Tag Archives: fiction

A Fictional Tale of An Astral Traveling Psychic Spy Take Time to Lift Off, But Soars After Plot Gets Tangled & Intriguing

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

This book starts out flat and bland — the author even manages to make the amazing experience of astral, or out-of-body travel seem mundane and boring – no small feat considering the wild, bizarre ride the OBE is (for those of us who have actually tried the real thing over the years).

And yet, readers who stick with this novel will be rewarded with a plot – even if it is one that develops slowly. If you keep on reading, you’ll get drawn into an intriguing situation that makes the last third of the book a worthwhile read, indeed.

But to enjoy this book, it will probably help if you have a pre-established interest not in just astral travel, but something called REMOTE VIEWING. Remote viewing was a method of psychic spying developed by U.S. Military Intelligence with the help of the CIA beginning in the early 1970s. the program ran through the mid-1990s.

Yes, it was real – and yes – this form of psychic spying really worked. It’s controversial, for sure, but the skeptics of remote viewing are full of crap. That’s my opinion after reading dozens books. articles and academic papers on the topic. But what was even more convincing to me was trying my own hand (mind) at remote viewing – I can tell you it’s real, and it works.

So, our hero in CRASH & BURN is Peter Ludvick, a young man who was born with two unusual gifts: A perfectly photographic memory, and the ability to “go OBE” – to travel outside his physical body each night during his natural periods of REM sleep.

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His abilities attract the watchful attention of the CIA.  They hire him to work as a kind of psychic super spy. Ludvick can float around like a ghost and go anywhere in the world with his astral body. No barrier can stop him. Ludvick can pass through the thickest walls of steel or concrete, travel any distance in a flash, and so he can penetrate any facility belonging to any government anywhere in the world.

Because he has a photographic memory, Ludvick can come back with extremely detailed information about America’s enemies. This makes him worth more than his weight in gold to the CIA – in fact, they pay him millions of dollars a year for his fantastic ability.

Ludvick soon finds himself living the high life. He has a fascinating job working for his country, which he loves with the fervor of a true patriot. He marries a beautiful woman, the love of his life, and together they enjoy a charmed existence of wealth, travel, adventure and career fulfillment. The American government considers Mr. Ludvick among its most precious assets.

What could go wrong?

Plenty – as readers will soon find out. The CIA, after all, is the CIA. You know that old saying, “It takes a criminal to catch a criminal.” Even admirers of the CIA might admit that, over the decades, the darker forces of the international spy game have rubbed off on our own guys. Any government agency with a nearly unlimited “black budget,” which necessarily lurks in the shadows and operates under immense secrecy is a recipe for corruption — a place where evil can fester — an organization that can rot from within.

Astral spy Peter Ludvick eventually develops a deep mistrust for his powerful CIA task masters whose double-dealing in both his professional and personal life gives him good reason to want out —– ah, but just walking away from the CIA has never been easy.

I won’t say anymore, but I give the author great credit for eventually cobbling together a sticky situation for his protagonist, and then concocting a clever way for him fight back and get his life back. When the plot finally gets going, it grabs you like glue — making readers stick with it to the end — and feeling glad they did.

Please see also my reviews of these books on astral travel and remote viewing:

READING THE ENEMY’S MIND BY PAUL H. SMITH

EXPLORATIONS IN CONSCIOUSNESS BY FREDERICK AARDEMA

LIMITLESS MIND BY RUSSELL TARG

MASTER OF MY SHIP, CAPTAIN OF MY SOUL BY SKIP ATWATER

THE TRANSCENDENT INGO SWANN BY RAUL DASILVA

EYES OF AN ANGEL BY PAUL ELDER



Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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Gillian Will Attempts to Put Wyoming on the Map (correctly) in this serialized novel of political intrigue, comedy and romance

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

Keep in mind I’ve read only the first “Episode” of this 13-part series which the author bills as, “a serial novel for people who like to watch TV.” Each offering is about 20 pages – the first is free, and so writer GILLIAN WILL is really putting her writing chops on the line by trying to make the first installment so compelling you’ll want to pay hard cash money for the next.

Part of me wants to think: “Has this what it’s gotten down to? Writers are so desperate to compete with the Boob Tube today that they’re employing marketing gimmicks to ensure readers that books can be just as fun, easy – and mindless? – as television?”

But that’s the way I think when I am a cynical reviewer in a bad mood (which is almost all the time).

I’m in an okay mood today, however, so I’ll give all the credit in the world to GILLIAN WILL for attempting to innovate, find new audiences for books and, who knows, create a new niche market or genre of literature.

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Gillian Will

Whatever the case, it gets down to judging the book not by its cover or sales scheme, but on the literature itself. On that score, I issue high praise, indeed. I found the first installment of THE STATE OF WYOMING to be refreshingly well written – smart, with perky and punchy prose, effortless character development and a plot that gets going fast.

The premise is also a winner for guys like me who are addicted political wonks. It involves a mythical federal government program called “The Fifty States” which is basically an empty bureaucratic shell staffed by one person for each state – and their actual job or function is so vague even the program’s director would have trouble explaining the purpose of the operation to Congress – or to the American people, for that matter.

The viewpoint character is a likable slacker who’s collecting a government paycheck as “Wyoming,” meaning he represents his state in Washington by doing little more than showing up to his desk. The reason the Elliot Vance landed such a cushy job is that he happens to be the grand-nephew of former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.

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Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State, Carter Administration

Not to worry – Mr. Vance’s life is about to get complicated when a lovely blonde Congressional aide shows up to his cubical one day with an actual assignment for him – it seems he’s needed in his “home state” of Wyoming for a special mission – and now he must actually visit The Equality State for the first time in his life.

The first installment is free – thus, you can’t go wrong – so I say give it a try. I’m betting more than a few will opt to keep reading through the next “Episode,” which, after all, is only 99 cents, or free if you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, like me.



Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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First time novelist Matthew Félix delivers great escapism and some light philosophy with “A Voice Beyond Reason”

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

Pablo is an ordinary 20-something man living in a quaint Spanish village near the Mediterranean coast. He finds himself leading a simple, yet near ideal life. He’s employed in his mom-and-dad’s small grocery store. He has a pretty girlfriend, a cadre of good pals, a motorcycle … and he belongs to a supportive, tight-knit community.

But Pablo’s world is about to be shattered by tragedy. Suddenly, his comfy foundation is pulled out from under him. So many things he took for granted are gone.

The upending of his pleasant existence launches him on an unexpected journey of self-discovery that may not have happened if fate hadn’t thrown him a painful curve ball.

His journey of self-discovery manifests as a struggle between to competing viewpoints of modern life:

One is the dominant paradigm today, the pragmatic rationalism of a materialistic, scientific world view – versus that which many people today believe has been suppressed – a perspective focused inward on intuitive, non-rational, nonlinear and feelings-based cues that can lead to insights that may seem unrealistic at first, but tend to carry greater meaning, and ultimately, deeper value.

If I’m making this seem like this is a book of deep philosophy, it’s not that, or at least doesn’t read that way thanks to the skillful way author Matthew Félix lays out his story, so much of which takes place on surface, and where the action is stalled only occasionally for the deeper lessons the author wants to describe.

The latter is provided by the appearance of a classic figure of myth, literature and lore – the “Wise Old Man,” described as an archetype by the great Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, and “a stock character” by Northrop Fry’s “Anatomy of Criticism.”

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The archetypal Wise Old Man instructs a youth. Illustration by Gustave Doré

In this case, it’s the mysterious Victor Sarquino, a man with deep roots in the Andalusian region but who has not been seen in Pablo’s village for more than a quarter century, only to return suddenly for unknown reasons. He’s the classic archetype: Elderly, white bearded, piercing blue eyes and brimming with sage advice. (Think Gandalf, Merlin, Obi-Wan Kenobi …)

If there’s any weakness to this novel it’s the way Pablo and Victor engage in a series of philosophical dialectics that stops the flow of the narrative so that our hero can pepper his mentor with (often whiny) questions, prompting the Wise Old Man to dole out his wisdom, which border on becoming rather preachy lectures for us readers.

The great strength of this book, however, is the way Matthew Félix’s weaves spectacular observations of nature into the flow of the narrative. Because it’s set in the one of the most ancient and picturesque regions of the world, the Mediterranean coastal regions of southern Spain, the author has abundant material to leverage.

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Matthew Félix

The natural environment takes center stage as a major character of the novel. Also, Pablo appears to gain strength, wisdom and insight from engaging with the spectacular scenery — rugged mountains, sparkling oceans, and splendid landscapes graced by groves of olive, almond or carob trees. There’s also misty caves, mountain goats, falcons, wildflowers and Neolithic rock formations to invoke a deeper sense of place and mystery.

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The Alhambra of Granada, Spain Photo by ángel mateo

I must also mention Mr. Félix’s obvious appreciation for ancient Moorish architecture and references to the passing cultures of the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Carthaginians – all of whom vied for dominance of this resplendent land for thousands of years – and this enriches the narrative with a profound acknowledgment of the importance of history.

Unlike the rather rote dissertations on intuition and inner wisdom we get from the dialog with old Señor Sarquino – the author deftly allows us experience the profound landscape of timeless, romantic Spain through the eyes of his main character – and this is where the novel truly sores.

There is one aspect of the novel that remains a bitter disappointment to me – but I will not discuss that here – for the very reason is that I know that 95% of other readers will disagree with me on this issue. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out what I might be  talking about … if you even can.

All in all, though, this is a fine first novel that provides great escapism, a just profound-enough philosophical message to inspire, and an interesting enough plot to keep us turning pages while we root for the protagonist and cheer him forward on his journey of discovery.



Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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“I Am Titanium” by John Patrick Kennedy is a super hero novel that reflects our violent movie/video game” culture

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

This is a book about two ordinary young people who suddenly become extraordinary beings.

In the case of the young man, he’s not so typical because, for starters, he’s 17 but already on his death bed. Pax is dying from a horrific disease called scleroderma – it involves the tightening of the skin and connective tissue. It’s an agonizing way to die.

His only friend, Scarlett, has problems not quite as urgent: She’s a drab, gawky 17-year-old whose lack of feminine grace, good looks and charm means she’s not exactly the most popular girl in school. She’s an outcast and bullied.

But the fortunes of both Pax and Scarlett are about the change in a most amazing way: A couple of meddling “super beings” from the astral world are going to transform them into powerful, indestructible entities with god-like powers – Pax’s diseased body will be replaced with solid titanium and Scarlett will be made of “negative energy” and fire.

If it sounds like an intriguing premise for a thrilling fantasy/science fiction novel, well, it is. It’s made more interesting because there is a decent plot here – Pax and Scarlett are immediately caught up in a game of inter-dimensional politics which will determine nothing less than the survival of the entire human race.

Author JOHN PATRICK KENNEDY writes extremely well; his prose is natural and fluid. He has a lucid, no-nonsense style. He definitely has a sense of pacing and rhythm, balancing scenes of intense, violent action with periods of serene and calm.

And yet, acknowledging all of the above, I AM TITANIUM left me feeling bland and uninspired, even depressed. I’ll be brutally honest: I felt relieved to get to the last page – much in the same way that people are glad when one of Michael Bay’s over-long Transformer movies finally rolls credits.

It’s that frustrating feeling to be inexplicably bored while embroiled in long scenes of spectacular, intense action and eye-popping special effects – while at the same time knowing that all this eye candy is about as nutritious as real candy – empty calories that taste good, but ultimately leave you starved.

The action scenes in this book go on way too long, especially the epic battle between Pax and “the monster” in the latter third of the book. It grinds away page after page and quickly wears tedious – and then after all that, the “monster” and Pax end up working for the same cause anyway!

There are other factors that also seriously erode our reading experience. For example, before obtaining super powers, Scarlett was a typical angst-ridden teen, at odds with her parents, a loser at love (actually, a total nonstarter) and socially alienated. After she gets super powers, she becomes something even worse. Still angst ridden, alienated and troubled in love – even though all on a different level and for different reasons now.

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John Patrick Kennedy

Despite the fact that he’s dying, Pax starts out as a hopeful, even positive young man with a meaningful goal – the study of the astral realms — but after he obtains super powers, he becomes a typical sullen teen with an endless stream of things to aggravate him and complain about.

A long bout of losing his virginity (having sex seven times in one session) only results in complicated “girlfriend” problems.

His dialogue devolves into a series of grunted monosyllabic phrases liberally seasoned with the “F word.”

His own inept actions (such as accidentally killing a street protestor) infuses him with existential angst.

His rocky relationship with his mother deteriorates to an even lower order.

Speaking of mom, Pax’s mother, Dr. Julia Black, is revealed to have a level of humanity barely above that of the infamous Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele – and she becomes the focal point of an almost inexplicable series of scenes wherein she interacts with some AI robots – which is at best, tangential to the entire narrative and, at worst, borders on not making much sense.

However, for me, what is truly dejecting and saddening about this book is that the mass of humanity is treated as so much insignificant cannon fodder – uncounted thousands of people are killed, maimed, burned, crushed, eaten, hacked up, stabbed, flung through the air, smashed against walls, mashed into pulpy lumps of flesh – it’s all part of the collateral damage resulting from the wacky adventures of two teen super heroes fighting to save humanity.

I found myself wishing that a book that centers on an epic battle to save humanity would display an overall greater sense or empathy for that humanity.




Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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Jack Pine: A murder mystery set in Minnesota that few real Minnesotans would recognize

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

This is not so much a book using Minnesota as a backdrop, but a novel that creates a kind mythological Minnesota that does not exist in reality – unfortunately, the mythical Minnesota elements are largely gleaned from Hollywood movie clichés and bland, surface-level stereotypes.

Yes, this is fiction so anything goes and I believe in granting any writer all the poetic license they want to make up a story in an imaginary world – but for me, this novel comes off as a clumsy mish-mash of standard fictional props, well-worn plot gimmicks and jarring inconsistencies.

The setting is present-day Minnesota where people carry smartphones, yet there are beads-and-sandals wearing hippies that seem to have time-traveled from 1960s California to reappear as “tree huggers” in the Boundary Waters; there’s a Minnesota cop who is essentially a Clint Eastwood cowboy from a 1970s spaghetti western; there are Native Americans who are still using bows and arrows and painting their faces (that’s right) and journalists, doctors, loggers and country attorneys who never seem to have progressed out of the 1940s.

It’s also breathtaking how much the author gets wrong about Minnesota – I kept asking myself throughout this book: “Where was this guy’s editor?”

For example, take this sentence:

“The ice melted and filled the thousand lakes of Minnesota and then the trees grew on top of the rock.”

Say what? A thousand lakes? Or course, Minnesota is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” It’s on our license plates. Technically, Minnesota has 11,842 lakes if you want to Google it.

Or this sentence:

“Diane had the frankness that comes from watching a father die of black lung disease and going to work full time when she was just sixteen.”

There is no black lung disease found in Minnesota miners. We have taconite mines and black lung disease is not associated with taconite mining, but rather, coal mining. Black lung disease is something you find in West Virginia or Kentucky – true, Minnesota miners have higher incidence of lung disease, but this is associated with asbestos and/or silica dust in mines. This produces a condition called mesothelioma, a disease of the outer lining of the lungs. To invoke black lung disease in a Minnesota story is simply culturally and scientifically ridiculous.

Or this sentence:

“Thought maybe it was the girl who was in the shed, but she didn’t sound like she was from the lower forty-eight.”

Again I have to ask in utter perplexity: Say what? I mean: “The lower forty-eight”?

What on earth is he talking about? Again and again, the characters use the term “lower forty-eight” to refer to anyone from outside of Minnesota – except that Minnesota IS ONE OF THE LOWER FORTY-EIGHT!

No one that I know of here my home state of Minnesota refers to outsiders as being from the lower forty-eight, and why should we? We are among the lower forty-eight, we all know we are among the lower forty-eight, and so why refer to someone from, say, Illinois, as being from the lower forty-eight?

It’s just inexplicable! Again, where was this guy’s editor?

Speaking of bad editing, the books is loaded with clumsy sentences, downright grammatically incorrect constructions and confusing elements of time. As an example of a bad sentence, try this one:

“Tom Jorde stabbed a computer resembling a large egg in a green T-shirt of white lettering—SAVE THE SPOTTED OWL FROM EXTINCTION.”

Did the author really mean to suggest that an egg-shaped computer was wearing a t-shirt?

Throughout reading this novel, I found myself literally gasping and searching with frustration for the best superlatives to describe what I was reading: absurd, ridiculous, painfully wrong … even though this is merely fiction. But even when writing fiction, there should be some adherence to plausible reality unless you’re writing out-and-out fantasy, not a mainstream novel.

Much of my exasperation is with the way the author tries to handle “Minnesota Speak,” – his effort is clumsy and just beyond absurd (there’s that word again.) I mean, whether the character is a doctor from Minneapolis, a lawyer, a redneck logger, a Native American or resort owner – they all talk like 100% Norsky-hillbilly hicks who just fell off the boat from Norway, smelling of pickled herring and lutefisk.

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William Hazelgrove

Oh ya, you betcha, everyone talks like this here, you know … ya, oh ya, fer sure, that’s right there then what do yer think of that there here?

Even Minnesota’s Native Americans are portrayed to speak this way – and if you grew up with and have known Minnesota Natives for your entire life like I have – then you would understand how just exasperatingly ludicrous it is to make a Minnesota Indian sound like Sven Swenson from the old country, even in a work of fiction.

Take it from me. I was born in Roseau, a small hockey-power town where the snowmobile was invented, and where the Polaris factory is still the primary employer. I also have worked as a newspaper reporter and Minnesota state government official – I have lived in a remote corner of Minnesota all my life — but I have traveled all 87 counties of our state interviewing thousands of Minnesotans while writing about Main Street Minnesota over the past 30 years.

So you can believe it when I say the only place in Minnesota where people speak like Ole and Lena is in Hollywood movies – such as Fargo — and the occasional sketch on Minnesota icon Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion radio show.

It’s not that I am insulted by the way Mr. Hazelgrove or any fictional media like to play up the mythical Norsky-Hillbilly Minnesota speak – far from it – I think it’s fun. I love it. I was delighted by the movie Fargo (one scene was filmed practically right in my back yard) – I loved police chief Marge Gunderson and auto dealer Jerry Lundegaard – and the way Frances McDormand and William H. Macy mastered and really nailed the faux-Minnesota accent – except this movie was CLEARLY PLAYING IT FOR LAUGHS.

In JACK PINE, a serious murder mystery, we are expected to believe that regular, everyday Minnesotans from all professions and all walks of life, young and old, all talk like Ole Olson – he was a guy from my home town of Greenbush. Ole owned a Swedish potato sausage business in the 40s, 50s and 60s, died at the age of 97, born in 1905 – so yes, sure, he had that distinctive Scandinavian sing-song gate to his speech – but his generation are largely gone from our state and culture now.

To be clear: My low rating of this novel goes well beyond my problems with the portrayal of the language – the writing is frequently muddy and unclear, the time sequencing of key events is confusing to say the least, the characters are cookie-cutter cliché props borrowed from Hollywood movies, the metaphors are strained, the descriptions of the Minnesota wilderness misfire … and on and on.

All this and I’m a big WILLIAM HAZELGROVE fan – this is the fourth of his novels I have read, and I have reviewed all here and given all my top rating. Hazelgrove is a fiercely talented novelist who is one our finest modern American novelists working today – but nobody is perfect – and Jack Pine is a certified bust.

As penance for penning this disaster, I hereby sentence William Hazelgrove to read five JON HASSLER novels, two Sinclair Lewis novels, say three Hail Marys, strive to amend his life, and go in peace.

IMPORTANT FINAL NOTE:

Despite filling every page with characters aping the Hollywood faux-Minnesota Speak, the author fails to use even once the most genuine, ingrained and ubiquitous Minnesota idiom of them all, the one word that all Minnesotans actually and truly do use: UFF DA!

That’s right – not once! Minnesota! Home of the uff da taco! (A taco made with lefse for a wrap).

Not one use of uff da! within a 300-page novel set in the culture of Minnesota.

That is absolutely ridiculous.




Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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‘Babe In The Woods’ by Frank DeMarco: Destined to be a cult classic on par with David Lindsay’s ‘Voyage to Arcturus’

babeReview by: KEN KORCZAK

I experienced a minor synchronistic “mind blast” while reading this book.

Sometimes an author’s style will remind me of another writer, but I can’t put my finger on it right away. In this case, it had been nagging at me for some 250 pages, like a steady itch. Then suddenly on page 255 it crashed into my mind: CLIFFORD SIMAK! That’s it! Ahhh! The itch was scratched!

But now the “mind blast”: I finished reading page 255 and at the bottom of page 256, lo and behold, I find this sentence:

“I though, unexpectedly, of Clifford Simak. Years ago, when I was a kid, I read one of his science fiction stories …”

Woo-hoo!

I don’t mean to make too much of it, but it was just one of those tiny “That was a neat feeling!” moments of synchronicity when you get buffeted unexpectedly by a wave on the ocean of Universal Consciousness.

Anyway – after 250 pages of  BABE IN THE WOODS  – I think anyone would become more in tune to transcendent wavelengths. This book not only gives you an idea of what it is like to tap into expanded consciousness, but dishes out insight after insight – it actually makes you feel what it might be like to push yourself to the edge of higher consciousness – a rare literary feat.

It tells the story of an ordinary group of people from widely divergent walks of life and professions who come together to challenge themselves – to open up their minds, to reach for new concepts, to expand what it means to be an “ordinary” human being in our dreary world calcified by scientific-materialism.

The model for the situation is a real-life program offered by THE MONROE INSTITUTE of Faber, Virginia. The Monroe Institute is an organization founded by the late ROBERT MONROE who became famous after publishing his first book about his experiences with out-of-body travel.

“Journeys Out of Body” came out in 1971. It was an unlikely bestseller, and was followed up with two more books, “Far Journeys,” and “Ultimate Journey.”

Perhaps no other books on astral travel have been more influential. Part of the reason is that Robert Monroe had never been a mystic or associated with any of the established traditions (such as Theosophy, for example, or Eastern religions) which trucked in arcane dabblings like “soul travel” (which also had scary occult overtones for many mainstream folks).

Monroe was no-nonsense, successful businessman who had made a considerable fortune in the burgeoning 1940s-50s world of radio. He was an entirely grounded, nuts-and-bolts kind of guy. However, in the late 1950s, he began to undergo unwanted spontaneous out-of-body experiences. This prompted the pragmatic Monroe to launch into an intense study of what was happening to him.

The eventual result was the establishment of the Monroe Institute. Its original purpose was to study the OBE and all of the mind-boggling implications which fall out of the possibility that our physical bodies are not “all that there is,” and indeed, that what we perceive as physical-material reality is not nearly all there is to consider.

The Monroe Institute developed a number of methods, mostly centered on sound technology that was designed to help any person achieve a state of higher or altered consciousness. These sound technologies leveraged something called binaural beats – and I won’t go into detail here about them, except to say that it was demonstrated that when people listened to binaural beats through headphones while in a highly relaxed state and in a supportive environment, the result could be an out-of-body experience, or some kind of realization of transcendent thought – in short, an expansion of the mind.

So this book, Babe In The Woods, takes us through a group of people who have decided to put themselves through the paces of a Monroe Institute program – except here it is thinly fictionalized as the “Merriman Institute.” Robert Monroe himself is fictionalized as “C.T” and his famous book, Journeys Out of Body is renamed “Extraordinary Potential.”

This is an incredibly ambitious book because it necessarily must employ a large group of characters – some two dozen people involved in the program – whom the author is tasked with not only introducing us to, but must rely on the reader’s patience as he builds them into believable characters of some depth, enough so that we can care about them and learn from them later.

The viewpoint character is modeled on the author himself — DeMarco is a veteran of several Monroe Institute programs.

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Frank DeMarco

DeMarco’s fictional incarnation is Angelo Chiari, a reporter with the Philadelphia Inquirer. The premise is that his editor sends him to the Merriman Institute to do some stealthy investigative journalism – and hopefully come out with an expose that might blow the lid off the weird snake oil the Institute is most likely selling to gullible people with enough money and desperation to seek answers to life anywhere.

But these journalist are professionals – both editor and reporter are not out to do a pre-determined hack job. Rather, they intend to get the story in a fair and objective manner. They’ll go where the facts lead them. If reporter Angel Chiari finds a legitimate program – he’ll write about that. If not, it’s blast away with both journalistic barrels. He very much expects it to be the latter, however.

The Chiari character is a classic example of what Henry Thoreau meant when he said: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

Chiari’s career is okay, but on cruise control. His work has long since become bland and meaningless. The heat of his decades-long marriage has cooled to a husband and wife more akin to roommates. His relationship with his children is shallow and distant.

Chiari holds no particular cherished beliefs. He’s a rational-materialist cog in the post-modern machine. He gets up every day and goes through the motions, running out the time clock on his life. His existence is like a tasteless block of tofu.

Perhaps it’s his training as a journalist that saves him – his fundamental dedication to objectivity leaves the door open just enough for Chiari to approach the Merriman program with an open mind and reserved judgment. That small crack in that door is enough for the Larger Consciousness System (to borrow a term from physicist Tom Campbell) to send Chiari tantalizing, subtle clues to convince him that, by golly, there might be something more to his existence – something remarkable..

This is the fourth Frank DeMarco book I have read. His writing style puts me in the mind of not only Simak, but also Sinclair Lewis (winner of the Noble Prize for Literature). That’s because there is a certain workmanlike doggedness to the way DeMarco hammers out his themes, and the way he develops and cobbles together his messages.

DeMarco somehow leverages the necessarily mundane and uses it to fetch glimpses of the transcendent. He is like a grounded, unspectacular Prometheus stealing fire from the gods, but bringing it back to us with the stolid work ethic of a UPS delivery truck driver.

Because of that, the insights we gain ultimately feel deeper and more authentic. DeMarco’s works are characterized by a  persistent and worrisome expression of doubt – the uncertainty of a person who knows he is threading a fine line between making sense of highly original and novel forms of information — while ever cognizant of the innate capacity of the human mind to fool itself with egoic delusions and struggles with Freudian “wish fulfillment.”

I’m guessing that Babe In the Woods, published in 2008, has since found only a small audience, but I can imagine it developing an ardent cult following – much in the same way that A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS by Scottish writer DAVID LINDSAY has persisted and moved people since it was published in 1920.

You might be wondering how I can compare the syrupy surrealism of Lindsay’s ‘Voyage’ with DeMarco’s more staid ‘Babe,’ but I would challenge the reader to read both — tell me if you don’t see that, in a weird way, both works have the same heart.

Clifford Simak, Sinclair Lewis, David Lindsay — Frank DeMarco stands with guys like these in the literary world – and that’s not a bad place to stand, indeed.

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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