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Cybele, With Bluebonnets by Charles L.…

Cybele, With Bluebonnets

by Charles L. Harness

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Harness’ last novel is atypical and familiar, charming and enticing in its episodes, and memorable in its overarching story of a deep love that survives death.

Harness’ final novel is a masterpiece in that it skillfully weds his most characteristic theme, what George Zebrowski’s introduction calls “the denial of death and the power of hope”, to a plot that transforms the “dreams and what-might-have-beens” from Harness’ life to “artful alternate realities”.

The milestones of Harness’ early life are here. Birth in Colorado City, Texas in 1915, a move to Fort West (which seems to be Fort Worth in its proximity to Dallas), Texas; an early interest in chemistry; a brief foray into seminary at the behest of his mother; employment as a fingerprint technician in the red light district of Fort Worth; employment at the U. S. Bureau of Mines during World War II, and eventually becoming a patent attorney. Oddly enough, Harness makes no reference to the early death of his older brother which shows up in other novels.

There are asides on Texas history and chemistry – lots of chemistry since Harness was a trained chemist.

There are nods to Edgar Allan Poe and classical music.

There is a deep, passionate, erotic love ended too early and perhaps transmuted. This is, after all, a sort of Grail story.

"My first real contact with Cybele Wilson where I could daily undress her with adoring lascivious adolescent eyes, was in high school. She was my chemistry teacher.

"She was well named. In ancient Phrygian mythology Cybele was the Goddess of Nature. Miss Cybele Wilson was a very special teacher and a very beautiful woman. I was sixteen, nearly seventeen, and she was not yet twenty-four. Sure, I had a crush on her."

So Joe Barnes opens his account. The next 145 pages recount Barnes’ life from 10 to 30 and his relationship with Cybele. We will hear of Barnes’ mother; the Brothers of St. Joseph, an unorthodox order who guards what they claim is the Holy Grail in a Texas town; Diana Mulligan, madam of a brothel; Sandt, a derelict who hangs out in the brothel; a local minister; classmates and co-workers of Barnes. It’s one of those plots where characters wind through Barnes’ life, each guaranteed at least two appearances.

Harness fans will appreciate this as his most personal story.

Grail completists (in about 1984 I saw a bibliography of Grail stories – it was already thick then) will, of course, want to look at it.

Those looking for a short, moving love story or coming-of-age novel will also appreciate it. At such a short length, it will perhaps wet the appetite of Harness neophytes for the grandeur of his classic science fiction novel The Paradox Men. ( )
1 vote RandyStafford | Apr 12, 2016 |
This coming-of-age semi-memoir set in rural Texas during the Great Depression has echoes of similar books with tonier milieus. It could have been a hardscrabble blend of A Separate Peace, Main Street and Tea and Sympathy. Instead the death of the hero's mentor/lover transmutes it into a ghost story.

The narrator is a little too fond of showing off rather ordinary bits of scientific and engineering knowledge, but that habit fits his character as a skeptical misfit trapped in a narrow-minded backwater. In time, he escapes, launches a satisfying career and, in a sense, recovers his lost love. The fantasy elements, though vital, are subdued. A reader so inclined could rationalize them away. More central are the almost tangible evocations of bygone times and places, which one might not have expected from an author better known for super-science novels.

While the world may have too many elegiac reminiscences of how a boy became a man, Cybele, with Bluebonnets is among the better ones. ( )
  TomVeal | Jul 1, 2009 |
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