Latest Review of Approaching Wilderness

5 stars. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” February 23, 2014



This review is from: Approaching Wilderness. Six Stories of Dementia (Kindle Edition)
In these short stories, Gene Twaronite provides imaginative scenes of old people experiencing memory loss and other woes of the aging process.Gene describes the dementia-stricken with compassion and humor. In each story, the central characters cope with an increasing loss of touch with reality, and experience anger at and fear of what’s happening to them. In “The Woman Who Came for Lunch,” a couple is barely coping with daily living – the man gets lost walking around the block in his bathrobe and slippers, while the woman calls 9-1-1 to report a strange man hanging around her house. The story ends with an ironic twist, at least it seems ironic and unexpected to us who are looking in on the characters. But the characters are continually dealing with the unexpected, the mixed-up, and the half-remembered.

In “No Choice,” the ending takes us by surprise, but the core of the story is the day-to-day process of dementia, as it robs the struggling characters of their minds. Gene draws us in to the lives of the protagonists, and engenders sympathy for them even if they are wetting the bed and screaming at the top of their lungs. They struggle for some measure of independence, and we are rooting for them to maintain some dignity and receive recognition that they are adults and not babies.

In “A Letter of Intent” and “Approaching Wilderness” Gene describes the characters’ passionate, if unrealistic, desire to have control over their own lives, and the resulting anger at those who want to control them or put them away in a clean and sterile facility. Both stories have a twist at the end that underscores Gene’s mastery of the absurd and humorous, even in dire situations.

The stories are well written and fun to read, even though the topic could be depressing. The characters fight with the dementia and with themselves and others at the enveloping frustration of forgetting everything. Yet, they have a certain nobility as they reject conformity, safety, and comfort, and express themselves in whatever way they can (sometimes with graphic expletives that some may find offensive). In his poem to his father, Dylan Thomas advises not to “go gentle into that good night” and to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Gene’s characters do rage against their situation, and in doing so make us sympathetic with their struggle.

The stories will engage readers of any age.

New Review of My Vacation in Hell

Reviewed by Dinorah Blackman for Readers’ Favorite


In his ingenious novel My Vacation in Hell, Gene Twaronite explores what hell would be like from the perspective of a young unpopular boy. In hell, John and his friend Virgil face a number of adventurous, even comical situations as they come face to face with the concept of eternal punishment. With all watches and clocks stuck at 2:55, only five minutes before summer vacation begins, the boys risk missing out on their break as they delve deeper and deeper into the bottomless pit. For what seems like an eternity, they face temptations of many kinds that threaten to enslave them. But Virgil, who happens to have written the handbook, turns out to be a somewhat reliable guide. Virgil helps John over the difficult patches as they travel through the levels of hell and the categories of evil and punishment. There’s horrible music by the world’s worst musicians being played in a loop, putrid smells, nauseating slime they must wade through, and rabid mobs or hideous beasts chasing them. But the boys manage to escape each threatening situation. As they progress through hell, painful memories resurface and new friendships are formed.

Without a doubt, My Vacation in Hell is an unusual story. Gene Twaronite has such a vivid imagination that the reader can’t help but become absorbed in his imagery. The way in which he describes each adventure makes you wonder if he might be on to something and if his version of hell might just be correct. Twaronite subtly integrates general religious teachings into his tale and allows no doubt that evil is punished. The relationship between John and Virgil is believable, as most of us have had one such friend. Beth, on whom John seems to have a huge crush, is introduced gently as some sort of guardian or protector. In the end, the reader needs to draw his or her own conclusions; did this journey really take place or was John simply daydreaming in class again?

Great read!

Read Across America

So where are you going to be on March 3? Help celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday and NEA’s Read Across America day. read

I will be reading from my children’s books at Mingus Springs Charter School in Chino Valley, AZ, and at Lincoln Elementary School in Prescott, AZ.

More Reviews of Approaching Wilderness

5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Insight February 12, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
I suspect I am too old to say that I enjoyed reading these stories. They were very well written and well developed, but, at my age, the content was a bit too scary and hit too close to home. Nevertheless, I commend the author, for, with these short stories, he managed to make a condition we all read about and perhaps even have experience with loving ones having it, real for us. I loved the first story, where both man and woman, once obviously together as a couple, are confused about just who each other are, because of cognition that is failing in both of them. In the second, a woman becomes obsessed that her long-term companion will include her in is suicide because he cannot face what is to come. Then, there is the story of the bedpan, the family pictures on the wall that are not recognized, final letter written to express one’s last wishes and ideas, and the trek off into the wilderness searching for what was once a real-life, doable adventure. Most of these are very real occurrences in everyone’s life and to which most can relate. However, now we view them in a totally different way, through the eyes of dementia. I think the author has given us a fantastic picture of what might/could happen as we age—and possibly one most would find better off not knowing. Still, the pictures and events in the stories are real, as are the emotions that go along with each of them. Today, as we all face an aging population, who may or may not eventually suffer from dementia, not to mention that we also may suffer from dementia, this book gives us, as I said, a great insight into what really happens with dementia. I recommend all people read this, even those, who, like me, are getting on in years and who may end up caring for loved ones who suffer from it, or may suffer from it themselves. The author has done this is such a way that the reader can enjoy learning the true nature of dementia. Right now, most of us, I think, really may not have a real handle on what dementia means and how it impacts lives, and this book will definitely give this to everyone who reads it. I received this from Library Thing to read and review.

Imagining Aliens


I think one of my neighbors is an alien. He works                        thething                                    nights, so I’ve never actually seen him. He drives an old beat up Volkswagen bug with dark tinted windows, which is exactly what an alien would drive to avoid detection. According to local gossip, he hates football and never watches TV. Some say he doesn’t eat meat. I realize this is circumstantial, and he could be just another weirdo. But then how do I explain what I saw through his window? Now mind you, I’m not a peeping Tom. I was just walking past his house one night and noticed the shade was up in a back room from which light blazed into the neighborhood as if daring me to look inside. So I did.The room was filled with table high beds of soil, over which hung rows of grow lamps suspended from the ceiling. Poking out of the soil were weird-looking plants that looked like a cross between an artichoke and a pitcher plant. Attached to each of them was a plastic tube running up to a bottle filled with red liquid. It was like they were being fed intravenously with….  Well, if that isn’t proof I don’t know what is.

Of course, there’s also a teensy possibility that I might have imagined this. The night before, I had watched one of my favorite classic flicks—the 1951 movie The Thing from Another World, which scared me so silly as a kid I had to hide under the kitchen table whenever it appeared. It was supposed to be some giant alien plant which needed blood to feed its young. Sensitively portrayed by James Arness in one of his first big screen roles, it still looked more like a man than a plant.  

From earliest childhood I thrilled at the thought of aliens from distant worlds, yet was always disappointed by the unimaginative ways in which they were depicted in fiction and movies. Mainly, they all seemed so human.

Why should aliens be made to look like us? You would think somewhere in this vast universe evolution could have produced something other than forward-facing bipeds, with bilateral symmetry. But all we get are more little green men in their flying saucers. Sure, they may sport antennae, big heads, or pointed ears, but they’re still from the same hominid mold.

I guess it’s only natural for a species so in love with itself that it imagines our form to be the pinnacle of perfection. Godlike, we create aliens in our own image. Sometimes we even give them godlike powers like the Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

We also create aliens in the image of other strange earth creatures. We give them tentacles, fearsome heads and big teeth. But in the end—even if they burst out of our chests—we’re still stuck on earth, imagining only what we know.

Not that there haven’t been some great aliens. In the original Star Trek there was the Horta—a silicon-based blob which could drill through solid rock by secreting acid. Star Trek writers got even better in future series. In a Next Generation episode, a microscopic form of crystalline life is discovered living within a thin layer of saline water, which allows the crystals to communicate and form a kind of super-intelligence. Now here was a true alien—something completely foreign and strange from our understanding of life on earth.

In his 1934 science fiction story “A Martian Odyssey,” Stanley Weinbaum created one of the most memorable aliens I have ever encountered in fiction: “It was a nondescript creature—body like a big grey cask, arm and a sort of mouth-hole at one end; stiff, pointed tail at the other—and that’s all. No other limbs, no eyes, nose—nothing! The thing dragged itself a few yards, inserted its pointed tail in the sand, pushed itself upright, and just sat… Then, with a creaking and rustling like—oh, like crumpling stiff paper—its arm moved to the mouth-hole and out came a brick! The arm placed the brick carefully on the ground, and the thing was still again.”

In the final analysis, we are limited both by what we know and don’t know. Our brains are hardwired to perceive and interpret reality in a certain way. I tend to agree with J.B.S. Haldane when he wrote, “Now, my suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose….” (Possible Worlds, 1927). 

In other words, if aliens do exist they are like nothing in our wildest dreams.

©Gene Twaronite 2014

 Originally published in 5enses Feb. 2014