Talentino turns his father’s written recollections of his colorful life (as, among other things, a hockey player and a priest) into a monumental ethical, metaphysical, and spiritual meditation.
Each of the book’s three sections includes a large handful of pieces ranging from one to several pages in length, all created by James Talentino, the author’s father. In one episode, James describes his experience working as an English teacher and battling parents fearful of the literature he was teaching. Despite these protestations, he persisted, eventually introducing his students to John Donne’s poetry. In response, the awed students gave a moving performance—with James reading the poems—of Donne’s works with the violin accompaniment of another student. In a brief essay in which James details a conversation with his friends, one mentioned being called a freak after showing her daughter physical affection in public. James and his friends agreed that a new word was needed for those who wished to be demonstrative, so they settled on “Butterflies.” Besides involving the frequent invention of words, these reflections muse on grammar, sex, race, organized religion, and the meaning of nobility and dignity. At times, the chapters are so nebulous that it becomes difficult to tell whether they are meant as memoir, poetry, or even fiction, as when the Buddha appears to James as he sits beneath a tree along the Mississippi. The hyperfragmented structure of this book, and the sometimes-awkward style in which it is written, often thwart even patient attempts to comprehend; e.g., “RU who UR 2 be free ButterflyFree be free.” Though it offers sensitive insights, there is little cohesion overall, and the assertions of the book’s importance in its introduction are off-putting.
A smorgasbord of unusual short pieces that sometimes enlightens but often befuddles.