Saturday, October 29, 2022

Two Book Reviews by Greg Gilbert

Two Books Reviewed by Greg Gilbert

Mike’s Magic Burgers by Rose Baldwin (2017, 196 pages) 

Mike’s Magic Burgers is a fiction that takes place in the 1990’s. Mike’s is a burger place that, as the title suggests, serves magic burgers. The menu offers burgers with themes: topical, oasis, decision, and so forth. The magic appears when customers take a bite and find themselves transported to a desert oasis or to whatever setting aligns with their personal needs. Burgers may help with stress, decision making, or offer a delightful escape. And, yes, there’s a vegan burger too.

While the setting is fanciful, the characters are authentic in their needs and backstories. Examples include Earl Witherspoon, an attorney in the grip of a midlife crisis; Destiny Robertson, a former basketball star who is uncertain about what’s next; and John, a young mechanic who loves his job while hating the accounting classes he’s taking to satisfy his girlfriend’s wishes. Other characters deal with their own issues as well, the central theme being a practical guide to finding and following one’s bliss. At the center of these lives is Mike, the founder and chef, the wizard, so to speak. He encourages, cautions, and guides as is necessary, and is supported by matrilinear wisdom.

The stories are episodic, the chapters short, the humor delightful, and the lessons profound as they deal with a range of ages and circumstances. This is a book that would do well as a television series (think Fantasy Island), a concept that offers a rich catalogue of possibilities. Personally, I enjoyed Rose Baldwin’s book and happily recommend it. It’s engaging and thought provoking.

*    *    *    *    *

The Salvation of San Juan Cajon by Michael G. Vail (2018, Cholla Needles, 201 pages) 

Michael G. Vail's The Salvation of San Juan Cajon is a serious work of fiction. The lead character, Micah Wada, an educational facilities manager in California, is hired by the San Juan Cajon school district to find a suitable location for a new high school. The existing site is overcrowded and besieged by temporary classrooms, the result of a growing migrant population. Micah's recommendation to construct the school at a site adjacent to an upscale neighborhood sets the stage for a contemporary true-to-life story of competing interests. Without a hint of didacticism, the author wisely allows the forces of race, culture, money, politics, sex, family, and community to play their parts, as they do in reality.

Most notably for this reviewer (a college trustee and former school board member) is the author's understanding of school district politics at all levels and how the laws that govern public meetings operate. Verisimilitude lives or dies on such details. From the Governor's office to the statehouse to the local board and the households of the influential and those of the immigrants, Vail allows each story to be guided by its own interests and biases.

Where the reader will find moral grounding, or the absence thereof, is in the stories of the characters. The protagonist, Micah, is a widower whose purpose in life is to locate and develop school sites. As noble as that is, he is not a one-dimensional do-gooder. His singular fixation on his work, particularly during his wife's cancer and subsequent death, has cost him his son, now a runaway.  His son's story develops as a secondary theme, the irony being that while Micah serves multitudes of children, he fails to provide a nurturing love for his son, and seeks salvation of a more personal nature.

The book's narration is limited omniscient third-person , past tense. Thus, the reader comes to know the feelings of certain characters, particularly Micah, his son, and a woman whose story frames the novel. That said, it's Micah's story that propels the reader through a journey of loss, moral ambiguity, and discovery.

-  -  -  -  -

Greg Gilbert is the author of Afflatus.

More info

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.