236 pages, $14.99
Review by Megan Culhane Galbraith
Just when I needed it, when I’d planned to write about Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, for “Books We Can’t Quit,” the book quits me. I couldn’t find my 1994 edition in my own bookshelves (had I loaned it to someone?), I went to the Saratoga Springs library and it was listed as “lost” in the catalog. I found one copy, a reprint, and the last one on the shelf at a local, independent bookstore. How, I wondered, could I have allowed one of the most important books in my life to vanish?
Was this a metaphor for what Grealy’s book has meant to me? Why has it haunted me since I first read it in 1994?
Autobiography of a Face is an excavation of Grealy’s soul. In it, she dissects the pain endured by multiple surgeries to her face as a result of a Ewing’s Sarcoma discovered when she was just nine years old. Skin grafts, bone grafts, tissue expanders, chemotherapy, and radiation, these are all physically painful, but it was the emotional agony that resonated with me: her throbbing, metaphysical pain. Continue reading
Queen’s Ferry Press
136 pages, $16.95
Review by Michael Vegas Mussman
What is up with palindromes? Seems like any palindrome longer than “racecar” is unwieldy both to sense and to sound. Plus, they’re fake. “Able was I, ere I saw Elba,” Napoleon never said. “A man, a plan, a canal: Panama” makes sense only for advertising copy. And who is this Panamanian man, anyway?
And yet. Certain palindromes like “radar” do shine a pretty light. I bet we invented them to feed our craving for symmetry. It’s like they’re taunting us – what if, instead of randomly combining 26 letters, we follow some logic to build our words? It’s a nifty trick.
I want you to read Pool Party Trap Loop, by Ben Segal. The stories that Segal writes reflect each other, sometimes in mirrored pairs. But where palindromes create an illusion of order by deforming words, Segal assembles elegant words to evoke a fucked up reality. Continue reading
Dock Street Press
153 pages, $14.00
Review by Cate Hennessey
In her marvelous book, I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory, Patricia Hampl ponders some of Rilke’s advice from Letters to a Young Poet. She comes to rest on this:
[Rilke] was not a sentimentalist of childhood. He is directing the young poet, rather, to the old religions of commemoration in whose rituals the glory of consciousness presides. He believes, as I cannot help believing as well, in the communion of perception where experience does not fade to a deathly pale, but lives evergreen …
This ‘communion of perception’ characterizes Curtis Smith’s new collection of twenty-one essays, aptly titled Communion. And while the book’s cover bears three holy wafers, perception here is driven not by a devotion to God or church, but by an ordinary father’s love for his son. Continue reading
Words Dance Publishing
$15, 81 pages
Review by Corey Pentoney
What, exactly, makes a poem? A hotly debated topic, surely, but one that always deserves a little attention. Can a poem be a single line? Absolutely. Alberto Rio published a great piece about that on Poets.org. A poem that takes up an entire book is often called epic, and usually contains men in armor slaying each other with blood-ripping swords. After my third reading of Heather Knox’s first book, Dowry Meat, I’m starting to think that it is an epic in a sense, and I will say that it is best enjoyed in its entirety. That is, perhaps one of the most interesting things about this book—besides the poems themselves, or itself—is that it feels like one whole, living, breathing beast. And what a beast it is. Continue reading
Four Way Books
$15.95, 84 pages
Review by Rachel Mennies
In Greek myth, the seven sisters we call Pleiades committed suicide after the death of their father, the titan Atlas (tasked with separating the heavens from the earth upon his back). While alive, each individual sister lived at the mercy of the impulses of various gods and men, sometimes even bearing their children; in their individual mythologies, their legacies are not kept separate from the ones men made with them or onto them, and they appear in our sky today as a unit of sisters—bound together as stars.
In Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows (Four Way Books), the poet Eugenia Leigh’s first collection, we meet Sisters; we meet Father, too, and Mother. Leigh builds these figures out to the scale of myth throughout her book, both as forces bound together by trauma and as personae often compromised by their fraught, epic-scaled loves. Steeped in questioning worship and a profound hunger for bodily life, the speakers of Leigh’s gorgeously imagistic, lyric book search for ways out of and back into the family unit, casting an unflinching stare on abuse, desire, and the destruction wreaked by both forces. Continue reading
By Nichole L. Reber
Six of us writer/expatriates had just sat down to another stop in our culinary tour of Lima, Peru. It was still early enough in the restaurant this Friday night for conversation with friends. Garlic wafted through the air from the kitchen at our backs and purple, pink, and gold cocktails sparkled in the lumens of the sconce lighting. Someone broached the topic of Mario Vargas Llosa, that country’s Nobel-winning author, and tension shot through the table like a backfire.
Finally Canadian Paul spoke up: “I just couldn’t make it through the damn book. I tried– I really did– but it was just … I finally had to just give up.”
Our collective sigh deflated the tension like a whoopie cushion. At last, someone else who didn’t like Llosa, Peru’s demi-god. Back then I assumed I’d appreciate— love even— any literary prizewinner’s work. I’ve learned since that that is certainly not so; prizes are just as subjective as any and every other art form. I had yet to realize, as I have through this Year of Colorful Reading, that my problems with South American literature wouldn’t stop at Llosa. Why? Could it be just another form of subjectivity? After all we can’t like everything. Continue reading
St Martin’s Griffin
576 pages, $21.99
Review by Dan Bradley
The hardest readers to shock and surprise are, perversely, voracious consumers and lovers of horror; we’ve read it all before. So with this new collection of 31 uncanny tales, refreshingly attentive to international and contemporary voices, can editor Marjorie Sandor revamp the strangeness and power of the uncanny for a new generation of readers?
The collection is inspired by the ‘haunted word’ itself. Sandor introduces the collection by tracking the etymology and semantic shadows cast by ‘uncanny’ and how its broad insinuations snake through languages and cultures, touching upon so many parts of our lives, enabling it to inspire such a wide ranging collection of tales ‘from the darkly obsessive to the subversively political, from the ghostly to the satirical.’ In Sigmund Freud’s 1919 essay ‘Das Unheimlich’, commonly translated as ‘The Uncanny’, his catalogue of experiences capable of creating an uncanny sensation, which ‘speak to the uninvited exposure of something so long repressed… that we hardly recognize it as ours,’ could easily read as a template for the greatest horror art, fiction and cinema of the past century:
When something that should have remained hidden has come out in the open.
When we feel uncertainty as to whether we have encountered a human or an automaton.
When the inanimate appears animate. Or when something animate appears inanimate.
When we see someone who looks like us—that is, our double.
The fear of being buried alive.
When we feel as if there is a foreign body inside our own. When we become foreign to ourselves.
304 pages, $26.95
Review by Lisa Rabasca Roepe
Writers will find The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits hard to resist. Who among us hasn’t kept a diary, often from the time we were children?
“Like many people I kept a diary when I was young,” Julavits writes. “Starting at age eight I wrote in this diary every day, and every day I began my entry with ‘Today I.’ ”
And so begins Julavits’ book, which even from its cover looks like a diary, reads like a diary with dated entries (although they aren’t in chronological order), and each entry begins like her childhood diary. Even the name, the folded clock, conjures up images of a diary because a diary, like a clock, measures time.
And time, as we get older, speeds up. “The ‘day’ no longer exists,” Julavits writes. “The smallest unit of time I experience is a week. But in recent years the week, like the penny, has also become a uselessly small currency. The month is, more truthfully, the smallest unit of time I experience.” Continue reading
Prospect Park Books
344 pages, $19.99
Review by David S. Atkinson
Barbara confesses an odd thing to her sonographer when eighteen weeks pregnant with her daughter. She says she “prayed that God had spared a girl from landing in [her] womb.” That’s a pretty heavy way to start Washing the Dead, the debut novel by Michelle Brafman (a teacher at The Johns Hopkins MA in Writing program whose writing has appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, the minnesota review, Blackbird, Slate, the Washington Post, and elsewhere). Regardless, knowing what I know now, it seems like a pretty apt place to begin.
Barbara is terrified about raising a girl because of her traumatic relationship with her mother. Her mother was loving, but could occasionally be inexplicably distant:
My mother’s mood hovered over us, a mist that could either turn to rain or vanish into the sunlight. During our family walk to Shabbos services, I saw her eyes honeying over, the first sign that at any moment she could dip away from us, into that place inside herself. Even since last April, the mist had turned soupy, and I worried that we would both drown in it.
“Let’s do the last block fast, Mom.” If we moved quickly, we could outrun the fog.
Coffee House Press
184 pp, $16.95
Reviewed by Leland Cheuk
In Valeria Luiselli’s first novel Faces In The Crowd, a promiscuous, melancholy mother loses herself so thoroughly while translating the work of a Mexican poet named Gilberto Owen that her narration slowly becomes that of the equally promiscuous, swashbuckling poet. In Luiselli’s funny new picaresque The Story of My Teeth, Gustavo “Highway” Sánchez Sánchez picks up where Owen left off. He too is a charismatic raconteur whose first-person narration simultaneously charms and cuckolds. Highway not-so-humbly describes himself as “the best auctioneer in the world.” He collects all kinds of objects, including the teeth of the famous. He claims to be wearing Marilyn Monroe’s choppers. He’s got a serious case of Napoleon Complex because he attributes many of his unusual aphorisms to Napoleon (I doubt the French emperor ever said “it wasn’t all velvet petals and marshmallow clouds”). As an auctioneer, Highway spins elliptical, impressionistic love letters about the objects he’s trying to sell. About Plato’s teeth, he says:
Our first lot is a piece in a somewhat deteriorated state…Significant flattening of the point leads to the supposition that the original owner, Mr. Plato, talked and ate continuously…Mr. Plato once made a comparison between the period of dentition and a man falling in love: “In this state, the soul enters into effervescence and irritation; and this soul, whose wings are just beginning to develop, can be compared to a child whose gums are inflamed and enervated by its first teeth.”