A Book Review by Scott T. Starbuck
Tribute is paid to William Carols Williams in the book’s title What Comes From A Thing, in an epigraph, and in reference to the cover art by Charles Sheeler in the Notes. Williams’ emphasis on charged precise details is evident throughout the book, but echoes of the humanity of Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai are more striking. Amichai, in a Lannan video, described a poem as “a lament” and said “These are the steps [poems] which keep me from falling down.” Barron’s poems are, in many cases, laments of postindustrial despair, isolation, and ecological ruin. However, what makes his poems, and others like them, satisfying is the contrast between how the poems begin as ordinary strolls along urban streets and wharfs then turn into profound unexpected endings that offer zen-like insight the way satori works in a haiku.
A Book Review by Jay Lemming
The New York City of Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life is an environment of broken things, of abandoned objects and people that once had presence and purpose but from which all meaning has since fled. Lish’s world is a landscape of sordid alleys, distant night-time shouts, burnt-out car skeletons, weed-choked lots of broken pavement, chain-linked fences sprinkled with glass, blue-lit bars, underpasses, trestles, electricity towers, industrial fields, expressways, cracked cement stanchions with exposed rebar, gutted buildings, warehouses, profane, talented graffiti, and late-night, slow-moving cop cars with lights on but sirens off, prowling for anything they care to ensnare at a given moment.
Hair of the Dog: Ken Taylor's Dog With Elizabethan Collar
A Book Review by J. Peter Moore
By the time one gets to the seventh poem in Ken Taylor’s recent collection, Dog With Elizabethan Collar, certain readerly expectations begin to take hold. The first line of the book says it all: “lights up on the peepshow entry flowing over / a fixed width nigh the b-side of eyelids.” Here we have a relatively routine set of commonplace objects and events (electrical lighting, adult entertainment, the flip-side of a popular record, facial skin folds). Yet the chain of pronouns that connects these set pieces into the rhetorical stuff of statement calls their fixed signification into question: Are the lights those of a twinkling marquee variety, advertising the entryway to the earthly pleasure dome? Or do they belong to some unnamed custodian, who patrols his sticky beat with a long-handled flashlight? By poem number seven, we get the drift. Taylor’s is a poetry that seeks to suspend some of our more obdurate expectations for clarity, fixed perspective and digestible diction. His is a poetry that disorients as it draws us near. Or, as Taylor puts it in “Moebius Syndrome,” “we each determine the need for coded speech.” To not get our feelings hurt by these fierce walls of wailing intensity we’d do well to accept Taylor’s line for what it is: a finely wrought rebus masquerading as subject and predicate.
Reviewed by Laura Rock
A news report snags our attention: humanitarian aid workers kidnapped by one of the warring factions of a foreign conflict zone. The story seems familiar. We follow its progress lazily, assuming that we understand the motivations of the good guys and bad guys—and which are which—until the hostages are rescued and flown home to fanfare.
In The Colonial Hotel, Jonathan Bennett’s accomplished third novel, this global narrative is upended, challenging conventional wisdom about…well, about everything that matters: love, faith, knowledge, power, war and storytelling itself. Helen, a nurse, seeks the most difficult postings as her way to serve God and, perhaps, evade the damage of her past. Paris, a doctor, gives up a promising medical career to follow Helen from one developing country to the next, where he treats patients to the best of his ability given inadequate resources. During a respite at the Colonial Hotel, the couple is captured by rebel soldiers in an attack that may not have come as a surprise to some of the foreigners staying at the hotel. While Helen, pregnant with Paris’s child, is released soon after they are taken, Paris’s ordeal is just beginning. Enter Oenone, the healer whose traditional methods contrast with western medicine. She has the courage to defy a warlord and the strong-minded goodness to transform a village.
Reviewed by BJ Fischer
Michael Landweber’s first novel, We, defines itself from its earliest pages with a bold narrative choice. The novel is the story of Ben Arnold, a 40-year old man who falls and loses consciousness; when he comes to, he finds himself inhabiting the brain of his own 7-year old self (known then as Binky).
At this point, I have to interrupt and admit that I have long had a bias against device-driven fiction. I don’t know whether it is a PTSD flashback from reading Robbe-Grillet in college or what, but my feeling is that too often these books end up being about the device (Watch this, Mom! No Plot!) while the story and characters are relegated to the background and suffer in the process.
And in my view, the story is the first responsibility of fiction.
From that viewpoint (and to my delighted surprise), We works and works well, starting with a masterful exposition. We learn in a few paragraphs about a family trauma that we suspect is at the root of the adult Ben’s struggles: an attack on his sister, a suicide, a broken family.
Reviewed by B.D. Fischer
The reviewer’s greatest sin, frequently committed in the pages of our most famous magazines, is to reveal the story. Doing so destroys the surprise that is the central pleasure, and it is a crime which can rarely be forgiven. Fortunately, there is no such danger with Here/Other, the new novella from the poet Kat Dixon, for there is no plot as that word is traditionally understood, and if there were I wouldn’t know what it was, and if I did revealing it would be peripheral, perhaps vestigial.
The story, such as it is, revolves without resolving around a matrix of relationships, between Pigeon and Wednesday, Pigeon and Zanzibar, Wednesday and Zanzibar (a different type of relationship), Pigeon and the Chair (“of a goddamned Department” ), and the Chair and the woman at the post office with the deformed hand, although some of these may be the same people. It lingers in their dailiness and freights the banal with thunderous meaning:
Reviewed by Cori Di Biase
Voice is the breath and the blood of narrative. It is what makes a story human and living. In Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina are rendered with a rare and insistent voice that rings clear, even in the howling wind.
Salvage the Bones is told in the voice of Esch, the lone girl in a family of three brothers and her father. Though quiet with others, the rich internal life Esch offers to the reader is layered with myth, uncertainty and the practicality required of her circumstances. We feel her sickness and her sweat and the racing of her heart and mind as she learns that, at fifteen, she is pregnant. We feel her fear and her confusion when, upon seeing the results of a home pregnancy test, she tells us:
Reviewed by BJ Fischer
During the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics the wags took to Twitter, demanding to know why the Russians were not portraying events like the Great Purge in their obscure symbolic dance interpretation of Russian history.
The answer is easy: for the same reason we don’t cover slavery or Native Americans when the Olympics are in the United States.
Or, the internment of the Japanese during World War II. Would have been perfect for Los Angeles in 1984, right?
The point is that every narrative (national or personal) has dark chapters. I suspect the Japanese internment is less well known than others, probably because it has not been as high profile in popular culture.
Literature is not popular culture anymore, so I don’t think Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic will help raise awareness very much, but it is still an exceptional read. The novel, which tells the story of Japanese “picture brides” who come to America in the early 20th Century, is a compelling and impactful book that tells a horrifying story in an understated way, the perfect formula for delivering an emotional punch to readers.
Guest Blog Post by Laura Rock
Picture the archetypal yoga instructor: serene; uncompetitive; wearing lululemon; erect posture. In short, the anti-writer. If this were a classroom exercise on character development, that’s how we’d describe her, at least initially, before moving beyond archetypes and maybe changing her gender. And our nascent “writer?” Cranky; score-keeping; unshowered; wearing sweatpants from high school, threadbare at the butt; hunched.
But this isn’t a writing exercise, so let’s relax, all together—you, me and every other slope-shouldered scribbler staring at the screen. Return to the breath. Inhale and hold for a count of eight…eight reasons a yoga practice will enhance your writing practice.
Reviewed by C.A. LaRue
Rarely do you contemplate the various elements of design that are involved in bringing you light. Neither does a casual reader like to look too closely at the bones of a pleasurable read. Yet, The Biology of Luck, the latest novel from the ever-prolific Jacob M. Appel, practically begs for such examination.
It is not by accident that you will find yourself coming back to its pages again and again like some well-thumbed guidebook. The novel does, in fact, have the feel of a guidebook with its full-color map of “Larry’s NYC” and its rich descriptions of that city, but it is so much more than the “postmodern love story” or “re-imagined Odyssey” that it has been labeled.
Yes, on the surface it is a journey and a doomed romance of fugly meets hot-mess on a bike, but under that sheen is a darkness that skirts the depths of our neurotic obsessions. Even minor characters, such as the Armenian florist and the lovable, scholarly Ziggy, are deliciously, delightfully nuts.