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The Arts
10.28.09

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Local Lit

Our twice-yearly look at what the neighbors are up to

By Suzanne Daly, Gretchen Giles, Gabe Meline and Tori Masucci


Almost murdered by her father at age three. Her throat slashed. Witness to her sisters' murders. Her mother, grandmother and aunts violently killed. Carmina Salcido is a survivor. Many have read the numerous stories of Ramón Salcido's deadly Sonoma County rampage two decades ago, but few know the aftermath. In 'Not Lost Forever, My Story of Survival' (William Morrow: $25.99), Carmina Salcido describes her arduous road from victim to survivor with co-author Steve Jackson.

Carmina's story extends far beyond her brush with death. Given up for adoption by her grieving grandfather, the feisty little girl joined a family deeply ingrained in an ultra-strict, cultish Catholic organization Tradition, Family and Property. Isolated on a Midwestern farm, she was deprived of anything resembling a normal childhood and instead endured much abuse at the hands of her adoptive, alcoholic parents. "Escaping" at age 17 to a Carmelite convent, she suffered from numerous physical and mental-health problems that landed her in the hospital. Deemed unfit for convent life, she was sent to a ranch in Idaho for troubled teen girls. Carmina and the other girls there endured more abuse, until she made her break for freedom at age 18. Contacting the grandfather who had been excluded from her life by her adoptive parents, Carmina reconnected with her past.

Now back in Sonoma County, she has investigated and confronted the events that placed her on such a tough road, contacting family, friends and members of law enforcement and the press who could help shed light on her early life. The book's short chapters read cleanly, and the 16 pages of color photos trace a full life lived in 23 short years. This resilient young woman has reached a level of understanding and forgiveness few would be able endure, let alone come out of with compassion and normalcy. Not Lost Forever is a testament that leaves readers with hope and admiration for Carmina's survival.—S.D.

With her previous novel, The Great Far Away, a fictional memoir of idyllic bohemian life in Northern California, Santa Rosa author Joan Frank established herself. Her latest, 'In Envy Country' (University of Notre Dame Press; $20), collects short stories published in journals around the country, from the Seattle Review to the Baltimore Review and points in between, including Notre Dame and Chautauqua. Opening with "A Note on the Type," a detailed, engrossing story of a conniving employee at a printing company who ascends from file folders to far-flung affairs, Frank's stories follow those in the throes and woes of love and life. With one eye inside the workings of her characters and one observing from afar, In Envy Country sets a Raymond Carver tone—a character from "Betting on Men" is even named Carver—without the rampant self-annihilation and morbidity.—G.M.

In the classic love story, two people find each other, overcome their dilemmas and fall in love. Yet Penngrove author Linda Loveland Reid, winner of the 2008 Redwood Writers Club contest, illustrates in her novel 'Touch of Magenta' (BookSurge Publishing, $18.99) that love is never that simple. The plot, weaving together the lives of two women whose pasts are veiled in secrecy, is actually antithetical to the classic romance. Set in California's Gold Country, as well as San Francisco, Chinatown, Sacramento, Singapore, Italy and England, Reid's novel follows the tale of Corri Montclair, who in 1971 uncovers a shocking mystery in the pages of her dead mother's will, sending her on a life-altering quest to discover the ghosts of her hidden past.

Montclair's story is entwined with that of Pegeen O'Connor, who falls into a shadowed romance with a Chinese boy against the racial constraints of 1895 California society. Reid paints a suspenseful portrait as Corri labors to solve the mysteries of her past, eventually crossing paths with the consequences of Pegeen's deeds and the fate that brought their stories together, though separated by time. Touch of Magenta journeys into the unknown spheres of human nature and the way parts of our identities are determined by a compelling desire to untangle our pasts.—T.M.

Between the rounds of housework and homework, a parent's own life can quite easily slip away. But when the child leaves for college and the house is quiet for the first time in some 18 years, a parent's slipped-away life often becomes a massive void that bewilders. And so it is with Nora, the heroine of Santa Rosa author J. C. Miller's novel 'On the Brink of Nora' (Redwood Writers; $16). But Nora is not alone, sharing the book with her husband Eric and daughter Dani, each of whose stories are told in alternating chapters as the reader gets an omniscient view of the life of one small Sonoma County family as they handle the dread empty nest, the dread midlife crisis, the dread adultery and even the dread growing-up-and-moving-away transition of young adulthood. Miller's characters are people we know because they are us—fallible, astray, searching and trying to do what is honorable and right in this one single life we are given.—G.G.

Marin County evokes images of rugged Northern California coastline, quirky hippie towns, Mount Tam, nouveau rich and, yes, hot tubs. 'Visions of Marin' (Color and Light Editions; $39.95) vividly illustrates those evocations and many more through the luminous photography and descriptions of Inverness author/photographers Richard Blair and Kathleen Goodwin.

Marin residents for 30-plus years, Blair and Goodwin have long rambled the roads and recesses of their home turf. Their photographs range from panoramic landscapes to the miniscule detritus found among beach jetsam. Short histories record local characters, events, buildings and foods, and landscapes punctuate the 415 (mostly) colored photographs in this coffee-table tome. The impressive detail and quality exhibited throughout the book is evidence of a labor of love from the husband and wife team.Visions of Marin will be a welcome addition to libraries of both locals and California dreamers.—S.D.

Joel Kramer's Passionate Mind, originally published in 1974, offered an informed, intellectual whole-life theory of living self-reflexively in the moment, and became a "life handbook" for many of the age of enlightenment. This year, Kramer, a Bolinas resident, with co-author Diana Alstead, offers 'The Passionate Mind Revisited' (North Atlantic Books; $16.95), a complete reworking of the original. To live in the moment, Kramer and Alstead clarify, we as a species must have a cognizant grasp of both our past and our future. Unless we can expand our awareness to a broader social range—making our ego work for the planet, changing our detached mindset and questioning our beliefs, for example—our future will be bleak indeed. Rife with Kramer's roots in yoga, science and comparative religion, The Passionate Mind Revisited is a vigorous read for those disenchanted with sacred cows.—G.M.

In 'Walks: Best Poems' (Footprint Press; $15), Greenbrae poet B. J. Stolbov invites his readers to stroll beside him as he journeys through manhood. Stolbov is often subtle, employing a careful, conscious meter when threading the emotion of love through his poems; he is also often chaotic, detailing an anthill that buzzes with hurried life. Either way, his work is defined by precise thoughts, brief moments in time that account for a larger social commentary on the pursuit of spiritual fulfillment or the larger American dream. A keen glimpse into the poet's mind, Walks is a compilation that follows Stolbov's clear message, "It is my work / This being a wanderer" through both writing and life itself.—T.M.

If it weren't for Kurt Cobain's ghastly suicide on April 5, 1994, the trope of the rock star's untimely death might have receded into distant memory. David Comfort's 'The Rock and Roll Book of the Dead' (Citadel Press; $15.95) keeps the stories alive by weaving Cobain in with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Jerry Garcia, finding connections between all seven "rock immortals"—their lonely childhoods, their desire to escape and their sudden and often suspicious deaths. Some, like Cobain's, are scrutinized fiercely by this Santa Rosa author, while others are retold with the acceptance of time's passing. Comfort's ultimate success is an outline of the vagaries of fame and how it delivers on its promise for a price often mortally high.—G.M.

Sausalito art dealer Richard Polsky is no schmo. He knows who to call at the large auction houses like Christie's and Sotheby's, he's conversant with art-world insiders and he used to own a real Andy Warhol. His Fright Wig work, so-called because the self-portrait features Andy in an on-end white wig, was a piece that made Polsky glad to own, glad to look at. It did what art can sometimes do: it made Polsky actually happy.

But his wife was running up credit card bills that were breaking him, and another dealer was interested. Maybe Polsky should sell the work, recoup a couple hundred thou, pay Visa off and relax a little. After some sleuthing, due diligence and thinking, he did. And then the art market exploded, and suddenly Warhols were commanding eight figures, not six, and Polsky was left out in the dust. In his chatty insider tome 'I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon)' (Other Press; $29.95), Polsky uses a conversational tone to explain what happened in the art market and how. For those who care about the business of art with even the slightest fervor they feel for works of art themselves, I Sold Andy Warhol offers a fascinating glimpse behind the walls of the galleries, auction houses and museums that make good art good business.—G.G.

Much like a New Age female Harry Potter, the heroine of 'Schizandra and the Gates of Mu' by Laura Bruno (International Renaissance Press; $16), Schizandra Ginger Parker loses her parents under tragic and slightly suspicious conditions. Like Harry, she enters a world of magical creatures and mysterious spirits which help or hinder her attempts to fight darkness and find the light in the universe. Adding to the mystification are an addicted cocoa-pod-popping, shift-shaping queen, talking crystals and a galactic butterfly that Schizandra encounters in underground passages while in a coma-like sleep. Readers get a blow-by-blow Tarot card/numerology/astrological reading which explains the heroine's back story, and how her ultimate destiny will change the world when its mythical end occurs in 2012.—S.D.

A collection of essays addressing the needed marriage of two very green issues, organic farming and wildlife conservation, has been carefully collected and edited by Healdsburg resident Daniel Imhoff and Jo Ann Baumgartner. 'Farming and the Fate of Wild Nature: Essays on Conservation-Based Agriculture' (Watershed Media; $16.95) lends a forum for luminaries such as Michael Pollan, Wendell Berry and Barbara Kingsolver, among others, to advocate for the need to change current agricultural and conservation practices.

The book is divided into four sections which concentrate on such core issues as the condition of salmon or bee populations, the challenges of biodiversity, and finally, the influences of society and culture on agrarian practices and native wildlife. This is Imhoff's second volume of essays published through his own nonprofit Watershed Media and the first collaboration with the Baumgartner, director of the Wild Farm Alliance, an organization which promotes agriculture that aids in the protection and restoration of wild flora and fauna.—S.D.

Forestville author and editor Barbara Baer has been looking east a lot lately. Under her own Floreant Press imprint, she last published Pomegranate Roads: A Soviet Botanists's Exile from Eden. This year she gives us the novella 'Grisha the Scrivener' (Ghost Road Press; $15.95), an old-fashioned story of a midcareer journalist with a gift for seeing occasional beauty who is in search of many things, the true nature of Mother Russia among them. Cynical yet easily humbled, Gregory Gregorovich Samidze of Uzbekistan feels lust and disgust in equal measure as he navigates through the shuttered world of mid-20th-century Soviet malaise. Baer's language and eye are striking as always, keeping her dense topic as tightly woven as an excellent Tashkent rug.—G.G.


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