Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Book Review: FENCES, August Wilson

August Wilson
Plume, 1986

"Can't visit the sins of the father upon the child."

A few summers back, August Wilson's play, FENCES, was performed at a local theater. I missed every performance. That was upsetting. I love seeing plays. Recently, I saw that FENCES was being made into a major motion picture with Denzel Washington. With renewed interest, I ordered the play, and read it in one sitting.

FENCES is set in the 1950s. The Acts mostly take place on Fridays. Payday. On the porch of a small house, with a dirt yard, we meet Troy Maxson, his wife Rose, their son Cory, Troy's other son, Lyons, and Troy's disabled brother, Gabe, and, additionally, Bono, Troy's lifelong friend.

Unfortunately, Troy is not a likeable man. Although he'd lived a hard life, his life is spent in the past. Despite having left home at fourteen, and spending fifteen years in prison for murder, he married, landed a good job as a garbage man, and started a family. His once dreamed of playing professional baseball. Too many things were stacked against him. The fact he was black became the tallest obstacle, and an impossible hurdle.

Hard working, Troy has little time for his boys. Lyons is in his thirties, and doesn't work. He is a musician, and despite having no money, and begging for cash from his father, it is clear Lyons wants to, in some way, salvage his relationship with his father. His constant pleas for Troy to come down to the club where his band plays scream for attention that time, and again, Troy ignores.

Rose's and Troy's son, Cory, is athletic. His football playing might land him a scholarship into college. A recruiter is anxious to discuss terms with Troy. Determined his son is living in a fantasy, Troy continually gives Cory a hard time, setting unrealistic goals with little care of the consequences.

Gabe, Troy's younger brother, fought in World War II. A plate in his head has him believing he is the Arch Angel Gabriel. The government checks helped Troy make ends meet, but when Gabe moves out, hard feelings set in.

Troy likes to make everyone believe he is smarter than he is. He wants people to know he is strong, and in charge. He is the King of his Castle. Ruler over Rose, and Cory, and even Lyons. What he says, goes. He is harsh, and brash, and obnoxious. Calloused, and careless.

His mistakes continually pile up. He makes one bad call after another. And then, when his reality is there facing him, ready to wrestle -- he has no one to blame for the outcome, except himself.

"You went back on yourself Troy. You gonna have to answer for that."

The thing is, I don't think Troy ever truly gets it. I don't think he ever understands that he was the problem. And that, for me, was the tragedy. That was what made this story so sad, and depressing. Troy never got it. He just never got it.

FENCES is a fantastic, taut play. I am going to have to read more August Wilson. No doubt about it. The messages were there. Clear, and not so subtle, and I loved the story.

Phillip Tomasso
Author of the Severed Empire Series, and
The Vaccination Trilogy

Sunday, December 18, 2016


Carol Anne Duffy (Illustrator: Tom Duxbury)

How awful it would be to have your birthday on Christmas day of all days.

I have my birthday right in the middle of the year, which is quite lucky because I have two big days to look forward to every six months. It is not all doom and gloom though for Dorothy. Her birthday maybe on Christmas day, but her brother is the wonderful William Wordsworth.

So that means along with his own poetic genius, he also brings that of his best friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The three of them can spend Christmas, and Dorothy’s birthday, relaxing and reciting poetry in the beautiful winter Lake District of northwest England. Not a half bad idea if you ask me. In fact, I am rather jealous.

I love this poem probably because I love the work of both poets. The idea of a fictional poem about a possible Christmas they could have had together is really quite enchanting. It is evocative of the Romantic era and the poetry of it. Not in terms of stylistic qualities, but in terms of the imagery and the allusions Duffy uses. It is really quite admirable. The art work that goes alongside the text, with its swirls of orange and blue, is stunning and captures the dream like essence of the work. It is easily my favourite Christmas poem. I read it every year at this time, and imagine the image:

All in each other, Miss Wordsworth and the poets, bawling the chorus; their voices drifting, In 1799, To nowhen, nowhere…..

These lines make me visualise it in stunning clarity; it is a cold 25th December that is on the cusp of a new century; the three walk hand in hand together completely at one with their surroundings, with nature itself, united by their mutual friendship and affection. It is an image that has been captured, like a still-life painting, before the eventual disagreement between the two poets shattered the image. This was a time when they were happy, when they had hope for the future, and this is a poem that captures the meaning of Christmas: the simple act of being with those you love most in the world. It is perfect.

Bookworm Sean is a book obsessed English student who can usually be found over on Goodreads raving about his latest read. Recently, poetry has become one of his favorite literary forms of expression; thus he has started to read more and more of it. Look for Sean on Facebook, as well!