WE MAY KNOW that the work we continue to put off doing will be bad. Worse, however, is the work we never do. A work that's finished is at least finished.

Fernando Pessoa
~ The Book of Disquite

Prints from Chiron Press

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Jeanne Mackin in Japanese

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Poleskie's wife, Jeanne Mackin, has had two of her mystery novels, written as Anna Maclean, published in Japan, with the third scheduled to appear sometime this year. The books are beautiful little things, only you have got to read them from back to front, that is if you can read Japanese.

40 Years Before The Photographs

More Poleskie Photographs

Where Is Stephen (Steve) Poleskie Now?


December 30, 2012

Tags: Stephen Poleskie, Sconto Walaa

Stephen Poleskie is a former pilot and Abstract Expressionist painter who combined the two in a practice called “aerial theatre,” for which he became known throughout Europe. Poleskie grounded his planes in 1998 and turned to writing fiction. His artwork has long found homes in the collections of museums including the Whitney, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Hermitage, but his novels have hardly found easy success.

The first one, The Balloonist, which details the life of T. S. C. Lowe – a balloonist who brought what was then the newest technology into the Civil War for aerial surveillance – is quite good, and currently my copy is making the rounds of bibliophile friends. It’s got everything, you could say: an eccentric but heroic central character, loads of historic detail (they used municipal gas suppliers to fill the balloons), and a compelling love story. What it lacks is marketing, and in a way, marketability. Like Poleskie himself, it doesn’t fit into any one category. It’s sort of a biography of Lowe. It’s sort of a novel, with dialogue and drama; it’s sort of an exposition of the cast of oddballs who were that era’s geeks: the balloonists and aerialists intent on conquering what was then the bold frontier of the sky. If you’re the type who can’t eat your peas if they’ve touched the mash potatoes, this may not be the book for you, because part of the delight of it is Poleskie’s use of any tool that comes to hand when he needs to tell the next part of the story. It’s all mishmashed together, with satisfying results.

The latest Poleskie book, and I admit I haven’t read the three intervening (I don’t read much fiction) jumps with one foot into the noir genre. Sconto Walaa tells the story of the 98-lb. weakling who has plotted revenge for 13 years on the man he believes raped his wife. Ignoring plenty of evidence that his intended victim may not, in fact, be the rapist, Walaa tortures the guy to death. The suspense turns on nothing so simple as ‘did he do it,’ but on two questions - the real rapist’s identity, and how far apart will Walaa fall in the process of becoming a murderer. He’s not stitched together too tightly anyway, being both a vet who participated in torture during a Middle Eastern tour, and an unlovable and unloving specimen of humanity to begin with. To himself he portrays the murder as the settling of scores, but it’s more of a protest against his own repulsiveness, more an act of revenge against someone he sees as being more loved than himself, than anything to do with revenging his wife’s pain; in daily life, he treats her very badly.

The masters of the noir genre, from Dostoevsky to Jim Thompson, accomplish their unsettling art by getting you into not only the mind but the heart of the criminal, drawing the reader inexorably over the line between good and bad to the point where you’re uncomfortably cognizant that there-but-for-God’s-grace-go-I. Somewhere in Elmore Leonard’s oeuvre there’s a serial killer character who, because he dislikes and is disliked by other humans, manages his loneliness by calling the listings in the classified ads. He may be a psychopath, but he needs to hear a friendly human voice once in a while, so he calls to see if the couch is still for sale and if it is, he says it’s the wrong color and hangs up, and if it isn’t he says, “Thanks” and hangs up.

Sconto Walaa manages to bring the killer’s humanity to you in occasional flashes: Walaa blows his cover because he can’t abandon his victim’s housecat after the murder, and when someone else is apprehended for the crime, Poleskie writes, “he was feeling a little upstaged.”

However, a certain awkwardness of style gets in the story’s way. Two major characters are named after famous people – Walt Whitman and George Orwell – which may be a perfectly acceptable coincidence in real life, but in fiction, in order to “keep it real”, you can’t do that. If every character had been thus famously named, the device would have faded into the background of the story. With only two, every time the names came up I wondered why, which is deadly to the momentum of a novel. Another involves the use of expletives; although in life certain people use the word “fucking” three times in every sentence, if you write dialogue like that, it sounds artificial. Poleskie’s device for naming Walaa as a member of a despised group (Simoleans) with its own language and history works better because the reader can see what he’s aiming at with it.

Meanwhile, the plot is good, and despite the novel turning on a few gruesome scenes, Poleskie sidesteps the gory parts. I have to disagree with his agent; rape and murder and vets with PTSD are not the selling points of this book. However, if you’re fond of crime fiction and enjoy seeing someone new try his hand at it, and even experiment a little with the genre, put this one on your list.

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Selected Works

A personal essay about his work that Poleskie wrote for an interview in a 2012 issue of Editions Bibliotekos
Essays that appeared in several journals and anthologies during the 1980s, including: Leonardo in the USA, Dars in Italy, and Himmelsschreiber in Germany
When his father dies, fading rock star John Foozler returns home, with his wife and son, to take care of his mother and run the family golf driving range. After a few months John’s mother dies, followed shortly by his wife. When his son leaves to join the Marine Corps, and with nothing to keep him in Eastlake, except a few now married old girlfriends, John decides to leave town and follow a dream his father had for him of becoming a professional golfer.
A National Guard corporal returned from deployment in the Middle East and suffering from undiagnosed PTSD descides to murder a man who he believe raped his wife thirteen years ago, and may be the father of his daughter.
A well-known American stunt pilot, and university professor, meets a strange old man named Caliban who tells him the story of his twin brother who as a young boy flew with Charles Lindbergh as his secret copilot on his famous solo trans-Atlantic flight.
Thaddeus Sobieski Coulincourt Lowe (1823−1913) was called by Carl Sandburg "the most shot-at man of the Civil War."
An unemployed actor answers an ad for a rent-free apartment and finds himself involved in a bizarre scheme to rig an election.
Novella and Stories
An AWOL soldier returns to the world after thirty-three years of hiding in his mother’s attic. An immigrant plumber bribes a policeman with a loaf of bread. And a plastic garbage bag flies around the sky looking for a new beginning, in these three out of the ordinary tales of living in America.
Selected Short Stories
A short story that appeared in the collection Acorn's Card, and on the blog Writing the Polish Diaspora
A short story that appeared in the collection Acorn's Card, 2011 and on Goodreads
A short story that appeared in the anthology The Book of Love, published by W. W. Norton, 1998 and in the collection Grater Life, 2009
A short story published in a shorter version in the 1995-6 issue of the magazine American Writing
A story published in the Spring 1996 issue of the west coast magazine Pangolin Papers and also in the collection Grater Life, 2009
This story appeared in the Spring 2009 print issue of SN Review
This story appeared in Essays & Fictions, Summer 2010, and in Fiction Daily
A short story that appeared in SATIRE magazine in 1997 under the title TGV
A story that appeared in Imago, the Australian literary magazine in October, 2001
A short story published in the Sulphur River Literary Review, Austin, TX
A short story in the Print Annual of Many Mountains Moving, a Literary Journal, 2008-9, nominated for a Pushcart Prize
A short story published in WordWrights!, a literary magazine from Washington, D. C. under the title For Eisenstaedt Spontaneously
Novel in Stories
A collection of short stories, interwoven into a dialog between a volunteer hospital visitor and a patient afflicted with AIDS.

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