Review – The Space Between Us by Megan Hart

Cover image, The Space Between Us by Megan Hart

My favorite thing about Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is that it begins with the end; after all, what is interesting about the play is not what happens (everyone knows they off themselves in Big Dramatic Fashion) but how they get there.  The Space Between Us begins with a short scene from the near the end of the story and introduces a sense of impending doom.  When the story restarts (at the beginning this time), the reader knows (or thinks she knows) how it’s going to end, but the reader is constantly on tenterhooks, wondering what really happens and how it all devolves.

Everyone has a story…

Tesla Martin is drifting pleasantly through life, slinging lattes at Morningstar Mocha, enjoying the ebb and flow of caffeinestarved customers, devoted to her cadre of regulars. But none of the bottomlesscup crowd compares with Meredith, a charismatic force of nature who can coax intimate tales from even the shyest of Morningstar’s clientele.

Caught in Meredith’s sensual, irresistible orbit, inexpressibly flattered by the siren’s attention, Tesla shares long-buried chapters of her life, holding nothing back. Nothing Meredith proposes seems impossible—not even Tesla sleeping with Meredith’s husband, Charlie, while she looks on. After all, it’s all in fun, isn’t it?

In a heartbeat, vulnerable Tesla is swept into a spectacular love triangle. Together, gentle, grounded Charlie and sparkling, maddening Meredith are everything Tesla has ever needed, wanted, or dreamed of, even if no one else on earth understands. They’re three against the world.

But soon one of the vertices begins pulling away until only two points remain—and the space between them gapes with confusion, with grief and with possibility….

This book reminded me of Shakespeare, of course, but it also had hints of the classic Greek tragedies (I’m thinking Sophocles and his use of grand human emotions and catharsis).  I loved the way it was written, how it unfolds through a series of narratives that each stress the often intangible emotions that fill the space between the people involved.  I loved every character except Meredith (with whom I could not connect on any level), from the random folk who frequent the coffee shop–likely to be main or side characters in other Hart novels–to Tesla and Charlie.

My favorite bit was the quasi family life shared by Tesla, her bother Cap, and Vic and his family.  Even though the strings that tied all these people together were not ones that I have ever encountered in my life, their family bond is approachable, and, like in any family, the shit they do to each other is heartrending and real.  I never really paid attention to kids in books before I had kids of my own, but now it’s usually the first thing I notice.  The kids in this book are so realistically portrayed with their innocent expectation of all of the love in the world and their wounded reserve in response to life’s disappointments.

The content is decidedly adult, with plenty of fun words bandied about for girl and boy parts and plenty of interesting menage acrobatics.  I could have survived without quite so much erotic content, but that’s a personal preference issue.  A lot of the erotic situations are told in narrative format that develops the theme.  It may seem at first as if there is no point in the particular story being told, but, trust me, it all comes together.

This book takes you on an emotional journey, and, although the end is totally worth it, it will drag your heart through burning coals along the way.  If you are looking for a fantasy story that makes you feel warm and fuzzy about humanity, this book is not for you.  But if you want to step outside your comfort zone and learn something about yourself, I highly recommend you pick this one up, especially if you’re a fan of Adam Ant.

The Space Between Us will be released as a trade paperback on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 by Harlequin MIRA, but the e-book may already be available.  Although all of Megan Hart’s novels exist as stand-alone stories, it may be advisable to read them in order.  Please visit Hart’s website for more information on her other books and a suggested reading order.  You can also click on the cover image above (or right here) to visit the book’s Goodreads page.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

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Review – The Outrageous Confessions of Lady Deborah by Marguerite Kaye

Cover image, The Outrageous Confessions of Lady Deborah by Marguerite Kaye

You know I’m not really going to talk about the plot at all, so here’s the publisher’s blurb:

JUST WHO IS LADY DEBORAH?

I am the Dowager Countess of Kinsail, and I have enough secrets to scandalize you for life. I will never reveal the truth of my soul-destroying marriage—some things are too dark to be told. But at least no one can guess that I, a famously icy-hearted widow, am also the authoress of the shamelessly voluptuous romances currently shocking the ton!

Only now I have a new secret identity, one that I will risk my life to keep—accomplice to Elliot Marchmont, gentleman, ex-soldier and notorious London thief. This adventurer’s expert touch ignites in me a passion so intoxicating that surviving our blistering affair unscathed will be near impossible….

I’ll start with the bottom line: The Outrageous Confessions of Lady Deborah is a lovely example of character-driven writing.  Marguerite Kaye has created two wonderfully complex characters, and she slowly unravels their mysteries for us throughout the various plot points in the book.  There is action in the book (heists and intrigue galore), but it is all secondary to the characters and their development, individually and together (it is, after all, a romance novel.  Of course there’s a Happily Ever After.).  It did strike me as being a trifle folded in (as in A Room with a View with a Staircase and a Pond… see video below), with the characters reacting not only to their counterparts’ actions but also to perceived actions.  It’s not in the least unpleasant, but it did make me think of Eddie Izzard.  (To be fair, the list of things that remind me of Eddie Izzard is long.)

At the heart of the novel is Deborah, a character who vacillates between strength and vulnerability and who protects herself with an icy prickliness (think: hedgehog).  Deborah has issues.  She had a bad marriage, and it left its mark on her psyche.  Deborah is not without a hefty dose of resourcefulness, however, and she is able to survive.  I should note that I reviewed (to great negative effect) a book about a character who also had deep-seated emotional issues stemming from her marriage, and that book made me batshit crazy.  Even though the basic premise of Deborah’s character is very similar to that other, the way Marguerite Kaye handled the situation here is completely different.  Deborah’s issues make sense and are commensurate with her experiences.  I felt that she worked through her issues at an appropriate pace.  I didn’t want to jump into the book and murder her.

I really liked Deborah as a character, but I think I was biased in her favor.  I might be the Least Trusting Woman on Earth, so I identified with Deborah’s inclination to hide behind a wall of reserve, to bifurcate her life (it’s silly to include an inside joke I share with one person on a blog that person doesn’t read, but whatever) and do all her living through an assumed persona.  Other readers may find all that to be annoying or incomprehensible and may wish that Deborah would just get on with it and realize that Elliot is not a bad guy.

Elliot also has issues, but he’s a lot more charming than Deborah.  He helps to balance some of her prickliness, and I particularly enjoyed the way he interacted with his formidable sister.  He’s a thief–the charming kind–and his heists provide some much-needed action and syncopation to the story.  I really loved Elliot.  Deborah, though she has a dry wit, tends to take herself a little too seriously, and Elliot helps to keep the book as light as it can be.

Let’s talk about that blurb.  When I read it, I assumed that the book would be told in the first-person (it isn’t), would contain an outrageous confession or two (it doesn’t), and would be somewhat scandalous (it isn’t).  It is a very good book, but it isn’t the book described by its title or blurb.  When you pick up a book called The Outrageous Confessions of Lady Deborah, you might expect it to contain some steamy sex scenes (or some confessions of past steamy sex scenes), but most of the sex in this book ends abruptly in emotionally-induced coitus interuptus.  Like many women, Deborah just doesn’t know what to do with a penis (but, lucky for her, there was no Cosmopolitan to confuse her and give really bad advice), and her discovery of herself as a sexual creature and of Elliot’s man parts as an extension (ahem, bad pun intended) of him rather than a disembodied manifestation of expectations and judgment is not without its bumps in the road.  As long as you go into this book expecting it to be the exact opposite of what it tells you it is, I think you’ll have a fine time reading it.

For more information on the book and author, please visit Marguerite Kaye’s website here.   She’s got all kinds of fun information and links, including links to purchase the book (if you’re interested).  

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

Review – The Angel by Tiffany Reisz

Cover image, The Angel by Tiffany Reisz

I was afraid to read The Angel, and I put it off for several weeks.  My fear was a little bit ridiculous, because I loved The Siren, and I was confident that The Angel would be just as good, but I worried that it would break my heart the way The Siren did, and I wasn’t eager to put myself in the path of that kind of pain.  I needn’t have worried.  Tiffany Reisz is that excellent variety of sadist who never offers the same pain twice.

The blurb:

No safe word can protect the heart. Infamous erotica author and accomplished dominatrix Nora Sutherlin is doing something utterly out of character: hiding. While her longtime lover, Søren—whose fetishes, if exposed, would be his ruin—is under scrutiny pending a major promotion, Nora’s lying low and away from temptation in the lap of luxury.

Her host, the wealthy and uninhibited Griffin Fiske, is thrilled to have Nora stay at his country estate, especially once he meets her traveling companion. Young, inexperienced and angelically beautiful, Michael has become Nora’s protégé, and this summer with Griffin is going to be his training, where the hazing never ends.

But while her flesh is willing, Nora’s mind is wandering. To thoughts of Søren, her master, under investigation by a journalist with an ax to grind. And to another man from Nora’s past, whose hold on her is less bruising, but whose secrets are no less painful. It’s a summer that will prove the old adage: love hurts.

Unless you’re accustomed to the vagaries of erotica (and few of my readers are), you might read that blurb and think, wow… that sounds kinda lame.  But it’s just a case of badblurbitis.  Everything that is brilliant about Reisz’ writing cannot be adequately summed up or even hinted at in a traditionally plot-focused publishers’ blurb.  I am convinced that Reisz could drop her characters into a room and give them nothing to do except react to each other, and the result would still be beautiful, but what would the blurb say?

As with The Siren, the main theme in The Angel seems to be love (seems to me, anyway… other folks might think the theme is BDSM erotica, but I happen to think all that stuff is just the byproduct of a story about these characters).  The Angel begins with an idyllic glimpse of Nora’s life with Søren.  Through a mysterious plot device, Nora and Michael (if you haven’t read The Siren, you won’t know who he is.  I didn’t bother mentioning him in my post about The Siren because I was so distracted by other things.  Just read The Siren, and all will be explained.) hie off to Griffin’s estate (that place where the hazing never ends, if the publisher’s blurb is to be believed).  At the estate, new love blossoms, and it’s beautiful and tender.  It is also a foil for the more complicated love that exists between Nora and Søren (and Nora and Wes and Suzanne and Patrick) and, maybe, contains a little seed that might help us to understand what drew Nora to Søren in the first place.  Let me add a quick warning to those who may not be quite ready for m/m scenes. They happen, but I thought they were handled really well.  I enjoyed the side-by-side comparison of new love and old love, acknowledged love and hidden love, easy love and difficult love.

Given the state of their relationship in The Siren, it is surprising how innocently happy Nora and Søren seem at the start of The Angel, but readers of Tiffany Reisz should know that everything is not always what it seems.  For example, I was repulsed by Søren when I read The Siren and, especially, Seven Day Loan.  I thought him the least sympathetic character in The Siren, though I didn’t like Zach all that much, either.  His arrogance and blatant manipulation seemed despicable, and I judged him harshly as a result.  But after reading The Angel, I have to reflect back on The Siren and admit that Søren doesn’t appear in the best light throughout that book, and most of what we see of him is through Nora’s memory colored by her relationship with Wes.  Søren could not possibly have won me over in such circumstances, and I began to wonder if he was such a bad fellow as he seemed.

I had a conversation with Tiffany Reisz on Twitter recently, and she pointed out that she based Søren’s character on the God of the Old Testament, who, depending on how you look at it, is kind of sadistic and manages to balance love and a need for blood offerings, who is feared and loved simultaneously by his people, who is implacable and just, who is jealous.  When you consider a character like Søren paired with Nora, who feels the strong desire and inclination to submit to him (naturally enough) and an inclination to be independent, to be his equal even though no one can equal an Almighty, you know that the rest of the story Reisz is building will be epic.  This is not a story of tawdry sex; it is a tale of human nature and a human understanding of the divine.

I jotted down some rough notes immediately after I finished The Angel: Love is like a coral reef – I should explain this.  Two people grow together and fill in the spaces with shared experiences and new growth in each.  This is good, because it makes them stronger, but if something/someone/some event comes in and breaks off a piece, there are these sharp edges left behind.  The Angel is very cool as a book, because you get to view the very beginning of that reef-growing process–the falling in love–and you get to compare it to the full-grown and many-times broken and tested reef that both unites and divides Nora and Søren.

My favorite moment in The Angel is a little bit silly, compared to all the epic stuff I’ve alluded to elsewhere in this post (and in the one on The Siren).  There’s a moment, towards the end of the book, when a new character meets Nora for the first time, and it’s a little bit shocking to see Nora once again as someone new.  After all the stuff that happens in The Siren and The Angel, the reader really knows Nora and is accustomed to her quirks and her strength and, at least in my case, sees her as charming rather than scary.  Then all of a sudden you get to see her through the eyes of a stranger, and you know that she’s actually been scary all this time.  That’s good writing, because it was so subtle that I almost didn’t notice it, and it made me think back and wonder why I didn’t have a similar reaction at the end of The Siren when Grace meets Nora for the first time.

I do have to be honest and admit that I felt the beginning of The Angel was a little slow to build.  At first I thought it just hadn’t been edited tightly enough, but now I’m not convinced.  I am inclined to suspect that the pacing, lightness, and idyll of the first quarter of the book are actually a clever trap designed to lull readers into complacency before hitting them with the rest of the story.  Shortly after Nora and Michael arrive at Griffin’s, the story hits its stride, and from that moment on it wends its inexorable way through heaven and hell, dragging you along with it.

Reisz writes great stories, stories without boundaries, but the best thing about them is that they are entirely open to interpretation.  Søren can be a hero or a villain, and it’s entirely up to the reader to decide what she thinks about him.  The true benefit of that style of writing is that readers can discuss the ideas that are introduced in the book and help each other along in the process of achieving a better understanding not only of the books but also of themselves and their lives.  It takes courage to write a story that can and will be interpreted in so many different ways, and I’m right glad that Reisz has that courage along with a strong sadistic streak.  Wherever she takes us, I’m along for the ride.

The Angel is scheduled to be released on September 25 by Harlequin MIRA in both e-book and print format, I believe.  For more information about the author (including a selection of free bedtime stories that are well worth a read–but read The Siren first–check out the author’s website http://tiffanyreisz.com.  If you click on the cover image above, you can visit the book’s page on Goodreads and follow links to purchase through Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

untitled (flash fiction from 2006) – second in an unrelated series of fails

I’ve been trying to find all the scattered bits of writing I’ve done (as an adult), and I located this fragment buried in an email exchange.  A friend of mine was bored and asked me to write her a quick story to enliven her afternoon…. I’m not quite sure that I succeeded, but I rather like the result nonetheless.

The girl sat at her desk, her computer up and running, papers and notebooks spread about giving her the appearance of busy-ness.  Actually, the girl really should be called the woman, but she would object to such terminology.  With a customary blend of self-awareness and self-deceit, the girl felt neither old enough nor mature enough to refer to herself in such adult terms.

The girl sat at her desk at work, for reasons she chose not to examine; most likely, she sat at her desk because countless adults from countless sectors of society sat at their desks on weekdays between eight in the morning and five in the afternoon.   Of course, there was more to it than that, than society pressure and conformity, but this particular girl chose not to think about it at all, ignored completely this opportunity for analysis.   She sat, simply, because she did.

Another person walking by the desk, transformed while walking past the desk into an observer of our girl, whether passively or actively, might be struck by a few seemingly incongruous objects present there.  (It is equally possible that this momentary observer would notice nothing at all.)  The observer might notice: the girl was dancing from her neck up to music that blared into her ears from a pair of headphones; despite the head dancing, the girl was reading from a large binder, taking notes with an air of intense concentration; there was a preponderance of shoes in various stages of disrepair strewn under the girl’s desk, in plain view of any observer who happened to fulfill his role.  If inclined, the observer could then glance around the rest of the girl’s work area and notice a few other surprising objects: a mismatched pair of latex gloves pinned to the clothboard, a bookshelf straining under the weight of too many large binders, each labeled according to a uniform system, an unbent paperclip next to a very large manual hole punch.

The entire area seemed full of contrariness—the industrious-looking female dancing while she worked, the uniform binders next to mismatched and unexplained latex gloves, the above-desk reason and order juxtaposed with the tangle of well-worn heels beneath the desk.

Most observers, if they happened to notice all these things, would shake their heads in confusion, perhaps in disapproval, and would move on.   Some observers would ask the reason for the gloves and the shoes and would receive the answers, “Just in case,” and, “I like variety,” respectively.   On this particular occasion, with this particular observer, the response to the desk and its contents was different.

When he was a boy, he was captivated by nature, by the capriciousness of plants and flowers and trees.  He found magic in the sound of wind teasing and tousling leaves and branches, in the sight of luxuriant, wild grasses swaying under the ministrations of that wind.  In short, he was an inquisitive child, easily amused by what he saw around him.

As he grew into manhood, his natural curiosity was dampened by the responsibility of life, by the life he did not choose but continued to pursue, thoughtlessly existing each day, no longer in tune to the magical, the miraculous.

But this day would be different, for, as he walked past the cubicle on his way to the copy machine, he happened to be struck by a feeling he hardly recognized: magic.   It was the pile of shoes he noticed first, his eyes moving from that evidence of carelessness to the currently bare feet, crossed at the ankles, of the girl who sat at her desk, dancing from the neck up.   A smile began to form on his face, tentative at first, then broad, finally showing a glimpse of teeth and lower gums.

He stopped in his tracks, openly staring at the work area and its inhabitant, who, completely unaware of his scrutiny, had begun mouthing the words to some song, intermittently giggling for a reason that was not outwardly apparent.   The gloves elicited from the man a chuckle, almost a giggle, except that men do not, as a rule, giggle.

The girl threw her head to one side and exclaimed, “Word to your mother!” and laughed; it was a deep, throaty laugh, full of secret knowledge and delight.   The girl’s laugh reverberated through the man like something slow and slimy, tickling, working its way across his skin, tantalizing him with its unreserve; it was oddly familiar, this laugh, at once shunning him and welcoming him home.

The man walked away from the girl’s cubicle; he did not continue on to the copy machine as had been his original intent.   Driven by a need he could not explain, he walked outside.

Outside the artificial environment of the office building, the wind blew intermittently, rustling the leaves of the non-native, pruned trees located throughout the parking lot.

The man took a deep breath, held it in his lungs for a few seconds, and exhaled loudly; it was almost a sigh.   As he drew air in through his nose, he allowed himself to focus on the feeling of the air filling and expanding his lungs, energizing his cells.  With that breath he drew into his body the magic in the air, the music of the wind.

With the simplicity of his childhood he reaccepted the miraculous into his life.   He realized he was smiling.  A rumble, low, like distant thunder, began deep in his chest.  It bubbled to the surface in an explosive expression of mirth, joy and delight.   He was made new.

If my sister were writing that story, the man would, immediately after this renaissance, fall into a ditch and die instantly.  I learned how to write from my sister, the same way that someone could learn how to act (or, God help us all, dance) from watching Waiting for Guffman (and I do actually mean that as a compliment).  Her stories are brilliant.  They are always short, usually no longer than one page; feature instant, unexplained connections between people; offer plenty of outrageously unnecessary detail (and very little necessary detail); and spend a huge amount of time building up the story only to close with a phenomenally unsatisfying ending.

Have you ever heard of The Shaggs?  They are either an abomination to the name of music, or the most brilliant music theorists ever to exist.  I think they are brilliant and subversive, and that’s how I feel about my sister’s writing.  It’s what I’m always tempted to emulate in my own writing.  It’s easy to be mediocre, it’s hard to be truly good, but to be powerfully awful is also a bit of a triumph, right?

Opposite ends of a very small spectrum

I’ve got another ridiculous story on the docket, but I thought I should actually write about books this week.  My backlog of books I’ve read but haven’t discussed here is growing, and that’s partially due to laziness on my part (it’s easier to read a book than to write about it) and to a recent trend of reading books that are actually very good (it’s easier to write about a stinky book than a very good one).  At any rate, it’s time for me to get off my duff and do some   on-topic writing.

Cover image, The Short and Fascinating Tale of Angelina Whitcombe by Sabrina Darby

At 93 pages (in my Nook edition), The Short and Fascinating Tale of Angelina Whitcombe weighs in as a novella (with an absurdly long, but perfect, title).  I read an excerpt of this book on the author’s website and felt compelled to purchase it.  The writing is good, and the premise is very interesting, but it was the characters that sold me on this book.  Angelina is a nearly washed-up courtesan–not your average wide-eyed innocent heroine–and John is a damaged hero (of the went-to-war-and-returned-with-issues variety).

A lot of romance authors force their characters to discover love, to work it out like a difficult puzzle, throughout the course of the story.  This book is different; its characters discover trust.  The resulting story is so much more adult and interesting.  Let’s face it: trust is hard.  It’s so easy to love someone, but it’s very difficult to trust someone to love you back.  I give major props to this strangely beefy novella for veering into some difficult interpersonal territory.  Also, there’s a dog, and y’all know how I feel about animal antics.

On the whole, though, The Short and Fascinating Tale of Angelina Whitcombe is serious in its subject matter and content.  There is wit, but it is dry.  It does not sparkle, but not every book has to in order to be good and enjoyable, and sometimes I yearn for a book that doesn’t need to pretend that the world is full of sunshine, rainbows, and sparkles shooting out of unicorn butts.

Of course, sometimes a book that revels in levity, sunshine, and light-hearted humor, in which bad things either don’t happen or aren’t dwelt on is enjoyable, too.  For those moments, there is this:

Cover image, Upon a Midnight Dream by Rachel Van Dyken

I gave Upon a Midmight Dream an unfair read to start with.  I read it right after I finished The Siren.  The difference in style, genre, storytelling, etc. was unbelievably jarring.  I went back later and did a brief re-read, and I enjoyed it so much better.  The thing is, this book is a fairy tale romance, so it holds only the most tenuous connection with reality.  It is light and funny and a little bit spastic.  And, seriously, Stefan, the hero, had to have been based on Disney’s Flynn Rider.  

It was so charming and refreshing to have a truly stupid hero, that I didn’t mind all the stuff that would normally have annoyed the bejesus out of me (e.g. the plot device the keeps Stefan and Rosalind apart is Rosalind’s desire to receive a properly romantic proposal matched with Stefan’s seeming inability to deliver one, and this despite the fact that members of both their families are or appear to be dying from a mysterious curse that only their marriage can stop… SERIOUSLY?!).

If you approach this book expecting it to make sense or convey a little bit of truth about life, you’re going to be disappointed.  But, if you come at it expecting to have a good time, to laugh, to say, “Wait, WHAT?” an awful lot (but not always in a bad way), you surely will.

And, again, because y’all know how I feel about animal antics in a book, this book had me at Sampson, Stefan’s horse, who is pretty much this guy:

So, there you have it.  Good can mean a lot of things, depending on your mood.

Ready for a tangent?  Good!  My e-reader of choice (mostly because it’s the one I own) is a Nook, so when I saw this character card in a game I played with some friends over the weekend, I knew I had to post it here.  My Nook Color seems just a little bit more badass, like it could don a salmon-colored capelet and punch you (or me) in the face with lightning, if it wanted (thanks, Jason!).

Nook the Wizard likes to punch pudding in the face

My big fail (one of an unrelated series of fails)

I don’t write stories very often.  Actually, it’s more accurate to say that I almost never write stories, and I don’t very often engage in creative writing.  Occasionally, I write ridiculous story fragments whose purpose is to confuse and annoy the poor souls who get guilted into reading them.

While cleaning out my junk room on Labor Day (3rd mostly-annual Labor Day of Labor), I found a story fragment that I wrote four years ago as a secret santa gift for a fifteen year old boy whom I did not know.  I usually figure that if you’re going to fail at something (in this case fail at getting a gift the receiver will appreciate and enjoy), you might as well fail big.

I think I nailed it.

The Importance of a Greeting, Or Why French People Hate Americans

Once upon a time, there was a young man named John.  John was a very handsome man, and many of the young ladies of his day were wont to sigh and swoon as he walked past.  Despite such accomplishments, life was not entirely without difficulty for the young man, for he had an unfortunate problem: John was deathly afraid of salutations.

Though John had exhibited the fear since he was a young lad, everyone around him figured he would eventually resolve to put such childish stuff behind him, to enter into conversations with equanimity, but he did not.  Instead, John’s fear grew more pronounced with each passing year.

When John was young, the folk of his town humored him and entered into conversation with him without preamble.  But as John grew older, folk began to expect him to behave normally.  People started to find it more rude than amusing that John never said “hello” or “good day to you.”  Some people went out of their way to salute young John, and this story is chiefly concerned with these exploits, with the day the baker said, “Good morning, and isn’t it a fine day?” to our young hero.

The baker was not a nice man.  There were surely as many reasons for his crotchety behavior as there were people who disapproved of his manner, but whatever the provocation, his antics were such that, after passing several years in the village, the baker ceased to be known by his given name (Charlie) and was known merely by his occupation and any adjectives attendant on his behavior.  If a person held him in neutral regard, he would be Baker, but if a person held him in contempt, he would be “that bastard, the baker,” or “that miserable old buffoon, the baker.”

On a particular morning in May, the sun dawned bright and warm, its rays stretching into the sleepy village, awakening the inhabitants in that natural way to be found only in country villages.  John bathed and readied himself for the day without any of the trepidation that would surely have settled on him had he known what the day had in store; he left the friendly shelter of his family home and struck out on a well-worn path, his errand on this fine morning being to purchase some baked goods for his family.  As he walked to the baker’s shop, John whistled a jaunty tune, and he reached his destination with such alacrity as is found only among the able-bodied.

Having fortified himself with a deep breath, John pushed open the door to the baker’s shop and proceeded, almost immediately, to express his reason for having come.  “Baker,” he began, “my mother needs two loaves of your finest bread.”  But that Mephistophelean miscreant, that nefarious ne’er-do-well, that baneful bully of a baker leveled his leering eye towards our hero and, in a loud voice, exclaimed, “Good morning, John! And isn’t it a fine day?”

Can one find fault with John for the actions which followed this attack?  He gasped, staggering back against the door, clutching his heart and fixing upon the baker a look so full of terror as would have melted the heart of any good man.  After fumbling briefly with the door handle, he flung wide the portal and ran into the streets of the village sobbing insensibly.

The end.

If that bit of nonsense made you laugh, chances are fairly good you’d like me, personally.  If you now want to smash every tooth in my head, it probably wouldn’t work out between us.