Monday, October 6, 2008


by Kate Christensen

In the opening chapter of THE GREAT MAN, Kate Christensen’s writing was so powerful I thought I was at the entrance to a great novel by a phenomenal writer. Teddy, the seeming protagonist, tells us at the outset why this novel is entitled THE GREAT MAN, who it turns out was her deceased, life-long lover, a totally self-centered portrait painter.
Teddy engages one of the painter's biographer’s in that first chapter in a conversation that is so rich and so revealing of personal lives that it could never had taken place in our real, dull world. But this is a novel and the conversation is entrancing. Kate Christensen can really write—especially about food. Description of the scent, texture and tastes of the food is as exotic as the dialogue.
My anticipation at the prospect of this novel quickly dulled as the writing became more mundane. So Christensen was not a genius of a writer, but a startling first chapter creator. Aside from that disappointment THE GREAT MAN carried me along. There were dead times as there quite often are in ordinary, but decently-done novels. We get to meet all of the women in the artist’s life and I would argue that he is the protagonist not Teddy or the several others used as devices to explore his relationships.
Christensen provides some interesting aspects of the continued sexuality and creativity of the elderly (those over 70) and focuses on the sensuality of food. And, she offers a nice twist about the authenticity of a work of art in the story.
The power of Christensen’s first chapter made me realize how ingrained that performance has become in a writer’s campaign to find a publisher, an agent, or a reader. In recent weeks, I have purchased novels by two indieauthors based on a reading of their first chapters and discovered that their writings fell so quickly flat and incompetent that I couldn’t finish the books. At the 1996 Sewanee Writers Conference, one of the lecturers suggested that a means of determining whether a novel might be worth reading was to read page 84. I’ve tried that many times and have been rewarded in the process. Obviously, it is a better test than a first chapter.

A suggestion: My latest novel, THE PENCIL ARTIST is available as an e-book on Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble; as a paperback on Amazon.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


I am in my third week of a bout with shingles centered on my eye. How did this happen? I don’t remember having chickenpox as a kid, but the doctor said I probably did and the virus has lingering in my through the years waiting to pop out. A seemingly dormant volcano is the best analogy I can conceive for my herpes. The virus/lava boiled for decades somewhere deep in my system and then burst forth into my eye filling it with pain and draining my energy.
The onset of the disease began with me waking up in the middle of the night on a Monday with a sense of pressure in my eye and for some strange reason wondering if I had brain cancer. The unpleasant feeling in the eye continued through the first day. By the next day, there was a pressure in the bone on the left side of my nose and a distant ache that moved around the eye. Maybe it is my sinus, I thought. I slept through most of the third day and by the time I realized I better get to an ophthalmologist for what I thought must be an eye infection, the day was over and so were the doctor’s hours. I didn’t think it serious enough to go to an emergency room. So, I spent a miserable, painful night. I made an appointment to see my ophthalmologist, who had treated me a year ago for “a deep infection” in my left eye. Up until seeing the doctor, I had not taken any pain killers—I am a person who has both a high pain threshold and resists taking aspirin or whatever until I decide I can’t shake off the problem with meditation or deep breathing or ignoring.
The ophthalmologist decided I had sinus infection, which had moved into the eye. He prescribed antibacterial pills and eye drops. He told me to take Tylenol for the pain. That was Thursday. I got my prescriptions, took them and spent Friday in bed, in agony. By Friday night I realized I had a rash on the left half of my head—on my scalp, on my forehead, on the left side of my nose, and around my left eye and on the eyelid. I assumed I was having a reaction to the medicine. Early Saturday morning, I called the doctor. The receptionist said come right over.
As soon as I walked into the examining room, and by that time I was unable to open my eye, the doctor said, “The drugs aren’t causing that. You have shingles, herpes.” She explained it was a virus that had been lingering in my body since childhood. She prescribed a potent pill and eye drops aimed at a virus not bacteria. She told me not to expect the problem to clear up in three or four days, but to anticipate a recovery process that would take weeks. How many weeks? Who knows? On a follow up a visit a few days later, I was told to expect to experience lingering aftereffects such as fatigue and possibly pain that might last for up to a year.
In reading up on shingles, I discovered that left untreated—and even treated—the complications arising from herpes in the eye (aka herpes zoster opthalmicus) can be blindness and brain damage. Hopefully neither will afflict me since I got treated fairly early in the game, but the threat made me aware again of the dreadful outcomes facing people without health insurance. I fall under national health care, known in the U.S. as Medicare, and have a topnotch health insurance program backing that up.
What if I were among the 43-million uninsured in this country? I would have put off going to the emergency room until my eye closed and I couldn’t endure the pain. If I were lucky, I would be seen by a caring physician after sitting in the emergency for anywhere from a half hour to 12 hours. Hopefully that doctor would arrange for me to get the right drugs and eye drops. If I weren’t lucky and there were three gunshot wounds ahead of me in that emergency room and the doctor just wanted to push me through, I would end up as a leading candidate for blindness or brain damage. Boy, do we need national health care for our entire population.

The next novel I will review: THE GREAT MAN by Kate Christensen

A suggestion: My latest novel, THE PENCIL ARTIST is available as an e-book on Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble; as a paperback on Amazon.