A Helping of Southern-Style Crazy
Review: Stray DecorumJason EgnerStray Decorum
Fiction - Stories
Dzanc Books, pp. 171
According to George Singleton, the motto for the Southern States should read, “The land of the free and the home of the strays.” At least, that’s the picture he portrays in his new novel Stray Decorum.
Decorum, Singleton’s fifth book, aims to capture the enchanting, yet bizarre, Southern disposition through a collection of eleven short stories – all centered around small-town South Carolina living. Contrary to the illustration on the front cover, Stray Decorum is not solely a collection of anecdotes about man’s best friend. Instead, it’s a quirky and often hilarious ensemble of tales about strays, both human and mammal, alike.
The thematic notion of the South as a refuge for drifters rings clear throughout the collection, often mirrored through the actions of the characters as they “take in the strays.” It is almost an unwritten law that everyone takes care of each other – no matter how odd or imperfect.
Lighting the First Match
Review: Fires of Our ChoosingPhil ColeFires of Our Choosing
DZANC BOOKS, pp. 195
With most of Eugen's stories taking place in his home-region of up-state Pennsylvania, his characters and their predicaments are very much tied to their surroundings. Much emotional energy is drawn around this through looks exchanged at bonfires, cold nights spent in lonely dive bars, and romances beginning and ending at a peninsula reaching into Lake Erie.
Cross seems to like baiting the reader into projection. In many of his stories, you are nestled into a seemingly clean and simply-sequenced narrative only for your expectations to be shattered by some kind of unforeseeable event. In “Come August,” Megan, the protagonist, is preoccupied with boy problems and anticipation of going away to college for the first time. While babysitting her half sister and a neighborhood girl, Megan briefly falls asleep. When she wakes up, her concerns—which the reader has not only invested his or her self in, but also anticipates an outcome from—disintegrate when she finds the two girls have drowned in the pond in her back yard. This transition in the plot gives the reader a violent jerk from the relative comfort of melodrama to the all-too-real panic of death. We are then, through our own past acts of similar negligence, left to take on Megan’s guilt. By doing this, we are finally brought to grant forgiveness through a pragmatic sympathy that Cross adeptly puts into us like a spell.
A Need to Connect
Review: The Law of StringsCaroline MarinaroThe Law of Strings
Fiction - Short Stories
Atticus Books, pp. 182
Paperback Cost: $12.00
The title of Steven Gillis’ collection of short stories – The Law of Strings and Other Stories – couldn’t be more fitting. In Gillis’ fifteen tales, he examines the human condition through relationships with a keen eye for philosophical musings and theories of quantum mechanics. Some of the scenes Gillis paints for us verge on ridiculous but he handles the whimsy well. In the end, however, the stories are not about the plots: in each story, Gillis writes tragic characters who want nothing more than to be understood by and relate to others, even though numerous obstacles continuously prevent them from doing so. Using humor, absurdity, and scientific theories, Gillis illustrates the contradictory nature of relationships: how all humans seem to want is to connect to others and yet such a connection among such complex creatures is almost impossible. We all grasp at these metaphorical “strings” to tether us together while the world tries its hardest to pull us apart.
Review: Alys, AlwaysCherita HarrellAlys, AlwaysHarriet LaneFiction
Scribner Press, pp. 224
Hardcover Cost: $24.00
In Harriet Lane’s debut novel Alys, Always, the reader is introduced to the narrator Frances Thorpe—a thirty something copy editor for a failing London magazine who stumbles on a car accident one night when returning home from visiting her parents. Frances’s actions in the beginning of the novel mimic those of an innocent do-gooder—a person who stops at the sight of an accident, and discovers a victim hidden by the darkness, buried beneath the crushed metal of her vehicle. Frances attempts to comfort the victim, who later introduces herself as Alys, while waiting on the ambulance to arrive. Frances is unaware of Alys’s injuries, and sits with her during her final moments of life—unable to do anything to save her. After Alys dies, Frances returns to her home, haunted by the woman’s death. Once home she takes stock of her surroundings and comments, “You’re not so badly off, are you?” convincing herself that her basic needs have been fulfilled.
Gregory Harms' Explanation for the Unrest in the Middle EastReview: It’s Not About ReligionAntonia DiBonaIt’s Not About Religion Gregory HarmsNonfictionPerceval Press, pp. 106Cost: $11.00
If asked about the source of the problems in the Middle East, the average American undoubtedly would answer "Islam." At least that is according to Gregory Harms in his new book It’s Not About Religion. He writes, “It has become a virtual reflex to sum up the different conflicts in the region as being a throwback to biblical times.” An independent scholar focusing on US/Middle East relations, Harms sets out to systematically portray what he sites as the true sources of conflict in the Middle East and the role of the West, especially the United States. It’s Not About Religion is the story of a calculating Western government, one that has tried to manipulate the region and in the process caused many of its problems. The volume is laid out in a straightforward manner offering a five-part look at Middle Eastern politics: how Muslims have been presented to Americans historically, Western Europe’s policies in the Middle East, U.S. involvement in the region, the role of religion in the Middle East, and finally the imperialist view that governed America’s actions in the region.