From Iguala to Los Angeles, the Making of a Writer: Q&A with Reyna Grande

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Each year thousands of children are left behind as their parents cross the border into the United States looking for work. Often these children set out on journeys of their own in hopes of finding their parents. These terrifying treks, and their devastating effects on families, have been chronicled by others. In 2006, journalist Sonia Nazario wrote a spellbinding account of a young boy’s trek from Honduras to the United States in Enrique’s Journey: The Story of A Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite With His Mother. In 2009, the documentary film Which Way Home captured the plight of two young […]

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A Non-Moronic Relationship with God: Kaya Oakes’s ‘Radical Reinvention’

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As Kitchen Sink Magazine cofounder, Kaya Oakes makes clear in the prologue to her memoir cum theological summa, Radical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church (Counterpoint, 256 pages), “this is not a story of being born again; if I wanted to be an evangelical I could just hop into a church and they’d dip me in a tub and serve me cake.” With this characteristic blend of spiritual sincerity and irreverent wit, Oakes, who is the author of the critically acclaimed book Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture (2009), retraces her steps back into her childhood […]

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Creatures in the Desert: ‘A Million Heavens’ by John Brandon

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Probably the most enjoyable theme through all of John Brandon’s novels is his fascination with people in solitude, because it allows Brandon to linger on often-bizarre penchants and lifestyles. In Arkansas we saw the partnership of Swin Ruiz and Kyle Ribb, two young guys whose utter weirdness in personality lands them in the drug running business. In Citrus County, he focused on the dark longings of his characters, which they ponder on long walks through the forest, or during detention in an undecorated middle-school classroom. In his new novel, A Million Heavens (McSweeney’s; 272 pages), Brandon maintains his interest in […]

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The Well-Researched Drug Memoir: ‘Opium Fiend’ by Steven Martin

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When you think of opium smoking, the sepia-steeped image of an exotic Shangri-La probably comes to mind.. However, opium consumption has long been a worldwide phenomenom, with smokers found among  the upper crust and the impoverished. In his memoir, Opium Fiend: A 21st Century Slave to a 19th Century Addiction (Villard; 416 pages), Steven Martin delves deep into the long-lost secret history of a drug that once captured the imaginations of everyone, from the haute couture to Hunter S. Thompson. Martin—a freelance writer living in Southeast Asia whose curiosity about opium smoking eventually led to his becoming an addict to […]

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A Sexual Greed, Profound and Shallow: Q&A With Chloe Caldwell

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There’s a matter-of-factness about Chloe Caldwell’s sexually uninhibited, confessional essays, Legs Get Led Astray (Future Tense Books). “I am the type of person who will give anything to anyone I feel I could love, ” Caldwell writes at one point. Caldwell is young—her work reflects that—but that is not to say the writing is immaterial or inchoate. It’s what I would call a greedy, ugly kind of “young,” the kind that makes you wonder if we are most alive, in a monstrous way, when we’re being hideous and awful. We spoke to her over Facebook about her frank and voracious […]

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Life as a Flounder, or Lizard: ‘No Animals We Could Name’ by Ted Sanders

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Ted Sanders writes the kind of sensitive, careful prose that makes it easy for the reader to forge connections with the most unconventional of characters—whether a flounder or a lizard—and to live for pages as someone (or something) you thought you could never identify with. A collection of fourteen individual narratives, each forming its separate universe, No Animals We Could Name (Graywolf Press; 272 pages) is a beautiful expression of feeling in the form of prose. Putting a surrealist spin on the most realist situations, Sanders’ hyper-observant prose and delicate descriptions are at once gentle and urging, prompting you to […]

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Tucson’s Tragic Dispostion: ‘A Safeway in Arizona’ by Tom Zoellner

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At the beginning of his new book, A Safeway in Arizona: What the Gabrielle Giffords Shooting Tells Us About the Grand Canyon State and Life in America (Viking; 276 pages), Tom Zoellner provides a disclaimer: he admits to harboring “several personal biases” with respect to the book’s subject matter.  We learn, however, that these biases are completely appropriate.  Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a survivor of the shooting at the Tucson Safeway on January 8, 2011, is an extremely close friend of Zoellner, who counts her within the “maybe twenty people” he has loved in his life.  The emotion that Zoellner brings […]

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An Island Shaken By Memories: ‘Subduction’ by Todd Shimoda

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In Todd Shimoda’s most recent novel, Subduction (Chin Music Press; 304 pages), the book’s visual design is as crucial to the narrative’s enjoyment as is the prose Endo, a doctor exiled to the island of Marui-jima for committing a fatal mistake, occupies himself by becoming concerned with the island’s elderly residents. Curious about the years before his arrival, and the choices the islanders have often come to regret, he befriends Mari, the island’s documentary filmmaker, and grills her about the islanders’ stories, as well as her own. But when she presses Endo to share personal details of his own life, […]

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The Brazilian Bird of Prey: Four New Translations of Clarice Lispector

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In his preface to Clarice Lispector’s A Breath of Life (Pulsations), editor Benjamin Moser calls the four new translations from New Directions of Lispector’s novels—including Água Viva, Near to the Wild Heart, and The Passion According to G.H.—“the most important project of translation into English of a Latin American author since the complete works of Jorge Luis Borges were published a decade ago.” This is hardly a disinterested opinion: Moser himself kicked off the retranslations of Lispector’s work with The Hour of the Star (New Directions), published late last year. He also published a biography of Lispector in 2009, Why […]

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A Relationship Gone Missing: ‘Love, an Index’ by Rebecca Lindenberg

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Many poems of love loss have been written, but none are as difficult to categorize as those in Rebecca Lindenberg’s collection Love, an Index (McSweeney’s; 96 pages). The title itself is a teasing, post-romantic gesture, as though the subject can be summed up in one sequential arrangement. And yet, the poet attempts. But unlike Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” whose world is full of “many things… filled with the intent / to be lost that their loss is no disaster,” Lindenberg’s poems do not possess that self-consoling bravado. Her loss is abrupt and unforeseeable; her lover-poet, Craig Arnold, mysteriously vanishes while […]

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Finding the Sacred in Life on the Calle: ‘Girlchild’ by Tupelo Hassman

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The first thing to be understood about Tupelo Hassman’s debut novel, Girlchild, is that the young protagonist, Rory Dawn Hendrix, is alone. This is not only evidenced in her isolation: living in Reno’s Calle de las Flores trailer park, her general lack of school friends, or the way her poverty is treated coolly by government officials. Rory Dawn’s aloneness comes off in her fearless narration, the way she wanders off unaided into unknown places, to be followed by the adventurous reader. Rory approaches everything familiar with caution. The Calle is her home, but it doesn’t offer the comfort or the […]

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What We Do to Ourselves, and to the Wild: ‘Raptor’ by Andrew Feld

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A bold investigation of cruelty, Andrew Feld’s Raptor (University of Chicago Press; 88 pages) illuminates the visceral details of the external world through electrifying, scary close encounters. Feld wastes no time in announcing his provocation: “You wanted a little bit of wilderness / Held docile on your wrist. What could be tamer / Than extinct?” These lines pierce straight through to the locus of a power struggle where the table is turned on a bird tamer, who is probed by accusations of culpability and blamed for razing what he touches. Feld’s poetry dissects violence and imbues it with drama, provoking […]

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