Blog - Patrick D. Joyce, 28 Jan 2017 16:01:09 +0000en-USSite-Server v6.0.0-11255-11255 ( D. JoyceSat, 28 Jan 2017 17:38:23 +0000

Caspar David Friedrich, The Monk by the Sea

Winter gives pavement the pallor of dead flesh
Streets powdered futile
Crystalline dust
Leaves of glass
Trunks the torsos of long ago corpses.

I chase down sidewalks where
Patches of window
Shutter the ground
The season is all evasion.

Characters & CaricaturasPatrick D. JoyceWed, 13 Apr 2016 16:12:00 +0000

William Hogarth's "Characters and Caricaturas" (1743) 

What if the features splayed across my face
Did not do justice to my character? 
'They are all male' and 'They are all in wigs' 
Tom Lubbock wrote, but they are not the same. 
Each visage has a quirk, a mortal flaw, 
A human element, a needle in the hay, 
A miniature totem in a stack. 
The artist thought he captured in a sketch
The essence of a personality.
A scold, a grim, a smirk; a sycophant; 
A scoffing brow against a wheedling eye;
A look of kindness, one of mirth and joy: 
Familiar faces, I have seen them all. 
But can a portrait capture finally? 
Can not a person wear a million smiles, 
A thousand frowns, a hundred question marks? 
Am I not Janus? Or a Lon Chaney? 
A face belies the storm within, it hides
The chaos with the silence of the sea.

(Inspired by Tom Lubbock's essay on William Hogarth's "Characters and Caricaturas" (1743) in English Graphic. You can read a version of the essay at The Independent.)

Characters & Caricaturas
John Milton, Rock StarPatrick D. JoyceWed, 21 Oct 2015 23:50:00 +0000 think you know something about John Milton. He was blind. He was English. He was a Puritan. He wrote that interminably long poem about Adam and Eve, the one that literature majors perhaps still labor (or slumber) through. But did you know he was something of a rock star?

21-year-old John Milton. National Portrait Gallery, London.

21-year-old John Milton. National Portrait Gallery, London.

In college, long before he lost his sight and wrote Paradise Lost, long before he got mixed up in politics and joined the government of Oliver Cromwell, he was a rebel and a performer, with an attitude. 

As a freshman, Milton got into a violent argument with a tutor, and his college at Cambridge suspended him. (The punishment was called "rustication", literally meaning exile to the country. For Milton it meant the opposite, as he got "rusticated" home to London. He was accused of visiting playhouses and bordellos, charges he denied.) 

When he was a senior, his college mates chose him to lead a kind of freshmen hazing, a naughty tradition they called a Salting. He gave a brilliant and witty speech, full of enough nasty insults to offend pretty much everyone. He started the speech in Latin, as was traditional, but flouted the rules by finishing it in English, a banned practice. Then he put the freshmen through their paces: anyone not witty enough to match his own jibes had to drink salted beer (yuck), or suffer a bloody cut under the chin by fingernail (ew).

But yes, Milton was a poet too. I won't go on about the beauty and brilliance of his language and imagery. They are unparalleled. Actually, I should go on about it, but I don't need to. An actual rock star (speaking of rock stars) has done it for me. Pink Floyd's onetime guitarist David Gilmour, in a song.

"Rattle that Lock," the title track on Gilmour's new solo album, takes its inspiration from Paradise Lost. The poem opens, like any good epic should, in medeas res, with Satan having just fallen from Heaven, awakening in the pit of Hell: "A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round/ As one great Furnace flam'd, yet from those flames/ No light, but rather darkness visible". (Go read the first few stanzas right now. Really, I mean it. I can wait.) By the end of Book 2, Satan has rallied his demonic forces, built his palace Pandemonium, and made ready to infiltrate the Garden of Eden. "Rattle That Lock" essentially tells the story of his escape from Hell, as a parable of freedom.

Writer Polly Samson, Gilmour's wife, contributed the song's lyrics. Here they are, with annotations (click on the highlights to see the references to Paradise Lost): 

Read “Rattle That Lock” by David Gilmour on Genius

Gilmour's song is the latest entry in a long trail of art inspired by Milton's epic. Even better than the song itself, however, is the animated music video accompanying it, itself inspired by the Paradise Lost illustrations of French artist Gustave Doré. Made by some of the same people who designed album covers for Pink Floyd, the video follows a fallen angel through dreamscapes straight out of Doré's illustrations.

Gustave Doré, Satan's Flight Through Chaos, 1868

Gustave DoréSatan's Flight Through Chaos, 1868

Milton himself might have appreciated Gilmour's effort. As chance would have it, his father, a scrivener by trade, composed music (not rock operas). His aesthetic sensibility probably influenced Milton's own. 

The connection between literature and popular music remains strong today. Songs inspired by literature practically have their own genre. Some of my favorites:

  • "Wuthering Heights," Kate Bush
  • "Sympathy for the Devil,” The Rolling Stones (inspired by Bulgakov's Master and Margarita, one of my favorite books, and like Paradise Lost, another work of literature with a fantastic opening scene)
  • "Don't Stand So Close to Me," The Police (Nabokov's Lolita)
  • "Romeo and Juliet," Dire Straits
  • "My Antonia," Emmylou Harris & Dave Matthews (I discovered this one recently, inspired by another one of my favorite books)
  • "Sailing to Philadelphia," Mark Knopfler and James Taylor (inspired by Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon)
John Milton, Rock Star
Van Gogh's PostmanPatrick D. JoyceMon, 02 Feb 2015 01:23:00 +0000

Vincent Van Gogh, "Postman Joseph Roulin." Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

What does he deliver, the postman?
Unfinished pale streaks coming together in one hand,
Blood red outlining the other, blue etches that show the sky,
What do they possess?
What did he see in those beady dark eyes that followed him around the studio,
Pink face vomiting green beard?
Does the postman deliver only blue?

Van Gogh's Postman
A Peripheral GlossaryPatrick D. JoyceTue, 27 Jan 2015 14:59:00 +0000 own pleasure as a reader of that type of fiction is being left in the dark, confused, gradually putting it together.
- William Gibson

That's exactly the kind of reader you have to be to enjoy William Gibson's new novel.

Peripheral drops you into two separate futures, one near, one distant, without so much as a guide in either, much less some kind of portable universal translator. Nope, you're on your own. And it gets bewildering at times.


I do love a good perplexing story though. One that has to be puzzled through. Where the sense of mystery isn't confined to the whodunnit, but pervades everything. Peripheral begins with an ordinary person witnessing a crime. A familiar enough beginning, something we've seen a hundred times before – even if this time the technology is slightly out of reach. But the story soon leaves such footholds behind.

Still, if you're like me, you'll appreciate the novel's concept (more intriguing, I think, than anything Gibson has come up with before) more than its execution. His writing has a certain poetry to it, so it may come down to having a taste for his particular style. I have to say, my favorite Gibson novel is Pattern Recognition, which avoids the heavy neologizing of Peripheral and his original cyberpunk novels for plainer prose, putting a greater premium on character and story.

But if you're like me, you'll appreciate Peripheral all the same. It was both fun and frustrating trying to decipher Gibson's invented jargon. I built an index to it as I went along. A glossary. A key. More for the pleasure of cataloging my own discoveries than as an aid to others. But it occurred to me that it might help some readers sort through things, as they read, or after they've finished. So I've dropped my list into this post. If I ever go back in for a second reading, I'll be taking it with me. 

I've tried to exclude details that might act as spoilers. Hopefully none have slipped through. I don't recommend reading this before starting the book; wait til you get frustrated yourself, or even better, til after you're done. Then tell me about any mistakes or omissions!


  • Flynne Fisher ("Easy Ice"): professional gamer
  • Leon: Flynne's brother 
  • Burton: Flynne's other brother, haptic Marine vet
  • Shaylene: Flynne's friend, Burton's girlfriend 
  • Macon: tech
  • Conner Penske: disabled vet
  • Dwight: Operation Northwind game leader 
  • Madison & Janice: married Operation Northwind gamers
  • Reece: vet buddy of Burton's
  • Tommy: police officer
  • Corbell Pickett: corrupt car dealer/drug kingpin
  • Griff Holdsworth: English agent
  • Tacoma Raeburn: Klein Cruz Vermette employee
  • Clovis Raeburn: Klein Cruz Vermette employee



  • Wilf Netherton: publicist 
  • Rainey: publicist/Wilf's boss
  • Daedra West: celebrity artist, Wilf's client/ex
  • Aelita: Daedra's sister
  • Lorenzo: Rainey's "cameraman"
  • Annie: neoprimitive curator, fan of Daedra
  • Lev Zubov: rich Russian, friend of Wilf, continua hobbyist
  • Ossian: Lev's Irish henchman
  • Maria Anathema Ash: Lev's tattooed henchwoman
  • Gordon & Tyenna: Lev's thylacines (extinct Tasmanian wolves)
  • Ainsley Lowbeer: Detective Inspector of the London Met 
  • Clovis Raeburn Fearing: friend of Lowbeer



  • Stub: time fork created by info transfer
  • Continua: see "stub"
  • Peripheral: semi-human mindless cyborg avatar
  • Builders: drug manufacturers 
  • Homes: Homeland Security
  • Michikoid: female robot
  • Medici: healing gadget
  • Squidsuit: invisibility camouflage suit
  • Haptics: military cybernetic implants 
  • Paparazzi: camera drones
  • Patchers: deformed cannibals living on the Garbage Patch, in the Pacific
  • Darknet: underground internet
  • The jackpot: world depopulating catastrophe, happened between near and far futures
  • Hefty: utterly dominant retail chain, Walmart + Starbucks?
  • Luke 4:5: religious fanatic organization, like Westboro Baptist Church 
  • Fabbed: manufactured by 3D printer
  • Klepts: Russian oligarchs
  • Matryoshka: hidden corporate ownership, "shells within shells" like the Russian dolls
  • Assemblers: manufacturing drones
  • Klein Cruz Vermette: law firm in near future


A Peripheral Glossary
Why I WritePatrick D. JoyceFri, 05 Dec 2014 18:36:00 +0000 write because I like words. The way they sound. Alone. In sequence. The way they mean things. How their meanings change, multiply, when collected together. I like sentences even better. I like to tinker with a sentence until it's perfect. A perfect sentence is a crazy impossible dream. Like a perpetual motion machine, running entirely and eternally on its own creative fuel.

I love it that when you surround one sentence with others, and connect those to even more, and eventually get a theme or a story out of them, that first sentence acquires a weight and a beauty it didn't have on its own. 

I began to know I was a writer in the same way that a person who plays with blocks as a child and comes to enjoy the feel of them in his hands and finds himself compelled to keep stacking them together one on top of another then grows up to become an engineer.

My early experiences with self-conscious writing—the times when I knew I was engaged in a craft, when I had the sense of being a writer as opposed to something else, when I learned that the writing mattered independent of any other external purpose the words might have had—still shape what and how I write today.


One summer as a teenager I sat on a beach and wrote poetry. I watched a line of pelicans in the sky and tried to write the wonder of their flight into my notebook. I loved how I could line up the words, arrange them in different orders, and make them look and sound beautiful. Have them signify things other than what they appeared to be and hint at the secrets of the universe, things I could feel but not see. 

I remember studying poetry in high school. The only essays I enjoyed writing, the only ones that took me in their thrall and actually made me giddy, were about literature. The purity of ideas excited me, and the power of poetic language. That discovery first came in a paper I wrote on Doctor Faustus, the renaissance play by Christopher Marlowe, a poet of the first order, known for his mighty line.

In college I made new discoveries as a writer, even without majoring in English. I managed to encounter works of great emotional impact and beauty, like James Joyce's "The Dead" and E. M. Forster's Passage to India. Even as I studied biology (briefly) and then political science (longer-term, through and past a PhD), I only wrote with passion about literature. Outside of classes, my poetry writing became private, a way to reckon with difficult emotions. But I also wrote for a public: movie reviews for the college paper. Movies for me were like that line of pelicans, and I tried to translate their beauty and mystery into words.

My life has taken all kinds of detours since, but nearly every turn has involved writing. I became a reporter, then an academic. Newspaper editors, television producers, and professors took my writing apart, forced me to build it back up. They would break it down more and I would built it up again. I was better off for it. Simplicity and concision alternated with nuance and complexity, most often inelegantly, but I learned so much. 


I often thought about writing novels. But I didn't pursue it until half a lifetime later, after leaving journalism and academia behind. What drew me back were the things that had drawn me in to begin with: poetry, powerful ideas, movies. (Because books speak not only of other books – apologies to Umberto Eco – but of films, and other art forms, as well.) And specifically Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, which had somehow gotten itself lodged in my head and never left, after all those years. The novel I've written and hope to publish soon, One Too Many Devil, draws inspiration from each and every one of these things. 

I continue to make discoveries. When you decide you're going to write a book, you obligate yourself to a lot more than just writing—or at least more than just tinkering with words and sentences. It takes a lot of thinking, and gathering, and researching, and then making connections between all the things you've thought, and gathered, and researched. Especially the gathering. The collecting of bits of life as you live it, consciously or unconsciously. 

When I knew I was going to write a novel, I also knew it was going to be historical, set in a period I knew very little about, so the research was going to be intense. But the research wasn't an obstacle; it was a crutch. Having done a PhD in political science, I hadn't the slightest idea how to write a novel, but I had thousands of dark, musty, endless-rows-of-shelves, library hours under my belt and boy could I do research. I had the kernel of an idea for a story, but I spent several years in library basements and rare book rooms before I had a plot.

After ten years, I've just put the finishing touches on my book manuscript. I was tinkering with the words and sentences right to the very end. It always comes back to those basic building blocks, those essential particles of the writer's art and science. They are why I write. 

Thanks to author Tim Weed, who earlier this year tagged several writers to post on what and why we write, or, "what might loosely be termed aesthetic philosophy." 

Why I Write
Will Poole's IslandPatrick D. JoyceWed, 18 Jun 2014 19:14:00 +0000 tales can–and should–be told and retold. Will Poole's Island, by Tim Weed, feels like one of those stories: comfortable, like something you've owned forever, yet fresh, because you're seeing it with new eyes, against a new backdrop. 

This short, elegantly written book is a coming-of-age adventure about an orphan struggling to find his identity in 17th century New England. Independent-minded Will Poole encounters an elderly Algonquin man in the wilderness outside his settlement, and soon escapes not only its physical boundaries but also the rigid confines of Puritan culture. Squamiset teaches Will to hunt, but, more importantly, makes him aware of the magical possibilities of his connection to nature. The two share a bond that neither fully understands; when together they fall afoul of the law and flee in search of a mystical place, that bond only becomes stronger. 

Will Poole put me in mind of other boys in other places who ran away into the great wide world, searching for their place in it, also casting their lots with a social or cultural Other: Huck Finn, Jim Hawkins, and, most of all, Kim. Their stories had equally strong senses of place, with a similar innocence; Kipling's Kim combined those with a spiritual element. And like Kim, Will Poole's Island ends with a satisfying, ethereal quality.

The writing is lush with description and the attention to detail never flags. Weed attaches great importance to the descriptive aspects of fiction, as he writes in an essay posted on his web site: "Description roots us in a narrative and keeps us there; its capacity to take us back to our species’ primal attachment to the land is powerful medicine that we as writers would be foolish to ignore." This is undoubtedly true. But the description was sometimes a little too rich for my taste. I am sure others will appreciate it more, but at times I felt I needed a bit of a clearing in the forest.

The book takes an interesting approach to the supernatural: it walks a line between fully acknowledging Squamiset's powers as real, and explaining them in rational, psychological terms. I wondered whether a similar approach would work with the Puritans' strong sense of the otherwordly, and what would happen to the story if Weed had tried it. 

(I received an advance copy at a writer's conference in Boston, at which the author led a session on the elements of historical fiction. Will Poole's Island will be released August 15.) 

Will Poole's Island
On the pleasure of attending book signingsPatrick D. JoyceWed, 18 Jun 2014 19:10:00 +0000 I've been doing as I prepare to transition from "aspiring novelist" to "actual novelist" is attending a lot of book signings. I'm fortunate to live near a number of good independent bookstores, so there's never a shortage of interesting writers passing through town. I've gone to these events on occasion over the years, but just in the past few months I've felt drawn to them in a whole new way.

At first, my motive was practical, with purely professional aims. As I got closer to finishing work on my book, I became curious (and perhaps a little impatient too) about what it looked like on the other side of publication. One bookstore organized a panel on debut authors over 40, none of whose books I planned to read (just not my cup of tea), but since theirs was a category I intended to join soon, I wanted to hear what they had to say. I was also looking for ways to occupy my writer's mind as I waited for my very first readers to finish the draft I'd given them. (The waiting is the hardest part.)

Sunday Reading at Country School, Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky, 1895

Sunday Reading at Country School, Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky, 1895

At the same time, I became much more open to reading new and recent books. For a long time, I was terrified to read anything just-published, out of a fear that other new writing would put my own to shame. There was one book in my genre (historical fiction) that actually had me stricken with terror before I got to page five. I couldn't sleep that night.

I've shed some of that insecurity now. I'm ready to face the competition. And, more importantly, not to see other authors as competition. I'm even ready to enjoy the fruits of their success, to take pleasure in their books, rather than be afraid.

I've just read an article in The New Yorker by Tim Parks called Why Read New Books? and, with remarkable timing, it helps me understand the fear I'd been experiencing, which seemed so irrational. Parks points out that older books, particularly classics, are settled, and therefore comfortable, texts. We can dive into them without thinking. We know where they stand. There's a whole body of received opinion about them, and we can accept or reject that wisdom as we like, but it requires little mental exertion. On the other hand, he says, as Virginia Woolf believed, “one of the pleasures of reading contemporary novels was that they forced you to exercise your judgment.” New books make you flex an entirely different literary muscle.

Applied to my situation: for a writer in limbo, in transition, exercising that muscle can prove an intense, potentially painful activity. Judging someone else's writing reminds you that, soon, others (hopefully, many others) will be judging yours too.

But you know what they say: no pain, no gain. Heck, there's all kinds of pain involved in writing, and that's just one among many. But no matter. The point is that I've gotten over that hump (and you will too, if you're experiencing anything like the same thing -- it's a common feeling, apparently) and I'm ready for the challenges and the pleasures, of reading new fiction.

So, the authors I've seen recently:

Peter Lovesey, a British mystery writer I've read before (but only a couple of very clever short stories, "you-dunnits"), who just released the 14th in his second detective series. I bought the first book in the series, The Last Detective, for him to sign. He told a funny story about his awkward induction into the Detection Club, the society that has counted Agatha Christie and G.K. Chesterton among its members. The first book he ever published was an entry into a mystery writing contest, and he still has the magazine advertisement announcing it to show audiences!

Jasper Fforde, whose Thursday Next series I enjoyed, now touring with his new young adult novel, The Eye of Zoltar (I went to the signing with my daughter, also a Fforde ffan). Fforde held up the copy of his book he was reading aloud from and showed how he'd marked it up, in order to "cut out the boring bits." He's a witty speaker, always ready to put a new twist on tired subjects. He has his own special method for coming up with zany plots, which he calls the "narrative dare". I recommend seeing him if you have the opportunity.

Anjali Mitter Duva, who recently published her elegantly written and titled Faint Promise of Rain, a novel about a family of temple dancers in 16th century India. I'd been waiting for this one to come out, and wasn't disappointed. Duva imbues her characters with elements of both kindness and cruelty, making them not only interesting to follow through their travails but utterly human as well. She's devised a clever way for her first-person narrator to have a unique voice and a degree of omniscience. To set the mood at her book launch, she supplemented her reading and signing with a beautiful performance by students at the Kathak dance school she co-founded.

Bruce Holsinger, author of A Burnable Book, another new one I'd been waiting to read. It's a mystery set in 14th century England featuring real-life poet Geoffrey Chaucer, and, more prominently, his real-life fellow poet and friend, John Gower. It's full of royal intrigue and prostitutes, if those things are your cup of tea (not usually mine, I admit), and the level of historical detail is incredible. It's woven as thickly as the poetry and tapestries that lie at the core of the mystery. I originally discovered Holsinger, a professor at the University of Virginia, via the world of MOOCs, having taken a course he taught on historical fiction.

Finally and most recently, William Gibson, the inventor of the cyberpunk genre, whose novels I've admired ever since reading Neuromancer just after graduating from college. His latest, Peripheral, is just out. Gibson is a thoughtful commentator on writing and its relation to the world and technology. When asked why technology and the military pervade his fiction, he simply called himself a naturalist, and asked in turn how one could write about the modern world without those things. He's known for the neologisms he introduces ("cyberspace" being the most famous); do they cause trouble for readers, does he think? On the contrary: if readers find themselves confronted with a challenge, a learning process, they're rewarded in the end. My son was curious to hear Gibson as well and came with me. We both play guitar, and liked Gibson's explanation of how he was influenced by the Beat writers, particularly William S. Burroughs. It was their style, not substance, he said: Burroughs was like the only electric guitarist in the world with an effects pedal, and he wanted to have that effects pedal.

I haven't even mentioned the slew of fascinating writers I saw at the Boston Book Festival last month, but that gives you a taste. I'm looking forward to more author events. I love how they let you discover a little about the origins of stories, and give you a glimpse of the personalities behind them. 

On the pleasure of attending book signings
The Devil Comes to FargoPatrick D. JoyceFri, 13 Jun 2014 19:34:00 +0000 the deliciously dark FX mini-series combines elements of The Master and Margarita, Doctor Faustus, and Twin Peaks

This week, Fargo finally gave us confirmation that Lorne Malvo is, in fact, the Devil. 

Not that it was necessary. In the first episode, Billy Bob Thornton's grinning, Vulcan-banged assassin waltzed into Bemidji, Minnesota with the same cocksure attitude that Satan brought to Moscow in The Master and Margarita. He proceeded to infect the town with evil, never caring who witnessed him or what evidence he left behind. 

But in this week's episode, the second-to-last, he identified himself as explicitly as he could without resorting to the chorus of a certain Rolling Stones song. "I haven't had pie this good," he said, "since the Garden of Eden."

Billy Bob Thornton in Fargo/FX

Billy Bob Thornton in Fargo/FX

I love Fargo – the new mini-series on FX, not the movie. In large part it's the otherwordly camerawork, the engaging characters, and the sheer suspense. But I think it also has to do with the inherent novelistic potential of television. I've awaited each episode of Fargo like, I imagine, readers of Dickens awaited installments of his serialized novels in the 1800s. Today, any adaptation of a Dickens story for the big screen inevitably disappoints: it's just not possible to cram that much texture, plot, thematic layering, and character development into two hours. Fargo the series may never have been a novel itself, but in its aspirations, it is absolutely an audio-visual novel. 

I also can't help thinking that Malvo's remark about pie (it's apple) is more than a confirmation of his identity. It's got to be an allusion to Twin Peaks, the show's spiritual predecessor. Pie was famously the dessert of choice for Agent Cooper at the Twin Peaks diner (cherry, to be specific). But that's just the tip of the iceberg: Fargo echoes Peaks in so many ways: its remote, small-town setting, its dark humor, its ensemble of quirky characters, its stark battle between good and evil. 

David Lynch has rejected rumors of reviving Twin Peaks. And thank goodness for that – the movie follow-up, Fire Walk With Me, stunk. (I'm not really a fan of any of Lynch's movies, actually. Hmm.) But no matter: Fargo creator Noah Hawley did Lynch one better: he took the concept of Twin Peaks and gave it the gift of a finite end.

Twin Peaks should've been a time-limited series, like Fargo, or BBC's Broadchurch. It could've used the narrative discipline. After a promising start, the show drifted, until at last its final episode gave us one of the most brilliant conclusions ever broadcast. Anyone launching a new dramatic series should seriously consider a limited format, if the suits will let them.

Like Twin Peaks, Fargo has one of its main characters undergo a transformation to evil. But Lester Nygaard, Fargo's meek, bullied insurance salesman, is a Faustus figure: he sells his soul for power and fortune. He mimics the devil, but, similar to Doctor Faustus, retains just enough basic humanity to be shocked at his own capacity for evil, every time he commits or witnesses a heinous crime.

The theology of Fargo is like the Faustus tale's too, at least Christopher Marlowe's version of it, which brings the concepts of fate and free will into unresolved tension. Repeatedly, Fargo begs the question of how much Lester's actions are his own choice, and how much they're the product of an external force. He actively wants bad things to happen to the people who have ruined his life. He conspires to achieve them. But if Lester has been rewriting his life, it was Malvo who turned the first page. Like Mephistopheles, who tells Faustus: 

'Twas I, that when thou wert i' the way to heaven,
Dammed up thy passage. When thou took'st the book
To view the scriptures, then I turned the leaves
And led thine eye.

And when Lester no longer has reason to descend further, he does it anyway. His choices are so utterly boneheaded that it makes you wonder if he's simply unable to stop himself. The moments that immediately follow the murders in this week's episode show a sudden horror in Lester's expression that is utterly perplexing. He must have known what was going to happen. And yet he's completely surprised. 

A lot rides on Fargo's tenth and final episode. For Deputy Solverson, truth and justice. For Gus Grimly, absolution. For Lester Nygaard, his immortal soul. But for viewers, at least this much is settled: television's artistic soul is redeemed. 

The Devil Comes to Fargo
The Ides of AprilPatrick D. JoyceTue, 15 Apr 2014 19:36:00 +0000 was born on the 102nd anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Exactly fifty-five years after the Titanic sank.

A day feared and dreaded by Americans. Tax Day. April 15. The Ides of April.

Lincoln and the passengers on the Titanic actually had their fates sealed on the 14th - the president received his bullet, and the ship its iceberg, late at night - but both expired in the early hours of the 15th.

Two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon the day I turned 46. I live near Boston, but I was in New York City when it happened, at an art museum. I learned about the tragedy on Facebook. When I was checking in to see who had remembered my birthday.

Wikipedia lists 44 notable events as having occurred throughout history on my birthday. Most involved war and conflict.

I'm beginning to wonder. Have I been infected with some strain of sadness from history? Is that why ghosts seem intent on hovering around my day?

I'm sure plenty of good things have happened on April 15th. I just don't know about them.

I've come close to discovering some. For instance, exactly six days after I was born, Stalin's daughter arrived in the U.S., after defecting from the Soviet Union. She was happy to be here. By the time I read about her in a magazine many years later, though, she had fallen on hard times and died.

I do share the day of my birth (but not the year) with Leonardo da Vinci and Emma Thompson. Pretty cool individuals. That's something, I guess.

I wonder: do people maybe have a tendency to remember mainly the bad stuff that happens, and just put those things down in the record books? Do we maybe obsess over suffering? Or are we just too busy enjoying the good days to keep any record of them?

Maybe it's the same for your birthday. Or maybe the stars have determined many more happy coincidences for you.

But maybe it all means something, this pursuit by misery, without being touched by it. I've been fortunate. Could it be a reminder, to be grateful for the life I have?

After all, the Ides of March may fall on the 15th, but the Ides of April doesn't. It falls on the 13th. Lucky me. 

Five great uses of landscapes in literaturePatrick D. JoyceMon, 10 Mar 2014 19:43:00 +0000 in stories landscapes aren't just for scenery.  

Take The Hobbit. Tolkien sometimes personifies landscapes, using them to signal turns in the plot. Old castles wear evil looks; Gandalf disappears. Stormy mountains become rock-hurling giants; Bilbo's journeying band gets taken by goblins.

Living landscapes serving as signposts to plot: fantastic! 

But landscapes do even more wonderful things. Other great writers have used them to reflect the inner terrains of the human psyche, projecting the very emotions we desire hidden onto the great stage of Nature itself.

An artist's rendition of Lem's symmetriad (Dominique Signoret/Wikipedia commons)

An artist's rendition of Lem's symmetriad (Dominique Signoret/Wikipedia commons)

I've just finished reading Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, a classic sci-fi novel that delves into the inner life of its protagonist—and by extension, of humanity—as much as it travels into outer space. The universe serves as mirror, and the farther outward we go, the further inward it forces us.

On the distant planet that provides the novel's setting, a living ocean gives material form to the memories of the scientists who've come to study it. It also mimics the beautiful—and ultimately incomprehensible—complexity of the universe they seek to understand.

By mirroring the fundamental difficulty human beings have in understanding one another as well as the universe, the ocean in Solaris makes the life of the mind momentous and expansive. 

For me, Solaris called to mind specific passages from other, earlier works of fiction, three of the most beautiful, in fact, each of which achieves a similar joining of inner and outer worlds.

All three happen at critical junctures in their stories, intimate moments when characters have tried and failed to forge connections with another person—friend, sibling, or lover—whom they wish desperately to understand. The landscape itself rises up in their way, ancient geography acting out human limitation. 

Two of the passages are from novels by E.M. Forster; the third, from a James Joyce short story. I'm sure other writers have done similar things–leave a comment if any occur to you!

There was a long silence, during which the tide returned into Poole Harbour. “One would lose something,” murmured Helen, apparently to herself. The water crept over the mud-flats towards the gorse and the blackened heather. Branksea Island lost its immense foreshores, and became a sombre episode of trees. Frome was forced inward towards Dorchester, Stour against Wimborne, Avon towards Salisbury, and over the immense displacement the sun presided, leading it to triumph ere he sank to rest. England was alive, throbbing through all her estuaries, crying for joy through the mouths of all her gulls, and the north wind, with contrary motion, blew stronger against her rising seas. What did it mean? For what end are her fair complexities, her changes of soil, her sinuous coast? Does she belong to those who have moulded her and made her feared by other lands, or to those who have added nothing to her power, but have somehow seen her, seen the whole island at once, lying as a jewel in a silver sea, sailing as a ship of souls, with all the brave world’s fleet accompanying her towards eternity?
- E.M. Forster, Howard’s End
India a nation! What an apotheosis! Last comer to the drab nineteenth-century sisterhood! Waddling in at this hour of the world to take her seat! She, whose only peer was the Holy Roman Empire, she shall rank with Guatemala and Belgium perhaps! Fielding mocked again. And Aziz in an awful rage danced this way and that, not knowing what to do, and cried: “Down with the English anyhow. That’s certain. Clear out, you fellows, double quick, I say. We may hate one another, but we hate you most. If I don’t make you go, Ahmed will, Karim will, if it’s fifty-five hundred years we shall get rid of you, yes, we shall drive every blasted Englishman into the sea, and then “—he rode against him furiously— “and then,” he concluded, half kissing him, “you and I shall be friends.”
“Why can’t we be friends now?” said the other, holding him affectionately. “It’s what I want. It’s what you want.”
But the horses didn’t want it—they swerved apart; the earth didn’t want it, sending up rocks through which riders must pass single file; the temples, the tank, the jail, the palace, the birds, “the carrion, the Guest House, that came into view as they issued from the gap and saw Mau beneath: they didn’t want it, they said in their hundred voices, “No, not yet,” and the sky said, “No, not there.”
- E.M. Forster, A Passage to India
Generous tears filled Gabriel's eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark, “falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
- James Joyce, The Dead


Five great uses of landscapes in literature