Reviews in 200 Words

Author Archive

Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey

In Poetry on November 14, 2011 at 6:12 pm

The south is different. It’s more than the grits and sweet tea. It’s more than the language and weather. Southerners share a collective memory that separates them from us; one as impenetrable as the torrid Mississippi summer. The South is like a living thing: romantic, proud, defiant, tragic and resilient. Something these poems help you understand. They are part southern blues, part gospel, part opera. They are a gift.

Born in Mississippi, Trethewey is definitely a southerner, yet as the child of a black mother and white father she lives there in exile. These are poems of the Civil War, of hurricanes, isolation, loss and injustice. Many of the poems are elegiac; all of them are accessible, evocative and affecting. In exploring the history of the south she uncovers a truth about all of us–that we are all under reconstruction–that we each need to come to terms with our past in order to claim our identity. In the end it’s about forgiving the places and people we love most…. I return / to Mississippi, state that made a crime / of me–mulatto, half-breed–native / in my native land, this place they’ll bury me.

-Max Newell

Paper Towns by John Green

In Fiction, Novel, Young Adult Literature on November 7, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Have you ever driven beneath the electric, orange glow of streetlights in the middle of the night and felt invincible? The openness of the road both comforted and alienated you as you slowly glided to your destination a light-year away. Can you recall the delightful panic that swept over your body when you found yourself somewhere you shouldn’t have been? Words became whispers while footsteps turned treacherous. And you must remember that whirlwind of a person who carved themselves upon your soul yet dissolved at your touch? Such is the story of Q, the well-raised son of two well-raised therapists, who has the (un)fortunate circumstance of living next to Margo Roth Spiegelman. The perfect girl. Just out of reach. Until she the night she climbs through his window and is suddenly tangible. But what happens when the dawn comes and the fairytale ends and the particles which compose her body disperse into the atmosphere? What will be paper, and what will be reality? Paper Towns is a romp through the last few weeks of a high school education. At its center sits Q, a detective in love, hypnotized by an enigma. And with his incredibly colorful friends, he makes the journey to find the town made of paper and the girl who is not.

-Maddie Eckrich

Girls in Trouble by Douglas Light

In Fiction, Short Stories, Story Collections on October 26, 2011 at 3:50 am

These characters are hungry. They’re creepy and haunting, like a Hitchcock film at times–so many angles–perfectly paced. It’s not horror, though, it’s reality. We’re all constantly in between where we came from and where we’re going. This is full of complication and uncertainty. It’s all the things that come with being a girl; even the superficial things like pantyhose and fashion magazines. But it’s also about being a person–a man or a woman–entering into and exiting out of relationships with other people. Sometimes we want to avoid making predictions because we know that the future certainly brings failure, even doom. But we can never stop making predictions: they keep us alive; they keep us from being shocked (sometimes). Survival mechanisms. There’s a decent amount of food in these stories: eating and drinking–Pop Tarts, cheeseburgers, a vegan cookie, black tea, crabs, butter, wine, Coke, gin and tonic–it’s what we do in between, on the road, when we have time to refuel and recover. It’s what we do through everything else and no matter what: routine. It’s what we do when we’re with someone and when we’re alone. These stories are the cycle of hunger.

-Micah Ling

Douglas Light’s work

Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez

In Memoir, Nonfiction on October 24, 2011 at 6:24 pm

One may initially be attracted to Richard Rodriguez’s memoir as the author’s face plastered on the asymmetrical cover looks not to the observer, but to the side, contemplative and anxious, as if wondering if such frank and private thoughts belong in the public sphere at all. Crack it open. Turn that doubting expression to the table. After all, Rodriguez seeks affirmation, whether through his family, his church, his race, his school, and most importantly, through himself. Only a scholarship boy, a term of no endearment for Rodriguez, can adequately and fairly handle a subject which fills even himself with great ambivalence—the mutability of the first generation immigrant. He is constantly torn between his roots and his trajectory in every capacity, and although his struggles as a Mexican boy in California in the middle of the 20th century are enlightening in their specificity, they remain even more so in their universality. Even his words are distinctly conflicted, his crystalline prose unable to dismiss the romanticism and importance of his own family’s language. Trapped between comfort and ambition, privacy and acceptance, the new and the old, Rodriguez finds fulfillment the only way an insecure academic can: writing. He corners his past and allows us to intrude.

-Chris Noel

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

In Fiction, Novella on October 17, 2011 at 6:51 pm

These chapters pass like visions – like the fevered hallucinations that infect a logging crew near the beginning of this spectacular, short burst of fiction. These are pieces of a puzzle, which, when completed shows the weathered and indelible portrait of one Robert Granier. Lumberjack. Freight hauler. Railroader just after the turn of the 20th century. He’s a western type with a weary casualness banked against the severity of the time. He’s simple. Honest. Curious about this world and the people in it. He observes and experiences, but rarely interferes. He lives. He’s solid while others evaporate. He’s a husband, a father and later a widow. He’s haunted by curses and she-wolves and the death that’s more constant a companion than the red dog that happens upon his acre one season. And we, in turn, are powerless against the haunting clarity of Johnson’s writing. Like deathbed daydreams we become – for just 120 pages – Grainier. We see his life as memories. Like puffs of smoke belching from a train stack. And we wish, as we all will likely do when the final pages turn on our own novella, that just one more log might be thrown upon the fire.

-Jay Cullis

Four For a Quarter by Michael Martone

In Fiction, Nonfiction on October 11, 2011 at 1:31 am

This is like a Magic Eye poster. Squint or stand back and suddenly you’re blown away (like candles on a cake). Everything fits like a puzzle, with pieces you didn’t know existed. Martone is like a wizard of language. Maybe wizard is the wrong word: it seems offensive; fortune-teller of language? At least that has a “for” in it. It’s like a 7 (or even a 4)-layer dip. It’s like a club sandwich. It’s like a wedding cake. You just can’t believe that it’s so perfectly stacked. But these are more than riddles: they’re more than, “how many 4’s can I fit into this thing?” It’s as tight as Shakespeare’s drama. You won’t get annoyed with 4’s, you’ll realize that, “Holy (four-letter-word), fours really are all around us.” You’ll realize, life is sometimes sad. The world works in a way that has us skipping along not noticing 4’s or anything else. But then something sticks, like the day you broke up–stuck like a photo-booth photo. This is a list that explains everything: the whole history of writing, language, life, loss, an awful lot about nuts, and Susans. It says “Literature/Fiction” on the back of this book, but it’s pretty packed with truth.

-Micah Ling

The Most of It by Mary Ruefle

In Poetry on October 3, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Peel down the walls of your skull in preparation—you’re going to need a blank slate to tackle this box of Pandora. Mary Ruefle is a literary brain surgeon, and The Most of It is her procedure. This poet’s-turned-prose collection of flash fiction is a fiercely dynamic new treatment for your condition, so read it carefully. Drink in the words on the pages, perhaps through your nose, as though you are a part of some undomesticated ritual—as though you are searching among the birds for some lost thought on the day of the first snow. You should feel a tingling sensation at the tips of your fingers and in the arches of your feet: this is to be expected. But should you find yourself pouring through each of these stories as quickly as you can, the anesthesia is wearing off. Most of it, at least. Stay asleep. And after your “procedure”, the world you once perceived will appear to have changed—most of it. But be keen: do not believe your eyes, your senses are too invested in lifelong lies Ruefle refutes. You will find yourself regretting that you are not an electron. And you are not the lightest of all particles, though it may feel that way.

-Eric Ellis

The Motel of the Stars by Karen McElmurray

In Novel on September 30, 2011 at 1:03 am

A lost son. A pained man. A dissolving marriage. Jason Sanderson floats through life like the smoke of a midnight bonfire, a blooming residue of combustion. He is a father haunted by a regret that spills like ink into the fabric of the narrative, staining and seeping through every surface and page. He is eternally coupled with contradiction. Hope and disappointment. Love and emptiness. Truth and meaninglessness. These heavy moments are handled with grace. The plot advances in a slow weary daze reflective of the subject matter. McElmurray deals with grief and the ugliness of misunderstanding in an intimate way, very often giving the reader access to her characters in rich detail. Sanderson’s journey is lonesome. He seeks what every animal must to survive: light. A man searches for the brightness he once had. His love. His starlight. His son. But instead he is left tragically broken in his despair, surrounded by reminders of his past, unable to leave them behind. The novel is filled with raw and earthy imagery: mountains, clouds, lightning, fire, ash, and bones. “Celestial bodies moving one note to the next via the sound of the universe. What word for this sound?” A haunting realization: there is no sound in space.

-Chris Noel

Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill

In Fiction, Story Collections on September 19, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Punch, jab, hook, beat–what you do with your fists, or how you describe Frank Bill’s stories, Crimes in Southern Indiana. His sentences are fists, too. Concussive, so much so that the subjects have jarred loose in many of them to leave you stunned. Frank Bill’s stories are violent–meth, guns, dead-beats, feuds, crooked sheriffs, pot, fuck-ups–but the violence isn’t gratuitous, only just. Even if almost all the characters end up dead in a story, there is empathy and redemption. He dedicates the book to his grandparents for teaching him the old ways and thanks his parents for telling him stories. His stories are as old as Indiana and her people, set by the old state capital in Corydon, creating a place in the present world out of our past. If those hills and bottomlands and steep-banked creeks that all tumble into the Ohio River could talk and grunt through their broken teeth, they would tell these stories. Frank Bill has heard them, like the hills inhaled him deep all the way to bedrock, like the water soaked through skin to brain and bone. Frank Bill’s stories resonate and crack.

-Kevin McKelvey

Time and Materials by Robert Hass

In Fiction on September 12, 2011 at 6:43 pm

Read Time and Materials sitting on a faded denim couch with an egg salad sandwich by a second-story window on a cool and overcast day in September. Because Robert Hass would like that picture. That’s life. Recognize that cheating at the Tarot cards is just part to the process. “It’s easy for us to feel that our lives are a dream-/ As this is, in a way, a dream: the flailing rain,/ The birds, the soaked red backpack of the child,/ Her tendrils of wet hair, the windshield wipers,/ This voice trying to speak across the centuries.” Haas knows that the life of four hundred million years ago can speak across those centuries to be seen washed up on the beaches of Michigan and the Ukraine. If you too believe that finding the meaning of life can mean sitting in front of a rock in the Mexican desert; if you question why 90 percent of casualties in all wars during the last fifth of the twentieth century have been civilians, then read this book. Read this book to figure out what happens after Goethe, and all about the Iowa winters you might miss along the way.

-Justin Dice