Review — UNORTHODOXY by Joshua A.H. Harris (Mali)

 

 

Unorthodoxy
by Joshua A.H. Harris (Mali 1996-98)
Atmosphere Press
December 2019
$8.99 (Kindle), $8.69 pre-release price

Reviewed by Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962-64)

This story takes place in the summer of 2012 in Berkeley, CA, which is the perfect setting for all that unfolds and unwinds in this story.  I grew up in Berkeley back in the 40’s and 50’s so all streets traveled by the story teller, Cecil Reitmeister, are familiar well traveled locations.

We meet Cecil in his increasingly decrepit home where he grew up as he reveals his beliefs and personal habits that are part of his Plan!  Staying true to his Plan keeps him focused on how he conducts his life even as he slowly unwinds from reality.  This is a story of how an isolated, lonely adult has matured from an equally lonely childhood filled with weirdness and isolation to an awareness of  and accepting microorganisms in his body that will save the world and make him a hero.

Only problem, others in his life are angered, frustrated, alarmed and not understanding of what all he keeps or puts into his body.  As both his house and his body deteriorate, the police, led by his social worker, condemn the home and without notice he is out on the street without any money having spent his small inheritance from his mother.  She does visit him periodically, however, from the grave from time to time!

He also loved and kept three dogs he rescued from the pound, which he cared for in a questionable manner.  One of them escapes again from the pound and finds him at one of his lowest moments.  This is fortuitous as the story unfolds.

While I will never understand all the science described in the book nor particularly care about it, there are recognizable themes relevant to today’s lack of food security due to extreme waste of food and the injection of so many unnatural substances in much of what we buy and eat.

Cecil is slowly reeled into life saving organizations by others on the street or inside a Goodwill store….not the social worker who is  too removed from Cecil’s reality.  Physically and emotionally, Cecil painfully suppresses his fear of public gatherings and mistrust of both himself and others to find refuge with fellow seekers of a better world, Freeganism, an actual organization one can learn more about at https://freegan.info

Enter the bigger than life character: Priestess, Cake, or Catherine.  Then there is Mr. Oh!

This is a fun read mixed with tragedy based on the real world of homelessness and untreated mental illness and how these social injustices can bring people to their knees.   I honestly did not expect such astonishing well-researched descriptions of microorganisms, or the practice of maintaining and storing them.  But it is also the story of survival and the will to be accepted and worthy with a purpose…. a Plan!  Don’t we all have a Plan at some point in our lives?  Cecil’s intense belief in his Plan helps to bring him full circle to a point of hope for his future.

Reviewed by Sue Hoyt Aiken, (Ethiopia 1962-64).  Berkeley was a quiet college town growing up with a traditional town and gown relationship.  Her mother and her friends found the best shops for wedding presents, clothes and gifts on Telegraph Ave one block from Sather Gate…until People’s Park happened! She returned from PC service to complete a teaching certificate at UC Berkeley (1964-65) and learned quickly about student unrest and its impact on campus life. The rest is history.  Berkeley has survived very well but not without its share of homeless, hungry and otherwise insecure lives.  Sue married, moved to Oakland where she raised a family.  Now she lives in nearby Santa Rosa.

 

 

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