Eugene Linden
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THE OZONE CHRONICLES; HISTORY REPEATING AS TRAGEDY

Joe Farnam, the dogged, data-driven discoverer of the ozone hole, died in 2013, three years before publication of findings showing that the ozone layer, which protects life on earth from UV radiation, has finally started to recover. This nascent recovery comes 42 years after atmospheric chemists fir...

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The Ragged Edge of the World
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Winds of Change
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Afterword to the softbound edition.


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Silent Partners
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Don't Bother Me Honey, I'm Working!


Don't Bother Me Honey, I'm Working! by Eugene Linden It used to be so easy for a husband to justify his working life. He went off in the morning and then returned that evening. What he did during the day constituted "work." While wives, who took care of the house and family, might fairly ask who had the harder job, most arguments remained low in intensity so long as "work" paid the bills. The potential for conflict has risen in recent decades since many wives now work at jobs during the week and still do most of the housework. When the working wife is a lawyer, however, and the husband is a writer, the potential for conflict rises to infinity. To begin with lawyers are not known for shying from an argument, and then with a New York lawyer for a wife there is always the issue of how much money a writer's "work" brings in. As for the balance of power? In an argument about what constitutes a hard days work, a lawyer wife is the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and the writer is Costa Rica, which gave up its armed forces decades ago. Or so it would appear. May I humbly submit, however, that perception is not always reality. An outsider (or wife) observes a writer at work and sees a guy slumped in front of a screen for a few hours a day between long breaks for lunch, golf/tennis/windsurfing, and other activities more suited to the leisure class. This is an understandable misunderstanding, but the great preponderance of those activities that the lawyer wife sees as procrastination or outright laziness are actually vital parts of the writer's work. For instance: Lying in bed in the morning. To the lawyer wife the snoozing writer-husband appears to be nothing more than the embodiment of sloth, but for the writer this period between sleep and waking is the most precious part of the day and should be prolonged as much as possible. The virtues of the so-called "alpha state" between waking and consciousness have been well documented. During this period the barriers between the unconscious and conscious mind are porous, and the brain, which has been working throughout the writer's vital nine hours of sleep, presents metaphors, solutions to writing problems and other ideas as a gift to the new day. Try and use this valuable work time, however, when you have two babies and three cats marauding on the bed and the only other creature in the room who speaks English is your wife exhorting you to get up! The two hour lunch. Writing is a solitary profession, but it is critically dependent that the writer be in touch with mercurial shifts in the zeitgeist as well as be aware of the constant reshuffling of editors at publishing houses and magazines. The lawyer, grabbing a sandwich at her desk, might dismiss a writer's lunch as little more than gossip, griping, backbiting, and complaints about money, but initiates to the ritualized dialogue of publishing, recognize a rich tapestry of New Business Development, Forward Planning, Strategic Positioning, Marketing, and a host of other productive activities. No wonder the lunch takes a chunk out of the day! In a corporation, any one of these functions would require an entire department to fulfill, but the writer can adeptly dispense with all of them during the course of one meal. The break for tennis. Just because lawyers cannot bill time spent on the courts, they tend to look down upon those who take a couple of hours in the afternoon to clear their heads and restore their hearts. The British, a group who understand the vital importance of non-traditional work activities, have long recognized that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. Exercise stimulates blood flow to the brain, invigorating renewed creative activity, and, it bears mentioning, it also helps reduce the lingering effects of drinks imbibed during the earlier sessions of New Business Development, Forward Planning, and Marketing. The weekly poker game. Admittedly, the work aspects of poker are not intuitively obvious, but keep in mind that poker is as much as about wit and badinage as it is about winning (or perhaps losing) money. Poker thus serves to condition the writer's most important "muscle." I could go on but let me instead confront head-on the billable hours mentality that has so stigmatized writers and others who opt off the treadmill. Leisure, not necessity, is the mother of invention. Christophe Boesch, a Swiss field biologist who has studied chimpanzees in the Tai forest in the Ivory Coast, has argued that the most innovative groups of chimpanzees are the ones with the richest diet, and hence, the most free time. Freed from the constant search for food, they have the leisure to test new ape ideas, and the well-nourished Tai chimps have shown ingenuity in developing nut cracking and monkey hunting techniques. Applied to humans, this suggests a solution to the impasse over what constitutes work: lawyers should keep writers well-nourished so they can explore new directions, an arrangement that in essence leverages the optimum skills of both writer/husband and lawyer/wife.

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Short Take

[Mild spoiler alert: the book is a fictionalized exploration of a girl who falls under the spell of a Manson-like cult. We all know how that story unfolded. In this Short Take I’ll be offering my reactions to the protagonist, Evie Boyd.]

 

The Girls offers as bleak a view of the amorality of American youth as I have ever encountered. In a review of my first book, I was called “Intolerably apocalyptic,” but I can’t hold a candle to Ms. Cline. The book is a novelistic attempt to try and understand how some of the privileged young women of the late 1960s could commit unspeakable acts while under the sway of a Manson-like psychopath. 

 Thus we meet Evie Boyd, a fourteen year-old growing up amid relative affluence in Petaluma California. She’s directionless, with no apparent passions, self-conscious about her looks, emotionally needy, alienated from her parents (who get divorced), but possessed of a tough inner core and a rebellious streak. She’s enthralled when she encounters Suzanne, a wild, charismatic 19 year-old who seems to be a composite of Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houton, and Evie is honored when Suzanne pays her some attention. Events bring her to the cult’s squalid ranch, and for some weeks, Evie maintains a dual life, throwing herself into the life of the cult, while returning home enough not to galvanize her mother, who is pre-occupied with a rebound relationship with Frank, an entrepreneur who comes across as a hustler with a heart of gold.

Evie is so smitten by Suzanne that she doesn’t notice as the cult spirals down from talk of love and freedom to episodes of paranoia, back-biting and revenge. Along the way, Evie has her first sexual adventures, and enters sufficiently into the spirit of the cult that she brings them to the house of the family next door (which they descrate), even though she has known the family all her life and has no score to settle. Later, Evie talks her way into joining Suzanne as she and others set off to inflict mayhem on a Dennis Wilson-like figure, but Suzanne kicks her out of the car before they begin a horrific rampage.

Did Suzanne do this to protect Evie from what she knew was about to happen, or because she felt that Evie wasn’t a murderer and would become a liability? That’s left unanswered, but the bloodbath that Evie missed is so depraved – including the slashing apart of a toddler – that no human with a soul could find that earlier gesture redemptive … except for our Evie, who still feels the tug of Suzanne’s power, even after she learns every gory detail of Suzanne’s actions.

It’s several months between the time of the murders and when the cult is finally caught. During this time, Evie keeps her mouth shut about what happens and meekly allows herself to be shipped off to boarding school to resume her comfortable existence, though as a wreck, not a spirited teenager.

That’s when I decided Evie was a worthless human being. Sure, she was terrified that the cult would come after her, and there’s some honor on not squealing, but Evie had to know that the cult would likely kill again, and that made her an enabler of whatever they did subsequently.

The book interweaves the present and the past and so we learn how these events haunted Evie’s life. But there’s no redemptive moment, no act where she summons the courage to do the right thing, or rises above her own self-absorption. Even in the present, when the psychopath-in-the-making son of a friend and his underage, impressionable girlfriend crash at her digs, she can only summon a half-hearted (and failed) attempt to save the girl from following the path that so grievously sidetracked her own life.

All the men in the book are either pathetic or pigs of various shapes and forms – except for a premed student named Tom, who sees the cult for what it is, but who Evie rejects as a dork. Towards the end of the book, Evie ticks off a long list of subsequent experiences with awful men that could summon in her the hatred to commit horrendous crimes, seeming to imply that with the right mix of events, she too might have become a Suzanne, and, by implication, so could enormous numbers of other young women.

My first reaction was to call “Bullshit!” Were all young women potential Suzannes, we would have seen endless repeats of the Manson horrors in the nearly 50 years since the events. Instead, those murders still stand as a touchstone of horror because nothing since has eclipsed their mindless violence.

The Manson cult was at the far far end of the normal curve during truly abnormal times. In just the two years leading up to the murders, we had the huge escalation of a senseless war, the explosion of the anti-war movement and counter-culture, a breakdown of generational trust, my generation’s first experiences with powerful, mind-altering drugs, and a sexual revolution. In a country of more than 200 million people, that roiling stew of disruptive forces bubbled to the surface about 20 broken souls, deranged by drugs and in the thrall of a false prophet.

On reflection, however, maybe Ms. Clein was making a different point. All we have to think of are the teenage executioners of Pol Pot’s Cambodia or the child soldiers of Africa to recognize that the capacity for evil lies latent in the young. And, while in fiction we want our protagonists to find redemption or transcend their flaws perhaps Evie’s failure to rise to the occasion was making the point that a civilization that keeps our murderous impulses in check is not innate, but something external that has to be actively inculcated and supported. That’s something to keep in mind amid the current insanity of gun violence, and as more dark clouds gather on the horizon.



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