THIS by Chavisa Woods Last night you wrote me a letter a smile big as a swollen peach gushing on your face while your mother intently told you everything about the people she hates Last week you phone fucked me on my childhood bed while my Southern Baptists slept resounded in the next room (Everything Southern Baptists do is resounding; not like my pitiful whispering.) In the morning I woke to a crow on a tree the imagination of you shaking in my belly and the news that my mother’s brother had swallowed the entire morphine clinic to the point of absolute death it made me feel like I was being eaten by the mouth of a grey sun, of a sun in an overcast sky but hotter than I’ve ever thought to beg for Later, sitting next to a strummed guitar on a rotting porch watching my brother toss … chop! chop! read more!
THE IMMACULATE SADNESS OF PETER J. BEECH by Dan Micklethwaite He misses it immediately, the soft glass of that screen. The sinking, only slightly, of his finger against it. There is a pining at work within him for that formed plastic mass. The minor desert of his palm looks back at him falsely without it; even more arid, now that the mirage is gone. The ways in which the sunlight, the tube-light, the streetlight had slipped across it, fussing with the things he was wanting to know—they’d nagged him as bad as the pleas of a lover, but he’d still opt for that above the warmth of that light on his bare open skin. So used to it. So accustomed. So comfortable, knowing it was with him, on him. In his pocket, his jacket, his hand. So used to bringing it home and charging it before he went to sleep each … chop! chop! read more!
SOMEWHERE, A HONEYBEE by Andrew Browers I kind of really love bees. While most kids were taught, through hilarious example by terrified adults, the various dance-like moves that help one evade these fuzzy little stingers, I learned to watch them buzz on by as they made their eponymous line toward a flower or fellow worker. I liked to watch them nestle into our rosebush to get at nectar and pollen. I liked it when they’d land on my shoe as I sprawled on my back to cloud gaze or read or while away my summertime days. I felt, I don’t know, like it was a little blessing. Bees be with you. And also with you. It might be an invention of mine, but I seem to remember there being way more bees around in those days. You could hardly walk from your door to the door of your best friend … chop! chop! read more!
LEAP YEAR BABY by Desiree Wilkins 1976: I spend my days on the couch with grandma while mom’s at work at the diner. Grandma eats chocolate bon-bons and watches soap operas. We play outside and she smokes a cigarette while I commence my plan to rid the world of bees. It’s quite simple: all I have to do is uproot every flower in the ground and the bees will not survive. There are many flowers and I have been unsuccessful in recruiting other revolutionaries. 1980: Mom is gone to California, leaving me with Grandma. She sends a postcard with no return address. There is a picture of the Hollywood sign. Grandma yells at her a lot over the phone. Mom hangs up. Grandma says mom flipped her lid. I put the postcard on the fridge. I want to visit but Grandma says there’s nothing out there for us. I have … chop! chop! read more!
THE LONG GREEN STRETCH, THE TALL TREES, THE CLOUDS SHAPED LIKE STARS by Benjamin Woodard I’m not supposed to get calls after nine, but when the phone rang, my old man didn’t stop me from answering. He’d already removed his leg for the night—it stood upright on the cushion next to him—so he just stayed there and stared me down with these death eyes, these ass-kicker eyes, as if I’d planned the whole thing to interrupt his lame TV show, and he grunted while I walked over to the cordless and slunk into the kitchen. It was Maura. She said, “God, I don’t even want to talk to you. I can smell your stink through the phone.” And, yes, I’m kind of dumb enough that I did a pit check. She heard me sniffing and made one of those disappointed tsk sounds on her end, like she was picking up … chop! chop! read more!
ALL THIS by Stephanie Papa I am on my knees. Fur collects In the room with the damp dog bed Peco the black cat Figure eights around me Ants crawl in the wooden kitchen below The smell of pesto and pine I am a long way up He planted the cherry tree in my garden Intensifying this place To again and again begin He built this house of light. Stephanie Papa is a writer and teacher living in Paris, France. She is originally from Pennsylvania. Her work has been published in the Prose Poetry Project and 5×5 magazine, Rumpus, and Cerise Press. She is a Poetry Editor for Her Royal Majesty magazine. She also organizes the Writers on Writing program, a series of readings with international writers in Paris. Image credit: Sonja Guina on Unsplashchop! chop! read more!
LINEY’S SENSE OF IT by Ashlee Paxton-Turner It was the not-so-early morning, coming on about nine o’clock, in the early spring or end of winter, whichever one prefers, and Dr. Naismith’s game the Saturday prior had just made the town feel alive and made its boys feel like they could be men going somewhere, elsewhere. Dismissing the papers on the desk, it was decided that today Sherwood Anderson was more important. There is no sense in trying to explain just what that means, but it is something one can’t help feeling, something one might try to explain nevertheless. That Saturday, like all of the other Saturdays of the season, had brought the town out of its kitchens, living rooms, and Main Street offices. Of course, that Saturday’s game required a drive to a dusty gymnasium in a slightly bigger town. The hour’s drive to watch the boys play Dr. Naismith’s … chop! chop! read more!
TWO POEMS by Nicole Greaves Sack of Scarabs The museum’s glass box was hidden from light in between the hopeful columns, the scarabs swarming in a pool of cloth. Somehow they made the presence of my mother’s body more familiar, in the way her shadow made it more foreign. It takes a distraction to move us further from ourselves, at the same time, closer; it’s the sickness of the mirror, how it moves from reflection to the well to reflection again. My mother and I held hands as we walked, lest one of us be lost to the museum—and part of us is still there —the thin wrap of my wrist against hers like plagiarism, the rooms cool around us like wet paint. When she said my name it rose like a balloon in a circus tent. Those scarabs pressing against glass like my children’s faces to animal stunts, … chop! chop! read more!
THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET by Morgan Gilbreath My artwork is a product of the ground beneath my feet. I do not own a car, so my experience of a place is created entirely through biking, walking, and the occasional use of public transportation. Because of this, I have a very intimate relationship with sidewalks, as well as the buildings and streets with which they are connected. I am endlessly curious about the things that people discard onto the streets, a no-man’s-land of both public and private space in which no one is held accountable, allowing for a strange sort of freedom. This concrete space between roads and homes has proven to be one of the greatest influences in my work. In the morning I go to buy milk from the bodega across the street, where the shopkeeper’s knowledge of English is limited to “hello” and “thank you.” I like … chop! chop! read more!
AMERICA by Michael Nagel The world was churning itself clean. The poisons in the rivers were becoming poisons in the seas. The poisons in the seas were basically harmless, diluted. Rain was moving in cycles, making laps between the ground and the sky. Runoff was still an issue, would always be an issue, sure, but the world was mostly one big compost pile, turning heaps of garbage into highly oxygenated soil. Nothing was unnatural. Beavers make dams and humans make cities. Everyone was close by. In America, minimum wage was $7.25 and a gallon of gas cost $3.34. There was something wrong with our soup but we were taking care of it. Molly threw a party and invited everyone she knew. Seventeen people came. She smashed up ice in the kitchen sink and asked her husband if everyone was having a nice time. Then she cried and wiped her eyes with … chop! chop! read more!
QUITTER TAKES ALL by Maggie Light A review? In the Times? Impossible. It’s an Off-Off-Broadway. Two offs. And Beth is only sixteen. Yet Cedric Plum’s judgment, the judgment, is seven paragraphs and in her sunburned hands. But why now? Weeks after her opening? While she’s trapped in South Carolina? So she should read this, right? This would be good, or why bother. Right? But what does Mr. Plum mean by cute? By not unfolding? Oh. No. The thunderbolt from reading the words—an anathema on the stage—only shocks Beth for a split second. That’s because she faints. Fades into darkness atop the bright beach rental’s kitchen floor. Beth has never fainted before, and it’s a gradual ordeal. The Arts & Leisure section sails to the sandy lime vinyl faster than she does. “Beth? We’re back,” her mother calls from somewhere. “Stop playing around, sweetie.” Michael, her ensuing stepdad, who has an … chop! chop! read more!
GHOST STORY by Lydia Pudzianowski “Were you looking for ghosts?” The police officer inspected the three of us—twenty-one, twenty-two, and twenty-three years old. There was no way we could tell him the truth. Earlier that afternoon we’d passed my hardcover copy of Weird Pennsylvania back and forth over takeout Thai food on the floor of our apartment, which was getting emptier as each newly graduated roommate moved her belongings out. Between forkfuls of pad see-ew, I pointed out that we weren’t far from one of the book’s allegedly haunted places. Under the right conditions, Irwin Road, in Pittsburgh’s North Park neighborhood, was said to be permeated by a blue mist and any combination of witches, evil dwarves, hanging ghosts, deer-human hybrids, and lonely dogs. Up until then, we’d had no post-lunch plans. We didn’t have post-college plans either, but this would at least occupy us for an evening. Twelve hours … chop! chop! read more!
AMERICAN ARCADIA by Filip Noterdaeme Spicing up realist landscapes with fantastic nudes and infiltrating austere family tableaux with whimsical eroticism, American Arcadia is a mixed distillation of artful irreverence and subtle mischief. Here is the story of its making. In 2005, my partner Daniel Isengart and I took a trip to Madrid, where we spent many hours at the Prado and the Reina Sofia. On the day of our return to the States, we found ourselves aimlessly browsing through the souvenir shop at the Madrid-Barajas airport, where a pocket-format deck of cards depicting famous nudes by (mostly) European masters—some of which we had seen at the Prado—caught my attention. On a whim, I bought it. Back in Brooklyn, I happened to walk past a stoop sale one late morning and, among the usual junk and knick-knacks, made out an extra-large deck of playing cards with prints depicting “American Life, Manners and History” … chop! chop! read more!
REMNANTS by Julia Hogan The day my father’s friend, Wade, tried to build us a screened-in porch on the front of our house was the day my mother decided to move out. Wade made his living by selling muscadine grapes and handmade cowboy hats. He lived in a trailer off of I-85, on a piece of land that used to be large but had been whittled away as he sold acres to pay for his liquor without having to get a regular job. Wade enlarged his trailer with plywood and sheet metal and duct tape. My mother called him a redneck, a bum, a white trash ignoramus, but my father saw it as ingenuity. “My friend Mary Ann has a screened-in porch,” I said. I was about ten, and to me, that was about as close to luxury as you could get in a town like Kite, South Carolina. “She’s … chop! chop! read more!
PESANTE CON MOTO/ALLEGRO BARBARO by S. I. Adams Street signs reflect neon blinks on and off and on and back from the turn signal click-resting-pause between inhales drawn shallow between chapped lips and flaky nostrils. “East” – off – “East” – off – “Ease” – off – “ ‘e’s off” – “’e’s off” as the traffic light changes from mid-October to early spring and the policemen waves pedestrians to their apartments, chins tucked to their chest like sleeping pigeons, making church balconies their homes when all the trees have been uprooted and turned into desks and dressers pedestrians pile their lives into and I clamp my crooked teeth onto the steering wheel and let love and all its offerings change lanes without signaling – I’m too old to chase after them, clenched fist waving in the air. S.I. Adams was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and raised in southern Ohio. … chop! chop! read more!
BOBBY FEAR by Bonnie Altucher When Bridget was sixteen, she met a sardonically mumbling School of Visual Arts dropout named Robert Fein while they were both browsing for cheap shoes on Eighth Street. Robert was too bug-eyed and slight to be handsome, with dim pitted skin and a puffy, disconsolate pout, but something in his manner convinced her that he would be a safe and desirable person to know. He had his own place at the edge of the devastated East Village neighborhood not yet blandly rechristened as Alphabet City, and within weeks of their first meeting Bridget moved in with him. Bridget assumed that her father would be happy to get rid of her. By now, he barely reacted to the steady stream of failing grades on her report cards, his stock objection—“This isn’t very acceptable”—being vague enough to pass for a comment on the deplorable New York City … chop! chop! read more!
ON (AND OFF) CONSISTENCY by John Michael Mumme Objective Statement: For the last two years, I worked as a Staff Assistant for the Career Services office at Cedarville University. My job was to review résumés. A student comes in for a peer review, feeling little confidence in her ability to write a résumé and none in the merit of her past job experiences of baby-sitting, lawn-mowing, and cafeteria work. When she leaves, though, together we have crafted a pristine portrait of her, dressed her in words and white space perfectly suited to win her the job of her choice. She simply needed reassurance, and who could not be reassured by watching all the best things about oneself slowly fill a single piece of paper? In “Strangers,” a song by the British rock band White Lies, lead singer Harry McVeigh recalls a lonely one-night stand. “I pressed my ear to your … chop! chop! read more!
QUINTESSENCE by Lauren Guza Brown In the desert, the day after Thanksgiving, a physicist friend told me I would find what we were seeing, sandstone walls mottled and cragged like giant seahorse forests, in a Hamlet soliloquy. Quintessence, he said, that’s what this is. Fire, air, water, earth, and this—spirit. Spirit is soul to an atheist who shoots lasers through things we cannot see and who goes to the desert to be quiet as the bighorns, invisible against pale rock. We ate leftover turkey sandwiches on a rock in a grove that might have been called an oasis if we’d been escaping from anything. He said things that were scientifically false to see if I would believe him. He tricked me approximately twenty-seven percent of the time, he said, which was about what he’d expected of an intelligent history major. That evening, we got a small motel room but only … chop! chop! read more!
TWO FLASH PIECES by Mercedes Lawry Puzzling The baby ate one of the puzzle pieces, a little bitty piece. He never choked or even coughed. The piece was cardboard and mostly blue sky with just a smidgen of white cloud. Its shape was similar to a chalice and did not vaguely resemble food. It certainly looked tasty to the baby, although in the baby’s mind, interest in the puzzle piece was not limited to a gustatory experience or oral fixation. Just as easily, tasty might refer to something requiring further exploration. The baby might have been trying to understand the puzzle piece. The baby did not, however, learn much from eating the piece aside from the fact that he could get away with it. So many puzzles were missing pieces. You got used to it and then, you threw them away. Breathing Room She was reading. She was reading everything … chop! chop! read more!
THE AVERSIVE CLAUSE by B.C. Edwards Black Lawrence Press, 180 Pages reviewed by Shinelle L. Espaillat B.C. Edwards’s short story collection, The Aversive Clause, alternates between gentle poignancy and visceral revelation, often within the same story. To read his work is to ride a manic roller coaster through a gritty Wonderland reboot. Like Alice, readers will shrink and grow, and know things they cannot un-know. Without being heavy-handed or didactic, Edwards explores and explodes the socio-political fabric of contemporary society and in so doing, pulls readers into the conversation. Edwards’s style and thematic resonance are evocative of Ray Bradbury. In particular, “The Providence of Angels” echoes several stories from The Illustrated Man. The desperate masses begging for healing outside Ty and Mac’s door calls back to the emotional hunger of the men in “The Visitor.” The random man at the rails, searching for the Angels to give him an external … chop! chop! read more!
CALLING DR LAURA
By Nicole J Georges
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 260 pages
reviewed by Amelia Moulis
Nicole J Georges’ Calling Dr Laura, is an acerbic and intelligent addition to the graphic memoirs of 2013. It catalogues Georges’ troubled upbringing and her subsequent quest for love and stability in her relationships, and indeed her life at large. Georges enters this story through her first girlfriend, who takes Georges to a psychic, inadvertently uncovering a deep family secret: the psychic insists that Georges’ father – whom she was told died of colon cancer when she was a baby – is in fact alive. Although this is the ‘hook’ of the story, it is important to emphasize that this is actually not the driving force behind the storyline. It takes many years for Georges to share this information with anyone, let alone confront her mom about it. In the meantime, Georges meanders between cross-sections of her mom’s abusive relationships, the string of ‘father figures’ shaping her upbringing, Georges’ own inability to process stress and emotion, her struggle to establish a family, and the faulty dynamics of her lesbian relationships. But underneath this is the constant tension of when, or if, Georges can confront her mother about her sexuality and the circumstances of her father’s absence from her life.chop! chop! read more!
HANDLING THE TRUTH: ON THE WRITING OF MEMOIR by Beth Kephart Gotham Books, 254 pages reviewed by Stephanie Trott It is a rainy Tuesday in January and I lace up the new cherry-red boots before heading out the door of my warm little warren. Through the stone-laden campus, across the slippery streets of town, and onto the train that will take me into the city. I am in my final semester as an undergraduate student at Bryn Mawr College and I still have not learned to buy shoes that fit my feet — I dig into the walk through West Philadelphia, burdening myself with blisters that will not heal until the first flowers have shed their petals to spring. Stumbling onto the porch of the old Victorian manor, I step into the most challenging, inspiring, and rewarding fourteen weeks I’ve yet experienced: I step into Beth Kephart’s Creative Non-Fiction class. … chop! chop! read more!
CARTOON COLLEGE (video documentary)
by Josh Melrod and Tara Wray
L. B. Thunderpony Home Entertainment, 76 minutes
reviewed by Amy Victoria Blakemore
Within moments of its bare opening, I already liked Cartoon College. When I reached chapter three of the documentary—which dubbed comics “better than sandwiches”—I knew that I loved it.
Josh Melrod and Tara Wray keep the first shot simple: the camera shows a man’s back as he rummages through old drawings. We are not coddled by music meant to make us feel happy-go-lucky or sentimental. This meditative simplicity populates the entire film, allowing viewers what feels like a filmic rarity: the ability to listen to a human voice with only that voice for guidance.chop! chop! read more!
THE LOVE AFFAIRS OF NATHANIEL P. by Adelle Waldman Henry Holt, 242 pages reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin Suburban Mid-Atlantic childhood. Check. Journalist. Check. Book reviewer. Check. Writing book review to keep from working on more substantial essay. Check. First novel coming out. Check. Writes on urbanism. Check. Closest friend Peter. Check. Name Nathaniel P. Check. That Nathaniel P? Like the fictional protagonist of Adelle Waldman’s debut novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., I’m happiest reading and writing; I’m ambitious enough (though the doppelganger has a large advance for his novel, something I’ve not yet received); and I can’t see myself doing anything else. The arrival of the book has made for good jokes, of course. My friend Cristina wrote me the other day to say she had received the book (she ordered it and read it as soon as I told her about it). “I have your love affairs … chop! chop! read more!
SCRATCH PEGASUS by Stephen Kessler Swan Scythe Press, 88 pages reviewed by Kenna O’Rourke Stephen Kessler’s agenda in the poetry of Scratch Pegasus would seem to be that of the artist in his poem “Hopper”: in an era where inscrutable conceptualism has become somewhat of a standard, Kessler is confident that his “representation / so square compared to his successors’ transgressions / looks now purely formal and coolly classical … in rooms full of murmuring tourists / relieved to see what they recognize”. It’s lamentable, then, that Kessler’s altruistic aspirations towards a communitarian poetics, a poetics of reachable clarity, are troubled by an unintentional (or so one hopes) exclusion of the modern reader. True, the poet occasionally hits the mark with poignant imagery (“the barking park / where the city’s dogs / sniff each other’s butts / and tangled strips of toilet paper / fly like flags from lampposts”, “Gold light … chop! chop! read more!
SO LONG, SILVER SCREEN by Blutch Picturebox, 88 pages reviewed by Gabriel Chazan Every film is a ghost story. When we go to the theater, we see flickering images of things in the eternal past yet present which persistently haunt us. This observation cannot be avoided reading the French cartoonist Blutch’s new graphic essay/novel So Long, Silver Screen. With this book, Blutch summons the ghosts from his own filmgoing past to consider the film form. Death pervades the book from the very first panel in which a woman writes, “Adieu Paul Newman.” When the woman tells her lover Newman is dead, he reacts in disbelief: “it can’t be—I think about him every day” as if, by being captured onscreen, stars are immortal. Blutch has decided to try his hand at film criticism. The book is largely comprised of discussions and arguments between a man and woman about film. We get … chop! chop! read more!
RECALCULATING by Charles Bernstein University of Chicago Press, 208 pages Reviewed by Mary Weston Bringing to mind the now all-too familiar GPS phrase, Charles Bernstein’s latest collection of poetry, Recalculating, depicts a poet pulled in a number of different directions and impulses. As readers, we too at times feel this pull toward the many evocations and articulations present in Recalculating. Yet in many ways, direction—or lack thereof—becomes the thematic anchor which ultimately binds Bernstein’s latest work. Poems in this collection move deftly and swiftly from heady articulations of Bernstein’s poetics, to oftentimes humorous experiments in language and syntax, to poignant translations of works from Catullus to Baudelaire. Yet throughout the collection, the theme of “recalculation” takes on a more sobering nature, as interspersed between Bernstein’s didacticism and humor, grief and loss also begin to take shape in the work, each time creating a quiet swerve and evolution in the work’s … chop! chop! read more!
THE MEHLIS REPORT by Rabee Jaber translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid New Directions Paperbacks, 202 pages Reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin At night, I dream the city; I dream Baldwin’s—and Capote’s—alluring New York at mid-century; I dream Pamuk’s melancholic Istanbul of the same period; I dream Antunes’s desperate 1990s Lisbon and Nasr’s suffocating Tunis and Bolaño’s heretical 1970s Mexico City; I dream Zadie Smith’s London and Mercé Rodoreda’s Barcelona; I dream my own Philadelphia, which sometimes isn’t Philadelphia at all (it may be Brooklyn or Montreal). Now, I dream Rabee Jaber’s early 21st century Beirut; I dream the enduring disquiet, I dream the hidden springs, I dream the memories (of terraces filled with mulberry trees, of abandoned villas), the loss, the fear, the cranes that rattle the sky. “How many cities are hidden in the belly of this one city?” writes Jaber, At rare times, you see all these cities together. At … chop! chop! read more!
DAVID LYNCH SWERVES: UNCERTAINTY THROUGH LOST HIGHWAY TO INLAND EMPIRE by Martha P. Nochimson University of Texas Press, 295 pages reviewed by Chris Ludovici In David Lynch Swerves: Uncertainty Through Lost Highway to Inland Empire, Martha P. Nochimson presents a radical interpretation of David Lynch’s last four movies. She rejects the popular critical interpretations of his work, in favor of her own theory: a complicated mix of eastern philosophy and quantum physics. It’s fascinating, challenging, frustrating, and only intermittently persuasive. Her ideas are compelling, especially when she’s addressing Lynch’s philosophy. As a devoted believer in Hinduism and tantric meditation, Lynch creates movies with strong spiritual components. They are intense stories, and his characters are often emotionally troubled. Nochimson clearly and thoughtfully explains Lynch’s repeating themes of the dangers of life lived in the service of greed and ambition, and his commitment to spiritual peace over material satisfaction. But it’s her more … chop! chop! read more!
THE HARE by César Aira New Directions Paperbacks, 218 pages reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin The writer César Aira has a charming trait (at least in the English language translations of his books published by New Directions): at the end of his novels, he inscribes the date he completed the work, at least so we are supposed to believe. For both The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira, published in Katherine Silver’s English translation by New Directions last year, and The Hare, which New Directions brings out tomorrow translated by Nick Caistor, were apparently finished the same day, September 6, 1996. Could this really be? Aira, the author of some 70 works of fiction and essay, is after all one of the most prolific writers in the world. It is conceivable he completed the two books on the same day. Or has Aira, a master of meta-fiction, found yet another way to … chop! chop! read more!
RUST BELT RISING ALMANAC, Vol. 1 Various Authors The Head & The Hand Press, 168 pages reviewed by Ariel Diliberto Rust Belt Rising Almanac presents a pastiche of short stories, poems, photographs and artwork. Collectively they form a fairly complete image of the post-industrial cities that comprise the toponymous “belt” (in the case of this publication, namely Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, and Pittsburgh). Collectively being the operative word. For individually, some of the stories are flashes in the (rusting) pan. However, together these ethereal dispatches evoke the negative space inside an abandoned factory building, and upon reaching page 168, readers can step back and see it for what it is. So what is it? The triumph of Rust Belt is its ability to dispel the false narrative about America’s trajectory from industrial to post-industrial, in which the peak of our society was the peak of the industrial era, and it’s been downhill … chop! chop! read more!
BARNABY VOL. 1
by Crockett Johnson
introduction by Chris Ware; Art direction by Daniel Clowes
Fantagraphics, 336 pages
reviewed by Travis DuBose
In his foreword to its first collected volume, Chris Ware compares Barnaby, Crockett Johnson’s 1940s newspaper strip, to other early influential comics like Little Nemo, Krazy Kat and Peanuts. He goes on to say that Barnaby is “the last great comic strip,” a description that ends up being a little unfair to any first time readers of Barnaby: though there are moments of greatness in it, Volume One mostly points forward to the strip’s potential, rather than showcasing Johnson’s brilliance firsthand. This difficult start is consistent with the beginnings of other strips, even great ones: the ability to deliver a solid joke, every day, in three or four panels is mastered by very few and even fewer, if any, can do it consistently from the first strip. Barnaby, however, has one of the best rocky starts I’ve encountered in the medium, and its later greatness is well worth its early fumbles.
Crockett Johnson may not have the immediate name recognition of Charles Schulz or Bill Watterson, but his work is a mainstay of American childhoods: he authored Harold and the Purple Crayon and its sequels, and readers of the Harold books will recognize in Barnaby’s protagonist, five year old Barnaby Baxter, the prototype of Harold. Additionally, there are several Barnaby strips featuring a half moon seen out the window over Barnaby’s bed, the final, iconic image of the first Harold book. Harold readers will also recognize the art style: stark, bold lines over simple backgrounds that nonetheless show an impressive command of perspective and space.chop! chop! read more!
NO APOCALYPSE by Monica Wendel Georgetown Review Press, 70 pages reviewed by Kenna O’Rourke Monica Wendel makes every pretense of proving the veracity of her title, No Apocalypse, in her debut collection: as if responding to the question “What are some topics of poetry?” the poet has organized her work in orderly divisions—Politics, Dreams, Animals and Cities, Money and Ghosts—lending an everything-under-control sensibility to the book on the surface level. Indeed, her treatment of what many would consider signs of apocalyptic societal devolution – Wikileaks, the Trayvon Martin case, etc – is surprisingly deadpan, as if, in declarative ending lines, Wendel is grimly calming a gloom-and-doom hysteric. As such, when trauma does make an entry, it is all the more traumatic for its surprise, as in the poem “September, Red Hook”; at first glance the poem is whimsical, a charming exchange between two children as they float a piece of … chop! chop! read more!
THE SENSUALIST by Daniel Torday Nouvella Books, 177 pages Reviewed by Michelle Fost I’ve been thinking a lot about how I am at once very connected to and disconnected from Germany, and I’ve been exploring this feeling in a novel I’m working on. My grandparents were German Jewish refugees, sailing from Hamburg, Germany, to Ellis Island in 1934. We talked very little, my grandparents and their grandchildren, about their lives in Germany before they left. If their lives were an apartment building, it was as though we always entered on the third floor, and were welcome to walk around anywhere from the third floor and up but never below. We didn’t notice anything unusual. Obviously, there are good reasons for not talking about what was left behind by German Jews who escaped the holocaust. But there is also tremendous loss in disowning all of it. Sam Gerson, the narrator of … chop! chop! read more!
THE OFFICE OF MERCY by Ariel Djanikian Viking, 304 pages Reviewed by John Carroll I had the good fortune of reading Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood,and the Prison of Belief immediately before picking up Ariel Djanikian’s debut novel, The Office of Mercy. While Wright’s nonfiction account of a minor religious movement is, on the surface, seemingly far removed from Djanikian’s novel about a futuristic American settlement, the two books share much more in common than anyone could initially believe. In particular, Scientologists and the America-Five residents in The Office of Mercy are equally concerned with the ethics of their individual movements. But both groups have arrived at ethical standings far removed from what a contemporary American majority would define as acceptable. While Wright narrates numerous confessionals about physical and emotional abuse in the Church of Scientology, Djanikian introduces readers to the “sweeps” of America-Five: these carefully planned strikes eliminate … chop! chop! read more!
WOMEN’S POETRY: POEMS AND ADVICE by Daisy Fried University of Pittsburgh Press, 88 pages Reviewed by Shinelle L. Espaillat Daisy Fried’s new collection, Women’s Poetry: Poems and Advice, illuminates issues that are both specifically feminine (i.e. mother-daughter paradigms) and gender neutral (being American in a foreign land). Divided into four numbered sections, the poems explore the layers of complicated relationships and expose the emotions therein. Fried shows us how beauty forces us to notice it, even when we’d rather not. Through several reflexive lines that connect to other poems within the text, she speaks to the multi-layered nature of art. The Advice Column Section gives Fried latitude to launch a sweet and snarky rant against those who place themselves outside and against the world of women and words. How absolutely accurate, and satisfactory, to hear that the only difference between a male poetess (she “applies the term poetess to men and … chop! chop! read more!
THE END by Anders Nilsen Fantagraphics Books, 80 pages Reviewed by Henry Steinberg The Humming Bird. The Condor. The Giant. The Hands. I hold your head in my hands and your heart in my heart and I look at you and I am floating above the bed alone and there’s nothing I can do at all because you’re gone. These are the Nazca Lines. Located in the southern desert of Peru, these ancient geoglyphs dot the landscape, their purpose unknown, their mystery immense. Carved into the earth by the Nazca Peoples, the exact date of their creation is impossible to pin down, but researchers believe they were made between 400-650 BCE. When standing on top of the lines, within them, it is impossible to discern the shapes of the designs, though they are figurative and quite complex. One needs the great distance and height of the surrounding foothills to see … chop! chop! read more!
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF DANIEL J. ISENGART by Filip Noterdaeme Outpost19, 351 pages Reviewed by Michelle Fost Because Gertrude Stein wished readers would pay more attention to the ambitious but largely unread work she considered her masterpiece, The Making of Americans, she had a tendency to knock her very popular Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Years ago, as a young fiction writer working on a master’s thesis on The Making of Americans, I sometimes identified with Stein. Here she is, in that book, wondering if her work will be read: Bear it in your mind my reader, but truly I never feel it that there ever can be for me any such a creature, no it is this scribbled and dirty and lined paper that is really to be to me always my receiver,—but anyhow reader, bear it in your mind—will there be for me ever any such a creature… listen while … chop! chop! read more!
THE FLAMETHROWERS by Rachel Kushner Scribner, 400 pages Reviewed by Chris Ludovici Early in Rachel Kushner’s occasionally frustrating but fascinating book The Flamethrowers, the protagonist sleeps with a man she’s only just met. She naively believes that her encounter with the attractive, nameless stranger is going to lead to something more meaningful, and she is more than a little disappointed to find him gone when she wakes the next morning. He leaves a mark on her, though, both by taking her virginity and also by giving her the only name we will know her by, Reno, after the city she was born and raised in. It’s a fitting name for the heroine of this novel, which is, principally, about starting over, on both an individual as well as national level. All the characters in The Flamethrowers are interested in reinvention; they ache to transcend their compromised human past into a … chop! chop! read more!
TODAY IS THE LAST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE by Ulli Lust translated by Kim Thomson Fantagraphics Books, 460 pages Reviewed by Tahneer Oksman Note: Lust’s memoir was edited and translated into English by comics visionary Kim Thompson, who passed away earlier this week. This book, along with countless others, is a tribute to his legacy. –T.O. Why weren’t more women dharma bums, taking trips across the country like the Kerouac’s and Cassady’s and Snyder’s of On the Road and beyond? Why weren’t more of them trekking up desolation mountains, sleeping in boxcars, bumming cigarettes and hash and old paperbacks and swigs of wine from strangers?* Ulli Lust’s thick graphic memoir, Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life, though set in the early 1980’s, decades after most of the beats had already burned out, and continents away – taking place in Austria and Italy – … chop! chop! read more!
THE TRANSLATOR by Nina Schuyler Pegasus Books, 352 pages Reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin I noticed, earlier this week, that my friend Cristina Vezzaro had been posting on Facebook in Dutch. This shouldn’t have surprised me. Still, I wondered, “Have you added a new language?” “I took Nederlands while in Geneva 20 years ago. I am just trying to refresh what I knew and learn it better,” she replied. Vezzaro, after all, is a literary translator, who translates novels from the original German and French to Italian; but Cristina was born multi-lingual, in a part of Italy near Germany and Switzerland, and she acquires languages as some do shoes or kitchen appliances. I’ve witnessed her almost immediate acquisition of American English, slang and all. Hanne Schubert, the protagonist of Nina Schuyler’s quietly perceptive new novel The Translator, is one such character, an expert translator of several languages with a special expertise … chop! chop! read more!
HE LOOKED BEYOND MY FAULTS AND SAW MY NEEDS by Leonard Gontarek Hanging Loose Press, 88 pages reviewed by Brandon Lafving Reading John Ashbery’s early works in college, I remember begging the poetry to make a goddamn point. My yearnings for intellectual coherence went unanswered, regardless of how much attention, how many thoughts I piled up on the poems. No matter how hard I tried, my efforts were resisted. I have often wondered since: what would happen if Ashbery were crackable? I even made a number of attempts, myself. Leonard Gontarek’s fifth book, He Looked Beyond My Faults and Saw My Needs, finally answers my question. A casual reader might see in this collection – the pole-vaulting mindset, the penchant for painterly imagery, or the ability of certain, magical phrases to hold an entire universe of subjective meaning – and presume in this postmodern sepulcher of ours that there are no … chop! chop! read more!
by Rawi Hage
Norton, 304 pages
Reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin
Fly, the narrator of Rawi Hage’s fabulist novel Carnival, released in the US on June 17, is a literature-obsessed taxi driver—and child of circus performers—who imagines himself a super-hero, avenging wrongs perpetrated on the vulnerable and the poor. Books—particularly the subversive kind—are his sword. One night, he picks up an arguing couple. The woman, Mary, is crying. Her husband berates her for her introverted, bookish ways. He wants some action. “I am tired of this, do you understand?” he says.
Fly flies into a rage, forces the husband out of the car, leaves him by the side of the road, and brings “sweet Mary” back to his book-stuffed apartment. “And she laughed and walked among the garden of books,” he says, “and then we took off our fig leaves and made love in the corner, where verses from heaven touched our bare, cracked asses that hopped and bounced like invading horses in the holy lands.”chop! chop! read more!
RAVEN GIRL by Audrey Niffenegger Abrams ComicsArt, 80 pages Reviewed by Amy Victoria Blakemore At eighty pages, Audrey Niffenegger’s Raven Girl goes by quickly. We meet two improbable lovers, who have an improbable child, who finds love in her own (you guessed it) improbable way. Raven Girl is undoubtedly a fairy tale, cooked up with ingredients of the genre that readers will identify early on – anthropomorphized animals, an unexpected road to a relationship, a metamorphosis of the body, an enemy, etc. What is truly new about this work may not be immediately apparent, but once we notice it, we recognize Raven Girl as both delectable and honorable—a new (and necessary) twist on an old recipe. With uncluttered, clean prose, and twenty-one well-selected drawings, Raven Girl is a humble work. White space cushions Niffenegger’s blocks of text on all sides, conveying the sensation that these pages are letters—perhaps even written by the … chop! chop! read more!
EQUILATERAL by Ken Kalfus Bloomsbury USA, 224 pages Reviewed by Chris Ludovici At its core, Ken Kalfus’s Equilateral is about communication: communication between an empire and its subjects; between visionaries and those who finance that vision; between the people who plan a task and those who realize it. And— most essentially to plot while least essentially to the narrative— Equilateral is about communication between the planets Earth and Mars. In a little over two hundred pages, Kalfus manages to tell a rich, fascinating story about our need to connect with something outside of ourselves, and our inherent limitations that keep us from doing just that. The discovery of canals on the surface of Mars has led the nineteenth century scientific community to conclude that there is indeed intelligent life on our closest celestial neighbor, setting in motion a mad scramble to be the first culture to make contact with it. In … chop! chop! read more!
DR. RADWAY’S SARSAPARILLA RESOLVENT by Beth Kephart illustrated by William Sulit New City Community Press, 190 pages Reviewed by Michelle Fost When I lived in Philadelphia, I sensed its history underfoot. One pleasure of Beth Kephart’s lively new historical Philadelphia novel is the strong fit of the writer’s project and the story she tells. In Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent, Kephart looks at material from the past that we might consider lost to us and demonstrates how traces of that past stay with us through research and writing. In her story of William Quinn in 1870’s Philadelphia, too, much has been lost. As fourteen-year-old William goes in search of what has been taken from his family and as he thinks about what he is missing (including a murdered brother and a father in prison), we see that a great deal of what is loved can be recovered. William internalizes his brother … chop! chop! read more!
BICYCLES AND FROG RAIN by Eric G. Müller My brother and I followed Dad to the double garage. We were about to get new bicycles – our first. Five years earlier in Basel, Switzerland, I’d loved whizzing through the neighborhood on my push-scooter. Before that I cherished my small red tricycle. While we lived in Davos, up in the Alps, our focus had shifted to sledding and skiing, and during our short stay in Cape Town we lived in the suburb of Parow where hardly anybody rode a bicycle. Here in Empangeni, Zululand it was an entirely different matter. All our school friends had bikes, and now – after waiting many months – we were about to get our own for Christmas. Dad opened the side door to the garage. “All yours! New and ready to go.” Excitement turned to disappointment as our hearts sank at the sight of two … chop! chop! read more!
BABY PICTURES by Kat Carlson We are looking at pictures of my cousin’s new baby. My cousin is nineteen. I am thirty-two. My cousin is eight months pregnant with her second child. I’m on my period. Everyone agrees that yes, it would have been better if Carly had finished college before having two babies, but my goodness, Damien is gorgeous. In every picture he’s grinning, exposing a row of short white teeth. At eleven months he already has a head full of brown curls that would resist being flattened by a wool hat. They’re so wondrous I imagine he could frolic all day in a pit of plastic balls and not one spark of static electricity would attach to them. I have been married for three years, but we’re not getting anywhere, baby-wise. Our apartment is too small and full of pointed angles. Our credit card balances are bloated. And … chop! chop! read more!
THAT SUMMER by George Dila That was the summer his partner of 54 years died, brain-stroked down to the old kitchen linoleum while he, sweating under a brutal July sun, weeded their half-acre garden. They had had their lunch, remnants of last night’s dinner, a slice of meatloaf, an ear of corn, washed down with a cold Rolling Rock. She said she would clean up. He said he needed to finish outside, just a row of tomatoes and Hungarian peppers to go, yanking out by hand the deep-rooted intruders chemicals could have killed so easily. Then, he would hose the dirt from his hands and meet her on the patio, where they would pause for a while to appreciate their life and their land, their retirement dream, sitting side by side in chairs of flimsy aluminum tubing and plastic webbing, the kind of chair that folds up into thirds, not … chop! chop! read more!
MY WRITER’S BLOCK by Kathryn Hellerstein It depends how you define writer’s block, whether or not I am experiencing it at this very moment. At sunset yesterday, as I swam my laps, I thought through this essay and decided exactly how I would start, develop, and finish it in one sitting this morning. But now it is afternoon, and the wholeness of what I’d conceived is spotty and tattered. It’s raining outside, with a rumble of thunder. I’m sure that the pool is closed. Yesterday, tracing the line at the bottom of the pool, my body inscribing it with the rhythm of strokes, kicks, and breaths, I thought that I would start out by telling that it’s been almost a year since my mother died, and that in that year, I have not written a single poem. I have had plenty to write about—the shock of her illness, the busy, … chop! chop! read more!