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Holland: The Psychopath Sanctuary – Herman Koch’s The Dinner and the Murder of Greg Halman

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“In the Netherlands, for beating to death a fellow human, you might receive eight years, I figured. It wasn’t much. With a little good behavior, a little raking around the prison grounds, you could be out the gates within five.” – Herman Koch, from The Dinner

On November 21, 2011, in Rotterdam, Jason Halman killed his brother Greg. The tragedy of Greg Halman, a Seattle Mariner and one of a few Dutch nationals to play in the Major Leagues, parallels Dutch novelist Herman Koch’s The Dinner. Both show how psychopathy and mental illness can flourish.

Eddy Halman, Patriarch and Perpetrator of Domestic Violence:  The Halman family trials, told by ESPN, detail violence, envy, and restrictive family ties. Papa Halman played professional baseball. He became derailed by alcoholism, a virulent temper, and a penchant for violence, especially towards his wife. One son, Greg Halman, had special talent. He eventually was signed by the Mariners and made his MLB debut in September of 2010. The other son, Jason, took after his father.

Trouble in Holland: Greg Halman showed promise, and in 2011 had 91 At Bats and hit .230 with two homers. His power, speed, and defensive prowess looked to help the Mariners in 2012. After the 2011 season ended he returned to Holland. There, his brother stabbed him to death in an argument over loud music. Jason Halman was released less than a year later  because he suffered from a “psychoses” that was “exacerbated by marijuana use.” There’s more, as the ESPN link shows, but what a gruesome legal and medical system that gives criminally inclined psychopaths treatment with the aim of freeing them.

The Dinner:  Herman Koch’s The Dinner examines two brothers, Paul and Serge, and their wives, Claire and Babette. Serge is a prominent politician and Paul is an educator on leave. Paul and Claire have a son; Serge and Babette have a son, an adopted African son, and a daughter. The four adults dine at a very expensive restaurant in Amsterdam, where they will discuss the fact their three sons are complicit in the murder of a homeless person, fuzzy and ambiguous footage of their crime is caught on security camera. The African son did not commit the murder, but has evidence on his brother and cousin, and thus is  blackmailing them.

Psychopath Patriarch Number Two:  Paul has a past. He assaulted his brother, his superior at school, and received a “punishment” of paid administrative leave, counseling, and psychotropic drugs. Paul believes the elimination of “scum” improves society, and knows the Dutch penal system favors the criminal at expense of society and the victim. He almost obliquely coaches his son not to feel remorse or compassion. By dessert Claire also proves herself nuts. The finale’s disturbing message:  Most sociopaths, despite their craziness, are sane enough to take advantage of the system.

US vs. Holland: This is tangential, but some people may ask, what about the US? In a previous post, A Mexican Foreign Worker vs. Lila Abu-Lughod, a Mexican criticized Algerian culture. In the comments section a friend, rather than engaging, noted that Mexico had similar problems. This is counter productive. When pointing out violence, sexism, racism, and other societal problems, groups tend to look at others rather than themselves. This is especially egregious when a member of one country or religion feels attacked. They misread an attack on misogyny or other injustice as an attack on them. A pan-humanitarian philosophy can avoid this. No matter how different cultures are, humans are humans. What’s wrong in Holland is also wrong in the USA. Example:  Former Angel Lyman Bostock’s Tragic Death, Ethan Couch, ‘Affluenza’ Teen Who Killed 4 In Crash, Given No Jail Time. and Judge lets Spoiled Teen Killer Off. And so?

Freeing sociopaths is bad, period:  Sending the rich and/or insane messages that you can kill with minimum impunity damages everyone in society.

Written by Caleb Powell

March 6, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Murder or Suicide? Caleb Powell Interviews Poe Ballantine at The Sun Magazine

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My interview with Poe Ballantine is out at The Sun Magazine:  We discuss Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere (Hawthorne Books, September 2013), a combo of true crime and literary memoir, and also the subject of a forthcoming documentary by Dave Jannetta.

Literary True Crime Memoir? Poe accidentally fell into a genre that includes compelling books like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil , In Cold Blood, and Kathryn Harrison’s While They Slept.

Murder or Suicide?  Poe was searching for material when Steven Haataja’s corpse was discovered. Poe said off page that Haataja’s death brought to mind another similar case in Poe’s hometown of San Diego that involved the death of Medicis CEO Jonah Shacknai’s girlfriend, Rebecca Zahau. Zahau  had a rag in her mouth, she was found naked and bound, hanging from a balcony, but this was ruled a suicide.

Parallels with Steven Haataja: We segued from Zahua to how Steven Haataja’s tortured and burned corpse came, also, to be viewed by the investigating detectives as a “suicide.” As Poe told me, “The suicide scenario, after you pour in all the supporting evidence, weighs about two grams. Murder weighs about eighteen pounds.”

Small Town America:  Poe weaves settling in Chadron, Nebraska, with his wife he brought back from a teaching stint in Mexico, the birth of a son, and the wacky ordinariness of life in America with this puzzling mystery for a highly entertaining and thoughtful read.

The Sun Magazine excerpt:   Poe Ballantine calls himself a “whiskey-drinking, floor-mopping, gourmet-cooking, wildly prolific writer with a penchant for social commentary.” For nearly three decades he…(full excerpt here)

Experienced: Rock Music Tales of Fact & Fiction

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 At The Nervous Breakdown I write about Experienced: Rock Music Tales of Fact & Fiction, a rock ‘n’ roll anthology edited by Roland Goity and John Ottey and published by Vagabondage Press, that combines memoir, journalism, and short story. The writers are Jim DeRogatis, Fred de Vries, Sean Ennis, Laurel Gilbert, Brian Goetz, James Greer, Ed Hamilton, Harold Jaffe, Brad Kava, David Menconi, Adam Moorad, Corey Mesler, Scott Nicholson, Carl Peel, J.T. Townley, and Timothy Weed.

“…The anthology fits my world. I’ve tasted more embarassment than “fame” as a bass player in a Seattle band whose accomplishments were a write-up in The Stranger, some college radio air time (both due to having contacts), and gigs at a couple decent clubs, one or two where strangers outnumbered friends. Anyone who loves music can understand the pull of this world of fantasy and reality; Experienced revisits and expands this dream.

James Greer opens with “Hunting Accidents”, a foray into the two years he played bass for cult group Guided By Voices, and the book he subsequently wrote, Guided By Voices: A Brief History….(Read entire article here)

DISCLOSURE: Caleb Powell has been published by Roland Goity and was solicited for this review.

REVIEW at Bookslut: From Caverns to The Chronology of Water

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Lidia back in the day of the "80's 'do"

Over twenty years ago I reviewed Caverns, for the University of Washington’s student paper, The Daily. The book was an experiment given credence by teacher and writing legend Ken Kesey. One of the writers, Lidia Yuknavitch (Miss Hair on Kesey’s right), ended up making a very respectable literary ascension. Her latest, a memoir, indicates she’s arrived. I review this memoir at Bookslut. (Thanks to Lidia for supplying the photo, and Bookslut editor Michael Schaub for accepting the review)

Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water (Hawthorne Books, April 2011) opens with Emily Dickinson’s epigraph, ‘Tell all the Truth but tell it slant.’ Dickinson’s words represent quite an understatement as, despite the title, Yuknavitch’s prose flows in its own direction. Yuknavitch weaves lucid stories with lyricism and experimental flourishes that never seem overloaded. She travels from the heartbreak of stillbirth, unhappy childhood, and a reckless coming of age; intertwines aquatic sports with various addictions and sexual escapades; and pays homage to the ghosts of literature, chief among them Ken Kesey and Kathy Acker. In doing so, she has created a simply beautiful work…”

DISCLOSER: At the time of writing the review Caleb Powell had no relationship with Lidia Yuknavitch, although later he interviewed her for The Southeast Review.

Written by Caleb Powell

April 4, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Review: Stella at the Quarterly Conversation

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I review Stella (The Other Press), by German literary master Siegfried Lenz, at The Quarterly Conversation. A quiet, sad, and well-told tale:

A Minute of Silence

Stella opens with a memory that compels: ‘Here we sit down in tears and grief,’ sang our school choir at the beginning of the hour of remembrance. By the end of the paragraph we know the narrator, Christian, lost his beloved Stella Petersen to an accident. Why read on? Because death, as cliché as this may sound, forms life, and those still engaged in the mortal dance must examine, post-mortem, the nascent creation of love as an element of life. The author, octogenarian Siegfried Lenz, is one of German’s oldest living men of letters. In what may be the last work of the master, the succinct and sparsely woven Stella succeeds in conveying sorrow…” (Entire review here)

DISCLOSER: Caleb Powell has no relationship with the author or The Other Press.

Written by Caleb Powell

January 31, 2011 at 6:02 am

Caleb Powell Interviews David Shields at Gulf Coast

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The last of my three interviews with David Shields came out today at Gulf Coast. Thanks goes to Hannah Rebecca Gamble, Interviews Editor, for working with me to prepare the final draft. Shields’ book, Reality Hunger, the primary topic of the interviews, turns out to be one of the more discussed books of 2010. My own take…I disagree with at least half of his views, some quite strongly, but…it’s all good.

Click to read review at Biblioklept

The book helped solidify, for me, why fiction is, if not the best, as good as any literary art in tackling reality. I wrote more than one unique review, including this at dooneyscafe.com, as well as the interviews at The RumpusThe Quarterly Conversation, and Gulf Coast. That’s what a quality read does, it gets you thinking and keeps your attention.

Tao Lin vs. Albert Camus

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Comparing Tao Lin to Albert Camus is like comparing apples and orangutans. Not apples and oranges, my friends, as two sweet round fruits aren’t really that different. Would Camus spoof a cover of Time Magazine (or the French equivalent) and parody the article? Would Camus solicit a James Frey type boob to blurb his book? Would Camus host a contest, and then enter the contest under another name, win the contest, and pocket the money (Tao Lin Wins His Own Contest Refuses to Refund Money). No way, Albert Camus was too busy cursing human darkness, opposing the Nazi invasion of France, and trying to decipher war and horror in the twentieth century. Tao Lin is no idiot, but he gears down. Some call him an existentialist. Existentialist my ass, Tao Lin has created a new form: narcissentialism. And contrary to this JMWW reviewer’s opinion, Tao Lin ain’t no Camus.

Let’s compare two versions of The Stranger. First, the parody written by Tao Lin:

He’s not the richest or most famous. His characters don’t solve mysteries, have magical powers, or live in the future. But in his new novel, Richard Yates, Tao Lin shows us the way we live now.” “Early readers of Richard Yates have found that the book has a narcotic quality.” “(Lin) likes megamouth sharks, toy poodles and, somewhat jarringly, that ‘ocean sunfish are like hamsters but fish and a lot bigger.”

Ha ha ho ho. Now, here’s L’Étranger:

“I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I’d been happy, and that I was happy still. For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained was to hope that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.”

Albert Camus: Smokes, helped originate existentialism, and is a Nobel Prize winning author. He thought and wrote about 20th century guilt, war, capital punishment, and how to face a world without god. He compressed volumes of thought into novels such as The Fall and The Stranger.

Tao Lin and Camus both use short sentences and few words, but Tao Lin is not really a minimalist. Ten pages of thought hidden in 202 pages of Richard Yates does not qualify.The existentialist hallmark is uncertainty in context of larger ideas, not simple uncertainty. Lin’s blog, persona, publicity stunts (he offered investors a percentage of future royalties for $2,000), all spur many young authors in North America to read, and this is good.  He has an affect, as “Taolicophants” love to imitate his prose, though his books are tedious.

Let’s contrast: Albert Camus was French but grew up in Algeria, his formative childhood memory is of his father’s reaction to attending an execution. He witnessed French colonialism in Algeria and the Nazi Occupation in France, and was a contemporary of Sartre. When Camus began to question Sartre’s leftist views regarding communism their friendship began to deteriorate, but Camus’s doubts about Marxism have been validated by history.  After a time as a journalist Camus devoted himself to literary pursuits, including drama, where he sought moral solutions within an indifferent universe. His death in 1960 by car accident cut short an important life.

Tao Lin = Narcissentialist. Shoplifts, eats delicious vegan food, writes about hamsters, preoccupied with self-marketing, drops names of Nobel Prize winning authors like the vile pro-Nazi Knut Hamsun, wrote a review of himself in The Stranger.

Tao Lin, born of Taiwanese parents, grew up on the East Coast of the USA, and makes his home in New York City. He writes about the dislocated confused suburban/urban dysfunctional pseudo-suffering of today’s youth, but probably has never suffered, and I’m talking the living-in-the-Sudan-suffering orbeaten-and-violated-by-your-stepfather suffering. Though Tao Lin’s fictional alter-egos irreverently mention they may as well commit suicide…there’s no evidence that Tao will die anytime soon.

Tao Lin ain’t Camus. There’s no parallel, it’s all perpendicular. Sure, Tao Lin drops names or provides Cliffs Notes summaries of Camus and other authors such as Beckett, Bukowski, and Sartre. Though it must be pointed out, as far as I know, only Taolicophants and not Tao Lin make the comparison.

Bottom line, Richard Yates reads like two hundred pages of nothing but conjunctions, prepositions, and punctuation marks peppered with celebrity names (Tao Lin’s next book?). Tao Lin will, in the end, get what he wants, attention. Nothing wrong with that, all writers crave attention, but my taste is more grooved to a writer who displays consideration for the reader and doesn’t pander to the superficial side of his fans…in other words, a writer who is not so goringly effin’ boring.

Related:  Tao Lin: American Dork – book review at dooneyscafe.com

Tao Lin’s Richard Yates vs. the 2006 Dodge Caravan’s Owner’s Manual – at The Nervous Breakdown

Written by Caleb Powell

October 25, 2010 at 11:34 am

Ander Monson: The Interview

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My interview with the guy whose name is part conjunction (and) part interjection (er)…Ander Monson at The Quarterly Conversation:

Ander Monson is the author of several books, including the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize winner Neck Deep and Other Predicaments: Essays. He’s written a novel, Other Electricities with accompanying website, and a volume of poetry, Vacationland. Not only a writer, he is also editor of the online literary magazine DIAGRAM, a bizarre site displaying the possibilities of the digital page. His next work, Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir…” (Read full interview here)

Other links: Fourth Genre Review       University of Arizona

Written by Caleb Powell

May 5, 2010 at 6:25 am