Review by Tess Tabak
When a mixup sends Roxana, an 18-year-old girl, to Copenhagen, a mysterious Danish man named Soren whisks her away to live out one of his sexual fantasies.
I’m not quite sure I’d describe Open Me as an erotic novel, even though it’s marketed as such. It contains elements of that genre – the story exists in somewhat of a fantasy state. Through a series of odd circumstances, our heroine is trapped in another country, completely alone, at the mercy of an attractive stranger. But I’m hesitant to label this book erotica. There is a strong sense of the body in this book, but actually very little sex. It dwells more on the protagonist, Roxana, and her growing understanding of what it means to be a woman. She feels a strong desire at the start of the book to be acted upon, to be a completely passive participant in lovemaking. By the end, she learns that passivity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Erotica or not, Open Me is a gorgeously written book. The author, Lisa Locascio, takes impossible-to-describe feelings and puts words to them. Roxana talks about her “cathedral feeling,” the private thrill she felt when hearing music played on a church organ for the first time. The author has an intimate understanding of the inner workings of young girls, and the loneliness of not being able to share those special feelings. When Roxana tries to tell her best friend about the cathedral feeling, a sarcastic comment bursts the bubble. “And again I was a bag of feelings with no start and no end, a tunnel through which sensation moved.” Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
In This Mournable Body, a woman named Tambudzai grapples with the harsh realities of living in Zimbabwe after the Revolution of the 1990s.
The author, Tsitsi Dangarembga, writes on familiar topics (anxiety, existential dread) but set against a backdrop that’s truly harsh and depressing. Tambu is mistrustful of white people living in Zimbabwe – but this isn’t the crystal clear “us vs. them” of books set further in the past, like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The white people in this novel are somewhat further removed from the atrocities of their ancestors. In modern Zimbabwe, the lines have blurred. The white people that Tambu loathes haven’t done anything “wrong,” per se, except for profiting off the crimes of previous generations. Tambu acknowledges her advantages – she received a Western education at a prestigious school – but oppression means that she still can’t find a suitable job, unable to tolerate the way that white men steal her work for their own, or how she’s paid far less than her peers just because she’s black. Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
When life gives you lemons, it’s time to quit your shitty job, move to Asia, and start fresh. In 30 Before 30, comedian Marina Shifrin shares the story of how she turned her life around with one little list, and a lot of guts. This surprisingly optimistic collection of essays is full of humor, and even offers some advice about living with the reckless abandon of a 20-something that can apply to anyone, no matter your age.
One night in her 20s, Shifrin penned a list of “30 before 30” goals in a night of frustration over her shitty job and life. She found herself drifting after college, unhappy with how little she had accomplished. In a series of 30 essays, she takes us through each goal, and what happened as she tried to achieve them. The list ranges from small (take a bus tour of NYC) to life-changing (“fall in love for real”). Some items seem quirkier than others (such as “learn how to drink”) but they all have a special meaning to Shifrin which she explains. The collection coheres more than you might expect it to – some goals, even seemingly random ones, bring Shifrin closer to reaching big goals, or in some cases made her realize that opportunities she thought she wanted once upon a time aren’t for her anymore. Even when the essays are more standalone, they’re all at heart about growing up, and achieving your dreams.
Review by E. Kirshe
Eclipse, author Zack Kaplan’s debut work, has a promising sci-fi premise that doesn’t quite find its footing.
In Eclipse, Earth’s sun has turned deadly and living things can no longer go out unprotected in daylight or they will be burned to a crisp. Much of the population burned alive the day the sun became deadly and the remaining humans now lead nocturnal lives. One day, a body is found in New York City. The victim was murdered by sunlight- literal writing on the wall says this is the work of a religion-crazed killer.
Bax, the main character, is immediately drawn into the narrative because he works outside during the day in an iceman suit. It’s believed the killer must be using one of these suits if he was able to keep a victim outdoors until they burned. Bax teams up with the police to protect the killer’s next target- the teenaged daughter of a solar industrialist.
The plot follows a lot of action story tropes. Grizzly loner with a sad past, Bax, must protect a teenaged girl from a psycho-killer. It’s not super clear why this mostly falls to him and not the police. He occasionally gets information before them and doesn’t share it even though there’s no clear reason not to trust them. There’s a slight corporate criticism element and the killer is a religious fanatic. It’s later revealed that his motivation is mostly that he went crazy (for good reasons) but the event that led to it has no clear motivation by the exposition we get. Also what’s unique about the killer doesn’t seem as important as it should but perhaps that’s explored more in later issues.
Review by E. Kirshe
Reading a book like Any Man is a test of endurance. It’s harsh in many of the right ways, the subject matter hard to swallow, the descriptions rough and raw, and has characters real enough to be heartbreaking. There is no denying Amber Tamblyn’s skill and creativity- the book is experimentally formatted using prose, poetry, tweets, and negative space to tell the story. The moral, however, is one I keep feeling I’ve missed the point of.
Any Man is told from the point of view of the male survivors of a vicious female serial rapist.
Broken down, it’s a well done story. The points Tamblyn makes about American sensationalist culture, our treatment of rape survivors, overall rape culture and even our notions of who can be a victim are all solid. Continue reading
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