Alphabetical Index

Book Review Index

Cleaver’s full index of reviews of books by small and independent presses:
Looking for reviews by genre? Try: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, young adult, or graphic narrative.
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10:04 by Ben Lerner Faber and Faber, 245 pages reviewed by Ana Schwartz "Museum Quality Framing" He calls her a “chthonic deity,” but despite the devilish pleasure she takes in smashing the Koons balloons in the middle of Ben Lerner’s new novel, 10:04, Alina, the narrator’s close friend, turns out to be a remarkably Christic figure. After she successfully urges this doubting skeptic to touch—really, it’s all right to touch—the famous and costly works of art that her start-up, the delightfully named “Institute for Totaled Art,” has been loaned by repossessing insurance agencies, Alina restores something ineffable and lovely to the world shared by Lerner and his readers. He leaves her loft. The rainclouds have passed and the air smells sweet. It’s not the evening yet, but it feels, still, like the “magic hour, when light appears immanent to the lit.” 10:04 is Lerner’s impressive follow-up to 2011’s Leaving the Atocha Station. It aspires to make more meaningful connections between art and life; philosophy and experience. Atocha sets a high bar. That novel’s protagonist, Adam Gordon, wandered through Madrid in 2004, lonely as an El Greco cloud, thinking about Lukacs while staring at Bosch; in the meantime, cultivating a ...
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33 DAYS by Léon Werth, with an introduction by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry [translated by Austin Denis Johnston] Melville House Publishing, 116 pages reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin There are occasions when a phrase or a paragraph or a book hits the main line and after the dose everything is different. 33 Days arrived in the mail ten days ago, on a Friday. Guests were coming for the weekend. Already, the city was filling with people. The weather was warm, finally; pink and purple and white flowers garlanded the city. Fragrance smothered street corners. Whole neighborhoods were ripe for seduction. The book, slender and impeccably designed, put itself in my hands. I gazed at it quickly then put it down on the cushion in the old grocery store window where in winter we take turns stretching toward the sun. I picked it back up. I hadn’t heard of Léon Werth. But Saint-Exupéry—we forget Saint-Exupéry at our peril. Still, with masses of people sweeping by the window just as the leaves do in autumn, I skipped the introduction, which Saint-Exupéry wrote in late 1940 to accompany both French and English versions of 33 Days. I went straight for the narrative ...
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33 REVOLUTIONS by Canek Sánchez Guevara, translated by Howard Curtis Europa Editions, 94 pages reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin Canek Sánchez Guevara’s 33 Revolutions is a prayer of a novel with a single liturgical refrain and a retort (of a kind) to the giddiness emitting from the American-Cuban travelsphere. Not since Reinaldo Arenas has a Cuban literary voice arrived on American shores with such beaten madness, and sense of personal desperation. Sánchez Guevara, who died last year at age 40, was the eldest grandson of revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. His mother, Hilda Guevara Gaesa, was Che’s oldest child; Hilda’s mother (also Hilda) introduced Che to the Castro brothers in the mid-1950s. (It’s worth remembering that the American literary public became enamored of Arenas after his death, too.) The unnamed protagonist of 33 Revolutions is a twenty-something employee of some Cuban government bureau or the other, a Winston Smith who has begun to break. The translator Howard Curtis amply translates the protagonist’s inner-voice and darkening setting from Spanish to English. “Water seeps in through the windows,” the protagonist notices, “soaks the walls, forms pools on the floor. Mud. Grime and more grime. A grimy scratched record.” Sánchez Guevara was raised in Havana ...
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A 52-HERTZ WHALE by Bill Sommer and Natalie Haney Tilghman Carolrhoda Lab, 197 pages reviewed by Kristie Gadson When a humpback whale becomes separated from its pod, it emits a unique song in an effort to find its way back to its loved ones. When certain people experience feelings of isolation, they seek companionship through indirect social interaction. Bill Sommer and Natalie Haney Tilghman's A 52-Hertz Whale explores the nature of loneliness through a series of email correspondences, all between people with little else in common other than the desire for understanding. From the conversations of these starkly different people springs a series of beautiful, if uncanny, friendships. A 52 Hertz-Whale reveals that some of the most meaningful relationships can be forged even when the only thing we have in common is the fear of being alone. Fourteen-year-old James Turner ("whaleboy4ever@gmail.com") sends his first email after discovering that his adopted humpback whale, Salt, was separated from its migratory pod. Recent film graduate Darren Olmstead ("the.darren.olmstead@gmail.com") receives the long email detailing James' efforts to uncover the lost whale’s whereabouts, and a plea for Darren's assistance. What a kid from a middle school social skills class wants with the guy who ...
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A BINTEL BRIEF: LOVE AND LONGING IN OLD NEW YORK by Liana Finck Ecco Press, 128 pages reviewed by Ana Schwartz There’s a new sort of fiction circulating, stories of young people, by young people, for young people. This isn’t YA lit. These stories range across genres, even mediums, but they all describe the ambivalence of maturing in post-post-modernity. These narratives share a sense of lostness and reflective self-estrangement. The authors are smart and the narratives are smartly-dressed. They usually take place in New York. Think Frances Ha or Tai Pei or Girls. And if, as one well-respected author of such fictions has recently described them, they at times seem “cold, lazy, [and] artificial,” they also exhibit “extreme honesty and thoroughness of […] self scrutiny.” Liana Finck’s new graphic novel, A Bintel Brief features one such young me-person; but, although the story mines her development as an artist, it does so by digging into the past. With the distance afforded by history, and supported by the graphic novel’s relatively diffuse gaze, Finck offers a warmer, and more engaged account of a remarkably persistent theme: how one comes to feel that they belong to a community. Finck foregrounds this theme early ...
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A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE by Beth Vrabel Sky Pony Press, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing Inc., 288 pages reviewed by Mandy King A Blind Guide to Stinkville is a story told through the fuzzy vision of 11-year-old Alice, whose albinism and near blindness give her the perspective to uncover hidden stories of the people in her new town. The genius of Vrabel’s approach is that the reader meets the other characters through nuances of feelings and impressions rather than stark physical descriptions. The book is not a page-turner plot-wise and there are no major catastrophes; instead the novel peers beneath the superficial to reveal important lessons about what it means to be a member of small town community. Despite the fact that Alice has to use a magnifying glass to read a book a few inches from her face, she is the only person in the story who truly sees what is going on around her. Initially, Alice thinks her new hometown of Sinkville, aka “Stinkville,” is a horrible place dominated by the terrible smell emanating from the local paper-mill. It’s nothing like where she grew up in Seattle. However, as Alice reveals the stories of the townspeople, ...
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A FAIRLY GOOD TIME by Mavis Gallant NYRB, 273 pages reviewed by Ashlee Paxton-Turner A Canadian in Paris who must always remind her French friends that she is not American. A young widow who remarries a Frenchman, whom she later divorces. A twenty-seven-year-old who is “about like [she] always [was], to tell . . . the truth. Reading instead of listening.” This is Shirley Perrigny, formerly Higgins (nee Norrington), and the protagonist of Mavis Gallant’s 1970 novel A Fairly Good Time. Gallant, just like Shirley, was a Canadian who made Paris her home. Perhaps known best for her acclaimed short stories, Gallant wrote two novels, A Fairly Good Time and Green Water, Green Sky. These two novels were re-published by the New York Review of Books in 2016, just two years since Gallant’s death at age 91. Set in Paris in the 1960s, A Fairly Good Time is Shirley’s story, but Gallant does such a remarkable job capturing the confusion and chaos of life that it could be anyone’s. Shirley, who struggles to recognize the reality around her, is very easy to relate to, at least for this reader. Shirley, indeed, loves to read. She tries to handle ...
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A FIERCE AND SUBTLE POISON by Samantha Mabry Algonquin Young Readers, 278 pages reviewed by Allison Renner Everywhere we go we are surrounded by stories. Stories about people and places, stories that are told and retold until they are so shrouded in mystery, no one remembers the origin, and no one is brave enough to discover the truth. Like Samantha Mabry’s legend of the poisonous girl. Lucas Knight and his father come to Puerto Rico every summer from Houston, Texas. Lucas’s father transforms abandoned, historical buildings into extravagant resorts, while Lucas is content to find trouble with his friends—at least until he’s old enough to take over his father’s business. The island is populated with legends of curses and witches, which Lucas believes despite his father telling him not to. Lucas’s mother was Puerto Rican and told him her fair share of myths before she disappeared. He and his friends build on the myths they hear, spinning their own versions until they don’t remember what’s supposedly true. This much is common knowledge: there is a house where a scientist lives. A white man. He was married to a Puerto Rican woman, but traveled often for work, leaving his wife alone ...
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A GIRL ON THE SHORE by Inio Asano Vertical Comics, 406 pages reviewed by Nathan Chazan In a 2013 interview, Inio Asano cites learning the phrase “chunibyo” as an inspiration for A Girl on the Shore. A Japanese meme, “chunibyo” translates roughly to “Eighth Grader Syndrome,” and describes an early adolescent’s tendency to aspire to and imitate the adult behaviors that she is too young to understand. The comic, a direct and emotionally intense story about two early adolescents who enter a sexual relationship, functions as a parable of “chunibyo,” exploring this youthful desire to seem more mature as well as its consequences. In contrast to this motif, A Girl on the Shore is a deceptively mature accomplishment, employing the techniques of commercial manga to the greatest level of sophistication to convey the searing anxieties of adolescence. This is a graphic novel about two teenagers, Koume and Keisuke, who decide to start having sex when they are very young. Both are haunted by recent trauma: Koume by her rape at the hands of a popular kid named Misaki, and Keisuke by the death of his older brother. They enter the relationship believing it will be strictly sexual, an escape from normal life ...
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A GREATER MUSIC by Bae Suah translated by Deborah Smith Open Letter Press, 128 pages reviewed by Justin Goodman Bae Suah’s newest English-translated work, A Greater Music, describes the Austrian composer Franz Schubert as “a short, fat, shy myopic.” As brutal as this description is of a man who unhappily died before his 32nd year, it seems altogether different in tone when used to describe Bae’s novel itself. Filled with observatory indifference and an almost disembodied airiness, the novel comes across particularly as commentary, and as particularly rebellious. But what’s striking about A Greater Music is that it treats the work of Schubert above the man, treats the novel above the social, giving grandeur to otherwise short, fat, shy myopics. They are breathing things that were trapped in frames ill-suited for their sublimity—short in length, fat with substance, shy about their revelations, and myopic in their attentions, they are beings greater than their comportment can present. Something so heavy has rarely looked so light. Superficially, A Greater Music comes across like a South Korean variation on Bret Easton Ellis. The story of a bored, well-to-do individual striving to communicate in a world foreign to her—in A Greater Music, the world ...
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A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me
A HAND REACHED DOWN TO GUIDE ME by David Gates Alfred A. Knopf, 336 pages reviewed by Jeanne Bonner It’s December and you may be looking for a holiday read (with a bang). A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me is a short story collection that offers a rare pleasure: the possibility of reading it cover to cover, leaping from one story to the next. Some readers, including this one, may want to protest the gallery of rogue characters David Gates presents in this new collection perhaps enough to wonder who Gates hangs out with. I’m reminded of the scene from the film Ocean’s 11 when Julia Roberts’ character says to George Clooney, who plays Danny Ocean, “Your problem is you’ve met too many people like you.” Some of these characters’ habits and inclinations, reflections and bitter asides, are just this side of depraved (or perhaps for some people, the other side of depraved). Indeed, the people in Gates’ stories can wear a bit, with their biting sarcasm and world-weariness. Yet there is no denying the sure hand behind these stories, many of which appeared in The New Yorker and the Paris Review. Gates knows his characters so well that the descriptions and ...
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A HISTORY OF MONEY by Alan Pauls translated by Ellie Robins Melville House, 197 pages reviewed by Rory McCluckie There has never been a time when the subject of money wasn't fertile ground for a work of literature; whatever view you take on its role in our lives, it's central to them. From the economic policies of governments to the spare change tossed into a busker's guitar case, it's difficult to imagine what life without it might look like. Not a bad subject, then, for a work that is set to catapult its author onto the international stage. Alan Pauls is an Argentinian novelist, essayist, and critic who has been writing fiction for years while holding various academic and editorial posts in Argentina and the United States. Indeed, he seems to be so active and prolific in his various roles that it's perhaps surprising that Pauls' 2007 novel, The Past, has, until now, been his only work to have received an English language translation. With A History of Money, he should have assured that such negligence comes to an end. This is a skillfully realized work, as accomplished in its execution as it is acute in its criticism. The novel ...
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A HOUSE MADE OF STARS by Tawnysha Greene Burlesque Press, 189 pages, 2015. reviewed by Kathryn Kulpa In the very first scene of A House Made of Stars, Tawnysha Greene’s debut novel, the ten-year-old narrator and her sister are awakened by their mother, who spirits them to a darkened bathroom where all three sit in the bathtub, towels piled over them, while the house shakes with thuds so loud even the narrator’s deaf sister can feel their vibrations. Their mother tells them it’s a game. She tells them they’re practicing for earthquakes. But even at ten, the narrator knows it’s not nature’s rage they need to fear. It’s their father’s. Greene’s voice in this novel is pitch perfect, an eerie and convincing combination of innocence and prescience. The hard-of-hearing narrator is homeschooled and isolated; her mother believes public schools will not teach “Godly things.” Yet her understanding of their family dynamic and her father’s mental illness are intuitive and profound. Without adult labels or filters, we see his depression, his paranoia, his moments of happy, expansive mania that can change in an instant to brutal  outbursts, and the scars he carries from his own violent childhood. We see her mother’s ...
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A MAN LIES DREAMING by Lavie Tidhar Melville House, 294 pages reviewed by Kylie Lee Baker When a novel opens the gates of Auschwitz, we expect to be moved by a tale we've heard a hundred times before; we expect to see Elie Wiesel searching for his father's emaciated body in the snow; we wait for Oskar Schindler to brush snow from his car and then realize that it is not snow but the ashes of burned bodies; above all, we anticipate a tale that unites us in our hatred of Nazi Germany and makes us weep for the injustices inflicted on the Jewish people. A Man Lies Dreaming is none of these things, and never brings us down the path we expect. This is Lavie Tidhar's third novel, published in Europe in 2014 and now released in America, winner of the 2015 Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, A Guardian Best Science Fiction Book of the Year, a Scotland Herald Best Crime Novel of the Year and a British Fantasy Award nominee. A Man Lies Dreaming follows Wolf, a private detective who flees from a concentration camp in Germany and works in 1930s London among Nazis and fascists. He is hired ...
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A MEAL IN WINTER by Hubert Mingarelli translated by Sam Taylor The New Press, 138 pages reviewed by Jeanne Bonner A Meal in Winter by French author Hubert Mingarelli is a subtle book that quietly but methodically stalks the reader’s sympathies. It does so through a beautiful, spare prose style that begins with the first line: “They had rung the iron gong outside, and it was still echoing, at first for real in the courtyard, and then, for a longer time, inside our heads.” This is lovely writing (deftly rendered from the French by translator Sam Taylor, himself a novelist)—yet a bit ominous, like something that can’t be escaped. Later, setting the scene for the winter’s walk that takes up much of the first part of the narrative, he writes: “A pale sun hung in the sky, as distant and useless, it seemed to us, as a coin trapped under thick ice.” Trapped. What is trapped? Or who? But in this review, there’s no point in being subtle about the book’s plot: it’s about three rank-and-file German soldiers who go out into the woods one cold, snowy winter day during World War II for one purpose and one purpose only. And that’s to hunt for Jews who ...
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A QUESTION OF TRADITION: WOMEN POETS IN YIDDISH, 1586-1987 by Kathryn Hellerstein Stanford University Press, 496 pages reviewed by Alyssa Quint Poetry by female Yiddish writers has become the tree that falls in the empty forest of Jewish literature. As a discrete body of work it resonated only faintly with the same Yiddish critics and scholars who gushed over male Yiddish authors. English translations have become an important repository of the dying vernacular of East European Jews but, again, not so much for its female poets. Women's Yiddish poetry finally gets its scholarly due from Kathryn Hellerstein, long-time champion of the female Yiddish poetic voice, in her comprehensive and accessible account, A Question of Tradition: Women Poets in Yiddish, 1586-1987. Hellerstein organizes her book around the concept of a literary tradition as invoked by the likes of T.S. Eliot in his monumental essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent." To Eliot's eloquent if male-dominated and Eurocentic discussion of what "compels a man to write," (my italics), Hellerstein counters with a chain of women who work off the energy of the East European Jewish female experience with its idiosyncrasies of language, religion, gender, and culture. The Yiddish poetry of the sixteenth to ...
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A SCHOOL FOR FOOLS by Sasha Sokolov, trans. Alexander Boguslawski New York Review Books, 208 pages reviewed by Kenna O’Rourke A School for Fools does not immediately strike a modern reader as new or groundbreaking; its central premise is that the narrator, a male youth attending a school for the insane, is unreliable, territory well-tread by canonized authors and Intro-to-Fiction students alike. Perhaps the original novel by Sasha Sokolov preceded (or at least coincided with the origin of) the pervasive cliché of the asylum story, having first been published in 1976, but a reader of this new translation by Alexander Boguslawski can hardly be blamed for her skepticism after glancing at the book’s back-cover blurb. As the asylum motif becomes apparent in the text (the speaker and his alter ego discuss appointments with Dr. Zause, interrupt each other, etc.), trepidation is unavoidable. In context, the image of a looming institution, while predictable, makes some sense in A School for Fools. Born in Canada in 1943, Alexander (Sasha) Sokolov grew up in the USSR after his father was deported from the West for espionage. Over the years, he made several attempts to escape the Soviet Union to no avail; it ...
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A SLEEPLESS MAN SITS UP IN BED by Anthony Seidman Eyewear Publishing, 63 pages reviewed by Johnny Payne When Oswald de Andrade, in his Manifesto Antropófago (Cannibal Manifesto), spoke of “Cannibalism. Absorption of the sacred enemy. To transform him into a totem. The human adventure. Earthly finality,” he might have been speaking of Anthony Seidman’s delighfully profligate A Sleepless Man Sits Up in Bed. The sheer exuberance and sense of endless imagistic invention is exhaustive and vivifying. Each word is a firecracker thrown at your head, as you run through a maze—both mystic and vulgar, blissful and grotesque, enjoying a scary magic that leaves you rapt. To travel at the speed of light you must become sun chafed under the weight of a stone, air glistening in a rope of water unraveling from a clay jug, and noon’s sizzling flash on cars rattling over potholes. Frequent use of anaphora creates not so much meter as a strong and rudely rhythmic sense of chanting. The door of fire is a harpsichord of blood. The door of fire is palm leaves thrown supplicant at the hooves of a goat. The door of fire is hope in a maguey thorn. The door ...
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A TYRANNY of PETTICOATS: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers & Other Badass Girls edited by Jessica Spotswood Candlewick Press, 347 pages reviewed by Leticia Urieta In her introduction to the anthology, A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers and other Badass Girls, editor and author, Jessica Spotswood, describes her longtime interest in the study of history as something “tactile and ever present,” beyond dates and facts. Spotswood acknowledges the problematic nature of historical writings in the past: “Despite their many contributions, women— especially queer women, women of color, and women with disabilities—have too often been erased from history.” Her acknowledgement captures the spirit of the book; the need to give women authors a chance to fill this absence, and tell the complex stories of young women that mainstream history has forgotten. Spotswood has collected fifteen authors, including herself, to contribute short stories that reflect the perspectives of girls across different time periods of American history, starting from 1710 and ending in 1968. The collection spans different regions, cultures, classes and linguistic traditions. As a writer, I can imagine the challenges these authors faced to create this wonderful array of stories, to compress the unique ...
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ABDUCTING A GENERAL by Patrick Leigh Fermor NYRB, 206 pages reviewed by Rory McCluckie In 1933, aged only 18, Patrick Leigh Fermor began walking from Rotterdam to Constantinople. Clad in an old greatcoat and a pair of hobnail boots, he had left his native England on the deck of a Dutch steamer and set off on foot with a few letters of introduction, some notebooks, and a copy of Horace's Odes in his rucksack, It was an extraordinary thing to undertake but we've long known that Leigh Fermor was an extraordinary man; a skilled linguist, a vivid, ebullient writer, and a lover of literature, people, and the world in all its variable wonder—of life, essentially—he has become celebrated for enjoying an existence so improbably charmed that his travel books often read like stirring, romantic fictions. When Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, Leigh Fermor—then living in Romania—returned home and was accepted as a candidate for a commission in the Irish Guards, a posting he quickly came to regard as dull. It was with some relief, then, when the Intelligence Corps took note of his lingustic capabilities and offered him courses in military intelligence and interrogation before dispatching him, in ...
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AGONY by Mark Beyer New York Review of Books, 173 pages reviewed by Nathan Chazan It’s difficult to write about any individual Mark Beyer comic. His works return to the same characters, motifs and events, so particular to his voice that a broad description of a Beyer comic can just as easily describe his entire oeuvre. Beyer draws nihilistic stories about life going from bad to worse, usually focusing on Amy and Jordan, a couple whose life is beyond bleak. His art is childlike and dementedly unreal; bizarre forms and wonky perspectives, complemented by obsessive, handmade stippling, create an atmosphere of fanatical intensity. The language of Amy and Jordan stories are almost drab in their bluntness, adding to the overall sense of unreality. It’s a world of disaster that is both terrifying and hilarious at once. A typical Amy and Jordan panel shows the two menaced by some strange-looking knife-wielding monstrosity, arms in the air, flatly screaming “aaaahhhhh!” First and foremost, Agony is a long Amy and Jordan story. Presented in a squat, square paperback that can fit in your coat pocket, Agony is a descent into the mad, sad logic of Beyer’s universe – there are a number of ...
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AGOSTINO by Alberto Moravia translated by Michael F. Moore NYRB Classics, 128 pages MR. BOARDWALK by Louis Greenstein New Door Books, 316 pages reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin MUSEUMS OF INNOCENCE In September 1980, military officers took over the Turkish government. Soldiers arrested 500,000 people, executed some of them, and installed martial law. Ultimately, the coup ended years of political and economic instability, but most remarkably it led to Turkey’s integration into the global economy, and eventually its status as an emergent power. Gone were days of economic and cultural isolation—a shared national innocence that novelist Orhan Pamuk has so daringly and insistently memorialized in the novel Museum of Innocence (2008)—and before that in My Name is Red (2003) and the memoir Istanbul (2005). In these books he has rebuilt and recreated a deeply provincial, yet colorful and highly idiosyncratic world that otherwise was trapped in his head. This same instinct seems to motivate the author Louis Greenstein, a playwright, whose first novel, Mr. Boardwalk, was published last month by New Door Books. Greenstein’s museum of innocence is Atlantic City in the decade before 1978, when the Chalfonte-Haddon Hall Hotel was converted into Resorts International, the city’s first casino. Greenstein ...
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ALEXANDRIAN SUMMER by Yitzhak Gormezano Goren translated by Yardenne Greenspan New Vessel Press, 171 pages reviewed by Justin Goodman "The Irony of Nostalgia" From our Modernist forebears came an emphasis on the power of memory (think Marcel Proust). Yet they forgot to mention its overbearing sibling, nostalgia. Overbearing not only because it tends to act as “a screen not intended to hide anything–a decoration meant only to please the eye,” but also because it obscures history. In effect, it fetishizes the past. It makes Alexandria the “strange, nostalgic European landscape” of Yitzhak Gormezano Goren’s Alexandrian Summer (translated for the first time into English by Yardenne Greenspan). One would expect an aestheticizing impulse of, as André Aciman informs in his introduction, a man who “aged ten…left his home on the Rue Delta in Alexandra” and then saw the military overthrow of King Farouk “dissolve all remnants of multi-national life in Egypt.” Alexandrian Summer is nigh a roman à clef, following the arc of the author’s life up to his fortuitous migration from this anti-Semitic cosmopolitan fantasy to Israel to join his brothers. Nonetheless, despite his intimacy with his history, Goren avoids any such pathos. All nostalgic bliss is converted to a ...
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ALL OF YOU ON THE GOOD EARTH
ALL OF YOU ON THE GOOD EARTH by Ernest Hilbert Red Hen Press, 96 pages reviewed by J.G. McClure In her classic “Some Notes on Organic Form,” Denise Levertov argues that “Rhyme, chime, echo, reiteration…not only serve to knit the elements of an experience but often are the very means, the sole means, by which the density of texture and the returning or circling of perception can be transmuted into language, ap­perceived.” When a formal poem is doing its job well, it couldn’t exist in any other way. In All of You on the Good Earth, Ernest Hilbert takes on the sonnet form with every poem. At their best, Hilbert’s poems use that form to full advantage, revealing depths of meaning that would otherwise remain inaccessible. Take a poem like “Drift,” which describes of timelessness and isolation, a purgatory. The poem begins in suspension: The sky is warm and heavy before rain. You throw down anchors. They till lines in soft Clay, blooming muddy clouds. You sometimes slow, Sometimes speed, as you pass forest and plain. We are caught in the moment of waiting. The sky doesn’t clear, the rain doesn’t come. The anchors produce mud—not quite water, not ...
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ALMOST EVERYTHING VERY FAST by Christopher Kloeble translated by Aaron Kerner Graywolf Press, 306 pages reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier Like the best coming-of-age stories, Christopher Kloeble’s Almost Everything Very Fast addresses universal concerns by asking personal questions. Nineteen-year-old Albert, raised in an orphanage, wants to know why he was given up by his anonymous mother and the father he knows: Frederick Arkadiusz Driajes, a grown man with a childlike mind. Albert has gotten nowhere by following the “Hansel and Gretel crumbs” he’s found in Fred’s attic: a photo of Fred with a red-haired woman, a few auburn hairs plucked from a comb. When Fred’s terminal illness imposes an urgent deadline, Albert visits him in Königsdorf one last time—but his “infinite questions” lead to still more questions: What is love? In what ways do family ties bind us? Is nurturing natural? Do parents cause their children more harm than good? In Segendorf, Fred’s ancestral village, to love is to discard. For nearly 400 years, residents have been compelled to hurl their Most Beloved Possessions off the rocky bluff of the highest hill at the annual Sacrificial Festival. During one such celebration in 1912, incestuous (and murderous) twins Jasfe and Josfer Habom ...
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Carey McHugh
AMERICAN GRAMOPHONE by Carey McHugh Augury Books, 72 pages reviewed by Clare Paniccia In approaching Carey McHugh’s American Gramophone, one might first consider this question: What is the song of America, or American culture? It’s easy to jump to the obvious conclusions—the United States has strongly defined itself through its velocity, whether in industry, technology, or commercial growth, and its music has become largely representative of these themes, with contemporary pop artists representing the almost-electric shine of the digital age, rock bands highlighting the working-class, and country groups crooning over the “loss” of an easy-going, slow-paced lifestyle. Beneath these surface associations, however, McHugh challenges our initial question with a more stripped-down idea—what if America’s song isn’t something you can quickly flip to on a radio? What if America’s song is something that deviates completely from the mainstream—something pared to its most visceral form: an instrumental, organic, and natural tone? Think of the vibrating note of a fiddle, the deep strum of a guitar, and bare, haunting vocals. The sounds of folk and Americana that seem to eek out of valleys, creeks, and forgotten forests—quietly shivering their way into the undercurrent of the American everyday. These are the notes that wind from ...
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AMERICAN SONGBOOK by Michael Ruby Ugly Duckling Presse, 144 pages reviewed by Ana Schwartz Imagine a road trip across America, probably in the summer, “in the good old plastic gasoline / Pell-mell summertime.” Of course, music will be an essential part of the journey, probably radio hits. Headed East, perhaps, the lyrics of each song traverse both geography and time: a path paved in words. The lyrics to these songs linger in memory, but they’re also so ephemeral—though the words remain, their thrill often fades along with the little experiential details that make any such trip unique. Between the transient intensity of experience and the permanence of a material archive, exists poetry, transcription of verbal and nonverbal song on a page, lending it a more lasting presence. Each poem in Ruby’s latest collection, American Songbook, riffs on or responds to a canonical piece of American pop music, and appears chronologically, spanning the American radio-waves from the 1930s (Bessie Smith’s “Pinchbacks” to the cusp of the twenty first century (Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana’s “Smooth”). This sequence of poems presents a narrative of personal experience, but the individual experience of pleasure in pop music is at the same time an ...
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AMONG STRANGE VICTIMS by Daniel Saldaña París, translated by Christina MacSweeney Coffee House Press, 320 pages reviewed by Lillian Brown Daniel Saldaña París’s Among Strange Victims, translated by Christina MacSweeney, immediately pulls the reader into its universe. It does so with such thorough and seamless skill that the reader becomes a victim of this strange, off-kilter world. While it’s initially easy to get lost trying to find the meaning, or premise in general, of the series of peculiar events that passes throughout the novel, the ride is worth the suspension of belief. What starts with a proposal in the form of a note, at first presumably left by a snarky, administrative coworker, becomes the catalyst in the marriage of Rodrigo and Cecilia, and the kickstarter for the novel’s bizarre happenings, wherein a group of lonely and bored people seek answers for the inexplicable in the everyday. The eccentric cast features Rodrigo, the self-proclaimed “useless husband” and once mediocre museum worker turned collector of tea bags and savior of hens; Cecilia, his secretary wife with an attachment to her tiger-striped bedspread; Adela, Rodrigo’s mother, an academic, and the lover of Marcelo, a philosopher who takes a sabbatical (he is a ...
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AND THE GIRLS WORRIED TERRIBLY by Dot Devota Noemi Press, 80 pages reviewed by Julia Paganelli Newly single for the first time in three years, I found myself claiming both the titles of housewife and provider: dish-washer and bill-payer, cook and changer of lightbulbs. My mother, on telephone calls, “hints” that she needs grandbabies—and soon. She says things like, “You know you want kids.” I backpedal. I won’t have time with all the poetry gigs I’ll have. I want to live in a dangerous place; I’m not sure where yet. I converted, and I want to become a nun—when? You know…yesterday. She says things like, “I hope you have a child as stubborn as you are.” Dot Devota, in her book, And the Girls Worried Terribly, puts aside marriage to man, woman, or God and marries self to self. Through bizarre and delightful celebration imagery, Devota leads us to conception through physical and mental violence. Devota’s title has been carefully selected from a caption in Oliver Statler’s The Black Ship Scroll. In this historical work, Statler writes of an instance when Japanese singing girls were to have their photographs taken by foreigners, “and the girls worried terribly,” that “the soul ...
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AND WIND WILL WASH AWAY by Jordan A. Rothacker Deeds Publishing, 376 Pages reviewed by William Morris Detective Jonathan Wind is not a wisecracking, hardboiled investigator in the tradition of Philip Marlowe, or a hyper-observant sleuth like Sherlock Holmes. Rather, Wind uses his almost encyclopedic knowledge to investigate crimes for the Atlanta Police Department. When he’s not on a case, the protagonist of Jordan A. Rothacker’s And Wind Will Wash Away splits his time between Monica, his devout Catholic girlfriend, and his secret mistress, Flora, a goddess-worshipping sex worker. All of this changes when, one early morning, Detective Wind gets a call from his partner, notifying him of a new case. The victim turns out to be his lover, Flora Ross, and her body has been burned to ash in an otherwise undamaged apartment. The police are satisfied to call the woman’s death accidental, the result of some electrical mishap, but Jonathan Wind isn’t so sure. He takes it upon himself to investigate the case in secret, going against department policy, and withholding the fact of his relationship to the victim all the while. In his quest for truth, Detective Wind encounters “an albino midget dressed in all white […] ...
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ANDRE THE GIANT: LIFE AND LEGEND by Box Brown First Second Books, 240 pages reviewed by Brian Burmeister For a generation of professional wrestling fans, Andre Roussimoff was a giant, both as a man (he stood seven-feet, four-inches tall and weighed 500 pounds) and as an icon (he was one of the most successful and beloved wrestlers of all time). In telling Andre’s story, author/illustrator Box Brown did his homework. A life-long fan of professional wrestling, Brown draws upon interviews with those who personally knew Andre as well archival footage in an effort to show a complete and accurate portrayal of Andre’s life in and out of the ring. Throughout Andre the Giant’s pages we see Andre as a young boy growing up in the French countryside, Andre as an up-and-comer in the professional wrestling circuit, and finally Andre the globe-trekking celebrity. Along the way, Brown gives life to dozens of anecdotes about the wrestler, moments ranging from playful to painful but always compelling and curious. For those less familiar with professional wrestling, Brown takes pains to make the material accessible. Throughout the course of the narrative, he includes a preface in which he imparts to the reader a useful ...
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ANOTHER MAN'S CITY by Choe In-Ho Translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton Dalkey Archive (Library of Korean Literature), 190 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster As I'm writing this, the rain is beginning. The spattering sounds of drops hitting the fat, broad maple leaves on the tree outside my window catch my ear like static. The rain turns on the rich, dirt smell of the ground and dampens the sound of passing traffic. My neighbor, who plays the piano for the Portland Opera, is practicing some Brahms and singing out the notes as he plays them. This is my place. Do I think I belong here because my senses interpret it as “mine,” and I'm attached to the reality I identify as “mine,” or do I belong in any old place, whether I recognize my surroundings or not? This impossible question is the crux of Choe In-Ho's novel Another Man's City. I walked into it expecting something bizarre, futuristic, and possibly a bit whimsical. But this is not The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Instead, I ended up in one of Philip K. Dick's amphetamine dreams. “Every train station displays a timetable,” he writes, For the public, it's a kind ...
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Apollo
APOLLO by Geoffrey Gatza BlazeVOX
, 168 pages reviewed by Carlo Matos Geoffrey Gatza’s Apollo is an all-out assault on the reader, like facing an opponent who senses you’re about to wilt and so presses the action. Every time we think we know what he’s doing, another surprise comes our way. And this is how good conceptual poetry should be—not just the simple execution of a clever conceit but a text that threatens at every turn to burst from the inside out and take the reader with it but never does. Taking the shape of a souvenir program for a one-night performance of Stravinsky’s ballet of the same name, the book contains a myriad of Dada-like exercises: poems generated by a John Cage-like method of assigning words to each square on a chess board and to each piece and then playing out the game between Marcel Duchamp and then US chess champion, Frank Marshall, at the Chess Olympiad in Hamburg in 1930 (accompanied by pictures of each position and a cat), an Arthurian legend based on the Lady of Shallot, a three-act play where Duchamp somehow manages to play himself as Rrose Sélavey (his female alter-ego), and a business letter ...
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ARE YOU SEEING ME? by Darren Groth Orca Book Publishers, 278 pages reviewed by Allison Renner Books are often seen as a respite from everyday life and road trip books can be an even greater escape. They let you travel without having to go through airport security or get stuck in a strange city's traffic. Darren Groth’s Are You Seeing Me? takes readers from an Australian airport to several stops in Canada and the United States, journeying alongside nineteen-year-old Justine and her twin brother, Perry. The trip is a big undertaking, but it’s meant to be a send-off, a farewell to the lives the twins have always known. Justine and Perry’s father died a year ago and, since then, Justine has been Perry’s caregiver. Before his death, their father secured Perry, who has autism, a spot at an independent living facility. Justine is conflicted: Perry says he wants to move away; her boyfriend wants to move in; and she can finally live a life without caring for a brother with disabilities. But she doesn’t really mind taking care of Perry, and worries that he’ll forget about her as he establishes his own independent life. She knows how to prevent his ...
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ASHES IN MY MOUTH, SAND IN MY SHOES by Per Petterson translated by Don Bartlett
 Graywolf Press, 118 pages reviewed by Rory McCluckie Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes is Per Petterson's first book but one of his last to be translated into English. This isn't surprising; Petterson's 2005 worldwide breakthrough, Out Stealing Horses, triggered a certain catching-up period for translators. Gradually, we readers have been able to consume the bulk of his output but it's only now that we can see for ourselves where it all started for the author. This means that readers are able to bring a context to this work that isn't usually part of the chronological reading of contemporary fiction. It makes for an interesting exercise. Published in 1987 when he was in his mid-thirties, Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes is a collection of stories that launched Petterson on a writing career that followed stints as a librarian, book store clerk, and translator. You could mine the man's biography for years, however, and still not find anything more horrifically arresting than the event that took place on April 7, 1990. Early that morning, while travelling aboard ...
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AUGUSTUS by John Williams NYRB Books, 305 pages reviewed by Ana Schwartz “Notable Romans” Those who studied Latin in high school or college might recognize the feeling with which Georg Lukacs introduces his Theory of the Novel. Although the book was published a century ago, it still holds valuable insight into the pleasures of reading. In the introductory sentences he describes those happy ages when the world and self were each visible with sharp distinction. Discrete they were, but also intimately familiar to each other. Lukacs’ framework is present in the first lists of Latin vocabulary; these collections of words alert contemporary readers to a world in which a word meant itself and at the same time more than itself. For example, ferro—iron—could denote the reliable metal; it could metonymically represent a sword made out of iron; and it could metaphorically represent any object of potentially harmful strength. These vocabulary lists imply a world in which such figures were useful, a world in which they could and would be deployed with practiced subtlety, perhaps in response to iron-willed violence. Augustus is the recently reissued fourth novel by John Williams, whose earlier novels, Butcher’s Crossing and Stoner, have been very well ...
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BABOON by Naja Marie Aidt translated by Denise Newman Two Lines Press, 190 pages reviewed by KC Mead-Brewer Bestiality, child abuse, love, depression, heartbreak: these are among the many subjects brought to life in Naja Marie Aidt’s story collection, Baboon. Aidt, born in Greenland, a resident of Brooklyn, writes in the intersection, the most dangerous part of the street. Her stories stand boldly in the overlap of the ordinary and the absurd, between the wondrous and the vile. Brave and masterful, it’s no wonder Aidt has won both the Pen Literary Award and the Nordic Council Literature Prize. In the story “Candy,” Aidt puts everyday absurdity on fantastic display. A woman accidentally steals a at the supermarket, only to end up stolen herself. Things go from bad to worse when her husband, our narrator, fights to get her back from the store detectives; in the process, he’s injured, robbed, belittled, and jeered. Still, he fights for her, knocking over display cans of clam chowder and shouting at the manager, who only belittles him further: “Sir, I’ll have to ask you to leave at once. The customers are disturbed. We can’t take responsibility for that.” “Responsibility!” I shook my head ...
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BALTHUS: A BIOGRAPHY by Nicholas Fox Weber Dalkey Archive Press, 656 pages reviewed by Gabriel Chazan When looking at the paintings of Balthus, the viewer can’t help but react. Seeing paintings of young and often pre-pubescent girls and women in poses loaded with a strange sexuality, there is no possibility of cool remove. The viewer is made to consider actively their role in looking at the young women in these sometimes cruel, always compelling, provocative and often beautiful images. Balthus’s images have a strange, almost dreamlike hold, as they look back at us, impenetrable and confrontational. Balthus himself is somewhere in them yet distant. He wished his life to be separate from his work, something to be never included in exhibits or official publications, only “a misleading and harmful screen placed between the viewer and painter…paintings do not describe or reveal a painter.” He almost entirely obscured the true facts of his life, recreating himself as a count and rendering himself a challengingly elusive subject for biography. He placed the most responsibility on those looking at his work to react to whatever sexuality or darkness they might find in the work as their own perception. The relationship of ...
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BANNED FOR LIFE by Arlene Ang Misty Publications, 81 pages reviewed by Carlo Matos Arlene Ang’s Banned for Life is obsessed with bodies, especially dead bodies. In fact, there is a reference to a corpse in nearly every poem in the first section and in many cases the corpses are literally present. And in the poems that do not have corpses, death is often not far or on hold. In “Mountains,” for example, the subject of the poem is referred to simply as “the body:” With both hands, the body touched itself where the physician lingered with the stethoscope . . . on that part where everything went wrong. The “body” of “Mountains” might be the mother figure of the next poem, “To Sweat,” who has cancer. In these poems Ang demonstrates how the ravaging power of a disease like cancer can trap us inside our own bodies or reduce our humanity to its component, material parts. In the third section of the book, when Ang returns once again to her bodies, she develops the notion of dismemberment overtly. In “Rediscovering Paris Through Female Body Parts,” a woman is carved-up like a city map. This part is the Seine, another ...
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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 ...
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BEFORE PICTURES by Douglas Crimp University of Chicago Press/Dancing Foxes Press, 307 pages reviewed by Gabriel Chazan Douglas Crimp’s memoir Before Pictures invites readers into the lively artistic and queer worlds of 1960s to 1970s New York where Crimp was formed as an art historian. This is the same New York which brought him to curate Pictures, a small exhibit at Artist’s Space now considered pivotal to ideas about contemporary art. In the art history textbook Art Since 1900 (2004), Pictures is historicized as having given a platform to artwork meant to give “a new sense of the image as ‘picture’” and to “transcend any particular medium.” Here, Crimp embraces this transcendence in a different way. In his consideration, no single art form, from fashion to architecture, comes out as primary. On the inside covers of Before Pictures are two New York City subway maps from 1972. The book structured by the stops where Crimp has resided—it is Crimp’s many encounters, intellectual, artistic, sexual and architectural, on the city streets which anchor this memoir. Just as there are stops on the subway line, there are many different and often unexpected stops of interest in Crimp’s own intellectual journey ...
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BETWEEN GRAMMARS by Danielle Vogel Noemi Press, 78 pages reviewed by Amanda Hickok It’s so often that a book of poetry can be thought of as a static object, a collection of disembodied words that are supposed to transcend the body and voice of their author on the page. And it’s so often that poets are bodiless, as poetry—no matter how much it is about bodies—must be divorced from its corporeal source and recipient; that a poet writes for an anonymous reader who in turn reads nobody behind their words. However, and perhaps ironically, poetry’s meaning comes at least in part from its resonance within these bodies, in its ability to stir in them a visceral reaction. Danielle Vogel knows this and addresses this with a forceful intimacy between poet, reader, and page that is both beautiful and challenging in a breaking-the-fourth-wall kind of way, in the vulnerability it necessitates that we are so often sheltered from. Between Grammars, a book-length poem, begins with an equation of text and body—epigraphs that include “we melt into each other with phrases… We make an unsubstantial territory,” from Woolf, and “Language is a skin,” from Barthes, and then a prologue in five ...
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BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH by Yoram Kaniuk translated by Barbara Harshav Restless Books, 219 pages reviewed by David Grandouiller Yoram Kaniuk, an Israeli novelist who died in 2013, was the kind of man who tells jokes as he's dying in the hospital, even when he has no voice, when there's a respirator thrust through an incision in his chest. His humor is at times bitter, biting like Sholem Aleichem's pogrom narratives, descending into sullen anti-prayers: “cancer, like Hitler...is a messenger of the Lord.” In this respect, Kaniuk's Between Life and Death, published this year in English, probably most closely resembles Christopher Hitchens' Mortality. A sense of the meaninglessness in so much of life, of banality in death, pervades both authors’ stories. Kaniuk rages and rejoices, but sometimes qualifies these outbursts by settling, like Hitchens, for a tone of ambivalent irony, communicated in prose thick with vibrant images and cumulative sentences. In Kaniuk's world, sons and fathers are dying, mothers and daughters, and “rain pipes” and “secret bays” and “natural pools” are dying, the parking lot of the concert hall (“may-it-rest-in-peace”) on Ibn Gabirol Street is dying, and the restaurant, First Cellar, on Ben Yehudah, died long ago: “A world where ...
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BILATERAL ASYMMETRY by Don Riggs Texture Press, 120 pages reviewed by Shinelle L. Espaillat In his new collection, Bilateral Asymmetry, Don Riggs explores the balance—or the imbalance—between art and life, and the inevitable synergy between the two. His illustrations illuminate his poetic concepts, offering the reader a fuller texture through which to experience his work. In the manner of the old masters, Riggs offers provocation with deceptive simplicity. The first section, Gallery Opening, is an exercise in ekphrasis. Riggs entwines visual and literary art, reminding us how genres and mediums can and should inspire each other. Indeed, the opening poem, “Still Life,” creates a robust picture in the style of Vermeer, of the tortured artist struggling with the space between inspiration and craft. “Pagan Mystery in the Renaissance” further exposes the shifting boundaries between words and worlds, exploring Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses and how misinterpretation led to a masterpiece that inspires fantasy. Readers needn’t be familiar with the works in question in order to see them in Riggs’ imagery, and to understand the works’ impact on both the writer and the world, though the poems make you want to physically experience the artistic works. In the Pet Scans section, we ...
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BIRDS ON THE KISWAR TREE by Odi Gonzalez, trans. Lynn Levin 2Leaf Press, 140 pages reviewed by J.G. McClure It’s the Last Supper. The apostles pray earnestly as Christ radiates a heavenly light, bread-loaf in hand. It’s a scene we know well, with a key difference: dead-center of the canvas, surrounded by corn and chilies, a roasted guinea pig splays its feet in the air. This is a prime example of the Cusco School of painting, an artistic movement that developed during Peru’s colonial period and that forms the subject of Birds on the Kiswar Tree. As translator Lynn Levin explains in her notes: Painting flourished in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Peru when Spain sent highly-accomplished painters, some of them painter-priests, to the Andes in order to evangelize the people through art and art instruction. The Church, however, put severe restrictions on the native artists: they were permitted to paint only religious subjects. The artists responded by producing work that was pious, syncretistic, and subversive. In hidden nooks in churches, Quechua artists painted angels with harquebuses; they furnished the Garden of Eden with Andean birds, trees, and flowers… The fascinating thing about the Cusco School is that it ...
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BLACK RIVER by Josh Simmons Fantagraphics Books, 110 pages reviewed by Stephanie Trott Despite society’s wonderment over advances of the human race, we are nonetheless fascinated by hypotheses of how the world may one day cease to exist. And while prophecies of rapture have yet to prove veritable, there exist countless fictional renderings of a post-apocalyptic Earth. The medium of graphic narrative has long played host to such tales, from the teenage plague that dominates Charles Burns’s iconic Black Hole to the psychedelic stylings of anarchist rebel Tank Girl. In this spirit comes Josh Simmons’s Black River, which follows a gang of five women and one man as they traverse a dormant planet void of laws and warmth. Led by the experienced Seka over the course of more than a decade, the group searches in hopes of locating the fabled city of Gattenberg—“walled in and completely self-sufficient, protected by sharp-shooters all around the city.” They are survivalists to the Nth degree, employing stockpiled supplies unused by those now deceased; their camaraderie is strong (as they quite literally sleep together in an attempt to stay warm through the night) and extends both to preserving life and taking it when necessary. The ...
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BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL by Elliott Chaze introduction by Barry Gifford New York Review Books Classics, 209 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster Some people believe that for each person there is only one soulmate. One chance. One perfect fit. The soulmate completes us and knits up our ragged edges. We heal into a wholeness that is sacred. It's fate, people say. It's the way of the world. Broken marriage? He wasn't your soulmate. Still lonely? Haven't yet met your soulmate. When the soulmate appears, it's like the universe holds a mirror up to us. Our love shows us our true selves. Everything is beautiful. But beauty can kill, too. Elliott Chaze's novel Black Wings Has My Angel explores a brilliant but fatal partnership between two criminals bent on committing the perfect heist. “Tim Sunblade”—not his real name—escapes prison with nothing but his wits and a foolproof plan for a high-end robbery. His first week back in civilian life, he hires Virginia, a “ten-dollar tramp” who is not only more than what he paid for, but more than he bargained for. “What I wanted was a big stupid commercial blob of a woman; not a slender poised thing with ...
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BLINDING: THE LEFT WING by Mircea Cărtărescu, in the English translation by Sean Cotter, Archipelago Books, 464 pages Reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin It starts in adolescence. The questions come to you while lying in bed (certainly now with a growing awareness of your sexuality), the walls of your room expanding into endless grainy darkness, as if the room itself could encompass the entire world: why am I here, why is there anything at all? The questions may haunt you at age 13 or 15 or 17, but by adulthood they tend to feel banal. Unanswerable, impossible, if taken seriously debilitating, they are in a word blinding, and so you tend to avert your gaze. But suppose you can’t, suppose the inviolable white light only draws you closer, to madness possibly, to paint or write or drink or pray (to what God, tell me?) almost certainly. And so perhaps you scribble, the pages of your notebooks filling with furious script, like eons of sediment piling into sad mute mountains no one else will ever excavate or carve or climb. Unless, perhaps, you are a writer of the caliber of Mircea Cărtărescu, the celebrated Romanian author of the 1996 book ...
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BLINDSIGHT by Greg Hewett Coffee House Press, 105 pages reviewed by Brent Matheny Blindsight, the latest poetry collection by poet Greg Hewett, author of darkacre, The Eros Conspiracy, and Red Suburb, opens with a piece inviting the reader to abandon metaphor: take metaphor as blindness deforming life to get at the idea behind life tires me. For too long I have been looking into nothing and seeing nothing more than words Taking cues from composer Olivier Messiaen, Hewett, in an attempt to abandon layered language as a way of talking about the world, uses the concept of prime numbers to explore themes of loneliness, disassociation, and queerness. Prime numbers are those which are divisible only by the number one and themselves. Already they stand stark, somewhat alone. In the natural numbers (those positive integers we know so well: 1, 2, 3, 4...) prime numbers are at first common (a quarter of the first 100 are prime) then they become increasingly sparser, with arbitrarily many non-prime numbers in between them. The poems in Blindsight are somewhat like primes themselves. In addition to being composed of prime numbers of stanza with a prime number of syllables of in each line ...
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BLOOD HYPHEN by Kenny Williams Oberlin College Press, 84 pages reviewed by J.G. McClure Frost said that, like an ice cube on a hot stove, a poem must ride on its own melting. It’s an apt description of the poems in Kenny Williams’ Blood Hyphen, winner of the 2015 FIELD Poetry Prize. Take the book’s opening poem, “About the Author,” which begins: The genius of Diogenes: all his books are lost. But really that’s the genius of the books and not the man. If I can speak for the man, his diet of worms and onions makes me feel like a pig when I go to the store and it’s midnight and the store is closing. Riding on its own melting, the poem proceeds by continuously undermining itself. The genius of Diogenes isn’t really the genius of Diogenes but rather the genius of his books—all of which are lost. So to be ingenious, a piece of writing should not exist—a darkly funny argument that undermines the very act of writing the poem in the first place. The speaker then proposes to “speak for the man” Diogenes—but does no such thing, instead talking about his own experience in the grocery ...
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