Right, now the first Presidential debate is going on, and I’m kind of afraid to watch. In some ways, this should be a slam dunk, as I believe Joe Biden to be a better debater, in the way that I believe anyone could outdebate Donald Trump … if it’s about issues. I don’t believe our current president has any actual knowledge of policy, don’t believe he has any sound plan going forward, and generally believe he’s a poor public speaker. Joe Biden is a lifelong public servant, has been in government his entire adult life, and can hold his own against anyone. Remember the 2012 VP debates, that his only mission was to not look like a bully against Sara Palin? Well, that turned out okay.
I’m sure the president will make it not about issues, though, as he knows he can’t hang. I can’t help but think of 2016, how his entire debate strategy was to make fun of the other Republican candidates, which worked, I have to admit; such is his base, reacting to that instead of any real knowledge of government or actual plan to make Ameri … you know where that’s going.
I also recall the debate with Hilary, the one where he followed her around like a hawk, looming over her shoulder, interrupting whenever she was making a point. Again, his voters must have seen this as a sign of strength, not a string of gimmicks he probably found on the Google when he typed in “how to look like you’re in charge when you don’t have any idea what you’re doing.”
I’m not sure what is going to go down tonight, as really, anything can happen. Remember, Trump is the one who made fun of handicapped people, incited hatred for immigrants coming across our southern border, and mocked his adversaries, their wives, and their parents—and that got him elected. So, if he put on a KKK mask and swore allegiance to Hitler, would it hurt him or harm him? I’m not sure at this point.
Amidst a Two-Timers Week at Story366—where I cover an author here for a second time—I read from another book by Croatian writer Josip Novakovich. Back in November of 2016, I focused on Salvation and Other Disasters, and today I’ve read from Honey in the Carcase, his latest, out in 2019 from Dzanc. I probably said this four years ago, but I met Novakovich when he came to read at Bowling Green, over twenty years ago, and have admired him and his work ever since. Getting to read and cover another of his collections here is a real joy.
The title story, “Honey in the Carcase” is first up, and I’m focusing on that piece today. This one’s about Ivan, a man living with his wife in Croatia in the time of war, specifically with Chetnik invaders. Bombs are dropping everywhere, at random, but one thing is steadfast: Ivan is tending to his bees, producing honey, and eating it like there might not be a tomorrow.
Ivan lives with his wife, Estera, and also has four boys, the youngest of which still lives with him, studying to be an agricultural engineer. Two of his sons are safe abroad, but the fourth is a doctor working right smack dab in the worst part of the war.
Getting back to the honey, Ivan is really into the honey, if I haven’t made it clear. He loves it, eating it at every meal, even dancing around his hives. Keep that in mind.
One day Estera goes out for bread and Ivan receives a phone call. The baker has called to tell him Estera has been wounded by shrapnel. Ivan goes to find her in bad shape. He takes her to the local hospital, which isn’t really a hospital, but a filthy basement where people are basically stored until they die. It’s good, then, that their son the doctor comes to take care of her, take her to a real hospital, the one where he works on the Croatian wounded.
During all this, Ivan’s house becomes battlefield central and he can’t go back. His sons survives an attack out—bombs strike the front and back yards—but Ivan’s bees are still there.
You might get, from my build-up, that Ivan isn’t going to sit idly by and let his bees get bombed to shit, let alone sit back and be neglected. What follows is a heroic journey, for which Ivan would receive a medal, if they gave out medals for saving bees. This is a great story, employing one of Novakovich’s trademark skills: Levity amidst utter destruction. I’ve read a lot of his stories, many set in the backdrop of war, and Novakovich is always able to find the human stories, often making me smile as I navigate the horrors.
“Tumbleweeds” is about a Columbia grad student on a green card from Yugoslavia, hitchhiking his way down the upper Midwest. He’s in Minnesota, via some oil rig work in Wyoming, when he’s picked up by a guy in a pickup truck. The guy agrees to take him all the way down to I-80 in Iowa, where he’s hoping to find more work. He and the guy end up drinking a case of beer on the way, then stop in a small town to drink whiskey in a hole in the wall. Both of them are incredibly drunk when they get back on the road, and before long, the man gets belligerent, accusing our hero of being a commie. He kicks our guy out of his truck, in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere in northern Iowa. Soon he’s picked up by the cops for hitchhiking and public intoxication, and, well, he can’t really catch a break.
“Yahbo the Hawk” is the last story in the book, and one I may have read, over twenty years ago, but wanted to revisit. This one’s about a young boy who trades a candy store owner for a hawk, a hawk he takes home and names Yahbo. The kid keeps the hawk up in the attic, where it sits perched in the rafters, throwing itself against the attic’s single window, hoping to escape. The boy feeds the hawk his family’s meat, which isn’t making Yahbo happy or healthy. When his cat captures a smaller bird, the kid grabs it and takes it up to Yahbo, who hunts and kills the maimed animal, emerging strong and healthy. The kid tries to hunt for fresh game for Yahbo, but when that doesn’t quite work for him, he realizes he has to release his precious hawk, that he has no business keeping it in his attic. He does just this, but then an ironic twist brings this, and the collection, to an end.
Glad to see Josip Novakovich still publishing story collections, Honey in the Carcase just his latest grouping of his fully pleasurable stories. I’ve always admired his imagination, his perspective, and his ability to draw me into characters who live in worlds I can only read about, and only try to understand. I’m always going to read his work when I come across it, so here’s to more books, more stories, by this master storyteller.