Booksmart – Reviews

Roll the Wheel: The Abundant Life and Wisdom of Mae Phillips
By Phyllis M. EagleTree, ForSight Books; 136 pgs., $24.95.

Phyllis EagleTree has no problem offering an ironclad guarantee with her new book “Roll the Wheel.” “If you read this book,” promises EagleTree, “you’ll have a better life. It’s a fact.”

And that might well be, since “Roll” isn’t the accumulated philosophies of the author, but is, as the subhead suggests, about the “The Abundant Life and Wisdom of Mae Phillips,” a remarkable woman EagleTree knew in the Appalachian Mountains of Harlan County, Ky. EagleTree had heard about Phillips and took a leave from a successful career as a commercial photographer in Louisville and Chicago to spend time with Phillips.

“What I wanted to do was find a person who had real wisdom, someone who could provide an inspiration for others in how to live our lives,” said EagleTree. “Roll” is a collection of Phillips’ thoughts, in a beautiful 136-page book illustrated with EagleTree’s photography. When Phillips died last year at the age of 93, EagleTree was encouraged to record her friend’s wisdom by Kentucky authors Wendell Berry and Gurney Norman.

Here, Phillips addresses the mechanics of life: “We’re like a time clock. We’ve got somebody that keeps the time, and if they don’t help us along, we won’t run. We’ll quit. That’s the truth.”

But on another day, she explains how to keep things going: “Miss Johnson went on vacation, and I gave her a $20 bill just to be giving it to her. Yeah. And when Matt was dead she brought flowers, and she brought money here. She brought money so if it was needed worser for food or something or other. God bless her. People needs to be good and treat each other right, and keep the wheel a turning …” —Bill Doolittle

Exit wounds
By Rutu Modan. Drawn & Quarterly; 172 pgs., $19.95.

In present day Tel-Aviv, Israel, taxi-driver Koby Franco is contacted by a female soldier named Numi. She suspects his father Gabriel, with whom she was having a romantic relationship, was involved in a recent suicide bomber attack at a bus station in Hadera. Franco grudgingly obliges after some prodding from Numi to investigate his father’s disappearance.

“Exit Wounds” is Rutu Modan’s first full-length graphic novel. Modan, the artist of the Israel Cultural Excellence Foundation in 2005, has drawn and written a story that encapsulates everyday life in modern-day Tel-Aviv, where terrorist attacks are frequent.

Modan, who teaches comics and illustrations at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, captures human interaction through the art of the comic strip panes by keeping conversations bouncing back and forth between characters. Franco’s phone conversations with his sister are drawn in such a way that the eye travels left and right with the speaker. Simultaneously, his aunt and uncle argue about soup in the background.

The novel underscores how parents can affect their children’s lives. Franco’s father is neglectful and unreliable; Numi’s mother, a former model, is condescending and critical. And so Franco sulks, Numi is insecure. The novel’s main plotlines are tangible — the chemistry between Franco and Numi, and the quasi-mundane attitude with which the people of Tel-Aviv treat the suicide attack. Having a thick skin is a must to live in this city, but raw emotion surfaces when characters let down their guards. —Claudia Olea