Book Review: You Gotta Be Dirty-The Outlaws Motorcycle Club In & Around Wisconsin by Michael Grogan

31827805As someone who is more “born to be mild” than “born to be wild,” and who is more likely to watch a rerun of My Three Sons on a retro TV channel than an episode of Sons of Anarchy, I have to admit the biker culture is one I am not at all familiar with even though I live in Milwaukee, the home of the iconic Harley-Davidson. The motorcycling enthusiast I’m most likely to come across is probably a well-heeled baby boomer whose biggest act of rebellion is not having granite kitchen counter tops.

So needless to say reading You Gotta Be Dirty: The Outlaws Motorcycle Club In & Around Wisconsin by Michael Grogan was a total culture shock. For the longest time, I thought “outlaw” biker culture consisted of some rebellious rabble rousers who drank, smoked weed, did a line of coke every now and then, got involved in bar brawls and petty crimes, and had a thing for strippers and hookers. But reading Grogan’s well-researched book was a complete eye-opener.

You Gotta Be Dirty focuses mostly on the Outlaws Motorcycle Club (OMC) from its inception to the modern day. The Outlaws Motorcycle Club was based mostly in Wisconsin with some activity in bordering Midwestern states, mostly Illinois.

In the first couple of chapters, Grogan tells us the formation of the OMC and biker culture in general. It’s very extensive. Grogan clearly did his research, and I was happy to get some of the nuts and bolts of this unfamiliar lifestyle before I proceeded with my reading.

Formed sometime in the mid-1960s, the OMC initially just seemed like a rag tag bunch of somewhat disheveled rebellious young men (and their “old ladies”) who had a mad fetish for motorcycles and motorcycle culture. But by the 1970s, the OMC was feared and notorious for their extreme violence and acts of terror, especially towards people of color and women, even their old ladies. To say, members of the OMC were both racist and sexist is putting it mildly. But among the OMC’s victims included people who were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Men, women and children often met tragic ends due to OMC’s actions.

Among these actions including shootings, stabbings, rape, assault, torture and bombings, which educated me while also upsetting me greatly.

Several of these actions continue to haunt my thoughts; one story was about the brutal torture of one young woman whose palms were impaled with nails and later she was nailed to a tree. Then there is the horrifying death of a teenage paperboy named Larry Anstett, who while delivering the Milwaukee Sentinel, died when he picked a package left on a customer’s car. The package contained an explosive device. It went off and Anstett died from his injuries, just at the wrong place at the wrong time.

And in 1994, the Chicago chapter of the Outlaws detonated a car bomb. This bomb was the third largest of its kind, just after the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and later, the 1995 of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168, including 19 children; and over 800 other people were injured.

The Outlaws didn’t become famous; they became notorious and feared. Their violence went far beyond Wisconsin, causing fear among their enemies, innocent civilians, the media and law enforcement at local, state and national levels. Even their own members weren’t safe, and several of them met atrocious fates at the hands of their “brothers.”

While reading You Gotta Be Dirty I had to put it down a few times because I was so overwhelmed by the senseless violence and hateful activities of the OMC. And I must admit, I sometimes thought of keeping an Excel spreadsheet of various people involved with the OMC, some innocent, some guilty, because it was so overwhelming, yet informative. I am truly in awe of Grogan’s research ability and fortitude and at the end of each chapter, he properly provides his resources. His willingness to get the “story behind the story” is a true testament to solid journalistic standards and reporting fortitude.

You Gotta Be Dirty is a very interesting book for anyone who is interested in fugitive biker culture as whole, a total history buff or anyone interested in a world beyond their wildest nightmares. I know I certainly got an education.

Vintage by Susan Gloss

vintageDealing with a rough year, and a challenging summer of both professional and personal trials (not to mention allergies that are at def con levels), I thought I would escape into a fun bit of fluff via a chick lit novel. I picked up Vintage by Susan Gloss, charmed by the cover of a pretty dress in a shop window.

As a concept Vintage has a lot of potential. This is a book that tells the tale of three very dissimilar women. Violet is the owner of a Madison, Wisconsin-based vintage clothing shop called Hourglass (love the name). She escaped a bad first marriage to her high school boyfriend, Jed, and a stifling life in the small town of Bent Creek (fictional-looked it up). Always a lover of vintage clothing and accessories, Violet realizes her dream to sell vintage finds at Hourglass to the Madison locals.

April is 18-years-old and pregnant. She’s also been abandoned by her boyfriend who is off to medical school. A smart girl, and a math whiz, April has to put her college education on hold due to her pregnancy and her impending single motherhood. She is also dealing with the death of her mentally ill mother, who died in a car accident, which may have been a suicide.

And then there is Amithi, who immigrated to the United States from India after marrying her husband in an arranged marriage Naveen when she was still a teenager. She recently found out Naveen has been cheating on her for decades with a colleague. Amithi is also struggling with the idea of her daughter Jayana being married to a non-Indian man.

Violet first makes April’s acquaintance when April tries to a return wedding dress to Hourglass. Violet has a strict policy when it comes to returning items to her shop. But despite that she takes some pity on April, being pregnant, abandoned by her boyfriend, rejected by her boyfriend’s parents, college plans that are put on hold and now without a mother. Through a wee bit of maneuvering, Violet agrees to hire April on as an intern to help her gain some college credits. April is a whiz when it comes to numbers, and she helps organize Hourglass’s financial and accounting matters. Even though Violet is not yet forty, she seems a bit out of sorts when it comes to any organizing that requires a computer and an Excel spreadsheet.

Amithi becomes Violet’s friend when she comes into Hourglass to sell a sari she wore when she married Naveen in 1968. Her marriage now in tatters due to Naveen’s betrayal and infidelity, Amithi has no need for a silk orange colored sari to remind her of her wedding day. She’s also sick of her daughter sticking her nose in her and Naveen’s business, and just wants to move on, not knowing who she is beyond being a devoted wife and mother. However, Amithi does have a skill that helps her bond with Violet. She is a talented seamstress and soon she is helping Violet with some of her vintage items that need some TLC. Doing something she loves and excels at, helps Amithi feel useful and helps her cope with the of her marriage.

And with these three characters, Vintage started out a promising read…but it soon fell flat and became just standard-issue chick lit that failed to inspire and entice me as a reader. These included banalities like Violet obsession with her biological clock and dating life. There is April’s ex-boyfriend swooping back into her life at just the right time to rescue her from becoming a single mom. And then there is Violet’s ex-husband oozing back into her life, just as she sparks up a relationship with a new man. And then there are Violet’s friends, Karen and Lane, giving up their careers in law and show biz respectively for soccer mom suburbia. There is an evil landlord who threatens the fate of Hourglass, but thank goodness for a rich benefactor whose death pretty much saves the fate of Hourglass. And I’d be remiss not to mention a clichéd story-line of a fashion show featuring drag queens and a single declaration of love.

Only Amithi didn’t come across as a total cliché. And I think a novel focused on Amithi and the choices she makes in the wake of her busted marriage would be so much more interesting.

However, Vintage isn’t a complete mess. Gloss is a talented writer, with a gift for writing sincere dialogue that made the three women real to me even though I found them a bit too clichéd. Gloss also has a wonderful way of describing people, places and things that made them truly come to life. She captures Madison perfectly. And I also could actually see the Hourglass’s layout in my mind’s eye. I also loved how each chapter began with a brief description of various vintage finds including not only April’s wedding dress and Amithi’s sari, but 1980s power suit, complete with shoulder pads, Frye boots from the 1970s, an apron from the 1950s and a sweet little baby bonnet from the 1940s.

For the most part, Vintage was just a fun, inoffensive book, fully adequate for lazy dog days of summer. I just wish it wrapped up in way that was more classic Chanel suit and not a pilled acrylic sweater.

 

Book Review: Again and Again by Ellen Bravo

again and againOver thirty years ago, when she was a student at Danforth University, Deborah Borenstein came back to her dorm room to find her roommate, Liddie Golmbach, being assaulted and raped by the campus dream boat, Will Quincy the III. But even though Deborah is a credible witness and Liddie’s injuries do not deny the facts, these two young ladies aren’t believed by campus authorities. And why would a rich, handsome and popular frat boy like Will have to rape someone? He can get sex from any girl on campus. Besides, everyone saw Liddie drinking with Will and flirting with him. She wanted it; she was asking for it. Liddie Golmbach is just a loser slut who should thank her lucky stars Will deigned to even talk to her.

At the time there was no term “date rape.” Rape was something that was done by shadowy strangers jumping out of alley ways at unsuspecting women (and even then these unsuspecting women might “asking for it” because they were drunk, wearing a short skirt or walking around in a dangerous neighborhood).

Fast forward to 2010, Deborah is at the helm of Breaking the Silence, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group for victims of rape and other sexual violence. She is married to a Democratic political consultant named Aaron, and together they are raising a daughter named Becca. Liddie is living a quiet life in Wisconsin with her husband and she has gained some success as a weaver and quilter.

And Will Quincy the III? He is running for a Senate seat as a pro-choice, pro-women’s rights Republican (yes, obviously Again and Again is a work of fiction). His opponent is a very conservative Democrat who is pro-life and not exactly a supporter of women’s rights.

Soon Deborah soon finds herself in a bit of a quandary. She is being hounded by a take-no-prisoners investigative journalist to spill the dirt on Will Quincy the III after rumors begin to surface about his collegiate past (Liddie, it turns out, wasn’t his only victim). And Aaron is slated to work on behalf of Will’s opponent (who as I explained, is not exactly a friend to women’s issues).

As for Liddie? She wants the past to be the past and is not exactly comfortable with re-living the horrible night. And her long-time friend, Deborah, understands and supports her much to Aaron’s chagrin. This causes problems in what seems like an ideal marriage between two equals.

Again and Again flips between the Deborah and Liddie’s collegiate past and the roadblocks they faced as they tried in vain to bring Will and his crime to justice, and to the modern day of this issue causing conflict in Deborah and Aaron’s marriage and their career aspirations, the PTSD Liddie still suffers from and how rape is now more or less understood as a truly detestable crime.

And this is where Again and Again stumbled a wee bit for me. Though I admired Deborah for her commitment to women’s causes and her friendship with Liddie, I found her to be a bit of a Mary Sue. Liddie, at times, seemed to be a mirror, shining brightly on Deborah’s qualities and not so much of a compelling character whose PTSD and the decades since her years at Danforth I desired to see more of a focus on her. And I also found myself not caring that much about Aaron or Becca.

As for Will, well, you can read the book to see what his reaction is to being outed as a serial rapist back during his college years and if he truly feels contrite or not.

However, I do want to commend Bravo for having the balls (or should I say ovaries) for taking on a subject-rape-where the victim is often put more on trial than the actual criminal. Again and Again is a book that would make a strong book club selection and one that will inspire much needed discussion about a crime that is still not understood.

 

 

Book Review: Meet Me Halfway-Milwaukee Stories by Jennifer Morales

Meet-Me-Halfway-coverJennifer Morales is a former Milwaukee-based activist focused on education, and once acted as a board member for Milwaukee public schools. Now she can add published author to her list of accomplishments with the release of her interconnected collection of short stories in Meet Me Halfway-Milwaukee Stories.

Meet Me Halfway opens up with “Heavy Lifting.” In this story, Johnquell, an African-American teenage boy, is mortally wounded when helps his white neighbor, Mrs. Czernicki move a heavy piece of furniture in home. Feeling fully, responsible, Mrs. Czernicki feels compelled to connect further with Johnquell’s family that goes beyond attending his funeral. She becomes friendly towards Johnquell’s grieving mother and learns more about Johnquell from his siblings, learning though there are differences that divide us, there are also shared experiences that explain our shared humanity.

Thus, Meet Me Halfway, uses “Heavy Lifting” as a launching pad to share intermingling stories about various Milwaukee residents in one of America’s most segregated cities-Milwaukee.

In “Fragging,” a still alive Johnquell describes his experiences as a black student from a lower middle class family in a mostly white, wealthy suburban highschool.

In “Revision” Stu Reid’s limited ideas on young black men change when he feels compelled to attend Johnquell’s funeral after dealing with him in class as a substitute teacher. Perhaps Milwaukee’s answer to Rush Limbaugh, Clark “Psycho” Sykora, doesn’t have all the answers after all.

When flowers are “Misdirected” and accidentally sent to Johnquell’s mother Gloria that are meant for another woman, Gloria learns a long-kept secret of Donna Tillet, a white suburban matron, a secret that kept Donna estranged from her children for far too long.

And in the final chapter, “Pressing On,” Tarquan, Johnquell’s surviving brother navigate the difficult aftermath of his brother’s death, putting up with the questions from concerned adults, his siblings, and high school friends and peers. If adults can’t explain life and death, how can Tarquan? Perhaps, some day he’ll have the answers.

Morales’s empathetic and vivid writing is both thought-provoking and inspiring. In a city like Milwaukee, so segregated amongst all races,  Morales is able to fully evoke the multi-dimensional characters with wisdom and grace. She doesn’t just feel for these men, women and children; Morales’ feels with them as truly masterful writers should and do. Meet Me Halfway: Milwaukee Stories is a slim book that spoke to me in volumes. And I hope it is not the only book Jennifer Morales has within her. I want more books from such a talented writer.

Guest Book Review: A Winsome Murder by James DeVita-Guest Review by Jen Locke

A winsome murderYes, it’s time for another guest review! This time by my wonderful friend Jen Locke (yes, another Jen). Learn more about Ms. Locke below.

A troubled young woman is found murdered in her hometown. It’s a small town in southern rural Wisconsin named Winsome Bay. She’s spent much of her time recently living in Chicago, so part of the mystery is how she ended up back in Winsome Bay.

When a murder with similar characteristics occurs in Chicago, big city cops James Mangan and Frank Cusumano (affectionately known as “Coose”) join Winsome Bay’s Police Chief Wesley Faber in analyzing the murderer’s origin and story.

The story is told through a 3rd person narrator, who moves seamlessly from scene to scene, following different characters at different times. But after a few dozen pages in, the individual stories take on their own feel and they don’t need to be separated by chapters. As a matter of fact, the absence of chapters seems to help propel the story faster and faster and faster until it seems to be running away and keeping up seems the only thing to do. It makes putting down the book harder and harder as the pages fly by.

Being a Wisconsinite, I felt a little offended that the characterization of many of the Wisconsin characters was a bit too “country-bumpkinish.” And the officers from Chicago felt a little stereotypical. In fact, many of the minor characters seemed more nuanced than the main ones. The potential exists for the Chicago and Winsome Bay police to move forward into new adventures, though, and through this to develop into very interesting and multifaceted characters.

The most unique thing about the book is a quirkiness of Mangan’s. He experiences sudden random literary outbursts in his head. He’s self-educated and the descriptions of his house include books on every horizontal surface and books piled on other piles of books. He’s been through these works so often the snips from Shakespeare and Melville (and others) arise spontaneously and relate to the crime to help nudge his thoughts in the right direction. The way the case begins and ends for Mangan with a quote from Titus Andronicus nicely bookends the story and draws parallels to enrich the reader’s experience. DeVita’s experience acting and directing in the American Players Theatre, a Shakespeare troupe located in Spring Green, Wisconsin (a town much like Winsome Bay itself) likely contributes much to this insertion of literary quotations, and definitely helps with writing accurately about the setting.

I wanted to love this book, but I only liked it a lot. And that’s okay. Maybe DeVita’s next book will explore the officers’ characters more deeply and give us another suspenseful murder-mystery to solve alongside them.

Meet Jen Locke: Jen works at a library and is trying to keep up with the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge and her book group while indulging her own interests as much as possible. In her spare time she likes to swim, enjoy the outdoors, play with her pets, and geek out with the newest tech gadgets she can get her hands on. She and Bookish Jen met when they both attended Milwaukee’s Alverno College.