There’s not much in the hot desert that stretches from California into Arizona, save giant tumbleweeds, strangely anthropomorphic cacti with upstretched arms for branches, and a long, long highway that is interstate 10, replete with mirages and, every so often, a blip in the road for gas stations. The last time I traveled down that highway the temperature was topping out at 121 degrees. It was July, but this was hot even for July. We– my husband, children, and nephew—had just crossed the border into Arizona, on our way to Sedona for the annual family vacation, when I saw a remarkable road sign. I shouted out: “Did you see that? The sign for Sore Finger Road?”
No one else in the car had seen it. They didn’t believe me. Instead, they all laughed, and my husband looked over at me and said something about my vivid imagination and projecting and excess energy, because I couldn’t drive.
He was right, because on a road trip, I share the driving. I’m a good driver, and I like to be in control. Hurtling down a highway at 80 miles per hour is much more appealing if I am the one doing the hurtling. This time, though, I was confined to the passenger seat for eight hours with a bank of pillows to prop up my heavily bandaged left hand because, you see, I had one very, very sore finger.
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
We hit cruising altitude. The ground, out the window, is an expanse of blank salt flats, or Midwestern snow. Two dimensions of white, anyway, shot through with meandering streams or ruts or roads. They look like the veins on the back of an ill woman’s hand. My mother’s hands, say. Or they look like the smoke from Adrienne’s cigarette when we sat on the dock just two summers ago, the way it curled snakily in the windless air. Smoking, Adrienne unfolded her history for me like a map. In the twilight, her hands were luminous, and seemed to leave trails in the darkening air as they moved. Trick of light or memory? 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