I felt my heart sag, thump onto his [Plesko’s] butt-stained carpet and linger in the doorway. But he’d warned me my words on a page would break me down then mend me, “or not.” My heart gashed so it might heal. Or at least form scabs. Encouraging me to write toward the abyss where I sensed Les had truly been. The least I could do was crawl toward the edge, stare down into it, inch forward, chapters building. -Continue-
In snapshot-like chapters that shift perspective, as well as mental letters from Margit “composed” after the revolution breaks out, we watch as the characters’ lives, already dreary to begin with, deteriorate. Sandor’s forgery lands Margit in a gulag, and as the revolution nears, a string of betrayals leads to injury, heartbreak, and death. …[O]ne ultimately comes away seduced by Plesko’s prose. Publishers Weekly
The writing world mourned last year’s passing of Plesko (The Last Bongo Sunset) with an outpouring of admiration for his courage on the page. Refusing to edit his fiction for marketability, the author fought a lifelong battle to see his stories published. Here, the reader will find a masterwork in language and imagery while struggling to piece together the chaotic world of 1956 Hungary. Set during the Hungarian Revolution, the narrative follows the lives of Sandor, Margrit, and Erszebet, who are ensnared in a love triangle, even as they rationalize their own behavior within the double helix of hope and despair promised by the revolution. The novel is written in fragmented chunks, mirroring the shattered lives of each character while creating a narrative whole that hints at resolution without absolution. VERDICT Bearing the weight of his literary career, Plesko’s long-awaited novel is a powerful meditation on his country’s history and the expansiveness of humanity. Though fans of straightforward historicals will be flummoxed, serious readers of literary fiction will rejoice.— Library Journal
At LA Review of Books, Paul Mandelbaum & Janet Fitch discuss No Stopping Train, War Writing and Les.Posted: December 1, 2014 by jamieschaffner in Uncategorized
“With care and enthusiasm, he (Les) braids paradox, like gold thread, through each gesture, every line of dialogue. Deceptively modest sentences carry far beyond their word count in thought and feeling.”
“The book offers pleasures in the most surprising moments, like the torture scene, which is a marvel of dramatic irony. In particular Sandor’s exchange with his interrogators over which hand they’re going to destroy. Reading it, I experienced something perversely akin to joy.”
“The anxiety of betrayal, a daily feature of life in the Eastern Bloc, stands out as one of the novel’s main concerns. Another is insecurity about love. His mother, fleeing the revolutionary turmoil of 1956, left him with her elderly parents for five years. Did he ever discuss with you how that formative event influenced his approach to those two central themes?”
“We didn’t sit down and talk about our personal psychology in that American fashion, where you tell the random person on a plane all your personal problems. He wasn’t a complainer and he was rather private. We talked about culture, we talked about books, and ideas, and odd moments of the day, but our psychological wounds weren’t topics of conversation; they were the furnace of our work. The yearning, the acceptance of disappointment, that fatalism, the love of beauty and tenderness and belief in — though not faith in — romance, this comes out in his attitude toward the world, which imbued everything he thought and did, everything he wrote.”
From Ann De Bruin
I grieved Les hard. It took me a long time to accept that the leaving was his choice, and there are times I still talk about him in the present tense, because it is the only way I can manage the conversation. Tonight Janet Fitch, David Francis, Samantha Dunn, Joshua John Miller, Julianne Cohen, and Mary Rakow gave Les back to us with their readings from his novel, and I felt at peace for the first time since Les passed away.Thanks to all for the labor of love that is No Stopping Train!!
From Mary Presby
Years ago, as I was churning out my own my book, I felt a bit discouraged, stuck. Les went to blackboard in class and wrote the title of my book on the blackboard. Below the title he wrote, “A novel.” and below that, my name. He gave me a look of approval and support. He inspired me, supported me, and believed in me. I loved him dearly. I have a recurring vision of Les approaching me and it’s cold and he needs a sweater. Why did I not see how cold he was and how sad he felt? Why?
From Jamie Schaffner
How could it possibly be good? How could I possibly get through the evening without weeping? Got that part out of way from the start, when I saw a directional sign posted on the UCLA campus– Les’s campus to me– a left arrow below ‘No Stopping Train.’ How could it possibly be true that No Stopping Train is here and Les is not, I thought? and ducked into an archway to wait out my tears. When I got home I picked up his novel, which I’d been avoiding since it arrived. To my surprise, I found I had a new way to access Les’s writing. I’d only ever heard his work as read by him or in my own head, so having just heard his colleagues read his jazz-like prose in their own voices, shaking with loss, anger and confusion, broke open a new lane of understanding. The beauty and pain of Les’s characters and the land in which they lived, Hungary post WWII, tore me up. I read two chapters and forced myself to put it down. I want to savor the words over the next few weeks, hear the rhythms and catch the many nuances. I don’t want it to ever end.