Guilt follows the lineage of three families through the ages, from prehistoric times through World War II illustrating along the way the inherent flaws of being human, the quest for perfection and the compulsion to do evil. Revenge, murder and sexual exploitation abound in a world constantly on the brink of chaos amid the loves and passions of characters torn between self-interest and selfless devotion. Guilt resonates with insight into the human condition, the heights of self-sacrifice to the depths of depravity, and, above all, a relentless quest for the truth of human emotions. Vividly written, Guilt will take its rightful place among the classics of the twenty-first century.
Few novels have such breadth of scope and quality of detail. Pastore is a great author of the first magnitude. I think good books can be slotted, characterized, explained; great books often cannot. I believe Stephen R. Pastore's novel Guilt is a very great book. I believe it breathes new life into the historical fiction genre, the borrowing-a-character-from-the-deep-past phenomenon, the old I-shall-tell-you-a-story-through-letters tradition. I believe it honors the best of the imagination. I give it a hero's welcome. Clarity of vision, fine, meticulous pros, the unexpected historical detail, a life-sized protagonist caught inside an unimaginably huge history. Guilt shows the same seamless marriage of research and imagination. Pastore's version of the human condition is both harrowing and moving. Guilt is an altogether successful book, casting a spell that lasts much longer than the reading of it. --Times Literary Supplement. Spectacular. The next great American novel! --Ivor Thompson: The New York Times
A tour-de-force from one of the great new novelists on the American scene. --Marion Davis-Times of London
A novelist that ranks with Allende, Marquez and MacCarthy...so far above most contemporary fiction as to be in another category altogether. Pastore is a rare talent. --Joseph Perez-The Miami Herald
Critics describing a new novel will sometimes resort to a particularly seductive formula: "If Judith Krantz had written Ulysses . . ." or "Half Georgette Heyer, half H.P. Lovecraft," or "If you enjoyed A Dog of Flanders, you'll just purr over The Cat's Pajamas." This is a seductive formula because it's easy to use (too easy, most of the time) and because it can quickly convey something of the range and complexity of a new book without going into a lot of detail. But such shortcuts also remind us that novels, like most literature, build on earlier books as much as they do on life or on a writer's personal traumas. Indeed, one loose definition of modernism might be writing that is actually rewriting. Guilt provokes such thoughts because it is a long novel that will remind readers of a good many other novels. This isn't meant as criticism but as an indication of the story's richness and architectonic intricacy. Before everything else, Stephen R. Pastore's GUILT is a book about a sin and redemption and the culpability of generations. Try to imagine a blend of a Grand Guignol thriller, historical fiction, occasional farce, existential mystery and passionate love story; then double it. If that's too hard to do, let me put it another way: If you love A.S. Byatt's Possession, García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, the short stories of Borges, Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, Arturo Pérez-Reverte's The Club Dumas or Paul Auster's "New York" trilogy, not to mention Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame and William Hjortsberg's Falling Angel, then you will love GUILT. "I was raised among books," writes Daniel Sempere, "making invisible friends in pages that seemed cast from dust and whose smell I carry on my hands to this day." Young Marco is an orphan in a Catholic orphanage. Isabelle is a lovely young woman whose mother is "unhinged like an old screen door." The Duke becomes a biological warfare specialist experimenting on political prisoners. Julian Corona is the bastard son of a murderer who is the "hero" of this story. All of these characters meet in Mussolini's Italy. As the reader tries to figure out the links between modern Italian/ European history, two passionate and forbidden love affairs and an enigmatic lawyer, Stephen Pastore periodically lessens the tension of his dark melodrama by introducing humorous interludes or eccentric secondary characters. There is Nikolai the Czarist servant, Sonya, the loving prostitute, even an appearance of a mysterious preacher in the Middle Eastern desert who might be Jesus. "For the life of God, I hereby swear that I have never lain with an underage woman, and not for lack of inclination or opportunities. Bear in mind that what you see today is but a shadow of my former self, but there was a time when I cut as dashing a figure as they come. Yet even then, just to be on the safe side, or if I sensed that a girl might be overly flighty, I would not proceed without seeing some form of identification or, failing that, a written paternal authorization. One has to maintain certain moral standards." Pastore -- at least in the fine English of Thomas Hardy -- can also create a subtle metaphor: Describing a dying professor, he writes, "When we are born you know there is an after-birth we don't hear much about. The women, they know because they must deal with it, this sack of blood and water and other material we never want to think of because the baby is so beautiful and this other is quite horrid. The after-birth is the baby's opposite. Now listen to me and do not question. This is no discussion of a poem where there is no answer, only banter and good talk. In the after-birth is an eel. It slips off the table and into the drain below in the floor. Oh, I know you will say, `What if there is no drain?' I tell you, it finds one and it has the cunning to do it. As the baby grows, the eel grows as well and it feeds on what is left behind, not the feces or the physical refuse of our lives but our memories. That is why, dear friend, son, that we do not remember our birth or when we were very young. It is the hunger of the eel. It has eaten our memories. As we mature, it follows us always under the ground, in the water, for everywhere there is water beneath us even in the Sahara, that cursed, arid place; look deep enough and there is the water and in the water, the eel.
And so, in a sense, Julian does go for it, plunging deeper and deeper into the enigma of life and his accursed circumstances, and along the way risking the lives and happiness of all those he loves. It grows ever more apparent that much that has seemed random or mad or unlucky -- the encounter with his lover's lovers, the missing jewelry, the paradoxes posed by the Cardinal, sudden disappearances, the blighting of so many lives -- may be part of a larger insidious plan, that there are wheels within wheels. I'd like to say more about this superbly entertaining book but don't dare to hint any more about its plot twists. Suffice it to say that -- and here's yet another critical formula -- anyone who enjoys novels that are scary, erotic, touching, tragic and thrilling should rush right out to the nearest bookstore and pick up Guilt. Really, you should. Marilyn DeBouchette: The New Yorker
An Excerpt from Guilt
The forth volume was damp stained with the cardboard showing through where the leather had been worn or rubbed off. The spine was cracked and the book warped as if being carried in a back pocket for a long time. Julian opened it carefully and the first page had the phrase, “The Trench” on it. Underneath that this sentence in Cortez’s careful script: “I am no longer afraid of what tomorrow will bring for it arrived yesterday.” The next page, partially torn, said,
“I used to tell people that no matter how bad your life may seem now, no matter the troubles, stop and look down and below you, you will see the depths, for life can always get worse, worse even than death. I learned that I was wrong, for yesterday, I did look down and there where my feet stood, was the floor of hell.
“Two days ago there were four of us in the forward trench. No rain had fallen but water trickled steadily under the wooden boards of the inverted A-frame devised by the Brits to keep our feet dry. We were all with the Spanish Expeditionary Force, three privates including myself and my friend Jose, a corporal because he could speak better English than the rest of us. A slow wind was blowing from the Kraut lines about a hundred meters distant and the corpse crews had missed about a dozen fallen comrades in no man’s land in the night. One was still alive and making weak whimpering sounds that carried on the wind like swamp gas. The dead had stiffened, one with his arm still up in the air, a grenade unprimed in it. His helmet had fallen off or been shot off and held rain water, a small pond reflecting the blue sky in the muck, a porthole to a better world underground. The others were sprawled in different poses as they fell invisible to us behind the dust and corrugated metal of the trench. One of them I knew was a cook from Salamanca whose friend had been hit by shrapnel and was wounded and screaming like an infant being boiled alive. All our nerves were short-circuited and firing electric sparks into parts of our souls that were better left unknown. But cook went over the top to save his friend and the Kraut sniper had taken the left side of his skull out with a bullet. The shot was so well placed, cook stood for a moment as we watched, took a step forward, reached for his face and fell forward, the bottom of his boots facing us like two upside down exclamation points in a comic strip. I hated the Krauts, hated them madly for their cunning, their skill for war and their incessant craving for blood. I was mad with the hatred that comes from fear, abject fear that seeps up from the ground through your legs and puddles in your guts giving you the shits. It is no wonder men, good men, men who would face the bull in the corrida, will piss their pants when the bullets fly or the shrapnel sings on their shoulders. The fear has filled them to bursting and their bladders are squeezed. Of the twenty four of us that came together from Madrid, only four are left, the sound of our Spanish voices like a song of home to us in the quagmire of Limey and Frog and Kraut. God, I told Jose, must be fucking a Chinese whore on the other side of the world, for he cannot know that this is going on over here.
“Lupe opened a can of beans and was heating it on the small French stove. It was swill. But it was pheasant foie gras to us. Even fear gets hungry when it has finished eating your soul. We were huddled under a canvas sheet at a blind turn in the trench and quietly chowing down when we heard the shuffling of men crawling. Lupe signaled to be quiet. In a few moments, three Kraut soldiers dropped in the trench around the curve from us. Jose had been watching and he signaled with his hand to come toward him. I peaked around the edge of the steel corner and saw them; they could not have been older than sixteen. We picked up our guns and in a mad rush stormed them hoping for an easy capture and maybe a twenty-four hour pass as a reward. But even the young Krauts are cunning as snakes. They had a flame thrower with them. They had planned, I guessed, on annihilating fifty of our men with a squirt of oily petrol or whatever that shit was that incinerated everything it touched. But it was only us four. They saw us and opened fire with the flames.
“Lupe ignited like he was made of dry pine needles. He cooked so fast he didn’t have time to scream. Jose’s face got hit and he tried to put it out with his hands but they melted to his cheeks as his hair flared blue and his uniform smoldered. He screamed and fell squirming as if to touch the water that trickled just inches below the floor boards out-of-reach. Pablo was behind me and he tackled me to the ground as the flames spewed over us and passed us igniting the canvas. I aimed my rifle and hit the man that held the thrower in the chin, the bullet taking off his jaw and penetrating his neck. I could see his upper jaw with the bright teeth of a young man rocking back and forth, his tongue lolling on the hole in his neck which poured blood. He fell forward jamming the nozzle of the thrower in between two floor boards. One of the other two Krauts fired at us, but we were on the ground and made poor targets. One dropped his rifle and reached for the nozzle but my second bullet caught him in the shoulder and he fell backward into his friend who was trying to climb back over the trench wall. The harder he clawed at it, the more it caved in.
“We jumped up and charged. He raised his hands in surrender and the one I had shot pleaded for mercy. Pablo yelled “Silencio!” at them but they were blathering in their infernal Kraut tongue that reminded me of the sounds of a drunk vomiting in the gutter. Pablo turned to me and said these two Krauts might get us our twenty-four hour pass after all, they were spring chickens but better than nothing. As he smiled at me at his own joke, the Kraut on the floor drove a dagger up into Pablo’s gut, just above his crotch. Blood and urine poured out as Pablo gasped and fell backward, the bayonet still in the Kraut’s hand. I raised my rifle and brought the butt down on the sitting Kraut and smashed his brains out. I hit him ten more times than I needed to kill him. Pablo was groaning as the smoke from the bodies of Lupe and Jose shifted toward us in a wicked breeze that crept into the trench. I tied the surviving Kraut’s hands behind him with his own canvas belt and turned to Pablo. He muttered to me of his wife and young son, tears weakly filling his eyes and running over through the grime on his bluish face. I held the crucifix that was on a chain around his neck and imitated the ritual of last rites as well as I could remember from seeing it once or twice, back when, I couldn’t remember.
“Pablo said he loved me, but I knew he thought he was talking to his mother, his father, his wife or his son. I was the closest he would get to them now so I told him I loved him too, hoping the fear in his eyes made me look like them instead of me, a miserable wretch in this miserable place in the miserable war on this miserable planet. He died in my arms and as his life ebbed away I could feel it pass through me into the thinning smoke and up into the purple sky. With his life, my soul took flight, like Icarus, young Icarus, leaving the earth as I wished I could do, with bight, white-feathered wings fashioned by my father. I imagined I was over the trenches and looking down. I could see they were not trenches at all but the labyrinth of King Minos, the labyrinth that saw the hideous sacrifice of so many young men and women. I could see the maze stretch for miles under me in every direction twisting and turning upon itself in its diabolical perfection, a place from which no one returned, lost forever, lost in its demonic coils and at the center, there, there, I could see the Minotaur, head of a deformed bull and the body of a contorted giant scarred with the sins of his father, flesh of a virgin still hanging from his yellow teeth.
“I felt the bayonet in my hand and dove down out of the sky my glorious wings flashing, rushed to him driving the knife into the monster’s chest and twisting it with all my strength, screaming a curse at God and the beast I held beneath me. I pulled out the blade as he grunted his last obscenities. The black blood flowed out like oil from a well covering his body and filling the labyrinth at my feet. I cut open the monster’s chest and pulled out his heart and bit it, hot, almost still beating, my teeth digging into the muscle fleshiness and pulling away mouthfuls until I had finished, the salt smell of it making me dizzy.
“A bugle sounded in the distance and I was back in the trench, the sole survivor of the twenty-four Spaniards from Madrid. At my feet was the young German soldier, his chest agape and his heart gone.
“A British lieutenant and a contingent of men appeared, coming no doubt to the smoke. When they saw what I had done, they took me to the field hospital. In a month, the body that had my name arrived in Madrid and walked to my mother’s house. She held it and wept into its shoulder. She thought I was still alive and could not know that the young man in her arms was the shell of he who had left for glory on the western front and come back the king of the hollow men.”
Julian turned the rest of the pages but they were blank. Two other journals were on the shelf, but he could read no more. The desolation of Cortez’s spirit reached out to him like the proverbial hand from the grave and yet Julian thought there must be more to the story. He placed the journals in a stack on the floor where he sat, turned and picked up the small black lacquer box
1942: The Nazis have successfully landed in Mexico and have invaded the United States through Texas. The Japanese have conquered western Canada and have captured and occupied most of the West Coast from Seattle to the outskirts of Los Angeles. The Italians have launched a massive amphibious assault from Cuba and have taken control of Florida and the Southeast as far north as Atlanta. New York City and Washington D.C. are fortifying and preparing for the onslaught. American forces are stranded in Europe and Southeast Asia. The homeland is being defended neighborhood to neighborhood by women, the elderly and gay men, all ineligible for military service. The KKK and Right Wing radicals are supporting the invaders helping to establish concentration camps where Blacks and Jews are being transported all over the western U.S. Amid the carnage and brutality of an enemy seeking to destroy everything in its path, the American Spirit is put to its greatest test. Pastore weaves a tale that will not soon be forgotten as this highly imaginative story unfolds. It is an awe-inspiring parable of the true nature of the American people when put to their greatest test.
I was never much of a fan of what if novels although there have been quite a few over the years that were intriguing such as Robert Harris s, Fatherland. Stephen Pastore s book, Never on These Shores, has gone a long way toward changing my mind, however. The premise is that in 1942, Hitler has decided not to invade the Soviet Union and to focus entirely on Great Britain. Clearly, historians have long agreed that if Hitler had made any mistakes, this was the fatal one, at least for the Nazis. Pastore has German forces landing in Mexico and invading the U.S. through Texas, along with the Japanese coming in through Canada to conquer the West Coast and the Italians through Cuba into Florida. Now, if all this seems a bit far-fetched, it might be. But Pastore has you convinced within 20 pages or so that not only could it have happened, it would have happened just the way he says. I found myself unable to stop reading this book not because it is my job to read books, but because I simply could not help myself. There are a lot of characters and the action slingshots from city to city, state to state like a helicopter with a missing blade, bouncing all over the place and taking you with it. But somehow he never leaves the reader behind and it is Mr. Pastore s gift of being a good, perhaps a great, storyteller that keeps you hooked and most importantly caring about his characters. More important than this, he leaves you caring about the good ole USA, something in short supply these days. While it is true that the underdogs of American society, the elderly, women, blacks and gay folk are the heroes, Pastore has no agenda. He pleads no cause other than it is good to be an American and it might even be worth dying for it. I can t remember a recent book that made me care so much about my country. The book leaves you wanting more and I have it on some authority that there is more in the offing. This writer s talents seem abundantly evident and there is some speculation, I imagine, that will come out of this novel that Pastore is headed to fill the shoes of such writers as Herman Wouk and James Michener. I do not make such claims lightly. I state them more like a what if this is the next great novelist on the scene. Aren t I lucky that I read him when no one knew who he was. It is a rare treat, indeed, these days to be excited about a book. I have been so treated. --Losangelestimesbookreviews.com
A new maga-thriller is on the scene this summer and it promises to be a block-buster. Stephen Pastore's Never on These Shores is as good a summer book as anyone could want unless they want one longer and it seems this is only the beginning of an epic series of books by this relative newcomer. We searched internet records for the author and it turns out he is a bibliographer so, after some thoughtful analysis, it seems no wonder that the details of the world he creates in this book are so authentic. It is the best "what if" book I've ever read and I've read a bunch. The premise (an Axis invasion of the American homeland in 1942) is so compelling, we are at a loss to tell you why someone has not done it before. This book is one of those page-turners one should not take to the restroom unless you're planning on staying in there all day. And don't read before going to bed, because you'll be up all night. It is THAT good. Admittedly, there are a great many characters and sometimes I felt like I needed a scorecard to keep them all straight, but this book whizbangs all over the place and takes you for the ride of your life. I rarely pass a book on to other reviewers who ordinaily have their hands full, but this one is making the office rounds. It is not great literature, although sometimes you think Pastore verges on greatness, but it is a great read. More, please, Mr. Pastore. More! Washington Post
Winner of the ALDOUS HUXLEY PRIZE for Speculative Fiction, 2007.
An Excerpt from Never on These Shores
Adolf Hitler called a council of his general staff. The Fuhrer had successfully negotiated a treaty with Josef Stalin of the Soviet Union who gladly joined Hitler in dividing up hapless Poland.Great Britain has been bombed into near oblivion. Now, Hitler thought, was the time to take Soviet Russia and teach that Bolshevik barbarian a lesson.Hermann Goering, as ever the dutiful Luftwaffe lapdog, had assured Hitler that England would fall and with it, the British Empire.Hitler’s hatred of Stalin and Bolshevism and Goering’s promises overcame the Fuhrer’s qualms about opening a “second front.”General Irwin Rommel counseled otherwise. He warned Hitler about draining forces to fight Stalin, with England still capable of defending itself. The real prize, he said, was not the frozen lands of the Soviet, but the industrial giant in the west, the United States. Stalin could wait, Rommel said. Defeat Britain and the Americans would have no place to land in Europe. The Axis allies in the east, the Japanese, would sever the right arm of the United States by destroying the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii.With a full blown invasion of England, the Atlantic Fleet would attempt to support the English. When they launched from the United States, the U-Boats would strike and, thus, the left arm of the giant would be severed. On this day, the Fuhrer succumbed to the higher reason of Rommel.Within four months, Rommel’s plan played out as if he had had a crystal ball.With both fleets either destroyed or heavily damaged and two million American soldiers stranded in Southeast Asia and Scotland without lines of supply, the United States was helpless.
A centuries old theory that no foreign power could successfully land on American shores was still true. Anti-war advocates in the United States had emphasized that fact for decades, so much so that there was no production of war armaments undertaken; the American fleets were decades old and the air force consisted mainly of preserved WWI planes, hopelessly outdated. Even American rifles had not been improved upon since 1918. What had not been foreseen was a foreign power landing on the soft underbelly of North America: Mexico and Cuba.
So it came to pass that one million German troops landed in Mexico along with four thousand Panzers after a negotiated treaty that left the weak Mexican government in no position to argue. Another seven hundred fifty thousand Japanese landed in western Canada and five hundred thousand Italians landed in Cuba. With the collapse of Great Britain and France, Canada signed a treaty of surrender with the Axis and became known as Vichy Canada. Lightning quick strikes against American aircraft manufacturers from bases in Canada and from pro-Nazi underground forces within the United States irrevocably destroyed American capability to build sufficient war planes.The United States of America, the giant, helpless and fat, dormant and isolationist since the Great War, floated aimlessly on the twin oceans whose protection no longer existed. The sharks circled for the feast.