I love it when I get a good hate review. First off, my skin is pretty thick these days. Secondly, I agree with the review almost completely. Thirdly, a satirist knows what they are getting into when we choose to write it. We poke. We prod. We agitate. We hold up a mirror and say, “Look at your fuckin self,” and we know that our work is going to piss a certain subset of people off. Those who have read and published my flash fiction know that I am not afraid to go there. It’s quite deliberate, and the fact that Knowing Joe is shaping up to be a very divisive book just makes me really proud of my writing. I guess the people who signed up for the giveaway solely based on the naked man on the cover are probably going to be upset, a little bit, and that too was very deliberate, but hey, the book was free, right? That said, I think the reviewer was spot on when they said:
“Least romantic romance novel and least effective coming of age story.” True, as a Fiction>Satire with regards to contemporary dating as black comedy, it is not effective as either. It’s definitely pretty shitty as far as coming of age stories go. I’m not sure I even know what coming of age means outside of YA fiction, but in this case, the heroine isn’t whisked off to the marshmallow clouds by the shirtless prince where she loses her virginity via multiple magical orgasms. Sorry. No toe-curling traditional romance.
“The sex was pictured pretty disgustingly.” Also true. I might not use the word disgustingly, but yes, it’s raw. I certainly didn’t pretty things up. Didn’t romanticize anything really. I rarely do in my fiction. Sex and dating can get rather interesting in a gross and sometimes frightening sort of way, even if we don’t want to think about it like that for obvious reasons. Again, no toe-curling traditional romance. There is one orgasm in the book, but it’s pretty awkward, and neurotic, and silly, and very non-romantic. It’s kinda like the bench, and so is our Girl.
“She needs serious counseling.” Speaking of the main character, and again, probably true. Or maybe she just needs society to accept that she has a differing opinion about sex. The obsession with and the conversation about sex in this day and age, the age of the digital meat market, has become quite toxic of late, so I am sure a lot of people need counseling. The dating stereotypes mentioned in the book are there for a reason, and it was cathartic for me to address all that communal angst. I spoke to a lot of people about their dating trials and tribulations while I was writing the book, most from the LGBTQ community, and there is a lot of angst. Sex and relationships are complicated, and all people are neurotic to an extent, so yeah: ANGST
To me, this is a good one star review. Why, because our hope as artists, as anarchists, is to shine a fucking light. That’s the whole point, especially when it comes to satire. When we argue a thesis in literature, we want a reaction. We want people to think. Sure we want them to agree, and in order for us to stay objective, we also want them to disagree, which is why I chose to share this review in the first place. A review always says more about the reviewer than the work being reviewed in most cases, and as writers, as students of the human condition, we need a good cross-section for our fiction experiments to work. If I were writing a romance coming of age novel, I’d have been way off the mark, but I didn’t write that. I chose an anti-perspective, if you will, when the reality of a thing is darker, dirtier, more disgusting than we want to believe it is, or when the reality of a thing is absurd, and sometimes hysterically funny. In order to see the reality of a thing for what it truly is, you need exaggeration and confrontation, Satire, and even though my horror flash fiction is way more confrontational and controversial than this, Knowing Joe is my first long form attempt at 100% pure scathing satire, and I think I might have succeeded.
Would be nice though if the readers who rated it 4 and 5 stars also shared their opinions. The stars are nice, but it doesn’t translate into a real review. We need reviews to keep going, which is why we do giveaways in the first place.
I read a lot of experimental fiction, and I love the way this story is presented: a bit of flash, some poetry, and even graphic content. It’s surreal, connected and yet not. I love the rawness and the grit reminiscent of any Mad Max style post-apocalyptic world, and if the Black Dog is worse than depression and there is a cure, what started it? What spreads it? Are Lester’s family really dead or just brain-dead? Maybe he will find what he’s looking for when he gets to Shell County where all the doctors are. If he ever gets there.
There’s a lot to chew on here, but I felt the overarching theme had to do with the decrepitude of the male ego. Everyone succumbs to the Black Dog, which can be likened to Alzheimer’s in way, but the male point of view is most dominant here with regard to failing bodies, failing libidos, failing relationships, and failing careers: Impotence through and through, and similar to Fight Club, the emasculation of the modern male takes a predominant position in the story. Mr. Kelso works in riddles, in satire, in pipe bombs filled with feces-covered shrapnel. It’s a hard look at the desperation of men, how mediocrity rots the spirit. Read the full review here.
There were two readers so far who didn’t find the stream of consciousness, introspective monologue to their taste, but those readers who are used to this sort of satirical style had some nice things to say about our Girl and her quest for clarity. It’s the most a writer can hope for, especially an independent writer. My thanks to everyone who has been kind enough to read the book and leave their thoughts.
“Touching, funny, grittily true, and sweet. A refreshing and unique exploration of romantic love.” – Kristen Tsetsi, Author of The Age of the Child and The Year of Dan Palace.
“A psychological observation of modern day romance in a bare, raw sense. Thank goodness for Cheryl Anne Gardner, giving us real romance to read as an alternative to Harlequin hell.” Amazon Review, Breeni Books
“This novella is beautifully ambiguous, in a way that gives it a universal appeal. Through Girl’s inner monologue, Gardner explores societal norms, issues, and expectations surrounding relationships. It explores the complicated nature of women, of sex, relationships, and of friendship. In a way, it is a mirror aimed at ourselves – one that shows that we do not have to lose a part of who we are just because it is expected.” Amazon Review, Henry Martin, Author of The Mad Days of Me
“One of the most irreverently introspective narrators I’ve come across in quite a while. […] a young woman with her own specific angst plus an unflagging imagination and delivery. Amazon Review, Susan Tepper, Author of Monte Carlo Days and Nights
I got a nice review this past week for Knowing Joe that compared the journey to Irving’s The World According to Garp, which got me a little teary-eyed because Garp is one of my all-time favorite books, and I do suppose that our Girl in Knowing Joe and Jenny Fields in Garp are very similar in some of their personal views on sex.
Jenny Fields is a strong-willed woman who doesn’t understand ‘the lust’, doesn’t want a man, yet desires a child of her own with enough resolve to resort to rape to get one. Our Girl also doesn’t understand the lust, but she is much more clear about sex as a biological function even if she has no emotional desire or physiological need for sex, and though it’s never discussed in Knowing Joe, if our Girl did want a child, there are more opportunities now to have one sans sexual contact than there were in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Opportunities Jenny Fields didn’t have outside of adoption, and back then, a single woman was unlikely to be approved for adoption: a problem for Jenny Fields as she had a much stronger aversion towards men. Our Girl acknowledges the existence of misogyny throughout Knowing Joe yet understands that all men are not created equal in that department.
Spoiler Alert: Feminist Rant About to Commence
As for the antagonistic threads running throughout The World According to Garp, Jenny Fields, a sexual non-conformist (an asexual), a women’s rights advocate, and a feminist, is demonized throughout the story, likened to a terrorist, and worthy of assassination because her ideas about female autonomy are just too dangerous, which brings me back to the review of Knowing Joe, where the end lines state:
[To have sex or not have sex? The story, though it delves into many other issues that occupy this protagonist, cements itself to this tag line. And, let’s face it, all of life cements itself to this tag line. Because without sex the species is doomed to disappear. Is ‘Girl’ ready to participate in the disappearance of her species?]
It’s been 40 years since The World According to Garp was published, and yet, I could still write a book in this day and age about the same gender constraints and sexual expectations that Jenny Fields fought against in her not-so-fictional world. Constraints and expectations that have been foisted upon women for an eternity, by men and by other women. In 2018, women and girls are still the property of men in some societies. In 2018, we, in the US, are still fighting for Roe vs. Wade. We are still fighting for our right to make our own healthcare choices, which we have to pay extra for anyway. We are still fighting for control of our careers, our intellectual rights, and our vaginas. In 2018. Seriously. A man who says he’s not the marrying kind, who plays the field, doesn’t want kids, and has lots of sexual partners is lauded as a hero in some circles. Look at him: he’s so strong and virile and independent, doin what he wants to do, sayin what he wants to say — boys will be boys — and on the flip side of that…
If a woman enjoys sex, rebukes marriage, and wants to play the field, she’s a nympho or a whore and probably needs psychological counseling for hysteria or some psycho-babble bullshit.
If a woman is disinterested in sex, then she’s frigid, a dyke, or a feminist bitch and probably needs psychological counseling for hysteria or some psycho-babble bullshit.
If a woman prefers romantic love, then she’s just a silly little girl.
And God-forbid if a woman makes it known that she doesn’t want children, then she’s shamed for being selfish or likened to a terrorist, who, knowingly and deliberately, without remorse, is proud of committing genocide against the human species.
Since when does any of that make sense? Women’s identities are still tied to their partners and their progeny. Why? Why? Why?
Why does the survival of humanity get squarely placed at the base of a woman’s vagina?
If you google “women who don’t want children” you’ll see headlines the likes of: IN DEFENSE OF WOMEN WHO DON’T WANT CHILDREN OR MARRIAGE or THE REAL REASON WHY SOCIETY HATES YOU IF YOU DON’T HAVE KIDS or WHY IS SOCIETY STILL SO AFRAID OF WOMEN WHO DON’T WANT CHILDREN?
If our extinction is at hand, it’s not going to come about due to lack of sex, our Girl can tell you that, and I think Jenny Fields would concur.
On The Bitch is an identity crisis story: a couple of people with barely anything holding their friendship together struggle to figure out who they are and where they belong at this point in their lives. They are rude and obtuse, and the narrator prefers to deflect his attention onto every single miniscule and trivial thing from the Titanium-like TV remote to the orgy-sized pantry (whatever that means) to the beef roast that isn’t a lamb roast. He’d focus on Magda’s nether-regional excretions, her blue eyes and blonde hair, and even his friend’s daughter’s breasts to avoid focusing that attention inward. It hurts to look at the real issues when mid-life is bearing down upon you. Read the full review here.
Sure, Knowing Joe is a satire. It pokes fun at society and all its sexual stigmas and stereotypes. Sex is absurd when you get right down to it, but at the heart of Knowing Joe is an Identity Crisis, which is far from absurd.
Our Girl isn’t a young girl. She isn’t trying to find herself. At 27, she knows who she is, and she knows who she wants to be, until she is confronted with something that makes her second guess her resolve on the issue of her own sexual identity.
Everyone second guesses themselves from time to time. It’s healthy to question your principles and beliefs every now and again. It’s healthy to question “normal.” It’s part of the growth process to ask, “Can I do something?” “Should I be doing something else?” When we question, we open our minds up to other possibilities. That might include the possibility to change or not to change.
I recently read an article on “The Midlife Crisis,” and an author quoted in the article had an interesting take on the subject matter: one that applies here to the Identity Crisis Girl experiences in Knowing Joe. The Author states:
The midlife crisis is created from addiction. Without addiction, it cannot exist.
Dr. Joe Dispenza, a neuroscientist and author of several books, including Breaking The Habit Of Being Yourself and You Are The Placebo, gives convincing evidence of the three addictions we all develop early in life long before we’re introduced to any harmful substances.
• Addiction to our bodies
• Addiction to our environment
• Addiction to the concept of time
In Knowing Joe, Girl has understood her identity as an a-sexual since she was a very young girl. She begins to question it at 27 years old when she stumbles upon a book she considers to be full of secrets. The idea that she might not have had all the knowledge she needed to fully analyze the issue at hand (sex) sends her into a full-blown panic attack, in which she fixates on an invented love interest in order to ground herself.
So how could such a confident, enlightened person lose their sense of self? Well, I think it goes straight back to the addictions listed above:
Of course, these concepts are all horse shit: Our bodies are not who we are. Satisfaction comes from doing not being. Society doesn’t have a backwards-assed clue about normal, and old age only increases the love we can give and receive because we have a better understanding of what love actually is after decades of struggling with it. Sex isn’t love. Inherently we know all this, but the need to feel “normal” is a powerful addiction that can send even the most enlightened person into a pit of despair. That’s where our Girl finds herself in Knowing Joe, so when I was trying to figure out how to approach telling the story, I felt that it was best to use a first person, stream of consciousness point of view so that her confusion, her struggle to validate her convictions, would be palpable on the page. She’s manic, rambling. Her thoughts are disjointed, and yet, there is a logical process as she plots her way through from point A to point B.
Anyone who has had an emotional crisis of any sort will understand that feeling: the wave of adrenalin that washes over you, the nausea, the sinking despair that feels like it’s pulling your stomach through your intestines. The racing heart and the racing mind as we fight to course correct. As we fight for the confidence to be able to say, “I Know Who I Am.”
When we attach our identities to temporary things, our identities, too, are temporary — and we find ourselves in a constant chase to reinvent ourselves.
In Knowing Joe, it takes an intervention to help Girl confront the addictions that sent her spiraling into an inner world of what-if fantasies. It takes true love and acceptance to help her understand that attraction is more fluid than it seems; that normal is subjective; that she is part of a new kind of sexual revolution, and that it’s ok to not want sex, in the moment or ever. Love and sex are not mutually exclusive, and through fits and fumbles, our Girl finally discovers that love is what you make of it.
Monte Carlo Days & Nights is the portrait of a tryst: a wealthy powerful man who enjoys slumming it, and a young peasant girl who is “addicted to the foie gras” – the pomp, the circumstance … and the torture. Monte is graceful at one turn, a skewering to the heart at the next. One might liken it to a fencing match or, to me, a sadomasochistic relationship sans the leather. Read the rest of my review here.
“Cadavers,” she said to the leather-clad mountain next to her in a gruff old-lady smoker rasp. The other turned to reply with a, “Totally predictable. Emaciated. Tweeks and Twinkies,” and I was stuck between them and their snarky banter, a hairy, peck-stuffed, and bedazzled brassiere pressing into my face hard enough for me to smell the Old Spice in her tit-hair. I thought I was going to lose consciousness, but at the onset of total cologne asphyxiation, one of them spoke to me, “So what do you think, hon? Is there anything even remotely fuckable in this joint tonight?” as if I would know, being an actual expert and all that.
Gardner, Cheryl Anne. Knowing Joe (p. 40). Twisted Knickers Publications. Kindle Edition.
I haven’t talked about the kitties in a while, so I wanted to share the rehab and integration progress since it’s been 2 years and 4 months of indoor life for Rupert.
He has no interest in going back outside, for anything, ever, just like Moon. But then again, with all the cushy places to nap and all the food, when they want all the food, kinda puts the miserable life they had into perspective.
Both had their medical checkups in November and both are doing fabulously at 12 years old. Other than Rupert’s shit teeth, the FIV isn’t cause for concern at the moment. We clean a bit differently and take precautions not to bring anything in from outside that might strain his immune system, but aside from that, we treat him the same as Moon. Rupert got boosters when we first trapped him, but now we only vaccinate for rabies because our state requires it by law. We choose the Merial non-adjuvant 3-Year rabies vaccine, which is safer and we don’t have to stick them every year. If our state didn’t require it, I wouldn’t vaccinate them at all any more without a titer.
Moon’s allergies are under control, and all his bald spots have filled back in. He looks like a normal cat now, though I do think some of the issues were caused by his nervous temperament and some were bona fide allergies. I keep their food pretty limited. We still feed Young Again Zero Limited/Mature and Rayne Kangaroo, but I am going to try Walk About’s canned brushtail just for something different. They’ve eaten American possum, so maybe they might like Australian possum, too. For litter, we’ve settled on a mix of Smart Cat (grass litter) and Okocat in the blue box.
With regards to their relationship with each other, it’s still a work in progress, but as you can see from the picture, things are going well. Rupert is still very timid and hides under the bed during the day if there is commotion going on around the house, but when things are quiet, he emerges. Moon has gotten better with sharing, even when it comes to sharing me, which was a sticking point for a while.
Moon is not aggressive, but he is annoying when he wants to play, and Rupert is so laid back, that is causes the occasional scuffle, replete with chasing and chattering. When Rupert has had enough being bothered and jumped upon, he has learned to assert himself, and he will gently swat at Moon to make him stop or he will flip around and tell Moon to “talk to my ass.” This is hysterical when it happens. Moon has his single issue as well. Rupert has a habit of sneaking up behind Moon to smell him or rub against him. Moon does not like things sneaking up behind him, especially while he is eating, and this generally results in Moon aggressively reprimanding Rupert with a hiss and a swat in the face. I don’t intervene because they have to work this stuff out on their own.
That said, Moon actually adores Rupert. Since they’ve been able to interact freely, Moon doesn’t cling onto me throughout the night anymore. Moon was a very lonely cat, which is why he sought us out in the first place, but we work all day and sleep all night. Rupert was the best thing I could have ever done for Moon. He is a much happier and calm cat now that he has a compatible like-minded friend. Rupert was also lonely and starved for affection, but his fear kept him solitary. Now that he is able to open up and relax a bit, we can see what a funny and friendly little guy he is.
We anticipate that things will only get better, and we hope to give them a long, happy life. They’ve been through enough; they asked for our help, and they deserve all the comfort we can give them.