BOok Review Alphabetical Index

Cleaver reviewers present the most exciting literary work from around the globe. We specialize in American independent press releases but also vital work in translation that’s all too often overlooked by American readers.

Cleaver’s full alphabetical (by title) index of reviews of books by small and independent presses:
Looking for reviews by genre? Try: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, young adult, or graphic narrative. Looking for our latest reviews? Try here.
Are you a publisher or author looking for information on how to submit a book for review? Email the book review editors.

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 ...
Read the full review
ATLANTIC HOTEL by João Gilberto Noll translated by Adam Morris Two Lines Press, 138 pages reviewed by Robert Sorrell “Love. Call me Love, the Word Incarnate.” This is the closest that readers get to a name for the protagonist and narrator of João Gilberto Noll’s strange little book, Atlantic Hotel, recently translated into English by Adam Morris. The novel is set in Brazil in the 1980s, and over the course of the book, the unnamed narrator embarks on a beguiling and pointless quest through the country. At different points he will seem to be—or perhaps will be—an actor, a priest, an alcoholic, an invalid. Along the way, Noll will shade his experiences with touches of Don Quixote and Odysseus, hints of The Stranger and a taste of the pantomime and absurdity of Fellini’s early 1960s films (Noll’s unnamed narrator a believable stand-in for the existentially angsty characters usually played by Marcello Mastroianni). And yet for all the interesting things that could be said about Atlantic Hotel, this review is written in shadow. On March 29, 2017, just a little over a month before the release of the new English translation of Atlantic Hotel, João Gilberto Noll passed away in his ...
Read the full review
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 ...
Read the full review
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 ...
Read the full review
BAD JOBS AND POOR DECISIONS Dispatches from the Working Class by J.R. Helton Liveright Publishing Corporation, 259 Pages reviewed by Robert Sorrell The jacket of J.R. Helton’s memoir, Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions: Dispatches from the Working Class, shows an assortment of loose black-and-white sketches: a marijuana leaf, a packet of cigarettes, a typewriter, crumpled beer cans, lines of (presumably) cocaine, a gun, a cockroach. Among them, figures emerge: A man’s face covered in huge beads of sweat, a woman with long dark hair shown from the shoulders up, a pole dancer. These images appear regularly in each of the seven long anecdotes that make up Bad Jobs, working as signifiers of a place, time, and social class. The place is Austin, Texas and the time is when the tail end of the 1970s met the Reagan 1980s. The class setting is a bit more complicated, but I’ll get to that later. When we meet J.R. Helton—or Jake, as his character is known in the book—he’s a 20-year-old writer who’s just dropped out of the University of Texas in Austin to write full time after winning a small literary prize. “I thought, Man, this is gonna be easy,” Helton writes, ...
Read the full review
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 ...
Read the full review
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 ...
Read the full review
BARDO OR NOT BARDO by Antoine Volodine translated from French by J.T. Mahany Open Letter Books, 163 pages reviewed by Amanda Klute Take the existential universe of Jean-Paul Sartre and pull his pants down around his ankles—this is the paradoxical narrative met with in French comedic novelist Antoine Volodine’s Bardo or Not Bardo. Volodine’s blunt, absurdist style illustrates a marriage between the profound and the comedic, using humor as a weapon to further investigate humanity’s most unanswerable questions.  Bardo or Not Bardo greets its audience with death—a formality granting access to the real meat of the novel: the “Bardo,” a Tibetan afterlife where Volodine’s characters are required, through heavy influence and persistent guidance, to navigate this purgatory-of-sorts for seven weeks. Once the forty-nine days are complete, they are forced to choose between rebirth or religious sacrifice: they can be reincarnated as either human or animal, continuing the cycle of life and death, or they can be abolished from suffering and become Buddha. Reminiscent of Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, Volodine’s characters, through seven vignettes tracking from death through the afterlife, consistently waste their freedom and their opportunities at enlightenment even while aided by the teachings from the Bardo Thodol, or the Tibetan ...
Read the full review
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 ...
Read the full review
BASIC BLACK WITH PEARLS by Helen Weinzweig with an afterword by Sarah Weinman NYRB, 146 pages reviewed by Jodi Monster Lola Montez, the protagonist of Basic Black with Pearls by Helen Weinzweig, is a woman gripped by an obsessive, consuming passion for her married lover, Coenraad. To hear Lola tell it, this mysterious man, who works for an unspecified outfit referred to only as “The Agency,” directs her to their assignations by means of a secret code he embeds into the text of National Geographic magazine articles. The novel opens with Lola in Tikal, scanning crowds of tourists for Coenraad, who always arrives in disguise. He fails to appear, however, and instead, Lola receives a phone call instructing her to meet him in Toronto. She protests: “I can’t go back there… [It’s] where I live.” But eventually she complies, setting in motion a long weekend of waiting that also becomes a hallucinogenic voyage into the deepest recesses of her heart and mind. First published in 1980 and considered a feminist landmark, Basic Black with Pearls charts the course of the dream-state weekend that ostensibly marks Lola’s return to Toronto. Right at the start of this weekend, casually, in passing, it’s ...
Read the full review
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 ...
Read the full review
BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ by Alfred Döblin translated by Michael Hofmann NYRB Classics, 458 pages reviewed by Tyson Duffy Purchase this book to benefit Cleaver A thought experiment: imagine that back during the peak prosperity years of the Obama Administration, with optimism at a high and unemployment dropping, that the good Dr. Oliver Sacks had unexpectedly published a despairing novel featuring a one-armed murdering pimp with white-supremacist leanings named Frank Beaverbrains. This dull petty criminal wanders Manhattan—or some gentrifying urban center of high culture and national pride—selling tie stands and alt-right newsletters, roughing up prostitutes, shooting up bars, and volunteering for a number of disastrous heists before winding up a diminished nobody, an assistant porter at a small company with less than nothing left to him. The reading public, scandalized, intrigued, mystified, lines up at bookstores nationwide to make this strange novel a bestseller. Some years later, Trump rides a surge of white nationalism to the White House, earning the author a reputation as a kind of literary-political clairvoyant. This, more or less, is the trick that Alfred Döblin, a doctor, writer, and German public figure, pulled off in 1929 with his publication of Berlin Alexanderplatz, released at the height of the ...
Read the full review
BESOTTED by Melissa Duclos 713 Books, 243 pages reviewed by Lisa Johnson Mitchell Purchase this book to benefit Cleaver Melissa Duclos’ debut novel Besotted is a lyrical, urgent love story about two young American women, Sasha and Liz, who run away to China to try to find themselves. Sasha has fled all the trappings of her privileged life, including her father who disapproves of her sexuality. Liz, the object of Sasha’s desire, has packed up and left her predictable existence and Amherst-educated boyfriend, having grown tired of being an afterthought of his otherwise-enchanted life. When the novel opens, Sasha is a teacher at an international school, who is helping her boss find an additional instructor. She’s drawn to Liz’s resume because she believed she “needed to be” working with her (a certain je ne sais quoi, I suppose), and she tells her boss there are no other applicants. When Liz arrives, she’s put up in a hotel temporarily, and Sasha, who is desperately lonely, asks her to move in. After mornings sipping jasmine tea and evenings drinking at trendy expat haunts, they fall in love. But then two other characters arrive on the scene: Sam, Liz’s Chinese language partner who ...
Read the full review
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 ...
Read the full review
BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH by Yoram Kaniuk translated by Barbara Harshav Restless Books, 219 pages reviewed by David Grandouiller Purchase this book to benefit Cleaver 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, ...
Read the full review
BETWEEN TWO SKIES by Joanne O’Sullivan Candlewick Press, 272 pages reviewed by Brenda Rufener Purchase this book to benefit Cleaver When I sat down with Joanne O’Sullivan’s Between Two Skies, I was immediately drawn to the subtle cover design; colorful yet subdued, water meeting sunset. Then the first line captivated me even more: When I was little, my grandmother, Mamere, used to read to me from a storybook about a mermaid who lived at the bottom of an alpine lake. From the start, O’Sullivan pulls readers in with well-crafted characters and a beautifully painted setting. She drops the reader deep into the South with Hurricane Katrina looming offshore. The opening pages saturate us with the warmth, hospitality, and food that are so true to this geographical location. But we aren’t allowed to get too comfortable. Not with the bad weather reports and the life-changing storm churning at sea. Unlike other stories focusing on natural disasters, O’Sullivan takes our attention off of the storm, at least for a moment, and places it on a lovable character. We meet our beloved protagonist, Evangeline Riley, on the eve of her sixteenth birthday. We learn how much she loves her tiny fishing town of ...
Read the full review
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 ...
Read the full review
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 ...
Read the full review
BIRTH OF A NEW EARTH: The Radical Politics of Environmentalism by Adrian Parr Columbia University Press, 328 Pages reviewed by Robert Sorrell Near the beginning of his ecstatic, beautiful “Poem to My Child, If Ever You Shall Be,” Ross Gay writes: I wonder, little bubble of unbudded capillaries, little one ever aswirl in my vascular galaxies, what would you think of this world which turns itself steadily into an oblivion that hurts, and hurts bad? Would you curse me my careless caressing you into this world or would you rise up and, mustering all your strength into that tiny throat which one day, no doubt, would grow big and strong, scream and scream and scream until you break the back of one injustice, or at least get to your knees to kiss back to life some roadkill? I first read this poem as Hurricane Harvey and Maria devastated the Caribbean and parts of the southern United States. The poem captivated me. In Gay’s steady hands the prospect of the future, symbolized by this possible child, is explored with deep empathy, imagination, and emotional complexity. The question at the center of these stanzas—how would a child react to being ...
Read the full review
BITTER ORANGE by Claire Fuller Tin House Books, 315 pages reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier Part of the pleasure in following an author, as I have followed Claire Fuller from her first novel to her latest, Bitter Orange, is coming to recognize her voice, even without a title page. Our Endless Numbered Days and Swimming Lessons introduced me to Fuller’s eerie, ironically rendered English countryside of dark forests and haunted seaside villages, and to her characters held captive by lies. From novel to novel I’ve admired how she uses intelligent but naïve narrators to withhold information from the reader, sustaining unnerving suspense while signaling dissonance beneath the well-mannered surface. At this point, I’ll eagerly read anything she writes. And Bitter Orange is her best book yet. Fuller had me at the novel’s first line, narrated by Frances Jellico: “They must think I don’t have long left because today they allow the vicar in.” The vicar is actually her old friend Victor, not a chaplain but disguised in his “dog collar” to gain admission and to ask: What really happened at the countryside estate she shared with a mysterious couple twenty years before, in the summer of 1969? As the dying Frances ...
Read the full review
BLACK GENEALOGY by Kiki Petrosino with Illustrations by Lauren Haldeman  Brain Mill Press, 45 pages reviewed by Claire Oleson Purchase this book to benefit Cleaver Situated between a national and a personal history, Kiki Petrosino’s poetry book Black Genealogy sifts through the past in search of lost identity, language, bodies, and self-possession amidst the legacy of the Civil War and slavery in America. The book details an exploration of both a familial and a larger American reality through the lens of a contemporary African American persona. Split into two sections, Black Genealogy consists of both unlineated prose poetry as well as highly-structured villanelles, a style of poem originally associated with ballads and oral storytelling. Both forms, especially in the context of Petrosino’s subject, seem to bring a sense of narrative story to the poetry, and because of this, a noticeable absence when the narrative contended with proves to have been lost, ignored, and or intentionally obscured by the country in which it occurred. Negotiating with a history that was blind towards the humanity of Black people in America, Black Genealogy is a work of sight determined to bring the readers’ eyes, thoughts, and awareness up close with ...
Read the full review
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 ...
Read the full review
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 ...
Read the full review
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 ...
Read the full review
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 ...
Read the full review
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 ...
Read the full review
BLOODY SEOUL by Sonia Patel Cinco Puntos Press, 276 Pages reviewed by Kristie Gadson Purchase this book to benefit Cleaver To Rocky, the city of Seoul is truly something to behold. Sprawling skyscrapers dare to kiss the sky, thousands of lights rival the sun at night, and millions of people bustle through at any given moment, while the Han River remains a calm force through it all. And it will soon be his to rule, just like his father, the leader of the city’s most notorious gang, Three Star Pa. However, despite Rocky being the sole heir and next in line to become the big boss, his father refuses to turn the gang over to him. Frustrated, Rocky isn’t entirely surprised. It’s one of too many unanswered questions that plague him, especially since his mother’s faded memory threatens to slice the edges of his own mind like a knife. Aim. Throw. Sixteen times, one for every year of my life. Aim. Throw. Ten times, one for every year mom’s been gone. Aim. Throw. Ten times, one for every year Dad’s been the most pissed off person I’ve ever known. In Sonia Patel’s poetic, fast-paced and electrifying second novel Bloody Seoul, ...
Read the full review
BLOOM IN REVERSE by Teresa Leo University of Pittsburgh Press (Pitt Poetry Series), 104 pages reviewed by Anna Strong From the dedication page, Teresa Leo’s  Bloom in Reverse props itself against the fence between the living and the dead. Dedicated to the living but in memory of Leo’s friend Sarah, the poems carry the dual burden of trauma and memory. How do we process, how do we articulate trauma? If we’re at all like Teresa Leo, we recognize that in art, in poetry, we remember the the Sarah Hannahs of the world and bring them into a collective consciousness. She is not forgotten. Donald Hall wrote an astounding collection of poems chronicling his wife’s cancer and death, Without. Bloom in Reverse reads much like that collection—in each poem, we feel the keenness of the “without,” the strain of recollection, the reconstruction of the smallest moments of friendship and intimacy in the clearest language accessible to the speaker. Many of the poems are two-line stanzas, heavily enjambed and riddled with fragments, clauses that build and build on each other only to be let go in a kind of sigh—we feel the struggle to hold onto whatever memories come to mind, only ...
Read the full review
BLOWIN’ IT by Wintfred Huskey The Head & The Hand Press, 355 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster Although the motif of the try-hard hipster wore thin over a decade ago, it’s still being trotted out in popular films, cartoons, articles, and so forth. The accusation of hipster-ness, which is distinct from being “hip,” at least where I live, is a serious one. Hipsters are characterized by a blissful ignorance that borders on denial. (Peter Pan was probably the original hipster.) A hipster appropriates the costumes of other characters and blends them, creating a deliberate pastiche of playful yet ironic cultural references. A hipster wears workingman’s boots and has hands softer than a lady’s kid gloves. The odds are good that he (or she) holds a white-collar job or the creative equivalent; the coffee shop is their daytime hub, and at night they hover around lumberjack-themed bars, drinking cheap American draft beers and talking loudly about other people’s art. They are cultural locusts, wandering in an aimless cloud, wondering what on earth they will now do with their shiny new college degrees and Tumblr blogs and secret proclivity for trashy pop music. This is the subject of Wintfred Huskey’s wicked ...
Read the full review
BOILING LAKE (On Voyage) by Sharon White cover art by Sharyn O'Mara Jaded Ibis Press, 174 pages reviewed by Kenna O’Rourke The short flash pieces that comprise Sharon White’s Boiling Lake read like dispatches from a dreamscape—or perhaps a nightmarescape. Surreal, dark, and unmoored from time, these journal entries are well-crafted machines that merge fairytale, myth, and history into concise forms spanning no more than a page and a half. While some of these stories build narrative bridges—recurring characters include a girl nominated for sainthood and New World explorers reporting back to higher-ups—many exist as discrete moments, indulging in provocative imagery without the expectation of elaboration. There is skill in this work that allows one to dwell in the temporary, to savor the fleeting: The water is cold as hell and it takes awhile for the wet suit to work but once down there it’s great. Once I stayed almost my full time watching a starfish ingest a mussel. The starfish put his body against the joint of the shell and injected a muscle relaxant so that eventually the mussel couldn’t hold itself shut. I could watch fish forever. What will I do in Kansas? In brevity White builds the ...
Read the full review
Bolaño: A BIOGRAPHY IN CONVERSATIONS by Mónica Maristain Melville House, 288 pages reviewed by Ana Schwartz “Companionable Fictions” The first section of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 describes a small but ardent group of academic literary critics who dedicate their lives to the work of an obscure German author, Benno von Archimboldi. Almost five hundred pages later, in the last section, “The Part About Archimboldi” Bolaño finally introduces the author. In between stretch many strange adventures, but most are not directly related to the work of the author. But neither, really, was the first part, “The Part About the Critics.” Instead, Bolaño narrates the friendships and rivalries of four dedicated readers. If not for the table of contents, the fictitious novelist would appear to be merely the occasion to build a story out of these otherwise unremarkable lives. Actually, for the characters, Archimboldi, who keeps evading their grasp, really does turn out to be an excuse for them all to sustain richer and more companionable lives. Mónica Marstain’s recent biography of Roberto Bolaño is a little like that. What’s different is that she interviews almost everyone in his world. Reminiscing on their various relationships with the cult author, one gets a more ...
Read the full review
BOMBYONDER by Reb Livingston Bitter Cherry Books, 346 pages reviewed by Brent Terry Welcome to the crater. Keep your head down, your eyes open, and try not to lose your lunch…or your mind. Your guide on this journey is one of literature’s most unreliable narrators: a murderous, narcissistic, yet oddly appealing young woman on a quest through the bombed-out wreckage of her own psyche, in search of a past she can hang her hat on, a future that tells the truth, the real nature of her bomb-maker father’s legacy, and a little birdy that might make everything turn out okay. Reb Livingston’s literary forbears are legion. In this compellingly daft, lyrical, and mind-expanding novel we find traces of Sophocles, Lewis Carrol, Vonnegut, the Nabokov of Pale Fire, Hunter S. Thompson, Gertrude Stein, and Shelley—both of them—all run through the cerebral cortex of Tim Burton, put in a pill and swallowed whole by Livingston, the effect of which is an acid-trip of a novel that requires every bit of guile and courage a reader can muster. Livingston is best known as a poet, (with two critically acclaimed books and a Best American Poetry appearance to her credit) and her ...
Read the full review
BONE CONFETTI by Muriel Leung Noemi Press reviewed by Marilynn Eguchi Muriel Leung’s Bone Confetti is an open door into a house of mourning; an exceptional look into the aftermath of loss, and in turn, an examination of what it is to love someone. A challenging collection of lyric and prose poems, the poet manipulates the space where words are carefully placed and the space where there is nothing. The theme of the book is grief, and it is palpable. It is disorienting and enveloping, but manages to avoid being overly sentimental, allowing it to be both intimate and universal. The poet stated in an interview that “applying the role of politics to the personal grief of loss was very important work to do . . . It became a way of understanding this loss as tied to a history that’s larger than me.” The book is broken into four segments: In Absentia Land: A Romance, In Absentia Land: A Funeral, In Absentia Land: A Wedding, and In Absentia Land: An Epilogue, each exploring loss with individual focus on aspects of what is left in its wake. Collectively and thematically, the poems evoke the myth of Eurydice and ...
Read the full review
BOOT LANGUAGE by Vanya Erickson She Writes Press, 179 pages reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier The paradox in writing a postmodern memoir is that the author must somehow convince readers she’s telling the truth—typically by admitting to subjectivity and fallible memory, and by interrogating her version of events. But that’s not the strategy Vanya Erickson employs in her post-WWII coming-of-age story, Boot Language. With vivid detail and some implausibly long passages of remembered dialogue, she presents herself as the sole reliable narrator of her life in California, where she was raised by an abusive, alcoholic father and a mother who failed to protect her (but did “soften Dad’s blows” with inherited money). If Erickson asks readers to trust her story without evident corroboration, it may be because she’s had to learn to trust herself to discern the truth, in order to steer safely through her parents’ contradictory behavior and conflicting beliefs. Mom was compassionate, musically talented, and although independently wealthy, searching for some deeper meaning to life other than social standing. A staunch supporter of the underdog, the arts, and liberal politics, she found her way to Christian Science not long after she married my father. Dad was of humbler stock, ...
Read the full review
BORB by Jason Little Uncivilized Books, 96 pages reviewed by Jesse Allen Is Borb a graphic novel or comic strip? Packaged as both, the reader is treated to various juxtapositions that jar as well as entertain and enlighten. Illustrated in a style reminiscent of Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie, Borb’s main character is out of time. Homeless and alcoholic, he constantly stumbles into mishaps, finding resolutions that quickly fall apart and lead him into more desperate circumstances. But what we know and learn about him is very little, as alcoholism is the main character throughout this tale. He is able to make gains, such as finding food and a place to eat, and yet he sabotages himself through his addictive imbibing. As the story progresses, it is hard to muster pity for the main character. Rendered in classic Sunday comics’ style, the horrors of alcoholism are accompanied by the bumbling antics of the everyday life of this man. Rarely does he speak, and yet Little is able to capture the humor and sadness in his alcohol-fueled survival and fall. While never pretending to be a “feel good” read, Borb doesn’t come across as a cautionary tale either ...
Read the full review
BOX SCORE by Kevin Varrone Digital Earthenware, available from iTunes Reviewed by Anna Strong Kevin Varrone’s Box Score: An Autobiography spans across form — from autobiography to history to visual art to the baseball rulebook to the prose poem — content, and reading experience. Presented as a highly interactive free iPad and (by early June 2013)  iPhone app, Varrone’s text, which he calls an autobiography, does almost everything in its power to thwart that somewhat restrictive classification. “Box Score” is made of a series of prose poems, each of which invokes Philadelphia history, baseball history (e.g. the first night game ever played between the Phillies and the Reds) Philadelphia baseball, a speaker’s personal recollections (“police your area my dad would say as he smoothed dirt around the first base bag w/ his foot after a bad hop ate me up”), baseball terminology (page 78 is simply a line of a batter’s statistics: g: 1 ab: 0 r: 0 h: 0 2b: 0 3b: 0 hr: 0 avg: .000), found language (Harry Kalas’ famous “outta here” long ball call appears on page 73), and lyrical, evocative images that seem disembodied from — and beautifully juxtapose — the rest of ...
Read the full review
BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA by Laura Moe Merit Press, 252 pages reviewed by Kristie Gadson At some point in our lives, many of us bury parts of ourselves that we aren't ready to face. These layers can form over time; from people we've encountered, from situations we've endured, or from issues we've found lodged deep within our psyche. They can protect us, like a shield, from life's many fluctuations, and they can contribute to a great part of who we are. However, this protection can come at a cost–we can become distant, untouchable, and unreachable to those we love or resist the change we need to grow. In Laura Moe's debut novel, Breakfast with Neruda, we journey with Michael Flynn as he learns to peel back the layers that have shielded him for so long. We first meet Michael spending the summer cleaning his school, which serves as the first part of his two-part sentence after detonating his locker in an ill-conceived attempt to destroy his ex-best-friend's car. Through Moe's simple, yet, descriptive, writing, we soon realize that being condemned to custodial work and having to repeat his senior year are the least of Michael's worries. I go out to my car ...
Read the full review
BREATH TO BREATH by Craig Lew Little Pickle Press, 432 pages reviewed by Heather Leah Huddleston Seventeen-year-old William has been dealt a bad hand in life. Raised for as long as he can remember by his grandparents, Gramps dies and G’ma can’t take care of him, so William is shipped from Kansas to California to live with his estranged father. He has no real memories of his mother, except the fictionalized ones he makes up for his friends. And there’s this: he has a history of violence; he nearly killed someone in Kansas. The novel unfolds like both a mystery and a coming-of-age story as he tries to come to an understanding of who he really is. Though violence seems to follow him, we learn that the violence has a reason; he saves a girl from being raped; he saves a boy from being beaten by bullies; he saves himself after being finger raped by the captain of the football team. Within the gray area surrounding all the violence lies the question: is there ever a time when violence is okay? Or at least understandable? William’s sleep is haunted by nightmares of whales being hacked to death by faceless people ...
Read the full review
BRIEF EULOGIES AT ROADSIDE SHRINES by Mark Lyons Wild River Books, 216 pages reviewed by Jon Busch ...they just stick him in the ground with no stone, no nothin’. That ain’t right I say to myself.” This short passage from “He Sure Do Want to Fly”, one of the many superb pieces in Mark Lyons’ most recent short story collection, Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines, summarizes the intent of the work precisely. With the assurance and ease of a well-worn traveler, Mr. Lyons escorts the reader on a voyage through the lonely corners of North America, erecting descanos—roadside memorials—along the way. Each story, in its own manner, is an offering to the Gods of forgotten souls, or as the eponymous hero of the story, “Arnold’s Roadside Café” eloquently states, “The Great God of Roadkill.” The collection pulses with a tragic calmness akin to the writings of Carver or Cheever. Beneath every scene and absurd occurrence lurks a temperate sadness. While the explored themes of isolation, loneliness and death are heavy, the electric tone of the prose persistently enthralls. Here is Lyons’ energy and command of voice revealed by Blue-J, the protagonist of “He Sure Do Want to Fly,” describing ...
Read the full review
BRIGHT MAGIC: Stories by Alfred Döblin translated by Damion Searls NYRB Classics, 240 pages reviewed by KC Mead-Brewer Bright Magic—a powerful concoction of black humor, harsh beauty, and dark fabulism—marks Alfred Döblin’s first collection ever to be translated into English (here by Damion Searls, a master of his craft who’s also translated the works of Proust and Rilke). Döblin (1878–1957), now a classic of German literature, was a pioneer of expressionist writing as well as a respected neurologist and army doctor. His short stories show a tremendous bravery of form and a willingness to experiment with things that today would be called flash and micro fiction as early as the 1910s. He also demonstrates a deep desire to mirror the absurdity of all that surrounded him—the horror of world wars, the destructive power of ignorance—by wielding absurdity in his stories like a joke, a sword, a punishing assumption. In this collection, we see Döblin lift up fascinations with memory and things forgotten, with morality and violence, with descents into madness and those dizzying moments of painful, exquisite clarity. In “The Ballerina and the Body,” Döblin explores the body’s tenuous relationship to the mind. Studying to become a ballerina, the young ...
Read the full review
BRIGHTFELLOW by Rikki Ducornet Coffee House Press, 176 pages reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier “The linoleum swells with stories. As he plays, darkness rises from the floor and slowly claims the room.” With these unsettling, intriguing first lines, we enter the mind and story of Stub, a six-year-old who observes the broken, embittered adults in his world. Growing up, he’s learning, requires giving up not only childish things but childish wonder, too. Abandoned by his mother, neglected by his father, briefly cared for by Jenny (a sweet but “crazy, sort of” young woman just sprung from the local “madhouse”), the boy becomes a refugee on the college campus where his father works as a plumber. By nineteen, he’s left home for good and is raising himself there, eating food purloined from faculty houses and wearing “preppy discards” he finds in the student dorms. He spends his days roaming the library stacks and reading the works of the reclusive anthropologist Verner Vanderloon, a Werner Wolf-ish character who writes that mankind is divided into people “who know how to play, are full of mirth and fellow feeling, and the ones who are killjoys and combustible.” Play is a powerful form of magic, Vanderloon says, ...
Read the full review
Buckskin Cocaine by Erika T. Wurth Astrophil Press, 111 pages reviewed by Jordan A. Rothacker Sometimes we read fiction to escape, to experience the art of writing, or to lose ourselves in plot. Non-fiction is often imagined the territory of learning, absorbing direct information on a topic. We often forget that fiction still has this power, to take you somewhere real you’ve never been, to introduce you to people you might not have otherwise met. Fiction can convey social realities and erode the “otherness” of others. Sometimes even when we set out to read to escape, to read for fun, we are confronted with truths about our world. But of course, true art about the human experience never eludes the social and the political. I find myself in this dual mindset with Erika T. Wurth’s recent collection of short stories, Buckskin Cocaine. This collection of eight different first-person-voiced stories covers a lot of terrain over 111 pages all the while exploring the distinctive world of “buckskin” filmmaking, a once exploitative Hollywood Western subgenre that nowadays signals a world of Native directors, actors, and film festivals. The story titles bear the names of the protagonists, among them “Barry Four Voices,” “Candy ...
Read the full review
BURIED ALIVE: A TO-DO LIST by Carole Bernstein Hanging Loose Press, 80 pages. reviewed by Claire Oleson Purchase this book to benefit Cleaver From satirizing the mechanics of the American workplace to discovering motherly devotion in the myth of Persephone, Carole Bernstein’s third poetry collection Buried Alive: A To-Do List takes readers through caves and coffins alike, showing what living things still kick inside the previously presumed-dead. The book follows a loose chronology, drawing from glimpses of her living to form the picture of a complete and complicated life. Bernstein is unafraid in her direct examinations of familial sexual abuse, injury and aging, and the unfolding joys and strains of motherhood in clear, occasionally very casual language. This book trusts its reader with image and metaphor but also consciously stays married to narrative; a majority of the poems in Buried Alive: A To-Do List navigate by chronology, desiring to approach the terrifying and mundane with equal clarity. Before the life of the speaker unfolds, the second poem and the titular piece of the book takes us to her coffin. In “Buried Alive: A To-Do List,” we see the speaker contend with waking up buried alive, a circumstance which prompts them ...
Read the full review
BURN BABY BURN by Meg Medina Candlewick Press, 305 pages reviewed by Rachael Tague New York City is one of my favorite places to visit. I adore Broadway, Times Square, and ice skating at Rockefeller Plaza. But thirty-some years ago, the Big Apple was not the magical tourist attraction it is today, especially if you had “the wrong skin color or a last name like López.” Disco, dancing, free love, and women’s rights typically define 1970’s America, but, for Nora López, New York City in 1977 means arson, looting, serial murders, a struggling mother, and an increasingly dangerous brother. In Burn Baby Burn, acclaimed children’s and young adult author Meg Medina presents a strong female protagonist in one of New York City’s most tumultuous years. Nora should be able to look forward to college, boys, and an all-night dance party with her best friend Kathleen to celebrate their eighteenth birthdays. She should be care-free, dancing to Parliament, Heatwave, the Ramones, Donna Summer, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin. Instead, she’s worried about police brutality, scorching summer temperatures, and navigating the dangerous suburbs of NYC as an attractive young Latina in a sea of sickos and psychos like Sergio, the drug dealer ...
Read the full review
CALIGULAN by Ernest Hilbert Measure Press, 96 pages reviewed by J.G. McClure From his debut Sixty Sonnets to All of You On The Good Earth, Ernest Hilbert has made a name for himself as a dedicated formalist. His latest, Caligulan, is no exception: you’ll find no free verse here. Hilbert is at his best when the content of the poems plays against the formal constraints. Take “Barnegat Light,” for instance: The gull pulls bags from trash and drags them clear. He’s big as a cat, a blur of snow and soot. He pokes until debris spills down the pier. He’s clumsy, and somehow he’s lost a foot. Chewed off? A winter fishing line? Wedged in boards? The stump’s a small sharp spear that stings the bird If ground is touched. He soars to foggy scree, Alights but flaps to halfway hang in air, spurred By pain to perform endless pirouettes. The tightly elegant form contrasts perfectly with the unsettling pain and violence of the scene described; one senses the formal control is the only thing between us and the chaotic world the bird inhabits. It’s hard not to read this as an ars poetica: the bird has lost a foot (ha!) ...
Read the full review
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 ...
Read the full review
CARDBOARD PIANO by Rina Terry Texture Press, 102 pages reviewed by Shinelle L. Espaillat We tend to equate the word “prison” with concrete, metal and despair, ostensibly as means of change or as a tool of rehabilitation. In her new collection, Cardboard Piano, Rina Terry reveals multi-layered evidence of the transformative power of art versus stone. Anyone who is familiar with Stephen King’s prison stories, The Green Mile and Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption (or at least with the movie adaptations thereof) expects to question the prison system and to explore the humanity of both the inmates and the guards. Terry’s words push the reader to consider the realities of an in-person search for and confrontation of that humanity, in all its potential glory and obloquy. The opening salvo, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Inmates” offers a kaleidoscope through which we can feel the entire collection. Terry challenges our accepted notion of rehabilitative space as cyclical: “There is only one/direction. Single file/through metal detector.” Parole notwithstanding, the suggestion is that for most who enter, there is no hope, and what’s more, the system-keepers believe that as well. After all, “an inmate/is and inmate/is an inmate.” The guards do not ...
Read the full review
CARNIVAL  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.” He goes on, We flew out of the city and we landed on the page where Moses split the sea and the Jews marched between those suspended mountains of water, hovering, humming on ...
Read the full review
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. Throughout Cartoon College, the camera acts as a casual friend rather than a self-conscious machine. It visits the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, along with all of its classroom discussions, brainstorming meetings, and honest confessionals—from both comics greats and students alike. Charles Burns admits to drawing pictures to ward off bullies just as a young MFA candidate discusses being dismissed by his hometown for his career choice. Lynda Barry reveals that she makes most of her money on Ebay while ...
Read the full review
CARTOON DIALECTICS by Tom Kaczynski Uncivilized Books Vol. 1 (24 pages, 2010) Vol 2 (32 pages, 2011) Vol 3 (32 pages, 2018) reviewed by Julia Alekseyeva The Cartoon Dialectics series collects work that Tom Kaczynski has published in anthologies since 2005. Kaczynski is perhaps best known for being the publisher of comics imprint Uncivilized Books, an independent press that has published works by Gabrielle Bell, David B., and Noah Van Sciver. As the title Cartoon Dialectics suggests, Kaczynski’s own work straddles the line between comics and philosophy; he weaves together reflections on culture and critical theory with memoir and memory. Succinct and meditative, the short works address themes which continue to be relevant almost fifteen years after they were first written. The three volumes include works first published in different sources, and drawn in a variety of styles, with a proclivity towards thick ink lines, monochrome, and realism. Cartoon Dialectics includes a number of Easter Eggs for the philosophy-obsessed, as he casually refers to Guy Debord, Slavoj Žižek, Fredric Jameson, and Svetlana Boym. Critical theory is the backbone to Cartoon Dialectics but its inclusion does not keep the work from being approachable; nor is the political import sacrificed in favor ...
Read the full review

letters

Advertisements