Book Review: Blowing Carbon (2009)

Short fiction and essays, by Jack Kline

Blowing Carbon is a first-time collection of entertaining, enlightening, and endearing stories from exciting new ‘Kansan-American’ author, Jack Kline. Jack is also the creator of the exciting Philip Morris private-eye series, starting with one-day-to-be blockbuster, But Not for Me… and sequel Rhapsody in progress. Enjoy this budding writer of heart and imagination as he conveys timeless human drama drawn from his own salt-of-the-earth experiences. Such as:

  • a haunting at a Lake of the Ozarks cabin
  • the truth about Mary and her little lamb
  • a woman’s conflicting memories of her childhood
  • a college student’s struggle with tacit racism in 1973
  • one father’s emotional turmoil at his daughter’s wedding
  • examining televangelists’ and TV wrestlers’ influence on a toddler
  • a snowy ride across Kansas and Colorado in a ’49 Mercury with a man who may be Santa Claus
  • a river rock’s poignant message of peace and timelessness

From the beginning, you’ll be hooked: places and times often circa Mr. Kline’s native digs (Overland Park, KS). But this is more than a Boomer book of poignant mischief and retrospection, all ages and conditions will see recurring universals on display here… I was especially moved by the essay regarding father letting go of daughter into matrimony and a life of her own. Actually, I was moved to tears on a couple of the pieces. Also smiles. And self-recognition.

In addition, Jack has a knack for seeing the big picture and speculating what life may be like years from now. His short “Post Literacy” essay rallies us subconsciously to hold onto a core practice of our common humanity… that is, reading and writing.

“I am a dinosaur, an antique, the last of a dying breed. Born at the end of the millennium in 1998, I sit here at my ancient pock-marked oak desk having outlived my peers. And I stand apart from the vast majority of humanity, not solely because I am 117 years old, but because I can read.” — Page 75

And rendering sharp, common sense satire of the anti-smoking crusade:

“Their numbers dwindle through incessant tax increases, anti-smoking campaigns, employer sanctions, shrinking allowable smoking locations, and of course attrition—because, after all, “smoking may be hazardous.” Being a smoker today is like being a leper in Biblical times. The anti-smoking forces are uncaring and ruthless. For example, in 2007, Bangor, Maine, implemented an ordinance instituting a fine of up to $50 for drivers who smoke in a car carrying a minor. And if they can ordain that, then why not in our own homes….” — Page 199

These are genuine, from the heart, life-affirming, tender pauses for one’s day. For those into the literariness of things, Blowing Carbon is also a maiden voyage, displaying the first steps down a bold new road as the author masters his terrain. So, yes, perhaps a few techniques for clearing the way are not so ideal as alternatives. But no question that Jack already displays the ‘it’ factor—I’m thinking of the final short story, “River Rock:”

“Yet the rock rests here through storm and calm, absorbing sunlight and providing a perch for birds and for winter snow, and even for me. Perhaps I can learn to be more patient and more cognizant of my own surroundings. What wonders wait for us where we live, waiting for us to open up and see them? What can I learn from the Meadowlark and the Monarch—from my own children, who until now were there to be taught and not to be learned from?

“Or maybe I have given the boulder too much credit, maybe it is more about the peace and calm that pervades this place of boulders and trees and of water so clear it is almost invisible—the beauty of it. It feels almost as if this place holds some giant, well-disguised battery charger and it plugs into us the moment we arrive. And by the time we leave, the long-standing sludge that has settled into us so slowly that we never realized it was there, is gone for now—a kind of hundred thousand mile tune up for the soul.”
— page 217

But of course, in the middle, the signature award-winning story of down home racism, “Dirty Dishes,” nobody does it better:

“Each third Friday of the month is hell night for the help at the Leopards’ Lodge. First comes dinner for the Leopards, followed by a business meeting that is really just a chance for these great jungle cats to get good and lubricated before the wives and girlfriends show up at nine for an orgy of drink, dancing, and hors d’oeuvres lasting until the last couples stagger to their cars around two a.m. — page 127 …

“‘Nobody’s bringing a fucking nigger to the meeting,’ someone shouts from the banquet room. Charlie and Mickey freeze. Matthew and Helen [black cooks] continue hors d’oeuvre preparation as if they are deaf-mutes, but they must have heard. — page 131

“‘I’m not putting him up for membership,’ calls out Mark Pinchard, one of the good guys—a big tipper. ‘I’m inviting him to speak at the dinner. Eddie Shanks is the best football player ever to play at KU. He’s a six-time [NFL] Pro Bowler and KU’s assistant athletic director for crying out loud. And Eddie’s a great motivational speaker.’ — page 131

“‘We don’t care if he’s fucking God’s gift to the NFL. He’s a nigger,’ someone yells.” — page 131 …

“Mickey wants to say something to Matthew, to Helen. He wants to tell them that he’s sorry. He wants to tell them that he’s not like those men in that room, that many whites aren’t like those men in that room. He wants to tell them to be patient, that things are getting better all the time. He wants to say these things, but the words, even unsaid, taste bitter in his mouth—they’re hollow and lifeless, foul-tasting words. Instead, his rage selects an alternative word: a loud ‘Fuck,’ as he smashes a wine glass in the rinsing sink and grinds it into powder in the disposal….” — page 131

So many exceptional passages, so little time. I could list dozens. By the end of Blowing Carbon, one has witnessed entry onto the world stage of an accomplished, compelling new voice in American literature. The perfect book for art to nudge life in the right direction.

 

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