cambridge book review

Ghosts in the Library

Jack Lehman



My name is Camembert. Yes, like the cheese. I hate it, just like my father hated our last name, Rock. He thought it conjured up a wrestler or, for older people, a football coach. So he named me Camembert. “With a first name like that, no one will ever bother about your last,” he told me proudly. I hate my first name, so go by Cam. I’m Cam Rock. Now let me get on to the library. It is a rainy afternoon and I have volunteered for an hour a week reshelving books. I do this because for years I have taken books down and just left them on the table when I didn’t check them out. Time for a little payback. An hour a week, anyway. Besides, you get first shot at DVDs that have been returned. I have an armload of books in reverse Dewey Decimal System order, when my way between the stacks is blocked by a strange man. He is small, with a lopsided face, black hair, black eyebrows, black mustache.

It is Edgar Allan Poe. A little drunk, he asks, “Do you have something on the supernatural?”

You’re reading a book. It is the most exciting part of the story when your phone rings. The call is boring. You speak politely; the relative drones on. You are between worlds. Finally you manage somehow to end the call. But now the book seems to have disappeared. You can’t believe that this has happened to you. You are searching frantically. Then you lift a pillow on your bed and there it is. Only this is more like a chess game when someone moves a pawn to uncover an attack.

“Where are we going, Annabel Lee,” the swaying figure taunts me, as we make our way down the dark aisle toward the creepy back of the library. “To our kingdom by the sea?”

Suddenly, everything is clear (at least to me). I am playing chess hustlers, ex-cons, drug dealers, Russian pimps, foul-mouthed gamblers, big jokers, crafty players who lure passersby into a game for fifty-cents or a dollar in Washington Square Park. And my gambit? “The Cask of Amontillado.” My objective is simple: to attack and destroy. I drop my armload of books to be restacked.

“It’s just a little farther to go,” I tell my unsteady friend. “But observe the white spider webs that gleam from this cavernous passage.”

He turns and looks at me with eyes of rheumy intoxication.

“How long have you had that cough?” I ask.

“Ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!”

The poor man finds it impossible to reply for many minutes.

“It is nothing,” he says at last.

“Come,” I reply, “we must go back, your health is important. You are respected, admired, beloved; you’re happy, as I should be. You are a man to be missed.”

“Enough,” he says, stumbling on. “This cough won’t kill me. I shall not die of a cough.”

“True, true,” I answer. “Drink.”

He pulls a pint bottle out of his back pocket and brings it to his lips. “I drink to the authors adorning these shelves.”

I, an unpublished author, remark, “See how the webs hang like moss upon a vault beneath the river and drops of water trickle along the walls.” I offer him my arm. He leans upon it heavily. We continue on. The remote end of the library is crypt-like. The walls are solid granite. The little man, finding his progress arrested by stone, stands bewildered. And then, in a drunken stupor, he slumps to the floor.

“Let me once more implore you to return,” I whisper to myself. “No, then I must leave you, but first…”

Here is when I begin taking books off the shelves and tier by tier build a wall. A wall that blocks him off from the rest of the world. Then I hear a low, moaning cry.

“The supernatural!” he screams.

When at last he stops, I resume the fifty-first, fifty-second and fifty-third levels of books. There is a succession of loud and shrill sounds bursting from the throat of the nearly-spent form. I hurry to complete the last tier of books. There comes a sad voice. The last words of Edgar Allan Poe.

“Ha! ha! ha!—we will have many a rich laugh over this at the palazzo—ha! ha! ha!—over wine—ha! ha! ha!”

“Over the Amontillado!” I say, then finish quickly. My heart grows sick. I force the last book in place. It is then I hear a woman’s voice and see her silhouette. Not Joan Behm, the librarian, but someone who looks and sounds like a librarian. Someone who might ask me how I’m coming reshelving books, but doesn’t. Instead Emily Dickinson says: “This is the Hour of Lead—Remembered, if outlived, As freezing persons recollect the Snow—First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go—”


John (Jack) Lehman is the founder and original publisher of Rosebud, as well as the editor and publisher of Lit Noir. A nationally published writer and poet with twenty-five years experience teaching creative writing, Lehman grew up in Chicago but now lives with his wife, Talia Schorr, and their many dogs and cats in Rockdale, the smallest incorporated village in Wisconsin.

June 20, 2013 Posted by | short story | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

cbr 18 / summer 2011


cbr 18 / summer 2011

Eleven Poems: An Audio Chapbook
Elli Hazit

J.D. Salinger: A Life
Kenneth Slawenski
Reviewed by Norma Gay Prewett

Birds of Wisconsin
B.J. Best
Reviewed by Amy Lou Jenkins

Lord of Misrule
Jaimy Gordon
Reviewed by Bob Wake

The Masturbator
A short story by John Lehman

A short story by Ruben Varda

From the Archives
Origins of FIS (Factory in a Suitcase)
An excerpt from Redshift: Greenstreem
Rod Clark


June 1, 2012 Posted by | biography, fiction, poetry | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

cbr 10 / fall 2003


cbr 10 / fall 2003

Ten Shorts
John Lehman

Lines on Lake Winnebago
Gary C. Busha
Reviewed by Karla Huston

Pencil Test
Karla Huston
Reviewed by Bob Wake

We Are Eternal: What the Spirits Tell Me About Death
Robert Brown
Reviewed by Dana De Zoysa


March 18, 2012 Posted by | poetry, spirituality | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

cbr 8 / fall 2002


cbr 8 / fall 2002

Palio del Viccio and the Festival of St. Nicholas
From Aunt Pig of Puglia: Ricordi de La Familia Ferri
Patricia Catto

Creature Comforts
William L.M.H. Clark
Reviewed by Karla Huston

Dogs Dream of Running
John Lehman
Reviewed by Karla Huston

Walnut from Waterloo
Sue De Kelver
Reviewed by Karla Huston

Walnut from Waterloo
Sue De Kelver
Reviewed by Kris Rued-Clark

Drunk as a Lord: Samurai Stories
Ryotaro Shiba
Translated by Eileen Kato
Reviewed by Dana De Zoysa

Dr. Titiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation
Olivia Judson
Reviewed by Dana De Zoysa

Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2
Steve Stockman
Reviewed by Nancy Bird


March 18, 2012 Posted by | fiction, music, non-fiction, poetry, spirituality | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

cbr 6 / fall 2001


cbr 6 / fall 2001

Five poems
R. Virgil Ellis

The Girl Who Washed Her Hands
John Lehman

The Idea and Story Without Words
Frans Masereel
Reviewed by Chris Lanier

La Globalización Imaginada
Néstor García Canclini
Reviewed by Nancy Bird


March 18, 2012 Posted by | fiction, illustration, non-fiction, poetry | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

cbr 4 / winter 1999-2000


cbr 4 / winter 1999-2000

Gonzago the Boy Wonder
From a work in progress
Cal Godot

For Harold Brodkey
Marcus Gray

Jan Levine Thal

Redshift: Greenstreem
An excerpt
Rod Clark

Waking from a Dream of Grief
A poem
David Steingass

Glass Cocoon
A poem
Christopher J. Jarmick

Eyes Wide Open: A Memoir of Stanley Kubrick
Frederic Raphael
Reviewed by Scott Von Doviak

Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana
Translated by Catherine Temerson
Reviewed by Bob Wake

At Home in the World
Joyce Maynard
Reviewed by Gay Davidson-Zielske

Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir and the American City
Nicholas Christopher
Reviewed by John Lehman

Katharine Whitcomb
Reviewed by Matt Welter

The Pocket Poetry Parenting Guide
Edited by Jennifer Bosveld
Reviewed by Matt Welter

Nobody’s Hell
Douglas Goetsch
Reviewed by Matt Welter

Natural Superior
Vol. 1, No. 1
Reviewed by Matt Welter


March 18, 2012 Posted by | biography, cinema, fiction, memoir, non-fiction, poetry, spirituality | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

cbr 3 / spring & summer 1999


car 3 / spring & summer 1999

Daughter! I Forbid Your Recurring Dream!
An excerpt
James Chapman

Esther Clibon

Five poems
From Shrine of the Tooth Fairy
John Lehman

An Award for Elia Kazan
Jan Levine Thal

Commie Dearest
Jan Levine Thal

Glass (pray the electrons back to sand)
James Chapman
Reviewed by Bob Wake

Marcus Gray
Reviewed by Bob Wake

Words for the Taking: The Hunt for a Plagiarist
Neal Bowers
Reviewed by Gay Davidson-Zielske

I Married a Communist
Philip Roth
Reviewed by Jeremy Harrell

The House of Doctor Dee
Peter Ackroyd
Reviewed by Steven E. Alford

A Decent Reed
Bruce Dethlefsen
Reviewed by Matt Welter

The Perfect Day
Andrea Potos
Reviewed by Matt Welter


March 18, 2012 Posted by | biography, cinema, fiction, memoir, non-fiction, poetry, spirituality | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

cbr 2 / spring & summer 1998


cbr 2 / spring & summer 1998

Sugar Road
Excerpt from a work in progress
Rod Clark

On Levertov
Kevin Ducey

From The Land, Always the Land
Mel Ellis

From The Tenting Cantos
R. Virgil Ellis

The Man Who Once Played Catch with Nellie Fox
John Manderino
Reviewed by Gay Davidson-Zielske

Omens of Millennium
Harold Bloom
Reviewed by Bob Wake

Tabloid Dreams
Robert Olen Butler
Reviewed by John Lehman

Just Above Water
Louis Jenkins
Reviewed by John Lehman

Handwriting in America: A Cultural History
Tamara Plakins Thornton
Reviewed by B.C. Brown

In the Deserts of This Earth
Uwe George
Translated from the German by Richard & Clara Winston
Reviewed by David Steingass


March 18, 2012 Posted by | biography, fiction, memoir, non-fiction, poetry, spirituality | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

cbr 1 / winter 1997-1998


cbr 1 / winter 1997-98

Three poems
Jim Stevens
From Earth Hunter

Two poems
César Vallejo
Translated by Mary Sarko

Greta’s Wail of GreatPlains Law
David Steingass
From GreatPlains: A Prairie Lovesong

Mitchum & Stewart
Jeffrey Corcoran
From Unconscious Cinema

Pereira Declares
Antonio Tabucchi
Reviewed by Mary Sarko

Infinite Jest
David Foster Wallace
Reviewed by Bob Wake

In the Shadows of Mountains
Edited by John E. Smelcer
Reviewed by Rod Clark

Signposts: New and Selected Poems
Frances May
Reviewed by David Steingass

In the Gathering of Silence
Levi Romero
Reviewed by Ken Hunt

Esperando a Loló
Ana Lydia Vega
Reviewed by Nancy Bird

In the Gardens of the North American Martyrs
Tobias Wolff
Reviewed by John Lehman

The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism
Edward S. Herman & Robert W. McChesney
Reviewed by Amitabh Pal

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
Rebecca Wells
Reviewed by Kate McGinnity

I Was Amelia Earhart
Jane Mendelsohn
Reviewed by Dori Knoff-Roselle


March 18, 2012 Posted by | cinema, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, spirituality | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Masturbator (cont’d)

What would she have said to Kevin if there had been some kind of closure to their marriage. No, that was impossible to imagine even now. But what if he had been a different man, not just a good provider, not just her mother’s idea of a suitable choice for Sylvia. What if he had been someone she loved. But why, if that were the case, would they have been breaking up. For the time being she couldn’t go there.

“I’m sorry,” Jerod said looking up at her, “you seem like a nice person. I didn’t mean anything. Really.”

She smiled a little.   

He sat back in the chair. She noticed her blouse from yesterday still hung over its arm.

“After our second child, my wife insisted I get a vasectomy. I didn’t want to, but she insisted. Said she wouldn’t ever have sex with me again unless I did. I understood that she didn’t want any more children and it wasn’t as if giving birth had been easy—both girls were born by Cesarean section—but she could have easily have been fixed, herself, during the second delivery. It was almost as if she wanted revenge. In fact, it was after I had the surgery, she told me she wanted a divorce.”   

Sylvia stared at him. What if closure wasn’t telling your husband anything but listening to what he had to say instead?

“I mean, if I had become impotent, that would have been all right, but to have it done to me seemed, somehow unreasonable. I felt I was giving up something. Going in, undressing, having someone apply a local anesthetic and then the doctor making cuts in my scrotum, tying off the seminal tubes …”

“Is that any worse than having a baby by a Cesarean operation?”

“No, of course not. But that wasn’t a planned thing, at least not the first time. We’d both gone through Lamaze training. Oh, I don’t know, after the vasectomy was done, it didn’t seem to matter. No, that’s not true. I want to start over. But can’t.”

“Why? Because of a vasectomy? Most women my age don’t want more children.”

“Oh, I know. I don’t mean that exactly, but …”

“So what do you want, besides what you asked for already, because that just is not going to happen.”    

“What I would like is to sit in this chair …”   


“And have you take off your clothes, as you would if you were going to shower.”

“And then …”

“And then, with you on that bed, naked, and me sitting in this chair, I want to masturbate.”    


“That’s it. I promise I won’t touch you. I won’t go near you. And afterwards I’ll get in my car and leave and you will never hear or see me again.”    



After a minute Sylvia pulled her tank top over her head, straightened her hair a bit and took off her bra. She untied her tennis shoes and after shaking them off, stood up to push her sweatpants and shorts to the floor. She kept her white socks on and hiked back up onto the bed.   

Then it was his turn. Sylvia watched as he unzipped his pants and pulled out his penis. It reminded her of a pink, blind mole coming out of its hole. There was a time when their back yard had been soft with mole tunnels just under the grass. The exterminator had shown them a picture of one. It had been taken at night with an infrared camera. The head and little mouth of the mole pointing up through a hole, like a penis. Like this penis.

The visitor began to tug on himself. He eyed the fur patch toward the bottom of Sylvia’s white torso. His right hand went faster and faster. Slowly she opened her legs.

Outside cement started to slide from the truck along a metal shaft toward the framed-off area on the ground.    

It rushed forth. Then was done.    


John (Jack) Lehman is the founder and original publisher of Rosebud Magazine, as well as the literary editor of Wisconsin People & Ideas. A nationally published writer and poet with twenty-five years experience teaching creative writing, Lehman grew up in Chicago but now lives with his wife, Talia Schorr, and their three dogs and multiple cats in Rockdale, the smallest incorporated village in Wisconsin. 

June 15, 2011 Posted by | fiction | , | Leave a comment