As an avid reader, it has been a long time since I was so heavily engaged in a novel that my physical grip tightened by suspense and bent the pages. This was my experience reading True Ash, full of such vivid imagery that the reader is taken into a different world. Colen and Guess's writing not only plays mental mind games with readers, but questions the terms of genre as well. This novel is a combination of short stories, flash fiction, and prose poetry that all coincide with each other creating a luring uncanniness that hooks readers.
The Art of the Uncomfortable
Review: Pretend We Live Here
Future Tense Books, pp. 168
Paperback, $13 US
Genevieve Hudson captures the comfortable in the uncomfortable. Her collection of short stories, Pretend We Live Here, centers on characters looking for home in places, in people, in their own bodies. No matter where her characters roam, readers are confronted with the violence inherent to existence through her sharp-edged but haunting, sometimes even joyful, prose.
Review: The Shape of A Hundred Hips
Bink Books: pp. 226
Cost: $14.95 (paperback)
In this current climate of the #MeToo movement, women across the globe are fighting back against sexual harassment and assault by pulling back the curtain of shame, stepping out of the shadows, and sharing their personal stories. Author Patricia “Pat” Cumbie bravely adds her voice to this critical discourse with her memoir, The Shape of a Hundred Hips.
Chasing Permanent, Chasing Change
Review: Permanent for Now
Jeffrey S. Markovitz
Unsolicited Press, pp. 129
Cost: $20.99 (paperback)
The first chapter of Jeffery S. Markovitz’s new novel contains just two words: He died.
This short statement is startling, but not altogether surprising for a story that centers around the events of World War II-era Germany, when death came for millions. In two short words, Markovitz not only sets the tone for the rest of the novel, but also lays the groundwork for a well-crafted twist at the end. The words reverberate as we are introduced to each new character, wondering, Is it him? Is he the one who died?
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.
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.
book reviews by glassworks editorial staff