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Novel Experiences

by Tom Merrill

"I hope it's not another Tolstoy" I think was one of my first thoughts when Douglas Board's request was relayed to me for permission to use part of one of my poems in his just-out new book Time of Lies. That was a writer who had sent me the same sort of request years before and compared himself to Tolstoy in one of his emails to me. I have a penchant for nicknaming and from then on I privately referred to him as Tolstoy. It all came to a screeching halt when an email I wrote to a friend about him got accidentally misaddressed and sent to Tolstoy instead. Be sure to check the address box before you click send.

Doug's emails were somewhat different. In one of them he thanked me for taking the time to read his "75000 awkward words." It was reassuring not to be having another encounter with a temperamental genius.

Doug in fact bent over backwards to make sure I'd be comfortable being associated with the work of an author I'd never heard of. He posted me some samplers including his first novel MBA (that was the one with the 75000 awkward words) which I read with relish. He also let me know he had researched me a bit, which told me we probably wouldn't be talking if he hadn't felt some kinship with my thinking based on what he had found. I have since felt a reciprocal kinship with his. In fact we are both advocates of mutual understanding and concern between people to whatever extent those ideals are humanly possible.

Doug's consistent consideration for my feelings in our personal exchanges has been a rare delight to experience. And his latest literary offspring (call it fiction with a hard core of realism) features the very element most likely to hold my interest in a book these days: timeliness. It is about the world we are all living in, with its deepening rifts and divisions and the exclusivist mentality that has been regaining ascendancy. And about where that mentality could lead.

That mentality has always been with us, and no doubt will continue to be until evolution tilts in a more hopeful direction or the whole shebang goes up in smoke. But at least over the last half century it has been held somewhat in abeyance. People formerly stigmatized, traumatized, despised, forced into silence and hiding to avoid often horrific consequences, have at least for a while been accorded their due rights. We have lately been freer to be ourselves in spite of our natural differences. The segregationist mentality has lost ground to a spirit of inclusivism. Bigotry and its cruel methods of imposing its mindless will have given way to an extent to acceptance of the reality and indisputable validity of human diversity.

But this could all change in a moment, as Doug's book illustrates by various imagined scenarios that unhappily have real parallels in the world that is unfolding as we speak. One of the parallels is Tweety (remember my penchant for nicknaming) who is foreseen in Doug's book in the character of Bob Grant. Grant's unexpected rise to power in Britain engenders widespread fear and anxiety (just what we all need more of) and quickly devolves into crisis. He and Tweety are cut from the same cloth―except that Bob with his knife fetish started dirt poor, whereas the switchblades in Tweety's teenage collection were probably all sterling.

To be associated with Doug's work is a distinct honor and privilege and I am so glad he somehow found me among billions of possible candidates. He is both a rare delight as a person and an uncommonly acute writer. Three thumbs up to both him, and his prescient and engaging new book.

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