Book Review: Christmas Branches

Latest Jack Kline collection of Christmas tales is a shareworthy feast
Reviewed by Brian R. Wright

The work of exceptional new fiction writer Jack Kline came to my attention a couple of years ago with the P.I. novel, But Not for Me, set in 1930s Kansas City and introducing Philip Morris and entourage into the pantheon of—some say ‘noir,’ I say ‘good’—classic detective literature. This year the author has assembled thirteen short stories from his imagination and family experience that capture the essence of Christmas… its intertwined holy day and ‘holiday’ aspects. Christmas Branches is a welcome addition for our time to the classic literature of the season.

As explained in the foreword, Jack’s writing career was presaged by the first story he ever wrote, as an assignment in the ninth grade. It was about Santa Claus saving a man from frozen death in a Christmas Eve blizzard… which became, in 2008, “Only a Christmas Story.”  That piece came one year after he wrote “Naming Christmas,” a splendid resolution of Jack’s recalled insensitivity, as a 13-year-old, to his dad’s feelings about “not getting the right tree,” for the family occasion. [Both of these Christmas stories appear in the author’s Blowing Carbon (2009) reflections.] With the Santa story:

“The bug had bitten. Each year since I have gifted my family a new story. A few have since been published, including “Christmas with the Pack” in the United Kingdom’s Prole magazine. All of them up through 2018 are included in this collection.

“Why Christmas Branches as the title?

“Decorated evergreens were originally part of pagan celebrations of Winter Solstice. Gradually, particularly during Queen Victoria’s reign in England, evergreens became integral in the Christian observation of Christmas. Each story in this volume is intended to be a branch of the overarching Christmas story—a story of joy, giving, faith, and love.

“I hope readers feel how much I love Christmas and the magical feeling it engenders, both religious and secular. Some of these stories do not directly relate to the reason for the holiday, but they show warmth and generosity that are part of the season. And some reflect more directly on the birth of Christ, including an unusual visit to Bethlehem at the time Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth.

“May these stories enhance your joy of this most special season.

“Merry Christmas,

“Jack” Continue reading

Brian’s Column: New Leaf for a New Year

Or should I say new ‘old’ leaf
By Brian R. Wright

Many would say that we-the-human-race on the man-on-the-street level—especially with the escalating pervasiveness of television through the end of the 20th century and now with the Internet coming of age in the early decades of the 21st—have caved in to the Neil Postman Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) scenario. [Sorry, I have to forgive the analysis here, because frankly the number of readers who a) ‘get it’ or b) care, are vanishingly small. Which is perhaps THE major reason for my turning over a new leaf… to be discussed shortly.]

A shortcut way to state the above is that most people have become comfortable with the perceptual-emotional or ‘see, hear, feel’ means of consciousness… with a corresponding loss of interest in the conceptual mode of same—reasoning things out thru reading, writing, and exercising independent logical judgment. Give you an example, turn on the mainstream nightly news, see the calming anchor, view the footage accompanying the anchor’s even assuring cadence announcing what meaning and solace you’re to take from the audio-visuals (or at least from the anchor’s voice-overs): “This is true and what all good people of society believe. Don’t worry, be happy, go to work as usual.”  [Then the ads for the broadcast interweave to give you the context and range of acceptable material choices. This is what Postman called the Age of Television.] And it may be our species’ undoing…

[Note also that ALL the major mainstream networks convey the exact same root news.]

Please read the following short essay from a collection of short stories by Jack Kline, Blowing Carbon (2010).[1] Continue reading

Book Review: But Not for Me (2017)

A 1930s Kansas City ‘star’ detective novel by Jack Kline
Reviewed by Brian R. Wright

A sign of the times… or a rallying cry to break us free from the times? That is the question. What first-time-novel author Jack Kline has accomplished with But Not for Me is on par with any of the greats of the private eye genre—Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald, Tony Hillerman, Mickey Spillane, Stephen J. Cannell (TV: The Rockford Files),  and, of course, Elmore Leonard. Well, okay, these are my favorites, anyway… in an admittedly rather large universe of outstanding detective-story writers that I know very little about. Thus the question, for me, is will Kline’s uniquely splendid, soulful voice break thru the conforming conventional literary fare we’ve become used to these days and start yet another fertile and fun whodunit universe for ordinary yet uncommon blokes like yours truly?

I vote yes. With all the proper praise to Mr. Kline’s mentors and writers’ groups—or from wherever or whoever he was led to initiate the novel vocation—Kline and his first book are a wholly unexpected diamond of pure originality. He’s that good. that different, with that towering a potential. There is a very special quality in play with the But Not for Me creation that transcends its technical superlatives.

What is it that makes a novel good? Most readers and writers will answer with some combination of (appealing or well-executed) plot, character, dialog, evocation of setting, the writing itself (its sharpness, emotional depth, original phrasings, fitness to subject matter), and something I’ll just refer to as ‘sociological richness.’ BNFM has all these in spades. Plus, as a bonus, it’s completely politically incorrect, a throwback, really, to the old school, “man’s world” of hard-drinking, hard-smoking, hard-and-soft relations toward the fairer sex. Continue reading

Shawnee Mission, Hail to Thee

10: Visit to the ol’ hometown for my high school grad class 50-year reunion
By Brian R. Wright

[Link to Episode 9]

Note: These columns are a series I am making into a volume of my memoirs, working title: Volume 1: Overland Park Ways. You may follow the links at top and bottom of page to go to preceding or succeeding episodes. The series starts here. {If the [Link to Episode <next>] at the  bottom of the column does not show an active hyperlink, then the <next> column has yet to be written.}

Hometown: Overland Park, Kansas
High School: Shawnee Mission West… Vikings
Event: Cocktails w/serious hors d’oeuvres
Location: Mission Hills Country Club, Mission, KS
Date and Time: Friday, October 13, 2017, 5-9+

Followed by a Saturday the 14th tour of the school—Hi, Eric with the brass, um, horns!—, brunch at a nearby sports bistro (Maloney’s), and, for a handful of the historically motivated, a reunion coda at the Johnson County Historical Museum. So that about wraps it up. I decided that the 50th reunion weekend belongs in the memoirs as a flash forward, since so much of what transpired was of high reminiscence value. In the form of a travelog…

[It occurs to me herein I’m mixing past and present tenses indiscriminately. Sorry for that.]

Remote Contact

Throughout the summer I had thought, hey, this is a big year, my 50th anniversary of crossing that all-American threshold of receiving a high school diploma. I felt it would be nice to make the effort this time—perhaps the realistic last best chance to dip into the teenage nostalgia pool without being laughed at as a beyond-the-pale geezer. It was getting to be late July and I thought by this late date, any reunions would have surely been imminent or behind me.  Continue reading