[REVIEW] Pool Party Trap Loop by Ben Segal

pool

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

[REVIEW] Dragon’s Breath by MariNaomi

dragon

2Cloud

386 Pages, $24.95

 

Review by Corey Pentoney

 

Before I dig into this review, I want you to imagine what loss looks like. If you saw it on the face of a friend, would you recognize it? Are their eyebrows angled in a certain way, the corners of their lips turned down just so? Now separate that feeling from the person, from a human face. What does it look like? A swirling mass of black and dark colors? An empty beach? Take a minute and close your eyes and try to imagine what each and every emotion looks like—fear, hatred, love, happiness—when it’s not attached to a human being. Imagine the space it would fill.

In Dragon’s Breath, MariNaomi, the author and illustrator of Kiss and Tell (print), and Estrus Comics (online), as well as numerous short comics spread across the fathoms of the internet, tells the story of loss. The story is broken into many small vignettes, ranging from two or three pages to twenty or thirty, and all of these tiny events—the loss of her home, the loss of her grandfather, the loss of friends—are laid out in such a way that by the time you chew your way through the entire book, it will be hard not to feel in some way intimate with its author. You were there with her at the party with the members of Duran Duran; you screamed at her boyfriend when they didn’t get along; you stared at the bites from the bedbugs on your ankles and shins. Continue reading

[REVIEW] Infinity’s Jukebox by Matthew Burnside

 

Infinity

Passenger Side Books

32 pages, $4

 

 Review by Corey Pentoney

 

Matthew Burnside’s newest collection of short stories is, in a word, a trip.  A trip into the tentatively constructed heart of a boy who’s trying to understand his father, a trip into the remnants of what love means to a man who lost his wife, a trip to the very heart of literature.  The beautiful thing is that you’re not alone on your journey.  You have the jukebox to guide you.  It wasn’t until I finished the last story, “Literary Short Story: A Mad Lib,” that I began to understand the purpose of the inward-spiraling epigraph and the nickel that is glued in the center.  “To replay human existence—fine.  But to replay it in the way a drunk replays a corny tune pushing coins over and over into the jukebox?” he writes.  Almost every story in this collection felt strangely familiar to me, but with an odd and often beautifully compelling twist.

For example, the first story, “Passengers,” quickly calls to mind the drug-fueled rambling adventures of Hunter S. Thompson, but just when you begin to say “I’ve heard this all before,” Burnside hits you over the head with an iron skillet to remind you that you haven’t, to take a closer look.  Sometimes he achieves this with sentences as blunt instruments, the proverbial punches at the end of the story to make you rethink what you just read. Sometimes, and I believe more successfully, he brought me around with a stunning turn of phrase or detail that left me spinning like a coin on the countertop. My favorite story in the collection, “On the Benefits of a Lego Heart…,” achieves this by offering a unique glance into a familiar landscape: the heart of the abandoned child. This phrase at the end: “the way anything good could only ever be bought with equal but opposite suffering,” forced me to pause and re-evaluate the entire story. “Revival” does much the same for a man who has lost his wife, and is looking to escape his pain with a woman with “tarantula eyelashes” and a “tomahawk gaze.” Continue reading

[REVIEW] Train Shots by Vanessa Blakeslee

 

Vanessa Blakeslee's Train Shots cover photo

 

Burrow Press

145 pages, $15.00

Review by Denton Loving

Vanessa Blakeslee writes across genres, and her first collection of short stories, Train Shots, reflects how widely she has been published (credits within Train Shots alone include The Southern Review, Madison Review and Harpur Palate among others). These stories illustrate Blakeslee’s ability to inhabit the minds and voices of wildly different narrators and characters, though their common denominator is in the search for a safe place to belong.

Opening the collection is “Clock In,” a first-person point-of-view story written in direct address that immediately pulls the reader in as a new server at a restaurant. “First we’ll clock you in on the computer and then you can shadow me,” the story starts, and then the narrator proceeds to give “you” the entire scoop on the restaurant’s other employees. Blakeslee’s talents are truly highlighted in this story, expertly revealing a set of quirky characters in a remarkably short three pages.

Blakeslee’s craft is more subtle in other stories, even though her ambition pokes through again and again in beautiful sentences and her unique insight. In “Ask Jesus,” a man faces a cheating wife. In “Barbecue Rabbit,” a woman is challenged by a destructive, abusive, out-of-control son. In “Hospice of the Au Pair,” a doctor entertains the notion of a “home abortion” against his mistress’s will. Continue reading

[REVIEW] Casualties, by Kirsten Clodfelter

 

Book-Cover

Rope Walk Press

34 pgs/$14

 

Review by Tricia C. Gonzales

 

A young military wife anxiously awaits her husband’s return, a motherless teenager seduces/is seduced by her best friend’s Army-enlisted brother, a Kuwaiti-born daughter of a Gulf war vet seeks out her father. These are some of the characters that populate five beautifully written stories in Casualties, the debut collection by Kirsten Clodfelter and first runner up of the 2013 RopeWalk Press Editor’s Chapbook Contest.

Each story in Casualties stands solidly on its own but the way they are grouped together makes the title that connects them that much stronger. “The first casualty when war comes is truth,” the opening pages inform the reader. The stories are told from the distinct voices of the women who are affected as a result of each one’s connection to a man in military service. Continue reading

[REVIEW] The Aversive Clause, by B.C. Edwards

~ by David S. Atkinson

9781937854249

Black Lawrence Press

$16/180 pgs

I always hate to display my ignorance, but I will be forthcoming here and admit that I was not familiar with the work of B. C. Edwards before grabbing a copy of his short story collection The Aversive Clause. However, despite my unfamiliarity and despite this being Edward’s first prose book (he is also the author of the poetry collection To Mend Small Children), I still had high expectations.

After all, The Aversive Clause was the winner of the 2011 Hudson Prize. In addition to a long list of journal publications, Edwards has been nominated for a Pushcart and is a Literary Death Match Champion. I’ve even heard that one of the stories in this collection (“Illfit”) is being adapted by the Royal Ballet of Flanders. To make a long story short, I was expecting great things when I opened the cover.

Having opened this review in such a manner, I should immediately turn to whether or not my high expectations were satisfied. By way of answering my own question, let’s take a look at a portion from “The City of God is Your Town, America…If You Make an Effort!” as an example:

God descended to Earth into a lackluster soybean field somewhere in Kansas. “No,” he said when we asked him if it was the end of the world. “Oh heavens no, no, no,” and he waved his god-hands furiously causing minute divine ripples through the heat that ruined all our hairstyles. “No, really, no.” And God smiled like he was trying to convince us and him at the same time. And his smile was strange, awkward like the handshakes when you don’t realize you’ve met someone before and reintroduce yourself. Continue reading

jimmy lagowski saves the world by Pat Pujolas (a Review by David S. Atkinson)

Independent Talent Group

198 pgs/$12

When I first picked up jimmy lagowski saves the world, the short story collection debut by Pat Pujolas, I was expecting to read a funny little book. Really, that’s all I’d thought from the summary on the back. The twin epigraphs hadn’t really changed my mind, the first being the quote “All men are created equal” from Thomas Jefferson and the second, attributed to the character Jimmy Lagowski himself, being “Thomas Jefferson was a dick.” After reading one or two stories, however, I decided that jimmy lagowski saves the world was a collection that evokes tender emotion through the bare humanity of the characters. This bit from “State Park Resort” is a perfect example:

A few hours later, he emerges from the arts and crafts barn, victorious. She’s going to love this dog, this gift from Henry. In his excitement, he runs down the dusty road, past the game-room, past the other campers and tents, all the way to the Martin Family’s camper. Joann is eating lunch at the picnic table, and Henry runs to her side, presenting the dog to her, with both hands, like a trophy.

*****

“It’s so adorable,” Joann says. “I’m going to call him Henry.”

A knife, straight to the heart; his cheeks fill with blood again.

Joann pats the statute on its head. “Good little Henry. He’s a good little boy.”

Inside, Henry thinks, don’t call it that. Please don’t call it that. Call it anything in the worlds but that. Inside, this is what Henry thinks.

 

In short, a twelve-year-old boy makes himself vulnerable in a valiant and creative attempt to win the young girl he loves, only to have her unwittingly demonstrate that she considers more of a friendly puppy than a suitor. Continue reading

May We Shed These Human Bodies, by Amber Sparks (A Review by Dawn West)

 

Curbside Splendor

150 pgs/ $12.00

Welcome to the cabaret. Amber Sparks’ May We Shed These Human Bodies is a menagerie of twisted fairy tales, ghost stories, and wild fables. Her stories are often fantastical but her prose is almost scientifically precise. No muss, no fuss. Sparks is our fairy tale cartographer, mapping a world of modern magic and human error.

We begin with Death and the People, a darkly comic fable. Death comes for one of them, and the people stand up to him and say no. “If he goes, they said, then we all go.” Death, who is one suave son of a bitch, looking “tall and elegant and kind of preppy in a crisp white button-down and chinos,” gives in.”You all have to come with me, then.” This story is both humorous and poignant. The people are irrational, insatiable; a chorus of gaping maws, like we really are.

I love how Sparks takes the most surreal characters and renders them tangible- making us empathize with Death, for example. The feral children, the cannibalistic seniors, the trees who become people, the wives who become animals, a big City hungering for mobility, a legion of ghosts- they are all hoarding desires, even the dictator drinking alone,”watching Shane and weeping into a glass of whiskey.” Continue reading

I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND Official Release

In case you missed it amongst the holiday/New Year’s/list obsession hoopla, we are excited to announce the official release of I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND from Myfanwy Collins. A mixture and collection of both short stories and flash fiction, I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND brings tender, stark, and lost souls all of which are “in search of that which eludes them: an acknowledgment of a shared past, the fulfillment of a secret desire, a tenuous connection made whole.” Start your 2013 reading off right, order your copy here.

An official book signing of I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND will take place on Saturday, March 9th at 1 pm, during AWP Boston. Stay tuned for further announcements, reviews, and events.

A Glimpse of the Numinous by Jeff Gardiner (A Review by David S. Atkinson)

Eibonvale Press (UK)

170 pgs/£18.99

There is something about characters coming into contact with something larger than themselves that makes for particularly compelling fiction. I don’t mean events larger than themselves, more of reaching for aspects of existence that transcend the experience in their particular world. Call it what you will: the other, god, correlated contents; that outward reaching seems to cause some kind of magnetic imbalance, tugging the reader inward inversely to the outward reaching of the characters.

The reaching of the characters in the stories of Jeff Gardiner’s A Glimpse of the Numinous certainly exerted that kind of pull for me. A man who finds a way to make his fears visible in order to face them? A woman approached by a stranger who claims to be in love with her and know everything about her? A boy who finally reaches out to a friend without awareness or concern regarding what the darkness in his own life will bring about? I like fiction about ordinary lives as much as the next person, but I cannot deny the pull of “the other.”

The opening portion of the title story is actually a wonderful way to explain how it felt to start reading this book:

“We haven’t made love for over a year now. Then one day a few weeks ago I was quite shocked when Helen began to masturbate in bed beside me in the early hours of the morning…But the first time this happened, her moaning woke me and I thought she was having nightmares but when I tried to shake her she pushed me away. In the darkness I could hear and feel her reaching climaxes of ecstasy that she had certainly never experienced with me.

Dan paused for a while and would not catch my eye, for which I was grateful, as I wasn’t really sure I wanted to hear this, but it was too late to stop him now.

Continue reading