Book Bag

Friday, April 14, 2017

by Steve Pfarrer


By Fred Contrada

Levellers Press


Former Springfield Republican reporter and columnist Fred Contrada notes that people used to ask him what his column was about — and he was hard-pressed to come up with a quick answer.

“Some columnists write about people; some about their pets or parents; some about themselves,” writes Contrada. “I had trouble answering the question because I wanted to write about whatever I wanted to write about. No neat labels or limits for me.”

That’s evident in a collection of his columns, running from 2009 into 2015, that’s just been published by Levellers Press of Amherst. From accounts of his travels across America and overseas, to profiles of people around the valley, to discussion about some of his recent favorite books, Contrada spread his writing around, with a good amount of humor to spare.

Whether climbing in the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest or in New York’s Adirondacks, Contrada could be relied on for a good outdoors tale.

Consider his column from August 14, 2013 in which he describes a solo climb in the 1980s on Mount Baker, a heavily glaciated peak in Washington state; he got stuck in an icy crevasse, with no easy way back or forward.

“I realized no one would ever know what happened to me,” he writes. “In a week or two, my family would say ‘Where’s Freddy?’ … In 50 years or 100, the glacier would spit some clothes and bones out at its terminus."

 Obviously he lived to tell the tale, but as he writes, his trip on Mount Baker might have split his spirit into two parts: “Maybe this is why the Pacific Northwest feels like a part of me. Maybe it’s why I don’t take my life for granted.”

Fred Contrada reads from his collection Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Florence Civic Center.



By David Leo Rice

Alternating Current Press


David Leo Rice, a Northampton native now living in New York City, has a varied resume that includes screenwriting, working as an animator, short-story writing and teaching creative writing. Now he's drawn on some of those experiences in a debut novel that reads a bit like a screenplay, a bit like a fantasy, and very much like a horror show.

“A Room in Dodge City” is set in the Kansas town that became a synonym for frontier violence in the 19th century. In the novel, an anonymous drifter takes a bus into the modern Dodge City, looking to “lay low for a year or two, depending on the cheapness of life in this Town.”

But before long, the unnamed narrator discovers the 21st-century version of Dodge is full of its own horrors and weirdness: rooms made entirely out of bone, strange beasts that crawl out of the woodwork, bizarre and violent rituals.

One example: The narrator pushes into a “shotgun shack” one evening to discover “a giant veiny Eye floating in a bathtub with a stepladder next to it. A very put-upon, exhausted-looking man is busy preparing an oversize syringe, its needle the size of small spire ...”

“The man brings the syringe over and positions it … at the bottom of the stepladder, as the Eye heaves up the steps … [and jumps] and is now stuck straight and true on the needle, impaled through the pupil, quivering with the impact, and then going still.”

Told in a series of linked vignettes, “A Room in Dodge City” contrasts the anonymous life of modern America, with its motels, strip malls and temp jobs, with something “stranger, darker, and more eternal,” as publisher notes put it.

David Leo Rice reads from “A Room in Dodge City” Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Broadside Bookshop in Northampton.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.