“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.
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.
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.
Review: Daughters of the Grasslands
Daughters of the Grasslands
Mary Woster Haug
Nonfiction - Memoir
Bottom Dog Press: pp. 192
Paperback Cost: $16.20
With the open information attitude and international connectivity brought on by the Internet age, women are challenging what it means to be wife, mother, and daughter, raising their voices to share their stories and capture the imaginations of young girls internationally. Few express this better than Mary Woster Haug, author of Daughters of the Grasslands: A Memoir.
She claims that tradition and honor are the chains that bind girls to the same limited resources that their mothers and grandmothers have struggled with. In order for girls to fight these concepts, they must often turn against their own mothers, or feel as though they are: Not a battle for the faint of heart. Raised on the grasslands of North Dakota, Haug is a modern woman born from tradition. A self-proclaimed feminist, she tells of her personal evolution away from the values that buoyed her own mother, and Haug’s effort to escape the judgement she read so plainly in her mother’s features. Haug runs all the way to South Korea, taking a year-long professorship at the University in Daejeon. What she discovers is that mother-daughter conflicts are universal. Instead of escape, South Korea is more a harsh emersion into the tensions Haug never wanted to face.
So poetically haunting is Jen Michalski’s From Here, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact characteristic that makes it so beautiful and enticing. Is it the way each story shapes a world of its own and invites the reader to places they never before have seen? Is it the stunning metaphors and descriptions that build characters strong enough to be perceived as real people? Or is it the incredible way Michalski articulates that familiar sense of longing, of yearning for something, anything more than what we have now? Whatever the reason, From Here captures the reader’s heart and fills it with powerful imagery and emotion.
Review: Pale Harvest
Torrey House Press, pp. 366
Paperback Cost: $17.00
Before the return of Rebekah Rainsford, Jack Selvedge’s world is as small as it is consistent. Jack has known little of the world but the hard hours and hopeless returns of his life as a dairy farmer on his grandfather’s farm; a craft that is dying along with Juniper Scrag, his time-forgotten hometown in the shadows of the Salt Lakes. Jack is a man of the land, dedicated to his dreams of inheriting the farm and carrying on his grandfather’s legacy of labor and sacrifice.
This theme of life and land presents itself throughout Braden Hepner’s debut novel. As time passes and generations turn over, the land that makes up the small, aging town of Juniper Scrag proves itself to be as present a character in the narrative as Blair Selvedge: Jack’s work-wrought grandfather. While life in Juniper Scrag has held steady in its decay, the effect of time begins to unravel, taking its toll on the land and its citizens.
book reviews by glassworks editorial staff