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Son of Amity by Peter Nathaniel Malae

DEAR MALAE: I swear I offered this to a bunch of publications in the straight community but no one wanted it, at least not from me, so here it is on an insignificant blog. I tried! Feel free to use. –N

Peter Nathaniel Malae’s new book Son of Amity begins with themes familiar to his readers: violence, incarceration, cultures tangled and erased by poverty, hatred for the consumer and the less-dedicated, and perhaps the Californian writer’s greatest contribution to twenty-first century literature: an identifiable search for the use of masculinity in our time.

As before, the economy of description is refreshingly socio-economic. Malae’s mission to portray common people brings us undernourished, overfed, jelly-spined poor whites, but also dignified and convincing portraits of men forgotten in prison and in Bush’s Middle-East conflict, and women rejected, imprisoned, by the ignorance in their environments.

But this is no rerun of What We Are: like Jimmy Baca before him, the author’s own evolution since he disappeared into the “Pacific Northwest” makes the reader an attractive offer to evolve according to his characters’ examples. There are three males in this dialect-rendered story. Which is the titular Son of Amity?

Here Malae repurposes his previous characterizations to disarming effect. For a start the writer’s voice, mercifully, is separating from the narrator’s. Malae always demonstrates an ear for specific slang, something that really impresses academics, but in Son of Amity, especially the memories of prison, we finally get to observe what this slang, in its various pressure and quantity, really means between characters.

Central to the three adults’ seemingly-doomed cohabitation is a highly-realistic evolution of characters’ wills and desires, something unfit in What We Are’s immediacy. Starting with revenge for a rape, the characters’ common ground shifts under them as the victim of the violence takes the will to both choose forgiveness and transform the violence into a child: Malietoa to his Samoan uncle, Tophat to his veteran father, the latter crippled by the former.

The use for masculinity is found in a shared faith in family centered around the child Benji, and not in an act or a gesture. The outcast’s longing for a family to serve –and worth serving –in previous work has arrived. As What We Are’s exasperation before an expanded mind rouses similar feelings to Immigrants in Our Own Land, so this meditation on refocused life approaches the glorious beauty of Black Mesa Poems.

Throughout the book, Malae turns his previous work’s conceits against themselves using time and natural renewal: here we hopelessly serve our past even as the future offers us a ride without reservations, in this case the innocent child at the lead. The book’s greatest charm lies in watching the three adults reluctantly choose the boy’s inspiration over their baggage. Who, then, is the Son of Amity? I would argue that it’s the boy, and I propose that the narcissistic masses of this country read this book and follow their own Malietoa, their own Tophat.

Malae never neglects the portraiture of people trying to both live up to the past and make some way of living in the present. Perhaps the clearest symbols of this are Pika’s Samoan umu Thanksgiving turkey at the book’s finale and Michael’s worship of the Vietnam vets. But the conceit and the dignity lies in Sissy’s internal monologue throughout, in which the urban, feminist, progressive reader must coexist with the fact that Sissy’s post-rape decisions come from a need to move forward without any plan.

Highly recommended for those needing an immediate dose of reality.

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New Peter Malae Book, Link about Technique

Malae has a new book! Just ordered it from Better World Books cause I’m a liberal do-gooder nonprofit chump. In a bouncy singsong I repeat to myself: “Can’t wait to fucking read it…”

For you simpering simpletons don’t know Malae, I recommend starting with What We Are and then joining us on the ride for Son of Amity, which just came out this month. Be the first on your block to read it!

What We Are, besides being the Sanjoseest-ass book ever written, is a tight piece of prose from the point of view of a man who grasps his own masculinity and desperately wants to put it to use in service of his family and community, but can’t, and so jacks it off with dumb violence and relationship-ruining. Along the way the author makes some hilarious satires of Silicon Valley, of which we can never do enough.

To the end of reading, appreciating and contextualizing Malae, I’ll just leave this essay here from when What We Are came out, in which Fiction Advocate weighs the whys and wherefores of how Malae and Junot Díaz use so-called ‘high and low’ language juxtaposition (hello —deja el show. Have you read Dos Passos, pendejos?) but the latter gets a Pulitzer for it in Óscar Wao. As a huge fan of Óscar Wao myself, particularly Achy Obejas’ fucking killer Spanish translation, and as someone who also put down the last page of What We Are and wondered how the hell this didn’t get any awards, I’m only too interested in continuing the argument begun in the article. Not to encourage it, but the comment string is pretty salacious too. Read, read and argue away!

Highland Way, Nisene Marks, 7.2018

Somewhere around 30 July I found myself in a car with a sleeping kid on 17, so I figured it’d be a good day to drive out to one of my favorite views in the world, southwest from Highland Way, which is in fact not what the Los Gatos crowd calls Summit Road, but indeed the road below it. At sunset the view to the south (left in the photo) feels like the end of the world. Not even the Hearst-Argyle tower is visible; just a curtain of pointy trees and the coastal fog.

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This photo was taken from the well-known lookout point about a half mile southeast of “Mar Vista,” only about 14 miles from the bottom of Buzzard Lagoon, as the sign indicates. Recently it has been polluted by what appears to be a truckbed full of household refuse.

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I wish I knew what that ridge to the south is called. I can only say that this deep valley heading toward the void Pacific (center of photo) is where the Hinckley and East Branch Soquel creeks slice down deep over the shoulder of Nisene Marks and help create the moat around the fortress of the Soquel Demonstration Forest. I went to a crazy crazy party up that damn muddy Hinckley/Amaya territory in 2007, let me tell you. But you wouldn’t believe it.

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As you can see, nature is leading a successful roadfighting campaign, probably from winter 2017. I’ve tried this on my bike when I was a wee little boy, from the Mount Madonna Road side, which is a fucking puker. Not knowing at the time that said road becomes Loma Prieta Way and not indeed Highland, I made it only as far as Croy Ridge Road before I turned back (still don’t bring food or water on rides), and now I see why. This was before Google Maps or practical internet in my house.

IMG_0308.jpgNow that I’ve seen it and counted the miles from the Los Gatos side, I’m excited to try the escapade again by bike, this winter, using my old pal the Los Gatos Creek Trail route. Living in San José has its perks!

San José Floats On the Backs of Salmon

In The Guadalupe River and the Hidden Heart of San José, Eric Simons writes in the latest Bay Nature magazine about my beloved and trash-choked Guadalupe River and its system in the Santa Clara Valley. The interviewee, Roger Castillo, has showed the writer around the city where salmon, whom I never see in my stretch of the Guadalupe, are living in the storm drains of the freeway system. I found this astoundingly poetic. Homeless fish living under the freeway because they can’t afford the river! Thanks, successful people!

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Photo by Andrea Laue of the storm channel along the Guadalupe Trail facing Park Avenue from San Fernando Street. I disagree with the sanitization and happy color but it’s a good picture.

The article is worth a read no matter where you live. If it smashes some preconceptions about Silicon Valley, that’s a bonus. There are a lot of us in this town who would love to see the freeways, semiconductors and banks vanish with their neonazi brogrammer operators and have our cheapass stonefruit and goats back.

Those moved to help the river can sign up to clean it with the 222 Crew of South Bay Clean Creeks Coalition, a local organization with community-based anarchy leadership. Make it a punishment for when your kids are on their phone too much!

In related news, I recently looked and found out that people living downtown such as the Washington “Goosetown” and Reed neighborhoods use groundwater, so it’s in everyone’s best interest not to trash the river.

SJPD Clears Homeless Shelf Under 280/87 20 June 2018

Beginning approximately 1PM today, Wednesday 20 June 2018, cops cleared out the Shelf, a popular camping spot for homeless San José citizens.

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The Shelf is on the Guadalupe Path, beneath the 280/87 interchange, whose conception is documented in Jan McDaniel’s master’s thesis Demolition of a San José Neighborhood. The novel I’m working on takes place right here, as does much of my real free time.

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Was on my bike finally on the way to visit someone there, when the cops show up. Crews in trucks marked Tucker and Jensen came to pack up trash and whatever gets left behind. SJPD is known to impound and eventually destroy property during sweeps like these.

It is not totally illegal to sleep out in San José, which is a rare luxury in the area. However, a representative of the Santa Clara Water District confirmed by telephone today that it “owns” the entire Guadalupe River. Water companies in the city are known to frown on camping on their property, so the call to clear the Shelf could have come from them. There is also a restriction on sleeping in cars and “storing” vehicles on public curbs.

It’s a drag because the camp has held out for a solid six months, as peacefully as we can imagine without having seen it the whole time. A man I was talking to as a source for my novel was living there, though I did not see him when the sweep began , and now I’m not sure if I’ll find him again. We haven’t traded phone numbers. I would like to have shown him my appreciation better, even with just a beer or a sandwich.

Clifford Coulter – Sal Si Puedes

How in the hell did I only just find out, today, 19.6.18, about Clifford Coulter and his East Side tunes??? And on Impulse! Man, I owe a lot to Eric Avila for Folklore of the Freeway. His bibliography saved me from looking like an ignoramus. The book gave me the tip about the Mayfair district being called Sal Si Puedes (there’s one in Watsonville too, heh), as well as about Helena María Viramontes’ Their Dogs Came With Them that I finished yesterday. Let’s get out if we can.

Apply yourself and it comes to you …
If you believe in this lie, you’re a fool, my friend!
The odds are too high, you’ll never win. That’s the way it is.

Eastside Meadows Loop Ride


Found my new favorite ride in the Sierra de Santa Isabel region of San José this morning, which I dub “Eastside Meadows Loop.” I’d been looking at the maps and interested in two new routes: Sierra over this gnarly fire road back down into Alum Rock Park itself, and another route that went up Clayton over either to Alum Rock or Quimby via 130, the very top. I’ll write more about Sierra when I get around to it, but it’s a widowmaker, and I want to ride it strictly out of completism.

Instead of heading to specific spots, I started out straight down Story and just went until I ran out of road. The backroad that joins to it is called Fleming, which went northwest the high road along a nice deep cut between the first hill out of the city and the proper rise of the mountains. When the sun is behind the trees, it’s cool even on summer mornings. It’s definitely suburban, but there are spots that are still more country, even down that low. Beware: Corralitos Road, which sounded good, doesn’t have a dead-end sign like its neighbor roads, but is indeed a dead end, and steep one at that.

Fleming ends at Alum Rock, and then just as it gets steep it connects at right to 130. As the Google Map insists on rendering for you, there’s a shortcut up Porter to Alum Rock. To be honest I still never had done that hill, and I see why those Amgen CEO-ride ninnies use it. They weren’t kidding that it’s the easy way up the mountains, and also the most scenic, with views of apricot orchards, Dario’s Ranch, some old weird dead yuppie palaces with dead-walnut yards and neglected tennis courts, wild turkeys, quail, horse pasture and of course durr. And of course the rotting pustule of Silicon Valley poking out below.

Somewhere around the 12000 address mark of 130 (Mount Hamilton) there’s a doppelgänger for the two shithouses approximately at 4000 Quimby that ruin not one but two peaks standing mightily against the view of the valley. Some douchebags are going around like “hey! It’s the finite resource of two peaks shoulder to shoulder. Let’s wreck it for everyone and put two shite McMansions there!”

Just as one starts to feel the very easy but long 4% climb, the option appears to either keep going up another mile to Quimby or head down Clayton. I’d found Clayton in spite of myself! But the funny part is, when I got down again, I saw that I’d started there and not bothered to read signs to the right when I went up Story! So it was a big perfect loop.

The land up there looks like a solid wall from down in the valley, but it’s actually a slow stepping landscape of slopes and wide meadows. I thought about taking a picture with my Capitalist Scum device, but then I thought, nah. You want to see it, you got to ride it yourself!

I’m glad I did Clayton on the down rather than the up this time, because I enjoyed the Mount Hamilton section more than I otherwise might have. But I did go right past the monastery of the Descalzos and didn’t even notice. Clayton’s land is a little more like Quimby’s, not an easy grade up through high meadows but an express-elevator to the top. Much preferable for making a lovely loop to enjoy the season. Plus, Quimby’s surroundings suck at the bottom; there’s no fast way to get out of Tully-land up to the center of the city.

Once I got down I also accomplished a goal of going to a new liquor store, Jack’s, at the end of Jackson. Where the hell do you go to drink a beer in public at 10am on the east side, besides everywhere? Finally went to Emma Prusch. When you got the best, forget the rest.

Got an under-reported ride in the Santa Cruz or Diablo mountains? Comment it below!