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Jul/Aug 2018

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Reviews & Interviews


(These are excerpts—click on the title to view the whole piece!)
 

Ann Skea reviews...
 

Patient X: The Case-Book of Ryunosuke Akutagawa
by David Peace

Then, in a chapter called "Hell Screens" there comes a description of Ryunosuke's birth. His father has his mouth to his mother's vagina and is calling "Can you hear me in there? Do you want to be born?" But in spite of his refusal, Ryunosuke is swept into the world: "In the year of the dragon, in the month of the dragon, on the day of the dragon, in the hour of the dragon, at the sinking of the moon, at the rising of the sun, you first see the light of the world, and you weep and you scream, alone, alone, you scream and you scream."
 

The Yellow House
by Emily O'Grady

The Yellow House is a powerful novel about the legacies of a notorious, violent crime in a family and in a small rural community where everyone knows everyone else's business. Without referring to the old Biblical saying about the iniquities of the fathers being visited on the sons to the third and fourth generation, Emily O'Grady realistically shows the long-lasting effects such a crime has on Cub and her family.
 

Mrs. Moreau's Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names
by Stephen Moss

He tells of the early tradition of naming newly discovered species after a particular person, of the accepted rules for this, and of the rivalries this engendered. He also writes of the men—and the few women—who have made important discoveries and collections, and of the long-running and often heated debate among birders about the best way to regulate and classify the names.
 

Circe
by Madeline Miller

As Circe tells us about her life, we come to know her. She is not the "dread goddess" who arbitrarily uses "evil drugs" to turn Odysseus's men into pigs, as Odysseus portrays her in Homer's Odyssey. She is strong and determined and powerful, but she is a woman alone, and she has good reason to use drugs for her own protection against the pirates and war-hardened sailors who turn up on her island and who feast and carouse in her halls, only to then abuse her hospitality.
 

Natural Causes: Life, Death and the Illusion of Control
by Barbara Ehrenreich

Forget the idea that you are responsible for your own life, says Ehrenreich. Your body is actually a site of perpetual warfare, and harmony and wholeness within the body is a myth. Cells like macrophages (about which she is a scientific expert) while posing as "the good guys"—the "garbage collectors" of the body—can turn traitorous and aid and abet cancer cells in their invasions. "Their M.O. as a killer," she writes, is "brutal and thug like."
 

The Jade Lily
by Kirsty Manning

There are love stories here, especially that of Romy and Wilhelm. Alexandra's break up with her London partner and her growing involvement with her Chinese neighbor in Shanghai are woven into the matrix of the book, but the history and culture of old and new Shanghai pervade and make it more than just an ordinary romantic novel.
 

We See the Stars
by Kate Van Hooft

Like Mark Haddon's book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Kate Van Hooft's We See the Stars is good reading, and at the same time it gives us some understanding and arouses our sympathies for children whose experiences, perceptions, and behavior are very different from what we expect. This is a haunting and absorbing story.
 

Carole Mertz reviews...
 

A Doll for Throwing
by Mary Jo Bang

The unifying elements in this volume of Bang's work are more difficult to comprehend than the simpler unifiers of her earlier The Bride of E, an abecedarius published in 2009. Content of the poems, in fact, can rarely be gleaned from the titles Bang consigns to them. She writes from an avant-garde position that presents a composite figure, running throughout the work. This figure derives its voice from the early 20th century attitudes toward art, beauty, style, and toward men and women, and creation itself.
 

Matthew Wade Thomas revisits...
 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
by Ken Kesey

Like a crossroad, the direction the reader takes at this early juncture determines how to view the ensuing events. If the statement is not to be taken literally, then why take the rest of the story literally? If the statement is true, it calls the reality of the story into question and frames it as a fable with none of it being real, but instead a figment of Bromden's imagination conjured up for his own purposes.
 

Jennifer Finstrom reviews...
 

Rookland
by Jesse Minkert

The poem and its readers know more than any of these three characters: we are told Greta will get older and lose the weight that has her mother so concerned, and as well, we are given a last stanza bringing us to the perspective of the toddler: "He studies her the way a tourist in the Louvre studies the Mona Lisa, unable to blink or look away, desperate to decipher the consequence of what he sees."
 

Loplop in a Red City
by Kenneth Pobo

This collection really caused me to revisit my love of reading ekphrastic verse, but even if a reader is less familiar, there is much to be discovered whether the works of art are known (or looked up) or not. In "Bust of a Man Asleep amid Flowers," I don't feel that I needed to know what the painting (a watercolor by Odilon Redon) looks like, but I'm very glad that I do. Both the painting and the poem are lovely and thought provoking, but the poem gives me an important thread I can set against the idea of the "living death" in the first poem.
 

Gilbert Wesley Purdy reviews...
 

Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems
by Ted Kooser
 
From my perspective, I am regularly in awe to see the tightrope act of the poet of Kindest Regards walking along the edge of sentimentality but almost never quite going over. After I emerge from the experience of the poem, that is. Especially of the better poems. There is no thought while reading the poem of how it is done. Only that the reader has experienced a special, somehow uniquely poignant moment..
 

and discusses...
 

A Peculiar Life
 
As with most things, the computer was designed by the manufacturer to be a derelict by now. It's first breakdowns were designed to begin occurring once the heat-printed register receipt faded away to a blank. The lack of a tech manual and the nondescript error messages were supposed to discombobulate and discourage the amateur. The microscopically close arrangement of its components, and angles designed to be navigable only by specialized tools, were supposed to bring full-grown do-it-yourselfers to their knees.
 

 

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