Review: Novalee and the Spider Secret
Lori Ann Stephens
Bedazzled Ink Publishing, pp. 150
Cost: $10.95 (pb), 8.95 (eb)
Unraveling the Web of Silence
Review: Novalee and the Spider Secret
Lori Ann Stephens
Bedazzled Ink Publishing, pp. 150
Cost: $10.95 (pb), 8.95 (eb)
Novalee and the Spider Secret could be a catalyst for the younger generation, empowering the novel’s readers in the same vein as the #MeToo movement, which empowers people all around the nation to speak up about their sexual abuse. From the point of view of a young girl who is sexually abused, Lori Ann Stephens’ novel is special as it caters to a pre-teen audience.
Community: In Sickness and In Health
Review: The Fevers of Reason
by Rachel Barton
Belleview Literary Press, pp. 272
As I approached The Fevers of Reason, I did so with a foot in each river of influence—or rather, a leg in one and a toe in the other. Weissmann’s essays discuss the intersection of various issues within medicine and popular culture. As a student of literature, I have often written extensive essays and participated in lengthy discussions of multiple works, like Arrowsmith and Sherlock Holmes,that Weissmann includes. Until recently, my knowledge of science and medicine has been rather superficial—me as a nervous patient in the waiting room. As my study of literature, guided by Elaine Scarry and Rita Charon, has begun to dip into the interaction between literature and medicine I’ve become more confident about the relationship between the two. Wearing my budding knowledge of the relatively young field like swimmies, I jumped right in to Weissmann’s collection and found a rich layering of past, present, science, and literature to present diverse takes on the issue at hand.
He continuously draws connections between person and person, past and present, truth and fiction, and, most of all, literature and medicine. Weissmann links the two, starting from the prefatory note, by explaining both the scientific method and organization of essays—or lack thereof. Each essay begins with at least one epigraph, often providing a definition or thoughtful viewpoint.
In “Going Viral,” the first chapter, Weissmann examines contemporary issues, like literal diseases or the metaphorical disease of gun violence, through the lens of past theory. The term “going viral” is contemporarily used to describe something of massive popularity, often on the internet. He traces the term to its disease origin before cycling back to use it to describe gun violence as a pandemic. In another essay, Weissmann uses French scientist Dr. Adrien Proust’s emphasis on quarantine to challenge the modern-day response to Ebola. Interestingly, Weissmann ties another thread into this web by including snippets of criticism by Marcel Proust, novelist son of Adrien.
Weissmann mirrors this thematic connection on a minor level as well. He describes the crowd at a science lecture, emphasizing their heterogony:
“I spotted working scientists, grad students, lab assistants, undergraduates, a score of academicians, a Nobel laureate or two, attentive families and friends, hailing from all corners of the globe. The dress code ranged from country jeans to khakis, bike gear to saris, backpacks to bow ties.” (17)
This section reveals that Weissmann not only endeavors to connect the realms of literature and medicine, but also to create community among readers in light of class, race, religion, and age. He presents this diverse group, inviting us all to partake in his discussions of science and literature despite the ways we may have been excluded from either discipline in the past.
Weissmann continues community-building through the third chapter, “Two for the Road,” where he focuses on partnerships that produced major scientific and literary advances. Some of the cases unite medicine and literature, but each one emphasizes the theme of union and collaboration throughout the essays. One essay from Chapter 3 focuses on “American the Beautiful,” a poem by Katherine Lee Bates, which is often sung. You may have heard of it. The poem can also be utilized by people to enforce nationalism and even challenge the rights of others—like the right to marriage. Essentially, they take Bates’ words and use them to separate and destroy community. Weissmann skillfully comes full circle by discussing Bate’s long-time relationship with her partner Katherine Coman and confronting the use of a poem written by a lesbian to champion against gay rights. He argues for the strength of their union as a major contributor to the creation of the poem in the first place, making it inherently unifying.
In “Beside the Golden Door,” Weissmann again employs his system of parallels to challenge hegemonic reasoning and draw attention to injustices that compromise community. This chapter focuses on science advances made by immigrants, like Albert Einstein and Eric Kandel. He explores not only their trememndous works, but also the lands they left to live in America. In many cases, these great minds were seeking freedom from persecution based on race and religion. Ever the master of irony, Weissmann ends the chapter with an essay on Percy Lavon Julian, a scientist who worked on the synthesis of cortisone, and the racial violence and disparagement he faced. By compiling these essays alongside one another, Weissmann mimics the amalgamation that occurs in the country as a whole, asserting that, while different, each story is valuable and must be read.
Throughout The Fevers of Reason, I learned quite a bit about science, medicine, and even history. I was also rather surprised to find that I learned about literature, despite thinking I knew so much. With essays that incorporate summaries of both plots and research studies, Weissmann presents an abundance of knowledge to take away from The Fevers of Reason. Each reader can find a few things they recognize and more than a few they need to Google. However, there is also a well of wisdom from which to draw. For all of Weissmann’s comparisons and allusions, his guiding force proves continuously to be humanity itself and the messy ways we come together and break apart.
The Pain of Living
Headmistress Press, pp. 30
Sarah Caulfield's words dig beneath our flesh and go straight to the bone in her collection of poetry, SPINE (2017). Caulfield’s first book beautifully weaves together powerful images of blood and bone, plus themes of religion, chronic illness, and guilt, pulling on the reader's heartstrings and commanding empathy. The repeated themes make it clear that these topics are very important to Caulfield, and are ones often swept under the rug instead of spoken about in society.
The collection was titled after it was pointed out to Caulfield that “spine” is the most used word throughout the entire work. The spine is the center of the body, and when it hurts, it becomes hard to operate under the expectations of society. Similarly, the spine plays a focal role in the collection, as Caulfield reinforces within her poem “To the Girl I Was” when she writes, “My spine is made of beach glass. It will withstand.” Caulfield’s spine is strong, readers will agree, after reading through her collection and understanding the narrator’s struggles.
A Synopsis Plants the Seed for an Otherwise Flowerless Tale
Review: Staircases Will Outnumber Us
Flash Fiction Chapbook
Red Bird Chapbooks, pp. 40
Jessica Roeder’s chapbook, Staircases Will Outnumber Us, requires much more from the reader than simply enjoying a beautifully written narrative. Throughout her compilation of twenty-one pieces of flash fiction, Roeder creates a world in which we find a blend of fairy tale and cult-like activity. We watch our narrator live among her nameless “sisters” in a treeless forest, where they bear children and build staircases made from stumps, always awaiting the daily return of their “father.” The reader is forced to discover what the treeless forest represents, and thus, the meaning of everything that follows.
Although we are told in the book’s online synopsis that “One thing’s for certain: we are in America,” there is nothing that makes it certain other than the appearance of sparklers in a chapter titled “Fourth” (representing the 4th of July). One could weakly argue that the “father” (a self-proclaimed “god of war” and “god of reason”) could depict our current president, but the sisters are not relatable enough to portray the rest of society as a whole. Then there is the sun, who, although mentioned several times, still withholds its ambiguous purpose. The synopsis gives an obligation to view the chapbook as political satire, thus biasing the natural apprehension of the reader. To be put simply: It cheated.
The Other Side of the American Dream
Review: Don't Call Us Dead
One aspect that makes poetry such a powerful form is how it is often used to tackle pertinent and even controversial topics. Race and sexuality are two timely issues, and Danez Smith tackles both of them in his book of poetry Don’t Call Us Dead. As a gay, black man in America, Smith has a unique perspective that shapes much of what he writes. In some ways, his poems speak to a very particular demographic and yet, they ring true for larger audiences.
The woman running for her life from a man in a park. The girl who passes out at a party after a tainted drink. These are familiar stories we’ve been exposed to time and time again in the media. In fact, they’re so common they border on cliché. We’re under the impression there is nothing left to say, but there’s still, for a lack of words, fresh blood in these stories.
Jacqueline Doyle’s debut chapbook The Missing Girl features a collection of stories about the threats women face. From rape to questionable encounters, Doyle’s genius is that through her flash fiction pieces, she relies on our societal knowledge to fill in the blanks of her finely drawn bits of terror; and through them reminds us that for women nothing and nowhere is safe.
In Lee L. Krecklow’s debut novel The Expanse Between, he delivers a page-turner that will leave most readers unsure of what they would do by the end. It does an interesting job of introducing a commentary on the growing Internet, screen-obsessed culture. It takes place sometime in the mid-2000’s before this craze had really taken off, and in doing so shows that perhaps the human condition always had the impulses that the technology of today is making easier to appease.
Baz Dreisinger has crossed oceans and boundaries—both figuratively and literally—in her new book, Incarceration Nations, which provides a first-hand account of Dreisinger’s two-year quest to penetrate the walls of some of the most notorious correctional facilities around the globe. Dreisinger maintains a dual purpose in her pilgrimage and her account. She hopes to inject small doses of hope and creativity into the inmates she encounters, as well as provide an account to the world that will foster awareness and spur a cause-to-action mentality for the prison crisis that exists in today’s world. Dreisinger’s work seems to accomplish both purposes, as the impact that she has made in the lives of the people who reside in “The Houses of the Living Dead” is evident. The astounding facts and accounts of the inmates’ lives that are carefully crafted into this book have and continue to invoke necessary changes in the global prison system.
Every child hears “Once upon a time” and immediately knows that “happily ever after” is on its way. Snow White is woken up with Prince Charming’s kiss. Ariel gets her legs and her man. Cinderella is reunited with her precious glass slipper and her true love. But what happens when you wander off into your own once upon a time, only to find that Cinderella’s other shoe has dropped on your head? Suddenly you’re sitting on the commuter train, heading into another Monday of sucking down crappy coffee in that tiny office it took you five years of making copies and running office lunch orders to get promoted to.
Now you’re thinking happily ever after might just be for fairy tales after all.
A Dark Ordinary has a combination of visually intriguing poems, reminiscent of e.e. cummings, and poignant prose poems that grasp your imagination. Using vivid imagery, unusual description, and vibrant language, Dyckman successfully paints a portrait of the sad, bleak, “dark ordinary” lives of child laborers in early 1900s America.
book reviews by glassworks editorial staff