||December 23, 2008
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Gint Aras’ writing is infused with a rare sensitivity for the thousands of seemingly trivial things that give meaning to life. He invites us to laugh at his hero, then sneaks him into our hearts. -Dan Vyleta, author of Pavel & I
Finding the Moon in Sugar was named a finalist for the 2009 Eric Hofer award!
In this tragicomedy, Gint Aras’ hapless and marijuana-dazed narrator, Andrew Nowak, is seduced by a bombshell internet bride. The mysterious and wealthy Audra soon consumes the twenty year-old boy’s imagination, a welcome distraction from his needy mother and sister. Wild and hilarious adventures await Andy in Lithuania when he sells his possessions to follow Audra abroad. But he soon finds himself trapped penniless in her world of illness, regret and sex. Stumbling backwards into a romance he never sees coming, Andy must deal with Audra’s narcissism and grapple to understand her, a struggle that just might destroy him.
Finding the Moon in Sugar
Finding the Moon in Sugar
Infinity Publishing (2009)
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (3/09)
Self-published books tend to be sloppy and self-indulgent affairs. Most of them fall into the category of “I am a man, so I need to write a book before I die” category, and very seldom have I found an exception to that rule. Even when the story is not lousy, the writing tends to be; and I have to admit my expectations for self-published books run quite low. Luckily, there are some exceptions – and “Finding the Moon in Sugar” by Gint Aras is definitely one of those.
The story of Andy “Nate” Nowak, a perennial loser kid from Berwick, IL, takes the unsuspecting reader on a wild, whirlwind ride through drug dealing, drug taking, brief period of homelessness, an affair with a mentally incredibly unstable woman, absinthe-drinking buddies, opera-singing lovelies and more, and it moves seamlessly from the bland Berwyn, IL to the hard-to-believe, yet very real world of Vilnius, Lithuania – and then back again to the good old USA, to Bloomington, Indiana. While the main character, Andy, is incredibly well fleshed out, some of the other characters, particularly Andy’s close family, remain a bit more of a mystery and at times I wished for more understanding of their motivation. Andy himself is a young man who seems to be stuck on making the wrong decisions, and in many cases, simply drifting with the flow and not making a decision at all. While at first I found it really hard to connect with that – and with Andy’s drug and alcohol permeated world in general – I have to admit that Andy really grew on me, and by the last third of the book I was holding my breath, hoping for a happy ending for him. The climax, which is rather shocking and most unexpected, is not the ending of the book; actually, I do not think the book has a real ending. If this means that there is a sequel coming, I’ll be delighted.
What sets this book truly apart is the sheer brilliance of writing and an unbelievable, almost eerie knack for language. What the author manages to convey about the characters by his choice of words that they are using is simply amazing – from the cadence of sentences in mixed Lithuanian or Russian to the word choices an undereducated young American uses (The United Soviet Society Republic or maybe Checkoslavakia, anybody??? Or if those two escape you, try making love with a preservative…), Aras’ language delighted me on every page. I was laughing, I was chuckling and now and then I had to stop reading to wipe away some tears. Not all of those were from laughing so hard either… In spite of being wonderfully narrow in many ways. Andy will astonish you with some deep truths, among which my favorite is probably his realization of a difference between a girlfriend and a wife. No, I will not quote it here – this is just another very good reason to go and treat your self by buying “Finding the Moon in Sugar.” Another utterly brilliant part is the one where Andy, freshly back to the USA, looks at his homeland anew and sees it so differently. Eye-opening, to say the least…
Do not get scared away by occasional crude language and some rather graphic scenes; “Finding the Moon in Sugar” by Gint Aras is an amazing, refreshing and utterly brilliant book.
Finding the Moon in Sugar
Title: Finding the Moon in Sugar
Author: Gint Aras
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner
The Blurb: In this tragicomedy, Gint Aras’ hapless and marijuana-dazed narrator, Andrew Nowak, is seduced by a bombshell internet bride. The mysterious and wealthy Audra soon consumes the twenty year-old boy’s imagination, a welcome distraction from his needy mother and sister. Wild and hilarious adventures await Andy in Lithuania when he sells his possessions to follow Audra abroad. But he soon finds himself trapped penniless in her world of illness, regret and sex. Stumbling backwards into a romance he never sees coming, Andy must deal with Audra’s narcissism and grapple to understand her, a struggle that just might destroy him.
Andy, Andy, Andy ... yes, Andy is hapless, but the story is far from the “Gen Y” delusional drug addled male lit we are seeing so much of these days. This story is deeply textured, sentimental, tragic, and hilarious.
Andrew Nowak is an all-American reject: undereducated, a bit of a slacker, the product of a dysfunctional family, and self-proclaimed dirtbag. Andy isn’t even good at being a drug dealer. In his own words: He can’t even sell shit people want.
As our story begins, Andy is waiting in a local Laundromat for a client when a very aggressive woman approaches him. This woman turns out to be the Lithuanian Internet bride of said client. She promptly offers Andy one thousand dollars to service her -- orally. A hot woman, sex, and a thousand dollars, needless to say, Andy goes home with her. As the story progresses, we get an insider view into Andy’s lost and lonely heart and soul. Andy definitely has the Toa of Pooh. While Andy might be clumsy and accident prone, he is very much self-aware and very aware of the world around him. His simple-mindedness is that of innocence not arrogant stupidity, and that makes Andy very, very charming, much like the stray dog he befriends when he reaches Lithuania. Yes, Andy sells everything, buys a plane ticket, and chases Audra, the Lithuanian Internet Bride, to her homeland. At this point, the story veers off into the predictable “stranger in a strange land” plot device. We have a lot of wandering aimlessly, we have the wizard of Oz cast of characters, and we have dive bars, discothèques, and drug parties, but in reality, this story isn’t about the cliché plotline. It’s really a study in desperation and co-dependence. Audra is mentally ill, and as it manifests itself, we don’t get a medical diagnosis or a laundry list of symptoms, we get to feel its effects very deeply through Andy. His simplistic, colourful, and almost childlike view of the world allows the emotion to stay raw and uncluttered. There are no justifications, no analysis, just Andy’s honesty. When Andy finds a picture Audra had drawn in his private journal, I got the chills. Actually, the book was full of insightful thrills, chills, a little romance, and enough twists and turns to keep the story entertaining from the first page to the last, which, by the way, is one of the most poignant parts to the story -- almost an Aesop’s Fable ending, if you will.
I got out my notebook to write down thoughts I was havin’ […]. Cauze I would think sometimes if I forget then maybe something didn’t happen. If you can’t remember clean how stuff happens, what’s the point of it happening?
Audra put love, a real important word where you can’t throw it around like wet pants, especially if you’re an English teacher and they make you study all the most hardcore words they got.
Inside some stairs was a huge Jesus, like three feet tall hanging on a cross. The statue got its legs rubbed for maybe two hundred years, so them feet didn’t even have no toes, all of them totally worn off.
Some of the stuff she (Audra) wanted is only supposed to be on the internet, like with a blindfold or straps.
That one real heavy suitcase […] was full of notebooks. Audra wrote English a lot. She drew real good, like professional, though lots of them drawings were perverted stuff or painful things...somebody cuttin’ a girl’s eye with a razor.
I brung my notebook and took it out of my backpack. And in there I seen a big surprise. Audra drew a picture. It was a girl peekin’ around a corner…only one eye and cheek and half a mouth was showin’. That girl looked kinda sneaky, like she was runnin’ away from somebody chasin’ her, though also she looked real curious. Underneath the picture Audra wrote, If you want to leave just tell me. I’ll get by on my own. I got this crazy buzz all over my body, totally like I got haunted. She let me know she read the whole notebook cause she underlined stuff I wrote on each page […]. Holy crap, it made me feel real ashamed. But also I got paranoid like somebody’s watchin’ me…someone spyin’ on me with binoculars.
A real thing is like blood in your mouth. Like you die and everything goes away with some blood down your face. You can taste that blood in your mouth, Drew.
Yes, the narrative is written in dialect. Andy is undereducated and his language skills are lacking. That, mixed with the slanguage, made me dizzy. I had to forcefully put away the formal grammar-girl in me in order to read this story. I don’t normally like dialect, but I am not opposed to it if done properly. Hell, I read Trainspotting and Naked Lunch, and in this case, Mr. Aras kept true to his character, which is all I ask for: authenticity. However, I didn’t like being called “dude” every five minutes; that got stale quickly. As far as the aesthetics, the cover art and title are spot on, beautifully done. I giggled a bit at the title because I know a few grandmas who did the same thing with their sugar bowls. The interior layout is above average: I noticed only one minor formatting issue, one most people won’t notice at all, and my only pet peeve about the writing itself, and this is minor, was with the reference dropping. We can assume that this book is going to appeal mainly to twenty and thirty something men of the male angst Gen X and Y variety. Yes, they would probably get the references, but I feel that reference dropping limits readership and also dates a story. Not to mention that if the reader doesn’t “get” the reference, they instantly disconnect. That is not a good thing. When a reader disconnects, you’ve lost them. This book isn’t, in my opinion, an intense social satire like American Psycho, which spoke to a very specific time period in American Cultural History. No, this is not that sort of book. This is also not one of those: Hey dude, I went here and did that, smoked this and fucked that ... and then I did it all again. No, it’s definitely not that sort of story either. Thank goodness. This book is more of a psychological character study, a philosophical issue story if you will, and stripping away the irrelevant references would allow for a broader appeal that could span many generations and cultures.
Overall, I loved it. The story flows smoothly, the plotline is flawless, and the imagery is restrained and innocent in its beauty. The prose is tactile and at times even poetic. The main characters are painfully tragic, and so we can laugh, cry, be horrified and be mortally wounded all at the same time. Shakespeare would be proud. This goes in my top picks for the year so far. This is definitely my kind of literature. Those who like tragic black comedy will adore this book. Those who want psychological realism and those who want to look a little deeper into the psyche of deviant and damaged characters will love its masterful subtlety. Bravo! I can’t wait to read more from this author.
Book Review: Finding the Moon in Sugar by Gint Aras
Article Author: Tim Gebhart for Blogcritics.org
Tim Gebhart lives in Sioux Falls, SD, where he practices law in order to provide shelter for his family, his dogs, and his books. His blog de guerre is A Progressive on the Prairie.
A self-published novel about a good-natured stoner is a phrase that is not necessarily a good omen. When the story takes place in large part in Lithuania, a country appearing in a novel that won the National Book Award a few years back, you might wonder what you're in for. Yet while Gint Aras self-published, this tale of a Chicago-area stoner who heads off to Lithuania in search of a gorgeous woman he met in a laundromat rises above the level of many so-called vanity press print-on-demand novels.
Andrew Nowak tells his story in the first person using a vernacular that reflects his upbringing and education. Andy doesn't quite have a dark cloud continually over his head but his life also isn't one scripted by Horatio Alger. Living in Berwyn, Illinois ("If you lost your beer gut, probably someone in Berwyn picked it up and never even noticed"), Andy's father ran off, his mother is overbearing and a bit of an alcoholic, his sister's become a meth addict and his grandmother spends her time sitting in a chair in the home she shares with Andy's mother watching TV and sipping hot tea with a thimble of Scotch.
Twenty-year-old Andy has escaped to his own apartment but, to make ends meet, he sells some pot here and there. When he goes to meet a customer at an area laundromat, he runs into Audra, a beautiful older blonde who offers him $1,000 to do her a favor - which turns out to be going to her home and having sex. She's a Lithuanian married to an American man, who Andy discovers just happens to be the customer Andy was supposed to meet.
Audra later looks Andy up and they begin spending time together. Andy becomes infatuated with her but, with no forewarning, she suddenly heads back to Lithuania. Andy can't get his mind off Audra and it doesn't take him long to sell everything he owns and buy a one way ticket to Vilnius, Lithuania. Without realizing it, Andy has embarked on a journey of self-discovery. Within days of arrival, Andy is basically homeless and realizes that "Vilnius ain't no Lord of the Rings no more... now it's nasty gray and crumbled." Yet he meets and makes friends with Lithuanians his own age in a bar, eventually meets up with Audra, slowly picks up a smidgen of Lithuanian and spends much of his time drinking and using pot or harder drugs, basically dependent on the kindness of strangers who have become his friends.
At times, Finding the Moon in Sugar tends to wander a bit and there is explicit sexuality that may put off some readers. Generally, though, Andy is an affable, undereducated character adrift in the world but who is rapidly discovering an entirely new and different one. Andy's vernacular and humorous observations of even seemingly routine things makes for an enjoyable read. Yet the comic aspect balances an ultimately sad, if not tragic, tale.
Audra's return to her home seems to accelerate a spiraling psychological deterioration. And about the time Andy realizes he must return home he falls in love again. When he does depart, his girlfriend ultimately follows him and they settle in Indiana, where Andy strives hard to take up a more normal life. At least one of the novel's dénouements, involving Andy's grandfather and his death in the Vietnam War, seems a bit strained and almost an unnecessary digression. The ultimate resolution to one of the core emotional conflicts is not surprising but is handled quite well.
Like many self-published books, Finding the Moon in Sugar does not rise to the level of those handled by larger publishing houses and their editors. Still, Aras exceeds the expectations the story outline might create, providing a readable and enjoyable look at a search for meaning in life by someone who doesn't quite realize he's searching.
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