In Past Lives, each line deftly leaps to the next in glorious unpredictability, forming a latticework of surprise. In the world of V. Joshua Adams, we have competitive knitting, beer commercials, Cabriolets, and mandolin players breaking ukulele players' fingers. To employ a Pavement title, Adams's poems are "slanted and enchanted": their surrealist strangeness is sometimes meditative and sometimes mercurial with acrobatic associative jumps. These are poems of wit, inquiry, and sonic vigor that examine issues of being, textuality, and the imaginative act. Past Lives is "swift-winged and sharp" and "darkly bright" as its sentences spin with wryness: "Even the language of ruin gets run-down," "The question filled me with dread, / which was better than nothing," and the following excerpt, from which the title Past Lives arises: "A lot of people have past lives they are covering up./ For example, I was once an Episcopalian." Though Adams's poems aren't overtly emotional, he extends his antennae into a range of consciousness, including desire and darkness; or, to use a phrase from Mark Doty, they are a "logarithm of decay and rekindling."
“Sometimes our past is the only truth-teller, specially when the real-life persons are not always factual to us, or when the personal memories likewise are not so certain over the years.” Such is the wisdom of kind-hearted Erasmus T. Yang, frustrated journalist wannabe and proprietor of a mama shop in the fictional Southeast Asian of Tandomon, who finds himself inadvertently embroiled in the Sino-Soviet border clashes of the late 1960s. Told by journalist and award-winning novelist, Scott Shibuya Brown, the novel takes a comic look at one ambitious man’s efforts to promote a fraudulent war memorial, thereby almost precipitating international conflict through Yang’s enthusiastic news reporting. Narrated in a charming first-person narrative of Singlish and Manglish (Singaporean and Malaysian English), as well as invented colloquial English, the tale is both an entertainment and a warning, in the tradition of early Naipaul, Graham Greene, and Joseph Heller.
Recalling Joni Mitchell’s famous lyric “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot,” Solastalgia is a heart-wrenching and harrowing overview of environmental destruction. Though it is an ominous exploration of the Anthropocene era and the ways humans have contributed to the changing climate and landscape, it spends much of its time honoring all the strange and wondrous creatures—“may you outlast us”— that humans, both intentionally and unwittingly, are shoving toward extinction’s cliff. Solastalgia is an eloquent tribute to all the awe-inspiring flora and fauna that we have failed as a species. I love this book not only for its incisive eco-eye but also for its dazzling language terrains. Using language as the tool to effect change, these poems make you want to be better, do better.
Yours Creature is composed of epistolary poems in the voice of Mary Shelley. Often written as missives to her famous literary mother, Wollstonecraft, the poems address months, years, and her own monstrous creation as they contend with exile, transience, and desire. These poems ask us to imagine the physical elements of Shelley's existence in language that is both luminous and visceral. This is not a book that simply recreates a past, but one that transcends time as it threads together the loss and violence that history has asked women to suppress. The poems recognize the unspoken pairing of scarcity and creation; they explore how the monstrous is born out of rejection. Yours, Creatureresponds to a literary and historical narrative, but the poems exist as lyric, singing of the pleasure of creation and its transformative power.
When nurse Frances White is pickpocketed while waiting for a ferry in Ireland, she ends up stranded on a remote Aran island without phone or passport. The theft kickstarts a journey of self-discovery aided by the strange and beautiful Irish landscape. The one island doctor, a handsome local fisherman, and the vivid Gaelic-speaking community help Frances face her dark past, including her part in the murder that caused her to flee to Ireland the year before. With her sketchbook and her beloved father’s ashes still in hand, Frances explores what it takes to find the courage to trust and even to love, even after the darkest of times. With storytelling as self-reliant and idiosyncratic as the narrator herself, Hey, Pickpocket explores Frances’ rebirth on Inis Mór with an emotional realism that is authentic and heartbreaking.
Memory, grief, and self-reflection mingle in debut author Garza’s account of the death of her sibling. The 52-year-old author recounts her experience with survivor’s guilt, dissociation, and spirituality, as she undertook a long journey to reconstruct her identity. Throughout, the author illustrates, in observant, poetic prose, the reverberating effects that grief can have on a life and the many ways that her family has coped with it. Garza draws on multiple outside sources, including the work of Rebecca Solnit, the words of Saint Teresa of Ávila, and the Tibetan Book of the Dead, to explore how people understand and interact with death and how they ultimately learn to accept it as a constant companion. An achingly vulnerable, elegantly worded meditation on grief and recovery.
Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
“Reginald Gibbons’s first novel takes place in east Texas in 1910 during the time of white rule―not by law but by lynch mob. Amid the suffocating racism and fear, half-Choctaw, half-white Reuben Sweetbitter and Martha Clarke, a white woman, fall in love. . . . Reuben and Martha’s love is strong, but, dishearteningly, racism is stronger. Timely in the subject of interracial love, this authentic, richly -detailed novel plumbs sacrifice, fear, and the loss of one’s identity, bringing the -anguish of the two young lovers to life. Highly recommended.”
When memory fails, what can take its place? Speculation, Brigitte Lewis suggests, other ways of knowing: myth, history, science. Imagination. The quicksilver of language itself. The result is a memoir about what it means to re-member a life. Hybrid in form and lyrical in style, Speculative Histories is driven by an authentic voice and a singular intelligence. This is a mind on the page, a story unfolding. To read it is to fall in love with what writing can do.
In 1992, ten years after whaling was banned (in the South Pacific), a scientific expedition set off from Tahiti to New Zealand, following the 'whale road.’ Deborah McCutchen joined the crew as a nanny for the two children of the captain and his wife. The Whale Road is a montage of snapshots layered in a colorful album of words. There are diary excerpts and ship's log entries; there is myth, story, and fascinating facts about whales. McCutchen strikes a fine balance between lyricism and musing on the one hand and action and anecdote on the other. The natural world is illuminated with a sense of magic and awe in a style akin to Annie Dillard's. Without being preachy, this book is a plea for the conservation of whales and other creatures and a lament for human interference in nature. —The New Zealand Herald
Rita Mookerjee’s False Offering, while providing a trenchant critique of the oppressiveness of “white space,” is also glittery, culinary sumptuous, and scythe sharp. Shot through with equal parts “nectar and venom,” Mookerjee’s poems pirouette with muscular grace in a kaleidoscopic whirl of myth and alchemy, gods and feasts, rot and rose gold. False Offering is a feminist ledger of “battle armor meeting ballet.” Like a medieval tapestry, it is piped through with an elaborate galaxy of nightviolets, rosewater, bonedust, “snakes and shibari,” origami, and the KKK. It is a rare book in that even while flipping the middle finger; it has its hands held out in tenderness to those in need.
In this elegiac collection fittingly titled Everyone I’ve Danced With Is Dead, Mamie Morgan’s poems are exquisitely stitched as they offer up lamentation for and salutation to the dead. These are dedicatory jeremiads against loss that flame with anger, anguish, feminism, and, yes, even humor. And though they are underscored in a bladed nostalgia, they are never sentimental; instead, they are “finding new ways to feel” while “flinging every street-facing window open.” Swirling in the poetic spaces of this book are caribou, witches, and chickens as well as cameos by Amy Poehler, Mary Oliver, and Iphigenia; but, most importantly, ascending from the book’s foundation is Morgan’s incantation for the living and the dead—the clear and sustaining phrase, “I want you alive.”
In 1929, Thomas Mann won the Nobel Prize in Literature. While he balked at working with a female translator, his standing in the Western canon might, in fact, be credited to the translation work of Helen Lowe-Porter. In the Shadow of the Mountain tells the true story of Lowe-Porter. Closely based on historical source material, the novel follows a young Helen struggling against gender roles in the early-mid 20th century to realize the life she desires as a writer and translator. Married to the charming classicist Elias Lowe, Helen is forced to watch her husband's career soar, his affairs, and the ever-disdaining Mann as he wins the Nobel Prize without appreciating her translation efforts that ensured his success. The novel takes its readers on the journey of one woman who strives to step out from under the long shadow of the dominating men in her life to become a person of letters in her own right.
In eleven fearless, wide-ranging stories, The Sexual Lives of Suburbanites offers us a sometimes absurdist, sometimes satirical but always fresh glimpse into the things that trouble us most. From materialism to regrets and everything in-between, Stenson dissects suburban milieu. Whether narrated by e-trading infants or drug addicts, the characters' worlds unfold with energy and surprise. Variously whimsical, obsessive, charming, and dark, the stories also break your heart.
The rain-sodden, southern world of David Wesley Williams’ Everybody Knows overflows with satiric fun as it churns up a rich detritus of Biblical allusions, political backstory, musical opinions, literary puns, and local anecdote. The story, set a decade hence, introduces a raft of characters, too, including musicians, an escaped felon, a tyrannical governor atop his state’s old electric chair, various and likable sidekicks and mistresses, and even a writer, the ironic double of the work’s author, whose enthusiasm for his subject matter spills over into strongly opinionated footnotes. And that’s all before the pirates arrive. Original, energetic, and obsessive, Everybody Knows recalls the worlds of Faulkner, Welty, Flannery O’Connor, Kurt Vonnegut, and John Kennedy Toole in its broad wit and sorrowful joy.
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