What If Your Neighbor Were a Retired Government Torturer? Irony and the Sublime in Geoff Nicholson’s “The Miranda”

Although Pirsig’s book wasn’t about espionage and torture, it explored values, masculinity, and culture, which are topics of Nicholson’s novel. There is a certain nonsense about such a calling to torture that only those blessed with this unnatural occurrence can find sensibility in, and most likely through much rationalization. He is a walker, much like a musician is a musician and a dancer is a dancer. The greater goal is 1,000 circuits. One thousand days. Joe is a victim. Walking 25 miles each day doesn’t allow time for personal preoccupations, and Joe hates grocery shopping. Coincidentally, Joe never leaves his backyard once he starts his long walk. Wait until you meet big Paul, small Paul, Darrell the Postman, the riff raff boys, Wendy Gershwin, and the eponymous Miranda. Each time a monk steps onto the path, he must complete that circuit and keep up with all his duties at the monastery. But what about the title? Philosophical walks. Such craftsmanship allows us to laugh. Joe isn’t troubled by big Paul’s nature, size, huge truck, or his guns. The monks do not have to walk every day, but there are time limits. In admiration, Darrell gives Joe a lacquered, hollow bamboo statue of the walking Buddha. Another thought Miranda referred to a biblical character or an elf in a Tolkien novel. Small Paul’s father, big Paul, isn’t much of a father figure and certainly not an intelligent educator. One friend said it must be a musical or a play. The novel begins with serendipity and silliness and segues into torture and PTSD. Vargas says Joe can become the “hands-on, benevolent, in-house torturer” preparing an agent for the inevitable day when he is captured. I didn’t flesh out such intriguing subplots as the riff raff boys, martial arts, the newspaper journalists, or the nosy neighbor who wants to film Joe’s walking as an art film. Among other topics, Joe and small Paul discuss heaven and hell, and the Bataan Death March. He finds no reasonable reason to refuse. Robert M. In addition to torture, the other mechanism that propels the plot is walking. Perhaps Joe is rationalizing the project by reminding visitors that great thinkers have managed long walks to pass the time. Stick with it. The Miranda is about how people break down, what causes us to break down, and we can manage after breaking down. Walks for the sake of walking. The experience is meant to instill empathy for the torture victims and an awareness of what the mind and body can and cannot endure. This is a snarky novel of mystery, intrigue, and espionage fleshed out along the spine of philosophy. Nicholson never makes light of these important questions, but he does poke and jab at those who create PTSD in others. The first goal is 100 circuits of the mountain. Nicholson’s quirky book is about defense mechanisms, healing systems, recovery, and survival. Dumb, malicious sarcasm is never funny. Pirsig’s 1974 book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values accomplished the same task while the narrator of that narrative traveled long distances on his motorcycle, which occasionally broke down. Joe is not a mean or rude neighbor, but he knows how to say no when a neighbor asks for a favor. Irony, sarcasm, cynicism, paradox, and satire activate laughter, but most would agree there must be something intelligent and witty about dark nonsense for us to muster a subdued laugh. After Joe quit his government torture job, he divorced his wife, Carole, for reasons that become apparent later in the novel; he moved to another neighborhood replete with an odd assortment of zany neighbors. Does our body want to move because our mind can’t stop moving? The philosophical questions and discussions throughout the narrative add an intelligent layer. You thought your neighbors were weird? OCTOBER 10, 2017
HAVE YOU EVER laughed at something you felt you probably shouldn’t laugh at? Joe says, “I would walk around the world, and I would do it without ever leaving my own yard.” Twenty-five miles each day. This strange and wonderful family is an assortment of odd characters you might find in a Tim Burton film. How do you write about torture and PTSD? Your laugh, nervous in nature, could be directed at the insane possibility of what you saw, heard, or read. Long walks. Asks us to laugh. You will have to amble through the story and see for yourself. ¤
Ramsey Mathews teaches poetry, composition, and literature at Florida State University. As a government employee, Joe is paid for the torture work meant to train agents. An uncanny, unnatural, or improbable occurrence might trigger your giggle box. I won’t specify what the title means. Nicholson’s protagonist walks. Some of my friends mentioned the Miranda Act. There must be an element of the sublime or elevated thought for irony to work its magic. Early in the novel, when Joe Johnson retires from his government job as a torturer, he decides to walk around the earth, 100 yards at a time, in a circle around the garden of his new house. Before he is hired by the government, Joe is a psychoanalyst to men who were tortured after their capture, while usually on government missions. The protagonist of The Miranda, Joe Johnson, is a former psychoanalyst turned United States government torturer who prepares agents for the possibility of capture. One mystery the monk story poses is: Will Joe travel the distance around the earth before the novel ends? Darrell brings up a Japanese Buddhist monk spiritual regimen called Kaihogyo. During his perambulations, Joe lists many noteworthy historical walkers to anyone who ventures near his backyard. Joe says about his own father, whom he accompanied on long walks, that “men are made one way or another regardless of what their fathers do for and to them.” Together, small Paul and Joe occasionally saunter around the backyard. He’s a macho guy, or at least he performs all the stereotypical requirements to appear a macho guy. Even if no one is watching. Darrell, the Buddha statute, and small Paul arrive at a convoluted conclusion. That’s the mystery nature of the novel and one of the driving plot tensions. One neighbor who asks favor after favor is Renée, small Paul’s mother and big Paul’s wife. What I will reveal is that Miranda is a character in the novel who encourages Joe Johnson to hire her as his personal assistant. Joe speculates, “I wonder if Aristotle got along with his neighbors.” However, when small Paul is bullied at school, Renée decides to homeschool the boy and asks Joe for help. Joe walks. The monks who enlist must walk the 25 miles around the base of Mount Hiei. The back-and-forth timeline of the novel, between the present retired Joe and the past torturer Joe, helps alleviate some of this tension. Joe is confident in his own ability to handle himself and even embraces and rewrites one masculinity stereotype involving big Paul: “Sometimes, a man who owns a big truck and a big gun may be compensating for some penile inadequacy, but some men have big guns, big trucks, and a big penis.”
Buddhism is a thread that runs throughout, especially after the appearance of Darrell the Postman. Pirsig’s narrator also broke down. Darrell hopes that Joe walks to attain enlightenment. Others thought of a ship, perhaps from the 18th or 19th century. These notable wanderers include Aristotle, William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Carl Jung, Captain Barclay, and Albert Speer, who Joe does not regard as a role model. This is where he begins his long walk. Small Paul’s garden lessons are random, but Joe doesn’t mind. Joe believes that “[a]t the risk of being prescriptive, I’d say that a man cannot — or at least should not — live a life based on regrets and resentment.” Joe is literally called to the job by Christine Vargas, the leader of The Team, after Joe successfully psychoanalyzes and provides comfort for several former agents, even though Joe doesn’t know they are agents. Joe says to the reader, “I don’t claim to be any kind of philosopher, but I do sometimes think about the ‘big questions’ as I walked: god and death, free will and predestination, war and peace, crime and punishment, occasionally about love and sex.” Joe is not a prisoner like Speer, in the sense that he is free to come and go from his backyard, but the reader can decide if Joe is a prisoner of the psychological and philosophical consequences of his previous work as a hired government torturer. There are no women tortured in the novel. His poetry has appeared in   Boaat Journal,   San Pedro River Review, and   Sagebrush Review. Joe knows that both his psychoanalytic patients and the victims of his torture methods might reappear at some time in the future. Geoff Nicholson’s novel fits in this category. Joe even has sympathy for the bullied boy, from a therapist’s point of view, and he determines that walking and talking might be good for the pudgy kid. In his practice as a psychoanalyst, Joe helps these (literally) tortured men discover some small distinction between happy and unhappy and to find the pleasures in the small and quotidian bits of life. Begs us to laugh. Is irony and dark humor a cure or a way to lessen the effects of PTSD? During his own indoctrination, Joe underwent torture at the hands of another government employee. There is an obsessive-compulsive nature to this endeavor, but whether the monks walk to rid themselves of anxiety or to experience enlightenment is a question for another book. Would a reasonable person consider that reasonable work for a reasonable wage? Big Paul is a security guard at a mall. When Joe assures Darrell that enlightenment is not his goal, that he is walking simply to be walking, Darrell continues to write onto Joe’s strides his own Buddhist inclinations. I didn’t see what was coming. Both novels are about movement, our thoughts during movement, our intentions to engage in movement, and whether movement is more productive than sitting zazen, if such a question is proper. When Speer, Hitler’s architect was imprisoned after the war, he decided to walk the distance to Berlin in the prison yard. Can you be silly when writing about such subjects? Darrell says, “If you’re doing it absolutely right, if you’re doing it the Buddha’s way, then both of these things — walking and the awareness of walking — arise and disappear in the very same instant.” Joe is not sure that Darrell’s logic is correct, but he allows that there might be some truth in the philosophy. Joe refuses most of Renée’s requests. I like a puzzle, and the mystery nature of this novel is a good puzzle that comes together by the story’s end. Permits us to laugh. Much of the plot of The Miranda appears unrelated and non sequitur. In this story, Joe isn’t the anxious type, nor does he seek nirvana. Joe is a survivor. You’ll have to discover that yourself. Mindful walks. Educational walks. Joe, through a series of events, realizes he is called to the occupation of torturer in the same manner a man is called to the priesthood or to writing. Contemplative walks. During the novel, the mystery behind the title’s “the” becomes apparent. Pirsig’s narrator rode a motorcycle.