Category / Reviews

Reviewed by Robert Long Foreman                       Crash Course, Robin Black Engine Books ISBN: 978-1-938-12671-0 $15.95, 199 pages Robin Black’s Crash Course is a collection of short essays on writing that sets itself apart from other such books by embracing fully, as a subject matter, the […]

Reviewed by Raphael Maurice                       I’m from Electric Peak, Bud Smith Artistically Declined Press ISBN: 9781530534029 $15.00, 111 pages “I found out about reviews early on. They’re mostly written by sad men on bad afternoons. That’s probably why I’m less angry than some writers, who […]

Reviewed by Robert Long Foreman   The Spoons in the Grass Are There to Dig a Moat, Amelia Martens Sarabande Books ISBN: 9781941411230 $14.95, 64 pages The 54 prose poems in Amelia Martens’s collection, Spoons in the Grass are there to Dig a Moat, feature a cast of characters that includes small children, Cinderella, multiple […]

Travis Mulhauser’s debut novel, Sweetgirl, is a harrowing, cinematic tour de force set in the desolate woods of Northern Michigan. Percy James, a teenage girl and the protagonist, somehow manages to hold her moral center in a world ripped apart by generational poverty and rampant addiction, a world where it’s all too easy and all too common to make terrible decisions.

Early on in Jarrett Kobek’s indictment of Silicon Valley, social media, white men, dynastic wealth, the Global War on Terror and false outrage, he writes, “Almost all movies are better than books. Most books are quite bad. Like this one. This is a bad novel.”

With a flip through Age of Blight, the new collection of short stories by Kristine Ong Muslim, one of the first things a reader notices is the images: strange, black and white photographs. One also notices that the stories are very short, most spanning fewer than ten pages. What one might not notice upon a simple flip-through is how carefully chosen each element of this book is, and how each works together to maximize the reader’s experience.

Over the past decade, the migration of literary discussion to the internet has erased many of the distinctions between traditional criticism and what used to be thought of as “book blogging.” Many of the early bloggers now do a great deal of their writing for established print publications like Bookforum and The Times Literary Supplement, while most, if not all, of the traditional print venues for criticism have a significant online presence—that is, if they haven’t moved online entirely. The end result is a compromise; book bloggers have achieved a wider platform for their work, and the mainstream publications receive a much-needed injection of energy.

Perhaps the greatest magic trick performed in Not on Fire, Only Dying, the elegant and gritty debut from Susan Rukeyser, is its improbable blend of elegance and grit. Literary fiction disguised as a crime novel—or is it the other way around?—Rukeyser’s New Yorkers are not the irony-addicted denizens of coffee shops and gentrified walk-ups who have peopled so much contemporary literature set in the city.

A financial crisis and a government Ponzi scheme have left parts of America in very different stages of collapse in The Heart Goes Last, the latest novel from Margaret Atwood. Out west, things are all right. The northeast has taken a bigger financial hit, and characters Stan and Charmaine have lost their house and are living out of their car and eating stale donuts. Stan keeps the key in the ignition at all times in order to make a quick getaway if the car is assailed by gangs or rapists in the night. The young married couple rightly wishes to escape these circumstances by any means necessary; heading west is out of the question, they believe.

When my wife and I moved to North Carolina from Arkansas, our one-year-old daughter was teething. Our older daughter, four, rode with me, while our screaming younger daughter rode behind us in my wife’s car. I was driving a Ryder truck, pulling my car, and by the time I add up these details, whoever is listening is either laughing (men), or wearing a pained, concerned look (women). Some of the men will apologize for laughing—these are the fathers.

Eddie Lanning, the titular character of Lot Boy, Greg Shemkovitz’s debut novel, is a slacker doing menial work at his father’s car dealership. He spends most of his time verbally brawling with the mechanics, shirking his responsibilities, and ranting against his lot in life. Another dealership reprobate, Spanky, convinces Eddie to step up his amateur stolen parts operation.

Norman Lock’s novel American Meteor is comprised of the first-person deathbed account of Stephen Moran, whose invented life spans the end of the nineteenth and the start of the twentieth centuries, and includes encounters with many of the great men of the era. He narrates the loss of his eye while fighting for the Union in the Civil war; his subsequent role escorting Abraham Lincoln’s corpse aboard a funeral train, cross-country; a career working for the railroad baron Thomas Durant; a career as a photographer; and encounters with George Custer, Crazy Horse, and Walt Whitman

The prose in Cyn Vargas’s debut collection, On the Way, has a casual, unforced power. Whether suffering through a parent’s disappearance in Guatemala or a vicious haircut on Division Avenue, her characters speak to the reader with an appealing frankness, confessing the most difficult aspects of their histories with a welcome, ironic sense of humor. “The kids were used to me not having any new clothes, or new Trapper Keepers, or those fancy juice boxes that weren’t really boxes at all,” explains the narrator of “Then It’s Over.” “They almost expected me to get a bad haircut, too.”

The narrative of Chris Cander’s new novel, Whisper Hollow, spans half a century of life in a small town in West Virginia, from 1916 to 1969. Its focus is on two women, Alta and Myrthen, who as young adults are swiftly caught up in less-than-ideal marriages. Alta resigns herself to an unfulfilling but stable domestic life; Myrthen retreats into religious devotion, and later resorts to drastic measures to free herself from her circumstances.

Laura Van Prooyen’s second poetry collection pauses in the middle of family life to consider the attachments we form and the paths that lead us to them. Our House Was on Fire concerns a love that has matured and a family that has grown to include children, but though the setting of the book is domestic, the voice of their speaker is anything but domesticated.

I’m oddly comforted by the photo of Jonathan Lethem that adorns the rear flap of his latest short story collection, Lucky Alan. Gone is the ultra-hip young author who stared almost defiantly at me from the flap of The Fortress of Solitude. Could I ever be as sharp as that guy? As astute? As literary? As Brooklyn cool?

David Mason’s fifth book of poetry, Sea Salt, explores the ineffable degradation of the surface while the internal core remains intact. The poems use “salt” as an over-riding metaphor to define a world that is slowly being eaten away by time and the elements. The lines in most every poem within this volume are plain-spoken, clear, rhythmically assured and cut to weigh against each other. The voice is confident and employs vivid metaphor to express regret, loss, and joy. Poetry, after time and the elements do their bidding, is what remains.