Lou Rowan - Nation dominated by grown men who alternately claim to have never had an erection and to have had one now for 16 hours straight

Lou Rowan, My Last Days (Chiasmus, 2007)

"In this satirical novel, a well-known superhero [Superman] takes on the corruptions of many current public figures in politics, business, and the arts."

“MY LAST DAYS takes us deep inside the American myth of Superman and Clark Kent where no prior version of our naturalized heroic savior’s ineradicable story has dared to go. Be prepared for a wild ride on the back of the man of steel’s poignant confessional autobiography into a satirical maelstrom of hilarity and moral outrage.” — George Economou

"Scrooge stared back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude… "This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!" cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city.' - Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Every now and then the stunted adolescent experience of the occasional self-styled European intellectual will manifest itself in a dismissive and often petulant, even embarrassingly uninformed, one-off shrug of a commentary expressing his or her own ignorance of or inability to appreciate the real complexities of the many American cultures and cults, literary, political, popular or otherwise. The shallowness of the premises makes even sympathetic conclusions too bitter a pill for the native to swallow, and the most far gone of ex-patriots may discover in such a moment a suppressed chauvinism lurching up half dead from the spleen. Lou Rowan, American man, has, on the other hand, written a novel that far more than dismissing his nation's cultural deposits, dumps the litter box at our feet just as if to say, "Can you smell it now?" My Last Days, in spite of betraying a petty Continental distaste for sport, comes by this critique along a more hard-won route than that of the casual euro-pundit, a journey best characterized as over-informed. And the burden of the over-informed, I think, is rapturous satire.
Like someone who has been in deep cover for a long time, Rowan speaks the language of the corporate world, that is to say the language of the political world, the art world, Hollywood, major American poetry, and the corporate world, better than its inventors. He knows the syntax, he's got the speed, and he has mastered a startling number of permutations of the prefabricated phrasal components that supply the finite lexicon of the players, the bricks of their narrow bricolage. And who better to see through this wall and shove it off the edge of the planet than that hapless undercover journalist, Superman, the unsuspecting vessel of innocence Rowan has chosen to make his critique. Poor Superman.
Spurred to the autobiographical act by his publicist, the man of steel (and glass, we discover), has decided to take a closer look at his role in the society, and how he came to be there. He begins, in Kansas, as a sort of dim-witted Saposcat on the farm, and ends in the same place, but this time as a fugitive Clark Kent, adrift in remoter regions with his radicalized sidekick, James, ducking and covering in the high grasses from what we can only imagine is a rather worked-up Department of Homeland Security. What happens in between is a New York City mash-up of star culture success stories, generally enabled by the heroic efforts of Superman's naive sense of justice, set alongside a few downers in the outer boroughs. These, Superman has some difficulty getting his head around, as strength, the power of flight, and x-ray vision don't seem to fit the bill.
Rowan, who was once a student of Zukofsky and is now the editor of the distinguished Golden Handcuffs Review, is also retired from a career located vaguely within the complex of Wall Street finance, whatever and all that "Wall Street finance" may mean. His encapsulation and subsequent manipulation of the knowledge he acquired while ensconced not only on Wall Street but within its various adjunct New York societies has produced this breathless, unchecked 120-page maximalist economic satire. Superman aside, as Rowan's riffs periodically push him, the novel, with great economy, moves through the various strata of the culture. It begins, innocently enough, as all Americans do, with the personal struggle, then on up to the tribal, the local, the regional, national and finally the neo-colonial worldwide enterprise of our national politics, culture and language. "Eviscerating" may be too easy a word here, unless one considers that in this case it would be meant no more metaphorically than is the book's staging of the attempted rape of Lois Lane by two rather recognizable poets of national standing. It is a cutting, bloody book, as the rather ominous cover art foreshadows and the light, swift tone occasionally belies. The truly funny swoons of mock-ecstasy in earlier passages concerning the Broadway musical hit "Starved Into Happiness," and the dry ironies of the remarkable rise of media mogul Rupert Murd, and the hilarious dismissal by Mayor Hussel of his grimly inadequate son give way eventually to the far more noxious swoons of the final paragraphs detailing a dystopic wonder of television programming that may while you have been reading this already have surpassed this most recent attempt to satirize it.
Rowan is right, as he does here and in his short-story collection Sweet Potatoes, to locate much of the political and general perversity of this country in its eternally adolescent sexual psyche. Clark Kent's own development spotlights a point where he must make the false choice often presented to youngsters as to whether he shall be celibate or promiscuous. In My Last Days the point is rather roundly made that ours is a nation dominated by grown men who alternately claim to have never had an erection and to have had one now for sixteen hours straight, openly flaunting their endowment in office. Top-shelf marketing typically has its cake and eats it too. Many of Rowan's adult characters are outfitted, some more sympathetically than others, with this same nagging undercurrent of brimming adolescent perversity, of a confused, vacated soul empty at the center and obscured in a dustcloud of self-important activity. The question of disastrous conflict is reduced to when and where, which is what gives Rowan's narratives their particular uneasiness.
There are a growing number of writers out there who it seems are no longer able to finesse their opposition to the state of not only the state, but of the predominating literary and art cultures: to the state of perception itself. Chiasmus Press, publisher of My Last Days, and other small presses go very far out of their way to publish a few of them. It is all too easy to see the origins of the complaint, which emphasize a holisitic continuum between the different components of and variety of forces acting on the larger cultures. The self-censorship, or self-narrowing of the artistic imagination in America at some point achieved a threshold where one is now able to easily imagine that every viable enactor in art, science and thought is finally reduced (it may take some years) to a good solid position, with benefits, in a successful marketing firm, so-called or not. Some people see this as a desirable progression, and some people do not. My Last Days is not the quiet, rational insanity of Kafka's "In the Penal Colony," but, looking in the same harrowing direction, it is more the flamboyantly overt Swiftian humor of outrage. In the end it is a small, too-fine-a-point-on-it spear chucked at a giant helium balloon bobbing and weaving its way down Madison Avenue.
Aside from the fact that humor is always an indication of hope, it is fair to say that My Last Days is a doggedly pessimistic, even cynical book, but one that is so ripe the reader is surprised to have encountered it only now. It puts into relief the absence of such open, deep satire from available American fiction, the sort of thing that dredges the dark bottom sludge of the bent psychology behind some of the most successful drivers of our currently exported cultural heritage. In this sense, it is tellingly reminiscent of moments in Soviet-era eastern European satires like Gombrowicz's and Konwicki's, Hasek's and Hrabal's. Like these, My Last Days is not speculative or fantastic fiction, it's historical. It's all true. You have probably already visited the Museum of Acceptable Modern Art and "Starved Into Happiness" is on the bus and rolling toward your local performing arts center this very evening. And they're both going to cost you more than this book." - James Tierney

"My Last Days is gleefully loaded with so many contemporary cultural placeholders (from the iconic Superman, naturally, right on through to Rudy Giuliani, Al Sharpton, and Donald Trump, etc.) The piece demands and encourages from the reader an exploration of how the references and placeholders are playfully manipulated to function in the story's overall landscape.
Before we get to that, would you mind talking a bit about the genesis of the story? Specifically, I'm curious about your use of the Superman character. Are you a fan of the comic book series? Was this, in any sense, a dream project for you?
- In my single-digit years I'd sit on the floor by the supermarket magazine rack reading comics. I felt that Superman and Superboy were more "real" and "normal" than the Marvel Comics heroes. The Superman movies I've found pretty average, but liked the Lois character, except for the sanctimonious Lois in the latest movie. The novel uses the basic knowledge any American might have of our primary superhero.
I thought of this version of the myth running the Brooklyn Half-Marathon in 1983 or so. I wore horn-rimmed glasses, and neighborhood kids yelled "Go Clark!" at me.
Supe's prissy attitude towards women in the book is a variant of the cowboy in movie-westerns feeling more at home with his horse than the ladies. I don't see any reason why a superhero should be fully-functional in all psychic areas. The boorishness bumptiousness of the caricature male (of which we have too many in this country, most destructively in the White House) is a flight from the anguish necessitated by the vague but powerful demand on men to be "strong."
And so I've tried to present a "well-rounded" superhero, to explore a bit the inner consequences of his special powers, his alien origin. His madness might also be related to that of Achilles.
As for the figures from contemporary history, somebody has to put them in their place if neither the media nor the democratic process (whatever's left of it) can. My theory of contemporary America is the Wrestlemania Hypothesis, which will I'm sure be picked up by descendants of Thorstein Veblen: the wedding of entertainment/advertising with journalism breeds little smackdown creatures who bioengineer into public figures. Donald Trump is Gorgeous George lionized: his deals are that "real," if you understand his actual finances. Same with Al Sharpton, whose accomplishments one would never put next to those of say Bayard Rustin, but whom the media represent as a civil rights leader. Bush beat Gore and Kerry because he knew the moves, not the issues, and we care about lookin' good. Politics as fake sport, Karl Rove as impresario. His victory over Gore was as "real" as a pro wrestling victory.
Not to linger too long on Superman's characterization (MLD isn't so much a story about Superman, per se, as much as it is the change corporate corruption and political buffoonery run amok inflict on that which Superman represents), but the tweaking done to the traditional representation of the character is one of the most compelling angles of the story. Most of the heroes in the D.C. and Marvel Universe exhibit a defining, fatal flaw in character (usually the driving force behind the heroism). With Superman, the manifestation is a little more benign - his love for Lois Lane often causes a conflict of interest in his decision making. As the storylines play out, he always ends up taking the moral high road, the dedication to his humanitarian mission trumping and sacrificing all personal desires (often rendering Superman one-dimensional and predictable.)
As anti-hero became en vogue among the major titles of the 80's, later works attempt to add some depth of character, recasting him as a government shill and sell-out (I'm thinking Frank Miller here in Dark Knight Returns.)
MLD takes this a more sophisticated step further by exploring the possible dissolution of his compassion for the human race. His good deeds are exploited for political capital, and Superman (in one of the story's more poignant scenes) is essentially irrelevant as a solvent to the more realistic problems of the lower middle class, such as economic disparity and the absence of health care. Was this an exploration you considered before you started writing, or did that element arrive organically as the premise and narrative evolved?
- My Supe is a little like J. Edgar Hoover's agents going after lone bank robbers while the Mafia throve, or wearing Hawaiian shirts to join the counterculture. The dangerous innocence of the straightforward male--and yes that makes him a shill for folks like Von Umph or Giussilini, and above all Rupert Murd.
Confronted by an actual social problem, if that's what you can call the abuse of foster children, his first response is to go crazy. But then his displays of knowledge become more far-reaching and less smug, and his language perhaps less bland.--I don't remember the heroes of comic books ever saying anything memorable. Nor have I seen much liveliness in the public presence of champions of the so-called information age.
My Last Days is a small homage to Gulliver's Travels, and just as Gulliver's "powers" as a physician did him little good in coping with the myriad societies of which he's a rapt explorer, so Supe's powers and routines do him little good--with a couple of exceptions - in coping with Gotham.
- OK, to answer your question: I knew I'd take the most powerful man in the story of the U.S., and I knew I was angry about the postwar history of New York, until recently the most powerful U.S. city. (Now I'd say LA, or the LA-Orange-San Diego-Riverside county megalopolis.) I knew I'd play with him and with NYC bigs. And I was saddened by the story of Vanessa Green, still another dead foster child on the cover of the NY Times. We know, we know the foster-care system is mortally corrupt, another proof of the modern "history is the nightmare. . ." psychic and storytelling axiom to which Supe refers near the end. I knew I'd do the scene in the big newsroom (hastening to say I wrote this before the Lewinsky distraction from the news) and have a dorky Supe struggle to go figure why the mob sent someone to quell the investigative ardor of Lois and The World. Also, I knew I'd have Supe do as well as he could pop-psychologizing his upbringing, while he copes with his increasing malaise, as if he were engaging with Oprah. Finally, I knew that he would speak a bit like a corporate annual report, and that he would espouse a "what's good for Wall Street is good for America" theory of history, an actual theory, which is worked out in the chapter "World History." That's what I knew when I began in 1997.
Would you mind talking a bit about your sense of humor? There are very uproarious moments in MLD and certainly in SP, but I would never describe your work as 'comedic.' Even during the darker moments in the selections from 'Alphabet of Love Serial,' there is an element of wit that keeps the stories buoyant. Do you think humor is inherent to your voice as a writer? Is there a certain wry tone you tried to master from your earliest forays? Maybe that's phrased awkwardly, but some comedy is spontaneous and some comedy is carefully planned (and made to seem spontaneous.) Do you think much about being funny during your process, or is it second nature to you at this point?
- On the visual: I've seen it as a movie. And I think the caricature-creatures of the recent "Dick Tracy," "Batman," movies are as relevant as those of the Supe movies. MLD's plot (outside of what happens to Supe himself) is elliptical--the connection with crime through Rick Hussell's chop-shop art materials is one of the few concrete clues. The bad guys are a condition as much as a set of political/economic capos. That might have to be jiggered in a movie, making the plot and their responsibilities for it more direct. The grab-bag of episodes is cinematic, I hope.
But I don't have a visual imagination, and so objects with funny names like "The Allegorical Figure of Brooklyn" (a real thing) I see better than say the more important Meadowlands. In other words, and particularly in this book, I read objects rather than simply contemplating them. As Supe swims to the Meadowlands he moralizes the history of their destruction. Which is why I'm happy with Quentin's drawings. As you say, they capture Supe as the boyish innocent so typical of American heroes.
Self-pity is a crucial aspect of American masculinity.
- That's the kind of generalization you begin with in satire. I try to go "inside" Supe a bit, while parodying the confessional that's so popular, popular because of our endless need to heal and fix ourselves in public, to substitute moments of titillation for lives of sympathy and growth. Supe's trapped in that erzatz self-help cult (not culture.) So his biggest revelations about his inner child can be funny while sad....
Which leads to your question about humor: in the little criticism of music I've read, there can be discussions of the "feelings" it expresses. Difficult to hear music as a world of its own, with procedures and rules you can learn as you listen--so we translate it into feeling-statements, at worst statements about what the composer or musician is feeling. But that misses the wonderful pure inventions in the sounds, their relations with each other (not us), inventions affording us chances to loosen self-absorption's psychic cramps.
In the Intro to Sweet Potatoes I mention Huizinga's Homo Ludens which proposes play as a basic category of experience, even "serious" experience like work and war and courtroom trials. The absolute freedom of play allows anything to happen anytime, and for me the "modern" and post and post-post and all the classroom and critical categories with which we pigeonhole the threatening and baffling of the new--all the supposed breakdowns of form into dada or whatever are wonderful because they remove barriers to the mere unpredictable that is play (or general and personal history!). Kafka laughed when he read his stories. --So that's the serious crackpot answer to your question about comic and serious, which I can summarize: yes.
Long ago I adopted a little dog, and took in a feisty hamster that was trotting along Broadway, to the consternation of two gentlemen wondering what kind of rat it might be. When Louis Zukofsky visited, he commented that they "steal a lot of your thunder." I tend to get angry and moralistic about injustice, absurdity in our culture--as I write Bush and Rice are lecturing the Mideastern heads of state, rather than listening to them and their "cultures"--and it is good for my sanity if not my characters' to regard the nightmares of cultural and personal history both closely and at a remove.
We love the things and people we play with: toying with characters and events is often the farthest I can get beyond "we see through a glass, darkly." When Douglas Woolf, truly a modern master, speaks of writing lovingly, he's so accurate about his work.
So it gets I hope mixed into something new: the angry distancing techniques of satire with loving play with sadness, and if I were a critic I would intone: the improvisatory techniques of play mediate, providing dynamic nexus between Jonsonian satire and heartbreak over the tragedies of everyday existence.
So is that sense of play your starting point when you sit down to the keyboard or put the pen to paper? Or is it more of the Douglas Adams concept of 'staring at a blank piece of paper and waiting for your forehead to bleed?'
- Well, Dominic, I like that word keyboard, for the notion that brings music and play and invention (following William Carlos Williams on its necessity) together is improvisation. I've told you what I knew I'd do in MLD. I also "knew" that I'd do some kind of sendup on educational testing, and on the corporatizing of schools. Very little of that got in.
I've improvised for the past 5-6 years. It may sound hokey, but I just don't know what's coming next. For example, I had no idea that "The Accounting" would be my version of a mystery-story when I began: writing the first few sentences I'd thought about a beautiful and serious relationship, basing it on a couple I'd known faintly 10 years before, but it went away from that, far away. The pauses and startups in new voices in that story are maybe similar to passing the lead around the band, maybe. The shorter stories of "The Alphabet of Love Serial" were roughed out in one sitting—that became a kind of discipline for them. The story "P" is partly based on "pee" being a homonym.
And I've got to tell you: what a relief from the hard work of thinking you know what you're doing! So much more fun—and Huizinga points out that "fun" occurs only in English, something for which I feel blessed, like the bourgeois gentleman so thrilled to discover he's been speaking prose.
When I began to write, I imagined answering anyone who asked me what's necessary to writing as follows: you have to know how to suffer. Thank God no one asked me then!
So yes, the sense of play is a starting-point, and its presence usually means it's a day of writing something new, rather than reworking. But sometimes a reworking session can light that eco-friendly bulb, and how to rework an earlier episode or go on with one ahead can appear, happily. If I've learned anything, it's how to balance hard work and play, so that I don't force solutions. I've also learned that the seriousness of the material, its happiness or sadness, can run independently of that basic current of sounds, words and sequences - the rough analogy again being a musical instrument's neutrality about what kind of sounds you get from it.
And you're right that it's physical: I don't want to imagine writing without typing, and I don't ever want to go back to keys I have to pound.
Finally, I'd like pompously to point out that many of my heroes, especially when I began to write, have been poets, which leads me (I hope) to feel comfortable throwing the toys together, rather than signaling transitions (lining them up on a shelf in an obvious formal structure—what good are toys there?).
My mental activities don't follow "logical" sequences, any more than my days do, and so I'd say amen to all the famous slogans about finding form in content. I don't feel happy with a piece until it does have a form that allows me to let go.
David Antin's talk-pieces presented me a delightful challenge: I love never knowing how the hell he got from where he started to where he leaves off, but also knowing that it works beautifully. That's an interesting connection between poetry and fiction. Also Robert Creeley's early explorations of jazz while he and Gaddis and Douglas Woolf were struggling to be Harvard undergraduates supplies a crucial connection between the spoken and the musical vernaculars, and much of the American writing I love finds a vernacular peculiar to its intentions, even when it's a well-educated vernacular like Melville's or William Carlos Williams'.
While it isn't necessarily an overt presence, on one level, both SP and MLD deal with the perceptions and expectations of masculinity and what it means to be a 'man.' (Is that an accurate assessment?) Is that theme recurrent in your work?
- Oh yes. Notice that it's rare for me to present a heterosexual male "good guy." The fellow in "P" is a variant on ee cummings' Olaf ("glad and big"), kind of a beneficent slack-muscled Supe between the sheets and within the marital bounds. I think it is difficult for popular modern American writers to create "sensitive" men who don't complain, and complaining simply isn't interesting, unless it's the splutterings of Jason Snopes unable to control the universe, the psyche, or birdshit. Gilbert Sorrentino used to ask why he needed to hear Saul Bellow's men kvetch and kvetch.
I've heard but never tracked it down that Mark Twain said he couldn't have Huck grow up, because then he'd lie. The man demanding rather than achieving understanding is a lie and a liar. But this is a huge subject, and now I'm doing a story with a "real" man to help me with it: James Turrell materializes in one of his installations to help an intelligent woman think through a trouble or two. I know nothing about Turrell himself, other than what's appeared in print and TV interviews, but here you have a man who combines, seemingly, the quiet sensitivities of Quakerism, the intelligence to master parts of modern physics - and in addition to doing the art he dresses like a cowpoke, flies an airplane, runs a working ranch, and has not retired to or climbed his mountain, he's turning a whole damned mountain into art! So if I can't invent an interesting man, I can steal one, as Gil did in his wonderful fictions, perhaps following Flan O'Brian. I'd rather idolize him than some paternal football coach.
Mr. Twombly in Douglas Woolf's Fade Out is a wonderful man. The golf hustler in Toby Olson's Seaview another. Jack Gibbs in JR very interesting, except for his interactions with women, and JR himself the only worthy successor to Huck Finn I know (combining him with Tom). It can be done, if we listen to what's best in ourselves writ small and large, and let preconceptions go.
I've written a sequel to MLD, in which Supe undergoes successful therapy for his asexuality and becomes President. Lois learns of a Project Cretin hatched decades back by James Jesus Angleton and a group of cynical Skull-and-Boners (heh-heh) to illustrate Tocqueville's observations on why men of ability eschew pursuing the White House. The inane creature of these rich Yalie's interests is brilliantly ousted from Pennsylvania Avenue and the ranch by Supe and Lois. Supe risks assault after assault by being a truly humane and astute chief executive - the thesis being only Supe can do that, for humane politicians are as vulnerable to assassination here as elected social democrats are vulnerable to ouster and/or murder by us overseas.
As he administers the country fairly, Supe becomes a man. And there's tender romance in it for him!
- But that happy ending for us all is a Hollywood ending within a hopeless premise: the only answer to the American Empire situation is to put a comic book hero in the White House. We are to my knowledge the only empire that has succeeded in being both barbarian and imperial—witness our indifference to the looting and destruction of the artifacts of our civilization in Iraq. "Stuff happens," says Rumsfeld, former CEO of Searle, purveyer of cancerous sweeteners. Economic egomania reinvents history. Or does it? Rulers have always been ruthless and self-involved, but now they involve us all, not just the usual poor and minorities. We've been living for six decades with the slow-death or fast-death scenarios for the planet. And that's why MLD's title (and the sequel is called Our Last Days) and its Quaker eccentric Dan Veldt refer to the theological "doctrine of the last things." " - Interview with Dominic Aulision
Lou Rowan, Sweet Potatoes (Ahadada Books, 2008)

"Lou Rowan's exuberant and richly varied book presents a series of dramatic monologues whose personal and imaginary components are fused in the blaze of the author's enthusiasm. The feeling that he is doing exactly what he wants to do produces consistently lively results, no matter how downbeat the struggles described - with parents, lovers, wives good and bad, business problems, and of course the inescapable self. In the final story, a counterpoint of these voices raises the narration to a level of intensity both harrowing and irresistible..." — Harry Mathews

"The stories in Lou Rowan's collection Sweet Potatoes are brilliantly rendered in a mesh of grim and exuberantly funny shifts of highly original tale-telling. The variety of characters are utterly real and fascinatingly complex. Their daily actions and experiences offer a mesmerizing picture of much in society that is false and outrageous and yet all too forgiveably human. Rowan tunes up his one of a kind narrative voice with resonances of Rabelais, Voltaire, and Mickey Spillane." — Rochelle Owens

"These very short stories are a blend of maybe memoir, crazed case history, and raunchy comic fiction spun by a deadpan narrator with a gift for dazzling transitions." — David Antin

"With incisive wit and a remarkable eye for the human condition, Lou Rowan weaves together a collection of short stories that will arouse laughter, nostalgia, and an occasional dose of pity. In Sweet Potatoes, the author lays his characters bare, digging into their psyches, presenting their foibles, and in doing so, holding up a mirror that dares the reader to recognize himself.
Through a series of cleverly sketched vignettes told in first person and third, Rowan takes us from the sexual awakening of pubescent boys to the angst of middle-aged men. Their stories resonate because they could be every man. Precisely this effect is achieved by Rowan’s habit of naming his characters a one-letter initial in the early stories of the collection. “L intended to marry his college sweetheart and that didn’t work, but after he dropped her she produced their son, who failed to interest him. He became president of his family’s company, which went south, his career with it, and his relatives, alleging improprieties, pursued him like balance sheet furies. ” In these first two lines of the story, L, Rowan brilliantly slices up and serves his character for our amusement and pleasure. He invites us to join him in on the joke, for surely we’ve known an L, an M or suffered as a G.
For all the humor that runs through the collection, there’s a thread of tragedy that offers a counterpoint—a note of dissonance, if you will, that pierces. Nowhere is this more evident than in 'Jack’s Ladder'. The story begins with an unholy start as the protagonist Jack has his foul mood exacerbated by an even fouler day that has him walking out on his wife the next morning. It feels real. Passionate. And then Rowan turns the tables. We enter what should be the dream world to find ourselves in reality—a reality in which Jack and his wife painfully find their way back to one another after the death of their son. Poignant, heartwarming, because the seeds of hope are there for a new beginning. It’s a story that stayed with me long after I closed the covers of the book.
In the last story, 'The Accounting: A Mystery', Rowan departs from the themes that dominate the earlier shorts. Here, the author takes the reader on a madcap dash from NY to Chicago to the monasteries of Tibet. Told in multiple viewpoints, the characters form a complex knot of relationships that tangle with the Mafia, revenge, lovers spurned and lovers killed. Like the pieces of a puzzle, the twists and turns are laid out for the reader in seemingly random order to be plucked up and assembled in some fashion that makes sense. The characters are quirky and compelling, with the most likable ones being a recovering drug addict and his newfound love, the geek friend from his student days. Overall, this short drama is absorbing, amusing, and masterfully told.
Sweet Potatoes offers a rich variety of entertainment at a number of levels. Despite the brevity of the stories, Rowan’s use of description, introspection and dialog brings his characters to life in a way that’s hard to forget. Perhaps the author sums it up best when he says, “I love plot, character, surprise, love them.” - Patrizia Hayashi

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