Cleave is a poetry collection of magnitude and fascination. I started reading it one evening after dinner and stayed up late with it, still reading. ACleave is a poetry collection of magnitude and fascination. I started reading it one evening after dinner and stayed up late with it, still reading. As one critic notes, “With breathtaking lyric beauty and formidable formal range, Nobile details the intimate effects of the international adoption industrial complex on children and parents caught up in a system’s unrelenting hunger. This is a book of remarkable compassion and real horror. Its stories will be news to many and all too familiar to others.”
I’m a domestic adoptee, and Tiana Nobile identifies as a Korean American adoptee, so there are important distinctions in our two experiences of adoption, but her stories are “all too familiar” to me.” Most, perhaps all, people who are adopted by strangers experience feelings of loss, alienation, of not fitting in.
Adoption doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The adoptee experience of loss and alienation can be exacerbated in transnational and transracial adoptions in a country like the U.S., where racism and anti-immigrant hate poison communities, families, and individuals. Tiana Nobile’s poems place a personal experience of adoption in that wider community and in a historical continuum. This is a critical book for critical times.
It’s also an aesthetically rich book, full of sensory delight in language and provocative use of many traditional elements of poetry like internal rhyme, organic form, alliteration, and startling imagery.
The poems in Cleave make expert use of a wide variety of intriguing formats. For example, in “Where Are You Really From?” Nobile employs a prose poem format that’s a list of place names in the U.S. that create a mystery narrative — one that illuminates the the empty past of people separated from family, culture, language, and history. A series of poems titled “Abstract” begin with white space, illustrating the absence of knowledge. The famous “monkey love” science experiments that separated newborn monkeys from their mothers is a recurring source of images.
Many of the poems mine science (or pseudo-science) for information on the mother-infant bond and details about fetal and infant development, a technique shared by the writer of the second book discussed here. Nobile’s poem, “Lost First Languages Leave Permanent Mark on The Brain, New Study Reveals,” uses this headline format to to introduce a meditation on what is lost:
Megan Culhane Galbraith's genre-bending book, The Guild of the Infant Savior, kept me reading late into the night. I finished this 300 page collectionMegan Culhane Galbraith's genre-bending book, The Guild of the Infant Savior, kept me reading late into the night. I finished this 300 page collection of essays and visual art in two sittings, entranced by the book's deft language, engaging tone, deep insights, and profound historical criticism. Galbraith's writing is graceful and immediate, and I felt as if I were traveling with her through the decades.
The book's artwork consists mainly of installations of dollhouses and dolls from the 1960’s, the era in which the author was born and then adopted. The visuals work in conversation with the narrative text, and also with the history of women and motherhood.
The text often relies on poetic devices like juxtaposition and repetition to create meaning without overt explanation. But there are also plenty of direct observations about the adopted state, like these:
“As an adopted child, I’d felt like a thing to be played with instead of a person with her own identity.”
“Many pro-life groups use the term proadoption, but I am not their poster child.”
“I continually try on identities and feel like an actor in my own personal theater productions of The Good Child or Don’t Ever Leave Me Again or See, I Am Worthy of [insert here: Love, Kindness, Joy, Pleasure].”
The arc of the narrative is driven by Galbraith's research into and recreation of her own identity. This is accomplished in a personal context of motherhood: her search for her mother, mothering her own children, and the death of her adoptive mother. That personal context is further embedded in a wider context of women's social, economic, and political status over the past five decades, which deeply amplifies the universal themes in her personal story.
Galbraith explores historical and scientific beliefs about women's sexuality and maternal separation in both text and image. Her installations of period doll houses and dolls (photographed in color for inclusion in the book) re-create a “mothercraft” degree program at Cornell University in the 1960’s that used infants from orphanages as “practice babies” for students. In the text, the program functions as one of many metaphors for adoption.
Like the creators of the better-known “monkey love” experiments, the architects of the domestic economics, or Domecon, program demonstrated a callous disregard for the emotional states of their subjects, in this case human babies who were put under the care of a rotating series of undergraduates. These babies were seen as in need of middle class remediation, and were later adopted anonymously. Galbraith herself was not a “Domecon baby,” but she learns that she spent her first five months in foster care wearing a mechanical brace to correct a medical condition before being adopted anonymously. The parallels are apparent.
This is a book for those who like a compelling story that transports them to a different world, and it's for anyone interested in the social, economic, and sexual history of women or the history of closed adoptions in the U.S. Adoptees and others concerned with issues of identity will find much that resonates in this book.
Many thanks to the publisher, Mad Creek Books, for an advance review copy....more
Everything you've heard is true: Gale Massey's characters are filled with desires, ambitions, misgivings, and the whole range of human emotions. They Everything you've heard is true: Gale Massey's characters are filled with desires, ambitions, misgivings, and the whole range of human emotions. They are people whose fates you need to know.
Massey's figurative language is often stunning and powerful, contributing to each story's plot, characterization, and emotional tone. The opening of "Racine," for example, describes the inevitability of the story's conflict and its stoic emotional tone with "The minutes gather at her feet, pooling there like water seeping through a crack below a door."
This collection illuminates many of the dark corners of what it means to be a woman in a time and place where women are [still] at the mercy of woman-hating policies, whether those are governmental, individual, or family policies.
In artistic terms and in terms of human relevance, Massey's stories deliver. The short form gives her characters and themes the right amount of space to entice and then surprise. Most of all, these intense short stories succeed as literary page-turners readers will find irresistible.
Thanks to NetGalley for an advance review copy of this short story collection....more
It's not often that a book about marginalized groups (in this case, adoptees and first parents) is written with insight by someone who is an outsider.It's not often that a book about marginalized groups (in this case, adoptees and first parents) is written with insight by someone who is an outsider. This is one of those books.
Glaser is a meticulous researcher and a skilled story teller. Those two skills come together to tell the story of one family's devastation by the adoption industry in the broader context of cultural attitudes about women's sexuality, pregnancy, and class. Readers who have not looked into adoption practices in the U.S. will be surprised at the industry's callous treatment of mothers and infants, and the many laws restricting adult adoptee access to their own genealogical and medical information. Highly recommend. ...more
Braided narratives became a significant genre in literature in my lifetime, and this book brings that genre to a new sense of fullness and a new levelBraided narratives became a significant genre in literature in my lifetime, and this book brings that genre to a new sense of fullness and a new level of emotional engagement. Everything is connected, indeed. Highly recommend. ...more
This is the rare book that pulls you along by making you think deeply in addition to making you care about Existentialism updated for the 21st century
This is the rare book that pulls you along by making you think deeply in addition to making you care about the characters and their struggles.
Matt Kim, the novel's protagonist, has been disappearing. Or at least he thinks so. On top of that, he's not seen his young daughter in years, partly because he doesn't want his weirdness to make her weird. Or something. On top of that, he's adopted and has lost both sets of his parents. More on that below.
With its narrator's probing but sometimes absurd questions on the nature of existence and reality, DISAPPEAR, DOPPELGANGER, DISAPPEAR brought me back to the world of Jean Paul Sartre's novel, NAUSEA, which I read as a teenager. Other literary echos I heard were Kafka (the surrealism of The State) and Dostoevsky (the concept of The Double), and because of the humor that's threaded through the book, I couldn't help wondering if the author was delivering these riffs with a bit of a smirk. I laughed hilariously at many points in the novel.
Throughout history, adopted people have been the subject of stories, especially heroic stories. In this novel, the doppelganger motif adds another layer to the traditional tale of the adopted outsider who challenges the status quo. Matt Kim was one person with his first parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from Korea, and then became his own doppelganger when adopted by a set of white parents at age twelve. Some of the most affecting passages in the book are those where Matt Kim recalls his fear of not being adopted, and then of not being kept, and how he enacts a new self to stay safe. If one can create a new self, it starts to make sense that the self can be disappeared. And, it makes sense that one's double can exist in the same world, simultaneously. And doubling complicates everything.
Highly recommend this book, especially for readers who enjoy surrealism and suspense.
Many thanks to Net Galley for providing an advanced review copy.