Donald N.S. Unger, MFA, PhD
Writer - Teacher - Editor
Formerly a lecturer in
the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies at MIT.
Have worked, as well, among other places, as a Visiting Professor at the University at Albany-SUNY, in the English department, and at the College of the Holy Cross, in both English and Gender Studies. I'm interested in changes in the representation of men, masculinity, and fatherhood in both language use and in popular culture--more or less during my lifetime (b. 1962, NYC).
I also dabble in environmental ranting, humor and something pretty close to pulp fiction.
Then there are political fulminations - one current favorite: the impact of various species of "The Drug War" on people (like me) in chronic pain: https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2015/02/03/chronic-pain-isn-crime/hTqwaGVgwX3YpDkXUJMsfI/story.html
My short fiction has been published in literary magazines in the US, Canada and Europe.
Among other places, my nonfiction work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Village Voice, and [email protected], and its affiliated sites.
I've done political and cultural commentary for the NPR affiliates in Amherst, Massachusetts and Albany, New York.
NYPD Homicide Detectives Rahim Percy and Bobby Sullivan
thought they’d seen it all; then they walked into a murder scene where “the
body” was a layer of pink ooze splattered on an apartment wall.
They quickly come into possession of a video that changes their question from “Who could have done this—and how?” to “What could have done this—and why?” As their investigation rapidly spins into a much larger, and more disturbing set of questions: They’re not always sure they want the answers.
The addition of Detective “Bug Boy” Harris and Medical Examiner Samantha “Sammy” Singh bumps their partnership to a quartet. When FBI agents Milhouse and Stein show up, the four of them are close to kidnapped. They find themselves in a Federal bunker, outside Atlanta, staffed by soldiers in insignia-less, black uniforms, led by a General in a blue, pin-striped, banker’s suit.
Can they figure out what’s happening? Can they figure out how to stop it? And—turns out: good thing they do, but—why do the French have their own constellation of GPS Satellites?
Percy and Sullivan need answers.
And they’re running out of time.
It is midnight: Memorial Day, 1933, in rural Vermont.
Nine-year-old Johnny Edes is out looking for nightcrawlers with his terrier
mix, Rocket, when he comes upon the burning wreckage of a Russian circus train.
Following Rocket, and a piteous crying sound, into the flames, Johnny finds a
baby elephant, by the side of her dead mother. Frantic, he drags the terrified
calf to safety, then brings her back to his family’s farm, and hides her in the
back barn. He lets his best friend PJ in on the secret but hides Miss Baby
Jumbo, as he names her, from the rest of his family—his parents, his
grandparents, his little sister Betty (Spud!)—for as long as he can. But
eventually, he knows, the truth is going to have to come out.
Johnny isn’t the only one, in Bramford, Vermont, or in the valley that surrounds it, hiding something: his father and grandfather have an illegal still as a sideline—that business abetted by the corrupt and jaded local tin horn, Constable Ernie Witcher; PJ’s father is an alcoholic, unable to support his family—and resistant to accepting Relief; Johnny’s, movie-obsessed and sexy, Aunt Veronica, a hostess in a hotel in nearby White River Junction, has reason to fear her (fourth) husband Fred’s periodic bouts of jealous rage; and Johnny’s mother—childhood dreams of escape to a more glamorous life faded and in tatters—is overwhelmed, taking care of everybody but herself. Turns out the new school teacher in Bramford’s one-room schoolhouse, Miss Mac(Intyre), has her own secrets, as well: With school out, she’s joined by a mysterious man from Boston—a Great War vet, originally from New York, a former part-owner of a speakeasy, now an accountant—who brings another nine-year-old with him: an orphaned African-American boy named Thad who will become Johnny and PJ’s blood brother. The first book in The Bramford Chronicles—which takes readers from the early 1930s to World War II—"Johnny & Baby Jumbo" introduces a complex and moving cast of characters who work to help each other survive the Great Depression, along with their own individual, overlapping, and intertwined trials and tribulations. For younger readers, "Johnny & Baby Jumbo" is important history, wrapped in a compelling story. For older readers, the book is a throwback to the time of their parents or grandparents: to the magic of Sawyer’s Crystal Bluing whitening a boiling cauldron of sheets; to the pungent scent of Fels-Naptha Soap, used to do everything from washing clothing, to getting out stains, to treating kids with poison ivy; to boys drawing patterns in the dirt to shoot marbles—while girls traced hopscotch grids in similar fashion. Sketching time and place in meticulous detail, the book offers readers—from nine to ninety—an empathetic lens through which they can come to better understand: poverty and resilience; love and violence; corruption and charity. It brings home the reality of what the 1930s were like, in rural Vermont and beyond, how women and children were treated, the racism and discrimination suffered by African-Americans, the plight of the Forgotten Men of the Great Depression, riding the rails.
Paraphrasing the British writer Doris Lessing, novelist,
poet, and short fiction writer Charles Baxter characterized some of the stories
in this volume as being imbued with “brokenhearted irony.” An awkward title, perhaps,
but the description fits. This expanded second edition includes four pieces not
in the first. The original sixteen stories, almost all previously published in
magazines in the US, Canada, and Europe, are broken down into three categories.
Filed under “Theoretical Infidelities”: In “Cloud Martin Has a Tattoo,” what
does a young high school teacher do with his rising obsession with one of his
students? In “Peaks & Valleys,” how do you handle the fact that one of your
best friends is the ex-lover (you hope the “ex” part is accurate!) of the woman
you want to marry?
In “Otolaryngology,” if your brief attraction to a woman on
a bus triggers you to make the “goonk” sound, like a salivating cartoon, and
swallow your wedding ring, what do you tell your wife? In section number two,
“Second Casualties”: In “Punch Like a Girl,” given that you’re the one who
taught her to stand up for herself, what do you say to your eleven-year-old
daughter when she sucker-punches another kid at school—especially when it’s clear
that he probably deserved it? “Testifying” asks, if you feel lulled into
complacency about the possibility of nuclear war, what can you do if you want
to break the silence? “Glide Path” tracks a man’s grief, his fiancé having been
killed in a plane crash—in the wake of Reagan firing the air traffic
The stories in “Flirting with Reality” largely pivot on various
degrees of magical realism. In Buenos Aires, with only “The Portfolio” to guide
him, a son grapples with how to take over the “business” of his dead father:
betting on political, economic, or seismological events in the distant future.
Another son helps his father realize that the only reason “Flying” isn’t
possible is because we aren’t sufficiently open to the idea. In “Please Pardon
This Interruption,” scuttlebutt in the faculty room is that the principal of
the middle school has been digitized; now what? And if your job is to be the
“white boy” for a corrupt, black, albino, televangelist, does that pay well?
Among the stories new to this edition: A gay couple muse about the lucrative nature of tapping the “Summer Rental WiFi” in the Fire Island home they rent to others; in “It’s . . . Nothing,” a man puzzles over what has happened to his relationship with his wife; and, in “Give Us the Figgy Pudding . . . And Nobody Gets Hurt,” a broadcast journalist on a bad satellite link desperately tries to understand what the crowd wants, during an increasingly tense, Tahrir Square-like, demonstration.
Fatherhood is evolving in America. Stay at home dads are becoming more commonplace; men are becoming more visible in domestic, caregiving activities. In Men Can, writer, teacher, and father Donald Unger uses his personal experiences, stories of real-life families, as well as representations of fathers in film, on television, and in advertising, to illuminate the role of men in the increasingly fluid domestic sphere.
In thoughtful interviews, Don Unger
tells the stories of a half dozen families—of varied ethnicities, geographical
locations, and philosophical orientations—in which fathers are either primary
or equally sharing parents, personalizing what is changing in how Americans
care for their children. These stories are complemented by a discussion of how
the language of parenting has evolved and how media representations of fathers
have shifted over several decades.
Men Can shows how real change can take place when families divide up domestic labor on a gender-neutral basis. The families whose stories he tells offer insights into the struggles of—and opportunities for—men caring for children. When it comes to taking up the responsibility of parenting, his argument, ultimately, is in favor of respecting personal choices and individual differences, crediting and supporting functional families, rather than trying to force every household into a one-size-fits-all mold.
The New Yorker is one of those, writerly, Holy Grail kind of
markets. When “ideas” blossom in the heads of we-the-mentally-ill (if I could
stop writing or find some other way to clear my head, I would), when we commit
them to paper or, more accurately—really for most of my life at this
point—put-fingers-to-keyboard it is one of the main targets: try The New Yorker
first; when you fail, go regional; if that fails, go local; after that it’s
just . . . some personal archive or other.
Which is what the thirty+ pieces here mostly are: personal archive, almost all of them rejected by The New Yorker’s “Shouts & Murmurs” column—although, at this point, about two thirds of them published online. The final, five-piece, section is comprised of work that was done when I was maintaining my Hydrocarbonaholics Anonymous blog (or fever dream). A more comprehensive explanation precedes those essays. Good stuff? Bad stuff? You be the judge.
What is a
I am; you are; Homo Petroleus is: addicted to fossil fuels.
Can we change? The clock is running.
If we’re going to save the world—from the ravages of climate
change? We have to save our cities; we have to make them sustainable, in every
meaning of that word—starting, I would argue, with . . . Waste & Energy
& Transport—an interwoven and interlocking tapestry of issues, a matter of
“Getting Right with WET.”
That sounds like Hysterical Greenie Preaching? Well .
. . stop reading right now; it only gets “worse.” Many countries may be somewhat
indifferent to, or paralyzed in the face of, climate change, perhaps because
they feel (and they may be right) that they “can’t afford to spend time and
money” on the issue. I don’t think there’s any country other than the US where
a sizable portion of the population and a sufficient-to-block-action percentage
of (pretty much exclusively Republican) politicians are sticking their fingers
in their ears and chanting “Nah, nah, nah, nah-nah! Can’t hear you!” as . . .
the waters rise—among other catastrophes.
What will or will not happen? In the
next century? The next year? Tomorrow? I’m not a climatologist; I don’t know.
But the accruing “facts on the ground” are something between disturbing and
terrifying. When Texas has three straight years of 500-year climate “events”?
That ought to not just garner attention but spark action. And here we wait. The
role of Texas, however, is something of a double-edged sword.
But then—surprise!—Texas is also the greatest producer of wind
energy in the US, by far. Second place goes to Iowa and—Go Big or Go
Home!—Texas produces more than twice the wind energy that Iowa does.
the technology. The technology is cost-competitive—particularly if you drop
federal subsidies for the hydrocarbon industries; a great deal of the work that
needs to be done would be a phenomenal (naturally occurring and market-based)
jobs program for many of the people who need it most. We need the will.
And . . . we’re running out of time.