The Quarter Note Tales by Arthur Wenk

Despite his calm and composed writing style, Arthur Wenk redefines suspense for the contemporary reader who will enjoy the holistic experience of Wenk’s eye for detail with several smashing sub plots that dissolve and quickly emerge into the major plot without ever losing track of the main theme.

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Title: The Quarter Note Tales

Author: Arthur Wenk

Publisher: Wingate Press

Date of Publication: 24 April 2006

Genre: Novella

Rating: 4.5/5

A spell binding collection of three novellas skirting between the power play within the scholarly realms of Academia and the quiet spirituality of the Church.

A scandalous professor of the English department has committed suicide at Chihuahua State College. His suicide becomes headline news when his suicide note gets published in the college’s student newspaper, The Bowser. Musicologist Axel Crochet gets surprisingly tangled in a fag at this new workplace when he figures out that his colleague from the English department may have in fact been murdered. Astonishing facts and mysterious characters crop up in an endless array of twists and turns as the plot gets murkier each working day. Grant Jarman’s suicide note is not a letter but a poem. Just as Axel is about to unbolt the poetic mysteries gnawing at the throat of departmental politics and murdered colleagues, news breaks out about the death of the female student Jarman had been romantically involved with. She falls off the college roof while trying to click her own picture. Accident, murder or suicide?

The heart of any university, other than in the cafeteria, can be found underneath the piles of books at the university main or departmental libraries. As Axel enters the library to find some bibliographical information that he has received at an event from a friend regarding musicology; his eye falls upon a student newspaper clipping that reports the murder of the Music Department Chairman Edgar Frost. The department’s vocal instructor Viola Mordant is in police custody. The suicide of a student whom Professor Frost had terribly belittled gives rise to an altercation between Frost and Viola. Is that reason enough for murder?

Beginning at a more sombre note in what constitutes the precipitous haste for Christmas service at the Allegheny United Church, Axel is given responsibility for playing hymns and conducting the Junior Choir. Reverend Armstrong rubs his fingers to his forehead, squints his eyes as if in excruciating pain and collapses behind the pulpit vomiting blood across the chancel carpet. A physician from the Senior Choir rushes up to the pulpit and orders the others to call for an ambulance. But John Armstrong is dead. “The dictatorial leadership style that might have suited the small churches that he served earlier in his career brought muffled complaints from some parishioners at AUC.” Shirley Bellinger, a soprano at the Senior Choir and a friend of Axel’s, discloses information about her turbulent marriage with husband James while she’s been seeing another man all along. In the fear of being caught she names John Armstrong as her beau in lieu of his reputation as a lady’s man. James is in custody for alleged charges of murder. But autopsy reports claim Armstrong’s death is caused by drinking Compound 1080. Did he obtain the banned substance all by himself or was he intoxicated? As more people get added to the ‘suspects’ list, the means of acquiring poison remains deluded and the exact manner of death vaguely understood.  Will this mystery ever find a solution or will it jeopardize the reputation of the Church forever?

The Quarter Note Tales is a wholesome read with a bunch of topsy-turvy twists accompanied by a dark sense of humour that never lets the suspense drown. At any moment if the reader feels he can guess the criminal, the narrative only bends to reveal newer confusing information. It is not too often that one gets to read about the more honest aspects of life as an academic specially in a poorly funded institution and its challenges along with tackling a student community that is not up to the mark. Throughout the three tales, the protagonist Axel finds responsibility thrust upon him while he is merely going about his everyday duties. The events shake him up more than any other character but it is his presence of mind and patience that makes others count on him to get them all out of the mess. Speaking as the first person narrator, Wenk provides oodles of information through Axel about each and every incident that unfolds. Constantly moving to and fro between the past and the present gives the stories an added dynamism but requires readers to effectively use their capacity to remember and recall the details and characters as and when the narrative requires. Hence, though the factual data at times lengthens and drags the stories causing a monotony which only pushes the reader to want to know exactly how they will end. The tales are very realistic with an exceptionally honest tone and thoughtful manner of story -telling. Despite his calm and composed writing style, Arthur Wenk redefines suspense for the contemporary reader who will enjoy the holistic experience of Wenk’s eye for detail with several smashing sub plots that dissolve and quickly emerge into the major plot without ever losing track of the main theme. The tales are predominantly alarming but they are Gothic to the extent of being intellectually puzzling and not exactly hair-raising scary. The narrative flair is candid and doesn’t leave out any point that is relevant in keeping readers on the edge by creating a vibrant atmosphere in the backdrop of grim incidents. The Quarter Note Tales comprising the three novellas An Unfaltering Trust, Murder in the Music Department and Murder in the Pulpit is a chilling weekend read for all lovers of thrillers, murder mysteries and uncanny short stories.

Unconventional, suspenseful and un-guesstimatable.

Click the book cover to grab your copy. Happy Reading!

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino

It creates a beautiful mirroring effect which blurs the distinction between the reader inside the book and the real reader outside. This travel is like a ride through the book and also through the vastness of life in general in which reading is the only constant companion.

Title: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller

Author: Italo Calvino

Publisher: Vintage Classics

Date of Publication: 1998

Genre: Modernism and Post Modernism

Rating: 4/5

 

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Dodging from story to story in a periphrasis of what if(s) and would be(s).

In this experimental piece of fiction, Calvino deals with the theme of quest in a uniquely circular fashion. The book begins with an omniscient narrator addressing the reader in a welcome note to begin an unguarded reading experience of this much awaited release. Although initially it may seem that the narrator is guiding the reader towards a better understanding of the contents of the text but it is in reality a lure. The omniscient narrator is a split between Calvino and a narrative voice that further dichotomises into a narrator-traveller and the reader’s own self- reflection. It creates a beautiful mirroring effect which blurs the distinction between the reader inside the book and the real reader outside. This travel is like a ride through the book and also through the vastness of life in general in which reading is the only constant companion. Travelling at a railway station is juxtaposed with notions of time travelling in a world encased in lexical structures that entraps anyone who enters it. “Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade,” almost serves as a tagline.
Calvino engages the reader in the reading process that is both empirical and cognitive. Reading begins much before the book is opened; in the cover picture, the size of the book, the quality of pages and blurbs. The text is then more in the mind of the reader than in the words on the page. Reading is not restricted to texts alone. It also engages people just as the Reader is engaged in understanding the psychology of the Other Reader, her reasons behind choosing a particular book and estimating her tastes. Both the Reader and Other Reader have to constantly deal with the frustration of printing errors as the first section of each book they buy is repeated over and over in subsequent pages. Though the book stores guarantee to replace faulty copies, the new print editions are equally damaged. The books end abruptly at key junctures and climaxes are dashed to unfold a whole new set of characters in an unfamiliar setting with a completely different storyline. Chapters are titled alternately with numbers and names. While adding to the suspense and absurdity, it coalesces the usual spacio-temporality leading to jolts of inertia as we are thwarted in and out of tales. Though the book endlessly weaves up tales which never conclude but that should not be assumed as supposedly meaningless.
The text is episodic but contiguous. The Reader exchanges numbers with the Other Reader Ludmilla who is a voracious reader. Her phone is answered by her sister Lotaria who is of an opposite nature. She is grim and grumpy. From her the Reader learns of Ludmilla’s experiments at the Lab of Cimmerian Languages run by Professor Uttzi Tuzzi. The episodes combine comedy and satire while reflecting the difficulties of research in extinct languages or the loss of importance in the study of languages that has been replaced by scientific experimentation. The Non- Reader is a highly memorable figure who vows to never read even sign boards. This is his manner of silent protest against the indoctrination of reading as a compulsion since childhood. Another important figure is Silas Flannery and his suffering of the writer’s block. Echoing J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, this episode sets into motion the relation between the real and the illusion as also that of the writer with the reader, the audience, the publishing house and the cultural image of authorship.
Calvino’s style is analogous to the elasticity of his themes. He glides between ideas just as each incomplete story flows into another incomplete story repetitively. The suspense that is built initially is elevated and held till the very end. The last chapter being the shortest, sees the marriage between the Reader and Other Reader as this engaging process of reading and interpreting becomes never ending. Travel does not lead to physical displacement but a mobility in and out of textual nuances enclosing poetic fluidity.

A thrilling topsy turvy ride compressing the existential exuberance within the literary community and book loving circles.