Jan/Feb 2019

e c l e c t i c a   r e v i e w s  & 
i n t e r v i e w s

Reviews & Interviews

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

Ann Skea reviews...

Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know
by Colm Tóibín

Sir William and Lady Jane Wilde were clearly intelligent, literate, imaginative, well-connected, and decidedly odd individuals. Sir William, an eminent Victorian ophthalmologist and statistician, was respected in the small circle of prominent Dubliners, but his lack of personal hygiene was notorious. His wife, the well-known poet "Speranza," was known for the extravagant nature of her entertainments and for her often bizarre way of dressing and behaving.

by Sarah Perry

Slowly, as we follow Helen through the next few weeks and read with her those documents, we, too, begin to feel the presence of Melmoth and to discover her ever-present watchfulness, her knowledge of our darkest secrets, and her skillful manipulation of human frailties, national pride, hatreds, and complacency.

Old Toffer's Book of Consequential Dogs
by Christopher Reid, illustrations by Elliot Elam

Reid also offers valuable advice on the naming of dogs, which is "no difficult matter" since "They're not choosy like cats, they aren't fussy at all." And his final exhortation is to "Fill your home with Happy Hounds" because "Doglessness is a disgrace / Absence of dogs a waste of space," and also because a large dog—a Wolfhound for example—can be quite useful as a substitute for "a drab old counterpane," whilst a bulldog might replace "that horrible ottoman."

Ghost Wall
by Sarah Moss

Professor Jim Slade wants his small group of archaeology students to "have a flavor of Iron Age life and perhaps some insight into particular processes or technologies." The students have built a roundhouse, where Sylvie and her parents sleep on splintery bunks with prickly straw-filled sacks padded with deer-skin. And everyone is to wear scratchy tunics and forage and hunt for food, because Sylvie's father insists on authenticity.

I Can't Remember the Title but the Cover is Blue
by Elias Greig

Greig writes in his introduction that he began the book "For my own sanity and as a small creative outlet between part-time work and a Ph.D thesis." He works in a Sydney bookshop inside a busy shopping center, and he describes his book as a collection of "weird, sometimes appalling, sometimes touching and hopefully funny anecdotes about our bizarre historical moment." Actually, it is a weird, sometimes appalling, etc., collection of funny anecdotes about his customers, and quite what this means for "our bizarre historical moment" is never clear.

The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Vol 2: 1956-1963
edited by Peter Steinberg and Karen Kukil

Sylvia completes her degree and in June 1957 they sail to America, a country she is plotting "subtly to make [Ted] fall in love with" (p 80). Already she has started his make-over, asking her brother to "go get him a summer suit," shirts and an overcoat, because "we must get him fitted up in a nice wardrobe which he likes, very subtly"(p. 39). She plans for her second, American, wedding, but she eventually decides against this in preference for a home-coming party and gifts from friends: "I've given up all ceremony & presents belonging to a new bride" (15).

by Walter Kempowski, translated by Charlotte Collins

Homeland, expertly translated from the German by Charlotte Collins, is an interesting, beautifully written, often humorous and sometimes shocking novel. Now, when emigration and refugees are daily in the news and are hotly argued political and social issues, it deserves to be widely read.

Jennifer Finstrom reviews...

by Christine Potter

I've read this collection multiple times, and I'm always struck by the unexpected moments that occur, like the "paper fan that / opens into a pleated circle of cherry blossoms," found when cleaning out the trunk of "the fancy car that was my mother's before / she began to forget" (in "Escape Mechanism"), and the way the past manages to still seem fresh and real but also to exist as ghosts haunting the present.

The Night Before Snow
by Jude Goodwin

That first poem also gives us a sense of how winter (and life) can surprise us: after we see the ordinary miracle of rain, we are given "what sounded like hail / turned out to be thousands / of green caterpillars dropping / from the sky" and the description of "a man / in Alaska driving along at night / when a moose fell from the sky."

Peter Amos reviews...

Give People Money
by Annie Lowrey

George Orwell argued that words don't just elucidate. He noted in his political writing that words just as often obscure an idea. Even when using language in good faith, we tend toward wearily taupe phrases in place of ideas we've not yet thought fully through. We allow words to fill blank spaces, summon them to avoid colorful or vivid thought.

and discusses...

The power of authorship

Artists constantly project themselves and their shortcomings into their work. Junot Diaz is tainted, Frank Underwood's cold manipulation is discomfiting beyond the writers' intention, and Harvey Weinstein's shadow hangs over two decades of film. Some of their work will suffer and the rest will have an asterisk by it even while people continue consuming it.

Paul Holler interviews...

Gilbert Wesley Purdy
author of Ulysses and Agamemnon

If the man from Stratford wrote the works (and the evidence says, on balance, that he did not) then he was a traitor to his class. His heroes are all upper class, noblemen and royalty. The common man—other than the humble servant who commits themselves wholly to their master's life over their own—is almost universally a bumbler at best whose attempts at reasoning or using his own language are the stuff of comedy. Shakespeare's soaring images are all drawn from the pursuits of the nobility, his low images from common behavior and people.

Gilbert Wesley Purdy reviews...

The Elegies of Maximianus
translated by A. M. Juster

What little evidence there is on either count is weak and circumstantial. At the end of 200 years, A. M. Juster has thrown in his lot with a new theory that a decree, by Theoderic, king of Italy from 493526 CE, mentioning a Maximianus, may have referred to our poet. One of the elegies also seems to support the the timeframe by the fact that the poet mentions that Boethius was his mentor. The philosopher Boethius died in 524. The pieces fit.

The Tradition
by Jericho Brown

These are the things most successful contemporary poets do. They teach classes and do readings in venues dedicated to diversity followed by question and answer sessions dedicated to diversity while they wait for the subconscious to call them away to write poems. At least if one considers department meetings, Christmas parties, clubbing, sex, etc., to be implied as context to that description.

and discusses...

Page boosts, friend purges, and the New Year

While I was pondering these matters, a Facebook friend announced to the Facebook world that she was letting go of her anger. She was no longer going to keep score. "If you angry with me, you won—I've let it go." "If I've wronged you, I apologize—it wasn't intentional." Etc. This was announced via a text on a black scroll that—judging from its repeated appearance in my News Feed—is one of the New Year's minor memes.