Joe Fletcher’s The Hatch contemplates the mystery of human consciousness through a series of narrative poems constructed in a gradually developing, non-linear collection of verse and prose pieces overflowing with morbidity, misdirection and disconcertion. Not for the faint of heart, The Hatch immerses its reader in an expansive environment resultant of Fletcher’s painstaking efforts to ensure that every detail has the power to incite apprehension and morbid curiosity.
An aspect of the collection that really shines out is the world built within its pages. Every poem Fletcher includes adds to the conceptualization of a realm outside of geography, time or physical law. He achieves this effect through the introduction of temporary characters and lore such as in his poem “Isaiah”, and the manufacturing of a linguistic flow that takes the reader through a chronologically warped series of sensory imagery like in “Saturn Day” or “The Vegetable Staticks”. Continue reading
Review By Tess Tabak
When a slew of mysterious symptoms leaves you terribly ill, how long does it take to have your illness validated, to receive a diagnosis? If you are a woman, especially a young woman of color with patchy health insurance and little money, it can be a very long time.
In Sick, Porochista Khakpour takes us through her journey as she struggles with poor health, drug addiction, and a quest for a diagnosis. She also takes us through her history with Lyme, both in herself and others: a boyfriend’s mother who became seriously ill with it; a dog she adopted that suffered from the disease; the many places she visited where she saw and ignored Tick Check warnings.
Sick is engrossing, reading somewhat like a lurid “it happened to me”-type article, written by a literary master. She spares few details, including raving emails she sent to friends at the height of her desperation about the undiagnosed illness: “I’ve realized my urine is entirely too alkaline.” Continue reading
By E. Kirshe
Monstress Vol. 1 compiles a compelling story into a physically beautiful book. This volume is a collection of the first six issues of the Monstress series.
The surface plot is engaging fantasy fare- we have a young woman with a mysterious past driving her current path which includes danger and dark magic. She holds a dark power- in this case a literal demon living inside her- and is caught in the middle of an old war. Liu is a fantastic storyteller. She tackles a lot of different themes in this fairly short volume and does so almost seamlessly.
Darren C. Demaree’s Two Towns Over is an introspective illustration of drug culture in the American Midwest. Erratically, the poet exposes his reader to literal, sentimental and introspective illustrations of a lifestyle and environment that are totally controlled by hedonism and psychoactive substances.
While much of the imagery is grotesque and enticing to the senses, monotony is one of the most notable characteristics throughout Two Towns Over. It often feels as if Demaree communicates the same sentiment better in a couple of short stanzas than he does in multiple poems. Filled with structural and linguistic experimentation that is often hit or miss, various pieces, such as a majority of the poems with the title “Sweet Wolf”, feel gimmicky or uninspired. This monotony offers a literary simulation of the futility and frustration the nameless residents of the work’s Ohio townships are constantly battling. Continue reading
By Tess Tabak
Disoriental, a new novel by Négar Djavadi, tells the epic story of a family, the Sadrs, across a century of true Iranian history. Kimia, the youngest daughter of Darius and Sara Sadr, is the self-appointed keeper of family lore. She tells her own story through the lens of her extended family’s history, weaving the tales in and out of each other like a modern day Scherzerade. The family currently lives in France and Disoriental’s message is particularly poignant, and relevant, in today’s political climate, when refugees are not freely welcome in many Western countries.
The novel opens slowly, on Kimia attempting to receive fertility treatment, in a room filled with couples desperate for a child. She is the only one who came to the appointment alone, without a partner. Once you get started this is a hard book to put down. While she waits for the doctor, Kimia braids her present story in and out of her family’s history, set against the backdrop of Iran’s tumultuous political history. Anecdotes fluidly move from one into the other, and the tale jumps back and forth between spans of 20 to 50 years at a time (there’s a helpful key in the back of the book if you lose track of the characters). Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
In Heads of the Colored People, Nafissa Thompson-Spires weaves a tapestry of loosely connected stories about African-American people. She explores the complex relationships African-Americans have towards their racial identity in 21st century America.
The characters in Heads often feel like outsiders in their own world. In the first story, a simple misunderstanding sparks into a fight when one black man, dressed in anime garb, his hair dyed blonde and wearing purple contacts, inadvertently ignores another black man on the street.
Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, always sharp, these stories bring us into a world of diverse voices. In a meta, meta move, a character in the first story is working on a piece called Heads of the Colored People, a collection of sketches that will reflect the lives of black people, a modern update on a project of the same name by Dr. James McCune Smith in 1854. She compares her own sketch to the police-drawn chalk outline of a man killed by police brutality. “I couldn’t draw the bodies while the heads talked over me, and the mosaic formed in blood, and what is a sketch but a chalk outline done in pencil or words?” Continue reading
Review by E. Kirshe
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland is already on a bunch of lists of books to watch out for and there’s a good reason for that.
Set in Reconstruction-era America, history has taken a turn thanks to the undead plague that arises during the Civil War. The North and South agree to stop fighting each other in order to put down zombies (called shamblers here). The story is told through the first-person narration of Jane Mckeene. Jane is finishing her training to become an Attendant, a person trained in both weaponry and etiquette in order to protect wealthy white women. Thanks to the Negro and Native Reeducation Act this career path is not a choice. Even being the daughter of a very wealthy white woman does not prevent Jane from being required to train at Miss Preston’s school of combat in Baltimore.
Ireland creates a richly drawn brave new America- the worldbuilding in this book is extensive and expertly sprinkled across the pages. Even with the first person narration it never feels like an info-dump. Lots of true history is blended into Ireland’s version- history buffs will recognize some key phrases and inspiration. Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
In a troubled election, Gray Davenport must prove that Reason is dead.
Reason Wilder, the new mayoral candidate in Grand River, is a crowd pleaser. He has a certain energy about him that people love. There’s just one tiny problem: Reason seems to be a Frankenstein’s monster, and Gray Davenport is the only one who’s noticed.
Mr. Neutron, Joe Ponepinto’s debut novel, is a biting satire about the craziness and politics that go into elections. Gray Davenport, the beleaguered, unpaid campaign manager for Bob Boren, the underdog in the race, wants to talk about real issues, but everyone is swept up by Reason’s charisma.
Gray must figure out how best to expose Reason for what he truly is. Gray has a stake in the game: he won’t get paid for managing Bob’s campaign unless Bob wins. What’s more, his wife, L’aura, is campaigning for Reason. This is about more than just politics for Gray. He has to win Bob the election to earn his own self respect, and possibly win back his stone-cold wife’s affections.
Gray Davenport, a self-described “sofa of a man,” has trouble sticking up for himself. He calls himself a neutron, “taking up an area of space so insignificant that it was no surprise to be regularly ignored.” Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
Paul Cohen’s debut novel, Glamshack, is a gritty, sensual journey through a man’s obsession with a woman, and her fiance.
The object of Henry’s obsession, a woman referred to only as Her and She, is almost pure male fantasy: dripping with sex, full of manic energy and childlike imaginativeness. She feeds Henry raw tuna out of a can with her hands and playfully poses as other people in public, adopting a Southern accent to get served at a closed restaurant.
Slow to unfold, but fairly fast-moving once you get past the first few chapters, Glamshack dives into Henry’s psyche. Narrated in the second person, Henry attempts to explain how he became the way he is, how his obsessive desire began, weaving his tale into beautifully constructed sentences. Cohen’s language throughout is gorgeous. He captures the essence of pure, raw, unfiltered desire in ways reminiscent of Nabokov’s playful-but-dark Humbert Humbert in Lolita.
Review by Tess Tabak
There are no tidy endings in Bizarre Romance, the new short fiction collection by Audrey Niffenegger, with illustrations by Eddie Campbell.
Niffenegger’s stories are, as advertised, bizarre. In one, a woman inherits a house from a kindly elderly woman, and demolishes the house when she discovers something disturbing in the basement No resolution, no lessons learned.
My personal favorite in the collection is “Digging Up the Cat,” a bittersweet story about loss. A character digs up her old dead cat because her parents are moving and her mother insists that “it would be too weird to leave a box full of dead cat in the garden.” She describes in loving detail the act of removing her most recently dead cat from the freezer and adding it to the old cat’s box. Continue reading