carolina home dealing with an abusive and alcoholic man who terrorizes his wife and five children. 

Honorable Mention List

Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette: (May 2013) This memoir is so painful, so poignant, so beautifully written and deals with the author’s struggle for the first half of his life to accept himself as a gay man. So sad that this great author died way too soon.

Don’t Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble: (June 2013) The other novel I read by this talented author this year and her first. The story centers on two young men deeply in love who face serious challenges and jealousies when circumstances force them to live far apart from one another. This author has really impressed me.

Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley: (Aug 2013) One of three books I read by Grimsley this year. A disturbing, powerful and moving story of forbidden and unspoken love in the rural South.

Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez: (Sept. 2013) This book focuses on the lives of three high school seniors, whose lives are interconnected, each of whom is in a different state of gay self-acceptance. At times quite humorous, at other times fairly serious.

Three Junes by Julia Glass: (Aug. 2013) The 2002 National Book Award Winner. Three separate but interconnected stories taking place in Greece, Scotland and New York during three Junes over a ten-year period. Fascinating work!

 

 

Background Reading for My Novel: “Boy Meets Boy” by David Levithan

Boy Meets Boy

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan was somewhat of a departure for me from what I have been reading of late. This was not because of the subject matter; most of the books I have recently read have had a gay and/or coming-of-age theme to them since the novel on which I am working deals with both of those issues. Levithan’s novel is a celebration of being gay and it is that celebratory mood that sets this book apart from most of what I have been reading. The story’s main character Paul is a high school sophomore who lives in an incredibly gay-friendly small town. Just how gay-friendly is it? A couple of examples will demonstrate my point. The homecoming queen is six-foot four Infinite Darlene; she used to be a guy named Daryl and also happens to be the star quarterback of the school’s football team. A gay-straight alliance was organized at the school so the straight kids could learn to dance and how to dress better. There are other examples of the unusually relaxed attitudes of students, teachers and parents in this fantasy small town but these are two of the most hilarious ones.

The story is told through the eyes of Paul who has known he was gay ever since kindergarten; yes I did say kindergarten. He, his parents and brother are all very comfortable with his being gay as is practically everyone else in the community. Paul is popular at school; his two closest friends are Joni, whom he has known since second grade and who is brutally blunt about her feelings, and Tony who lives in a nearby town. Tony’s home life is the complete opposite of Paul’s. His parents are feverishly religious and keep him on a short leash so that he won’t be corrupted by Paul or others of his ilk. Tony also is gay but closeted because of his parents’ beliefs and attitudes. The struggle Tony must endure to break loose from his parents’ control is the dark side of what is otherwise a very light, quirky and humorous story.

The heart of the story though is Paul’s meeting a new kid in school named Noah and falling for him big time. The two teenagers begin spending a lot of time together and a romance starts developing. When I say romance I’m talking about nothing more risqué than simple sweet kissing; the book is aimed at a YA audience and the author does a stellar job of maintaining a PG quality to his writing. Paul and Noah’s romance though is seriously jeopardized by the reintroduction of Paul’s ex-boyfriend Kyle into his life. Not wanting to spoil the plot, I will refrain from commenting further about this complication.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is the following: “Tony and I figure the best thing a straight boy with religious, intolerant parents can do for his love life is tell his parents he’s gay. Before Tony’s parents discovered he was gay, they wouldn’t let him shake hands with a girl. Now if he mentions he’s doing something with a girl – any girl – they practically pimp him out the door.” The lighthearted, whimsical nature of those three sentences should give you a good sense what a joyfully playful book this is to read.

This was Levithan’s debut novel and won him the 2004 Lambda Literary Award in the Children’s/Young Adult category. We know that places like Paul’s town sadly do not exist but how much fun was it to think that such a world is possible even for the short time it takes to read this book. I plan to read more by this talented and entertaining author in 2014.

Goodreads “Best Books Ever”

I’m a big fan of goodreads. It’s my Go-To Place to fill my bucket list for my To Read List and has provided me some excellent suggestions for quite some time now. Currently I have 82 books on that list, nearly all of which I added as a result of reviews and suggestions on goodreads based on my past reading habits.

Recently on the site I saw that someone had posted a thread titled simply “Best Books Ever” that apparently was started in 2008. When I last checked, more than 107,000 people had voted and more than 3,300 people had left comments. Out of curiosity I checked out the voting…the results were nothing less than shocking. Before discussing the specifics of the 10 books that topped that list, I want to articulate what for me represents a Best Books Ever list.

Ever is a long time and certainly works going back thousands of years like Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey come to mind as likely candidates for such a list. Writers like Plato, Aristotle, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Bacon, Rousseau, Voltaire, Dickens, Darwin, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Twain, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Proust, Shaw, Joyce, Steinbeck, Faulkner are the sort of names I would expect to see on such a list. There are way too many authors of similar stature and my not mentioning them by name does not mean their works would not be serious candidates for such a list. I think you get the picture of what I’m suggesting. I will shamefully acknowledge that I have read a pitifully small percentage of works by the authors I have cited but I recognize that it is the words of writers like these that have left a significant mark on the civilized and literate world. Such a list is always subject to heated debate, and far greater minds than mine or dare I say that of anyone reading my blog have expressed strong opinions on the subject.

So getting back to the goodreads list: what were the 10 books to top the list? Six of the top nine were Harry Potter books. Really?  With all due respect to J.K. Rowling, I think even she would take strong exception to the absurdity of such results. Popular, entertaining, well-written – I will grant all that but give me a break. I doubt if she is going to be winning a Pulitzer or Nobel prize for her efforts. Top vote getter by a wide margin was…drum roll…The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Same comments I made about Ms. Rowling apply here as well. Most irritating on the list was # 3 rated Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. WTF???? I will refrain from any further comment. Oh and for the record before anyone starts accusing me of being misogynistic, mercifully the remaining two books rounding out the Top 10 were To Kill a Mockingbird and Pride and Prejudice, rated seven and ten respectively. I probably would not include them in my own Top Ten List but definitely can see a strong argument for their being there. Both easily dwarf the others in that upper tier.

The simple problem with this query was the originator’s posing it as a “Best Books Ever” List rather than “Books I Have Most Enjoyed” List, which is how I presume most people were responding when they entered their choices. In the latter case, all bets are off and anything goes. People are entitled to like what they like. There are many books I have enjoyed but would never dream of listing as Best Books Ever. The perfect examples of that for me are Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire and the Vampire Lestat, probably my two favorite books of all time. I totally delighted in both and have read each several times but fully recognize neither deserves to be put on Mount Olympus. I’m in the process of compiling my own list of My Favorite Books I Read This Year which I’ll soon be posting here. The ones I will be including I totally loved and would enjoy reading again but except for perhaps one I would not consider putting any on a Best Books Ever list.

I realize any such list is very subjective. Some of the comments did make me chuckle. “This list is a joke!”  “This list has some of the same books as the worst books list. lol”  “Wow, some of these folks need to read more. Or age more. Or go to school, or something. I mean, really.” “I hope my novel doesn’t end up on this list.” The last was probably my favorite. I left a comment that I refused to vote and give any validity to such a preposterous list. Someone wrote back that I was being a snob. I really do not think that is the case but if that is what anyone wants to think just because I try to have high standards so be it. I was going to respond to her but saw no point in getting in a food fight. Instead I thought I would vent my feelings here. I’d love to hear back from you on the subject. And once I do get my own manuscript completed and published I will echo the earlier comment. “I hope my novel doesn’t end up on this list.”

Background Reading for My Novel: “Changing Tides” by Michael Thomas Ford

Changing Tides

I am currently in the process of reading Last Summer by Michael Thomas Ford and enjoying it very much. About 3 months earlier I read Ford’s Changing Tides and somehow never got around to writing a review of it so my post today deals with that book. I try to review books shortly after I have read them so my impressions are clear in my mind and not clouded by plots and characters of stories I have read since. Hopefully I will do the author justice.

This story takes place in Monterey, CA and is told from the POV of three individuals. Hudson Jones, a young gay man, comes to Monterey to complete research that was begun by a deceased lover on an unpublished manuscript possibly authored by Monterey’s favorite son, John Steinbeck. If Hudson’s research proves accurate it would be an eye-opening revelation about the famous author that would bring Hudson instant fame. Ben Ransome is a divorced marine biologist living in Monterey who is totally absorbed in his work and who has a virtually non-existent personal life. His life is turned upside down when his sixteen year-old daughter Caddie, much to her dismay, is uprooted from her Southern California home by her mother to spend the summer with her estranged dad in hopes of re-establishing a connection between the two. She is very angry at her father, feeling he is a deadbeat dad, and goes out of her way to aggravate him. On a personal note I unfortunately can relate only too well to the bad karma since I have an adult daughter who feels the same way about me. Ben and Hudson meet, enjoy each other’s company despite the significant age difference, soon become friends and start spending time together in a platonic way. Carrie quickly detects the flirtation going on between her dad and Hudson even before they realize it. She is not repelled by it; in fact she becomes jealous of Hudson, a somewhat surprising attitude considering her animosity towards her dad.

There is a good story here although the going is a bit slow at first. The book is 352 pages long and as I recall it took about 100 or so pages before the pace picked up. Hang in there would be my suggestion if you are finding the book dragging; it is well worth reading. The tension between Ben and Carrie I felt was the most well-developed of the relationships and Carrie’s bite off her nose to spite her face attitude has near tragic consequences. The shifting point of view of the story reflecting the thoughts of the three main characters works very well as the reader is able to get inside the head of each of them.

Unlike the last work I most recently reviewed here on my blog, the sex scenes in this book both gay and straight have a PG-13 quality to them. That’s not a criticism of either book but merely an observation. Both books were quite enjoyable. My major reservation about Changing Tides was that the author got into what I saw as too much detail about marine biology. Obviously Ford knows the subject well or did an incredible amount of research to prepare for his writing and I respect him for that. I just think that for most readers the detail is overkill. I did not lose interest in the book because of this; the characters and storyline were both very good and kept me wanting to read more. If you happen to enjoy marine biology and a well-written book you will probably love this work. Obviously I enjoyed this book enough to want to read more by the author since that is in fact what I am doing now.

Background Reading for My Novel: “An Intoxicating Crush” by E.M. Lynley

An Intoxicating Crush (Delectable, #3)

This is the first book by E.M. Lynley that I have read but after finishing it I doubt it will be the last. The story takes place in modern-day Napa, the heart of California wine country, and centers around the relationship of Simon Ford and Austin Kelvin. The two men come from entirely different backgrounds and have very different personalities.

Simon is a native of Napa who has a deep resentment of the nouveau riche who have moved to Napa and spoiled his birthplace by opening boutique wineries that are squeezing many of the locals out of business. He never knew his dad; his working-class mom raised him entirely on her own. Simon is bright and ambitious and has recently started working at a firm headed by the ruthless Mr. Tuchman. Due to his strong work ethic he is quickly making a name for himself there.

Austin comes from the opposite side of the railroad tracks. His father made a fortune on Wall Street and then moved the family to Napa where he opened a winery, just the sort of family Simon so deeply resents. His dad and older brother have lost interest in Kelvin Cellars but Austin has turned it into an award-winning venture. On the surface Austin lives the privileged lifestyle Simon resents but secretly craves. Austin’s lack of business savvy though threatens the future of the business and he is struggling to keep it afloat while doing his best to keep his struggle a secret to everyone including his family.

Simon’s boss sends him on a covert mission to check out Kelvin Cellars to explore the possibly of a buyout of the business. Simon views the assignment as a golden opportunity to advance himself at the firm and improve his lot in life. While there Simon and Austin are almost instantly attracted to one another and soon become involved in a very passionate relationship. Their relationship is threatened when Austin learns of the covert mission, making him seriously question Simon’s intentions.

The author clearly has a great wealth of knowledge of the wine industry and weaves that knowledge through a fascinating and very believable story. This was a very enjoyable and quick read. It also had some of the steamiest sex scenes in it of any book I have read in a long time. As a gay man, I am in awe that the author who is a woman was so capable of depicting in such graphic, erotic detail the intimacies these two men share. At a writer’s conference I attended earlier this year, one of the speakers noted that writing sex scenes can be tricky, something I have discovered in the course of writing my own first novel. The issue becomes how to raise the temperature and increase the heart rate of the reader without sounding ridiculous or silly. There are books, blogs and classes dedicated to this very issue and so I do not intend to write at length on the matter. Certainly the author did an incredible job of raising my temperature and increasing my heart rate while reading the descriptions of Simon and Austin’s love-making. Reading this review you might get the impression that this is a work of pornography and if so that is entirely inaccurate. This is a very well written story that just happens to have some steamy sex scenes in it.

I could see myself going on a binge reading a lot more books by this author. This is one of her newer works and there are quite a few others that involve erotic M/M themes. I regard this as my guilty pleasure novel of the year and will keep her in mind after I have read something dry and/or disappointing and need a little pick-me-up to entertain myself.

Background Reading for My Novel: ” Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

I read some very positive reviews of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz and since it had a theme similar to the novel I am writing (young men in their late teens dealing with angst and same-sex attraction), I decided to check it out. Published in 2012 and winner of several awards, this is the story of two Mexican-American boys with very different personalities and interests who are living in El Paso, TX in the 1980’s. Aristotle or Ari as he calls himself is an introverted, lonely kid whose older brother is in prison for reasons that have never been explained to him. Dante is friendly and outgoing, an only child, loves art and reading and has a wonderful relationship with both his parents. The two meet one day at a neighborhood pool where Dante offers to teach Ari how to swim. They quickly become close friends.

This book was not bad but also disappointed me after all the hype I read about it. For starters, I didn’t like the author’s overuse of short choppy sentences – it reminded me of Hemingway, a comparison I’m sure the author would love. Coming from me though that is definitely not a compliment. As a side note, I read The Sun Also Rises about a year ago and hated it. For any Hemingway fans out there sorry…I regard Hemingway as the most overrated twentieth century author.

Getting back to this book, I also found the dialogue to be incredibly dumb and annoying; the two main characters are supposed to both be smart teenagers and yet their conversations sounded more like high school drop-outs on a fairly consistent basis. I also found it a bit incredulous that the story takes place in the 1980’s and somehow any mention or concern about AIDS is never addressed even though anyone who lived through that decade knows AIDS was terrorizing the human psyche at the time. Granted this is not a book where sexual intimacy plays a big role but it still strikes me as odd that no one in the story, especially the parents, ever raises this as a concern. Adding to the book’s lack of realism, the two main characters live in El Paso, TX and are from Mexican American families and the reader is supposed to believe that both sets of parents are perfectly ok with their sons’ attraction to members of the same-sex. I’m sure then and now such families exist but having two sets of parents be so cutesy homo-supportive in a culture that even almost thirty years after the story takes place is pretty hostile to the LGBT community seems a stretch at best.

On the plus side I thought the author had a good story to tell. I just don’t feel he did it in a very effective or interesting way. Perhaps because the target audience was YA, the author wrote the book the way he did. If his goal was to make LGBT teenage readers feel good about themselves then perhaps he succeeded.  In my mind there are far better books with a gay sub-text to them out there that are geared to the YA audience. Alex Sanchez’ Rainbow Boys and Don’t Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble are just two examples.

To sum it all up, not a terrible book but nothing special in my mind, especially considering some of the really great works I have read this year. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate it 5.5. I’ll probably pass on any future books by the author.

 

Background Reading for My Novel: “Winter Birds” by Jim Grimsley

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Winter Birds is the third book I have read this year by Jim Grimsley and like the previous works this was a definite winner. Comfort & Joy was the first book of his I read and it traced the meeting and eventual loving relationship of two men from completely different backgrounds. Ford McKinney comes from an old-monied Savannah family and like previous generations is a successful doctor. Dan Crell is a hospital administrator working in the same hospital as Ford who comes from impoverished rural North Carolina roots. Comfort & Joy hints that there is a dark ugly side to Dan’s family history but leaves the reader wondering what it is. Because I enjoyed Comfort & Joy so much and read that Grimsley’s first novel Winter Birds was the story of Dan’s childhood I quickly added the book to my To Read list.

Winter Birds is a mere 200+ pages and one that can easily be finished in a day if the reader is so inclined. The bulk of the story takes place on Thanksgiving Day. Ironically enough I finished reading it on Thanksgiving Eve. The author uses an interesting second person POV for the story, suggesting that Dan or Danny as he is called as a boy is viewing the story in his mind probably as an adult. He and his four siblings live with their parents and family dog in incredible poverty in the rural South. The father lost an arm in a farm accident and from that point forward becomes a cruel, abusive, drunken monster whom everyone in the family fears. In the longest chapter in the book, we learn the history of the family’s routine movement from one poor home to the next (a total of 7 in Danny’s brief 8 years at this point) to which he and his older sister Amy Kay have assigned appropriate names; the Snake House (snakes everywhere), the Fish House (formerly a fish store), the Ice House (only one small heater in the house), etc. The last home is the Circle House since it is circular and one door opens to the next and it is here that the story both begins and ends. The design of the house helps to add to the book’s heart-pounding finale.

This is a very painful, terrifying story to read and a sad reminder of the all too common incidence of extreme abuse both physical and emotional that far too many women, children and animals endure on a daily basis. At one point Danny reflects, “I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up, no matter how loud he yells. Except then I’d be scared to wake up and see what he did when I was asleep.” The book begins fairly slowly but by the half way point the pace picks up dramatically building to a horrific conclusion. I could not put the book down for the last 80 pages even though it was way past my bedtime. Part of the suspense of the novel is reading moments of terror followed by calming relief, but the calmness has a lingering sense that more evil will soon follow. The reader just does not know what form that evil will take and just how far the madness of Danny’s father Bobjay will go.

I have read that this story is at least partly autobiographical. I can only hope for Grimsley’s sake that there is more fiction that fact in this his first novel. Writing this must surely have been a cathartic experience for the author. American publishers initially rejected the work, regarding it as too depressing and dark and for many years it went unpublished. Bear in mind self-publishing 20 years ago was unlike now fairly uncommon.  Only after being published in Germany did the reading public begin to appreciate what a phenomenal book it was. Eventually two years later it made its American debut and won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction in 1995.

Like the other books of his I have read, especially Dream Boy, this is anything but a feel-good work of fiction. Oh but it so worth it. I am so glad I had the good fortune to stumble upon Grimsley’s work this year. He is an amazing author and one I hope to I encounter again in my readings.

UPDATE: I just finished re-reading the review I wrote earlier this year of Grimsley’s book Dream Boy. “Enticing, entrancing, powerful, moving, violent, tragic, sparse, brilliantly crafted and executed, immensely satisfying” was how I described it. All of those words apply as well to this work.