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Book reviews

Nicole Flattery’s Show Them a Good Time (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019)

Has an abortion story with psychotic characters; a book meant for freakishly serious college profs.

A freakishly serious college English professor would assign this collection of short stories.  Thus, you’ll understand damned little.

But that may be the point.  The book jacket proclaims that “In this fiercely original [hyperbole] and blazingly brilliant [more hyperbole] debut, Flattery likewise deconstructs [here we go!  the first literary theory that leftist professors like to use to babble on about how words don’t mean what they’re supposed to mean] the conventions of genre [uh-huh; obviously, not an English professor who believes in the Judeo-Christian bases of the Western world] to serve up strange realities [riiight…].”

“Abortion, a Love Story” is a short story (which isn’t so short, spanning pages 65-150) worth reading in this collection, if only to demonstrate how abortion psychologically fractures a mother’s mind.  While it could be argued that Natasha had serious mental problems before she aborted the child conceived with her college lover, the fact that her college life is utterly in shambles after the event just proves what pro-lifers have known for decades: post-abortion syndrome (PAS) is real and devastating.

One more thing that “Abortion, a Love Story” demonstrates is that abortion can never be changed into comedy, as Lucy and Natasha (the halves of the fragmented aborted mother) conclude.  Natasha wants to make the play that the two women are writing a comedy (119), but by the story’s end it’s obvious that abortion simply cannot be funny.  When the “characters” are in what must be the scenery of the abortion clinic, Natasha affirms, “We’re not allowed to make a single joke here” (147).

Reading the rest of the stories will have you exclaiming “Wha-what?” or “OK…and what?”  A line from one of the stories could summarize anyone’s reaction to the entire collection: “Have you ever heard of anything so dumb?” (134).

Oh well, the 238 pages will only take a couple of hours to read, and it is good every now and then to explore how the diseased minds of characters view the world.

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Book reviews

Mei Fong’s One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)

For over three decades, pro-life researchers like Steven Mosher have disclosed the horrors of forced abortions in China, resulting from the one-child policy.  Now, yet another contemporary critique of that disastrous policy reinforces the pioneering work of the early researchers.

Fong provides not only anecdotal evidence, but also official data to support several tenets repeated throughout the book: that China’s economic growth is not related to its population control (xi), that the one-child policy in China is unnecessary for economic prosperity (xiii), that the one-child policy is responsible for forced abortion in China (xv), that the one-child policy is based on “an arbitrary economic goal” (48), that China is experiencing severe problems associated with a rapidly aging population (139); and that the problems of an aging population will increase because of the success of the propaganda behind the one-child policy—successful because most middle class Chinese only want one child (208).  Unfortunately, these are only some of the negative consequences of China’s experiment in population control, social control (such as the suppression of filial piety under the Mao regime), and forced abortion.

Fong mentions several important recent episodes in Chinese abortion history: Feng Jianmei’s case, whose image of her seven-month aborted child, thanks to the Internet, led to world condemnation of China’s forced abortion practices (60-1); Steve Mosher’s seminal work in exposing the forced abortion component of the one-child policy (61); and Chen Guangcheng, the famous activist who sought legal action against family-planning officials for their coercive measures (80-1).

Fong’s empathy with Chinese mothers who are forced to abort matches sorrow of her own; she miscarried her first child, a sorrow balanced at the end of the book with a loving account of the birth of her twin sons.  Unfortunately, Fong cannot end her work happily regarding China’s future; the trajectory of the drastic one-child policy and forced abortions suggests a bleak future for the country.

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Book reviews

Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning (Beacon Press, 2014; originally published 1946)

Frankl’s book counters today’s Nazi-like forces which promote abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.

Decades ago, as a young activist in the pro-life movement, I remember reading that great respect is given to Frankl for his life-affirming ideas.  Now, I understand not only why he is so respected by the international pro-life community, but also how his ideas can combat the greatest threats to human life coming from the Democratic Party: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, and other medical killing.

Fortunately, Frankl’s book, written fresh after the ending of World War II, still teaches valuable lessons for civil rights/human rights/pro-life activists (same thing) in 2020.  What, exactly, can this book teach people who have not lived in concentration camps and have no idea what it was like to have their humanity stripped from them by Nazi racists, as the Jews were in Nazi Germany?

Specifically, while the book contains many general interest comments and profound philosophical statements, Frankl’s antidotes to the life-denying ideas of the Nazis (or today’s Democrats) are easy to summarize.

“The consciousness of one’s inner value is anchored in higher, more spiritual things” (59).  This is an important statement, especially for Americans who think that the meaning in one’s life is based on one’s usefulness, income, or work that can be performed instead of one’s inherent value as a human being.

What Frankl has to say about suffering is foundational to understand his opposition to suicide (and our contemporary euphemism “assisted suicide”), euthanasia, and other forms of medical killing:

“When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task: his single and unique task.  He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe.  No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place.  His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.”  (73)

Americans can easily reconcile this statement about suffering with their individualism and, thus, not fear suffering, which is why some turn to assisted suicide, euthanasia or other forms of medical killing.

What’s a good antidote to suicide?  Frankl claims:

“This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love.  When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude.  A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life.”  (75)

The uniqueness of every human life is reiterated later in the work:

“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment.  Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated.  Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”  (102)

The above are predicates for Frankl’s more life-affirming statements:

“An incurably psychotic individual may lose his usefulness but yet retain the dignity of a human being.  This is my psychiatric credo.  Without it I should not think it worthwhile to be a psychiatrist.  For whose sake?  Just for the sake of a damaged brain machine which cannot be repaired?  If the patient were not definitely more, euthanasia would be justified.”  (124)

Since human beings are more than “brain machines”, euthanasia is never justified.

Lastly, for this section of my review, a quote from the 1984 Postscript encapsulates Frankl’s opposition to euthanasia from the perspective of one who suffered in the Nazi concentration camps.  Speaking about the difference between having inherent value as a human being and being useful, Frankl writes:

“If one is not cognizant of this difference and holds that an individual’s value stems only from his present usefulness, then, believe me, one owes it only to personal inconsistency not to plead for euthanasia along the lines of Hitler’s program, that is to say, ‘mercy’ killing of all those who have lost their social usefulness, be it because of old age, incurable illness, mental deterioration, or whatever handicap they may suffer.”  (143)

Christian religious readers (especially Byzantine and Catholic Christians, perhaps more orthodox Protestant Christians also) may object to Frankl’s apparent subjectivity about the “meaning” of life.  He writes that “the meaning of life [differs] from man to man, and from moment to moment.  Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way.  Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements” (72, an idea repeated on 101).  However, Frankl seems to redeem himself when he asserts in the 1984 Postscript that “I will not be elaborating here on the meaning of one’s life as a whole, although I do not deny that such a long-range meaning does exist” (135).

A glaring omission in the material is that the book says nothing about the historical fact of how Frankl and his first wife were forced by the Nazi regime to abort their unborn child.  That he says nothing about the death of this child speaks volumes, perhaps indicating that the sorrow over the loss of that child was more unspeakable than his life in concentration camps.  Imagine, then, how difficult it must be for today’s aborted mothers who suffer post-abortion syndrome (PAS) for their “legal, safe” abortions.

A final quote, this from one of the letters appended to main work, is important and can be prophetic for contemporary American readers, who suffer under a government which legalized abortion, the holocaust which kills unborn babies throughout the nine months of  pregnancy for any reason whatsoever and who have been exposed to the ideas of killing the handicapped newborn and the elderly or medically vulnerable: “every nation is in principle capable of a Holocaust!” (180).

Not only reading, but also implementing Frankl’s life-affirming ideas in our lives would do much to stop the nation’s acceptance of practices associated more with Nazi killers than Americans who believe in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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Book reviews

Robert Eady’s Israel Madigan (Combermere, ON: Editio Sanctus Martinus, 2015)

Interesting plot, but lugubrious writing style .

A LinkedIn colleague asked if I would review this novel.  Excited that I could assist a publishing colleague, I agreed.  Unfortunately, Eady’s novel was a significant chore instead of a pleasurable reading experience.

The novel suffers excruciatingly from a dominance of “telling” instead of “showing”—the former being a characteristic of poor writing.  In fact, the verb “tell” and its variants and the narrator’s oft-repeated refrain that he would “like to briefly tell” (172) this and that appear frequently throughout the work.  Granted, that this novel is a first-person narrative may account for its tediousness, yet, in the hands of a skilled novelist, a successful first-person narrative can be accomplished.  Unfortunately, this is not a thick Charles Dickens novel, where the actions of various characters are anticipated with great expectation, even though most of Dickens’ novels normally run over several hundred pages.

Of course, the novel has its merits.  A scene where the main character visits a priest for confession involves dialogue which is realistic and not preachy (121ff).  Another character’s murder is described in tantalizingly brutal detail (312ff).  Beyond these episodes, the novel is a lugubrious account of a priest and his sidekick, who assist a young woman, Caitlin Madigan, escaping from the clutches of a former politician turned pimp.  The narrative is supposed to represent Caitlin as a modern Judith saving her son, Jake (named Israel later in the novel), from the evil former politician turned whoremaster, who thus symbolizes Holofernes.

Although the allegory works, it is unfortunate that the story is rendered in such a tedious way that the reader would most likely fall asleep several times, struggling to get through the narrative.  Even worse, the writing is consistently lugubrious and somniferous only until about seventy pages toward the end when the killings (the bludgeoning of the priest and the strangulation of Caitlin) are depicted.  Why should any reader wait so long to enjoy such good action?

That the narrator obviously has mental issues [affirmed explicitly when he says “You may have heard from some people already that I am crazy” (15), at novel’s end (316ff), and punctuated at several intervening points when he discourses on dead bodies being “effigies”] does not make his rendering of what happened a trustworthy account of events in the killing of his priest friend.  His mental condition does, however, justify the lugubrious narration as the unfortunate rantings of a mentally-ill person.

Moreover, while the following might be a minor technical error on the author’s part, it does speak to the narrator’s credibility and contradictory attitude about vulgar language and women.  The narrator’s affirmation “to bowdlerize or avoid” vulgar terms in his narrative to the murdered priest’s sister, even to the point of masking a vulgar term by saying that it “sounds like ‘mucked’” (14), did not prevent him from sanitizing Caitlin’s speech, when she explains that she attacked someone “because I thought a bitch’s brains had caught on fire” (225).

Overall judgment: a good attempt at transplanting the Judith/Holofernes account to modern circumstances, but the writing style is lugubrious and somniferous.  While I can definitely see this novel become a film about orthodox Canadian Catholics who fight for their church and who are involved in the reformation of a former prostitute, the film’s script, of course, would be much less verbose, the script being considerably shorter than (probably half of) this novel’s 331 pages.

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Book reviews

Shusaku Endo’s The Sea and Poison (New Directions, 1992; originally published 1958)

The progression of medical killing from vivisection on humans and abortion to euthanasia: Endo’s novel a prophecy from sixty years ago.

Shusaku Endo’s novel The Sea and Poison is as relevant in the twenty-first century as a warning against medical killing as it was when first published in 1958.  In fact, sixty years later, Endo’s novel functions as a warning of increasing threats against human life by those who should be in the business of protecting it, physicians.

The novel’s plot is simple, yet horrifying: Dr. Suguro participates in the vivisection of American prisoners of war in Japan.  That he was sent to prison for two years for his involvement is not a spoiler alert; the author himself provides this fact on page 27, so the remaining 140 pages constitute an in medias res narrative on Dr. Suguro’s moral anguish from his collaboration in the killing of the American POWs.

Along the way, the reader comes to understand the anti-life milieu which made the killing of the American POWs possible.  Toda, Dr. Suguro’s friend, enunciates a strict utilitarian view of human life, where the ends of medical progress trump any Jewish or Christian valuation of human life as sacred, as in this passage: “Killing a patient isn’t so solemn a matter as all that.  It’s nothing new in the world of medicine.  That’s how we’ve made our progress! [….]  But if she gets killed during an operation, no doubt about it, she becomes a living pillar upholding the temple of medical science” (51).

Toda is the mouthpiece for an earlier statement on the anti-life milieu of wartime Japan when he asserts that “Today everybody is on the way out.  The poor bastard who doesn’t die in the hospital gets his chance every night to die in an air raid” (42).  That Toda cannot distinguish between killing somebody in a medical setting versus someone dying in a bombing raid is a logical fallacy easily identifiable by college students in a first-year English course.  (Determining whether it is simply an invalid syllogism, a non sequitur, or a red herring would generate a wonderful essay, wouldn’t it?)

Of course, a serious study of Endo’s novel should make the slippery slope evident.  If someone can abort his own child, then that disrespect for human life will manifest itself against disrespect for the born.  The clinical language that Endo uses to describe Toda’s killing of his own child compares with American authors, both pro- and anti-life, whose abortionist characters regard the unborn child as a thing instead of a human being:

I borrowed the necessary instruments from a friend studying obstetrics, and with my own hands, I scraped out the foetus.  To see what I was doing, I had nothing to depend upon but one flashlight.  And so with sweat pouring off me, I pulled out the small, bloody lump of flesh.  The intention foremost in my mind was never to let anyone know about this unhappy miscalculation, not to have my whole life ruined because of a girl like this.  (122-3)

The literary technique of dehumanization of both the unborn child killed in the abortion (a “small, bloody lump of flesh” and an “unhappy miscalculation”) and the callous disregard for the aborted mother, who undergoes extreme pain in the abortion (“a girl like this”), is evident twenty pages later when the first American POW is killed in the vivisection (146-8).  While the reader sees a human being, the doctors see the equivalent of a laboratory rat.  The POWs are sedated with ether and then experimented on by having saline or air injected into their veins or having a portion of the lung removed so that the various times of death can “be ascertained” (77).  The passive voice verb shows that the dehumanization affects not only the POWs, but the doctors themselves, who are the agents of the killings.

A final remarkable thing about this novel is that Endo’s religious principles are unobtrusive.  With one exception, no character (except a foreigner, whose opinions are discounted for this brief review) evinces Jewish or Christian ethical principles on behalf of human life.  There is “God talk”, but there is no preachiness in the few instances where characters like Toda question whether there is a God.  This lack of clear religious support for the protection of human life may confuse readers who know that the author was Catholic.

However, Michael Gallagher, the translator, may have resolved this dilemma when he suggests that Endo admired Catholic writer Graham Greene, who is famously quoted as saying that

He would rather be known, therefore, as a writer who happened to be a Catholic than as a Catholic writer.  These remarks were widely quoted by critics of every shade of belief and disbelief, and can, I think, shed light on Endo’s own position.  What followed, however, seems to have been generally overlooked: “When one is a Catholic, everything that one writes is imbued with Catholicism.”  (6)

Contemporary students might spend an engaging few hours reading Endo’s sixty-year-old novel but then spend weeks delving into the lack of respect for human life which this novel illustrates—and then perhaps months more comparing the doctors in Endo’s novel with physicians today who are agents of the forms of medical killing known as assisted suicide and euthanasia.  The analysis of the novel would be time well spent, since these contemporary forms of medical killing are more aggressive now, sixty years later, than in Endo’s time.

Many thanks to a Twitter colleague who suggested that I read this novel in the interests of advancing right-to-life literary theory.

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Book reviews

Sandra Dallas’ The Last Midwife (St. Martin’s Press, 2015)

Mellifluous account of an aging Colorado midwife with abortionist tendencies.

This novel can help pro-lifers understand how support for abortion starts small.  With such a midwife as Gracey Brookens, it’s no wonder Colorado became one of the first states to deny the right to life in 1967.

Gracey is a typical Protestant Christian woman in 1880 Colorado, and readers may think she is simply a wonderful “near sixty” year old midwife (33).  Gracey believes, “Every baby […] was a mirror of God” (2).  She affirms further, “My work is about giving life, not taking it” (23).  Even in one of those “life of the mother” dilemmas, she refused to “crush the skull of the fetus” in a difficult childbirth (57).

The way Gracey is depicted thus far, you would think she would rank with other pro-life feminists of the nineteenth century, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  If she were alive today, she would be a banquet speaker at the annual convention of the National Right to life Committee.

The reader should not let Gracey’s constant references to God, the Bible, and religious matters fool him or her; after all, even that fraud Joe Biden calls himself “Catholic” as he violently opposes the first civil right, the right to life.  Gracey’s work as a midwife helping mothers deliver babies is admirable, but the flaws in her life-affirming character quickly accumulate.

While some of Gracey’s statements are ambiguous [for example, when she mentions “put a stop to childbearing” (25) does she mean natural family planning, artificial birth control, or abortion?], numerous other statements demonstrate her abortionist tendencies.

Gracey confesses that she sent mothers “to that doctor in Central City who advertises she specializes in diseases peculiar to women” (87).  She wished she had aborted a mother who was supposedly raped (88).  She expresses more regret regarding an incident of a pregnant woman who fell off a cliff; the mother had probably killed one of her twins, and Gracey refused to abort her (103).  Gracey “didn’t want to abort the babies, not with instruments anyway; it went against her nature” (140), the implication, of course, is that using abortifacients is acceptable for her, and herbal abortifacients are mentioned often in the novel.  Gracey thinks “it wasn’t right” not to abort because of a mother’s social condition (141).  She had given a mother herbal abortifacients, which, fortunately, did not kill the unborn child (166).  Finally, Gracey expresses remorse that she didn’t abort the child of the sheriff, a decision which supposedly resulted in the death of both mother and unborn child (175).

Kudos to Dallas for this admixture of midwifery and abortion.  After reading it, you will want to donate to Colorado Right to Life to ensure that the state can overcome the negative effects of its midwives who veered away from Gracey’s life-affirming philosophy.

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Book reviews

Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents (Sentinel, 2020)

Masterly; essential for Americans to vaccinate themselves against Democratic Party totalitarians.

I read this book to learn steps that we could take to protect ourselves if a catastrophe like the fraud Joe Biden seizing the White House would occur.  Dreher’s mellifluous writing met that need.

The book is not perfect, though.  Some of Dreher’s statements are erroneous, misguided, or weak, especially if they critique President Trump’s policies or practices.  Dreher thinks the federal government mishandled the China Virus (29-30).  I doubt that any unbiased American (that is, someone who is not a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party, the new Communists in the nation) would claim that President Trump failed against the China Virus.  Dreher may be overgeneralizing when he criticizes President Trump for expecting loyalty from his staff and administration (39-40).  Also, it is unclear why Dreher thinks that the middle class is shrinking (44) when President Trump’s economic recovery after the gloomy Obama years lifted all Americans, especially minorities.  Referring to a prominent anti-communist Czech family’s opposition to building “walls”, Dreher glosses over the possibility that such physical walls are necessary to protect American citizens from illegal aliens (143).

Other statements by Dreher are embarrassingly naïve.  “Unlike the imperial Russians, we are not likely to face widespread rioting and armed insurrection” (30).  Has Dreher not heard of Antifa domestic terrorists who destroy private property and public monuments?

Similarly, when he writes that having an event like the Tiananmen Square massacre “memory-holed [….] is something that we will almost certainly not have to endure in the West” (88), objecting to Dreher’s claim may be logically fallacious, since YouTube announced only today, post the book’s publication, that this severely biased Big Tech megacorporation would remove videos disputing the election fraud rampant in Democratic-controlled areas.  Other social media critics like Mark Dice have discussed Big Tech’s censorship for years.

“A time of painful testing, even persecution, is coming” (162) is a statement which either displays Dreher’s ignorance or reduces his essential claim into a pithy simple-structured, one independent clause summary before advancing to the next part of his book.  I trust the latter is the case, since he alluded earlier in the work to those who were oppressed by being denied jobs and promotions, economic advances, and other opportunities over the past several decades.

Despite these few relatively minor flaws, some of Dreher’s ideas comport with the lived experiences of conservative, pro-life, or Trump-supporting Americans, and the expressions of those ideas are eminently quotable.  Consider, for example, the following sentences and phrases:

“What if we really are witnessing a turn toward totalitarianism in the Western liberal democracies, and can’t see it because it takes a form different from the old kind?” (xi).

“Elites and elite institutions are abandoning old-fashioned liberalism, based in defending the rights of the individual, and replacing it with a progressive creed that regards justice in terms of groups” (xi).

“Under the guise of ‘diversity,’ ‘inclusivity,’ ‘equity,’ and other egalitarian jargon, the Left creates powerful mechanisms for controlling thought and discourse and marginalizes dissenters as evil” (xii).

“Soft totalitarianism exploits decadent modern man’s preference for personal pleasure over principles, including political liberties” (10).

“Under soft totalitarianism, the media, academia, corporate America, and other institutions are practicing Newspeak and compelling the rest of us to engage in doublethink every day.  Men have periods.  The woman standing in front of you is to be called ‘he’” (15; italics in original).

“One year after the proletarian revolution, the Bolsheviks introduced mass ideological killing, calling it the Red Terror.  Thus did the radical intelligentsia, with a mustard seed of faith, move the mountain that was Russia and hurl it into a sea of blood” (27).

“The parallels between a declining United States and prerevolutionary Russia are not exact, but they are unnervingly close” (29).

The 1619 Project “mak[es] race hatred central to the nation’s foundational myth” (37).

Communism is “a rival religion” to Christianity (54).

For totalitarians “accusation and guilt [are] the same thing” (57).

“[A]rguments with these [social justice] zealots are about as productive as theological disputation with a synod of Taliban divines.  For the social justice inquisitors, ‘dialogue’ is the process by which opponents confess their sins and submit in fear and trembling to the social justice creed” (60).

“Any social justice campaign that implies that the God of the Bible is an enemy of man and his happiness is fraudulent and must be rejected” (65).

“Google quietly weights its search results to return more ‘diverse’ findings” (81).

Václav Havel, humbly identified as a “mere writer”, “led a revolution that peacefully toppled the regime and became the first president of a free Czechoslovakia” (100).

A hero of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, Mária Wittner, says, “If your soul is free, then your thoughts are free, and then your words are going to be free” (105).

“Without collective memory, you have no culture, and without a culture, you have no identity” (114).

Czechs “could no longer” trust universities “to tell the truth and to transmit the cultural memories that told Czechs who they were” (122).

“When a family’s members accept a culture of ‘sexual extravagance, promiscuity, relationships easily entered into and broken off, [and] disrespect for life’ (that is, abortion), then they cannot expect the family to be what it is supposed to be and to do what it must” (133).

Czech anti-communist hero Václav Benda “had the conviction that to destroy the communist regime was his mission in life” (141).

“The traditional Christian family is not merely a good idea—it is also a survival strategy for the faith in a time of persecution” (149).

“This is the core of what religion brings to anti-totalitarian resistance: a reason to die” ([151]).

“To recognize the value in suffering is to rediscover a core teaching of historical Christianity and to see clearly the pilgrim path walked by every generation of Christians since the Twelve Apostles.  There is nothing more important than this when building up Christian resistance to the coming totalitarianism” (205).

Martyrs’ accounts “form an essential part of Christian cultural memory” (206).

“Now our mission is to build the underground resistance to the occupation” (214).

Dreher’s work shows how important it is for Americans to rely on valid media outlets like Newsmax (and even other social media services, despite their bias against conservatives, pro-lifers, and Trump supporters) for updating all of us in real time on the advance of totalitarian ideas and ways that conservatives are trying to stop those ideas from destroying the nation.

Finally, since I obtained nearly three pages of notes and quotes, if you are a reader who likes to annotate important items in an author’s work, you may want to buy the book instead of transcribe relevant quotes from a library copy.  Dreher provides simply too much substantial material to regard.

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Book reviews

Fiorella De Maria’s Do No Harm: A Novel (Ignatius, 2013)

Fiorella de Maria has written an exemplary novel for those who simply enjoy good fiction which has something significant to say about contemporary life.  The characters are credible.  The plot is thrilling.  In terms of production, the book itself is of sufficient length, and the font is easy to read.

However, these are the usual bits of praise that can be given to any work of fiction.  What makes this novel exemplary are the themes of concern to contemporary Catholics: the attack on a well-meaning physician who chose to assist someone instead of let her die, the hostility which he and a member of his legal team experience, the thought that all is not well in the world of British justice, and the effects of a life-denying law on society—this last item satisfying the principle that fiction should communicate something important.

First, though, the customary criteria for evaluating a novel should be developed further.  Every character is complex and not a cardboard creation; this is true of both major and minor characters.  Dr. Matthew Kemble is not simply a do-gooder who saves the life of a young woman brought into his hospital emergency room for care, despite her having a living will which would have precluded any medical intervention.  He is an emotional wreck at times and even wonders whether it would have been better not to have been involved at all in such a complex case.  The delightfully hyperactive Maria, who, as a solicitor-in-training, is the equivalent in the American system of a paralegal, is a faithful young Catholic and passionate about her cases, yet she just does not know when to follow orders from her boss, Jonathan Kirkpatrick, Dr. Kemble’s friend and solicitor.

Similarly, minor characters display a depth which makes them utterly credible and ordinary human beings.  For example, Freya, Jonathan’s wife, is a devoted, traditional spouse who seems to enjoy puttering about her home doing the simple tasks of entertaining Jonathan’s friends.  Even she, however, displays her helplessness being involved with persons handling a controversial legal case frightening to her sense of British order.  Expressing sympathy in a discussion of the emotions generated by the case, Freya says, “’I understand.’  I don’t understand at all, thought Freyda miserably, carrying the weight of a blissfully sheltered life on her shoulders” (212).  Such honest characterization occurs throughout the novel, and the contemporary reader would greatly appreciate a cast of fictional characters able to express contrary or conflicting emotions.

Much more compelling is the pace of the narrative.  The four steps of plot development race from the exposition to the various crises to a spell-binding climax, which leads to a satisfying denouement.  How does one prolong over the span of 233 pages a relatively minor legal matter of one doctor accused of assault and battery for having treated a person who has a living will expressly forbidding such care?  De Maria does so exceedingly well, punctuating the narrative with unexpected, yet necessary episodes of violence for character development.  For example, the “explosion” of a brick being thrown through Dr. Kemble’s window on pages 124-125 and the brutal physical attack on Maria on pages 146-147 illustrate the degree to which those hostile to a life-affirming perspective would go to attempt to stop those who support life.  These scenes also allow the author to demonstrate her fine ability to create dramatic tension, which culminates with the jury’s decision:

“Members of the jury, do you find the defendant guilty or not guilty of assault and battery?”

Matthew was aware of time slowing down the way it was said to do in the final moments of life.  He tasted bile at the back of his throat and felt the hot, dizzying sense of unadulterated terror overtaking him.  He looked fixedly at the foreman.  (222)

An ordinary writer would simply follow the judge’s interrogative with the customary “Guilty” or “Not guilty” response.  In the hands of a master writer like De Maria, the dramatic tension is prolonged further for the reader’s enjoyment.  (What is the jury’s decision?  This will not be a “spoiler alert”; read the novel.)

Finally, the novel addresses important problems for our time.  Since anti-life forces succeeded in the late twentieth century in overthrowing the legal protection of the first civil right to life of the unborn, the handicapped newborn, and the elderly, the twenty-first century must face the continuing assault by those who think there is something called a “right to die.”  De Maria’s philosophical premise is sound.  Life-denying forces will not simply be satisfied with their attacks on human life; they want to force pro-lifers to assist in the killing and resent those who obstruct their plans to have death as the oxymoronic cornerstone of human life.  Dr. Kemble is a fictional version of any life-affirming person who does not do their bidding.  He is attacked and, like millions of other pro-life persons, suffers emotionally at their hands.  The injustice of the attack against a well-meaning, life-affirming doctor should inspire all of us to support our own and to fight back.  It is imperative that we do so, for the dignity of human life, especially life full of pain and suffering, hangs in the balance.

One hopes that De Maria will publish more novels using this cast of characters; they form a nucleus of vibrant personalities worthy of a series of films, if not a weekly television show.  Moreover, expanding certain ideas suggested in this novel would delight De Maria’s followers.  For example, will Kirkpatrick and his legal team assist others under attack by life-denying forces?  Will the charming affection between Maria and Rick develop into a full-fledged orthodox Catholic romance?  De Maria should follow up her success with Do No Harm by writing novels to answer questions like these for her growing fan base.

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Book reviews

Lisa De Niscia’s Momentary Mother (Whitepoint, 2011)

What a new euphemism for abortion and Hemingway have in common.

Lisa De Niscia’s 2011 novel Momentary Mother is a fine example of fiction describing the post-abortive mother.  Those who support abortion will not appreciate the main character, Lulu, who, as her name symbolizes, is a wonderful illustration of how Post-Abortion Syndrome radically affects mothers who choose to exercise their right to abort their unborn son or daughter.

If the language of the above paragraph is not only conflicted (combining both views of abortion, which is legal in the United States for any reason whatsoever) but also loaded with connotative terms which excite educated persons, then imagine how conflicted and loaded this novel is.  The title suggests a new euphemism that can be used by those who support abortion, a euphemism that joins “choice” as descriptors for something inherently negative.

The cleverness of this new euphemism cannot be exaggerated.  After all, designating a woman who has aborted as an “aborted mother” is passive—a passivity which is obvious when one considers that the past participle in the phrase suggests that abortion happened to her, was hoisted upon her unwillingly, a principle that certain feminists would find offensive, since they aim to encourage women and mothers to take control of their lives, even to the point of killing unborn persons.  Abortion, in their opinion, is supposed to be a primary means to achieve such autonomy.  Pro-life or life-affirming feminists, of course, argue that no female—either one merely denoted as “woman” or “mother”—has the right to control another person’s body.  Thus, the intellectual framework for this novel reflects one side of the continuing conflict in contemporary society over the most cherished belief of old-fashioned feminism (the stiflingly politically-correct and life-denying matriarchal kind).

That Lulu’s maternity can be designated not as an “aborted” one, but as “momentary” is significant in several respects, many of which are crucial, if not to the plot, then to understanding this character and, by extension, women in society like her.  “Momentary” suggests that Lulu’s pregnancy extended only for the briefest of time, mere seconds.  Think of it: if one has a muscle strain, one hopes that it will “go away” soon, after a couple of “moments” (seconds preferably, but minutes can be endured).  Pain lasting any longer would lead most people to highlight their doctors’ cell phone numbers, ready to hit the dial button if the minutes were to drag on and on and on.

Calling Lulu’s pregnancy momentary is the first suggestion that the pain of abortion is so severe that she cannot even intellectualize it as a period of time extending for months or years.  In fact, the first instance of “momentary” to describe her aborted pregnancy occurs on page 84, close to halfway through this 199 page novel—further evidence that abortion is so unspeakable that even a fictional character can’t utter the phrase so that the reader knows quickly why it is used.  How incredibly painful the abortion must have been to her.

Of course, as pro-life feminists know and as her character illustrates, the pain that Lulu endures from her abortion affects her whole life; more accurately, Lulu has let the psychological pain of her abortion control her life to the point of delusion (a degree which will be discussed in detail later).  Before discussing her delusion, however, one must understand Lulu’s history which enabled her to accede to an abortion.

Granted, some mothers who abort claim to be religious while others claim no religion and may even have slid into agnosticism or atheism if their families became stereotypical twentieth-century materialists.  This is not the place to argue the cognitive dissonance that occurs when religious mothers let social pressure persuade them into going against their religious principles affirming the sanctity of human life.  In Lulu’s case, however, the religious background must be excavated beneath layers of meaning lost beneath one adjective: “stereotypical.”  The narrator asserts that Lulu’s family was “stereotypically Italian” (11).  Since this is the only intimation of her family’s heritage, the reader must stereotypically presume that she may have been raised stereotypically Roman Catholic.  One wonders, then, what happened?  Why did she abandon her faith?  Why did her family seem to abandon its faith?  Even if they abandoned their faith, why did the family not retain its residual moral code of respect for human life like others who may have dropped their faith but kept the moral values that their faith taught?

These questions cannot be answered because there is no evidence in the text where the family discussed or demonstrated its faith.  Lulu’s stereotypical family consists of a father (the flattest character I have ever seen, perhaps deliberately made so to show that patriarchal authority has no role in this stereotypically Italian family), a younger daughter whose anorexia is supposed to be the catalyst for Lulu’s visit to her family, and a mother who counters the stereotype of the loving Italian mother in every way.  There is no opportunity to see to what degree Lulu abandoned the faith practiced by her family, a faith which would have protected her from abortion since it is essentially life-affirming (dissident theologians and cafeteria Catholics notwithstanding).  If the proposition that ideas have consequences is true, then this novel illustrates the severe veracity of that maxim vis-à-vis a family utterly bereft of faith.

Lulu’s lack of Christian, let alone Catholic Christian, faith leads her not only away from the safety of a religion which protects human life, but also towards a psychotic mixture of pagan devotion and deterministic Tarot readings.  The reader knows Lulu is psychotic because she frequently imagines seeing the High Priestess of her religion appear to her out of nowhere at various difficult moments.  As comforting as the appearance of the High Priestess may be to Lulu, the reader experiences a severe disjunction when the character first manifests herself so soon in the novel (on page three nonetheless); mulling over her Tarot cards, Lulu sees that of the High Priestess, who “waved to her.”  How interesting that Lulu’s delusional condition is easier to relate and to manifest in subsequent scenes than her abortion, eighty pages later.

Enough about abortion.  Well, can’t do that, since this novel ineluctably concerns its effects on a character, who is a hero at first (she wants to reconcile with her family, the cause of the initial division yet unknown), but quickly slides into a personality encumbered with psychotic delusion whose hamartia is her inability to realign (if not reform) her life on its track (whatever her career or function in life would have been) after having aborted her child.

The most touching points in the novel, which are also the most literary, involve a contemporary approach to the technique that Ernest Hemingway first used nearly ninety years ago: the linguistic transformation of an unborn child into the pronoun “it.”  Everybody knows Hemingway’s clever use of the pronoun in the short story masterpiece “Hills Like White Elephants” where Jig confronts the American man, the presumed father of her unborn child, by saying that “once they take it away, you never get it back.”  At this point in Hemingway’s narrative, it is obvious to the reader that Jig uses “it” not to refer to the abortion that the American man wants her to have, but to her unborn child.  (It’s juvenile, of course, to want to have every story end happy, but I hold with those who say that Jig will not abort her child, no matter how forcefully the American man claims that it is a simple operation “just to let air in.”)

How unfortunate not only that this novel can’t end happy for me, but that Lulu did not have Jig’s strength.  As a result, Lulu’s ruminations on a variety of topics morph into mental anguish over her unborn child virtually every moment (there’s that word again!) that the pronoun “it” is used.  The following passage exemplifies this Hemingway technique well:

Lulu tore open the plastic bag on the seat next to her and pulled out the dark blue blanket.  It was scratchy and prickly and smelled like chemicals, but she wrapped herself in it.  She wondered if this blanket was cleaned after every use or simply refolded and vacuum sealed.  She wondered how many people had used this blanket.  She wondered if she had ever used this blanket before.  She wondered how long this blanket would be used.  She wondered what the life expectancy of this blanket was, and then she wondered what her life would have been like if she’d had it.  Lulu wondered what would have happened if she hadn’t done anything, if she had simply left it alone, and she counted on her fingers beneath the blanket, twelve.  It would now be twelve years old.  (8-9)

The transition from rumination about a mere blanket given to her in flight to the aborted child occurs when she wonders “if she’d had it,” and the competent reader knows this, especially on reading the subsequent lines.  This technique is repeated often throughout the novel.

Another technique (more accurately, linguistic style) that De Niscia uses must be noted here.  Long sections of the novel are mere dialogue, which, by itself, could show an immature author at work.  (Narration can only go so far; some description and narratorial commentary are necessary.)  However, given that today’s readers are more inclined to know texting and web headlines as their first category of reading (who reads hardcopy newspapers any more?), this novel could succeed in meeting the reading expectation of texters.  Huge sections of the novel read like a text transcript (pages 101-111 especially), and this readability factor could make the novel not only popular with younger readers, but also adaptable as a drama.

De Niscia’s novel should be read not only for its literary, but also its didactic and therapeutic value: literary, for its clever use of Hemingway technique; didactic, for what the novel can teach us about families who have lost their faith and whose children suffer from such loss in the most personal areas of their lives; and therapeutic, since the character Lulu may help mothers who have aborted realize that they can survive after abortion and do not have to follow her psychotic example.

Categories
Book reviews

Daniel Defoe’s The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1946; originally published 1719)

Worthy of censorship by Antifa and the Democratic Party (nearly identical), read Robinson Crusoe now before it’s banned.

Leftist professors want to “decolonize bookshelves” (translation: ban books advocating Judaism and Christianity, capitalism, and Western values), so everyone must read this 1719 masterpiece.

This is not merely “a boy’s book”, although I think it would do wonders for males who have fathers who have not grown a pair.  After all, if you were shipwrecked, what would you do to survive?  Can you imagine any soy boy like the flaccid Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey being stranded on an island for nearly three decades?

Robinson Crusoe is a simple read, taking at most two days, if only because the early eighteenth-century syntax could be cumbersome.  For example, almost all of page 197 in chapter 15 of this imprint is a lugubrious one sentence.  However, beyond the seemingly naïve narrative are some profound ideas that would definitely agitate people like the Antifa domestic terrorists causing damage to property and killing people who disagree with their thug behavior, including the following:

  1. God has a providential concern for all of His creatures.  Crusoe acknowledges this, even though he mentions killing cats and penguins (chapter 9), which would trigger any leftist to the point of condemning the book on this matter alone as a violation of animal rights.
  1. Capitalism works; even though Crusoe is removed from his investments for nearly three decades, he becomes wealthy because of wise financial planning.
  1. Albeit professing a Protestant version of Christianity, the faith gives Crusoe the intellectual and emotional support he needed to overcome his own sinfulness and to persevere during his years of hardship.
  1. European colonialism had positive effects on the Caribbean and Latin America.  Although Defoe recognizes and apparently is immune to the evil of slavery, pagan cannibalism was rightfully stopped by European Christianity, not only from Protestant Britain but also Catholic Spain and Portugal.  (Yes, leftist professors, the South American natives were cruel and unjustified in eating fellow human beings.)
  1. Crusoe advocates religious toleration.  His calls his man Friday a Protestant (although it is doubtful that Friday realizes that he is such, since he was taught only Crusoe’s version of Christianity), admires a Catholic Spaniard for his fidelity and loyalty, and respects Friday’s cannibal father while exhorting him not to kill fellow human beings.  Would that the anti-Jewish and anti-Christian Democratic Party could exercise such religious toleration!  (It cannot, of course, since Democratic policies are inherently anti-Jewish and anti-Christian.)

Some elements are simply incredible, in the sense of not being believable as, for example, when he says that “I had neither the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, or the pride of life” (page 146, chapter 12).  C’mon!  Starting off as a nineteen-year-old and progressing to his forties, Crusoe didn’t once have an erection?  Oh well, Defoe is definitely not a twentieth-century or later writer steeped in sex like most are.

Other elements might be offensive.  Crusoe talks disrespectfully about “priestcraft even amongst the most blinded ignorant pagans in the world” (page 226, chapter 18) and expresses his reluctance to becoming Catholic if he were to return to Brazil (page 286, chapter 21).  However, twenty-first century readers can tolerate these incredulities as a puritanical view of life dominant in eighteenth century Britain and can disregard the anti-Catholic barbs as ineffective insults…

Unless, of course, one is an Antifa-loving politician in the useless and lawless Democratic Party.