A Kevin Review: The Talented John C. Laird
This week, I read three short stories by John C. Laird. The first is a completely beautiful kind of modernized fable, a tale of prophetic justice and the possible aftermath of living one’s life according to certain principles. Christian principles. While not supposing Mr. Laird is a Christian at all (because he may well not be one),these images and characters are free to be used by anyone. I am not a Christian, but I know them well, and I still found You Get What You Pay For (YGWYPF) fun to read and a totally imaginative, boldly written story and my little synopsis here will take little away from the fun and surprise of reading it. So, here we go:
…a completely beautiful kind of modernized fable, a tale of prophetic justice and the possible aftermath of living one’s life according to certain principles.
After two decades of marital well-being with his beloved high-school sweetheart/wife, Wendy, she is diagnosed with first one, then another, then another of various degenerative illnesses. After over a decade of accompanying, and caring for, his beloved mate down the path of gradual physical deterioration ending with her early “release”, we find Adam, facing an imminently fatal brain tumor, the effects of which were already becoming painfully apparent.
“Putting his affairs in order” included naming his divorced sister and her young daughter sole beneficiaries of the death benefit of a life insurance policy on himself. Then, between the fruits of prudent investments over the years, the death benefits from his wife’s life insurance policy, and the sale of the house, there is a small fortune to leave behind. With the end of his journey calmly in sight, the void from all those years of abstaining from sex/sexual contact altogether because there was no desire for it amid Wendy’s suffering, he decides to go out out with a bang, literally and figuratively. One day, he finally gives-in to the goading of one of his good buddies: Use the small fortune to go to Las Vegas and purchase the services a high-end “escort”/prostitute, the kind usually reserved for the big spending, high-profiling movie-stars, politicians, royalty, etc. He was going to die, after all, right after twelve years of celibacy. He could afford to do it, and suddenly it was a no brainer.
Upon hearing Adam’s story of honor; marital fidelity, non-abandonment, sacrifice, and suffering, the super fox of an escort promises him an experience which will surely be the best that money can buy. Well, it doesn’t end after only one night and not even two. Laird’s account of the dying man’s last ever intimate encounter with a highly skilled, professional sexual pleasurer whose “…knowledge was the sexual equivalent of the Library of Congress,…” is handled with tasteful analogies of the breadth of symphonic and artistic creation, in moments like brush-stokes of tensions, releases, textural syntheses on the canvases of their humanity, and just left me breathless.
Okay, fast-forward to Adam’s funeral where familial intrigue enters as the disinherited brother slithers in to pay his respects (…not) with his lawyer in tow and they proceed to challenge his/their misfortune. While very real characters, they’re also pretty funny and even referred to as a comedy duo. (from an early 1900s comic strip, which makes Gabby about the same age as Sarah Conventry from Redemption) They know all about the monies spent or “squandered” in Las Vegas and claim that Adam had obviously become mentally incompetent, the proof being the “Las Vegas fiasco” where he was taken advantage of by the hooker. In the meantime, the loving sister and niece are simply glad to have this friend of Uncle Adam’s from Nevada, who had brought him such happiness in his last days, in attendance at all.
Cutting to the chase, after being called a “two-bit whore” by the brother’s lawyer, the “escort” reveals she has uncovered enough embarrassing dope on the brother and his lawyer (pretty bad stuff too) to land them each either in jail or run out of town on a rail tarred and feathered and can probably find more, all of which she would make known to the appropriate legal institutions and would even come (all the way) back to do it unless they stop proceedings contesting Adam’s will and make themselves scarce. It’s pretty comical. Well, the surprise ending is huge. She then gives an envelope to Adam’s little niece, instructing her to give it to her mother, along with the explanation of what and why, once she’s gone.
…my theory of Laird setting a trap for men. Between the three books his scenarios are using all the “objects of temptation” of which men are susceptible…
Going Home is powerfully written and in very few pages places you there…in harms way. It’s almost too good in it’s descriptions of catastrophe. Very cinematic. The implications at the end are thought provoking indeed. Who gets to go home? The pure? The virginal? The innocent? The story is a little gory and causes discomfort… A Catholic necessity? Laird is a very good writer and probably even an open minded sort (given the subject matter of YGWYPF). I got caught up with this pattern in Redemption just before the tense chess match after her sentence was brought to life. YGWYPF being the clincher in my theory of Laird setting a trap for men. Between the three books his scenarios are using all the “objects of temptation” of which men are susceptible, things men like and do at basketball games and chess matches, a new twist on the selling your soul game.
Now. I really enjoyed reading these and I figure there’s is no harm in my mentioning the “contractual loop-holes” in each story. Lessee… celibacy rewarded with a cornucopia of sexual indulgence? There seemed to be a warning at the end of going home about how few are allowed into heaven. Lastly, in Redemption, the Devil can be out-witted and instead of winning a soul he loses two. I liked it a lot in spite of the Souls – kind of a direct rewriting of the basic tenets of the Christianity we all know.
To wander a little, Sex. Traditionally, references to archangels are only in masculine or in other words genderless and only masculine to denote authority or importance. In YGWYPF there are both and they each exist at the same time. I mean, given there’s usually no sex at all concerning what we know about angels, why not? This is a perspective I (for one) have never heard of or even imagined. Angels in such roles doing such things. “My goodness!” The expressions “giving in to lust of or temptations of the (pleasures of the) flesh” come to mind. Also it seems there is no fee for bringing a little happiness to this deserving soul before he leaves behind his earth-bound existence. He has earned it. Hence the title. You find these two names (M & G) in Going Home too but in a completely different social role, although performing the same actual function – That of comforting.
With all that said, John C. Laird is a very powerful storyteller. I have to say I liked YGWYPF the best, second is Redemption, Going Home is good however unsettling. Powerfully spun yarn in each. Great storytelling.
(A Kevin Review is something special. Our team is filled with so many fun and charismatic characters, all vying for the chance to write a witty review. Lucky Kevin came out on top – always entertaining us with his offbeat, and sometimes eccentric, opinions and curious ideas.)
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