Damage, Maya Roads, Marijuanaland and Unquenchable (From the Winter 2011 issue of SONOMA magazine)
By Anya Parrish
Flux Books, 272 pages, $9.95
If Hollywood has any sense at all, someone will buy the film rights to this young-adult novel tomorrow, sign Jennifer Lawrence and Taylor Lautner to play the leads and rush it into production in time for next summer’s movie season.
Anya Parrish (a nom de plume), is a Sebastopol housewife, mother of two and self-professed “cook, knitter, wine drinker, dancer, game player, songwriter, and a mess…”
She confesses to “a very short attention span,” explaining that, “I write for similar people who must have something HAPPENING on every page.”
And so she does. The pace of the book is relentless and perhaps a bit contrived. But if you’re in for a page you’re in for the whole read, because you just can’t put it down.
The plot is a pastiche of young romance, horror, conspiracy thriller and psychodrama, featuring two love-starved teens who discover they share acquaintance with real imaginary demons, are being pursued by real bad people after a medical experiment goes insanely awry, and who slowly and inevitably fall cautiously and (almost) erotically in love. Imagine “24” meets “90210.”
And yet, it works. Parrish has cleverly woven the subliminal demons into the psyches of the just-post-pubescent pair in a way that only real demons can exist–through the permission we grant them. There is wisdom in her treatment of these tortured teens and the only complaint upon finishing the read is the wish that Parrish had aimed a bit higher, at a fully grown-up audience, and that she had made her 15-year-old heroine two or three years older, closer to the age she acts.
Otherwise, an impressive debut with more certain to follow.
Chicago Review Press
260 pages, $16.95
Mary Jo McConahay does to travel what M.F.K. Fisher did to food. She digs deep.
And when your subject is the Maya people of Mexico and Central America, deep is really…deep.
Beginning as a young and innocent ex-patriot with an impulsive 1973 journey into Mexico’s Lacandon rainforest outside Pelenque–where she slept in a hammock in the village of Metzabok among Maya whose women wore colorful, magically preserved dead birds in the hair at the nape of their necks–McConahay covers a decades-long sweep of modern Maya history. Much of it is tragic, a record of warfare, mayhem and murder during the chaos of Guatemala’s 30-year civil war and the Zapatista revolution in Mexico.
Some of McConahay’s travels through Maya time and the Lanadon jungles are transcendent, some of them are sad. They are all imbued with a deep appreciation and understanding of an ancient people battered by the ever-encroaching presence of modern civilization, its moral and physical diseases and the inexorable erosion of a culture more than 2,000 years old
McConahay is both a seasoned journalist and a lyrical writer with an exquisitely sensitive soul. While currently ensconced on a live-aboard boat berthed by San Francisco’s Fourth Street Bridge, she has lived, worked, traveled and reported in more than 50 countries, and her writing, while sympathetic to the plight of repressed peoples, is refreshingly objective. Maya Roads is commendably free from editorial judgments, but it reflects the deep sorrows and unimaginable loss suffered by individuals, families and the broader community of Maya civilization, such as it now is.
It is also full of courageous accounts–as McConahay travels frequently in harm’s way–and endless thoughtful insights.
Whether you know or care much about the Maya (or are simply aware of that troublesome Maya calendar date) Maya Roads is a literary trip worth taking.
By Jonah Raskin
High Times Books, 154 pages, $12.95
Jonah Raskin is a Sonoma State professor, a reformed radical, a persistent poet, a relentlessly productive author and a remarkably honest observer of his own life. His books continue to map the topography of the paths he has traveled personally, professionally and psychically, and in the past three years he has taken us from “The Radical Jack London,” to Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine in California to his latest work, Marijuanaland: Disptaches From an American War.
As with all his writing, Marijuanaland is an intensely personal and candid account–not only of the subject at hand–pot–but of his relationship to it and its meaning in his life.
Raskin grew up with marijuana. His father, an attorney, was also a pot smoker and later a pot farmer, way before growing weed was a commonplace, or marginally safe, thing to do in California.
But while Raskin is transparently up-front about his own affection–dare we say adoration–for cannabis sativa (or perhaps cannabis indica) – and while that adoration may limit his ability to acknowledge any of the dangers and downsides of chronic cannabis consumption, he is nonetheless evenhanded in the attention he pays to both pot’s critics and its most passionate and profitable advocates.
Along the way he introduces us to the emerald triangle in Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties (with a little Sonoma too), at a level most of us will never see. Through Raskin’s eyes and words we meet medical marijuana “Angel” Dennis Peron, growers of every stripe, lawmen and women, lawless men and women, and the lawyers on both sides who put them in jail and bail them out.
It’s a fascinating, first-person trip and well worth the read.
By Natalie MacLean
Perigee Books, 345 pages, $24 hardcover
When Natalie MacLean requested a review of her latest book, her name was at the bottom of the e-mail but I suspected a publicist, probably in New York, had written and sent it.
But because Natalie is an original, irreverent and refreshing wine writer, I rose to the bait and shot back a query explaining my suspicions.
She immediately responded, offering to send a photo of herself with that day’s Toronto Star.
So much for authentication.
Several things set Natalie MacLean apart. First, she’s Canadian, not a credential Californians associate with wine wisdom, although she’s an accredited sommelier. Second, she’s utterly unpretentious, irreverent and a little bit naughty. Her first book (a huge success) was titled, Red, White, and Drunk All Over, and was named Best Wine Literature Book in the English Language at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
And third, she can really write, in words one critic called “voluptuous.” Explaining that, “Riesling doesn’t need power any more than angels need muscle,” MacLean observes that, “In life and in wine, too much foreplay is frustrating and too quick satiation is boring.”
Who could argue?
Unquenchable is a global wine tour, structured around days of the week: On Sunday we’re in Australia drinking shiraz; Monday is Germany’s Mosel River Valley where we sip spectacular Rieslings; Tuesday takes us to Ontario and the Niagara region for pinot noir. The eight-day week progresses through South Africa, Sicily, Argentina, Portugal and Provence without a stop, alas, in California.
And while MacLean professes to be searching for the world’s best bargain wines, we meet plenty of bottles none of us can afford. We also meet a splendid cast of winemaking legends and learn about “the Judgment of Montreal,” during which an Ontario chardonnay beat the best of Burgundy and California. Who knew?
Very much worth a leisurely read, Unquenchable is also a good entree to MacLean’s exceptional Website at nataliemaclean.com.
From the Winter 2011 issue of SONOMA magazine