Katka by Stephen R. Meier

Title:  Katka

Author:  Stephen R. Meier

Paperback:  107 pages

Date Published:  2008

Publisher:  booksurge

ISBN:  9781439216330

“Gavin why are you here in Prague?”  Katka asked as they were walking along one of the cobblestone streets.
The question seemed to be one that Gavin didn’t like answering, and one that caused a bit of duress.
“I just wanted to get away for awhile,” he finally answered.
“From?”
“Life.”
It was the way he said it.
“Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, just every now and then you need to take a step back and reevaluate things.”
She just listened.
“I just couldn’t stay there.”
Thinking about it made Gavin angry, very angry.  He had done everything by the book, had gone to college, gotten a degree and a job right out of University.  One complete with benefits, a matching 401k, everything.  Perhaps it was a life that he never really wanted, but still, his parents had been so proud.  He never saw it coming.
Sometimes life just isn’t fair.
“Why Prague?’
“To find you,” Gavin answered with a smile.
They both laughed.
“No, my buddy Pat lives out here and told me to come out and that I could work at his bar.  He’s been out here for awhile now and loves it, so I figured why not.”
“Do you like it?”
“I love it, especially right at this moment.”
It was cheesy, but the right thing to say at the time.
Katka loved it.
They stopped walking and turned to one another.
They stared deep into one another’s eyes.
“You’re absolutely stunning,” he said pushing a piece of hair out of her face.
She blushed.
They they kissed.  The kind of kiss that moves mountains, creates dreams.
Writes a fairy tale.

Katka by Stephen R. Meier, pages19-20

First of all, I want to get all the unpleasantness out of the way.  I did not like this book.  At all.  I was in pain for most of the (thank gawd it was only) 107 pages.  It wasn’t as bad as The Gun Runner’s Daughter (worst book ever), but it was bad.  I give Katka by Stephen R. Meier 1 out of 5 stars.

Now, having said that, let me explain.  First off, I feel bad for not liking the book.  Meier spent 7+ years trying to get this story out there, and it’s definitely a labor of love for him.  I truly wanted to like this book, as the description sounded very intriguing.

Katka by Stephen Meier is a gritty, edgy novel of greed, love, and swindles gone very wrong.  When Gavin and his girlfriend team with her best friend Simona to pull a phony mail order bride scam in the Czech Republic, Gavin gets in way over his head in the high-stakes and dangerous business of selling wives.  When Gavin talks Katka, his girlfriend, into becoming part of the merchandise, planning to bait-n-switch the client in the end, things go awry and Katka disappears with the client.  Partnering with the jealous and volatile Simona, Gavin begins to lament this risky life he has chosen, but finds the money is something he can’t walk away from. Gavin’s doubts grow; the con begins to consume him, and he finds himself thinking of Katka, the fate he dealt her, and whether he can undo the biggest mistake of his life.  Written with staccato grit and streetwise savvy, Katka reads like a Quentin Tarantino movie.  Stephen Meier’s work will leave you begging for more.

So where did it go wrong?  The writing, mostly.  I think part of the book’s problem is that, originally, it was written as a screenplay and later adapted into a novella.  Nearly all of the book is written in short, punchy sentences, as demonstrated by the quote.  There are no indentations for paragraphs, and the grammatical and spelling errors were too abundant to overlook.  I was tempted to send the book flying when I came across “Gavin striked Dale across the face” on page 77 (just 30 pages more, you can do it!  I said to calm myself).

Also, the book’s timeline is disjointed with seemingly random flashbacks and bunny trails of side-thoughts.  Meier gives no lead ins to the changes and, by the time the story returned to original scene, I couldn’t remember what the heck was even going on.  It was all too irritating and confusing.

Adding to all that was the gratuitous sex and violence, and the overuse of the ‘F’ word that seemed more like, “Hey, I’m a tough guy because I say the F word a lot.”  I did expect sex and swearing, given the subject matter, but where it appears often appears out of place and contrived. 

Then there were the characters, most seemed mildly schizophrenic, behaving one way in one setting then flipping it in another.  I don’t think Gavin used the F word more than five times in the whole book when he was alone with Katka, which is why I thought maybe it was an attempt to butch him up.  The majority of them were underdeveloped, flat, and didn’t inspire me to empathy.  The novella is too short for the amount of characters used to be properly developed and for all the sub-plots to receive the needed attention to make sense.

HAVING SAID ALL THAT…..

There are glimpses of potential good in this novella.  It would be a really good starting place for a novel; it felt more like reading a concept for a novel.  It does have a feel, toward the end, of the movie Indecent Proposal.  I think it could be a great novel, but it needs a lot more work.  AND, a better editor (maybe a woman editor would help smooth out the edges?).

As it is, I think it would appeal to guys in their late teens to late twenties.  It has a feel of a dime store novel and of the old 8-pager… the pulp-fiction porno.

Here are a few other reviews of Katka, some people even liked it.

Chicago Center for Literature and Photography– rated it 7.3 out of 10 and said, “it’s not much more than just a basic pulp-fiction tale, nothing more and nothing less than a typical film-noir B-picture put out by Hollywood in the 1920s and ’30s, updated in this case for modern sensibilities and cultural references.”

The Faerie Drink Review  gave Katka a 4 out of 5.  You can also read Devyn’s interview with Stephen Meier here.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Long and short of it…  I really did not like Katka, and after reading the interview, I feel bad for saying it.  Meier seems like a decent guy, who was inspired by real life events to write the story, and has been on a seven-year journey to finally see his baby born… and I’m pooping on it *sigh*  BUT… it’s not the kind of bad that I’d say, “Don’t read this,” because obviously some people do like it.  Also, I would love to read Meier’s next book, Teaching Pandas to Swim, though he probably won’t invite me to read it.

*now I feel guilty… off to buy 10 copies of Katka….*

Advertisements

Silas Marner by George Eliot

Title:  Silas Marner

Author:  George Eliot

Paperback:  218 pages

Publisher:  Watermill Press

Publish Date:  1983

ISBN:  0893759961

Miscellaneous:  Mary Ann Evans was born in Warwickshire, England on November 22, 1819.  Under the name of George Eliot, she wrote several novels including Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and  Middlemarch.  George Eliot died in London on December 22, 1880.

Unlike the gold which needed nothing and must be worshiped in close-locked solitude – which was hidden away from the daylight, was deaf to the song of birds, and started to no human tones – Eppie was a creature of endless claims and ever-growing desires, seeking and loving sunshine, and living sounds, and living movements; making trial of everything, with trust in new joy, and stirring the human kindness in all eyes that looked on her.  The gold had kept his thoughts in an ever-repeated circle, leading to nothing beyond itself, but Eppie was an object compacted of changes and hopes that forced his thoughts onward, and carried them far away from their old eager pacing towards the same blank limit…  The gold had asked that he should sit weaving longer and longer, deafened and blinded more and more to all things except the monotony of his loom and the repetition of his web; but Eppie called him away from his weaving, and made him think all its pauses a holiday, reawakening his senses with her fresh life, even to the old winterflies that came crawling forth in the early spring sunshine, and warming him into joy because she had joy.

And when the sunshine grew strong and lasting, so that the buttercups were thick in the meadows, Silas might be seen in the sunny mid-day, or in the later afternoon when the shadows were lengthening under the hedgerows, strolling out with uncovered head to carry Eppie beyond the Stone Pits to where the flowers grew, till they reached some favorite  bank where he could sit down, while Eppie toddled to pluck the flowers, and make remarks to the winged things that murmured happily above the bright petals, calling “Dad-dad’s” attention continually by bringing him the flowers.  Then she would turn her ear to some sudden bird-note, and Silas learned to please her by making signs of hushed stillness, that they might listen for the note to come again:  so that when it came, she set up her small back and laughed with gurgling triumph.  Sitting on the banks in this way, Silas began to look for the once familiar herbs again; and as the leaves, with their unchanged outline and markings, lay on his palm, there was a sense of crowding remembrances from which he turned away timidly, taking refuge in Eppie’s little world that lay lightly on his enfeebled spirit.

As the child’s mind was growing into knowledge, his mind was growing into memory:  as her life unfolded, his soul, long stupefied in a cold narrow prison, was unfolding too, and trembling gradually into full consciousness.

Silas Marner by George Eliot, pages 149-151

Silas Marner by George Eliot tells the story of the socially withdrawn weaver.  Once in love and a vibrantmember of society, Silas was betrayed by his best friend, who framed him as a thief who stole church money in order to steal Marner’s fiance.  Silas leaves the land where he has always lived and moves to the southern English country communtity of Raveloe, a town that is far out of the way of the main roads and therefore has retained its simpler, pastoral beliefs and ways.

For fifteen years Silas works at his loom, usually sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, in pursuit of his only companion,  the gold guineas he receives as pay for his work, and shuns all society.  However, when he falls victim to a robbery that separates him from his 270 pounds that he had hoarded over the years, he begins a journey of reclamation and healing.  The arrival of Eppie, the gold-haired girl he, at first, mistakes as his returned gold, slowly reawakens feelings of faith, trust and love within him.

 But… can it be meant to last?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I vaguely remember reading Silas Marner in high school as part of the advanced English Honors program.  As I read through this a second time, I remembered why.  Eliot’s language is slow and thick, at times mind-numbingly so, and some of the descriptions of the society of a bygone era drug on and on with the inane details of gowns and cows and ghosts and blah blah blah.  I found myself wishing for a good Austen novel.  And now I’m not nearly as convinced I want to crack open Middlemarch, a book at least three times the length also by Eliot.

I did, however, love the story itself.  I felt such sympathy and excitement for Silas as I followed him through all his heartaches and then as rejoiced with him as Eppie, the orphaned child who came into his life by chance, becomes the salvation of his humanity and restores all that he once lost.

A few years ago, Hollywood modernized this story in a movie starring Steve Martin as Silas.  The movie is “A Simple Twist of Fate,” and I recommend it to anyone interested in the story (don’t post hate comments for this, but I’d rather watch the movie than read the book any day!).  Of course, the movie is not a substitute for the book as an assignment for school, but could be watched AFTER you’ve read it. 😉

Obviously, Silas Marner by George Eliot is a literary classic and therefore has merit, but it’s definitely not my favorite classic.  I give Silas Marner 3 out of 5 stars.

Dough: A Memoir by Mort Zachter

A Memoir

Title: Dough: A Memoir
Author: Mort Zachter
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publish Date: 2008
ISBN: 9780061663413

What would you do if you found out your uncle, the one who wears the same suit he did when Reagan was inaugurated (the first time) and drives around in the same junkyard escapee that looks like an accordion for the last thirty years, had over 6 million dollars? While you’ve struggled to make a family and pay bills, your uncle’s been sitting on a mound of cash, never offering to help and always saying how broke he is.

That is what happened to Mort Zachter, grandson and nephew of Jewish Russian immigrants. “The Store”, as it has always been referred, was the family owned and run bakery. Began by Mort’s grandparents as a pushcart vendor that graduated to a Lower East Side 9th Street storefront, the Wolk family sold day old breads and cakes to the neighborhood. A beloved fixture for over forty years, it almost never closed… not for sabbat, high holidays, weddings or blizzards… Zachter’s uncles and mother moved the merchandise. They never went hungry, but they never were rich… or so Mort thought.

When his father’s illness requires Mort to take care of his uncle’s affairs, he discovers his uncle is loaded, to the tune of six million dollars. Dough: A Memoir takes the reader on the journey of discovery, realization, understanding and forgiveness. How could you not pity a man who has done without everything because he is “poor”, but has three brokerage accounts each with over a million in them?

I liked this book. It’s a short, fun and funny, touching read that is both a retelling of a life and a lesson to enjoy life now. This book is rich with texture: the smells of the bread and Suzy the cat in the bakery, Food Stamp Passovers, and complicated people. Uncle Harry wasn’t just a selfish bastard, but he was also the joking uncle who pulled people in, a Jewish Tom Sawyer who got people to work for free, oddly generous at times, and always his own man.

Harry Wolk had his faults, but he was a larger than life figure, overall, loved and well-known by customers. Zachter conveys this story without hatred, bitterness, or condemnation. One particular scene it in the book sums up how bad the uncles’ hoarding had been. While cleaning up Uncle Harry’s apartment, Mort finds boxes and boxes of unused, unopened appliances, cutlery, cookware and other stuff. The question is asked why they’d have bought stuff and never used it, the answer:

…It had to be a freebee… I was remembering the full-page savings-and-loan advertisements in the New York Post when I was a kid. Open your passbook savings account with us and receive your choice of the following gifts absolutely free… I plunged my hands deeply into the drawer and pulled out its contents over and over again. Bankbooks flowed from my fingertips, reflecting the maelstrom of New York City’s ever-changing financial history… Multiple accounts existed for each bank. All the accounts were closed…

My grandma was like Uncle Harry. She save-save-saved, even taking her own children’s pay and 4-H prizes, and never enjoying her life with it. She would manipulate others to her own purposes, and would tell her overburdened children “You’ll inherit it when I’m dead,” if they ever spoke up for themselves. The trouble is, she is now in a nursing home, dementia has taken her and her life’s savings. It’s such a waste that she didn’t enjoy life more and spend that money on her and her families happiness. At least SHE would’ve gotten the benefit of it. Now it’s all gone a golf bag and a down payment on some doctor’s second summer home.