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Write what you know. I know me and I'm talking to you, reader, in the first person, not the anonymous third person, because when I write I write about me and the world that thrives around me.
I wrote decent poetry in college, I couldn’t get the hang of short stories. I finished my first novel so many years ago writers were still sending their works to publishers instead of agents. My first novel was rejected by everyone I sent it to. The most useful rejection, by a Miss Kelly at Little, Brown, said something like this: “You write beautifully, but you don’t know how to tell a story.” Since then I've concentrated on learning to tell a good story. The writing isn’t quite so beautiful but it will do.
Life intervened. Like the typical Berkeley graduate, I went through five careers and three marriages. Since the last I've been writing like there’s no tomorrow. I have turned out twelve novels, a smattering of short stories and a little poetry. My latest novel is the third in a series about a man who is not my alter ego, he’s pure fiction, but everyone he interacts with, including the women, are me. My title for this trilogy is The Libertine.
Writers who have influenced me include Thomas Mann, Elmore Leonard, Albert Camus, Graham Greene, Kurt Vonnegut and Willa Cather. I don’t write like any of them, but I wish I did.
I'm currently gearing up to pay attention to marketing. Archery isn’t complete if there’s no target. I've neglected readers because I've been compulsive about putting words down on paper.
Today the balance shifts.
on June 29, 2011 :
Río Penitente, Angus Brownfield's newly-published tour de force set in Mexico and California, proves what many of us have known for years: Masterfully executed literature that simultaneously grips mind, soul and emotions, would soon claim a natural homeland in the cyberworld of the eBook. Authors may now pursue truth rather than someone else's notion of corporate profit.
Río Penitente chronicles the physical and metaphysical journey of three unlikely companions: Robert Gattling, Berto and Conchita. They move through an assortment of the sages, goddesses. fools and ferrymen that seem to inhabit such journeys.
The financially comfortable Robert Gattling, a Hemingway-esque Californian steeped in Catholic concepts of sin, regret and expiation, strikes a bargain with his own soul. He will serve as mentor, savior and border-crossing coyote for two unschooled peso-less Mexican vagabonds, Berto and Conchita, a young couple whose worldview is shaped by an admixture of campesino traditions, envy, violence and pop culture. If Gattling's quest succeeds, if Berto and Conchita can be led to their mythical Promised Land, then Gattling's life sins will be forgiven (at least that's his delusion). But what happens if there are problems: sexual, cultural, legal? Well... that's why we have a story, isn't it?
Notwithstanding Gattling's Christian/guilt background, Río Penitente is an existential book; thus forgiveness is an expensive commodity indeed. It's neither simple nor cheap. It cannot be purchased for a Communion wafer and a sip of wine.
I was first drawn to Brownfield's Mexico mythos in his prior novel, El Maestro (available as an eBook through this vendor), which I read in another format a decade ago. Brownfield expands and hones the vision created in the earlier book. He is a mature craftsman at the height of his artistic power.
(reviewed 66 days after purchase)
on June 20, 2011 :
In Rio Penitente author Angus Brownfield easily weaves a tale that could be the modern version of the Odyssey, but the uncharted waters are northern Mexico, off the beaten path. Gattling, the 51 year old wanderer, who wears the sin of taking another man’s life, travels to answer life’s unanswerable questions, but the further he goes the more he moves away from the truths he seeks and closer he is drawn to Sirens’ song.
Crossing the old bridge over the Rio Penitente should have been an unnoticed few seconds in Gattling’s lazy drive into Mexico. But when Gattling’s efficient RV blows a tire just as a Mexican luxury bus and a gasoline tanker enter the bridge, they weave a dance for their lives. Gattling deftly avoids a head on collision. He stops both to change the tire and to collect his nerves. Below, during a brief respite from the midday heat, two ragged teenagers who seek their answers in flight to the United States have paused to make love beside the river of penitence. Not knowing why this gringo is being a voyeur, the young man engages Gattling in a life or death knife fight on the rough bridge. He vastly underestimated the aging Gattling and is forced to swallow defeat and devastating humiliation. Gattling, moved to help, takes these two lost soul under his wing.
The reader discovers that Brownfield is equally adept in his portrayal of the young man who owns nothing besides his pride and his seething anger; the fifteen year old girl who lives by the dictates of her dreams and the ancient tradition of uncounted generations, and his raw biting insight into the deeply flawed Gattling.
But the discovery that evolves before surprised eyes is that at its core, Rio Penitente is a novel of the feminist movement in its early unfolding; when the three women, each in love with Gattling come together leaving him to sort out their confluence, as confused as if he were trying to survive the whirlpool of three powerful rivers coming suddenly together. But in the irony of the times, the women find their power in their unexpected unity, and do not allow themselves to be defined by their relationships with him; that is until the young woman obeys her dreams and is torn apart by the violent current. The tragedy is made complete when the knife flashes again, ironically by a placid creek where children played.
By these standards alone, Rio Penitente is worthy of your time. But, hidden in this adventure are treasures of unexpected wisdom. As the pages scroll by, you will find yourself stopped in your tracks; your breath taken when pearls of seldom realized truth flash across your screen. Memories of the powerful truths found in Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle and Bradbury’s in Something Wicked This Way Comes, are good parallels to Rio Penitente …timeless truths made more valuable because are discovered in the most unexpected places.
(reviewed 23 days after purchase)