Bill Posley’s new one-man play, The Day I Became Black, deals with racial identity and racism in America. However, the heart of his message lies in radical empathy. Posley wants us to be able to look at each other with understanding-sometimes literally as he asks the audience to find someone who doesn’t look like themselves and stare at that person. The central premise of the show is the day Posley realized the world saw him as black. What he wants everyone to know is that he isn’t a special case- the world decides who you are for you.
Review by Tess Tabak
Josh Denslow’s debut short story collection delves into the lives of young misfits. The stories are mostly narrated by young men who feel like outcasts for one reason or another. The stories are a bit uneven, but each is memorably odd. In one story, for example, a short man working as a Santa’s elf struggles with whether to do the right thing when he has a chance to mow down Santa.
In one of my favorite stories, “Mousetrap,” a man who cleans up grisly deaths for a living struggles with his own mortality. “I want to find a not scary way to tell my sister that I’m contemplating killing myself, but I don’t want her to think that it has to do with the fact that she asked me to start paying rent,” the narrator writes, quipping about his own depression. The story is a little rough around the edges but the narrator’s matter-of-factness about his depression feels real.
Some of the stories come off as a little gimmicky. In one, Denslow imagines a future society where all violence is limited to a set number of Punch Vouchers a year. It’s ostensibly a story about how inheriting a number of these vouchers from a deceased friend turns the narrator into a Cool Guy, but the story felt a bit more like a funny concept the author thought of and reverse-engineered into a narrative. In another, a boy can teleport, but only to a limited degree – it really knocks the wind out of him. He uses this limited power to spy on and harass his mother’s new boyfriend. It’s hard to put my finger on what I felt dissatisfied about with this story – Denslow’s writing is fine, and the story is reasonably engaging, but it doesn’t invoke much emotion, and it isn’t quite funny enough to work as a humor piece. It’s lightly amusing, but not exactly groundbreaking. Continue reading
Review by E. Kirshe
“A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are a necessity,” writes Toni Morrison in the prologue of her latest book, The Source of Self-Regard. This collection of work, spanning four decades, goes on to show just how necessary Morrison is to our literary canon and how illuminating to our society.
At 88 years old Morrison has a rich life’s worth of insightful nuance, analysis, and empathy to offer on topics that range from feminism, colonialism, money, human rights, and immigration, to meditations on culture and art. Though a lot of ground is covered (and how could it not be? Morrison has been a literary beast since the 70s) this collection of previously published essays is cohesive in that it’s hers. It is divided into three parts: the first begins with a prayer for the dead of 9/11; the second with a meditation on Martin Luther King Jr.; and the last with a beautiful and personal eulogy for James Baldwin.
Considering the sheer volume of work here it is impossible to cover the whole without writing a novel-length review. I will say that some of the work here really stood out to me often because no matter when a piece is from, Morrison’s work is unquestionably relatable to our present. This is large because she observes and perfectly captures society- she has the ability to cut right to the heart of a matter. Morrison refers to how the media operated during the OJ trial as an “age of spectacle,” taking down their penchant for turning what should be straight news into entertainment, and we know those patterns haven’t changed at all in today’s media landscape.
Not only do many of Morrison’s pieces ring out truth in much the same way it’s obvious that they do because she’s doing her job as a writer. Every piece answers what the role of what the artist in society should be because she uses her work to analyze, critique, and offer answers for our world- “constructing meaning in the face of chaos,” as she writes in Peril.
Reading this collection is to spend time in the mind of someone brilliant. As Morrison said in her eulogy for Baldwin “You gave us ourselves to think about, to cherish.” After reading through everything Morrison has to offer in The Source of Self-Regard you’ll be reminded that she may as well have been talking about herself.
The Source of Self-Regard is now available from Knopf.
Written by Lucile De Pesloüan; Illustrations by Genevieve Darling
Review by Tess Tabak
What Makes Girls Sick and Tired is a new picture book intended to introduce young adults to basic feminism. It’s essentially an illustrated list of challenges women and girls around the world face. The author, Lucile De Pesloüan, cuts straight to the heart of feminist issues: “Girls are sick and tired because women’s bodies are always an issue, whether they are covered by yards of fabric or completely revealed.”
While the issues discussed are for the most part real concerns, it’s hard to imagine an audience for this book. Almost none of the statements are backed up with any examples or evidence (a handful contain footnotes with sources). If you’re already familiar with basic feminism, this book offers nothing more than a list of things you likely already know, written in a fairly repetitive way (every sentence contains some permutation of “girls are sick and tired”). On the other hand if you haven’t been exposed to feminist ideology, the book doesn’t really offer enough on its own. A reader would have to be curious enough to look up other sources, at which point, why not just read a more thorough text to start with?
Review by Tess Tabak
Although Charlie Jane Anders’ new book, The City in the Middle of the Night, is full of cool ideas, nothing gels enough to make it a standout read.
Several generations after humans have colonized a new planet, some people struggle to hold onto what little culture remains, while others question what value old Earth customs have to them in this new inhospitable place. Continue reading
Review by E. Kirshe
Stephanie Land’s memoir about raising a child while trying to raise herself out of poverty should be required reading for anyone who has not struggled with poverty.
As Land recounts her move from homeless shelter to more permanent forms of housing- with an eye to becoming financially stable- she also moves through the houses she cleans, the physical and emotional exhaustion that brings, and how every moment of every day was about survival. Every piece of change is counted, every form of government assistance she can get to help keep her kid in school and food on the table is totaled and every moment of her time accounted for. If she wasn’t working she was taking online college courses, holding onto the idea that that would be the way out, or having real moments of family time with her daughter.
At times, the book seems a little impersonal for a memoir. There is a lot of focus on who her clients are based on their homes- the idea that she’s invisible- and a lot of reiterating that having the “American dream” home doesn’t mean happiness (though it does mean financial safety, after all, they can afford to not clean their home). Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
Think back to the last time something good happened to you – that you had something accepted to a literary magazine, or your scuba diving team made it to the semi-finals.
How long did that good feeling sit with you before you started thinking “What next?” Or doubting whether you’d ever achieve that high again?
If you struggle with the need for constant accomplishment and feelings of inadequacy, you might have “achiever fever.” No sooner have we achieved one victory than we’re hunting the next. In Claire Booth’s new self-help book, The Achiever Fever, Cure, she describes her own “fever” and offers practical suggestions to counter it.
Despite starting her own successful business, Booth felt like a failure. When she’s invited to join a group for start-up leads, she feels like a fraud, since her company is so much smaller than others in the group. Even though her business was doing well over all, she found herself struggling with the ups and downs of daily business – losing a single client felt like a personal failing.
The realization that all of this “achiever fever” was sabataging her happiness led her on a yearlong “mesearch” project of self improvement, which she catalogues in the book. Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
A newly discovered short story by Sylvia Plath is cause for celebration. “Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom” follows a young girl as she discovers her train is bound for a mysterious destination. The train ride starts as a seemingly normal but dreary metaphor for 1950s life – everyone onboard is crisp and proper, not talking to each other, and Mary feels isolated despite being surrounded by people. Though the cause for the train ride is never revealed, we can guess that she’s heading off to college.
However, as the piece goes on, it’s clear there’s something more sinister at play. We learn that the “Ninth Kingdom” will be the final stop, and once the train reaches its destination there will be no returning.
The piece is raw compared to the work Plath would go on to write (such as her classic, The Bell Jar), but a crude Plath story is still riveting. I read this piece in one sitting. “Mary Ventura” will be of special interest to Plath’s fans. You can see the source of her later writings in it – a girl watching in grim awareness as everyone else is numb to the world, offered a ray of hope at the end. She describes the world in lush detail, yet still manages to convey a sense of dread. “Mrs. Ventura touched a handkerchief to her painted red mouth, started to say something, stopped. There was, after all, nothing left to say.” Continue reading
Review by E. Kirshe
After spending 18 years in prison, Jodi returns to her home in West Virginia’s mountains. Dealing overwhelmingly with redemption, as well as home and maybe more importantly, place, this well-paced novel also beautifully tells a story of imperfect people trying to stitch together their broken lives.
“Until a week and a half ago she had thought she would not return until her death- a body shipped back to a family that barely rmemebered it, a body to be laid back into the mountains to rest- but now here she was not just a body but a jumble of wild thoughts and emotions, coming home.”
Sentenced to life in prison at age seventeen, Jodi didn’t leave behind much of a life to re-build, but she does have dreams of creating one- settling down on her grandmother’s beautiful and wild stretch of land in the mountains where she was raised. Jodi does, however, have one piece of unfinished business, fulfilling a pact she made with Paula, her dead girlfriend, to rescue her brother from their abusive family home.
Just a few pages in you’ll know that Maren is an incredibly skilled, poetic writer. After a beautifully detailed greyhound bus ride (literally every detail in this book is beautifully written), Jodi’s first stop is in a small town to pick up Paula’s brother Ricky, who is now a troubled grown man. In the same span of just a few days (all of this happening before Jodi has to be home to make her first parole meeting) she also meets and quickly falls for Miranda Golden, wife of a faded country star and, though still in her twenties, mother of three. This cobbled together group heads off to Jodi’s land all with the insane hope of creating a new run at life. Continue reading