I am a radiologist who was bored with work, and embarked on a ten-year odyssey to get an MA in Jewish Studies. This led to my reinvention of myself as a writer.
My first novel, War on the Margins, is about the Holocaust playing out in microcosm on the tiny Channel Island of Jersey, which was occupied by German soldiers and Nazi functionaries for the duration of World War II.
My second book, Flesh and Grass, is about a blind kid growing up in colonial Delaware. He is the son of the founder of a short-lived Dutch utopian settlement that was adversely affected by the conflicts between Holland and Britain. It is loosely based on the ill-fated Swanendael settlement of Pieter Plockhoy. The son's memories are primarily olfactory due to his extraordinary sense of smell. Like my first book, Flesh and Grass examines the ephemerality of official identity.
I live in Philadelphia with my husband and many pets. When I am not writing or reading CT scans, I review books for The New Podler Review of Books.
Where to find Libby Cone online
Where to buy in print
Flesh and Grass
When Britain and the Netherlands clash over sugar, spices, and slaves, violence is unleashed over several continents. A small utopian settlement in Delaware is not spared. We experience the tumultuous events through the olfactory memoir of the founder's blind son.
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Smashwords book reviews by Libby Cone
- Arguing With Henry
on April 27, 2010
"Arguing with Henry" and "Greenberg" are both works with 40-year-old narcissistic white male protagonists who drink to assuage their existential angst. "Arguing" is a book by Niall Hunter; "Greenberg" is a film by Noah Baumbach. While Ben Stiller's performance in the film is noteworthy, the movie itself drags. Greenberg is a man of the Eighties. He has fallen off the train of popular culture, except when an opportunity for "hooking up" with a woman he barely knows presents itself; then he is quite up-to-date. I get the symbolism of the dog with autoimmune disease and the distorted animal in the pool; he is self-sabotaging and his goals and desires warped. But so what?
It was quite a surprise to download this book, with its crude cover illustration, and find myself immediately drawn into the story of its parallel protagonist, Henry Flanagan. Married to a woman who finds more and more reasons to be away, having an affair with a younger woman with a need to settle down that is manifested by a wandering eye, Henry drinks and smokes his way through life, enfeebled with narcissism. The book is replete with scenes of drinking, screwing, shitting, and vomiting. Did I mention there is a lot of drinking? Dried secretions and body odors are lovingly described in a way that, if just a little more effusive, would qualify as McCarthyesque. The prose is deft and hilarious; it limns an Ireland struggling to enter the 21st Century, while obviously looking over its shoulder at the Catholic Church. The baggage of its estimable literary tradition is another burden to anyone with the slightest inclination towards creativity. Henry is on the outs with a columnist manque of his own age, as well as with a younger entertainment tycoon his lover takes a fancy to, one of a handful of twentysomethings he finds himself slyly analyzing; Hunter somehow is able to convey the idea of Henry's genuineness outshining the flash of the phonies.
To the bemused chagrin of us nose-to-the-grindstone types, Henry, like many self-absorbed slobs, is able to function, even excel, in his job. I suppose it stems from his rubbing elbows with what he sees as the lowest cultural common denominator, thus knowing his audience. There is a hidden nugget of genuineness within him that makes his actions believable. Conversely, Roger Greenberg, recently out of a psychiatric facility, protests that "it doesn't define me," all the while making choices and behaving towards women in a way that just screams "crazy."
I would be remiss if I did not mention that this self-published one-dollar book is beautifully edited, with typos I can count on the fingers of one hand, giving lie to the notion that POD means "sloppy." Edit, proofread, and edit some more, my friends!
If you're a huge fan of Ben Stiller, by all means go out and see the movie; he is excellent in it. But if you don't want to see him with a bad brown dye job and you like a little dry humor with your narcissism, skip the film and read "Arguing with Henry."
- Just like Dostoyevsky
on June 01, 2010
Having sat down at my computer to sort through the literary fiction on Smashwords, imagine my surprise at finding a winner in my first selection! “Just Like Dostoyevsky” by Barry Rachin is a smart short story about a divorcee, her teenage daughter, and an Irish handyman.Unless, like myself, one has the great good fortune to be married to an engineer who also knows plumbing, certain domestic emergencies arise that call for a handyman. The man in question, Danny O’Rourke, hails from the Emerald Isle and charms mother and daughter with his quiet competence. The dialogue is dead-on. Rachin even manages to fit in flashbacks to a Russian trip the mother had taken the year before. The kid is appropriately flirty, the professor mother reserved. My only complaint was the succession of adjective-comma-adjective-noun phrases, like “curly, brown hair,” “muggy, July warmth,” “leggy, blonde coed.” Nothing that can’t be fixed.
- This Unhappy Planet
on June 07, 2010
An elementary schoolteacher, a ravenous entrepreneur, and a New Age drifter form a company in Southern California to offer one-stop shopping for any kind of spirituality their well-off clientèle might wish. This sounds like the beginning of a joke, as well it should, but this book is awfully unfunny. Instead of jokes about messed-up kids really being “Indigo” and the language of beemers, we get odd metaphors and similes like “A bad vibe was bubbling up in the lava of the day” and “Her lips moved a little, like bananas full of maggots.” Most of the characters are not very likable, which is no sin; although I wasn't crazy about “The Kindly Ones,” you can bet I read it through to the end to see what its sick-pup protagonist would do next. Though this tries to be the Southern California of Didion and DeLillo, the characters and the plot are pretty predictable. The men are snarky and misogynist, the women neurotic and needy. We feel the economy tiptoeing towards the cliff, and see the unsurprising panic when it crashes. I'd love to see more character variety and depth, or at least more humor. The topic has the potential to be extremely humorous.
Gotta go adjust my aura!
- Siding the House
on April 13, 2011
This is a short vignette about a poor African-American family living down South who try to preserve a little joie de vivre in the face of threatening monotony and casual racism. The story is narrated by turns by Kanita, the little daughter, all brightness and speed; her depressed mother; her toothless grandmother, who tries to keep up morale by constantly making candy (an imaginative example of self-defeating behavior); and Bobby Ray, the developmentally delayed brother. Their house is being covered with siding by two young white men who seem to illustrate the downside of attempts at upward mobility in a racist system. Kanita disowns the siding, calling it “ugly,” and manages to hold onto her self-esteem. Beautifully written.
- Gunshot Stigmata
on April 13, 2011
Rogers' book's unreliable narrator is usually stoned and always insane. A damaged product of the foster care system, he plays guitar until his incapacity to bear life leads him to shoot himself in the hand, hence the title. He does try to find love; an uninhibited male view of sex runs rampant here and is refreshing. Rogers writes about sex and the ever-present undertone of aggression like Charles Bukowski on steroids: “The mole that hid just on the inside of her righ thigh. Whenever I ate her out I always kissed it goodbye afterwards, pulling up with a chin wet like a lion fresh from a kill.” The novella is in many short, disjointed chapters that jump around like the disordered thoughts of a severely shattered soul. Very well done.
- The Empress Rose
on April 13, 2011
This book held my attention for many pages, until the constant info-dump of material about the superiority of hydroponic farming wore me down. At my new digs, a front and back yard with scruffy grass are challenging me to revitalize them organically, but I doubt you want to
hear much about the three-bin method of composting or
the pros and cons of corn gluten meal. But Rose doesn't stop. At a farmers' market, after she has explained to other farmers in excruciating detail how her methods are superior, she starts all over again preaching to a restaurateur. I have been accused of doing the same thing over topics I am passionate about; I have learned that it is a quick way to bore people conversationally, and it sure is a good way to bore the reader if one is not careful.
- The Meteoric Rise of Simon Burchwood
on June 29, 2011
This funny picaresque novel features the insight-challenged Simon Burchwood, off on a quest for fame and fortune as a great writer, making his journey from Texas to a reading of his début novel at the flagship Barnes and Noble store in New York City by way of Montgomery AL, where his boyhood friend Jason signs on as his Sancho Panza. Simon is a fine example of a “you spot it, you got it” personality type, exceedingly critical of everyone he meets, tilting at windmills that have his own name painted on them. Semegran manages a first-person narrative that is simultaneously derogatory, clueless, and energetic. Simon is constantly launching into little asides, some of which make one want to scream “TMI!” His meanderings will remind birders of the song of the house finch, which emits a long trail of descending, insistent-sounding notes, finishing with a querulous, whiny three-note ascending and descending phrase at the end; Simon's songs always end with the assertion “It's true!” He's a stingy tipper to boot; this is tolerated somewhat better in Montgomery than in NYC.
The action picks up substantially during his time in Montgomery, where he runs into old acquaintances and revives his assorted petty grudges against them that had been dormant for years, refreshing his relationships with people as what I think people nowadays call their “frenemy.” He disparages Jason's slovenly lifestyle and makes fun of his old car, calling it a “turd-on wheels.” The reader will tightly grip an imaginary steering wheel while Simon, often half in the bag, rides around the dark Alabama streets in Jason's other car, his father's lovingly restored 1967 Mustang.
As Simon readies for the New York leg of his trip, the cracks in Jason's marriage become visible to him, and, at Simon's insistence, Jason comes along for the ride, even though he has declared to Simon that “Everything was fine until you came into town. That's when everything started to fall apart.”
The New York segment is played for slightly more broad comedy, a two-hicks-in-the-big-city farce. The two men arrange with a sleazy bellman to stage a “practice” reading of Simon's book (always referred to in caps: “THE RISE AND FALL OF A TITAN,” based on the illegal shenanigans of Simon's detested boss), inviting off-duty hotel employees and sending up a keg. Simon clutches and manages to read the first paragraph only; then the drinking and partying begin. Our hero does manage a few moments of empathy, both in dealing with Jason and with a menacing breakfast chef. Does this suggest that, all other evidence aside, his book may be good? Is he capable of change, or will he remain a legend in his own mind?
The writing is very clever. The only problem I had was with Semegran's usage of “low and behold,” instead of “lo and behold,” and a few typos. Read this book, and feel yourself clutching the wheel of the Mustang as Simon careens through the streets and reaching for your wallet as he prepares to dole out another miserly tip.
- Odd's Door
on May 24, 2013
Roger North and Lewis Spender, students and friends in the early Twentieth Century, are on a mission. In order to win acceptance into a club of rational thinkers, they must solve a seemingly paranormal mystery. Spender has chosen the case of the insane playwright, Adelard Odd. One person reading Odd's writings was struck blind, and three other people disappeared while in his room at the Quartersoake asylum. Once at the asylum grounds, the two men find out soon enough that Odd's door, a door ostensibly leading to nothing, is an axis mundi that involves those entering in a myriad of shifting universes. North and Spender are soon separated; Spender is held up as a king in the civilization he happens upon. North reappears with one eye colored silver; he is now able to see past and future and is also gifted with sight in the subjunctive mood.
They reunite and contend with multiple realities, described with a Douglas Adamsesque matter-of-factness. Trying to escape from a land run by paisley-clad Greeks, they briefly encounter Odd, who is a ruler, and who initiates a destructive impulse that lands them back on terra firma.
But the rational thinkers' club is a ruse. Spender is really on a mission to find out what happened to his mother, one of the three people to have disappeared through Odd's door on her own Odd-yssey. This Oedipal journey (we meet the Sphinx not once, but twice) subsequently leads to an island off Tunisia. They soon realize that dealing with Doors such as these is dealing with Death, and they try to avoid killing or being killed as they search for Spender's dematerialized mother, aided by the sinister, scarred Dr. Holroyd.
This is very enjoyable reading. Lacey is a superb writer. The reader will encounter wonderful old words like “grimoire” and “catafalque.” The allusions to mythology (I probably missed some of them) are enticing. Do not fear Doors, but allow yourself to be immured in this story.