Colin Dodd’s latest novel Watershed, a gripping thriller, begins when Raquel, a pretty young escort, is thrown out of a helicopter. From there, the story only gets stranger and more complex, as Raquel meets Norwood, a former sculptor who earns his living from odd off-the-books jobs and selling snakes. Set in the near future, Norwood is a “Ludlite,” part of a community that eschews all modern technology – part hipster, part Luddite.
After Raquel meets Norwood, the pair becomes embroiled in the sinister plans of former Senator Robert Hurley, also known as Rudolf Ostanze. Hurley is a man of seemingly infinite wealth and power who wants the one thing money can’t buy: the baby growing in Raquel’s womb, which may or may not be his. As Hurley sends Tyra, his hired hand, to dog Raquel, it becomes clear that Hurley is involved in a much bigger conspiracy. Meanwhile, plans are underway for real estate fraud, disguised as a commemoration for 9/11. Continue reading
calaboose. noun. A jail or prison; cell
Karen Herceg spent three decades working on her collection of poetry, Out from Calaboose. The poems reflect that; they feel slow, deliberate, not a single word more than what is necessary.
The individual poems are deftly woven together- this collection in five parts takes you on journey through the seasons, scattered snapshots of thoughts, literal and spiritual travels, and through the concrete highs and lows of Herceg’s life. “Part 1: In the Wake of Frogs,” covers what separates us: walls, continents, desires. Ownership in a relationship is introduced here and remains a driving force throughout her personal work in this collection.
Herceg shows the full range of her talent, at some points the prose stark and pointed, “I am a woman too, / have herded children, objects and desires.” And at others sinister yet lyrical- “Rather you strip me down / and yoke me stark / pare and parse the lace / the sugar that hides the taste / of me / honesty in your need / to own my love”
In part two we move through physical time while Herceg reveals her internal mechanics. Herceg has a talent for describing nature, and connecting her creativity to the physical environment. Summer holds her down- the one summer poem finds heat stagnant, oppressive. Fresh, frigid winds, breathe life into her observations. “I see the puzzle of a sky / between skeletal fingers / and its stark patches / bore into me / like a hopeless romance.”
In The Silence of Snow there is Peace, reflection, and stillness, in the heat of summer there is motionlessness. Heat brings us to concrete reality. Smog covered streets, the smell of blacktop, to the story of Toulon 1971 “In the white glare of an afternoon / I watched you stroll up the dirt road / while, straw hat in hand, I fanned the heavy air,”
Herceg’s thoughts never seem cliched, though the volume covers well-worn tropes: love, the environment, family. She takes tiny moments and magnifies them, spinning entire imagined worlds from small glances, such as in “Shadow Dance” (p. 27), when she describes a couple’s embrace: “you cover me / like a crucifix”
In “Part 3: A thin Season,” Herceg offers snapshots of the everyday and answers what it means to her, what she views as the truth. The ways we think of the world, and don’t think of it. People’s relationship to the world and each other. This is one of the more concrete sections and at times Herceg turns toward a political bent. “Corporate Menu” takes a swipe at the devastation to the planet caused by our industrial farming: “petroleum plastic packaged / for the convenience of our impatient lives.” In “A Thin Season,” Herceg’s elegy for “a young man beheaded for listening to Western pop tunes in his father’s grocery store,” is hauntingly beautiful. Her beautiful words are in harsh contrast to the gritty reality: “Isis goddess of love, the moon, / magic and fertility, / a healing sister of deities / daughter of earth and sky”
Like Part 3, “Part 4: Loving Hands” offers a section of more concretely worded poems- pointedly weighting down the reader into the heart of the collection. In “Maternal Elegy” she is literally bound to her mother. “cutting the cord / where you dragged me /through the mire / of your own sins / a maternal bloodbath.”
Her words, as always, are beautiful, cold, and describe unrelenting life. “the inscription of their names, / the chiseled dates / making impressions on my flesh.”
Though accepting of what is, rarely at peace with it “I awake to the immeasurable sadness
of loss, / not for whatever was / but what was not, / the dream of possibilities and lost connections, / the incurable pain of memories / that never existed.”
And again, we are never free from other people- especially those who made us. “spines straight as rulers / with impressions from loving hands, / my sister and I learned early / about a queen who must be obeyed,” These loving hands leave a permanent mark that holds true across her life. Herceg sums it up best herself as, “the unendurable obligation / of love,”
Even in the final part of the book, where Herceg quotes Carl Sagan “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love,” love is a necessity and a burden. Her works are scattered again and still melancholy. Because even here at the end she doesn’t let go of what could have been. “If I could thrust my hands outward / ripping through embryonic clay / I would sculpt the lives / we did not have”
In Out From Calaboose Herceg explores every prison you could encounter- being bogged down in the material world, bound to another person, your past, the reality of what is while miring yourself in thoughts of what could have been. Herceg’s imagination stretches the mundane, escapes the confines of the physical and beautifully describes ugliness at every turn.
Out from Calaboose is available from Nirala Press.
In this book, Greg Farrell brings the minutiae of millennial life to the page. Farrell is quick to poke humor at his privileged upbringing and many neuroses. In the first story, he notes that he moved to Brooklyn to escape the endless car/job cycle of his hometown in Long Island (you need a car to get to the job, you need a job to afford the car). Farrell writes that he “saw New York City as a refuge from those things,” but was “oblivious to the trials that would await me there.” Indeed, his comfortable suburban upbringing leaves him unprepared to handle even the most basic challenges of city life, such as living with pests, shady landlords, and unreliable roommates.
A series of unconnected vignettes about Farrell’s life over the decades, both in and out of Brooklyn, the collection is scattered at times. Some vignettes stand out, such as a sweet Christmas when the family bands together to buy Farrell’s younger brother a Wii before supplies run out, and a charming look at the history of the Jewish deli B&H. Farrell, an admittedly anxious person, makes for an unreliable narrator at times, as in a story about his electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome, a form of hypochondria, which he seems aggrieved that the rest of the world doesn’t take “seriously.” He has a distinct point of view and clear voice, and his stories definitely read as honest. When he shares his thoughts about girls or roommates it seems like a true depiction of his inner dialogue, which, though de rigueur in diary comics, sometimes feels like oversharing to this reader. For example, when Farrell talks about a female roommate he had an argument with, he notes that he had “two wet dreams wherein I ate her pussy.” Farrell’s viewpoint can be myopic at times, rarely venturing beyond his internal monologue. The collection is at its best when he focuses his lens outside of himself on his family and the outside world.
The book itself is a beautifully-printed edition with clear, easy to read text and a simple, eye-catching cover. Overall, Hipster is an interesting read (despite having little to do with hipsters, or Brooklyn).
Elizabeth Copeland’s Jazz takes us on a touching journey as a young trans man reclaims his body and identity. Aimed at a young audience, this book is sure to help closed-minded youth gain a new perspective, and to help trans youth and other members of the LGBT community realize that they are not alone.
Named Jaswinder at birth, Copeland’s protagonist prefers the name “Jazz.” He says, “At birth, I was labeled a girl. I was named Jaswinder. My chosen name is Jazz. Like the music, I am nature’s improvisation.” The reader follows Jazz through his childhood in a middle-class Indian Canadian home with a father and brother who hate his non-conforming behavior, and a mother who doesn’t understand his burgeoning gender identity. When they try to suppress Jazz’s gender expression, he retreats, becoming depressed, withdrawn, and eating less. On his 17th birthday, Jazz comes out to his family as transgender, hoping to be welcomed as a man. Instead, Jazz’s family rejects him, and his father tells him that he is no longer welcome in his home. Jazz is forced to leave, becoming homeless. The rest of the novel covers his journey as he finds an LGBT community to help him survive the streets, and struggles to be accepted.
The book is mainly told from Jazz’s point of view but also features the internal thoughts from supporting characters on Jazz’s transition. We get to hear why the people closest to Jazz, his family, would abandon him, and how they wrestle with the news. The reader also gets to hear from Jazz’s newfound supporters allowing us to hear both sides of the “conversation.”
Though the issue is complex and also grapples with very adult content the book is definitely aimed at younger readers. As a protagonist, Jazz can be immature at times, rejecting help when it is offered to him by social workers Kendall, an older FTM transgender individual who has gone through the same journey as Jazz, and Sister Mary Francis, an ex-nun. As in many young adult novels, some aspects of the plot ravel together too neatly for real life: for example, Jazz very quickly finds a job and a place to stay and a job after becoming homeless. While there is some emotional and personal growth for Jazz, none of it goes past the realistic maturity level of a 17-year-old, which might prove frustrating for some adults, but well suited to younger readers. However, though geared towards a younger crowd, the book is a good read for any age. The language of the book is almost musical or poetic, and the writing is very poignant at times, with apt descriptions. Jazz is a charming, sometimes-sweet tale of one character’s “It Gets Better” story.