(This review originally appeared at OutsiderWriters [dot:] org)
Kevin Rabas’s second poetry collection, Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano, explores the effe...more(This review originally appeared at OutsiderWriters [dot:] org)
Kevin Rabas’s second poetry collection, Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano, explores the effects of a life structured by music, woven amid a series of failed, yet forever impacting relationships. From learning (”Jack McCann’s Own Hometown Marching Band”) to playing (”Playing for Dave”) to understanding its power (the title poem, “Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano”), music is the backdrop, the blood, and the fuel to this series of beautifully taut relationships.
The collection relies on this powerful tension amid intimacy to justify the apparent cruelness expressed by many of the characters. These vignettes in verse, tiny slices of relationships, reliably build to arresting final images. “Spare Change” caps a brief encounter between a suited man and a homeless woman with the man’s unknowing theft of her change. “Bend Credit Cards” describes the destruction of a failed couple’s final charge card, shared hatred abundant, ending on a note of promise. And perhaps the most stunning poem, likely by means of its content contrasted against the rest of the poems, “To Eat Just Once: Remembering a Ranger Lecture at Yellowstone National Park,” addresses the visceral inevitability of a hunter and prey relationship. However, even given the cruel setup, the piece still manages the understood optimism promised by a Rabas poem.
In addition to the individual beauty of the poems, the collection utilizes a clever framing device to address the importance of a close reading. The opening poem, “Slow Words,” insists the reader slow down, enjoy the words, while the closing few pieces offer the reader a childlike experience involving sidewalk chalk and the rains that will wash those scribbles away (”On My Chalk,” “Economics of a Summer Rain”).
Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano works so well to not only promote Kevin Rabas as a beautiful poet but perhaps more importantly to promote the art of poetry. In addition to the framing mentioned above, Rabas reliably reminds the reader that not only these words, but all words, are worth digesting slowly:
There must be a reason we are given a view of our small part of the universe
from “After Stephen Hawking’s Address on Yahoo!”
My grandparents said that there was no more reason for church. Card games and yarns told their stories better than bible verses, and too many friends had already passed for them to enjoy the service.
The best Evenson work since The Wavering Knife. LAST DAYS is perhaps more accessible than his other work, which makes it all the more reason for those...moreThe best Evenson work since The Wavering Knife. LAST DAYS is perhaps more accessible than his other work, which makes it all the more reason for those unacquainted to jump on board now.(less)
David Hollis, “outsider,” “consummate anti-hero” (130), and “intellectual machine” (102) explains away life with the humor and wit of a convoluted Den...moreDavid Hollis, “outsider,” “consummate anti-hero” (130), and “intellectual machine” (102) explains away life with the humor and wit of a convoluted Dennis Miller monologue, the dirty savant barfly philosophy of Tom Waits, and the Hollywood literateur persona of Bret Easton Ellis. Love him (most do) or hate him (most will eventually), Hollis is an arresting personality, beautifully explored and displayed in C.M Barons’s novel, In The Midst Of.
Odds are that a reader’s first introduction to In The Midst Of will unfortunately not be a positive one. Published through a vanity press, having a vague, clichéd title, and given a poorly designed circa 1992 website presence, C.M Barons’s debut novel has much stacked against it. But I assure you, In The Midst Of is near perfect.
From sentence one (“My neighbor was taken away in an ambulance”), Barons displays an impressive confidence with his writing. Hollis, being such an intelligent character, demands smooth writing and an equally intelligent author to both fully develop his persona as well as put him within a context of comparatively simple characters. Barons delivers both, broad intellect with the vocabulary to support it.
Story wise, In The Midst Of is a straightforward college life story revolving around Brian, a forgettable Nick Carraway to Hollis’s Jay Gatsby. In much the same way that the Great Gatsby presents its narrator as a tool for showcasing another, more interesting character, In The Midst Of is all about Hollis. So why tell the story through Brian? As Cindy, Brian’s girlfriend describes Hollis, one can image a Hollis story being textbook dense with occasional moments of empathy:
You know, you can’t stand the idea of being human. You’re Hollis the intellectual machine. You don’t enjoy books; you read literature. You aren’t into music; you collect blues albums. You can’t lower your guard for a second. You resent life. You pick it apart with philosophy and politics. Do you know why they call modern art, abstract?...because, it doesn’t look like anything. (102)
And this overbearing intelligence marks one of the few faults with In The Midst Of. Every ten pages or so Hollis embraces encyclopedic tangents for seemingly no other reason than to announce his intelligence, creating what the reader can only assume is a vehicle to reveal the author’s own intelligence. While interesting as standalone explorations, these digressions do not serve the central story.
Hollis, “he’s an outsider, because he’s doing what everybody wishes they could. He’s got no causes; not out to overthrow anything. He’s the consummate anti-hero. He has this thing about irony. That’s his advantage; he never gets so close he gets taken in by what he’s looking at” (130). And this is exactly what makes In The Midst Of work; Hollis is who we want to be, whether we knew it before reading, or whether we care to admit it afterwards.(less)
Gordon Highland’s Major Inversion is a first-person meta-tale dominated by the seductive and confident Drew Ballard, 80’s tribute and Jazz fusion guitarist by night, commercial jingle scribe and drug enthused security guard by day. Highland writes with a narrative voice so full of wit and humor, it would be wise to read with a cynical cock-blocking fat friend at your side; the hair-metal spandex and verbal dexterity can make a persuasive cocktail.
Cynically sarcastic, though driven once the “pale and thin – bookish” (27) Layla enters the fold, Ballard jokes his way from jingles to a legitimate film score job, and ultimately into Layla pants, eventually shedding his rock-whore stage persona in favor of exclusivity. But despite the promise, Ballard’s upward trend does not last.
Major Inversions incorporates metafictional elements to immerse the reader, beyond even the ability of Ballard’s wit. References to the book itself permeate the text (“I’m getting better at this putting-one-word-in-front-of-another thing…Little periods every now and then to break it up for your short-assed attention span” [76:]) and casual asides jolt the reader into introspection (when discussing his own adoption with a therapist the idea of journaling his experiences opens for the seemingly innocent, “Now there’s a novel idea” [238:]). But the most obvious and unique meta-element is the inclusion of song lyrics, complete with chord progressions, which act as distilled moments of clarity, delivered perhaps in the way Ballard naturally thinks:
During a scene when DEA agents break into Ballard’s home (143): Am Bm7b5 Cmaj7 You can drown all your sorrows B/Eb Eadd9 But they learn to swim
(NOTE: GoodReads's editor doesn't allow the chords to appear directly over their corresponding lyric. Trust me, in the print version the chords appear correctly. Click here for an example.)
With the early introduction of Barron Vaughn, Major Inversions begins its true arc. The cable installer turned roommate, true to his “reptilian” (43) features, integrates his way into Ballard’s residence then life then personal arc in surprising ways. He is the story’s lurking demon, an arresting presence in all his scenes.
Major Inversions, from its “shitty” opening scene, to its final tragicomic pages simply works. You will likely not read a funnier book for quite some time.(less)
Not exactly a review, but I do mention this book in one of my book vlog videos. Click the image below to watch (opens in YouTube).
SCORCH ATLAS, more...moreNot exactly a review, but I do mention this book in one of my book vlog videos. Click the image below to watch (opens in YouTube).
SCORCH ATLAS, more than most of Butler's, really has the Brian Evenson dystopia going on. In a completely complimentary. Essentially, take Evenson's DARK PROPERTY and mix it with Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD, and sprinkle some lush description, and you get SCORCH ATLAS.
Best line (out of so many great ones): "...she hummed in glitches, cuts of hymn he'd never heard..." (pg. 86)(less)
A Prayer for the Dying is what would happen if José Saramago wrote a Cormac McCarthy southern gothic novel. A stark and immensely powerful short novel...moreA Prayer for the Dying is what would happen if José Saramago wrote a Cormac McCarthy southern gothic novel. A stark and immensely powerful short novel, A Prayer for the Dying culminates to one of the best choreographed endings I have ever read.(less)
I can only recommend The Book of Lazarus on the basis of its somewhat unique format. The novel incorpo...moreClick the image below to watch the video review
I can only recommend The Book of Lazarus on the basis of its somewhat unique format. The novel incorporates images, multiple fonts, and epistolary techniques to create a scrapbook of sorts that unfortunately fails due to poor storytelling and poorer writing.
The novel is essentially divided into two halves. The first is a more linear mode, and lays out the bulk of the story. The second is a series of weird-for-the-sake-of-weird journal entry snippets and letters. Considering that the heart of the novel is entirely encapsulated in the first half, the second half demands only a perusal, if that. And the determined reader, as I am, will waste time sifting through the second half in hopes of redeeming the lackluster first. I feel used. A lot of wasted paper with this book.
I really, really wanted to like this book. It seemed just the sort of thing I could get behind. But no.(less)
I'm the author, but it's cool if I review the book, right? True, it seems obvious that I would think this book is worth a 5-star rating, thus negating...moreI'm the author, but it's cool if I review the book, right? True, it seems obvious that I would think this book is worth a 5-star rating, thus negating the need for me to comment. But, when the opportunity to be an egomaniac arises, I take it.
Seriously, though, there's some good stuff on these pages.(less)
The twelve stories compromising Mel Bosworth’s chapbook, When the Cats Razzed the Chickens & other stories, elicit discomfort, awe, a few laughs,...moreThe twelve stories compromising Mel Bosworth’s chapbook, When the Cats Razzed the Chickens & other stories, elicit discomfort, awe, a few laughs, and as a writer, envy, often all within the same story. And though the length of some stories (often less than 100 words) belies the ability to contain such a swath of reactions, they do so consistently and impressively.
The power with these stories, whether they aim to discomfort, awe, or humor is with Bosworth’s ability to distill an entire scene into a single, piercing line. In “Sometimes Conditional,” a father watches his son board a school bus, and as he cries, he sees “his [son’s:] entire being bend through the water that filled my eyes” (pg. 3). In “The Stumbling Conquistador,” a failed convenience store thief, after a conversation with the sympathetic store clerk, reflects, saying, “I pedaled up the street, shirt billowing in the breeze like sympathetic magic, inflating my self-worth. I pedaled up. I pedaled. Up” (pg. 18). These lines are perfect encapsulations of their respective stories, imbuing the entire collection with a sense of poignancy that may have remained untapped had these image “landmarks” not been peppered throughout.
When the Cats Razzed the Chickens & other stories is quite honestly a tease, a hint of greatness to come.(less)
This novella was originally serialized, which makes the bound version feel a bit disjointed. That aside, this is definitely an Evenson-esque story, th...moreThis novella was originally serialized, which makes the bound version feel a bit disjointed. That aside, this is definitely an Evenson-esque story, though perhaps not as visceral as most of his stuff.
Baby Leg is a great book for established fans, but definitely should not be the first for someone new to Evenson. For that, I say go with Last Days or The Wavering Knife.(less)
At page ten, “Traveling Lightheaded,” I was intrigued.
At page twenty-seven, “The Stranger’s Dilemma,” I fell in love.
Twenty Stories (Rank Stranger Press) beautifully enhances my admittedly limited perception of flapper-era New Orleans, from the speech (“Merci, Mr. Zacher”) to the eats (“Shrimp Remoulade”) to the drink (wine, wine, and more wine), carrying all upon prose as elegant as its author. The collection, the first (of many, fingers crossed) from New Orleans resident and enthusiast, Kristin Fouquet, mixes vignettes, fully arced flash fiction pieces, and a couple longer stories, each uniquely stirring and strong, yet collectively comprehensive in their representation of Fouquet’s impressive skill.
Fouquet thrives with the vignette “slice of life” form (perhaps because of the word’s French origin?), building her scenes in measured, dense sentences, often cutting these pieces mid-breath to leave the reader gasping. What, in lesser hands, might come across as a simple device to showcase cleverness, Fouquet respects her readers, offering instead endings of substance and lasting power.
With “Traveling Lightheaded,” a seemingly predatory stranger convinces an inebriated woman to travel away with him for the weekend. The woman agrees, then questions her decision, then regains her trust, this time sober, only to open herself to a final-line observation that reinforces the stranger’s original predatory disposition. From odd, to impulsive, to creepy, to romantically hopeful, and then right back to creepy, “Traveling Lightheaded” navigates an entire range of emotion in a short two pages.
And her story, “Baptism,” I’ll be thinking of for months.
And “Standard Pack,” damn, Fouquet can write.(less)
Though I started confused, this novel became my favorite (so far) from Stephen Graham Jones. Jones has said of this book that it's his best ending eve...moreThough I started confused, this novel became my favorite (so far) from Stephen Graham Jones. Jones has said of this book that it's his best ending ever. I might have to agree with that.(less)
I don't want to come across as a fan boy who will blindly embrace anything Evenson writes, but so far, and continuing with this Prophets & Brother...moreI don't want to come across as a fan boy who will blindly embrace anything Evenson writes, but so far, and continuing with this Prophets & Brothers chapbook (even though it was written in 1997, so it isn't new) this guy simply cannot go wrong. This chapbook, perhaps because of its brevity, is more unified in theme than his other collections. Strange, too, that the theme is blind devotion.(less)
For too long I avoided this book. Many people whose opinions I respect recommend it, but n...more(This review originally appeared at www.outsiderwriters.org)
For too long I avoided this book. Many people whose opinions I respect recommend it, but no matter the pressure, I politely passed. I can assume many reasons for that: perhaps the author’s online persona (which, after reading this book, I realize is actually an incredibly smart marketing move); perhaps the author’s local status (he’s here in Kansas City, so I feared not liking the book and having to meet him one day); perhaps it was the book cover (sexy, pouty lips scream mass market trash, to me). But, after drinks with Tietz a few weeks ago, he passed me copy, so I broke down and cracked the spine a few days ago. Today, I finished. Impressed. Honestly, sad that it took me so long to give in.
Out of Touch, Tietz’s first novel, is unequal parts early Chuck Palahniuk—in tone, style, and theme—and American Psycho, with the Palahniuk influence far outweighing the Ellis. Trade the corporate disenfranchisement of Fight Club’s unnamed narrator with the vainglorious obsession of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, and you get Out of Touch’s Aidin [last name redacted:].
Aidin, a twenty-something socialite, slowly succumbs to what he calls “the numb,” a feeling of physical and mental imperviousness. And while the state seems fun at first, allowing parlor tricks involving sewing needles to lead to many bedded women, the high quickly becomes deterioration. Out of Touch reads like a journal of sensation loss, which would imply empathy for the character’s descent given another author’s hand. But Tietz dodges that mode and instead focuses on style, style, style. And I love him for it.
As I closed the book this evening, I was left wondering just how amazed I’d have been had I not been so familiar with Chuck Palahniuk’s earlier work. However, though Out of Touch is derivative, it is still beautifully rendered and perfectly slick.
And the ending, surprising to say the least. I want a sequel. Get on it, Tietz.(less)