[REVIEW] A Tender Mercy: Scott McClanahan’s The Sarah Book

sarah book

 

Tyrant Books, 2017

REVIEWED BY MILA JARONIEC

We are all waving so desperately hello.

Inferno

There is only one thing I know about life. If you live long enough you start losing things.

Semi-autobiographical Scott McClanahan gets drunk and puts his kids in the car. He’s always doing stupid shit like getting drunk and putting his kids in the car and forgetting about it. I think about how I would kill myself before I would get drunk and put Silas in the car and how I would kill Silas’ father before I would let him get drunk and put Silas in the car too, and then I think about resisting the impulse to judge characters in books, but here is semi-autobiographical Scott McClanahan getting drunk and putting his kids in the car. I think about pressure and how things only come to us when we’re ready for them and how that must mean I’m ready for this even though I don’t feel that way. He drives and the kids cry and my stomach tightens and he throws up in a plastic bag from Wal-Mart and the world glows, and I take a sip of wine and feel the warmth and understand everything but there is the simple fact of getting drunk and putting your kids in the car.

Fuck you, semi-autobiographical Scott McClanahan.

This will be difficult I know because I can’t read outside of myself anymore, just like I can’t do anything outside of myself anymore, as someone without a Silas, the way other people read books with Silases in them saying oh yes this must be a hard thing and nodding their heads and not understanding, understanding theoretically which is the same as not understanding, and I used to read like those people but I read differently now.

What can I do?

The cover is black and blue like the walls of my apartment and I sit in my black chair looking at the walls in between reading the book and the black clock on the bookcase has an orange second hand that spins instead of ticks so that time looks like it flows, in a circle. Both types of second hands give me anxiety but when the time looks like itself the anxiety is less. It’s a good cover.

He ripped that cover off a Guns n’ Roses record, Silas’ father says.

What?

Yeah. It’s the exact same thing.

So I look up the Guns n’ Roses record and goddamn it he’s right, it is the cover of Use Your Illusion II so I tell him, He must have done that for a reason. Then I ask if Guns n’ Roses will be pissed about it.

Probably, he says.

I tell him well Guns n’ Roses ripped off Raphael but he can’t do anything about it because he’s dead so what does it matter. It all comes full circle. Then I show him the School of Athens and he says hmmm. I point to the unnamed philosopher and say Look, there’s Scott McClanahan. There’s Scott McClanahan in the School of Athens and Guns n’ Roses put him on their album. He says, hmmm. Then I ask if I should listen to the record. I feel like I’m missing something now and think about what I’ve lost in my life by not having paid any attention to Guns n’ Roses. I worry that this review will be terrible and I feel ashamed about my shitty knowledge of American culture. He says the record is okay and goes to do something else.

Be invisible, Scott. Be invisible.

My best friend Lindsay who I’ve written about before used to be a body piercer and once got a silicone heart implant in her chest. The magician made a little incision right at her heart chakra and slid the silicone heart inside. But flesh doesn’t split clean like a pocket. There’s muscle and tissue to be pushed aside and in the end the stitches looked awful and the heart always leaned a little to the left. So then she had to get the silicone heart removed. The magician gave her seven shots of anesthetic but when it was time for the heart to come out her body didn’t want to let it go. It had assimilated it. The magician pulled at the heart and Lindsay came up off the table with it. He gave her one more shot and said Girl we’ve reached the legal limit now and she thought she was dying and then it was over. It’s the way I’ve started looking at pain. You reach the legal limit but you can always take a little bit more.

I’m telling you stories. Trust me.[1]

Semi-autobiographical Scott McClanahan tries to kill himself with Tylenol. The first two bottles are Tylenol PM and he takes them and the third bottle is children’s Tylenol – mistake – and he realizes he can’t kill himself with children’s Tylenol and decides to throw up. He throws up quietly at first because Sarah hated how loud he threw up. But then I realized Sarah wasn’t here so I could throw up however loud I wanted. I stuck my finger deeper and then I gagged and vomited like who I was.

I vomited up kisses and love. I vomited up the way she smelled like cigarettes and tropical fruit gum.

The best way to show respect to something is to not write about it. But real-life Scott McClanahan knows what he’s doing.

Remember the Buddhist monk who spent a lifetime writing a letter about love and all he knew about it. He wouldn’t let anyone in the temple while he was writing and it was very serious. After he died everyone came to see what he had come up with and the letter was blank. What a shitty monk, thinks semi-autobiographical Scott McClanahan. It’s like the story about the philosophy student who was the only one to pass the final. The professor wrote Why? on the blackboard and the student wrote back, Why not? My brother told me this when I was younger except he said it like it was him. I went through middle school thinking he was some kind of genius. By the time I found out he made it up, I didn’t think it was genius and he didn’t either.

You beat the liver out of a goose to get a paté; you pound the muscles of a man’s cardia to get a philosopher.[2]

This is the book written after all the lights have gone out. Because the world is a kind of dark most of us don’t know how to see in, until someone teaches us. The second sight is a lesson from Death. There’s nothing to follow but the sound of your breathing.

But not all dark places need light, I have to remember that.[3]

As for life,

In one life we are married.

In one life we are dead.

In one we are rich.

In one we are poor.

In one we are parents.

But always we belong to others.

Purgatorio

I told Sarah I was going to live at Wal-Mart until she changed her mind about the divorce.

I’m writing this in my parents’ walk-in closet which is where I go when things start to fall apart which is where I went this time things started falling apart. Maybe soon I will think I’m lucky, or maybe I think I’m lucky now, because beyond pain and heartbreak it’s always lucky to read what you’re living, but you only feel lucky when you know something more than you think. Things are falling apart in my life the way they are in semi-autobiographical Scott McClanahan’s life except in my life I am Sarah and we are both learning what it’s like to be Scott.

What we’ve learned so far is:

Why is the measure of love loss?[4]

In New York I wrote my first novel Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover and then moved into my parents’ walk-in closet to finish Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover and then got pregnant with my son Silas and then I had to stop feeling so scared and small. I never thought anyone would want to publish Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover but nine months later someone did and my message in a bottle went up in lights. And everyone wanted to know: Is this book fiction or non-fiction?

You can always count on people to ask the least interesting questions, but this one is symptomatic of something worse. It’s: how much work did you actually do? And: could I do something just like this? Except: it’s harder to write nonfiction because stories make sense but this is your life.

I never look at a painting and ask, “Is this painting fictional or non-fictional?” It’s just a painting.[5]

And so Sarah McClanahan gives birth to their daughter Iris. She had to be induced, like me. She had an epidural, like me. She had the presence of mind to give herself an enema beforehand so she wouldn’t shit on the delivery table. It didn’t occur to me to do that. If you’re going through childbirth you have every right in the world to shit on the delivery table. Everything is exploding and Death is tapping you on the shoulder saying, Are you ready? So I shit on the delivery table. I shit on the delivery table and tore my unwaxed pussy bringing forth a soul.

It was shaped like a halo.

They put him on my chest red and steaming. His father tried to cut the cord and it wouldn’t cut and he tried again and it still wouldn’t cut. I thought of the Fates’ scissors contorting. He cut it finally and they stitched me up. I thought about the ways I’d stretched, for fists and dicks and objects and now a child that had come out of instead of into, and how the stretching is different then. How there’s a hole now that will never close. I thought of the tattoo between my hips that reads Pulvis et Umbra and how when I got it I thought it would make sense if I had children and it would make sense if I didn’t. All we are is dust and shadow and dust begets dust and my dust was screaming and screaming and then opened his eyes at me and said, Welcome to the world.

Let the people who never find true love keep saying that there’s no such thing.[6]

Scott McClanahan puts a crossword puzzle in The Sarah Book which is the hardest crossword puzzle in the world but he says you can try to solve it too so I try to solve it too, but I only get as far as the first two:

6 across is the name of your first love.

7 down is the name of the one who broke your heart. You belong to them.

I can’t give this book to anyone now because I used pen.

In Sarah’s hospital where she works there’s a schizophrenic patient with tattoos all over his body and voices in his head and none of the drugs are helping and then Sarah has an idea. She speaks to his hallucination. She looks over to where the patient is looking and speaks to the devil woman sitting in the chair. The devil woman tries to start some shit so Sarah puts her in a headlock and kicks her in the face and chases her out of the room. And the schizophrenic patient says Thank god. Because someone was finally helping.

All you need is someone to put their hands on your mind. Then you will know what happiness is.

Are you happy right now? Well just wait.

Paradiso

We started calling the place we lived the apartment of death.

I find the Guns n’ Roses reference. Semi-autobiographical Scott McClanahan listens to “November Rain” fourteen times. I want to tell Silas’ father about it but we can’t talk about things like that anymore. We talk about the apartment. We talk about schedules. He tells me terrible things and I listen. In this book I am Sarah and I’m reading about me.

There are hungry black kittens in the snow and semi-autobiographical Scott McClanahan feeds them hot dog chunks from the fridge in the apartment of death then decides to go buy the best hamburger meat he can find and feed it to the kittens, because when there’s a hole in your heart you pour your love out on the world. He feeds them and loves them and one day he accidentally runs one over. Squish. We can’t help but kill what we love and flatten the remains until they’re gone. Until the world can wash it all away and make it new.

For every tear you’ve cried, so shall the rain fall.[7]

Semi-autobiographical Scott McClanahan has a panic attack in the night when he’s trying to get baby Sam to sleep and baby Sam won’t sleep. He puts him on the floor in the bathroom and imagines baby Sam can talk and is saying, What are you going to do now? You’re totally fucked. So he does the only thing to do when things get to be too much inside. He throws up. He throws up a black bile that doesn’t look like anything he ever ingested because the body’s response to trauma is to expel the dark. And then: the darkness laughs. And his mother comes in to see what’s going on and no matter how old we are we still need our mothers to hold our babies when our hands shake and tell us it’s going to be okay. Our mothers are always stronger than we are.

I move into my parents’ home while Silas’ father is moving out of our home and I put Silas to sleep in his crib in my childhood bedroom and my mother lets me sleep in her bed. I roll myself in a blanket like a cocoon and listen to the sound of her breathing and think my night thoughts. I think about this book and I think about my son and I think about love. I think about what love is and what we have said love is, and how the more we talk about what love is the more we talk about what it isn’t.

Love is patient, love is kind.[8]

Love is a dog from hell.[9]

Love is like sliding the stem of a flower down a loaded rifle.[10]

All semi-autobiographical Scott McClanahan’s college students want to talk about is whether the author is a good person and whether the narrator is a good person and why books with happy endings aren’t considered literature. Scott McClanahan doesn’t write the last example but English class is English class even in books so even if it isn’t written you can bet someone in English class wants to know.

Books can have happy endings but literature is the history of pain.

In The Sarah Book Scott McClanahan puts on Sarah McClanahan’s underwear and lipstick and I wear the shirts of seven down when I’m alone in the house. Like taking shelter in a carcass, we put ourselves in the memory.

I think about my son learning to walk and myself learning to be upside down and how you can’t live your life upside down but how all we ever do is learn to walk, this way that way and the other way too. All we do is step forward and there’s no such thing as aging and dying if time goes in a circle we will be reborn again differently and we’ll be alive again and we’ll be new. And our pain won’t follow us and we’ll learn it all over again. And we’ll write our books and have our babies and look at life through our looking glass and think what the hell does it mean, and ask the void what it means and the void will say who knows, or why not, or doesn’t matter, or nothing depending on the winnings of our neural lottery. The void will hold us in its arms and say whatever we want.

There’s a monster at the end of this book and it’s you and it’s me. It’s how everything changes.

Thank you Scott McClanahan for the document of doesn’t matter. Because it takes balls to stop saying why not. It takes serious fucking balls to say doesn’t matter and keep living like it does. To seek out a tender mercy, sit with it for a lifetime and produce a blank page.

Let nature do the freezing and frightening and isolating in this world.[11]

We make an offering and take a step back, and whatever meets us halfway is destiny.[12]

 

[1] Jeanette Winterson, The Passion

[2] Djuna Barnes, Nightwood

[3] Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

[4] Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body

[5] Scott McClanahan, Crapalachia

[6] Wislawa Szymborska, “True Love”

[7] Jeffery Scott, Visions From Within the Mechanism: The Industrial Surrealism of Jeffery Scott

[8] 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

[9] Charles Bukowski

[10] Sam Farahmand, “Patrue mi Patruissimo; or, Philadelphia”

[11] Jack Kerouac, Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954

[12] Mila Jaroniec, Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover

 

Mila Jaroniec is the author of Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover (Split Lip Press, 2016). She is an editor at drDOCTOR and currently lives in Akron, OH.

 

[REVIEW] Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

mapping

Tor Books, 2017

REVIEWED BY JESSE LAWRENCE

What can one say about a novellette without giving it all away? I know there are guidelines for what constitutes what, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you the difference between a novella and a novellette. The good thing, for all of us, is that length truly doesn’t matter (I’m sorry, really). It’s all about the story. And Jones delivers that. Every. Single. Time.

I’d wager you’re all, you great readers out there, familiar with the work of Stephen Graham Jones. If not, obligatory (but still emphatically sincere) directive: dive into his catalogue. Start wherever. It doesn’t matter. In fact, if Mapping the Interior is your first Jones book or if none of them are yet and you’re reading this review to see if you maybe might want to read his work, then, honestly, a huge part of me is jealous. To discover and read those books for the first time? You don’t forget those things.

At any rate, Mapping the Interior is Jones at his best. It’s distilled. It’s got some signature touches, like family, bargaining for a better deal, a better outcome, and characters who get themselves into the craziest of situations that even we would have gotten ourselves into had it been us, and [spoiler alert] Frankenstein’s Monster dogs. Okay, that one’s original to this story, but it is so, so Jones. And, did I say family? Yeah? Yeah. Family is important above all. The things we would do, would sacrifice, for our family, it’s all there, all here.

Jones takes us through the dark hallways of the human heart, and he shows us that axe-heavy beauty that lies within.

Like so many of his stories, I found myself lost in the world, still, minding my own business, yet something always manages to get in my eye…

[REVIEW] The Boy in the Earth by Fuminori Nakamura

nakamura

Soho Press , 2017

REVIEWED BY GABINO IGLESIAS

Fuminori Nakamura is one of Japan’s most talented contemporary writers. Besides the critical acclaim and translations of his work into various languages, he was won a plethora of awards including the ?e Prize, Japan’s largest literary award, the David L. Goodis Award for Noir Fiction, and the Akutagawa Prize. Despite these accolades, the reasons to read his work are easy to explain: he approaches noir from a multiplicity of unique and seldom-explored angels and injects his dark narratives with a distinctive combination of ennui, melancholy, philosophy, and classic elements of crime fiction. In The Boy in the Earth, his latest novel to be translated and published by SoHo Press, Nakamura turns up the dial in terms of ennui and melancholy to construct a haunting story about a man whose death wish stems from unbelievable trauma.

The Boy in the Earth follows an awkward, disengaged unnamed narrator who drives a taxi around Tokyo for as living after quitting his sales job at a company that produces educational materials. The narrative kicks off with the man picking a fight with a group of motorcyclists and getting a beating for no other purpose than the beating itself. The idea that lead to the scuffle was just one of many the man has been having lately, and they point to a warped frame of mind. At home, he only interacts with Sayuko, a former work colleague. She tries to take care of him after the brawl and they end up in bed, but she is emotionless during their encounter. Later, the man receives information about his parents, who abandoned him 20 years earlier. His mother has died, but his father is still alive. That knowledge forces him to ponder the linger effects of his childhood and how different his life would have been if he had been nurtured. As the narrative movies forward, the man’s past is revealed, and the darkness it holds explains a lot about the nature of the man.

Nakamura always deconstructs violence and explores the relationship between human nature and brutality, both that which we inflict on ourselves and that which we inflict on others. The Boy in the Earth is not different, expect for the fact that the thirst for self-inflicted violence is a mystery to the narrator and reconnoitering the spaces where those thoughts are born and where his need for violence festers becomes a crucial elements of the narrative. This contemplative state begins early and is expressed well after the beating that opens the novel as the narrator thinks back to his childhood, a time in which he murdered lizards:

Grasping a lizard that had already lost its tail or an unsuspecting frog, I would thrust my arm through the fence and suddenly let go. This living thing would fall, and although it wasn’t dead yet, surely it would be a few seconds later. Watching this happen always evoked anxiety, but for some reason, I found solace in that anxiety. In the midst of my agitated emotions, I felt a clear awakening as nostalgia tinged with sweetness spread within me. When I did this, I would also be thinking about “them”—the ones who had tormented me. This habit was persistent in its cruelty; it was almost as if by what I was doing to those lizards now, I was validating what had been done to me in the past, as if I were exploring the true nature of it.

Coming in at 147 pages and with short chapters that make it a very fast read, The Boy in the Earth is one of Nakamura’s darkest, gloomiest, most emotionally draining books. The narrator suffered horribly as a child, and the result is a detached man for whom tedium is a way of life. In that regard, this is a narrative that pushes past all the boundaries usually associated with the genre to enter a unique, obsessive realm where violence, alienation, suffering, the impossible weight of memories, and self-loathing coexist in a maelstrom of pain, shattered innocence, and a very flimsy will to continue living.

Although Nakamura does many things well here, perhaps his greatest achievement in this novel is that it holds a giant secret until the end and reveals it only after showing how the putrid thing at the core of the story corrupted the soul of the protagonist. The writing is fast-paced from the star, but once the visions from the past start appearing in the third act, the lines demand to be read even faster because they reveal the kind of truth that’s simultaneously hard to look at and impossible to look away from:

Beyond the sound of the shovel digging of the earth and the beam of a flashlight feebly illuminating the darkness, I had a hazy vision of their expressions as they spoke hurried Lee to each other, their faces twitching as if they were frightened. I laid there, looking up at them asked, shovelful by shovel for, the earth was heaved on top of my small body.

The time to call Nakamura merely an outstanding thriller author or a very talented Japanese noir master is over; the man has demonstrated time and again, and does so again here, that he is one of the best crime novelist working today.

Marginalized Voices

BY NATALIE DAVIS, CHEYENNE LaROSE, and JENNIFER SAS

The Marginalized Voices from Jennifer on Vimeo.

Artist Statement:

This piece, The Marginalized Voices, was created with the goal of sending a message while combining a variety of art forms including dance, music, and film. As business students who will soon be entering this male-dominated profession, Natalie Davis, Cheyenne LaRose, and Jennifer Sas wanted to give hope and empowerment to women. With the abundance of male CEOs, it is evident that women are viewed as the less powerful sex in the boardroom. This industry expects women not to be as successful as their male counterparts because it poses a threat to the status quo.

Davis, LaRose, and Sas asked a few of their close friends–also business students–to choose which statements resonated with them the most. Each woman was passionate about the sentence they chose which truly transmitted through the work of art. The women featured in the short film present the audience with relevant insecurities that women face when dealing with a predominantly male industry. It is critical that people become more aware of the tribulations placed upon women in our society today. Our primary purpose is to spread awareness of this gender issue in the workforce through various mediums of art and to think about dance as a liminal space for encounters and confrontation.

 

[REVIEW] Theia Mania by Dallas Athent

9780979149566
REVIEWED BY CHRISTIAN NIEDAN
Words in a book are more useful than the sentences they spell out. They can make beautiful shapes and patterns on a page that greatly enhance the messages they convey. Set those printed shapes and patterns beside hand-drawn artwork that compliments them, and you get a dynamic home for great poetry. Such is the construction of Dallas Athent’s new 66-page poetic tome, Theia Mania, with illustrations by Maria Pavlovska, and book design by Eve Siegel.
The book’s launch event was recently held (April 30) at Pavlovska’s well-lit high-ceiling studio at Mana Contemporary in uptown Jersey City, New Jersey. There, visitors got a closer look at the original abstract sketches used for her art/poetry collaboration with Athent. Those buying the book online via the publisher, AntiSentiMental Society (an imprint of Off the Park Press), will find a short paragraph describing the sketches as “delicately scrawled thread-like drawings that seem to mimic the internal landscapes described and experienced in these poems.”  The original studio wall-hugging illustrations range from toweringly large to book-sized in scale — an appropriate setting for the event’s lineup of poetry-reciting authors, which included Athent, AntiSentiMental Society editor Ronna Lebo, Brooklyn writer and filmmaker Prospero Vega, PANK senior editor Chris Campanioni, and culture chronicler Anthony Haden-Guest. It was the title of Haden-Guest’s memoir about Studio 54 (The Last Party) that helped inspire the launch event’s title: “Theia Mania: The Last Book Launch on Earth.” Indeed, the theme of Athent’s poems echo Studio 54’s long-ago aspiration to host a mix of the sublime and the profane in one swirling space. Hence the the English translation of the book’s ancient Greek title: “divine madness.”
A clue to that aspiration is the oversized presence of thick black words “Degenerate Deity” on page one. Flip a few leaves, and page 5 holds perhaps the most succinct poetic expression of that enigmatic opener:
i am a venus rising.
a venus rising
from the rain fell
to the gutter.
i pick pennies off
the ground
and buy keebler 
wafers from the
deli.
here we call them
bodegas.
i am a scumbag
goddess.
The shapes of such paragraphs live on the book’s right-hand pages — with designer Eve Siegel intuitively moving and morphing word groups around the white space to mimic Pavlovska’s left-page illustrations. Only on page 58 do the words finally cross the spine to stand beside a slim vertical illustration that resembles a dark tower of smudged letters. Siegel situates the nearby poetry lines in similar tight paragraphs, including Athent’s mini-ode to English artist friend Natascha Young:
SO I go to England. Where I belong. I see
the gray and brick and towers of mirth and
gloom. I feel the powers of nations rolling on
history and the river Thames, bones washed
ashore and discarded. And I feel rich. Richer
than a Sulton. There are clocks that could
have paid for my college. There are canes
with marble bells for handles that only a
diplomat could be seen with. We’re so drunk,
Tascha and I. My spirit: Tascha. The mother
of this earth and then some: Tascha. Project
Venus: Tascha. We had all the wine in the
world. All the wine on the table. And then we
had cheese.
 
“those were dark days.”
“those were dark days.”
those were dark days,
we speak of Wolverhampton.
Yet, Theia Mania’s recurring flirtation with dark themes is not of the naval-gazing goth variety — rather, they revel in electric-lit cityscapes of buzzing shadows, where the liquor-infused nightlife drives a writhing kinetic energy that is intoxicating and addictive. Athent emphasizes her modern urban themes with a sprinkling of smartphone shorthand, the text-worthy symbols seeming like printed sisters to their spoken siblings:
 
Pictures of an Atlas
playing baseball with a
semi-automatic weapon and the ball = my <3
 
This is what it means to be Atlas
This is what it means to be Dallas
The divine madness of Theia Mania’s many poetic meanings are allowed to swirl and soar thanks to a very effectively-structured trio-collaboration between author, artist, and designer. The artwork by itself is resonant but abstract. The poems, powerful but shaped as sentences. Together, and jointly reshaped with every turned-over leaf, the resonance and power of the combined product jumps across the pages… and off of them.
Christian Niedan is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. He is co-coordinator of Brooklyn events for literary nonprofit Nomadic Press.

[REVIEW] Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life by Kim Addonizio

addonizio

Penguin, 2016

REVIEWED BY JUSTIN HOLLIDAY

Kim Addonizio, known for her poetry, fiction, and writing guides, has published her first personal essay collection after two decades after writing. As she often does in her other work, she covers topics such as family, writing, drinking, and sex, but what makes this book so different is that it is truly “confessional” writing in the strongest sense of the word. While all of her writing is unvarnished, Bukowski in a Sundress is the barest truth of the persona Addonizio wants everyone to see.

Some of the essays are written in second person. Rather than feeling ersatz by ostensibly addressing the reader, these particular essays allow Addonizio to express insecurities and frustrations in a way that discusses personal experiences and shows the ways they may relate to others. In her essay “How to Succeed in Po Biz,” she provides a step-by-step guide of sorts for poets:

Feel anxious about the upcoming trip because you hate to travel. Feel anxious because you are basically a private person and can’t live up to the persona that is floating out there in the world acting tougher and braver than you. You are a writer, after all.

This rhetorical strategy is a way to explore the anxieties that many other writers feel. Other essays in the collection similarly meditate on the difficulty of writing itself, from procrastination to writing that appears “DOA” on the page. These essays reveal the possibilities, or perhaps the pitfalls, that even successful writers contend with.

Addonizio’s caustic sense of humor shines in the memoir as well as it does in her other work. From failed relationships to odd encounters in the Midwest, she considers nearly everything worthy of witty, often critical response. Even titles like “Necrophilia” and “Children of the Corn” are used to redefine readers’ connotations of such terms. For example, “Necrophilia” refers to loving the emotionally dead, those who appear alive but cannot reciprocate love. Further, she plays with clichés with other titles such as “Pants on Fire, ” an essay that acts as the ultimate confessional for any poet. Here, Addonizio reveals the “lies” in her poems, which are considered lies only because of the contentious space of poetry within the often-false literary binary between fiction and nonfiction. Amidst her “confessions,” she intersperses other truths she has learned as a writer: “I swear on a stack of Bibles that some men really will want ‘to fuck your poems.”’ Such claims not only express the humor and chagrin of Addonizio’s experiences, but also reflect the mentalities of readers.

The titular essay actually comes from criticism by a member of the National Book Critics Circle Award committee. When Addonizio was under consideration for the award, one critic dismissed her as “Charles Bukowski in a Sundress,” suggesting her writing was derivative, uncouth, and anti-literary. Regardless of Bukowski’s success, his work is often viewed as flouting “literary” standards, whatever the vaguely and sometimes arbitrarily defined standards may be. While the insult does anger Addonizio, she responds with analogies of her own:  “Frankly, I’d have preferred a different, though equally nuanced, characterization of my work—say, ‘Gerard Manley Hopkins in a bomber jacket,’ ‘Walt Whitman in a sparkly tutu,’ or possibly ‘Emily Dickinson with a strap-on.”’ As a poet and a woman, she strives to fight for self-definition, wanting her self-generated comparisons to reflect the creative and occasionally strange but always evocative elements she blends in her work.

Other essays tackle difficult topics that are harder to laugh at; however, Addonizio adeptly reports the seriousness while also trying to acknowledge the humor we can find in our own pain. Essays about her dying mother show tenderness toward her family, reflecting the balance of the woman who has also written about necrophilia, homemade pornography, and the importance of alcohol consumption elsewhere in the memoir. “Flu Shot” provides a look at what it is like for her to be the outsider daughter who rarely sees her mother because they live so far apart. When she writes about the ordeal of trying to get her mother to the pharmacy so that she can be inoculated, Addonizio reveals a struggle that so many families must deal with as parents age. And in this meditation on aging, Addonizio also confronts the emotionally distant relationship she and her mother, renowned tennis player Pauline Betz, have had in the past, finally making some sort of peace with it.

Whether writing about failed romantic relationships or familial conflicts, Addonizio evokes a clear idea of what her life has been like as a writer, a mother, a lover, and a daughter. Although she has reclaimed “Bukowski in a Sundress” as a wry moniker, she is more than that. Kim Addonizio is her own woman, and her writing has revealed that she stands nonpareil, though I would not blame her if she became “Emily Dickinson with a strap-on.”

Against Metaphor

BY LORA MASLENITSYNA

It’s Tuesday, 12:27AM. The palm trees bend over backward to let the wind sweep past their stalks. There is an ocean of rain seeping in from under the front door. Outside my window, a tree topples over onto its side. The wind weaves through its naked roots. While the wind howls and the rain pounds at my door, I crave the steam that emanates off a warm bowl. The fluidity of vapor, sweet as breath and just as quick to dart away, glazes over my intentions. The clouds’ furrowed brow hangs low enough for me to cover its face with my palms. I am a few sharp words and a stretched lapel away from condensation. I take in a shallow breath.

I’ve been in bed since 10:30PM, hoping that if I gave myself a wider window of opportunity to fall asleep, I’d be on my way to a slightly less bruised expectation of morning. Nevertheless, I’m still wide awake. Here in my dorm room in Tokyo, sleeplessness clings to me like a stray dog that followed me home off the street. I never asked for it, but for whatever reason, it took a liking to me. Now, it won’t leave my side. Whenever I try to fall asleep, it nudges its cold nose under the covers with me. I might as well feed it while it’s here. I throw off my blanket and pull on a pair of leggings and a sweatshirt. I head out to clear my head at the only place that’s still open in my residential nook of Shinjuku: the sento, or the bath house.

The sento glows with the kind of heat only a well-cared for home emanates. A television hung over a small table hums the NHK network. The sound of running water babbles through two noren-covered entrances. Before I enter the bath, I undress and head to the showers to wash myself. I pass an elderly woman on her way back to the changing rooms. She smiles and strides past me, wearing nothing but a towel wrapped around her head. So good, so far, I think to myself. At least the other women are still smiling, so I haven’t muddled the customary practices.

Unlike restaurants in Tokyo, where old men have turned adjacent counter seats to face me and watch me eat, all the other women in the sento are enjoying their own experience. The middle-aged woman to the left of me scrubs under her arms. Meanwhile, another girl I think I recognize from the university pushes her back up against the jets. I take care to properly clean my body, then step into the steaming water. While I settle in against the bar jutting out from the center of the pool, a woman painted with red imprints from apparently full elastic-supported clothing leans against the jets behind me. Her left hand holds on to the bar just centimeters away from my cheek. It stays there for the entire time I spend in the bath. I’ll take this proximity over an old man’s sustained stare any day.

I admit that I feel more comfortable sharing the bath with all of the other women, rather than bathing by myself. Taking a bath on my own never felt quite as satisfying as the physical relationship I share in the sento. This, of course, is not a new concept in Japan. Here, “skinship” (skin + kinship) is as much of a health benefit as the water of the baths, itself. In the United States, where I grew up, this idea attaches itself almost exclusively to the relationship between a mother and her newborn child. What about the relationship between myself and my own body? Haven’t I fought through enough beauty standards and patriarchal preferences? My existence is pluralistic. It’s time I respect myself by confronting my progressions.

In the bath, I look at the body of the woman next to me. Then, I look at mine. The same red elastic marks span across my chest. Her skin wrinkles in the same places that mine folds. Not a single woman in this place has perfectly groomed hair or a belly as flat as a board. Perhaps in a society where the distinctions between sex and gender could be less rigid, bodies would move comfortably and without unnecessary embarrassments. Since that is not the society we live in today, my choices limit to a space that makes concessions to appearances. Books and films and so the people I intertwine with tell me that my self separates from the shell of my body. Before I “blossomed into a young woman,” my naïve flesh longed to disengage. I discarded my body as a home. Placed into metaphor and kept at a distance from my self, my body metamorphoses. I call my body a “temple” or sometimes, a “dump,” compartmentalizing my flesh and mind. My self has no immediate reality. I do not ground into my own body. I’m sick and tired of binaries that restrict me. I want to clearly assess my form and movements.

I think about another phrase I hear and repeat just as often: “You are more than just a body.” In an effort to throw off objectification, I separate from my body. Where I step away from sexual objectification, I cast my body away entirely. I tell myself I am more, that the self is its own environment. This more elevates itself above my body. I objectify my own ecology. If I continue to treat my body like a shell, my self can never really be tangible. I will continue to let others act as sieves for my memory. I will hold my empathetic potential and emotional intelligence at a distance.

This storm reminds me that I am wild and undisciplined (like everyone else). I bark when I can speak. The mottled sounds fling out from underneath my nails and pores. I lunge when I can stand still. But, my wildness is not a weakness. It is content within the form of my body. This form guides me. Without my body, I could have no self. The storm is also a form, but I deceive myself with romance and drama by not centering myself within its context. To live in metaphor is to deceive myself. My body is not rain, nor wind. It is muscle and sweat. My stomach is not a tumultuous whirlpool of fear or anticipation. It is acid and tissue. My palms are not curtains. They are sinew and flesh. I align my back against the plane of honesty.

In the morning, I call my mama. She advises me to actively level myself during this storm. The drama of the wind and rain is almost too romantic to resist, but it is a deceiving setting. Mama warns me against seeking out any sweeping emotional declarations, tonight. She tells me that honesty rests at 2pm on a Thursday, mulling under a thin veil of sweat and the taste of coffee in the corners of lips.

So, I turn my face to the window and listen to the wind and rain. They are exactly what they appear to be. They are not the currents of romance and drama come to sweep me away. It would be wrong for me to project a larger symbolic meaning onto their being. If I can focus on hearing my own breath and feeling the curve of my spine, then I can hear the honesty that permeates this setting. I lay on my back with my palms against the floor. I never fall too deeply asleep. The small of my back gently planes in parallel to the carpet.

Lora Maslenitsyna studies Humanities at Soka University of America. Her writing has been published by Litro Magazine and The Commonline Journal, as well as other zines. Her translations have been featured by ODALISQUE Magazine.

[REVIEW] All that Glitters by Liza Treviño

all-that-glitters-coverKoehler Books , 2017

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN MARCANTONI

Alex is a survivor. This is both a simple statement about the main character of Liza Treviño’s debut novel, All that Glitters (Koehler Books), and a starting point for one of the most unexpected literary powerhouses to come out this year. Ms. Treviño does not just show us that Alex is a survivor, she also asks what circumstances lead her to being one? What does being a survivor mean to her? How does being a survivor help her, but more importantly, how does it hinder her? How does a person navigate through life when their biggest strength and biggest weakness are the same thing?

Asking such questions is what separates this book, a chronicle of a young South Texas woman seeking fame and fortune in Hollywood, from so-called “chick lit” and “beach reads” and makes it a literary tour-de-force. The structure of the story could have been a soap opera, as we meet Alex on the night that she becomes the first female and Latina to win both the Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. The story is set in the 90s, which seems absurd at first, but later proves to be an asset. We see Alex in a limo with a man named Nick, who complements her night of glory by going down on her, a juxtaposition that appears to start the story within a feminine fantasy. Yet, Alex is miserable, anxious, and seemingly quite uncomfortable with this man who appears to be at her beck and call. There are some telling hints that this façade is not all that it seems, and without giving away too much, as the story backtracks to lead us back to this moment, we begin to see this scene in a new light, not as a moment of feminist triumph, but rather of a culmination of sexist power games and self-degradation, in which Alex is on the losing end.

The eighties/nineties time frame may seem like a strange place to set the novel, since racial progress in Hollywood was not a major issue at that time as it would be in the #OscarsSoWhite age, but the time period ends up illuminating a fascinating aspect about modern technology. Today, every offhand thing a person says online is kept in storage for use against them at a later time. How many times have scandals erupted over twenty year old quotes, after all? The fact is, Alex is a celebrity whose manner and behavior would be very hard to conceal in the Twitter/Facebook age. She has a personality that would incite a large number of trolls, although, given her personality, she would likely eat such people alive, she would nonetheless be a gossip magnet. While celebrity gossip has existed even before Hollywood (for some interesting research, look up 19th century gossip on theater actors; it is rather illuminating), the hyper-aware nature of social media would likely consume a person such as Alex, who is unapologetic about how she navigates the sexism of the Hollywood system. Aside from that, many of the relationships in the book hinge on the ability or inability to communicate. Treviño reminds those of us who lived during that time period just how difficult it could be to get a hold of a person, and how we take the instant gratification of our modern technology for granted. Yet this disconnect serves the story astonishingly well, adding tension to moments that nowadays would be resolved almost instantaneously, or adding to the loneliness of a particular character.

While Treviño places Alex and her friend Elly in many situations we have seen before—such as model parties turned sex parties, or directors taking advantage of female staff—her focus is always on further developing Alex’s personality. Alex is a character who, if she were a man, would be applauded for her ambition and confidence, but as a woman, is demonized. Treviño makes the smart decision to show that ambition itself is not Alex’s problem, but rather her need to survive at all costs is. She is a person who may need ambition and drive, but she also needs moral certitude and boundaries. One cannot maintain dignity if they are willing to compromise their deepest selves at a moment’s notice. The battle Alex wages is with herself—how can you be a powerful woman while maintaining your sovereignty and integrity? This is the question that haunts women of all professions. While Alex encounters and becomes the slave to misogynistic, hateful men, they are not as much the problem as her doubt in herself. That internal struggle is one that is too rarely explored, and Treviño pulls no punches in examining the dark side of femininity. Do not let the cover and promotional material for this book fool you, All that Glitters is a serious, complex, and stirring examination of the female soul that is uncompromising and unapologetic, much like its magnetic protagonist.

sec—;

BY STEPHANIE E. CREAGHAN

sec—; from Stephanie Creaghan on Vimeo.

Artist Statement:
My name is Stephanie E. Creaghan, and I’m a writer, curator and video artist based in Montreal. My work tries to show how violence inserts itself into different forms of communication. I use video as a two-prong attack against it, layering my writing and visuals to try and uncover the bad and the pain so we can talk about it.
Two years ago on April 17th, I quit drinking. Since this January, I’ve been working on a video piece that’s about that, or what it’s like to experience life with a layer of protection removed, with everything a little bit more raw/painful/great.
Stephanie E. Creaghan’s other work can be found at http://stephaniecreaghan.com/

[REVIEW] The Yellow House by Chiwan Choi

yellowhouse

Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2017

REVIEWED BY GABINO IGLESIAS

Chiwan Choi’s The Yellow House is one of those rare poetry collections that simultaneously serves as a manifesto of Otherness, a heartfelt and brutally honest journal of the most crucial moments of the poet’s life, and a celebration of the feelings, moments, and places that great poetry can invoke even when the writing itself is rooted in earthy, memory-tinged simplicity. As if that wasn’t enough, the collection is also an enjoyable recounting of how Choi found himself; a surprisingly cinematic series of vignettes that present the reader with loss, love, desire, friendship, family, and the city of Los Angeles.

The Yellow House opens with a simple three-line declaration that manages to set the mood for the rest of the collection while also proving themselves contradictory:

i chose poetry
over honesty
then lived this unremarkable life.

On one hand, Choi lets us know that there was a point in the journey of his life where a decision had to be made, and poetry won. However, the second line attempts to extract honesty from the process, and the poems that follow it prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Choi’s writing is very personal and honest. Furthermore, the word unremarkable is the exact opposite of what’s presented in this collection; poems filled with the agonies of every coming-of-age tale, the magic of a childhood spent navigating different cultures, and nights spent in a massive, violent, strange city that tends to become part of those who spend enough time in it. After reading the book, coming back to those three lines is crucial because they reveal the playful man behind the poems and let us know that we were on a sad, humorous, carefully constructed trip from the very first page.

Choi’s style is a mixture of sincere sharing and words being used to deal with certain memories. However, more important than his approachable, enjoyable style is the vulnerability Choi brings to the page. From dealing with death to plucking pieces of life that were happening in 1980, Choi treats his subjects and his writing with the same openness, and that candor translates into beautiful poetry:

this is stupid and emotional
and not poetic at all,
but life is so weird and beautiful
and i can’t tell whether it’s slipping away
or if it’s drowning me.
i can’t get out of bed
and if there was skin next to me
i would bury all the feelings in it
to some 80s soundtrack
like a non-stop loop
of the best of the church.

There is a yellow house in The Yellow House, and its appearances are just one of the many elements of cohesion that make this a very complete collection. The other cohesive elements are love, loss, memory, dreams, the role of parents, and the equal importance of things said and things left unsaid. Ultimately, the beauty of The Yellow House is that is personal and universal, and that allows the reader to recognize Choi for what he is: a survivor who’s seen many things, a son, and a man concerned with recognizing the things that came before and made him who he is now:

on the porch
drinking barley tea so my legs won’t fail
(that’s what mother says)
and, for a moment,
looking at my hand.
it is still.
sometimes it shakes,
trembles.
sometimes it holds
tight
the world.

On the most basic level, The Yellow House works because it is, simply put, beautiful poetry. Devastatingly beautiful. However, for those who care about the details of the genre, Choi also demonstrates a unique understanding of the way blank space can affect his message as well as a sense of rhythm that gives his work a particular flavor. These last elements make this collection a must read for fans of language and poetry and a superb addition to the Civil Coping Mechanisms catalog, which already includes some of the best contemporary poetry collections: There Should be Flowers by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, Lady Be Good by Lauren Hilger, and The Book of Endless Sleepovers by Henry Hoke, to name a few.