Short story collections are like tackle boxes, and as readers we’re like big, literate fish. But we’re fish who’ve grown arms and legs and we live on...moreShort story collections are like tackle boxes, and as readers we’re like big, literate fish. But we’re fish who’ve grown arms and legs and we live on land now. However, unlike our aquatic friends, we want to be caught, and that’s what we’re looking for when we’re slapping around in the tackle box—we want a sharp, exciting ride.
A good tackle box will have all sorts of lures: simple hooks, jiggly, fake worms, maybe some fancy flies, or even a bit of Strike King™ Pro-Model stuff. And as we’re rocking in our chairs, our eyes wide and our jaws slack, we’re hoping for that sharp surprise to tear through our cheeks and reel us flopping across the carpet.
Luckily for us, the tackle box that is Brian Allen Carr’s debut collection Short Bus is loaded with material that’ll snag hard on our throats, cheeks, foreheads—hell, even our fingers. Sometimes all it takes is a simple graze and we’re tight on the wire.
In the opening story Running the Drain, Carr wastes no time in snapping his pole back, setting a dark, pounding, addictive tone deep into our jowls.
pg. 1: “I’ll check the police report in the morning from Mexico. I’ll slip across the border at Reynosa. I’ll buy a cheap, rusted car and a pistol and drive south. I’ll get a room in the mountains. I’ll walk through the pines and kick the fallen needles. I’ll be free.”
Carr writes with a clarity that is both elegant and brutal. When you employ short, declarative sentences, there isn’t any room for shadowplay; everything is honest, bared. His characters live by these same rules, flexing their weaknesses, confiding their often dark desires.
Whisper to Scar, pg. 38:
“I thought how easy it would be. Like an accident. Him falling into the water, then splashing around in circles as his left hand pulled across the surface and his nub pierced though clean.
I reeled up the slack in my line. I set my pole in a holster.
“Hey, Timmy,” I said.
“That life jacket don’t look too comfortable on you,” I said. “Why don’t you hand it here.””
By and large the characters in this collection are broken by time and circumstance, some by birth, and they slink and limp along the Texas/Mexico border in search of simple moments in which they can seize at least a sense of the control they’ve relinquished somewhere along the way. They are recognizable strangers, each and every one of them.
While the doses of darkness and damage come fast and often in this collection, there are stories that succeed in lightening the mood, so to speak. And after having my face smashed into the surf behind a speeding boat for several pages—but delightfully so, mind you—I’m always happy to hear the gears downshift and feel the fun bubbles rush over my body. The story that best embodies this shift is the titular Short Bus, a first person account of the adventures that come with teaching a special education class. It’s funny, honest, sad, and, in my opinion, it’s the best balanced piece in the collection. It’s also one of the longer stories, and it’s the one whose end saddened me the most because I didn’t want it to stop. You hear me, Carr? You’ve got a novel waiting for you in that story. Or at least a healthy novella.
pg. 41: “Pappi likes to pop-lock, which is funny to watch because he’s retarded and he’s got no neck. He likes to dance, and he likes rap music. That morning he held his fingers out as though barrels of guns. He wagged his thumbs like crashing hammers. He did this in time with the beats blasting from the speakers. He wiggled his body and it looked like an off center gumdrop ready to fall. Everybody loves him.”
The strengths of Carr’s writing are many, notably his attention to detail, his wonderfully crafted characters and settings (you can taste blood and dust in many of these stories), and my personal favorite—his ability to surprise, regardless of a story’s content. Whether following friends on a trip to Mexico, looking over the shoulders of two hit men, or feeling the pressure of a young boy growing up beneath a sick mother and a hardened older brother, we never know what’s coming around the corner, or what that shiny thing is that’s twirling through the water.
Carr’s Short Bus will leave you punctured, dripping, and smiling. I highly recommend this collection.(less)
When I finished reading Steve Himmer’s debut novel The Bee-Loud Glade, I sighed, then chuckled, then said, “Well done, Steve...moreARC review by Mel Bosworth
When I finished reading Steve Himmer’s debut novel The Bee-Loud Glade, I sighed, then chuckled, then said, “Well done, Steve.” And then I thought of the movie The Toy, the movie with Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason. I haven’t seen that movie in ages, but it popped into my head as I reflected on what I’d just read.
The two stories are similar in that a wealthy eccentric hires a down-and-out man to do a very strange job. In The Toy, Gleason hires Pryor to be his bratty son’s plaything. In The Bee-Loud Glade, Mr. Crane hires Finch to live on his estate as a hermit. A what? Yes, that’s right—a hermit, and Finch’s job is to live in a cave, swim in a river, observe, meditate, and to, well, simply be, while in turn being observed by cameras hidden in bushes.
And as it turns out, this is more or less a dream job for Finch, the awkward, apathetic, detached, recently laid-off corporate drone. It’s an opportunity for him to re-create his life, and his outlook on life, in a manufactured Eden. And over time, Finch does just that, despite much prompting from his employer Mr. Crane to engage in new and odd tasks, and despite himself as well. Although Finch never forgets that he was hired to perform a job, it’s only when he completely immerses himself in his role that the artifice begins to slide off, just like his tunic, and Finch becomes the naked, solitary man he was meant to be.
That is, until Mr. Crane’s wife begins to drop by looking all sexy. And of course those two pesky hikers messing around in his garden. Oh and the lion.
The premise of The Bee-Loud Glade is a quirky one, to be sure, and Himmer handles it beautifully, touching on our addiction to reality TV, our waning sense of purpose, and our lack of appreciation for nature. It’s a thoughtful book but it’s hysterical, too, and on several occasions I woke my snoring cat because I was laughing so hard. Himmer is a very cerebral writer but he’s also very gentle, and his words move as effortlessly as the river in which Finch performs his daily swim.
Unfortunately, if The Bee-Loud Glade was ever made into a movie, we wouldn't have Gleason or Pryor around to play the roles, but I’d throw down my votes for Alec Baldwin as Mr. Crane and either Will Ferrell or Jack Black as Finch. Yes indeed. And I’d be the first in line to buy a ticket. But until that happens I’ve got the book and my imagination. And that’s enough. For now. But I do hope Hollywood is listening.(less)
The stories in this collection ooze with the paradox of strength in vulnerability. The narrator is often trapped, humiliated, invisible, and neglected...moreThe stories in this collection ooze with the paradox of strength in vulnerability. The narrator is often trapped, humiliated, invisible, and neglected, and author xTx captures these transgressions so tightly and beautifully that the texts surge as if they've been plugged into an electrical outlet, searing the veins of captivity from the inside out.
xTx is ready to be heard, and we need to be ready to listen.
I don’t get to travel as much as I’d like, which is one of the reasons Rose Hunter’s poetry collection To the River was a special treat for me: Essent...moreI don’t get to travel as much as I’d like, which is one of the reasons Rose Hunter’s poetry collection To the River was a special treat for me: Essentially, it’s a passport that grants the reader access to places all over the globe, foreign places, or at least places foreign to me. And I didn’t even have to pack a bag or blush through airport security X-ray machines. Bonus.
This collection begins its journey in Sydney and finishes in Puerto Vallarta, touching down in places like Toronto, Hamburg, and Las Vegas in between. We follow the narrator as she rides buses, treks on foot, and sits on airplanes. She moves, oftentimes, as a stranger in a strange land.
“…I go to do laundry, and two girls
one on each side yell
something about me not being from here
and having odd hair…” (The Dead Dog, p. 23)
Sometimes I got the sense that she was traveling alone, being the quiet observer, sometimes interacting with locals, other times keeping a safe distance from them. And sometimes I got the sense that she was traveling with someone else, a lover, or a would-be-lover, or a what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you-lover, partnerships to which, I’m sure, many readers can relate.
And it’s within these interactions, with her companion or with strangers, that another layer of access is granted, perhaps not to places foreign to the reader, but to the sometimes dusty promenades of the mind. And it’s on these paths that the gold of these journeys flickers just underfoot, wrapped in the rattling reality of planes, buses, hotels, or hostels.
face is very expressive, he says.
‘I mean you can read everything
on it.’ No, I think, while aping
regretful admission; you can read
everything I plant on it…” (Memories Do Not, p. 11)
With simple language, Hunter explores misconceived perceptions within personal relationships brought forth by the boundaries and guises we create for ourselves, our feelings. It’s a rehearsed honesty, a wall built of small moments to protect ourselves from the things we love and/or fear. It’s not a wall built out of meanness, necessarily, but personal necessity, what’s needed at a particular moment at a particular time to ensure safety, whatever that might entail.
Hunter also shines a light on the collective breakdown of human sympathy.
“while I despaired
how we zoom around
tossing out hurt like salad.” (This Poultice, p. 37)
And here, when our narrator comes across a discarded tire:
“…Like many of us
it was spun until it burst…” (shredded tire, p. 57)
Hunter offers great observations on the ease of cruelty, how people have forgotten the importance of patience and kindness, of treating people like, well, people. And it’s observations such as these that strike me the hardest, probably because I feel them to be true.
Presenting insights that challenge without a heavy, preachy hand is what good poetry is supposed to do, and this collection does exactly that. It’s a kinetic observation of human ugliness and beauty, of being caught somewhere in the middle, kicking, longing, sometimes bleeding. To the River is a journey well worth the price of admission, and you don’t even need to leave the warmth and comfort of your blankets to begin.(less)
**ARC (Advance Reading Copy) review by Mel Bosworth
An entire chocolate cake. A gallon of espresso. A liter of Jameson. For the average person, it’s pr...more**ARC (Advance Reading Copy) review by Mel Bosworth
An entire chocolate cake. A gallon of espresso. A liter of Jameson. For the average person, it’s probably not wise to consume any of these things in one sitting, regardless of how tempting it might be. Ethel Rohan’s debut collection Cut Through The Bone should be read with that same restraint, because overindulging yourself on the words therein will have you rolling around on the floor, your bed, they’ll have you pacing the halls, holding your head in your hands, heartsick and longing. I should know, because I ate too much too quickly and it happened to me.
The stories in this collection—many only a few pages long—are extremely potent. Pungent. Deceptively rich. Like stepping into a puddle and being swallowed whole. Whoops. There goes your umbrella.
Rohan writes about loss, about being trapped, about desperation, delusion. And she does so with a hand so steady you might think she’s a doctor slicing open a patient with a scalpel. And you’d be right, at least in part, because that’s precisely what she’s doing. Only you’re not simply observing. You’re the patient.
Visceral. The word visceral comes to mind. Rohan’s writing is exactly that, and it’s because she writes about things we all feel, that we’re all familiar with: loss and absence. Rohan explores the profound effect these two things have on the characters in her stories as individuals, within the family dynamic, and sometimes as complete strangers.
The collection establishes the themes of loss and absence immediately with More Than Gone, a story of a widow remembering her husband as she carries a purple balloon:
“Home, she kicks off her shoes and ties the balloon to the kitchen table. She pulls off her sweater and drapes it across Albert’s armchair, the chair such a comfort, such company, in the room. Her children want her to get rid of it. Never. She’d fall into the space it would leave behind.”
What’s interesting (and amazing) about this story is that the widow isn’t simply mediating on the loss of her husband, but she’s also mediating on his loss, the loss of his arm during the Korean War. It’s an excellent layer that adds to the connectedness of the characters here, whether present or not. Here, and throughout the collection, Rohan employs a technique reminiscent of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, where the dead provoke the actions of the living, thus making them—ironically—integral, present players within the narrative.
In Makeover, a woman wrestles with an internal entity struggling to break free, an entity that longs to sing and dance:
“She was riding the bus, imagining herself in a boat on a colorful lake, singing with the dragonflies, when she first felt the woman try to get out of her chest.”
This story touches upon the sometimes crushing responsibilities that come with having a family. It also acts as a reminder of the necessary sacrifices we have to make in life, sacrifices that bubble to the surface time and again to punch, kick. In just a few short pages, Rohan captures the desperation of a dream being drowned and the claustrophobia of the prison cells we sometimes make, perhaps unwittingly, of our lives.
However, the characters in Cut Through The Bone don’t always suffer and scream alone, and in that we can find some sense of togetherness, a collective limping along.
In Lifelike, a woman who longs for children becomes obsessed with dolls, and as a result her marriage threatens to crumble. Only when her husband is finally forced to understand her needs does he begin to see those very things deficient within himself:
“Maybe she could sleep with us tonight?” she asked.
He looked into his wife’s pale, startled face and saw a mix of fear and hope. He nodded. Her smile almost made his legs buckle.”
I found Under the Scalpel to be the most unsettling story of the collection, which truly says a lot considering this collection is teeming with unsettling stories. It was also one of the longer stories, thus leaving a very strong taste in my mouth. It follows the relationship of a mother and daughter—and the daughter’s family—after the mother’s plastic surgery, an act prompted by her husband having left her. But instead of a younger, smoother face, the surgery was horribly botched, thus leaving her more broken than before. The daughter, bound by love and obligation, takes her in, and the role-reversal becomes apparent:
“I led her back to the stairs. My lies echoed in the hall, came back to us. She felt so tiny inside my arm, fragile and childlike…”
This role-reversal is also echoed later in The Trip, a story about a daughter who takes her aging father on a trip to Galway. As the story progresses, we witness, as the daughter does, the terrifying state of her father, once a strong man but now threatening to be a hapless victim to time and dementia:
“I purchased the drinks, and waited. The creamy head on Dad’s pint started to brown. I found him flat on his back in the men’s bathroom, his head and torso under the sink, fixing a leaky pipe.”
This story is particularly heartbreaking because it invites us to laugh at times, even if uncomfortably.
However, there are moments of pure humor in this collection, and when they come they’re very much appreciated. In Fee Fi Fo Fum, a woman’s dentures are misplaced in a nursing home and she takes it upon herself to find a replacement set:
“She inserted the dentures, and tasted mist and baking soda and tobacco. She fought the rush of nausea. Recovered, she bared the dentures and tapped them together. They fit well enough. Her smile wasn’t hers, but it would do.”
While the overriding themes of this collection are loss and absence, and the characters shake, struggle, and slump, there are lightning moments of breaking free from the chains, of taking a stand, of acceptance—glimmers of true hope. In Cracking Open, a woman with an addiction to peanuts grows obese and begins decorating the house with peanut shells. When her husband threatens to leave her she breaks free from her misery and urges him to go, despite the fact that he finally witnesses her true beauty:
“In a rage, she jumped up and down. The house quaked and its contents teetered. Most of the peanut shells fell to the ground. She jumped and jumped, and sprang her skinny self out of her carcass.”
It’s an empowering story of slipping the noose of heavy thoughts and a dead marriage.
The stories in Cut Through The Bone are by no means pills to be taken lightly, but they are meant to be taken. Just don’t do what I did. Read this tight collection slowly and carefully. Savor it. Savor the black pills. Let them melt in your stomach. Let them move you. Let them inspire you. Let them remind you of what’s important in your life.
Ethel may write about loss and absence, but make no mistake, her book is very much present, and she’s a voice that’ll be around for a long, long time.(less)
A rabbit ran across my path and dashed into the snow bank… why could it not have been a wizard playing a piccolo?
The morning I removed my air-conditioner from my window was the morning I sat down and read Seth Berg’s poetry collection Muted Lines From Someone Else’s Memory (Dark Sky Books, 2010). With the air-conditioner gone, there was new light in my room and a nice, nibbling chill in the air despite the cloudless, September blue. As I read Seth’s words—sweatshirt on, hood drawn tight beneath my chin—the realization that summer was almost over and all things move forward snapped firmly into place.
The poems in this collection are caught perfectly in that forward motion, sometimes reaching back like a sad smile in a crowd, a memory urging us to follow. They offer a true sense of the cyclical nature of things, inviting us to look up, down, backward, and within. These poems put your head on a swivel, but delightfully so.
Mastication (Pg. 12):
A bison in the meadow says forget about the cud; there’s a kite in the sky without a person.
I’m all about the merger of man and nature, and Berg executes this union with wit and whimsy. In The Katydid (Pg. 32) he brings the two together quite literally:
I squint my peepholes when a katydid flies neatly toward my face;
Perhaps my mouth looks like a flower; red, full, bursting.
Maybe the scar on my forehead looks too much like her sister; slender, keen, relaxed. Either way, I swallow her whole,
inhaling like a stupid typhoon.
While Berg writes about the inescapable, forward propulsion of life, he also reminds us of the doors that come with it, the blurred lines along the edges, the shape of things, of our memories as they evolve, and he encourages us to push through, a hand breaking the surface of the water, and then dragging, slowly, downstream. The result is a dreamlike, often playful understanding of the things that surround us and comprise our lives.
Coming out of Anesthesia (Pg. 56):
My hyacinth turned into a motorcycle shaped like a unicorn eating an umbrella… you should have seen the teeth on that fucker…
In My Eight-Month-Old Niece is Telepathic (pg. 11) Berg muses on the mind of a child, and lingers for a moment, humorously, on the innocence it offers:
I tell her I like that she questions humankind and that she smacks an open-handed symphony on my face.
Childlike wonder is a theme that permeates this collection, but it’s not exclusive to children: the narrator of these poems grapples with the effects of accidents and aging, and uses it, perhaps unwittingly, to move closer to that dream world all around us.
From At the Bar (Pg. 30):
…I, too, am modified, my body nowhere near its origin…
From In the Land of Giants (Pg. 29):
At the end of the day, when the night cascades, I sit in the dark and tossle my tangled beard, not certain whether my rocking chair is squeaking or the mice are planning something wild, something sinister behind my fragile back.
In Muted Lines From Someone Else’s Memory, Berg reminds us that it’s important to ponder the small things, the silly things, the serious things. We’re constantly shifting and changing every day, minute, second. These poems lean into the wind, into God (whatever or whomever that may be), with chin tucked and eyes open, and walk forward, bravely, beautifully.
From The Last Time I Wore a Necktie (Pg. 70):
…I am interested in reflections, or more so, the distortions of my own… (less)
I read J. Bradley’s The Serial Rapist Sitting Behind You Is a Robot in the bathroom. I do a lot of my reading in the bathroom. It’s quiet there. No on...moreI read J. Bradley’s The Serial Rapist Sitting Behind You Is a Robot in the bathroom. I do a lot of my reading in the bathroom. It’s quiet there. No one can bother me. And I didn’t want to be bothered while reading this book. In fact, I don’t want to be bothered when I’m reading any book. It’s like being killed while in the Matrix. Not cool.
As I locked the door and took up my favorite seat, I didn’t quite know what to expect from the book. Truth be told, I hadn’t read much of J. Bradley, despite his massive visibility out in e-land. The dude is everywhere, doing everything. Always a good sign. It shows he’s a team player. Hard worker. I liked him already.
And what I also liked was that he was helping to lead the charge of Safety Third Enterprises, the brainchild of Captain Awesometown, a.k.a. Matt DeBenedictis. Now, I know Matt and I’m a fan of his writing, so maybe I had a bit of an idea of what to expect, given Matt’s taste. What I couldn’t have guessed was that I’d stagger off the toilet with two black eyes and a crazy need to find my childhood teddy bear.
The short fictions that comprise this chapbook hit hard. Very hard. J. Bradley pulls you in with a disarming voice and proceeds to pepper your mind with sharp, cutting images that’ll make your jaw drop. There is no pussy-footing, no romance, simply one man’s searing portrayal of sex, excess, and relationships gone awry. In tight bursts, Bradley effectively represents the twisted layers of our souls with bravado.
From Cloak & Dagger:
“I’m gonna fuck you so hard, you’re gonna have Down’s Syndrome,” Mary’s husband said as the headboard teethed the wall.
And from Primer:
“It didn’t take long for Paul to make my wedding band into a bullet. He handed me the round and an unloaded .38 Special.”
Granted, this may not be the best collection for those with delicate sensibilities, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s for those who scoff at the world through the bottom of a whiskey glass, role-play dressed as Abraham Lincoln, and snort sugar through a straw.
So, if you’re reading this, this book is probably for you, you drunken Abe snorter. Go get it.
And keep your eyes open for future titles from Safety Third Enterprises. I know I will. And I will read them, and be abused by them, on my favorite seat.(less)
The first time I met Ben Tanzer was in Montpelier, Vermont in late winter, early spring 2010. He was there for work and I was there because I wanted t...moreThe first time I met Ben Tanzer was in Montpelier, Vermont in late winter, early spring 2010. He was there for work and I was there because I wanted to meet the man behind the name I’d been seeing all over the internet for the last two years. I wanted to meet the man who seemed like the kindest, hardest working writer I’d ever brushed up against. I wanted to meet the man who’d agreed to write a back cover blurb for my first chapbook on ridiculously short notice at a time when we were both still virtual strangers, more or less. Above all, I wanted to run with this man. And that’s what I did.
Ben was nice enough to let me crash in his hotel room after an evening of beer sampling and good conversation, an evening which allowed me a 3-dimensional glimpse into the life of Ben Tanzer and just how dedicated this crazy bastard really is. At around midnight Ben fell asleep with a book on his face, a book I’m sure he reviewed shortly thereafter, and I’m still kicking myself for not taking a picture of that. And then, at 6am, the show began. Stumble out of bed, still dark outside, running gear, shoes, hat, gloves, go.
Ben and I went on a slow and steady 60 minute run around the somber, chilled city of Montpelier. We danced around black ice. We talked about our projects. We talked about our injuries. We talked about women. We high stepped along railroad tracks, Stand By Me style. We breathed and we laughed. And it was good. Ben was every bit the kind, hard working writer I’d made him out to be. And it was easy for him, because with Ben Tanzer there is no bullshit. He lives like he writes: honestly and with great heart.
Months later, 99 Problems, Ben’s collection of essays about running and writing, was pushed into the world by CCLaP, a coupling that, in my mind, couldn’t be more perfect. It got me excited. It got me to thinking about my run with him. It got me to thinking about how he’d handle the subject matter. It got me to thinking about all the things I owe to running in my own life, and how it’s helped me as a writer and as a human being.
And so on a warm Friday I read Ben’s essays in a cozy café in Brattleboro, Vermont. It certainly wasn’t a planned thing to be in Brattleboro, a couple of hours south of Montpelier, but that’s the way it worked out. And as I chomped on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and sipped green tea from a mug, I laughed, I nodded, I grew misty.
This, to me, is Tanzer at his absolute best. He’s writing what he knows, he’s writing what he’s passionate about, he’s writing free. He allows us into his mind, no holds barred, as he strikes heel to toe, heel to toe over blacktop and hard packed earth. This is Ben Tanzer writing about himself in an addictive prose that’ll keep your eyes moving so quickly they’ll sweat. And once they cross that finish line—jubilant, loose, pulsing—they’ll want more. And with a craftsman like Ben Tanzer beside you, capable of stirring a second wind into any set of lungs, you’ll get more.
And you won’t have to wait long, of that I’m sure.
I’m honored to call Ben Tanzer my friend, and I am thrilled and inspired when I watch him run. 99 Problems snaps the tape at the finish line, roaring. (less)
Death, a talking mailbox, a penis that longs to be an astronaut (don’t they all?), a bit more death, love, desperation, and an angel dressed in a Puni...moreDeath, a talking mailbox, a penis that longs to be an astronaut (don’t they all?), a bit more death, love, desperation, and an angel dressed in a Punisher T-shirt—these are just a few of the ingredients that Jason Jordan mixes in to his collection Cloud and Other Stories (Six Gallery Press, 2010). The overall result is a hearty stew of text best served with Doritos and washed down with Miller Lite. MMMM, stew.
While many of these stories seem content to simply entertain with their seamless magic (sur)realism—take, for instance, The Man with the House in the Sky (pg. 77), a lofty (ha!) tale about a man who does indeed have a house in the sky, accessed only by an extensive ladder—other stories seem more inclined to offer a bit of social commentary, most notably To Save the Dying (pg. 47), a tale in which Jordan paints a bleak picture of working class Americans trying to remain hopeful in a small town ravaged by time and recession. The latter is a sad and crushing tale that, in my mind, carries the often recurring themes of loss and death with a greater maturity than other stories in this collection.
But don’t get me wrong. Silliness can carry weight too. In Babies Always Have It Coming (pg. 61), the narrator muses on the responsibilities of parenthood, and, deciding he’s tired of it, actually brings the baby back to the store from which it was bought to exchange it for a cat. This story in particular is a great knock on the sometimes apathetic mindset of the now surging Millennial generation—or on any generation, or any individual prone to laziness, although I have a special place in my heart these days for Millennials—just as My Better Half (pg. 102) is a great condemnation of the pharmaceutical industry. However, it’s not just pills that are taken to task here. Jordan pokes at an elaborate service that requires its customers to take pills so they might cut themselves in half in order to better multitask. The pills provide temporary regenerative abilities, and soon the narrator finds himself living with a lazier version of himself. It’s funny and smart, and the message that there are no easy fixes in life rings clear and true.
The weaknesses within the collection arise when Jordan experiments with text. It doesn’t happen often, but there were times I found myself scratching my head. In Surviving (pg. 53), Jordan marks the segments within the narrative with individual letters, a clever device used to spell out a message to the reader. It’s not that I completely disliked the experimentation here, it’s just that it was predictable and a bit of a distraction. And in The Pink Light Bulb (pg. 143), Jordan employs massive amounts of white space and repetition. It’s also an interesting bit of experimentation that, I think, could’ve been executed with a bit more concision. As it stands, small blocks of text float on a sea of white on one page, and on the next page (and the next) the repeated word “SOUNDS” fills every square inch, barring the margins. Perhaps I’m an isolated case, but the intended effect of this experimentation was simply lost on me.
The greatest strength of these stories lies in Jordan’s ability to build tension. He’s a true master, quickly pulling readers in and then taking them on fantastical journeys. Working class characters and small towns come to life and then dance, sometimes humorously, sometimes tragically, but always with great heart, even if their hearts are challenged.
Overall, Cloud and Other Stories is an extremely well-built and entertaining read from a young author who is just warming up.(less)
‘Man is a suffering delicate,’ proclaims Eric Beeny in Of Creatures, a poetry collection that circles the mind with a tentative, ticking confidence—a...more‘Man is a suffering delicate,’ proclaims Eric Beeny in Of Creatures, a poetry collection that circles the mind with a tentative, ticking confidence—a nervous bouquet waiting to burst. The petals distend, pregnant with brilliant color, radiating the naked shyness kicking within. Brace yourself for the birth, for Beeny’s words surge forth, methodically, to wrestle the lure of contentment before snaking it into a headlock and then whisper kissing its ears. Just as quickly the dance recedes and the coupling severs, the face of one carried in the reflection of the other, an often bittersweet reverie raining down from a cloud or, perhaps, the moon.(less)
A winter-choked town battles depression caused by a personified February. I'm glad I read this book when I did, at the close of February and the begin...moreA winter-choked town battles depression caused by a personified February. I'm glad I read this book when I did, at the close of February and the beginning of March. It's a great little take on surviving the winter blues. Spring is good.
Matt Bell is a dirty boy who wrote a dirty little book, or novelette, or micro novel—it’s very short is what I’m getting at, and can be read in an hou...moreMatt Bell is a dirty boy who wrote a dirty little book, or novelette, or micro novel—it’s very short is what I’m getting at, and can be read in an hour or so—called Wolf Parts.
Published by the fine people of Keyhole Press, the book had a very limited run, so limited, in fact, that it quickly went out of print. I was lucky enough to win a copy from the equally fine people of PANK (thanks, Roxane!).
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Wolf Parts, and I’m kind of glad I walked into it with that unknowing, because incest is always better when you don’t know it’s coming.
Wolf Parts takes the tale of Little Red Riding hood and twists it into an exploration of sexual power, or the struggle for sexual power, as Red and her Grandmother and The Wolf devour and gnaw on each other, kill each other, digest each other, and ultimately become each other.
The passages of Wolf Parts come in powerful, concise bursts, detailing the duplicitous nature and oft disturbing fantasy that exists within all relationships, be they familial or otherwise. Fathers long to bed down their daughters, daughters yearn to be raped, and, likewise, yearn to do some raping of their own.
Wolf Parts portrays human sex and sexuality for what it is: violent, primal and animalistic. And no one gets a free pass. Sure, there’s a bit of an undercurrent of female empowerment that exists here, but the women are just as culpable and despicable as the men. This isn’t necessary a bad thing, simply an honest thing, a thing that is true to the human condition. We all hunger and lust and scratch and bite—for love.
My only gripe with Wolf Parts is that it’s too damn short. The writing is strong and original, but Bell cautiously keeps the wolf on a leash, perhaps too much.
I can only imagine what Matt Bell will do with Hansel and Gretel. But I’ll be sure to be there, reading. (less)
14 shorts comprise this chapbook, 14 shorts that pull no punches and lay it plain. Peak guides us through streets, alleys, train compartments, and dil...more14 shorts comprise this chapbook, 14 shorts that pull no punches and lay it plain. Peak guides us through streets, alleys, train compartments, and dilapidated buildings occupied by dilapidated souls. He shows us scars and poverty and insanity, often pulling us aside to offer hard insights like “no living creatures were ever meant to be too comfortable.” (Chicago Arcadia)
What I enjoyed most about this collection was the fact that the words got out of their own way with seeming ease, leaving the stories bare and unburdened like clear, moving pictures.
“No one said anything. The kids dropped their faces to the ground and shuffled out the alley. The man watched them go. The bat was limp in his hand, resting against his leg.” (Martin)
This is pure and simple language, folks, done extremely well. Despite the bleak subject matter I’d even say I was refreshed after reading this.
My only gripe about Peak’s Museum of Fucked is that it was over way too soon.(less)