Book Review
Sunday, September 1, 2013
All Together Now: Sex, Salvage, Secrets and the Writer's Art

"Sex, Salvage Secrets" by Reef Perkins (The New Atlantian Library Imprint of Absolutely Amazing eBooks, trade paperback $14.95, e-book, $3.99)

"Sex, Salvage & Secrets" by Admiral and First Sea Lord of the Conch Republic and King of the Key West Wreckers, Reef Perkins, is dedicated to his son Quincy ("for keeping me almost broke") with an acknowledgement to his wife Roberta ("for giving me some of my best unwritten memories"). The air of a family affair extends to Key West's own human family itself, not to mention the history of our nation over the past half century or so. Writing this review, too, becomes something of a personal matter, seeing my own name in the intro (is that against the rules?) let alone Jane Newhagen, Joan Langley, Nancy Butler Ross, Brewster Chamberlin, Shirrel Rhoades, Carl Peachey, Carol Tedesco and just about everybody still -- or no longer -- in town.

"Sex Salvage & Secrets" is truly the kind of book that best reviews itself. For example: "My story jumps around ... Some things are true and some things are almost true and some things are not quite true but they are all sincere. It's just a book. Everyone likes their own version of the truth."

A great deal goes on in this adventure story, from "The Early Daze" (1950 to 1966) through "The Pimple Years" and ""Gullible's Travels" and "Deep Sea Diving for Fun and Profit" up to and beyond "Unclear Motivation."

And there's a lot of blood-real history in it, for example Vietnam ("Bugs and Bullets").

Reef manages to make most of it hilarious -- but be careful of the deep-sea stuff if you have suffocation anxiety and be forewarned of the dreaded "g" word in the Nam pages, as in the natives, or targets.

The family parts are really quite heartbreaking, the inevitably unsettled outcomes of mom (Scottish) and dad and the inescapable keening of a boy's life truly told. But his relationship with a character called White in the Army is truly big-hearted and brave and his reckless adventures among salvors and smugglers are rock hard and historic.

By the time we reach "The Last Dances" and "Winding Down," the daze takes on a focus not to be found in the average life. Key West can be proud that we harbor such lives as this: Much to be amazed at, much to be learned, much to be grateful for. The last words on the last page are loud and clear: "There is no greater fear than being forgotten. Live to be remembered." To which I add my own last words, echoed by a number of persons in this book: "Perkins, I'm worried about you."

Copies available online and at Smokin' Tuna Saloon and the Little Red downtown.

-- Reviewed by Mark Howell

"The Writer's Art" by James J. Kilpatrick (McMeel and Parker, $19.95)

As a fledging attorney, a few decades back, I was told that if an appellate judge set aside one's brief, if only for a moment, one would lose the argument. I won my first appeal, obtaining a new trial in a capital murder case, but only because of expert mentoring and tutelage received from a seasoned and highly skilled senior attorney. The red editing pen filled the drafts and little by little I was able to create a black-ink-only finished product that the jurist did not set aside. What I learned from that tidbit of history was to consort with experts when it comes to writing.

For many years, I have held William F. Buckley, Jr., in great esteem for his writing skills and I have come to cherish his book, "The Right Word," first published in 1996, as the best primer for writing well and, most especially, with compelling force. I recently sought to replace "The Right Word" with an e-version and stumbled across another book, which, as it happens, contains an expansive foreword by Buckley. I felt certain that if Buckley favored an author by writing the foreword, then the book must have merit. "The Writer's Art" by James J. Kilpatrick (1984) truly has merit.

Buckley describes Kilpatrick's book as an "engrossing and majestic treatise on the English language," notwithstanding the fact that Kilpatrick tweaks Buckley's nose for Buckley's utilization of recondite words, (i.e., words not unlike recondite). Kilpatrick's advice: When feeling the impulse to "use a marvelously exotic word, lie down until the impulse goes away." Kilpatrick advises that writers "ought to take advantage of all the glorious riches of the English tongue and to use them as best one can, but always taking into account one thing: the audience one is writing for." (An interesting quote, don't you think, in that the sentence ends with a dangling preposition?)

Kilpatrick's ideas support the morphing and growth of English and his thesis is one with which I heartily agree. You must read comprehensively before you can write comprehensively. It is only with practice and effort that one may attain the "art" status of writing.

Many of the issues Kilpatrick raises will strike a chord of remembrance within many: days spent diagraming sentences and trying to understand the vagaries of a dead language called Latin. He suggests that today's poor performance by younger writers stems from an absence of parochial instruction abandoned in favor of holistic teaching to get at the gist of something -- and to create a positive reward for the effort rather than the product.

Kilpatrick has a marked disdain, as do I, for the holistic approach that, if the same instructional theory were applied to medical arts, we'd applaud the surgeon for errantly, but skillfully, removing one's healthy tonsils rather than a nocent appendix.

(I had to do it --I favor recondite words and nocent is among them: it means harmful. Evidently I didn't lie down long enough to dissuade me from its use.)

-- Reviewed by Ron Hignight