Jacob Appel’s The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street proposes an intriguing question, and with it, a particular view on and of society. While it may play fast and loose with both extremes of logic, insisting on familiar reality at times and abandoning it to implausibility at others, its characters struggle with that compelling question of choice and consequence, often long after they have resigned themselves to passively letting their lives play out.
M.M. Wittle's creative non-fiction chapbook Three Decades and I'm Gone is her personal story of the author losing her father in her first decade of life, her mother in her second decade, and nearly losing herself to her grief in her third decade. The story is mostly written in a linear sequence of vignettes of prose poetry with some traditional stanza poetry. This treatment of memoir in a chapbook/poetry form gives the popular genre a compact, accessible feel. One can take the tragedy of each decade piece by piece and still experience the fullness of the story because each bit is an independent thought or feeling that supports the story as a whole.
War of the Foxes (2015) is the long awaited follow-up to Richard Siken’s Crush (2005), published ten years ago, which won the Yale Younger Poet’s prize. It is a brilliant work full of questions and unearthing, looking both inward and around, projecting his battles through art, poetry, and the characters within them.
Most of Siken’s poems seem to be self-reflecting, riddled with abstractions and rhetorical questions. He yearns to untie “the knot of the self,” as quoted from his poem, “Glue,” looking at his own writing, his own art, his own life and mentality. It is soul searching in its finest display of craft. Profound attempts to answer profound questions. Siken could be questioning his own existence and his own method of life. “Why live a life? Well, why are you asking?” The very process of writing seems to be the answer to his questions.
There are some cravings that can last a lifetime. If there is any evidence of this, it can be read in Clementine von Radics’ poetry collection Mouthful of Forevers. These poems separately challenge the reader to look at how they define love and how they heal from it. They make us question whether or not love is just one thing, or a mangled mess of emotion. Von Radics begs us to be raw with ourselves, to explore the types of love the world has to offer, traditional or not. She teaches us that the type of love we learn is the definition of love we bring with us, the love we challenge.
The path to happiness can be crooked and twisted with daunting barriers along the way. In Vanessa MacLellan’s debut novel, Three Great Lies, the key characters seek their own forms of happiness – only attainable when they recognize the truth about themselves.
MacLellan sets her tale in Egypt. Her bored and self-absorbed protagonist, Jeannette, decides to trust a local teenaged boy, to show her a newly opened tomb with no tourists. She survives a harrowing ride in a motorcycle sidecar to arrive at the site. Like Alice before her, she soon finds herself tumbling down the rabbit hole. Jeannette awakens from the fall and learns she is still in Egypt, but Egypt from 3,000 years ago.
Kathleen McGookey’s words are brave. She begins her latest collection, Stay, with a quote by Gary Young: “The worst thing you can imagine is not the worst thing that can happen to you.” And yet, worse for McGookey translates to great for the reader. Her bravery comes across on every page, not as a battle cry or manifesto, but slowly, quietly, in the most unassuming way. The vulnerability permeating each poem is, perhaps, the bravest words can be.
“Dogland: A Journey to the Heart of America’s Dog Problem” by Jacki Skole, the term “Man’s Best Friend” takes on a whole new meaning. Skole uses her journalism background and her love of animals to shed light on a topic that hits home for just about anyone who has ever brought a dog into their lives. It is during her search to find out the history of her recent four legged family addition, her dog Galen, that Skole begins to uncover something unfortunate: the truth that many dogs face once they arrive at a shelter and the urgent need for change in the animal shelter system.
In his debut novel without anesthesia, Pedram Navab is able to construct a narrative with an intense urgency to connect plot lines and make meaning of his characters' obsessive practices to claim identity. The multi-genre narrative is structured with three major threads: Adrien, a doctor who falls in love with a cadaver; Tess, a med student desperate to connect with her patients and become the best doctor she can be; and a failing actor who desperately seeks an audience. While these threads interweave creating a cohesive story, a narrative in the background reveals itself as a symbol of each character’s identity struggles.
In terms of gritty, disturbing realism, Grand Theft Auto has nothing on The Book of Aron. Told in the straightforward voice of a child who understands harshness and guilt from the earliest age, The Book of Aron gives an unflinching view of life in the Warsaw Ghetto as well as what it was like to be a child of deep poverty in the years before childhood was deemed a special and protected space. It is a tale of modernization and industrialization as well as a Holocaust tale.
Novelist Jim Shephard tells the true story of Janusz Korczak, a Jewish-Polish doctor and educator who is heroic both for his revolutionary ideas of treating children with respect and dignity as well as for the work he did running an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto, but he filters it through the eyes of one of the children he helped. When Shephard found Aron’s voice, a voice which has the cadence of a Yiddish curse, he found a way to tell a hero’s story while insisting the hero was quite fallible and quite human.
Megan Martin’s Nevers throws you head first into the mind of a manic-depressive writer in a sinking relationship, rarely slowing to answer your questions. The unnamed narrator is every artist dissatisfied with life, raging against their peers, their lovers, their mothers, and most of all themselves. Martin’s prose delivers a punch to the gut followed by a gentle pat on the head. And then it punches you in the gut again, but while you’re still reeling, it does a handstand and you can only look on in bemused delight. Martin captures the feeling of cyclical depression with startling accuracy.
The self-described fictions, too short to be vignettes and too interwoven to be short stories, wind through the peaks of one woman’s odes of love, climbing the cliffs of her manic fever dreams only to drop down into dark valleys of self-loathing and rage. The first few pages are a confession, the narrator declaring to her lover “you are the most amazing creature ever to straddle this planet.” A few pages later, however, the narrator admits that she longs to romance other people, that she will “tell you I love you" and then immediately "worry about running out of eggs,” going through the ordinary motions of daily life despite being unhappy.
book reviews by glassworks editorial staff