Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Five Books of Krinsky

The Five Books of Krinsky
A novel with commentary
Kindle Ed. $2.99
by Don Shearn

Don Shearn is a poet.  A good one.  Don't take my word for it.  Here he is reciting his poem "Shake Down at Kiddie Land." In 2014 he demolished the competition in the North Shore Poetry Pentathlon. Jennifer Dotson interviewed him for Highland Park Poetry, below. Take a look.  If this seems like a man you'd want to spend some time with, read on. If not..., well, I think you're making a big mistake.

Don has a blog, Don's Basement. Check it out; it will prepare you for what you're in for. It will also be someplace for you to go after you finish The Five Books of Krinsky, because you'll be wanting more.

Turns out Dan Krinsky is a good one to spend some time with too. He's attuned to male sexuality like Philip Roth.  He's middle aged, trying to get oriented after his wife, Jackie, left him. He gets together with Kara, his younger by a decade, a woman from his weekly minyon.
“I’m getting ready.” Her laughter lined the narrow corridor that led to her bedroom. She sensed Krinsky’s unease. “Our relationship?” “It’s changing. “ She opened her bedroom door and Krinsky followed her in.
He's also having dreams of Elayne from years ago. Here's a dream:
"Elayne is nude. Her body covered in white make up. She sits on a wooden chair painted black, at a single pedestal table in the center in the center of the ravine. 'Good night,' she says to Krinsky, 'we’ll have to do this again, you know right after Moshiach comes.'” 
Yeah, sex is like that.

Krinsky went to college in San Francisco "way late for the beats, he only missed the hippies by a few years."

The book starts with a visit to Lenny Cahner' apartment on Michigan Avenue, during the summer of '68. Elaine had drawn a mural in Cahner's apartment: "In the foreground were cartoon bombs and guns with the figure of a black rain-coated terrorist with a bowling bowl bomb and a sparkling fuse. The gender symbol for women with a front view of a snub nose 38, a band of Mexican peasants firing rifles at a passing train, a black man handing a machine gun to a little boy." It's middle aged memories of revolution; memories like sex. The Chicago riots at the Democratic convention are not mentioned; they are just out of the frame like Machu Picchu in the opening scene of Werner Herzog's Aguirre.  "Turns out [Cahner and Krinsky] were a couple of stoned teen-agers eating Italian salami slathered with condiments." Memory, sex and revolution are like that.

It's a Talmudic story. Krinsky's a Jew, in case you haven't noticed. Jews are people of the book. They get together and read weekly portions of Torah (the Five Books of Moses). There are 54 portions (one for each week of a leap year); then the cycle starts over. Each of the 53 chapters of The Five Books of Krinsky starts with a short Torah passage: an epigram that loosely sets the theme for the chapter.  Like Talmud, it's not plot driven, this book. But there is Krinsky, there is commentary, and there is commentary on the commentary.

There are important stories from youth, mysteriously involving a golf slice. There is lust, there is marriage, there is divorce. There are children. Siblings. There is death.

There are the seasons of the Jewish calendar, and non-seasons of the Jewish calendar:
November is not a Hebrew month. The major holidays have passed. Jews have reflected, rejoiced, fasted and repented. They’ve built their little huts or at least strung up a gourd or two. Jews dance with the Torah and begun their cycle of reading the scroll. Again. By the middle of November, (as reckoned by the Gentile calendar) Jews, especially in northern climes are hunkered down, living Shabbat to Shabbat (or weekend to weekend) and hoping for a mild winter.
There is meta-commentary, anti-foreshadowing:
Being non-violent sorts, Krinsky and I favor Jacob. That could be why the book is a little light on conventional action and there will not be a car chase.
There is Zen-like wisdom: “Irreverence is the step sister of knowledge, it's almost the same as ignorance.”

There are traffic directions, Baghdad to the ruins of Babylon:
 The ruins of Babylon lie 65 miles southwest of Baghdad, in the current city of Babil, about an hour and ten minutes on route 1 in light, non-insurgent traffic.
...and Goshen to Jerusalem:
 This place is about 150 hours on foot or a 9 hour drive from Jerusalem. It is clear that the Hebrews who took 40 years to get to the land needed a lot of seasoning.
There are observations about the Jewish condition:
Frankel insisted that Jews are professional victims and not having enough anti-Semitism to go around we are currently blaming assimilation as the cause of all our problems.
...and the relationship between God and the Jews:
Jews will never win the battle of statistics. Because Jews survive. Because in the minds of many of them God wants them to. This is a big boost for a People. For a tribe. A real good unifier. A country is terrific. Don’t get me wrong, Israel. Great. Great. Thing. Not America, a given. But not as good a unifier as God. God while He never seems completely comfortable with the Jewish people, has managed to keep Himself involved with them, His people. They in fairness keep Him involved with them. In their hearts.
 There is psychoanalysis, like this:
His mother might never have showed him compassion but she did believe in loyalty. Compassion can be a gesture. A kind word. Flowers. Loyalty is made of sterner stuff. It is made of the full cloth, the mixture of linens of sickness and health, good and evil.
... or this,
You can never really know another person. Any more than you can know yourself. There are no brain mirrors. Some of the chemistry is invisible. The gap between what we know and what we think is only spanned by God, or faith or drugs or television.
How does this book differ from Maimonides' The Guide for the Perplexed? you ask. The author explains:
Rambam (Moses Maimonides) wrote this “to promote the true understanding of the real spirit of the Law, to guide those religious persons who, adhering to the Torah, have studied philosophy and are embarrassed by the contradictions between the teachings of philosophy and the literal sense of the Torah. (Whereas my book is for those people familiar with some of the Bible and lots of TV, movies, pop music and the internet and just find this stuff kind of interesting.)
That is true. But it's also true that by the time we get to Book Five it is very profound, and we don't want it to stop.