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Broken Crown

I've known Henry Racicot since we were both zinemakers 30 years ago. We're probably not friends, but I like the guy, so me reviewing his novel is a conflict of interest. We've never met, though, he's not buying me a steak dinner, so this is a fair accounting of his slightly-fictionalized biographical novel, Broken Crown.

Broken Crown
by Henry L Racicot
168 pages, paperback.

$16.95 at Amazon

It took almost a year for me to read it, only because it's dark as the human psyche. I'm often not in the mental space to plumb such depths, so more than once the book got buried under the debris on my nightstand. I kept digging it out, though, and when I'd finally finished it, I read it again, cover-to-cover, which took only a few days. On the second reading, I realized that I love the book, and now it's on my short shelf of books to be re-read endlessly — The Body Snatchers, Stoner, Treasure of the Sierra Madre... Broken Crown.

It's about a life where intentions don't matter much, because everything's going to go wrong no matter what — lousy family, lousy dates, lousy sex, lousy marriage, lousy jobs, lousy people living lousy lives but you try to love 'em anyway, and then they have lousy deaths. You're born, you try, but eventually you give up and understand that lousy is all life's going to be.

It's an exploration of the void inside Henry Racicot, and inside all of us when we stop pretending at happiness and mental health. It's also a lot of laughs, thanks to the author's delivery — alive, insightful, sarcastic, maybe miserable but often hilarious.

There's sex in the darkest dark, because the prettiest woman you've ever gotten undressed is willing to fuck you, but she won't let you see her, so the lights are out. Also, you'll need to eat a contraceptive spider in the blackness, before sticking your willy inside the hole you can't see. 

There's honoring a dead father by visiting the bar where he used to get drunk, maybe the only place he was ever truly happy, and asking a barmaid if his ashes could be left in a broom closet.

There are memories of a miserable childhood, a brother who was never close, and decades later trying to impart a smidgen of wisdom to your children who've become adults but, like most adults, have become immune to wisdom. 

There's a grand discussion of Christianity with a preacher, because despite or because of the bleakness of it all, the novel's protagonist is a believer in God. Jesus and genuine Christianity pop into the story occasionally, are treated reverently, and sometimes thoughts of God give the story's central character just enough of a clap on the back, or there's a verse from the good book, and it's a godly insight, it's helpful.

Every time, though, God's perspective seems to mirror the author's severe cynicism, because we all create God in our own image.

The book's a painful but brilliant exploration of the vast emptiness in which we all live our lives, and it's also, gotta say again, frequently laugh-out-loud funny. 

The kindest and also meanest thing I could say about Broken Crown is, it reminds me of the life I've lived, and what I've written about that life, and what I wish I'd written. Difference is, it's better. Henry digs deeper than I usually do, rips more scabs off more wounds, and with sadder laughs than I've usually found.

My copy has about 40 pages dog-eared, nudging me to write about some of my experiences that are similar to Henry's. It'll be inspiration, though, not plagiarism. Not at all.

Look at me, driving this car, traveling from one spot to another, thinking these thoughts. God? Can He really be concerned with an ant like me? And what if you don't believe there is a God? Whatever universal force caused existence, what are you to it? It concludes you the same as the Bible dust. That's the proof of Jesus' authority: His words give you value, meaning. Without Jesus, you are nothing. All man's scurrying is invisible to the universe. Unnoticed. No difference between the living and the dead.

I see a sign for McDonald's in Sawyer. I haven't had a strawberry shake in years. I hit the exit. I pull into the drive-thru, tell the little box I want a strawberry shake. The little box says:

"I'm sorry, sir, but our shake machine is broken."

"It's busted?"

"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."

"How long's it been busted?"

"Maybe ten minutes."

"It's almost like it broke just for me."

"Can I get you anything else?"

"Do you remember the story about Jesus and the fig tree?"

"Do I what?"

"All right. I'm good," I tell the little box. I drive off.

 1/29/2024   

10 comments:

  1. To say I appreciate that review is an understatement! Thank you, sir, it means a lot to me. I can die knowing at least one person understood it. I have finally succeeded. Also, in my mind, we are friends.

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    1. Thank you Sir for writing the book. I will cheerfully accept the compliment and the friendship, too.

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  2. Excellent book. One of the best writers to emerge from the "zine" scene. As always, the best are overlooked.

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    1. Usually I have no regrets about how few people read what I write. It's my choice, mostly. But I do wish I could more broadly broadcast a recommendation like this. Broken Crown is excellent.

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    2. A thought that often strikes me: there are probably dozens of people, if not more, scattered around the world, who have scribbled the most astonishing pages, masterpieces of world literature, collecting dust in a drawer, or on some electronic computer drive, nobody will ever read them, while we are force-fed garbage lit in books, on the internets, on the theater and tv screens. That was one of the few good things about zines, once in every 1000 crappy digests there was a real wonder.

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    3. Yup, that's my belief too. There's one hell of a lot of professional writing that isn't a third as good as your book, and from the mainstream crap I've tried to read I don't think big-time success is about talent or quality, so much as luck and butt-kissing and who you know.

      I believe there must be countless terrific novels that didn't impress the intern who skims over-the-transom submissions, and many more that were never submitted, and *exponentially* more that were never written, because most people's lives are consumed with survival and/or stupidities, and they never have the time it takes to get their thoughts organized into a coherent narrative.

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    4. It's worse than all that - 99% of publishers (even small presses and genre houses) no longer even accept "unsolicited submissions," which is all you need to know about the publishing biz. It's the same in comics or film at this point, too. These swine have an agenda (beyond making money, which is their #1 priority of course) and find "writers" to suit their needs, or look for "writers" with a proven, existing "audience" of social media "followers."

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    5. ... Gone is the day when a blind submission could lead to a nourishing relationship between a young or unknown writer and a smart editor. Think of all the great writer/editor teams in the 20s/30s/40s/50s - never again.

      Now it's Mormon housewives slinging chaste vampire er*tica, libertarian celib*te know-it-alls mining wikipedia for Robert Heinlein ripoffs, and the rest are m*therf*cking Iowa Writer's Workshop graduates, which means they had the privilege and means to attend higher ed, they don't have any original, challenging ideas, and any interesting, personal quirks of style have been sanded smooth to a big nothingness.

      Sad!

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    6. So, no more over-the-transom, no more even the pretense of giving newcomers a chance, and any artist or writer with something to say is uninvited to say it.

      Everything's bullshit, *especially* the things which must never be bullshit.

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  3. And don't even get me started on the Catch-22 quandary of lit agents. Goddamned gatekeeping leeches.

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