Rebecca Entel’s short stories have appeared in such journals as Guernica, Joyland, and Cleaver. Her first novel Fingerprints of Previous Owners was published in June 2017 from Unnamed Press. She is Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at Cornell College, where she teaches courses in creative writing, multicultural American literature, Caribbean literature, and the literature of social justice.
THE BAREFOOT WOMAN by Scholastique Mukasongatranslated by Jordan StumpArchipelago Books, 146 pages reviewed by Rebecca Entel The Barefoot Woman opens with the author’s mother, Stefania, imparting knowledge to her daughters. “Often in the middle of one of those never-ending chores that fill a woman’s day,” Mukasonga writes, “(sweeping the yard, shelling and sorting beans, weeding the sorghum patch, tilling the soil, digging sweet potatoes, peeling and cooking bananas…), my mother would pause and call out to us.” Much of the book proceeds from this image: we learn the details of her mother’s life and rituals through her endless work and we learn the kinds of things passed down from a Tutsi mother to her daughter—one of only two of eight children to survive the 1994 Rwandan genocide. In that opening scene, Stefania tells her daughters how to properly bury a mother: “when you see me lying dead before you, you’ll have to cover my body […] that’s your job and no one else’s.” Her coming death during 1994’s Tutsi genocide hangs over the entire book from these opening lines, following Mukasonga’s earlier work, Cockroaches, which is specifically about the terrors her family and community faced during and after ... Read the full text
FINGERPRINTS OF PREVIOUS OWNERS by Rebecca Entel The Unnamed Press, 209 pagesreviewed by Elizabeth Mosier “The narrator of this book is a Caribbean woman. You may have noticed that the writer of this book is not,” Rebecca Entel notes in a preface to Fingerprints of Previous Owners, her novel set at a resort built on the nettle-choked ruins of a former slave plantation. Alluding to her research and credentials as a scholar of nineteenth-century American literature, Entel does more than attempt to deflect criticism for cultural appropriation. She declares her investment in this story, as well as her intention to free her characters from a colonial narrative frame. She begins with Myrna Burre. Entel endorses Myrna’s authority by locating the story’s point of view in this islander who’d “never arrived here from anywhere.” When we meet her in the novel’s opening lines, she and the other “A-Y-S” staff (At Your Service, pronounced “eeeeyes”) are gathered on the beach, wearing white sheets over their uniforms, to perform a compulsory pantomime of a native welcoming ceremony for tourists who are aboard a boat named, with casual tactlessness, The Pinta. (Their baggage is brought by The Nina.) “A team of people with ... Read the full text
EXPOSURE by Katy Resch GeorgeKore Press, 168 pagesreviewed by Rebecca Entel The cover of Exposure, a short story collection by Katy Resch George, hints at the kind of stories you’ll find inside. The photograph of a topless woman on a beach with her arms tugged behind her is both intimate and distant, the woman exposed but also obscured by the translucent type of the title and, in the repeated image, wrapped around the spine of the book, also underneath type. The woman’s expression is blocked by George’s name on the spine and, on the front cover, hard to make out. Is she scowling at the camera? Pondering something beyond it? Seductive, angry, unsure? George’s female characters, especially, are exposed and obscured in this intriguing book. Exposure begins with the title piece, a short-short story that introduces us to both intimacy and estrangement. Like most of the other short-short stories in the collection, we don’t learn the characters’ names, and the writing achieves tension in how it pulls us in and holds us back. This is form and theme, both. In the short-short (three pages) “Exposure,” a removed third-person narrator takes us through a quick chain of associations. The ... Read the full text
CRITTER CONTROLby Rebecca Entel I hadn’t given much thought to the snake that connected my toilet to the bathroom wall until one July when it split its plastic cap and flooded most of my house. Among other damages, the water buckled the original hardwood floors. It looked as though speed bumps had erupted in my living room. I moved out for months and months, plodding from friend’s guest room to friend’s guest room to temporary apartment. When I finally arrived back on my doorstep in October, house key poised, I found the two nails that held my mezuzah to the front doorpost still there, the very top and very bottom of the mezuzah still nailed in, the body of the mezuzah itself broken off and missing. (If you don’t know what a mezuzah is, trust that this was an ominous sight to come home to.) I soon discovered—from the strip of wall missing between the tub and the rest of the bathroom and from the splinters I was getting from the brand new floor—that the construction company had left a slew of botched repairs that would need to be re-reconstructed, long into the winter and spring. I’d also had a ... Read the full text
PERFECT COMPANION by Rebecca Entel HOLLIE THOUGHT OF THIS AS A CONTRACT. She and Dana had promised each other they’d be the type of people who remembered things could always be worse. They toasted the tragic. “To James Dean!” “To Princess Di!” “To JFK!” “To RFK!” “To MLK!” “To Elvis!” Still, it was a bummer when their favorite restaurant didn’t have a wheelchair ramp. “Well,” he said. “Let’s go somewhere with a ramp.” “Let’s go somewhere expensive with a ramp,” she said. She was proud of her husband, his tough mouth. If anyone stared at him, Dana glanced up and unholstered his thickest Philly accent: “You shoulda seen the other guy.” It was like the old joke about the grimy Schulkyll River, Hollie told people: if you fall in, don’t bother getting out. The car that hit her husband’s amid the Schulkyll Expressway’s slick March traffic had plummeted into the water below. The ‘other guy’ never bothered getting out until the cops dragged the river, and him. Dana was still half here. Half full, they remembered to remind each other. There were, after all, a lot of ‘other guys.’ They knew this for a fact since they had ... Read the full text
ONYX by Rebecca Entel Raised voices hush a room, lower eyes. But the sound of skin hitting skin. But a slap. The sound, an air-thickening sponge, slogged from one room to the next. It stilled the action in each. Heads looked away from the TV; hands paused lining the table with silverware; mouths at the door stopped saying hello. After a few minutes, our hostess came back downstairs. Her eyes were the slightest bit red. But she smiled. “Time for dinner, everyone.” We followed her into the dining room. Our host came in quietly while we were shuffling about, finding seats. He sat down at the head of the table. We avoided eye contact with both of them. Soon dinner began and was busy. Our hostess spoke and smiled; tension drained from the room. We all eased, slumping in our chairs like unclaimed marionettes. Drinks slipped through chattering lips. We returned to smiling at our host. He conversed easily and welcomed us back in with blue eyes. After dinner it was time to leave. We left in groups, pairs. The house was empty in minutes. Our hostess stood in the shadowed doorway, waving goodbye, watching us retreat ... Read the full text