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on Sep. 25, 2013 :
Polly was a highly unusual read. After his wife leaves him, Herodotus finds himself in trouble with the IRS over past due taxes, as if all this isn’t bad enough his bookstore – above which he lives – catches fire in the middle of the night. Rod, as Herodotus is known, escapes with his life but little else. Beaten down he decides to head for his brother’s ranch in Nevada to lick his wounds and hide away from the world for a while – preferably while huddled in bed in the fetal position, but life has other plans for Rod.
Whilst on his way to Nevada, Rod’s car breaks down in front of the only residence for miles. Approaching the mansion, Rod notices what looks like a snowman standing in the heat, but this is only the first of several surprises in store for our erstwhile traveler when he meets the mansion’s owner, Polly.
Polly is an enigma. The more Rod, who is now called Hero, tries to figure her out the less he understands her. She tries to teach him some truths about the universe, but can he learn the most important of those lessons?
Polly made me think deeply about many things and realize some truths I already knew, but hadn’t verbalized. At the same time there was one philosophical point in Polly I disagreed with – there being no afterlife. I don’t know what that afterlife might look like, but I believe there is one. On most other points I was in agreement with what Goldin postulated through his imaginary character.
On the surface Polly is a lighthearted, fun read, but it is also a philosophical primer of sorts which teaches that in the end, hope, and our ability to act upon it is our most powerful tool. It is what truly distinguishes from all other life on the planet. We have the choice to damage, or to contribute. To aid the inevitability of entropy or to slow it through our positive actions.
Polly is interesting, insightful, irreverent and thought provoking. I would recommend it most to philosophers, those who wonder about the deeper meaning of life and people in search of a hopeful and lighthearted, but relevant read.
(reviewed long after purchase)
Clive S. Johnson
on July 22, 2013 :
A Rationalist’s Latter Day Fable
Life is not going too well for Rod, something his Jewish parents may not have anticipated when they gave him the name Herodotus. Within a short time, a week or so; his wife’s left him, he’s discovered he owes the IRS $8,000 and his bookstore burns down, with him asleep in its above-shop apartment - the point at which the reader joins the story.
Could it get worse? Perhaps so. Maybe a speeding ticket, on his way to stay at his brother’s ranch, might be small fry, but it’s yet another pointer towards disillusionment with life. The heat of the Mojave Desert doesn’t help either, and certainly not when his Toyota suddenly breaks down. Fortunately, it’s just outside the only property for miles around - a large white mansion. Strange? You can say.
There begins a rather unexpected diversion in Rod’s journey through life, one that carries him and the reader into something of a modern-day version of Alice’s Wonderland. No white rabbits, no, but a non-melting snowman on the front lawn marks the start of a series of yet more bizarre events.
The stage is clearly set, the markers in place, the pointers aimed at something beyond a simple tale, much more a fable of sorts. It’s a fable with an intriguing and eminently plausible foundation, one that stretches from human foibles, failings and misunderstandings all the way through gods to the very nature of the universe - and life’s place in it.
Does it work as a fable? In its premise and exposition; eminently so. In fact, it has a surer footing than most traditional fables, for it presents a wholly plausible and hugely down to earth (excuse the pun) explanation for the highly noble conclusion to which it leads.
Here, though, we hit upon a bit of a weakness in an otherwise very well-crafted and engaging book. The story is, as most fables are, a series of situations - small episodes, hard-learned lessons along the way to an ultimate understanding. Perhaps Stephen Goldin intended them to be somewhat opaque, open to interpretation, but I found them too weakly connected.
Maybe I missed a thread of significance in each, maybe it will hit me at some time later, but a day after reading the book I still feel that it lacked cohesion. It seemed that the author planned to carry the reader to a climax, but then somehow failed to keep them in his grasp. It didn’t spoil the reading, no, certainly not, for it kept me turning the pages nonetheless, but it did weaken the book’s lasting effect.
There are perhaps yet more similarities to Lewis Carroll’s adventures of Alice, in that nearly all the characters are quite shallow, more cyphers for the tale’s telling than people with whom the reader is expected to empathise, even the protagonist himself. It does help to make the story otherworldly, though, which I suspect was the author’s intent. The downside is that the reader is less inclined to take Rod’s fate too much to heart. But then, the tale’s riveting enough without it and so well worthy of recommendation.
And does Rod finally find his place in life, does he indeed perhaps see his and our place in the grand scheme of things? Well, as they say, to know yourself is to know your own history, and his parents did name him after an eminent Greek - Herodotus, the Father of History.
(reviewed within a week of purchase)
on Aug. 29, 2011 :
(Cross-posted from the Frida Fantastic book blog)
[“That’s the way the universe works. Not random at all. The universe is passive-aggressively hostile.” - Polly (she who may or may not be God)]
Polly! is a quirky contemporary fantasy with a hopeful message. It follows Herodotus, a middle-aged man down on his luck, as he undergoes a process of rediscovery upon meeting the enigmatic Polly. The story is comparable to the Frank Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life, but it speaks to non-religious skeptics and has a weirdness that makes it more interesting. It’s never clear what Polly is, but she fights entropy, gives some serious tough love, and has plenty of thoughts on dealing with a passive-aggressively hostile universe.
The reader follows Herod’s journey from sorrow to renewed hope and wonder. Goldin’s prose is really enjoyable, it moves quickly with just enough description to make a scene memorable. The pacing is smooth, there’s never a dull moment, and it’s always engaging and unpredictable. There’s some offbeat humour which helps lighten the mood, and all of it feels natural to the story and Herod’s point of view.
While there’s only two major characters, they’re done excellently: Herod is a sympathetic everyman and Polly is vibrant force to be reckoned with. Another aspect I liked was the timelessness of the setting and the themes–it could be set any time in the next thirty years and it would still feel contemporary.
The worst part of the book has nothing to do with its contents—it’s the cover. The cover is confusing to potential readers, and Polly doesn’t even look like that. But hey, don’t judge a book by its cover. Polly has a French maid that is funny but a bit too over the top, and there’s a line or two or dialogue that rubbed me the wrong way, but those are insignificant nitpicks.
I advice checking out the longer sample at Smashwords to see if you like Herod and Polly and its agnostic themes. The book is filled with interactions between these two characters getting all Socratic-method style discussing life, the universe, and everything else. Polly pulls out all the stops on her criticism of organized religion, so if that’s not up your alley, well yeah, you’d think it’s blasphemous. It’s a quirky book that’s not going to appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed the ride and it made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Note: A free review copy was provided by the author.
(reviewed long after purchase)
on March 01, 2011 :
I am not sure exactly what was going on in some parts. I would say it was funny in certain parts and a little offensive in other parts.I know many people enjoys this type of humor and it was not a complete wash out for me. I am glad I read it, so everyone should try it!!
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
on Feb. 25, 2011 :
Stephen Goldin describes himself as a professional fantasy and science fiction writer and an atheist.
The first of those descriptors is readily apparent in Polly, but a surprise turn makes the last relevant as well.
I know I risk turning off some readers if I let on that the book’s protagonist, Herodotus, has the greatest sex of his life with a beautiful woman who may actually be God. But reviews are supposed to warn readers away from books they won’t like, so perhaps that’s not a bad thing. Most readers, though, would lose out if they let a little thing like that deter them from reading this unusual little novel.
As the book opens, Herodotus has just awakened in terror to find his bookstore on fire and smoke billowing upward into his second-floor apartment. His wife has left him, and the IRS claims he owes $8,000, which he doesn’t have. Now this.
Short on good options, he sets out in his decrepit Corolla to pay an unannounced call on his brother, who lives on a ranch in Nevada. On the way, the car breaks down in the grueling desert heat right in front of a mansion. Polly is its owner.
It must be said that Goldin is an atheist with a great sense of humor who doesn’t take himself too seriously. He is well grounded in the Bible and theology – and the Marx Brothers. The verbal sparring that takes place between Herodotus and Polly, whoever she may actually be, is brilliant from beginning to end.
In brief, Polly is a lion-owning, acrobatic, Japanese-speaking, gourmet-cooking nuclear physicist who hosts a houseful of friendly people whose lives she has touched with her kindness and generosity. Not that she always seems so kind to Herodotus, who is understandably confused by such oddities as an elevator in a two-story mansion that ascends for 13 floors.
The book is an allegory of self-discovery – or perhaps, universe discovery – by Herodotus, who can’t possibly match wits with the wise-cracking, teasing Polly. Without giving away more, let’s just say the conversation, which is laced with hundreds of puns and one-liners, eventually works its way around to the Supreme Being.
Whether she is or isn’t literally divine, Polly’s organizing principle is that entropy – the constant tendency of the universe to run down – is unstoppable, even by her, but nevertheless must be resisted.
Overwhelmed with Polly’s seeming omniscience, Herodotus presses for answers to the big questions about life and thereafter. Eventually he asks, “So fighting entropy is the point?” “No,” Polly replies, “Fighting entropy is what I choose to do.”
She wages the battle on an incalculable number of fronts, including helping a group of protestors save a polluted river, teaching adult illiterates to read and befriending a child with leukemia.
Polly is the kind of book aspiring writers should read just to study the craft. Goldin’s writing is fastidious. And he seemingly has the gift (Would that be a theological term?) of calling on everything he knows from the silly to the profound to create a story that starts out being entertaining and winds up being interesting, even thought-provoking.
To find reviews of more outstanding ebooks, see www.greatbooksunder5.blogspot.com.
(reviewed within a week of purchase)