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.
Mark Jay Brewin, Jr. dares his audience to pontificate the world and relationships around them in his stunning work of poetry Scrap Iron. Written with a narrative voice, these poems are less like traditional poetry and more like beautifully detailed, deeply personal stories that explore the complexities of familial relationships and the desire to be elsewhere. Broken into three parts, there is a clear beginning middle and end to this book of poetry that is lacking in other similar works. Rather than leaving the reader empty and unfulfilled, the carefully comprised structure of this book ends with the reader left in a state of deep thought and satisfaction.
A Morbid Nature
Stephen C. Behrendt
Shechem Press, pp. 109
Hardback cost: $24.95
The very essence of the word refraction takes its basis from the physical world; referring to when a ray of light is diverted from one path and begins to traverse another. In his new poetry collection, Refractions, Stephen C. Behrendt uses the term as a focal point for his collection to take an alternate look at the morbid aspects of humanity. Behrendt creates a portrait of love, nature, and what it means to be human through an epic scope, looking at life not only through the viewpoint of an animal, but through the viewpoint of his own life.
The Funny Truths About Human Nature
Review: Walking In On People
Able Muse Press, pp. 80
Melissa Balmain’s book Walking in on People transfixes readers with the humor of her and her family’s everyday life. The poet's simple language illustrates a play on observation, thought, and vantage point as she tackles marriage, raising children, and pop culture. Delivering lines that are thought provoking and eloquent, she simultaneously keeps the poetry genuine with her direct language. Balmain is boldly “walking in on people” where many choose not to go. This collection shouldn’t, however, be seen as spying, but rather as a different take on the renewal of faith in everyday human nature.
The poems in Balmain’s collection have varied subject matter and are intended to be humorous. Readers of more than one personality type should be able to at least smile after entering this poet's world. Because some of the entries are so short, every word has to mean something…and each one does. Walking in on People is constructed in such a way that the poems flow easily from one to the next. It also helps that they are divided into sections so the reader can skip around to the subjects they find more interesting.
Many lines can be very funny and innocent at the same time. One of the better examples comes from the titular poem “Walking in on People,” which reads, “I witness at a conference enjambed / of friends rebounding from a recent breakup / and once, two mimes in nothing but their makeup.” Balmain manages to get across a serious point while keeping the words light so the reader and the mood do not become overwhelming. These lines obviously are talking not only about a breakup from the outset, but also about two friends reacting to their perceived hardship.
book reviews by glassworks editorial staff