Friday, 30 December 2016

Dr. Haltiwanger's Top 7 Best Books of 2016

This is that time of year when every Tom, Dick, Harry and Fred, Cindy, Boris, Petunia and Ed,  Morton, Dorothy, Ludmilla and Oscar, Sydney, Mindy, Horsham and Mildred's cousin Mitzi Plotzman, like to publish their top-ten book lists for the past year and I felt, as an avid reader myself, there should be a Haltiwanger top-ten book list but I could only come up with seven, perhaps due to my unrestricted ingestion of Neo-Citran. Usually I fall asleep between putting on socks so that's a good indicator of how far I get with pages. Nevertheless, here are some of the best books of 2016 that I think I read.

The Voice-Thrower of Thornhill, Ontario by Milton Doiley and
Abigail Tundry

There are some contemporary Canadian novels that seem so steeped in a traditional sense of place that it’s as if you can smell the pine beetles and poutine drippings and loon droppings and wheat chafe and bowling alley shoe deodorant spray from a mile away. Some would claim that continuing to write such fiction is like trying to beat a carpet with a geoduck, and they wouldn’t be far off but there’s still something to say for a book that wears its maple leaf on its snot-covered sleeve, and this is such a book. The motifs tumble down like maple leaves on a blustery fall day only to be used by wandering bands of out-of-work hobo rodeo clowns as toilet paper after a ten-course dumpster buffet. Skip back to 1973. Thornhill is just beginning to become a burgeoning suburban bedroom community, a place where you can be friendly but still get lost, in the woods or rifling through your neighbour’s garbage, the perfect hideaway for Clyde Torkins and his wife, Tilly, on-the-run from police in Michigan for a series of bank robberies. It’s not long before Clyde becomes a top janitorial supply salesman and Tilly, following her life-long dream, is soon a popular local ventriloquist with her dummy, Mr. Dentalis, who she takes to visit schools to teach the children about good dental and other forms of hygiene. But beneath this perfect suburban fa├žade lies a seething and strange world of unworldly desires with Tilly leading the charge as a paid-for-hire topless ventriloquist, performing for groups of slobbering married men in rec-rooms across the district. This novel is a beautiful and touching examination of the bonds of marriage tested in an oncoming new world where the old values are cast aside like burger wrappers out a car window and racy jokes around a rec-room bar become a plot for revenge and perhaps even murder. Not to mention a run for president of a balloon manufacturing company with links to some allegedly corrupt Rotary Club funds. The plot thickens like a stew left on the stove too long.

The Crimson Pistachio by Torrance Fippler

Remember when pistachios used to be dyed red? Then they stopped doing that for some reason that I know nothing about. Well this book delves into that mystery like a squirrel into a bag of nuts and holy smokes if you aren’t shocked by the results. A captivating read, like being chained to a radiator in a run-down motel. The book’s cover didn’t seem to have any designation whether the book was fiction or non-fiction but I’m erring on the side of non-fiction because it makes the plot, characters and pistachios all that more intriguing. Especially once the KGB become involved with an Iranian pistachio smuggling ring.

Pinsky Geltman’s Last Stand by Hamish Recondo

A great chess player is blown up while eating pickled herring in kosher restaurant in a Toronto strip-mall. On the other side of the world a young child wanders away from the family yurt and is flung into a world full of menace, malice and hailstones as big as gallstones. Then they turn out to be actual gallstones. In the neighbouring village the local butterfly collector finds a note in one of his killing jars. It’s a note from a Russian soldier semi-frozen in Siberia to his betrothed back in St. Petersburg. She’s already dumped him for another guy but he doesn’t know that as he freezes to death in a Siberian field blowing last kisses to her into the frigid air. Are these seemingly unconnected events part of a brilliant short story collection? No, they’re part of a brilliant novel that jumps around like head lice in an elementary school. If you can’t follow it, that’s your fault. Better luck next time, bub!

Heavy Snow In Vaagasraagard by Ilsa Oogaard

I’m not one for the fantasy genre but Ilsa Oogaard really hits it out of the fjord with this one. This novel has more characters than all the changes of underwear in a George Martin trilogy but they’re much more fully rounded because Ms. Oogaard has the good sense to incorporate their shoe sizes. It’s little things like that that really make their personalities pop and add an air of realism to the world of Gloogvarnishhooven. All I can say is that when Rankgnor, lord of Svenoorgorlogen discovers the magic lichen near his journey’s end and is then able to reverse time to bring his dead father back so he can pay him the three gold coins he owes him (about fifty bucks in today’s Canadian dollars), I wept like a baby seal lost on an ice floe. Then I went outside and chopped some wood and let my tears fall upon lumber that shed its own tears as I struck it over and over again with a potato peeler. It was going to be a long, cold winter.

Alcoholic Dogs by Clayton Tononoclot

Here’s another one I’m not sure is fiction or non-fiction but hot damn if it isn’t a great read either way. This is a poignant book that challenges you to, if not change your life, at least change your socks occasionally. Many books have titles that are misleading but for this book not to worry. Alcoholic dogs galore are pouring from the pages, stumbling about in the alleyways, sprawled out on the sidewalk, on the couch, vomiting on favorite chew toys…no sirree, it’s not a pretty sight. But then Psychiatrist Bob shows up and Mitzi Tobogner from the women’s auxillary at Dapson Falls First Penetcostal Church and even with a roving band of distempered alcoholic dogs unwilling to sit down with Psychiatrist Bob to really get at the root of their problems, the town never gives up hope. It’s a piquant narrative, like accidentally sucking a red pepper flake up your nasal cavity, but is able to portray the grey areas of moral dilemmas, such as taking a pair of hockey gloves out of a community centre lost and found box even though they’re not yours, filling them with luncheon meat and then putting them back, with great subtlety (and by that I mean both the sneaking of the hockey gloves and the insertion of the luncheon meat). A story of love, redemption, of alcoholic dogs puking on your carpeting and most of all, families and their pets and the co-mingling of their hairy parts during normal day-to-day and evening activities.

The Upholsterer by Lesley Melby

Who is the Upholsterer? Hitman, world renowned artist, or maybe both? Who knows, and by the end of this fabulous novel that breaks so many novel-breaking rules some reviewers have described it as The James Joyce Semen Express ejaculating through the glory hole of the death of language itself, you’ll feel like you’ve been slapped upside the head with your own scrotum (for those who don’t own a scrotum you can substitute frozen peas thawed in a plastic sandwich bag, or for those with a scrotum but are unable to slap themselves in the head with it, no problem, the book actually comes with a realistic plastic scrotum shrink-wrapped to the cover so you can whap yourself silly with it each time the text prompts you to do so), and be all the much wiser for it. But it’s not all just slappy scrotums and cat-scratched sofas dragged into the upholstery shop. Beneath the slapdash barrage of words lies deep underlying ideas about arts and culture in a society that values money and jumbo shrimp that have been successfully transplanted with human heads, above all else that is decent and worthy of a mall kiosk or even grandmothers spoon-feeding baby lizards while navigating a mine field in Eastern Europe. The main character, an upholstery artist, literally nail-guns her way up through the swanky ranks of the New York art world with her performance pieces where she refinishes a sofa while teaching an incontinent parrot to talk or enlists the aide of genuine hoboes to smash up Louis IV furniture to use as firewood to heat up their cans of pork and beans on the rooftop of the Guggenheim. But that’s just a teaser to the places this novel will take you and all I can say, after finishing this book my teats were sore for weeks and I had hoof and mouth disease for six months. The power of words is not to be underestimated. This novel is also an homage to the world of upholstery and the toll it takes on those who practice this demanding and dark art.

Tungsten! By Dr. Jamon Jambon

You thought you knew everything about this wonderful metal but think again. By the time you finish the first page of this fascinating book you’ll have to rethink everything you’ve ever thought about tungsten steel. From its discovery to its rare properties to even its very name (in German it means ‘wolf cream’ or ‘wolf froth’ stemming from a time back in the 16th century when rabid wolves wandered the countryside dragging off babies and ham hocks for sustenance and strudel-bakers’ wives for mating with), tungsten will never be the same old reliable metal you once knew it to be. In the end though your eyes will be opened to new insights, only to be closed again by burning ingots of smelted steel shooting out from an arc furnace that these words will construct in your cranium. The next time you mention tungsten and someone nods their head dismissively, you’ll know now to act quickly and deliver them a swift kick to the shin and yell “Tungsten!” at the top of your lungs to snap them back to reality so that they can fully understand and appreciate the precarious position of tungsten in the world today, whether it be the global marketplace or down-and-out in a scrapyard in New Jersey.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Failed Openings To Mystey Novels I Will Never Finish Writing

The Case of the Salivating Salami or The Worm Drives A Hearse – A Hal Vershtmeyer Mystery
“What is this? Where are the coagulation results?” Dr. Wolf threw the test tube to the floor, the glass smashing on the tiling. He was brimming with dissatisfaction much like when the brim of a hat takes on too much rain. “The saliva-to-potato mastication ratios are all off. Who took these measurements? We’re talking millions of dollars here. Wake up folks!”
A hush settled over the laboratory, many of the scientists farting under their lab coats in fear that they were the next to be fired from the project.
“Dr. Wolf,” a meek voice wavered from behind a shelf of beakers. “I think if you speak with Ludwig he might be able to explain to you what went wrong. Apparently something to do with contaminated saliva and the potatoes sent by Farmer Dan had too many eyes, which altered the test results significantly. I don’t think we should view this as a setback. It might actually have pointed the way to a solution.”
“Okay then,” Dr. Wolf barked. “Find Ludwig and bring him to my office. Why isn’t he here?”
“He’s in the tunnels, sir. Looking for rats. And wall sponges.”
“Well find him. I want answers fast before the investors back out.”
Twenty minutes later found a sweating and grimy Ludwig traipsing along the hallway to Dr. Wolf’s office. His pockets were full of wall sponges that had extended their tentacles, burrowing through the fabric of his shirt and trousers and then into his flesh with their miniscule tentacle teeth so that now they were feeding upon Ludwig’s blood but he didn’t mind. It made him feel as if he belonged…as if he were part of something larger, a family maybe. Anyway, this was his job, what they paid him for. Whenever he walked into the laboratory with a twinkle in his eye and wall sponges feeding on his blood supply, there was always a group of friendly faces waiting there to greet him and offer him a coffee and occasionally even a doughnut with no more than one or two bites out of it and sometimes even an untouched blueberry Danish. One day they gave him an apple fritter. He still has dreams about it. Once he saw an apple that had the same markings as the liver-spotted hand of the  scientist who gave him the fritter and he felt it was meant to be. He bought the apple and kept it in an old Philishave electric razor box where, over time, it liquefied into a furry sludge that, in the right light, resembled Hanks Snow’s toupee if it hadn’t been combed for a week.
He knocked on Dr. Wolf’s door. No answer. He knocked again. Still nothing. He pushed on the door and it swung open.
“Dr. Wolf,” Ludwig called. “Dr. Wolf, are you there? You wanted to see me? I got some beautiful wall sponges from the tunnels. They’re feeding now. Should be nice and fattened up for the experiment next week. As long as I can get that transfusion later on. These little buggers sure are hungry. It’s only been an hour and already I’m feeling dizzy. And I ate at least half my weight in rat meat today. In another hour I’ll be bone dry. You won’t be able to squeeze a drop of blood out of me if you were old Jesus H. Christ himself. ‘Course that was water into wine or something but with me it would be psoriasis into potato salad or boils into bouillabaisse. Anyway, you know what I mean.”
A desk lamp fashioned from an elk horn flicked on illuminating, although in shadow, a figure sitting behind the enormous desk built from timber rumored to be from the remains of a Viking ship, even though it had IKEA stickers on it.
“Dr. Wolf is dead,” the figure said. “He met with an unfortunate end at a ball-peen hammer factory. What caused him to be there in the first place is anybody’s guess? He was actually supposed to be at a chicken-skin rendering plant in Fluxenburg but somehow he got sidetracked and ended up in an industrial park on the outskirts of Nornvonhooven, being ball-peen hammered to death on an automated assembly line by usually trustworthy robotic machinery that punch a time clock just like any other human, pay their union dues, support their families, contribute to their community, coach the local little league or sit on the P.T.A. In other words all upstanding members of society, albeit robotic. And yet they’re picked on, time and time again. Shunned by the very people who invented them. Maybe that’s why they sought some form of revenge on poor Dr. Wolf who sat on the board of directors for the Abolishment of Robots from Places of Both Work and Leisure. We believe he was set up.”
“Who are you?” Ludwig asked.
Bletchford Capillary, sole heir to the throne of England, that is when England was part of the Antarctica back in the 5th century. Currently I’m a chartered accountant working for a yoga pants company. My wife, Mitzi, is a hired assassin who goes by the name Buttercup. The reason I’m telling you this is because, of course, now Mitzi, or Buttercup if you prefer, is going to kill you. We have to do this you understand to protect our board of directors and their unrelenting demands. One year it was three-toed sloths. That’s all they wanted. If it wasn’t a three-toed sloth they didn’t want to know you. You could give them a brick of solid gold and they wouldn’t have blinked. This year it’s something far more insidious. I’m not at liberty to reveal the details but suffice to say it involves rats wearing pants and replacing all the eyes on potatoes with mouths and teeth. I tell you this because you’re going to be dead in a minute.”
That’s what you think, Ludwig thought to himself and then he threw a wall sponge that he’d worked loose from his left buttock at Bletchford Capillary who fell to the ground screaming as the wall sponge fed upon the blood-flow to his face. Ludwig tore another wall sponge loose from his flesh and readied it for the arrival of Mitzi, no doubt bearing a Glock, a bullet-proof brassiere and sharpened assassin’s teeth.
But that was not to be the case because instead of Mitzi coming through the door it was his old boss from the mop-head factory, Hal Vershtmeyer, who had been dead for the past twenty years but now was apparently not. Ludwig had attended the funeral. He still remembered the catering at the reception afterwards. Who would’ve thought that mini-eggrolls would go so well with mole sauce?
“Mr. Vershtmeyer, is that you?”
“Ludwig, come with me. I have some people I need you to meet. They live in the centre of the earth. Don’t be scared. They’re hairless but kind. Do you have a pair of galoshes?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Not to worry. We’ll fix you up with some once we get under the topsoil. Now let’s hurry. There’s not a moment to waste. The fate of the world rests upon how quickly we act. The tubers are mutating every time they reproduce. Are your intestines able to process dirt?”
“How so?”
“Like if you eat it.”
“I dunno. Never ate dirt before.”
“Not to worry. You’ll love it. Tastes like chicken. Well, chicken covered in dirt. Think of it as an herb crusting for poultry. Now let’s go save mankind. Oh, just one more thing. Ever wrestled a worm?”
“Worms? Hell, yeah. Hundreds of times. Why didn’t you just say so in the first place? Could’ve saved us all this yakking. I learned worm rasslin’ at my daddy’s knee before I even learned to blink or regurgitate.”
“Music to my ears, Ludwig, music to my dirt-filled ears. Now let’s go give those worms a taste of their own medicine. Remember, best to catch them unawares during their excretion or lovemaking times.”
“You don’t have to tell me. I’ve got a room full of trophy worm heads that I procured while they were either sitting on the potty or engaging in some conjugal activity. C’ourse worms don’t actually sit on a toilet seat when they defecate and I can’t truly say the worms I saw making the beast with two segmented backs were married or just dating, but you know what I mean.”
“They live to eat and excrete, eat and excrete,” Hal Vershtmeyer said, an odd glaze coming over his eyes and his face exhibiting small facial tics. “The worm is devoted to digestion,” he continued in a monotone voice, “and thus is a perfect soil-enriching machine. Eat and excrete, eat and excrete, passing its nitrogen-rich soil casings, fresh from its intestinal tract back into the earth where they nurture life with their digestive system enzymes. We are one with the worms, the worms are one with us,” Hal Vershtmeyer began chanting and just as Ludwig was starting to get worried Hal hit Ludwig over the head with a Chicago 58 salami that he’d pulled from the pocket of his Kevlar bathrobe, knocking Ludwig out cold and then, pulling up a clod of turf Hal Vershtmeyer uncovered an iron hatch set into the dirt, which he opened by spinning the wheel lock.
Flinging the hatch open Hal called down, “I’ve got him. Everything in place?”
“We are ready,” a gravelly voice answered from beneath the earth. “That’s the second-to-last one we can cross off our list. With Ludwig as our hostage our bargaining chip just increased. Those wall sponges can suck blood in hell for all they’re worth.”
“Who’s next on the list?” Hal Vershtmeyer asked.
“Your wife and children, of course.”
Vershtmeyer didn’t even blink. He just adjusted his cufflinks, no mean feat when you’ve jerry-rigged them to a bullet-proof bathrobe and readied himself for the task at hand. From Helsinki to hell in two easy steps, he thought, with maybe a stopover in Timmins, Ontario for doughnuts, a shower and that hooker with the cheese string connection and her fantastic Flat-Tops record collection. That’s the kind of stuff dreams are made of, even when it’s 20-below outside but you’ve got sixty Sterno cans burning in the double-wide, melting cheese strings over Wonder Bread and illuminating the prefab molded plastic shower and half-sized bathtub in a flickering romantic light, plug-in Brazilian Carnival-scented air freshener working overtime and the Flat-Tops singing “Sneaking Kisses Behind The Iguana Farm,” in those famous falsetto voices that once made the Queen of Sweden soil herself in the royal dinghy while crossing the river Torne at twilight, on her way to cull the royal geese with a Gatling gun given to her by the King of Thailand as thanks for introducing herring into his diet. That’s the kind of sock-it-to-you thinking that got you somewhere in this life and soon the world would know who Hal Vershtmeyer was, one swing of a Chicago 58 salami at a time…one swing of a Chicago 58 salami at a time. It may not be a herring but never underestimate the power of a salami’s velocity, especially on cooler nights with few prevailing winds and the barometric pressure hovering at around 30. Like a grand slam in the old brain pan with enough meat grease left over to high-five an overworked butcher and leave plenty of fat slime on his palm to give him reason to stop and ponder. As it would anyone, as Hal Vershtmeyer was soon to discover. Either way, no worm conquerors were going to pull the dirt over his eyes.