The word novel may mean not known or experienced before—new. Jewels of Change moves rapidly. The first part, “Collage Dream Memories,” is sparse, tragic and taut, with a surreal ending, almost like a Greek tragedy. The second part, implied by its title, is a fairy tale, yet comes at reality from a different perspective, both tongue-in-cheek, paradoxical, with a sense of “the lie to the truth,” as Picasso said of art. The third part, while a skeptic’s spiritual journey, is also a path to a new understanding where compassion and love triumphs over the skeptic’s logic.
The structure of the novel lays down the form for the entire work, of which the reader may not be aware. In the beginning, the quote of five lines from the Vajracchedika (Diamond Cutter), a Buddhist text which is quoted on page 16 here, is the essence of the book. In fact, each of the elements mentioned—i.e., lamp, dew, etc.—are scattered in the text. The three parts’ titles and chapter names foretell events that follow in the chapter or part. For example, “Collage Dream Memories” set time in non-linear sequences for effect, such as presentments, flashbacks, and incidents where readers know what characters do not. If I were a painter and only had three colors to describe this book, it would be black, red, and yellow—the progression through each part from death, to life’s passions, to spirit.
Part II, “Passion’s Fairy Tale,” recalls the past as a disappearance of Joseph’s wife and retrieval of time lost. In Part I the flashback is first encountered as the character Joseph enters a pool and is pulled by his aunt from bath water some half century before and enters a birth into another world. As a fairy tale enchants, so too does Part II attempt to create a spell which draws the reader into the fairy tale that is passion. At the same time disappearance becomes the trigger of retrieval, an erotic flashback beginning the stream of time which is the past. The dreams which begin Parts I and II are of death and disappearance, respectively. Is there a connection? An old friend, whom I know for half a century, at a recent dinner party brought home the connection. At one point in the conversation we were talking about friends and family who had died. Over a half century there were many deaths for us both. He suddenly turned to me as if startled by a revelation and said in astonishment, “But where do they go?” His eyes were wide in disbelief. In a certain sense, only understood perhaps with age and much experience (he is 76, a year older than I), we will all disappear from the eyes of all who remain.
In the center of Part II and the book itself is the chapter “Chiaroscuro,” from the Italian “bright-dark.” The chapter is visual, atmospheric, and, as conceived, divides the book between these two forces. After the darkness of death and into the battleground of passion, there was hope, a triumph of light. Joseph and Victoria’s vignettes personify this battle, the first part with Joseph’s disappointments and irony and Victoria’s frivolous interludes which nevertheless move toward light as the very last word in that chapter suggests—”Victoria,” a signal that she has once again returned to herself after playing the role of Aphrodite in playful, provocative ways suggesting a movement toward harmony and light.
Yet, this tale of passion forms attachment and is due for a fall; disillusion overtakes the couple in Part II’s last chapter, “Across the River Styx.” In the previous chapter, “Harmony’s Conflict,” there is a section where Joseph beckons Victoria and playfully suggest that she, the devil’s mistress, enter his world, a Dante’s Inferno set with playful enticement. Neither knew how Dante’s famous line—Abandon every hope, you who enter here…
…and how often is it we enter a portal, a door, or path that brings us to the unexpected and the unknown?
Excerpt from “Passion’s Fairy Tale, “ “Harmony’s Conflict”:
She walked on the dirt road past rows of tall hedges out to the street. When she arrived in front of the house, she stopped at the rose trellis where rushed an outpouring of sweet odors.
Trillia’s apartment was dark. A light glowed from the third floor window brighter on this north side.
She saw Carlos, who lived on the first floor, staring at her, his cigarette burning a red glow in the dark. She knew he loved her. He told her one night when she came down the stairs alone. That night she smiled gently, his kiss a brother’s.
“Hello,” he said as she walked toward the door. “Reminds me of nights in Cuba. Beautiful. It really is. Like you.” He reached out, and their hands touched. She stopped briefly.
“I’ll see you, Carlos,” she said and went through the open door. Trillia’s light shined at the top of the stairs, and Victoria walked to the second landing past Trillia’s closed door. The apartment door to the third floor opened to the entranceway. She stopped.
“Who dares enter here?” A voice shot down the stairs.
“Who do you want?”
“The devil’s mistress.”
Victoria smiled. Above the door she saw a large piece of oaktag, a lintel, and, along both sides, two long pieces, beams. The oaktag formed a portal through which she must walk to ascend the stairs.
In a bold print, words appeared obscured in dim light:
Once every thousand years, cloven footed,
horns of able thrust, Satan
returns to desert earth, having
left his palaces of fire beneath
Jerusalem and the River Styx.
He beckons with curled finger his
waiting mistress and speaks his only words,
Abandon every hope, you who enter here.
Through the portal, the devil’s mistress saw the source of an immense glow, an endless shower of soft yellow light. At the top of the stairs stood a tall, white wax candle. Long lines of white in rolling beads and streams dripped and flowed from its hot, burning tip.
“Oh!” the mistress said aloud, “your candle looks so hot.”
She could hear the devil’s laugh, “Because it is.”
She closed the door behind her and latched it.
She walked up the stairs. To the side of the candle, the devil lowered a large bowled glass filled with rose.
“From Ironbound,” the devil said, “birthplace of the devil’s desire.”
She took the glass lightly from his hands, looked through the bottom of it, and saw the surface silver-red and burning. “Be careful, devil,” she gently chided. “You’re making the wine burn.”
“It’s hell’s firewater,” he said.
“What will it do?”
“Part the waters in the Sea of Galilee.”