REVIEWS and COMMENTS:
Snoose Boulevard and Points Northis the second collection of stories by this author that I have read. While in the first, Blasphemies and Bloviation, most of the stories illustrate the author's thoughts on certain philosophical subjects (the nature of time and the interaction of the mind and body, among others) the stories in this collection concern, primarily, character development. For the most part, his characters are hobos, winos, bag ladies and other denizens of Snoose Boulevard, a rundown neighborhood of Minneapolis. The stories are humorous and just a trifle condescending at times, yet they demonstrate the author's genuine affection for his people. Like a Maxim Gorky of the American Midwest, he shows us the human side - warts and all - of those people we avoid making eye contact with when we pass them on the street.
A few of the stories concern children and adolescents living in the logging communities of northern Minnesota (the Points North in the title) during the `40s and `50s. And he has included a poem about the proprietress of a bawdy house serving the logging camps during the early decades of the twentieth century.
The collection also contains several very brief essays (one to four pages) on such subjects as aesthetics, morality and ethics, basic freedoms, and punishment for white collar crime. I was especially impressed by Aesthetics, Perceptual and Conceptual. I had taken an aesthetics course in college, which included writings of Plato and Tolstoy among others on this subject, and - in spite of its brevity - barely four pages - I found Mr. Carlson's essay not only more clear, but more thoughtful and illuminating than any of those featured in that class.
Another striking feature of this book, is the absence of blank spaces. It has become the fashion to begin each new story in a collection on a right hand page, which often leaves the preceding page blank. Mr. Carlson has chosen to fill those blank spaces with clever observations, varying in length from a few words (Chocolate loves you back.) to half a page, on a number of diverse subjects, humorous and profound. It would be difficult to select a favorite from among them, but observations such as:
"Everything in my house is just a little more broken than it was before I fixed it."
"As contemptuous as we are of the maggot, it is not we who will someday fly."
"If ever there breathed a sports star who could provide half the entertainment one might derive from the services of a good journeyman prostitute, then I would say "Fine! Let him be paid one half what that talented young lady makes." Since that is not the case, however, I propose that we legalize prostitution and banish the practice of basketball to seedy motels along the interstate."
These, as well as others within the body of the stories, clearly place this writer among our most quotable contemporary authors. Whether he is listing the unsavory souvenirs revealed by the spring thaw, discussing the first kiss of adolescent lovers, discoursing on the problems of wearing another man's underwear, or describing a child's face as she incorporates a brand new word into her vocabulary, I would advise aspiring poets to study the rhythms and the resonances of Earl Carlson's prose.
I absolutely love the characters in Mr. Carlson's new book. Would it be appropriate to say I want to be like Gwendolyn the Gorgeous Bag Lady, when I grow up? Maybe not a high enough aspiration, but what a great gal she is. All of the characters are special in their own way. Mr. Carlson brought them to life for me. Some wrought pity in me and others made me feel they wouldn't be anything other than what they are. Down and out on luck maybe, but never down and out in their colorful lives. Each day a new adventure.
Many of the other stories reminded me of my childhood and what it was like growing up in the 50's and 60's. Plus I learned a lot about the region where the stories take place.
Every boy/man I've ever known talks about writing their name in the snow. Mr. Carlson has taken this to a whole new level. One of the best stories I've read lately.
I highly recommend this book, as I did his first one. I'm anxiously awaiting the third. I know he has a lot of words left in him that he needs to share with us. I'm ready for the next adventure.
Thank you Mr. Carlson
Charla Harris, "avid reader"