Eugene Linden
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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.


The Octopus and the Orangutan
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The Future In Plain Sight
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The Parrot's Lament
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Silent Partners
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Affluence and Discontent
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The Alms Race
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Apes, Men, & Language
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parrotslament

Buy The Parrot's Lament at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense. The Parrot's Lament : And Other True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity From reviews: The New York Times Book Review, Sara Ivry His incisive, informal prose turns even these nonhuman scoundrels into endearing subjects. From Kirkus Reviews Empathetic stories of animals displaying intelligence and fellow-feeling, with some references to controlled experiments to help put the acts in context, from journalist Linden, the author of several books on animal cognition as well as other subjects. This ``decidedly unscientific' collection of animal tales, wherein the beasts ``tried or succeeded in outsmarting, beguiling, or otherwise astonishing the humans in their lives,' is written simply to knock on our intuitive doors and get us to appreciate the lives of animals and whatever consciousness they possess. Linden keeps the anecdotes short and sweet, and, thankfully, taps into those untold rather than recycling the same stories about apes saving human toddlers and elephants enjoying sunsets. There are chimps and parrots that specialize in devilry and pranksterism, and a marvelous sampling of deceit, from the disingenuous use of body language by dolphins to a white-winged shrike tanager abusing its sentinel duties ``by occasionally making the alarm call when no hawk is around. As its feathered colleagues head for cover, it wolfs down all the food in sight.' There are great escapes from zoos and parks, which for orangutans is ``a singular obsession'they shape tools, conceal their intentions, and choose the best opportunity to make their move. The acts of heroism, trust, and loyalty may sound familiar, though the odd friendships are a delight: the tale of wolf and the goat feels too biblical, but the one about the horse and the turkey couldn't be better. Linden closes with an enviable ramble through back-of-beyond central Africa, where the animals reacted to humans with inquisitiveness rather than fear, for a single, very good reason: they had never encountered us before. Most of all, these stories suggest a range of possibilities in animal awareness and feeling that signal the caring respect to be awarded any creature. Animals are an indicator species, Linden suggests, so take a look: how we treat them reflects how we treat everything else. -- Copyright 1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. Amazon.com ...as a passionate and accomplished student of animal intelligence since the '70s, Linden--of course--couldn't resist comparing Sofia's reasoning to that of an ape, puzzling over the cognitive cusp upon which she teetered. And it's this affectionate but knowledgeable analysis, the gentle transition from rutabagas to metacognition and emergent symbolic ability, that makes The Parrot's Lament so satisfying, sentimental but still scientifically solid. The science of consciousness and animal intelligence is contentious, but many in the field--Linden included--deeply suspect that animals know more than we can verify. Linden lays down the science with clarity and good humor, but he leaves it to his animal coauthors, the amorous dolphins, escape-artist orangs, enigmatic cats, and lying hyenas that populate the book's scores of anecdotes, to make his argument. --Paul Hughes Buy The Parrot's Lament at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense.

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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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