Review: Love Park


reviewed by Marc Schuster

LOVE_Park_CoverAt a recent reading, Jim Zervanos explained that his debut novel, Love Park, was written in part as a response to John Updike’s Rabbit, Run, which itself had been written as a response to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. In short, Updike loved the premise of a novel written from the point of view of a young drifter, but he wanted the story to include a wife, child, and mortgage. The result: not as much drifting, but plenty of angst. Continuing on this path, Zervanos envisioned Peter Pappas, Love Park‘s beleaguered protagonist, as a spiritual cousin to Sal Paradise and Rabbit Angstrom. Like Angstrom, Pappas is 26 years old and dealing with all the issues inherent in that fragile age. Yet the issues that Pappas must deal with are a lot different from those of his predecessors. Unlike Angstrom (and even On the Road‘s Dean Moriarty), Pappas has never been with a woman in the Biblical sense–let alone been married. Instead he lives in his parents’ basement where he laments that life is passing him by. Hence the update to which Zervanos referred: as with previous generations, “kids today” face the age-old problem of watching the promise of youth vanish, but in increasing numbers, they’re seeing it happen from the sheltered vantage point of their parents’ basements. For Peter Pappas, the journey from basement to real life takes on epic proportions.

As the novel opens, Peter is pining away for his college girlfriend, with whom he always intended to write a book on Philadelphia’s public works of art. The only problem is that he hasn’t seen her since college–a good four years earlier. Now he’s living in his parents’ basement and painting other people’s apartments for a living. (That he’s invariably painting them white only underscores the void that his life has become.) Adrift in a relatively pointless existence, he meets a middle-aged widow named Daisy Diamond, whose mysterious relationship with Peter’s father pierces the bubble the protagonist has been living in for so long and thus forces him to take his first tentative steps into the world at large. That Peter is completely smitten with Daisy only complicates matters, but complication is exactly what Peter’s life needs. After all, he’s been avoiding entangling relationships for all of his life, sidestepping various forms of commitment, and, in general, refusing to take risks–refusing, that is, to live. And while living may be painful, it ultimately, Peter begins to realize, beats the hell out of the subterranean existence he’s been calling a life for so long.

In addition to the influences that Zervanos has cited, Love Park boasts a number of other literary forebears as well. The forbidden relationship with Daisy Diamond (and the ugly truth it obscures) clearly echoes Oedipus Rex. The same relationship is also reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby–only it isn’t Daisy who carries the tattered love letter through her life this time around; it’s Peter. Likewise, a passage near the end of the novel in which Peter observes that “we keep crawling, clawing our way back into the current, back toward our place of origin” offers a poignant twist on the final line of Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Yet if there’s a single touchstone for Love Park, it has to be Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, as both works read with a high degree of confessional zeal, particularly when it comes to their protagonists’ issues with family and sex.

Overall, Love Park represents an excellent debut. Throughout the novel, Zervanos demonstrates that he is steeped in literary, artistic, and cultural traditions, yet that he is also in touch with the real world. A sensitive, intelligent novel, Love Park provides a compelling, excellent read.

Marc Schuster’s novel, The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl, is now available from PS Books.

Review: The Yoke of the Horde


Yoke of the HordeWhen David Prior‘s The Yoke of the Horde came across my desk, I thought, “Great. Yet another novel about a man who believes he’s the reincarnation of Genghis Khan and who returns home from his efforts at freeing Tibet only to find that his wife has shacked up with a man who probably believes that pro-wrestling is real and which (the novel, I mean) features a cast of characters including a disgruntled weather man, a CEO obsessed with building the perfect putting green in his office, and a chef living in exile due to the economic and gustatory perversions of Jacques Chirac.” Talk about obvious! Talk about cliche! Talk about retreading ground that’s been trodden upon dozens and dozens of times already. But I’m a bit of a softy, so I gave the book a shot, and… I was pleasantly surprised. The Yoke of the Horde, it turns out, is not just another in a long line of books featuring the reincarnation of the founder of the Mongol empire. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it is the definitive book on the subject!

Throughout the novel, Prior introduces us to a host of memorable (if somewhat bizarre) characters. Chief among these is Rosco Rochlitz, the aforementioned reincarnation of Genghis Kahn. After a failed attempt at freeing Tibet, Rosco returns home to find his wife in love with another man. With nowhere else to go, Rosco moves back into the one-room apartment he used to share with his wife, who enlists the aid of a largely silent neighbor known only as Tom to settle the dispute over who gets to sleep where in the apartment (among other things). Complicating matters is the fact that Tom has just been promoted from a number-cruncher to a greens keeper of an indoor golf course in his boss’s office, and the local weatherman is predicting the storm of the millennium. And when a wayward boyscout troop and a lost cache of illicit pornography get thrown into the mix, things really start to get interesting.

Overall, Prior’s novel is very funny, even if the prose is somewhat dense at times. Throughout the proceedings, the author takes aim at everything from Kantian philosophy to reality television (and everything in between). His writing style is somewhat of an amalgam of Thomas Pynchon and George Saunders, though his heavy reliance on chunks of dialogue to move the narrative forward also suggests William Gaddis. Ultimately, The Yoke of the Horde is a diamond in the rough. Complete with typos and minor inconsistencies, the novel reads like a true underground masterpiece–written on the fly, off the cuff, and in close proximity to any other parts of his trousers the author could find. Worth a read if you’re into any of the writers I mention above, The Yoke of the Horde is a wild, funny novel.

Michelle Wittle On Sharing Our Work

Michelle Wittle On, Writing Tips

Now, as writers we must be prepared to put our work at there and get our work rejected many times. I read somewhere (I think it was in an article by Aimee LaBrie actually) that a piece of work takes twenty places until it finds a home.


However, the jury is still out on rewrites.


Well, that is because you can’t have a formula for rewrites. Every story is different and each story will need different things. I always look at it like this, if you are mostly happy with your work and you can read it without making too many notes on the page, then it is most likely ready for the next round. Some would say that the next round would be the “hunt for publishers” phase. I am here to tell you that it isn’t.


Your story is now ready to be shopped. You take that piece of writing and start showing it around and getting feedback on it.


Once you have your feedback, then you can start looking for its home.


I always thought that part of the process of writing was taking your work and having people look at it before you finish the final editing. I used to think how would you know if it was good or not if people didn’t read it?


But that thinking is only setting your piece up for failure.


Think about it this way. You are writing this awesome piece of work. You take it to your friends and they all love it. Then you go back into it and you think it’s awesome, so you start sending it out. The rejection letters come in quickly and you are bummed. Your friends thought it was awesome, you thought it was awesome, so why was it getting rejected so many times?


You let your friends’ opinion of your work blind you. If you aren’t one hundred percent sure your piece is good enough, then you shouldn’t let anyone else see it.


I send out my stuff completely immature all the time and then I whine because it keeps being rejected. I start looking at it again, with the blinders off, and I see why it got rejected. Of course that character was flat! The setting was completely wrong for the plot! I see it now because I let my friends tell me my story was great when in reality, it still needed a lot of work.


So now I urge all of you to take a good look at your work. Reread it until your eyes get crossed. Wait until that story is the best you know you can do. Then and only then can you start letting others see it.


Trust me, this will save you a lot of time and will help increase your rejection to acceptance ratio.