Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Boston, Real City destined not to join the Wasteland

This post to Porter Square's blog is in advance of my in-store reading next Monday from "Prescription for a Superior Existence," a new novel about a pleasure-addicted man who gets caught up in an anti-desire religion called PASE.

At the risk of sounding like a bad stand-up comedian ("Hello, Cleveland!"), I want to say first that I love Boston. Deeply and sincerely. My sister went to college in your fair city, so as a teenager I visited several times from northern California to marvel at your architecture and sense of history and fearless accents.

One thing I parcticularly liked was that you didn't worry about earthquakes, the specter of which haunted me, when in school our quarterly dive-under-your-desk drills had nothing to do with communism and everything to do with plate tectonics. I envied you very much and wished I could go to school in Boston when my time came.

For your sake it's best that I didn't. A big quake hit in 1989 that leveled large parts of Santa Cruz, where I would matriculate in a couple of years. Later I went to graduate school in Iowa City, which is 20 miles away from Cedar Rapids and currently half-devastated from flooding (I happen to be here today, in fact). From Iowa City I moved to New Orleans, where I was living in 2005 when Katrina struck. All this is to say that recently I, like Robert Oppenheimer, have had reason to quote from the Bhagavad Gita, "Now I am become Shiva, the destroyer of worlds."

Perhaps, though, I am less like Shiva than Jonah, and the world's metaphorical waters will calm once I mend my ways or am thrown overboard. A similar question can be asked about the hero of "PASE," Jack Smith, whose interest in the book's eponymous religion arises when news about climate change begins to penetrate his consciousness, and reports about extreme weather and shapeshifting glaciers and extinct species begin to suggest that something is wrong with the planet that only he can fix.

Now comes the reassuring part. Any resemblance I have to Shiva or Jonah is entirely in my head. Not necessarily so in Jack's case. I encourage you, therefore, to come to the store on Monday to hear about how in fiction, if not in real life, our planet's turbulent future might be steadied, at least for a while. It would be an honor to see you there.

Josh Emmons

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