Tuesday, January 24, 2012

REVIEW: Patricia Monaghan's Alaskan Creation

Alaska by Heart: Recipes for Independence by Sarah Pagen, a novel created by Patricia Monaghan (McRoy & Blackburn) trade paperback, 186 or so pages.

In a riot of misspellings, malaprops, mixed metaphors, grammatical goofs, garbled history, and screwy science, Alaska by Heart: Recipes for Independence by Sarah Pagen created by Patricia Monaghan presents a sort of autobiography of the FICTIONAL CHARACTER which, according to the back cover of this book, "possessed" Patricia Monaghan , an otherwise mild-mannered (well I actually never met her in person, but I imagine her to be mild-mannered) Ph.D.-holding, university professor and award-winning poet, whom you may know best from her scholarly books on Goddess subjects. I must stress that Alaska by Heart is a work of fiction, as emphasized by the following statement from the book:
Any resemblance to actual persons or events is unsurprising. However, the reader should stand reminded that this is wholly a work of fiction, not intended to portray any real people or situations, and it world be a serious mistake to try to read more into this book. It is not, nor was it intended to be, a rendition of facts.
In other novels, this information, which is usually more boilerplate-y, almost always appears on in small print on the same page as the copyright information (known in the trade as the verso). In this book it appears on the page usually given over to dedications (known in the trade as the recto, in this case the one following the copyright verso) in the same size print as the rest of the book (my guess—11-12 pt).

Before going further, I’d like to explain that I would have had this review done sooner, but it took me twice as long usual for me to get through each page because I spent as much time laughing as I did reading.

The narrator of the book is Sarah Pagen, an Alaskan (did I mention that Patricia Monaghan grew up in Alaska?) who is running for President on the American Independence Party ticket. Ms. Pagen’s married last name was changed from her husband’s Italian family name, Pagani, because, as she tells it, Pagani means
"hicks-from-the-sticks." When we got married I didn’t want anyone to think that I was connected with homosocialist Satan orgies, dancing naked in the woods, and human sacrifice, so we changed the name to Pagen.
Ms. (Mrs.?) Pagen explains that the proper pronunciation of her surname is "Pay-GUN." Say it a few times and you will see that this pronunciation totally prevents any confusion with the word Pagan. To further avoid this confusion, and for brevity’s sake, I will heretofore refer to the protagonist or author, as the case may be, as Ms. GUN (she really does like guns!!! so I hope this makes her happy, fictionally speaking, of course). Ms. GUN lets us in on her Alaskan life leading up to her Presidential campaign, including many intimate details such as her mother’s two marriages and other details of her mother’s (what many would consider) scandalous past; Ms GUN's childhood growing up on JesusHaven where marijuana was one of the crops and which she insists was not a commune; her husband Tommy and her children, including two sets of twins; her fondness for growing vegetables as well as hunting (and killing!!!) animals, and the fact, fictionally speaking, that she has red hair (before I forget, have you ever seen a picture of Patricia Monaghan?). Ms. GUN also tells us about her TV cooking show, and she shares a number of Alaskan recipes (if I were you, which I’m not, I wouldn’t read the recipes immediately before or right after a meal, but don’t miss the one for "Sourdough Vodka," which includes instructions on building a still).

Mixed in with the recipes, family tidbits, and Alaskan history (some of which may be actually be true), and her muddled interpretation of U.S. history, she shares her political views. Possibly to exhibit her American patriotism, Ms. GUN exhibits a strong disaffection for royalty, particularly the British royal family, while asserting that over 20 U.S. Presidents had genealogical ties to that family. She refuses to call the present British Queen by her proper name, instead referring to her variously as "Betty," "Lizzie," Libby Windsor," "Beth Windsor," "Elsie Windsor" and possibly other silly names which I neglected to write down. Ms. GUN also shares with us her campaign promises which include:
–Elimination of the U.S. Department of Transportation (all roads will be privately owned)
–No federally-covered health care (or maybe no health care at all, she doesn’t make this very clear, just says, "Health care? If you were eating right...you don’t need it." )
–Return of U.S. to the gold standard.
–Emphasis on family values ("...the family that preys together, slays together.").
–No platform on foreign affairs because "We won’t have any."
–Moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to encourage the arrival of Armageddon.
As the footnote from the "copyeditor" explains, the latter is one of the ideas of Christian Dominionists. Oh, I didn’t tell you about the footnotes yet? The footnotes from the "copyeditor" form a subplot of sorts. (Here I need to note that the "copyeditor" insists on making one word out of what most style guides including the Chicago Manual of Style and AP specify be two words "copy editor," copy modifying editor, telling us what kind of editor this person is—for example, there are also substantive editors, which is what I used to be. However, often individual publishing houses have their own style guides, so I will assume that for the Alaskan publisher of this book, "copyeditor" is its style, plus dictionary.com gives it both ways, so I will use that style in this review henceforth, without the quotes.) The first footnote reads:
The publisher affirms that Sarah Pagen wrote every word in this book with no assistance from ghostwriters. We also affirm that editorial challenges were kept to a minimum and involved only correction of typographical errors with the author’s consent.
The footnotes that follow tell a story of increasing tension between Ms. GUN and the copyeditor, along with Sally from legal and Randy the fact-checker, as they try to get Ms. GUN to correct misuse of words, misspellings, intentionally erroneous or sloppily misunderstood history and science, and a fuzzing of the line between reality and imagination, such as in Ms. GUN’s insistence that John Galt, whom she frequently quotes to back up her political stands and who is a fictional character in Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, is a real historical person. Ms. GUN refuses to make this and almost all other corrections suggested by copyeditor and other staff, with the exception of their suggestion to, when citing biblical chapter and verse (another thing she does to back up her arguments) that she include the entire quotation. This Ms. GUN mostly did (after the first few such citations) and it is very helpful to those of us who many not have our Bibles handy. There is another aspect to the footnote subplot—one of romance—but I’ll leave that for you to discover.

Alaska by Heart:Recipes for Independence is a total hoot! So funny and so topical that I'd like to suggest the possessed Dr. Monaghan be interviewed about this book on The Daily Show, the Stephen Colbert Show, and even The Rachel Maddow Show (probably on a Friday night, right before the cocktail ritual).

Speaking of Stephen Colbert, did I mention that the book was (and is?) printed in Canada? I wonder if Ms. GUN is aware of this fact. In the book, she uses the term "Canooks," to refer to Canadians even though the copyeditor et al. try to get her to stop this usage which Canadians (and others) consider disparaging. Given her strong feelings of patriotism, for both the U.S. and Alaska, and the high value she places on independence, I wonder what Ms. GUN would think about straying outside their borders to obtain a printer for her book. (In case you weren't aware, though Canada has its own parliamentary system, it is still part of the British Commonwealth and even has the Queen’s picture on it’s twenty dollar bill.) Now that I’ve let the cat out of the bag, I wonder if Ms.GUN will comment on the printing situation on her campaign blog.

BTW, the official release date for this book is Presidents Day, but if you know where to look , you can probably get it earlier.


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Judith Laura

More blogs about /goddess/feminist theology/spiritual feminism/pagan/feminist spirituality/.