Here is a very short excerpt from the “Wintertide” chapter of “Coconut Oil.”
Oh, and the jouissance of the creamy oil’s single flavor savors of favor, in the bath, kitchen, by the four-poster or berth, for dry skin, diaper rash, or when the dark knells for thee. No need to refrigerate. Oil squeaky hinges, refurbish dull wood finishes, fry Copper River salmon in cast iron skillet, remove warts (rub under duct tape), fly cats to the moon or snorkel under ocean kelp beds, race around the ceiling, the coconut salesman is at your door!
Salty and Penina, the war torn, young couple from “Penina’s Letters,” return to Refugio in “Coconut Oil,” a sequel.
They come home to Refugio (the fictional beach town located north of El Porto and south of Grand on Santa Monica Bay) in an attempt to retire a bit early. So forty or so years have passed since the close of “Penina’s Letters.”
Salty is again our first person narrator. But “Coconut Oil” continues an experimental narrative form, and Sal hands the mic off to several other characters as we are brought up to date on Refugio.
The themes of “Coconut Oil” include aging, housing and homelessness, gentrification, and how we occupy ourselves over time. The form is experimental in a way a common reader might enjoy.
The back cover photo for “Coconut Oil” was taken from the northbound Coast Starlight train as it passed by the point at Refugio Beach, California, a campground about 26 miles north of Santa Barbara. The photo was taken sometime in the late 70’s.
Jonathan Swift’s 1729 essay, “A Modest Proposal,” argues a single solution to homelessness that Swift proudly suggests would provide a host of beneficial side effects. Satire is sometimes hard to get, or hard to take, the difference between satire and farce being that satire aims at a target. One might today imagine a certain presidential candidate coming up with a proposal like Swift’s that many might take seriously, missing the satirical target – and that would be farcical.
Of the critical reviews appearing for “Penina’s Letters,” several stand out for their clear and concise but right-on insight into the book. Lisa, a family friend from the Vatican Hill days, posted a picture of “Penina’s Letters” being read in a swimming pool in Cabo with the comment:
“So this was a great read – hit on some serious issues – but I enjoyed the ride – and still can’t figure out where 48th Street is located.”
Lisa’s comment hits on significant aspects of the book – how do we treat serious issues in fiction that is also intended to entertain? And she joins in the fun by wandering around looking for a fictional street she knows doesn’t exist.
My friend Dan posted a longer review to his blog, and when I thanked him in an email, he wrote back,
“It’s a very good novel.”
Dan’s a reader, suffers no delusions about stuff, and is thrifty with his complements.
“An underpinning of real harrowing tension in this. Could hardly bear the savage exposure of the truly private in a ribald public arena. There are some crimes of insensitivity that merit the return of the stocks!”
Also meanwhile, my Facebook friends had a bit of fun posting pictures of their copy of the book, being read or held or posed at various locations, including Mexico, France (on a Kindle in Paris), Montana, airplane to Los Angeles, dashboard of car in Sellwood, Studio City, Minneapolis airport bookstore, in the woods above Los Angeles, on an office desk near the Willamette, a deck in Bend, Voodoo Doughnuts, a pool room in Portland’s Hawthorne neighborhood, a bike repair apartment in Seattle, outside the Mojave Cancer Center, a very cool San Francisco pad, a neighbor’s house on 69th, a laptop with Instagram photo in Aloha, another sitting out in the yard on a warm day on the west side, on a table with the rest of the mail in Ione, on a shelf at Em’s with her cookbooks, Warren’s place in North Portland, a desktop in El Segundo, on a quilt in Barstow, and please let me know if I missed one, because what a great marketing idea!
Anyway, I was encouraged by the reader response to “Penina’s Letters.” The novel may not be what many expected it to be. And most readers seem to intuit that we probably should not criticize something for not being what it was not intended to be. It’s also hard to finish everything we pick up. I get that. I’ve nearly always got a dozen or so books and magazine articles in disarray around the house in the process of being read, but then there’s always something that pulls you to it, and you wind up finishing it before anything else. That’s maybe a good definition of a good read.
And I was so encouraged by the reader response that I’m now announcing the sequel to “Penina’s Letters,” called “Coconut Oil.” Please don’t think I wrote “Coconut Oil” in a couple of months. Like “Penina’s Letters,” “Coconut Oil” is a final (Beckett said abandoned) draft of years of writing and reading work. As Cornel West said in “Examined Life,” “Time is real.” So I finally decided to “light out for the Territory,” though unlike Huckleberry, ahead of hardly anyone else.
I’ll let you know when “Coconut Oil” is ready to launch!
Oh, yeah, that bit above about Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” That has to do with “Coconut Oil.” You’ll see.
Meantime, thanks to the readers of “Penina’s Letters”!
The e-version can be read on any device – with the Kindle app, which can be downloaded for free (click link above).
We don’t recommend reading the electronic version in water, though that might be the best place to read this dynamic novel, but at the low, low price of $2.99, you can certainly read it with your device up on the beach, near the water.
And below find a gallery with more photos from the late 60’s thru mid 70’s. Most of these photos were taken with an Exakta 500 single-lens reflex camera (East German), with a 120 portrait lens, both purchased used and cheap to take surfing photos at local spots on Santa Monica Bay. Most are scanned from slides, Kodachrome or Ektachrome, and one is from a black and white print. The portrait lens was an affordable workaround at the time used as a kind of telephoto, and it worked ok. The camera was abused though, tossed in the sand, and over time the shutter began to stick. The photos starting coming out black. Some viewers may feel these the best photos. See etched drawing on one of the black slides. These are not “big” waves, and the surfers are locals, but the ocean is huge and alive and old and every morning new. Click any photo to see the gallery. And don’t forget to check out the poems.
I was trying to recall Ezra Pound’s line, “And men went down to the sea in ships.” Fine, wonderful line, except that’s not what he said. What Pound said, opening “Canto I,” I now recalled, looking it up, was, “And then went down to the ship.” And I was going to say, that if Pound had lived in the South Santa Monica Bay in the 1960’s, he might have said, “And boys went down to the ocean on surfboards.” But that doesn’t quite work now that I’ve corrected my recall. Pound’s sailors “Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea,” while the South Bay surfers of the 60’s, some watermen, some bleached a weak blond on a clean towel far up on the beach, where the waves couldn’t reach them, but still all caught up in the ancient tides that played on the radio and that licked at the western edge of Los Angeles, paddled out on surfboards and set skegs to waves.
Pound does, in “Canto I,” mention a “sea-bord,” and “A man of no fortune,” and this might describe most surfers of the era (sea bored and poor). Still, Pound’s opening in a remote way does invoke the sport, the art, of surfing, for one catches waves not at the beginning of the wave’s life, but at the end of the swell, as it nears the beach: thus, “And then….” And then paddled out and turned around and caught waves back to the beach. Surf: Pound’s “…water mixed with white flour.”
The waves always look smaller from the beach, and from the waves, sitting on the board, the beach looks, as Pound said, “…not as land looks on a map but as sea bord seen by men sailing” (“Canto LIX”).
So what happens to the surfer sea bored? Just this, from Albert Camus’s essay “The Sea Close By”: “I grew up with the sea and poverty for me was sumptuous; then I lost the sea and found all luxuries gray and poverty unbearable. Since then, I have been waiting” (172).