Tag Archives: book review

‘The Criminal Child: Selected Essays’ by Jean Genet: A Refusal to Conform

Born in Paris, novelist, poet, and dramatist Jean Genet grew up as a delinquent in state institutions, enduring the horrors of captivity only to later become a famous author and help revolutionize poetry and theatre. In The Criminal Child: Selected Essays (124 pages; NYRB Classics; translated by Charlotte Mandell and Jeffrey Zuckerman), a collection of Genet’s intimate and astounding essays on such themes as homosexuality, trauma, individuality, and the healing potential of creativity, we see how he chooses to view his past experience as a necessary evil on the path to becoming a great artist. His beautiful, lyrical language is …Continue reading

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‘A Little More Red Sun on the Human’ by Gillian Conoley: New Universals for a Secular World

Gillian Conoley’s new book, A Little More Red Sun on the Human (320 pages; Nightboat Press) is a collection of selected poems from throughout her career. Conoley uses new forms of linguistic constructions to tackle the spiritual adversity of the modern age and to redefine the standard of poetic consciousness. Conoley was born in Austin, Texas in 1955, and the farming community she grew up in inspired the narratives of her early works, in which she recalled her childhood in the South. Her youthful reminiscence later evolved into an interest in the natural world, and became a tool for her …Continue reading

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‘Suicide Woods’ by Benjamin Percy: A Horror that’s Close to Home

Benjamin Percy is a writer who understands that, in the twenty-first century, the scariest thing to many readers is not the supernatural or threats from beyond the grave, but something altogether closer to home: real estate. His latest release, Suicide Woods (192 pages; Graywolf Press), collects a variety of stories culled from the last decade of Percy’s career. The book covers a number of subjects and genres, including the uncanny, from “The Dummy’s” tale of a wrestling practice dummy that may or may not be imbued with life, to the titular story’s account of a group of depressed individuals who …Continue reading

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‘Space Invaders’ by Nona Fernández: Mutations of Reality

To replicate child-like bewilderment rather than to simply retell it is an enviable feat—one that Nona Fernández masters in Space Invaders (88 pages; Graywolf Press; translated by Natasha Wimmer). Bordering on autofiction, the short novel calls upon Fernández’s childhood in Chilé in the ’80s during the turmoil surrounding dictator Pinochet’s unseating, and looks at how those times pervade the lives of the fifth-graders who center the story, and manifest in unexpected and devastating ways The young community faces police brutality and various other traumas, culminating in the disappearance of Estrella—a well-loved peer who vanishes without explanation. The story is primarily …Continue reading

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‘On Valencia Street: Poems & Ephemera’ by Jack Micheline: A Return to San Francisco’s Core

“The art world is so fucking boring it could make your heart cry,” writes the late Jack Micheline in On Valencia Street: Poems & Ephemera (133 pages; Lithic Press; edited by Tate Swindell), and it’s a phrase that neatly captures the vibrancy of Micheline’s gut-wrenching artistic project. On Valencia Street contains an array of unpublished work by the honorary Beat (Micheline purportedly derided the label of “Beat poet” as a “product of media hustle), as well as varying pieces of memorabilia, including drawings of a Basquiat-Johnston lovechild, posters for live readings, and nearly illegible notes written on napkins. Micheline’s aesthetic …Continue reading

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‘We, the Survivors’ by Tash Aw: A Grim Portrait of Life Under Late Capitalism

The latest novel by Man Booker long-listed author Tash Aw offers a grim portrait of contemporary Asia under late capitalism. We, the Survivors (336 pages; FSG) traces the life of Ah Hock, a Malaysian-born citizen of Chinese heritage living a quiet life of solitude on the other side of a murder sentence. Ah Hock relays his story to a young journalist looking to shed light on the circumstances that led to Ah Hock’s violent crime, a crime he himself doesn’t quite understand. The murder is ultimately connected to Ah Hock’s former career as second-in-command at a local fish farm, as …Continue reading

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‘In the Dream House’ by Carmen Maria Machado: No Mere Confessional

Carmen Maria Machado’s new book, In the Dream House (264 pages; Graywolf Press), begins with a statement of intention. Machado, the author of the acclaimed story collection Her Body and Other Parties, tells us she has written a memoir to add her story of queer domestic violence to the catalog of contemporary literature: “I enter into the archive that domestic abuse between partners who share a gender identity is both possible and not uncommon,” she writes, “and that it can look something like this.” Depictions of intimate partner violence between women have been largely left out of our collective culture, …Continue reading

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‘The Promise’ by Silvina Ocampo: Remembering How to Die

In The Promise (120 pages; City Lights Publishers; translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Jessica Powell) the nameless narrator, after falling over the handrail of a transport ship, recollects her life in a disparate series of largely character-based vignettes as she waits to drown or be rescued at sea. As she comes to in the ocean, she promises Saint Rita that in exchange for her life she will commit to publishing a book documenting a “dictionary of memories that are at times shameful, even humiliating.” And so the lone novel by the prolific Argentine author Silvina Ocampo (1903-1993) becomes a …Continue reading

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‘Black Card’ by Chris L. Terry: A Satirical Look at Racial Identity in America

Chris L. Terry’s new satirical and funny novel, Black Card (272 pages; Counterpoint), challenges ideas about race and identity as it follows its unnamed mixed-race narrator as he navigates the complex world of the punk rock scene in the American South, trying to understand where and how he can fit in—or if he can ever fit in. Structured episodically, Terry’s novel manages to address specific and thematically relevant incidents of the narrator’s life minus an overwhelming page count. “I was finally black again,” the novel begins, in 1997. “I sat on my bed, waiting for proof. Gray smoke oozed under …Continue reading

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‘The Painted Forest’ by Krista Eastman: Thoroughly Acquainted with the World

Krista Eastman had been living away from her native Wisconsin for many years when she began writing her essay collection, The Painted Forest (144 pages; West Virginia University Press), and it was during this time that she began to consider the meaning of home. Once she left the small, working-class town in which she was raised, she told Poets & Writers, she found she often “had to explain myself and my home to others, putting a complicated place onto maps where previously there’d been nothing at all.” That’s when she “became interested in the role of telling about a place, …Continue reading

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‘The Tradition’ by Jericho Brown: Bursts of Ecstasy and Longing

To some extent, every poet creates a persona. Think of Berryman’s Henry, for example. But Jericho Brown has done so more fully and convincingly than most. Born Nelson Dimery III, he answered to the name Jericho in a dream. In that dream the name allowed him go through a door. He later learned that the loose translation of the name is “defense,” and he discarded his birth name and became the unmistakably singular poet Jericho Brown. In the same way, he has transformed his evangelical fundamentalist upbringing into spirituality, physicality, and song. This transformation is showcased in his latest book, …Continue reading

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‘Love and I’ by Fanny Howe: A Meander through a Singular Mind

Fanny Howe prefers to be alone—perhaps that’s what makes her such a perceptive poet. In her latest collection, Love and I (80 pages; Graywolf Press), the fruits of Howe’s solitude are on full display. Howe is introspective, curious, and content when she is by herself. Many of the poems in Love and I celebrate the comforts of being alone: I’ll sit at the window Where it’s safe to say no. Won’t go out, won’t work For a living, will study the clouds Becoming snow. That’s not to say Howe doesn’t grapple with the aches of loneliness as well: “Someone help …Continue reading

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