In Print : Two books: Short, sweet, provocative
"Extreme Birding, Cartoons by Edward Hewett," West Meadow Press, 2008. $12.95
"Two Adventures," Sam Decker, Jake Lemkowitz, Tusk House, 2007. $10.
Relatively simple book projects - a collection of laugh-out-loud cartoons, and two short compelling fictional stories - become impressive when executed with the obvious care and lofty regard demonstrated in Edward Hewett's "Extreme Birding," and Sam Decker's and Jake Lemkowitz's "Two Adventures."
"Two Adventures," a slim book published by Tusk House, contains two separate fictional stories. Both 20-something authors, friends and alumni of Oberlin College, West Tisbury native Sam Decker, and Brooklyn-born Jake Lemkowitz, employ small atmospheric details and observable nuances to describe events set in plausible circumstances. Although moody and intense, the stories are accessible. Neither is neatly summed up or tidily turned into a morality tale.
"The Upside-down River," by writer, musician Sam Decker (who is spending the summer as an editorial assistant for The Times), tells of Conrad and Ben, two teenage boys on a camping adventure.
"The two of them felt crazy after a day on the river - like wild animals or at least insane wild men," writes Mr. Decker as he introduces them. "Not boys, not gangly teenagers with muscles conditioned for suburban existence."
One of them, Conrad, reminiscent of the young lead in the film "Ordinary People," grapples with his own ghosts in the heightened awareness of new found independence and first-time experiences. But when his friend Ben has a medical crisis, compounded by an accident involving his rescuer, counselor Creatch, the story turns into one of survival.
"This horrifying notion made Conrad paddle harder than he knew he could, as if by paddling so hard he was pulling away from Creatch, putting space between himself and Creatch's fear. For a while his whole body became so numb he had to keep an eye on his hands to make sure he was still holding on to the paddle."
Mr. Decker's ability to conjure a scene, furnish it with feelings and details, and add urgency is the strength of the tale, and makes one look forward to reading more of his work.
Mr. Lemkowitz's story, "The Farthest You'll Ever Hit," sparkles with originality. The author, who teaches writing at Brooklyn College on his way to earning a master's degree in writing, takes the story of Crumb, a sick old family dog, stirs it up with mayhem, adds a scene at a neighborhood ball park, and artfully manages to take the reader from joy to sorrow and back.
The story is framed by young Jason's decision to take the role of hero and put old Crumb out of his misery. But at every turn the unexpected is inserted into a landscape of familiar images.
Mr. Lemkowitz describes falling asleep as being: "…on a hovercraft someplace between asleep and awake." In the midst of chasing the dog, Jason finds himself surrounded by butterflies, "thousands of tiny kites." Every event has an element of invention, beautifully realized, and in the end, they all form an elegant knot.
The book has an added bonus of two of painter Max Decker's (brother of Sam Decker) evocative landscapes made expressly to illustrate the stories.
In "Extreme Birding," Mr. Hewett, a former Martha's Vineyard Regional High School art teacher, demonstrates a variety of illustrations, but all with an immediacy that makes it seem as if the cartoonist just acted on an inspiration. It is difficult not to imagine Mr. Hewett laughing as he put shapes and forms to his wit. His sketchy drawings are clean and to the point, as crisp as the humor they convey.
Some cartoons involve general subjects given a humorous twist, like the picture of the lion resting on the ground next to the lamb who's saying, "Well, maybe just for a minute," or the drawing of a couple having drinks in a booth, where the woman is telling the man, "We had such a cute divorce, Harry; let's not spoil it," or the classroom scene where the teacher behind the desk speaks into her cell phone to greet the class - all of whom are holding cell phones to their ears.
Other cartoons capture essential truths about the Vineyard. Over the caption, "A plan for Five Corners," the road is drawn with loops and twirls like a cloverleaf rollercoaster. Then there's the detailed drawing of a Campground gingerbread cottage, with the woman on the porch telling another woman, "We wanted it white with black trim, but the neighbors flipped out."
Published by Islander Julie Kimball's Westmeadow Press, Mr. Hewlett's book should be read in company because it's difficult to look through the pages without wanting to share the smile.
"Extreme Birding, Cartoons by Edward Hewett," and "Two Adventures," by Sam Decker and Jake Lemkowitz are available at Edgartown Books.