NIGHT OF DENIAL and THE JUDGMENT DAY ARCHIVES were translated from the Russian by U. R. Bowie. Both are available on Amazon.
Book covers and descriptions below. Additional information, the OWN audio book, reviews and Bowie’s blog on Russian Literature are on U. R. Bowie’s Author Page:
HARD MOTHER: A NOVEL IN LECTURES AND DREAMS
(A Novel in Lectures and Dreams)
The year is 2021. The world is slowly recovering from the Great Catastrophe of 1996. You say there was no worldwide catastrophe in 1996. This is a work of fiction, and in this work there was. A middle-aged woman, Rebecca A. Breeze, professor of Russian literature at Oogleyville State College (Mass.), in the midst of a breakdown, has been forced by her superiors to consult a therapist. She refuses treatment by modern methods of drug and machine therapy, but agrees to describe her violent dreams. “The dreams…Russian literature sends them to me. Jesus Christ has a lot to do with it as well, but mainly it’s Russian literature.”
The dreams of Prof. Breeze constitute an extensive manuscript, the tale of the crazed Ultimian writer Eugene Ispovednikov (“The Shriver”) and his return to his native Ultimia—an imaginary country resembling Russia—where he foments a revolution and is crowned king in 1992. Disillusioned by the Catastrophe—a pandemic of bubonic plague that has left the whole world in chaos—he sets out on a pilgrimage eastward in 1999, seeking what he terms “The Unbearable Whiteness of Being.” The Shriver is accompanied by Maggie the Queen, Ivanushka the Dolt and his American compatriot Dezra MacKenzie, the Swedish mercenary Boe and his troops, the vile Bomelius (apothecary and physician to the king) and a convert from the Urinator faith, Foka Yankov.
A year later, at the turn of the Millennium, after numerous tribulations—encounters with violent sectarians of every stripe: including the Anti-Prepucors, who abhor foreskins, and the dread Castrates, who introduce our heroes to the “baptism in fire”—what remains of the Shriver’s party reaches the summit of the Magic Mountain of Dura, where the Whiteness is.
Rebecca Breeze narrates her part of the story from the year 2021, but none of the action takes place in that future time. The chapters set in Ultimia (1992-2000) alternate with chapters describing the adventures of an American professor in the Soviet Union of 1983. John J. Botkins, Jr., the prototype of Ivanushka the court fool in the Ultimia chapters and the central protagonist of the book, runs amuck in Communist Russia. He violates Soviet laws with impunity, steals Lev Tolstoy’s bicycle from the Tolstoy Museum in Moscow, sneaks into the Spartakiada rowing competitions disguised as an Estonian athlete, urinates against the Kremlin Wall—all the while propagating the joys of homosexuality, the efficacy of laughter, and the glory of possessing a foreskin.
The Botkins chapters complement the picaresque in the chapters set in Ultimia. Pale refractions of the modern-day characters show up in future time, and the same themes are recurrent: the myth of eternal return, the meaning of laughter, the human obsession with violence, sex and scatology, the Russian soul, fathers and sons and daughters and mothers (including the Earth Mother), the yearning to perpetuate the species—while yearning simultaneously to smash all of life to smithereens—the significance of Jesus Christ in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
As the novel progresses, the role of Rebecca Breeze becomes more and more central. She is the medium through which both the Botkins story and the Ultimian picaresque—the tale of the Shriver—pass. Towards the end of the book she abandons her therapy and makes plans to go out into the very world of violence that dominates her dreams. Like Botkins, MacKenzie and the Shriver, she is seeking her own “Unbearable Whiteness of Being,” and at the book’s conclusion she is on the verge of finding it.
Hard Mother is a highly ambitious comic novel. Like any comedy in the genre of literary fiction it is undergirded with high seriousness. A book with lots of action and even more food for thought, Hard Mother is influenced, most prominently, by the works of Gogol, Bulgakov, Marquez, Nabokov, Flannery O’Connor and Philip Roth. The reader should not approach this novel with an apple in one hand and a scotch in the other. The reader should be prepared to have his/her settled notions shaken up in interaction with this book, to fight and scratch and be offended. Any literary art is, of necessity, offensive, but is also, one hopes, efficacious and good for the soul.
THE FOLLOWING IMAGES ARE ALL ASSOCIATED WITH SCENES FROM THE TEXT OF “HARD MOTHER”
GOOGLEGOGOL: Stories from the Database of Russian Literature, Inc.
Bowie writes in the grand tradition of Russian literature. “Googlegogol” consists of thirteen short stories, based (thematically, biographically, or stylistically) on Bulgakov, Bunin, Chekhov, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Nabokov, Tolstoy, and others. The entire production is refracted through the consciousness of that quintessential deranged master of Russian prose: Nikolai Gogol.
Some of the stories are set in Russia, others in the U.S. Some are written in purely realistic style, but the collection as a whole owes much to Russian modernism. An example of the realism is “The Death of Ivan Lvovich,” which tells the tale of the brief life of Tolstoy’s last and most beloved son, Ivan, as narrated by Ivan Bunin—winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1933. Bunin, who is eking out a poverty-stricken life in the south of France, while Hitler’s forces are invading Russia, looks back on the year 1895—when, as a young writer, he visited Lev Tolstoy in Moscow and found him grieving over his dead son. “Running Thoughts” is a stream-of-consciousness tale that takes the reader into the mind of Tolstoy, on the evening in 1910 when he made his decision to flee his Yasnaja Polyana estate and his intolerable life—and ended up running into the arms of Death.
Several stories describe events in the life of Fyodor Dostoevsky. “Man Beating Man Beating Horse” relates an episode that occurred in 1837, when Dostoevsky, his father and brother were on their way to St. Petersburg, where he would enroll in the Academy for Military Engineers. “Something in the Way of a Parricide” tries to get a handle on the story of the “murder” of Dostoevsky’s father in 1839, while “Executed (Almost)” relates how Dostoevsky was put through the ordeal of a fake execution in St. Petersburg (1849).
Other stories range far from the style of traditional Russian realism. Owing much in its themes and style to Gogol and Bulgakov, “Shoes Run Amuck” describes the misadventures of a man who—much to his subsequent chagrin—robbed the grave of Nikolai Gogol in 1931, on the day when Gogol’s body was disinterred for reburial at Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. “Hobnob” uses Nabokovian tropes to recreate a pale version of the great Nabacocoa and describe his proctoring of an exam in Ohio, 1952— and his interactions with the mind of one of the students taking that exam.
Several stories are written in a Chekhovian vein. “The Lady from Berdichev” is the tale of an old lady living out her life in Brighton Beach, while ever yearning back toward her birthplace of Berdichev, as Chekhov’s three sisters yearn for Moscow. In “Divertimento for Strings and Structure,” a story into which Raymond Carver pokes his nose briefly, Chekhov makes a personal appearance in the flesh (or at least in the mind of the hapless protagonist).
Other stories feature highly unusual characters or narrators. “Anteayer” is a modern tale of schizophrenia, a story of a young woman who leaves Russia for the American Dream, only to find that the only dreams she knows how to dream are Russian dreams. The lead story, “Recruiting,” describes obliquely how Russian Literature goes about gathering its personages and images, while its companion story, “Chimeras,”—the last in the collection—is a tale of Russian nesting dolls; open one up, and whoops, there’s a new narrator or author inside, and then open that one up and whoops, there’s still someone else. “The Riddle of the Duck” is, primarily, about Russian mentalities, the way Russians can hold simultaneous contradictory notions in their minds. It features a man who may or may not be Lee Harvey Oswald, still alive on the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination.
A brief word about the cover art. The front cover depicts a scene from the famous fabulist Ivan Krylov, his tale (“Quartet”) of how a nasty and uppity monkey decided to organize a string quartet. The monkey recruited an ass, a goat and a bear, and they all set about sawing away on their instruments; only to discover that none of them had ever learned to play an instrument. The back cover shows three of Russia’s finest writers—Lermontov, Pushkin, and Gogol—mulling over life in general, while cogitating over the back cover copy beneath them and the way Russian literature is presented in Googlegogol.
DISAMBIGUATIONS: Three Novellas on Russian Themes
The three tales included here are written in English, but make no mistake: they are firmly in the tradition of Russian literature.
In fact, the great Nikolai Gogol, with what the critic Mirsky once called “his volcano of imaginative creativeness,” blows through all three works, both in body and spirit. The first novella, “Exhumation,” features Gogol in the flesh (and then out of it). Beginning with scenes from the writer’s life in the nineteenth century, it goes on to describe the macabre little festivities on the summer day in 1931 that Nikolai Gogol, along with some of his closest friends, was dug up at the Danilov Monastery in Moscow. When they opened the coffin they discovered that the skull was missing. Nikolai Gogol’s head had been stolen. The second novella, “Disambiguation,” is set in the United States, but the theme, once more, is Gogolian in its skewed intricacy.
A man who may or may not be insane, who may or may not be Lee Harvey Oswald (still alive fifty years later) appears on a Philadelphia talk show, where he discusses the ambiguations and disambiguations of the spy world, and of the Russian mind— and, by extension, the labyrinthine thing that is anyone’s life on earth. The longest, and most purely Russian of the three works is the last, “The Leningrad Symphony.” Set entirely in the city of St. Petersburg, on one day in October of 1999, it is structured something like Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway.” While Shostakovich’s famous Seventh Symphony (The Leningrad) plays in the background score, the reader listens to the music and follows a wide variety of characters about the city: a government official on his way to being murdered in a hit killing, his driver, his secretary, his bodyguard, a twelve-year-old boy skipping school that day, an elderly man who spends all his time researching a painting at the Russian Museum, a scatter-brained pilgrim woman, in town to visit the shrine of St. Petersburg’s most famous holy fool, and a variety of other characters. “The Leningrad Symphony” is a hymn of praise to the resplendent city of St. Petersburg, to its Pushkinian harmonious brilliance and to its Dostoevskian bleakness and sleaze.
But, then again, this whole collection sings of that glorious thing that is Russian culture. It even throws in for good measure bits and pieces of the Cyrillic alphabet. While acknowledging the complexity of a thousand bloody years of Russian history, while describing with confidence the Russian propensity to hold two contradictory positions at the same time, U.R. Bowie gives us a totally convincing, and even loving, look at the enigma inside a conundrum inside a puzzle that is Russia and the Russian mindset.
OWN: The Sad and Like-Wike Weepy Tale of Wittle Elkie Selph comes out of the tradition of “Huckleberry Finn,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” and (especially) “A Clockwork Orange.”
This story of a school shooting in the hills of NE Georgia is narrated by the fifteen-year-old shooter, Elkin (Own) Selph, in a jazzed-up style that mixes together Southern dialect, bizarrely inventive terms, and words from Burgess’s “Clockwork Orange.”
If Own were to sum up his plight as the novel begins, here is what he would say:
My name’s Elkin (Own) Selph, from Tocotano, GA. I love ole Georgie—what’s not to love? Not nobody caint not love the good ole sod-off Blue Ridge Mountains of NE Georgie.
Thang is, doe, I ain’t but wah-plach fifteen, and I got me like-wike real horrorshow woman problems. Now why did a ding-blinn Glock handgun get into the dits-blitz picture?
So here sets ole Own, all on his ownsome-lonesome, in a dark school cafeteria. Surrounded by scads of like-wike blinn-dead classmates. BAM BAM BAM BAM.
Quid nunc? NOW WHAT?
U.R. Bowie, who holds a Ph.D. in Russian literature and who taught Russian language and literature for thirty years at the university level, writes creative literary fiction in the tradition of the Russian masters. Bowie has been influenced most heavily by Gogol, Nabokov, Bunin, Tolstoy and Chekhov. Quirky, humorous, highly literate, the stories in this collection, all set in the contemporary United States, are meant for the reader who appreciates literary art.
These are stories about American life. Most importantly, they are all written. What does that mean? That means they’ve gone through rewrite after rewrite after rewrite. They’re honed and polished, then honed and polished again. And again. They sparkle and gleam with literary artistry.
“The Day Arnold Arms Met the Lord God Jehovah” tells of a conversation God had one day, with ninety-nine-year-old Arnold R. Arms, a rainbow-chaser from Slippery Armaments, Mississippi. The conversation is told in Southern speech, because, as the multilingual Jehovah says, “When in Miss-ippi you talk Miss-ippi.” Arnold has never met God before, but he holds up his end of the conversation well.
“Sonny and Jeanne” tells parallel stories, one of them about Sonny, a man who runs a gas station in Travelers Rest, SC, the other about the national heroine of France, Joan of Arc. It turns out that the two of them have a lot in common.
One of the longest stories in the collection, “The Sea Urchins’ Saraband,” relates the tale of a murder, as seen through the point of view of five different characters, including the murderer himself, Elkin Lee Cubbage, who talks like this: “It was in the sixth grade that I fell in love with Sarah Bland. Now, that’s too damn early for a boy to fall in love. God should make him a rule: nobody falls in love till they’re fifteen years old. And leave it to the loser Elkie Lee to pick the best-looking girl in school to lose his head over. Blonde, all kinds of friends, laughing all the time with those laughing blue eyes of hers, way too high and mighty for trailer trash like Elkie.”
“Scenes from Tisha’s World” describes life through the eyes of schizophrenia, while “One on None” tells what it’s like to be a prison guard, on the day the inmates revolt and take over the prison. “How They Tried to Do Me” looks at the inside of a jail from a different angle. Narrated by a man condemned to death, it describes how it feels to be ALMOST executed.
Many of these stories have a Southern setting, but some are set elsewhere. “Ashen-Blonde Are Thou, My Love” is set in Scarborough, England. “March 5, 1953” is a feast for the eyes and ears of anyone who knows Cincinnati. “The Ache” describes a dinner party in Key West, attended by characters who are all Jewish, and are all from Manhattan. “Apterous Birds and Broken Spines” tells the story of a Hispanic girl, who is going to pieces in Miami.
“Me and Elvis and Amos,” a story of mothers and sons, is for the many Elvis-lovers still out there. Here’s how it starts out:
“Everybody knows about Elvis and his mother stuff, after all, Gladys Presley was everything to the boy, and when she died at age forty-two Elvis committed himself, then and there, to self-destruction, and he wasted no time getting right into it, thoroughly dissipating himself on drugs, fat and bloated by the early seventies and up on stage forgetting the words to his songs, sweating bullets in those garish sequined jumpsuits and silk scarves, babbling and drooling in the end, leaving this world at the same age she did, which, in a word, is the way it works for a lot of mothers’ sons, more than you may even care to believe.”
THE TALE OF THE BASTARD FEVERFEW
Correctional officer J.D. Hemsler thought he had the routine down. In the morning you go into the belly of the beast; in the afternoon you come back out. Something like the way a Siberian shaman goes on a healing quest into another realm, where he is taken apart, put back together, but always returns with the magic boon. Then came the day when Hemsler was trapped in the belly of the beast. Taken apart but not put back together. The Tale of the Bastard Feverfew is the story of a prison riot in Ohio and the struggle of one hostage guard to survive. The book is structured on the pattern of the hero’s journey in folklore and mythology (Departure—Initiation—Return).
Bastard Feverfew is a prison novel, based loosely on the riot and subsequent hostage-taking of guards at the correctional institution in Lucasville, Ohio, in the nineties. Set in the fictitious town of Iuka, Ohio, in the early years of the new century, it features a wide variety of characters: the hostage guards (Hemsler, Correll and others), the prison administrators (led by warden “Willby” Tibbetts), the inmates (Doc Hickson, the prison intellectual, Americus Smith and George Pugach, inmate leaders of the insurrection, Tergiver Getsy, the inmate who belongs to a gang on one–himself–Igor Poltorasta, the only Ukrainian inmate and a man who thinks he can fly, Woodson Thibault and Cajun Reeber, crazed murderers from solitary confinement, and many more.
Among the subplots the most important is that featuring Holly Schwelle, aged fifty-nine, an Iuka woman who is dying of cervical cancer at the time of the turmoil at the prison. Inter-cutting the text are various passages from folklore and mythology, all related to the theme of the hero’s journey.
A Roast for Coach Dan Spear.
The following books were translated from the Russian by U. R. Bowie; both are still available on Amazon