REVIEW: Lunch with the Do-Nothings at the Tammy Dinette by Killian B. Brewer

Lunch with the Do Nothings at the Tammy Dinette by Killian B. Brewer (January 12, 2017); 232 pages. Available from Interlude Press here.

Somehow, this book slipped past me when it was released back in January, and I only came to it in the past few weeks. It was a sort of late blooming, I suppose.
Lunch… is the story of Marcus, who travels to a little (some would say “Podunk”) town when his grandmother—a grandmother he has never met, due in large part to a rootless mother who kept his life moving from town to town when he was a child—dies and leaves him her house. He comes to town, then, with the intention of quickly tying up any death-related loose ends, selling her property and getting the heck out of Dodge and back to Atlanta, where he’s got a life. (Of course, he’s leaving that life, too—his partner, Robert, is a controlling, manipulative jerk who hit Marcus hard enough to blacken his eye, so Marcus has left him behind in Atlanta and is trying to think himself into a new life.) While in town trying to settle his business, Marcus meets a gaggle of his grandmother’s friends (I think “gaggle” might not be the term for groups of people, but I’m not sure “group” really conveys the real Bodysnatchers-like conspiratory power of this bunch), who call themselves The Do-Nothings and hold regular meetings at a local diner, and who decide to sneak together to get him fixed up with a “good man” and make him stay in town. Despite their misguided efforts, Marcus finds Hank, who is, by all accounts, a “good man.” As a consequence of finding what he wants in a place he doesn’t want, Marcus is faced with questions about what to do with his life: where he will live, what he will do for a living (oh, yes, I forgot to mention the career crisis for Marcus that’s throwing a wrench in the works here), how he will be happy. (It’s another sort of late blooming, I suppose.)

There’s the kind of Southern Charm here about which all of us Northerners seem to fantasize—tough, stubborn, a bit weirdly-executed and don’t-mess-with-us-dangerous, but loving, protective and well-meaning—that reminds one a bit of those great woman-focused south-set stories like Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias, but without that icky schlock stories like that seem intent on doling out. (It feels like the author is not a Northern Fantasizer, but Real Life Southerner.) One is in no danger of choking on pink chintz or juleps or too much saccharine, Poor-Fragile-Diabetic-Shelby-Who-Dies-So-We-Learn-a-Lesson oversentiment (I may have an extra bug up my butt about Steel Magnolias, since I am a juvenile diabetic like Shelby, but I think my point still stands). There’s a light-touch comedy, too, that comes from taking delight in irony: tough-as-nails, ostensibly past-prime Southern belles protecting a young gay man by the means with which they’re familiar (socials, gossip, rifle-wielding).

This novel strikes the right balance between danger and quirk, serious and funny, moving speedily through the plot when it needs to, slowing down when there’s a rose to smell or a point to develop. The characters are lovable and relatable, even to a somewhat cynical Northerner like me. The humor is gentle but easy and fun; the comedy comes from strong character development and not situation (which, in my book, is the best kind of humor).

The romance that Marcus finds is, yes, with a charming and attractive man, but this is not the only romance offered—there’s also the romance of Marcus with his past, with the feeling of family and fitting in and care that the Do-Nothings offer, with the open possibilities of his future, his love of cooking (he discovers this here), even the town’s easy charm. Taken together, all these love stories add up to a person figuring out what (and whom) he loves, how he wants to live, who he is at heart. It’s actually a kind of second chance at this since, though Marcus is quite young, he’s already settled into a life in Atlanta, one which is uprooted and shaken about when he meets the Do-Nothings.

I guess you could call it a kind of late blooming.

REVIEW: Ghosts and Ashes by F. T. Lukens

REVIEW: Ghosts and Ashes by F. T. Lukens (March 9, 2017); 258 pages. Available from Interlude Press here.

Ghosts and Ashes is the second book in the Broken Moon series, and continues the story of Ren and Asher from the first book (The Star Host). Quick rundown: Ren is a “star host”, which essentially means he’s got powers beyond normal, but he’s sometimes at the behest of the star that occupies him and gives him those powers. (There are many different kinds of powers that people can have this way, but Ren has the ability to control and manipulate any kind of computer-based technology; he can make taser guns fall apart in the hands of their users, for instance.) Asher is a member of the Phoenix corps, a military organization which seems to be an arm of the repressive regime currently sweeping the universe. (They seem, also, to have implanted the current US with a very orange representative, too, somehow.)
In The Star Host, Ren and Asher had fallen in love, but now, in Ghosts and Ashes, they’ve fallen apart and there’s a chilly-but-desire-laden, mournful, tenuous relationship left in shreds. Ren and Asher, along with a crew of rebels aboard the Star Stream space ship, try to unravel the despotism and help Ren flee the Phoenix corps that wants to snag him for his powers.
The plot weaves nicely between the tense interpersonal relationships and the grander universal problems, between character-driven moments and action, in good balance. This isn’t speculative fiction that relies on gadgets and strangeness for its effects—certainly the gadgets and strangeness are there (I think particularly of a visit to an Earth-like overpopulated, stinking world in which everyone must live ass-to-elbow underground to avoid pollution), but they aren’t the point, and the story achieves its magnetism through good character development and plot-plotting, not through strangeness.
Readers who liked the first book will be happy to get more; those who are new to the Broken Moon series can start here without having read the first book (it does stand alone), but will enjoy it a lot more by reading The Star Host first. There’s a third and final book coming in this series, but it looks like we’ll have to wait for that one, since books don’t just pop up into existence at our demand (gosh, I wish they did).

The Eyes Have (Had) It

For anyone who isn’t comfortable reading about needles, go away. This is not the post for you. I wish I were lucky enough to have that kind of choice, but like many people in the world, I can’t curate a bloodless, needle-less environment for myself.

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Today, as it seems I am so much of the time (thanks to having both juvenile diabetes and multiple sclerosis), I am in mourning for a part of myself.

At the behest of my regular eye doctor, I visited a new opthalmologist who specializes in diabetic patients, and I got pretty crappy news. It appears that I am, like most diabetics of all ilk, especially ones who’ve been diabetic for more than 25 years like me, losing my eyes. It seems that–more than likely–I will have to have injections in both eyes every six weeks… indefinitely.

I’m not sure that was entirely clear: every six weeks, this doctor wants to PUT A NEEDLE INTO MY EYE, with no end in sight (ha ha, get it?). And I have to make separate appointments for each eye, so that’s twice every six weeks of someone sticking a NEEDLE into my EYE.

I am certainly not a wimpy kid about needles. I have been a Type I (juvenile) diabetic most of my life, which means putting a catheter in the skin of my stomach (using a needle every 2 days and pricking my finger to draw blood about 8 times a day. Before I wore the pump, I had to give myself subcutaneous injections of insulin about 5 times a day. I also have MS, which has meant giving myself an injection in the thigh muscle every week and undergoing 10 hours of an IV treatment every month.

When I got the news about having diabetes, I started getting tattoos as a way to deal with it. I figured if I had to regularly stab myself with needles, I was going to use needles to make something aesthetically-positive come out of the experience. Now both my arms and my decoletage/collar bone are covered in tattoos. I’ve stopped getting them because I’m running out of space. The tattoos also prevent me from being a complaining baby when some doctor or other inevitably wants their Nurse Feratu to draw my blood or inject dye or some other pointy-stick-related barrier violation of me–you don’t get to complain about a needle prick when you’ve got visible tattoos.

All this needling has caused some damage: my veins are small to begin with, and now they’re getting scarred up and tough to use. It usually takes a phlebotomist or the IV nurse an average of 2-3 tries to find a usable vein. (Today, for instance, my arm looks like a yellow, red and purple mess where the opthalmologic nurse injected me with contrast dye and the vein blew.) The skin of my stomach is also getting scarred up enough that I may not be able to use the insulin pump there much longer either.

All this is to say I have become, over the years, The Human Pincushion, and I’m awful tired.  Today I get the news that another person wants to start sticking needles into me–into my eyeballs, which is some of the only un-needled space left on me, and all I can think is how MORE tired I am.

I’m not using this space only to whinge, I promise. I’m just trying to figure out how to make sense of this, to make something of it that will do something in the world. I’m trying to figure out how to use this situation to make me a better person, more empathetic, stronger, braver. I remain well aware that many other folks suffer horribly much worse due to health or economics or politics or abuse or repression.  But at the moment, all I can do is cry, worry about a medical mishap that will make it impossible to do the work I do now, or more medical bills (this will be more than $1500 per injection, I’m told–that’s $3000 every 5-6 weeks, and it’s unclear how much my insurance will cover), or just more pain and fear.

I mean, they want to put a dang NEEDLE in my dang EYE on a regular basis.

Life, this is the asshole-est joke you have ever played. Seriously. Not funny.