New Review of The Family That Wasn’t

Reviewed by Mamta Madhavan for Readers’ Favorite5star-shiny-web

The Family That Wasn’t: A Novel by Gene Twaronite is an ideal story for teenagers. John Boggle always wanted a dream family; rich and perfect and a family that appreciated and respected him for what he was. Then he finds his dreams coming true. His family suddenly becomes rich and he becomes John Bartlett who lives in the rich Bartlett mansion. But after a while he starts missing his old, poor Boggle family and he starts searching for them. The search for the Boggle family takes him across the USA and he meets various types of people on this journey.

The story has many shades; it is dark, funny, and peppered with a bit of whimsy. The continuous supply of donuts is one whimsical aspect of the story. John’s travels across the USA and his meeting people changes his perspective of what a family is. The story is appealing to adults as well. The book is fast paced so that once you start reading you might not want to put it down. The book has a lot of messages for readers. I liked the character of John. He is a fun character, a normal thirteen-year-old boy who changes in the course of the story and ends up being wiser. The author has a done a fine job of blending some dark moments, humor, and charm effortlessly. This book will make us rethink the definition of a perfect family and the perfect life that we all want.

New Review of Dragon Daily News

5star-shiny-webReviewed by Michelle Robertson for Readers’ Favorite
Dragon Daily News: Stories of Imagination for Children of All Ages written by Gene Twaronite is a delightful collection of short stories that introduce young readers to a creative mindset where imagination has no limits. This collection has within it secret life lessons to be learned. Young readers may not realize this when they are letting their imaginations take full effect in the fun and exciting stories The Dragon Daily News provides.Young children love stories where there are no limits of imagination, and relatable elements of the story intrigue them to read more. This collection of stories has both. For example, learning how to cope with bullying not by the use of physical fighting, but with an intellectual approach. Also, reading and learning a new vocabulary with an adventurous, exciting tale of words flying out of their books due to a small glitch in a computer system.Gene Twaronite’s collection of short stories is ideal for parents and teachers to provide children with a way to learn imaginative play and creative thinking, as well as a new vocabulary. Adults who remember reading old folk tales, myths, and legends of mystical, exciting, adventurous places, will love this collection to read aloud to their children. Reading this exciting collection, I was taken back to my own childhood when times were simple and your imagination was the most important element in having fun.

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A Letter of Intent

George sat at his desk battling his brain. He wished he could punch it. It was not the brain he once knew—always quick with the comeback and able to find the right words. Gradually it had changed, shedding words and abilities under the guise of supposedly normal aging, turning into the alien entity that had taken over his head.

There were tests and more tests, of course, followed by meetings and counseling to determine how much living assistance he would require, and more to the point, whether he had enough money left to afford it. And if he couldn’t, there was always the state run nursing home, where old men like him sit and stare while waiting for final release.

But he would not let this half-wit brain win. There was one more thing it must do.

George had weighed his options as carefully as his plaque-clogged cerebrum would permit. Everyone around him was full of encouraging advice about new treatments and therapies that can delay the worst symptoms for years. They told him to be brave and fight back. Never give up, they chirped. We know how difficult this must be for you.

Yeah, right. They can all go to hell. None of them can possibly know. I wish they would just leave me alone. Let me and my brain disintegrate in peace. But they won’t do that, of course, especially not my son-in-law, Frank, who thinks this is some kind of boxing match. Just because he was a middleweight in college, he considers himself an expert on boxing and life in general. “You have to visualize yourself in the ring with this thing. Give it a right jab, then a left. Give it everything you’ve got. You got to feel it, George. Everything depends on this match. Nobody can fight it but you.”

Of course, Frank never won any matches himself. His closest victory was a draw, after his opponent, suffering from the flu, fainted during the first round.

But as with so much of Frank’s bullshit, the boxing analogy was all wrong. What George had in mind was more of a writing contest—but one to the death that neither Frank nor George’s wife would understand. He thought about Anne, and the story she had told him about when she was five and couldn’t stop crying because her pet rabbit had to be put to sleep. For her ending the rabbit’s suffering was simply not enough to accept the monstrous decision to take its life. No, she would never accept it. And she would not forgive him for what he had planned.

George stared at the words he had written in his journal and frowned. Now what was it? Anxiously he flipped back the page and scanned his words looking for clues. Yes, there it was—the plan. Now he remembered why he had started writing everything down, even the most trivial things. It was his only defense against the alien. And soon, he knew, there would be no more words and their rich connections. There would be only vague thoughts and orphan memories. He must act while there was still time.

Each day the alien was gaining in strength, threatening to destroy what little order was left to him. Often when George looked back at what he had written, instead of the soaring prose he had imagined himself writing, he would find gibberish. There would be whole pages of inane words and phrases like “the hydrocephalous ensemble of vertiginous polymorphs,” or even completely made up words such as “tvzzyajjy” and “hyyyyaaapporree!” One of his chief failings as a writer had always been his lackadaisical editing. Ironically, in the past few years he had become a better editor, detecting and deleting all the crap his brain was now attempting to pass off as prose. His journal was more a patchwork of rational bits, interspersed with crossed out blocks of some madman’s ravings.

His goal was to write a perfect letter of his intentions—one that both Anne and others would at least understand, if not accept. It had to be a masterpiece.

So where to begin?

I, George L. Pettingill, being of sound mind…

No, that isn’t quite right. His mind isn’t sound. But starting with “being of unsound mind” would hardly inspire confidence in his readers. Besides, it’s no secret that his cognitive functions are in the toilet. Why dwell on the obvious? Cut to the chase.

When in the course of a human life it becomes necessary for a man to terminate the bonds which hold him to this earth and all that he holds dear, and to achieve a final state of dignity denied him by events beyond his control, a respectful consideration of the feelings and thoughts of others around him requires that he provide a full accounting of the causes that compel him to this separation…

Much better, he thought, but too much like Thomas Jefferson.

The tone needed to be just right—not too formal but not too casual either, lest his readers think he wasn’t taking this seriously. He thumbed through his Letter Writing Handbook. In the section devoted to formal letters were the following general guidelines: to write as clearly and simply as possible, to make the letter no longer than necessary, and to avoid informal language. Unlike casual letters that bounce all over the place with no set purpose or logic—much like his brain sometimes—formal letters got right to the point. There was a comforting structure to them. There was the salutation, followed by a pithy first paragraph stating the purpose. The middle paragraph, however, contained the real nuts and bolts, setting out all the relevant information behind the writing of the letter. Finally, the last paragraph delivered an ultimatum of sorts, stating what action you expect the recipient to take, which in his case would be to at least accept if not understand his final act.

There were missives for every occasion, ranging from cover letters and letters of intent to birthday invitations and congratulatory notes. George smiled at the last one, recalling the letter of congratulations he had received last Christmas from the CEO of his company. This is to inform you that, based on your many years of exemplary service to Diversified American Family Insurance, the board has unanimously voted to grant you the Outstanding Achievement Award along with a bonus of $50,000. The amount took his breath away at first, but he was worth it, goddamit.

But when he tried to expand upon the memory, George found he couldn’t. He shook his head and scowled. Then he remembered. There had never been an award except in his head. Three years ago—or maybe ten—he had written the letter to himself, then posted it. Upon receiving it, he gave in completely to the fantasy, tearing open the letter and poring over its words as if he had never seen them before.

It was just one of the many tricks the alien played on him. But not this time. This letter had to be for real. He was the CEO of his life, and he was stepping down. And here were his reasons. He would write a letter of intent. But to whom should he write it?

To Whom It May Concern:

No, too wishy-washy, he thought. Whoever picked up the letter could read it as they saw fit, whether it concerned them or not. What did he care when he was gone? There was really only one person he still cared about—only one person to convince.

Dear Anne,

You of all people know what I have been going through, so I hope you’ll try to understand what I plan to do. “Till death do us part,” we promised, and I intend to keep my end of the bargain, sooner rather than later. By the time you read this, I’ll be gone from this world of confusion, or in other words, dead.

I know you have different views on this matter, so I won’t try to convince you. At least permit me to explain my reasons for self-termination (which sounds so much less harsh than “killing myself,” don’t you think?). As you know, Anne, I am a proud man. How often you have reminded me. It will be the death of me, you always said, if I don’t learn how to be more humble and accepting of things I cannot change. Well, I can’t accept this, and I don’t want you or anyone to see me become a zombie while this alien thing I once called a brain takes over. No, Anne, loving creature that you are, even you must not see me like that. I can just see you spoon feeding me, talking to me as if everything you said didn’t sound like pure babble. You would dab the drool from my face, and then cry softly when I stared back at you with an empty look. It is too much to bear. I need to go out while there’s still time. I won’t go into the details of my departure. Suffice it to say that I have researched all the usual methods, and have found one that is relatively painless and won’t mess up the kitchen. I will try to make it look like an accident, though please forgive me if I do not succeed. I have never been good at this sort of thing, and this will be my first and thankfully last time (I hope). And please tell Frank for me that he’s an asshole (OK, so you’re probably not going to do that).

In conclusion, I will not try to tell you here how many ways I have loved you, for you already know. Of course, you might think my action in leaving you proves otherwise. That is something you must work out for yourself. I can only hope that you will understand and someday forgive me.

Your loving husband, George

George read back what he had written and nodded. Then he painstakingly rewrote it in his best cursive on the linen stationery he had saved for the purpose. He folded the letter and stuffed it into one of the matching envelopes, and filed it away in his desk for later reading. There was still time for one last edit. It had to be perfect.

But the alien had other plans. Later that night, it took the letter out of the desk and addressed it to Anne. Then it took George out for a walk to the mailbox.

Two days later, while walking past the living room, George heard a guffaw. Was that Anne he heard?

Sure enough, there was his wife sitting on the couch, or rather rolling on the couch in convulsive laughter.

“Who’s it from, dear?” George couldn’t imagine what would make his wife laugh like that. She was more the gentle tittering type.

“Why, it’s from you, silly.” You’ve written a suicide note. Of all people, George. Oh, for goodness sake, you couldn’t kill a rabbit, much less yourself. Were you trying to be funny? You’ve always had a strange sense of humor. But some people might take you seriously. You shouldn’t be writing such stuff. Now go get changed. Don’t you remember? Frank and Lois asked us over for dinner. Now stop frowning, George. Hurry up, we’ll be late.”                                                  ©Gene Twaronite 2013  

Originally published in the Fall 2013 print issue of Sheepshead Review, a creative writing and visual arts journal of the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay    

Whose universe is it?

Astronomy and astrology are often confused by much of the public. While it is true that both involve the study of stars and planets, the two fields are worlds apart in their views of reality. Astronomy is the one that constantly reminds us we’re nothing but specks of dust in a vast and lonely universe, whereas astrology insists that this very same universe not only revolves around these specks but also will influence in some strange way what happens to them next Friday.

Astronomers as a group are apt to be far more annoyed by the confusion than astrologers. I’m not sure why. Perhaps astrologers make more money.

At one time, however, most if not all astronomers were also astrologers, or at least occasionally dabbled in the field. This was certainly true of the great Alexandrian astronomer and geographer Ptolemy, for whom an early earth-centered model of the solar system was named. (The fact that his system was later proved wrong should in no way detract from whatever success he might have had as an astrologer.) Such giants of science as Johannes Kepler and Galileo were also not above writing an occasional horoscope to help pay the bills. Galileo, though, was much better at aiming his telescopes than at aiming his horoscopes. He drew up a forecast for his patron, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, which promised him a “good and prosperous life.” The Duke died a few weeks later.

Though astronomers and astrologers both make predictions, their methods are celestial worlds apart. Astrologers, for instance, make a great deal out of a person’s zodiac sign. This is one of twelve constellations, each with their own 30 degree block of space, through which the sun appears to travel across the sky. The block of space the sun happens to occupy at the moment of your birth determines your sign. Thus, for anyone born as I was between January 20 and February 18, the sign is Aquarius. According to one description, Aquarians are supposed to be creative and idealistic, which does sound about right. They are also ordinary, tactless, fanatical, and inefficient. As you can see, astrology is still an imprecise discipline.

Having nothing better to do one day, I conducted a random sampling of newspaper horoscopes. Out of ten papers, only one—The New York Times—did not carry a daily horoscope. (I’m not sure what this says about the Times. Perhaps they still haven’t found the right astrologer.) For the most part, the nine sets of predictions showed a complete lack of agreement. As I read each one, it seemed as if the astrologers were talking about a different person. A couple of them did lead me to expect “exciting times” ahead, and that my social life would improve “dramatically”—it didn’t, though this is probably no fault of the astrologers. One of them, however, did make the uncanny prediction that a Cancer, Aquarius, or Capricorn would play a role in my life that very day. My wife is a Cancer.

Considering the amazing popularity of such horoscopes, perhaps astronomers could employ a similar format for their own predictions. Who knows, it might even help them make a little more money. Thus, reading our astronomical horoscope for Friday—five or six billion years from now—we can see that the sun is due to become a red giant and then collapse into a white dwarf. It is quite likely that this may carry over a bit into Saturday but, in any event, expect your solar cycle to be a little low that day and employment prospects dim.

Scanning down further, we come to the section marked “trillions of years from now” (they might pin this down some more). In the unlikely event the earth is still here, we can look forward to being swallowed up by a huge black hole near the center of our galaxy. Expect an emotional vacuum in your personal relationships, with some dark times ahead. Within that same time frame, however, we can see everything in the universe eventually coming to a complete stop, as predicted by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, resulting in truly massive traffic tie-ups. Reading such a column on the way to work each morning might help us all better cope with the day’s less awesome disappointments.

I think most people, at heart, are like old Ptolemy. We would prefer to think of the universe as earth-centered, thus human-centered, despite all evidence to the contrary. A soap opera universe that shares with us hidden details of our lives is certainly more comforting than the thought of being swallowed up before breakfast by an uncaring black hole.

                                               ©Gene Twaronite 2013

Originally published in 5enses, December 2013