Author: Richard M. Grove
Title: Psycho Babble and the Consternations of Life
ISBN: 978-1-894553-80-3 = 9781894553803 – Soft cover
Trade Paperback: 84 pages – 6 X 9
Suggested Retail (Paperback): $9.95
Genre: Fiction, Short Stories, Canadian
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Some would say Psycho Babble and the Consternations of Life is existential psyco babble written by a troubled mind. Others would say, even though the protagonist sticks a gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger, that this collection of poems and short stories is a profound statement about living.
Even though Psycho Babble and the Consternations of Life has a complicated existential leaning it has it humourous side. In the story “The Glen Manor Inn” a rustic old house is burned to the ground. Everyone got out safe including the naked lady that was fleeing the building – “… and the image of Mrs. Norman’s alabaster bum dashing down the lane into the dark bushes.” stood out as a fun moment. “H – E – Double Hockey Sticks” is a profound story of life about an abused boy who writes a letter of forgivness on a paper sail boats and lets his anxiety drift down the river out of sight. This collection of shortstories is sprinkled with some proufoundly well written poems that will make the reader wonder about the complications of life and how they shape our being. The book ends with the story “Cold Steel” where a tired, beaten-by-life character, puts the barrel of a gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger. “Sucking air through the barrel he slowly, ever so slowly, with deliberate hesitation pulls the trigger. This time all the way.” This story of despair will make every reader realize that there is something to live for.
Richard M. Grove writes Psycho Babble and the Consternations of Life in a unique and refreshing voice. He constructs a wonderful personality in a narrator who comes across as both interesting and pleasing to read. His dialogue is natural and never seems forced. Yet this craftsmanship is not merely limited to the narrator, as Grove creates (or perhaps captures) an ensemble of characters who are fashioned with a skillful and sensitive hand. Every character, lovable or otherwise, is brimming with life and seems hardly contained within the page.
This is a collection about life. It is about growth and about the journey along the way, where one may not always find the answers being sought after, but will continue to search. The characters either find answers or they don’t, they grow or they don’t, but either way they must journey forward. These are stories about moving on, about beginnings and endings, which Grove bluntly points out in one of the interspersed poems, writing, “The more things end/The more we find ourselves at the start”. There is never an ending without a new beginning. This makes the medium of the book, which is a collection of short stories and poetry, an appropriate reflection of the themes held within.
James T. Fisher
High school teacher, reader and want-to-be writer
In the preface, Grove describes his own journey through life with times of psycho babble and consternation to a place of relative peace and harmony, “All of the other stories and poems … are about the cycles of life, challenges and growth.” “The Glen Manor Inn”, the introductory tale, is a nostalgic memoir of summer days filled with sunsets, picnics, dances and parties. But the mood quickly changes in “Getting Married” with a soon-to-be husband and wife arguing as they ride a bus to city hall.
At the beginning of “Aquarium Life”, the first of five short stories that feature the thrice-divorced Will Farnaby, Will tells his friend Frank, “Everyone including you is trapped in their own little lives.” Will admits that all his life he’s felt like a gold fish trapped in a gurgling aquarium. “A long time ago”, he says, “I learned not to bump into my glass prison walls.”
Most of Grove’s characters are struggling to make sense of their lives and ease the perpetual pain they live in. The most touching story for me, “The Inner Voice” introduces Andy, a hitch hiker, longing to get home, while he recalls the mantra of his meditation teacher, “to live in the harmony of now”. When he’s finally offered a ride, he’s disturbed by his benefactor’s negativity. He cautions the driver that his cough will only be the death of him if that is what he wants. “Are you sure you want to hinge your idea of life to your dire prediction? Just for an experiment, why not change the prediction to something positive?”
Grove’s poetry also changes from the warm recollection of “Dead Weight” which describes a boy acting as an anchor holding down a mattress in a pickup truck. “The clouds were the biggest thrill/ of all, hanging motionless/ as I rattled nowhere, down/ the dry gravel road.” The other poems “Orbit of Violence”, “The Chosen One” and “The Stiffening Ruts of Discontent” paint a different picture – not a childhood filled with promise and joy – but an adulthood of disappointment and despair. “The constant grumbling of discontent/ the snarls and huffs of judgement/ are the utter and sad norm for him.”
Author of, Call Waiting
Knowing Richard Grove personally, I found it hard to reconcile this rather dark collection of short stories, vignettes, and poems with his natural ebullience and general joie‑de‑vivre. This book therefore, becomes an even more telling account of the stark fears that even the most high spirited of us must overcome, not only to be successful, but to merely get through our daily grind.
The opening story, “The Glen Manor Inn”, sets the stage for wholesale loss when old, happy ways of life are changed in the most brutal, abrupt and final fashion; this story portends the subtle downward spiral of life that runs through the book, culminating in its concluding story “Cold Steel”. Marriage gets off to a rocky start in “Getting Married”, with a couple fighting in the bus on their way to City Hall. H‑E‑L‑L is a shocking tale of child abuse by a grandparent, and of its consequences. And the loser‑life of Will Farnaby in the last five linked tales demand that we take notice; given his circumstances, could we all end up like Will?
In between these anchoring stories, lie interesting shorter pieces that contribute to the edgy theme. Two poems take us to Cuba to ruminate on a dying dog and a soon‑to‑be‑dead pig, one a victim of the socio‑economic system the other subjugated to the local dietary order. In another, “Koi in Perpetual Promenade,” the poet studies exotic Koi imprisoned in a giant fish‑tank in a restaurant as he waits for his meal to arrive – also of fish. Only one story offers a solution: the meditations of Andy in “The Inner Voice” – yet his listener does not get the meaning of “living in the now”, the answer to shutting out the psychobabble and avoiding the consternation.
Grove skirts the boundaries of personal experience and relationships that have heavily influenced the writing: “Stiffening Ruts of Discontent” and “Orbit of Violence” hint to this. Yet the writer deflects the personal over to the metaphorical by likening these flawed relationships to cloddy mud ruts hardening in the sun or to the elliptical moons of Jupiter.
I was reminded of Kafka while reading this book and it made me wonder if that manic genius would have stuck to writing his despondent masterpieces if he had been published during his lifetime? Therefore Mr. Grove – you who are more published than the living Mr. Kafka ever was ‑ why is your portrayal of life such a downer?
author of Fringe Dwellers
and Redemption in Paradise