Each of us finds a way to cope with the hurdles and pain that life throws our way. Some turn towards their work, others to more destructive means. Then, there’s Josh Denslow. In his collection of stories Not Everyone is Special, Denslow covers a range of topics with his characters: from being a child of divorce, to being a survivor in the aftermath of a friends’ suicide, to being a little person in today’s world. His approach is to use humor not only to build up the narrative in each story, but show how people use it as a form of self-preservation and self-defense in ways that are true to real life, even when he is putting a character in a world where people have superpowers like being able to get the wrinkles out of shirts by patting them down with their hands or extending and retracting their facial hair in real time.
The Complexities of Human Desire
Review: The Wanting Life
Unnamed Press, pp. 315
Cost: $18.00 (paperback)
Imagine the sun setting in a not-so bustling Rome—a glass of Limóncello and fresh risotto in front of you. Your table is small with intricate iron wrought detail, and the world is quiet. There’s a slight summer breeze and a whispering guitar, maybe two, in the background. You can almost hear each wish as it meets the surface of the Trevi Fountain.
Mark Rader transports us, sans jetlag, to a past world of desire and love lost in his unconventional romance novel The Wanting Life. We travel from Cape Code to Italy to a generationally familiar town in Wisconsin, navigating the hearts and minds of Rader’s characters and the threads that pull so heavily on their spirits.
A Deep Dive Into Familial Relationships
Review: The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish
Two Dollar Radio, pp. 353
Cost: $16.99 (paperback)
In Katya Apekina’s novel The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish, relationships are used to emphasize characterization and create drama within the story. In particular, the novel examines father-daughter relationships, mother-daughter relationships, husband-wife relationships, and artist-muse relationships. Told through numerous first person accounts in the form of narratives, letters, phone conversations, and interviews, Apekina provides the reader with an in depth, up-close look at the intimate intricacies of these relationships and their meanings. The unique structure of this novel allows the reader to see each character’s internal and external struggles and conflicts. These accounts in various forms help create strong characterization and drama within the story.
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.
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.
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.
Songs for a River, McGahan’s third book, combines eloquent descriptions of nature, vivid artistic philosophies, and serene paintings of grazing buffalo in mountainous landscapes with a complicated romance that spans almost the entire novel. There is a Zen-like quality that carries over from page to page, inviting the reader to see art, nature, and relationships as more than just ordinary aspects of one’s life. But between the lovely portraits of wild North-West America, McGahan addresses the similarities between art, humanity, and the spirit of nature; although our pride as humans is to live and govern above the rest of the animal kingdom through reason and emotions, at our base nature we rely on the same instinctual tendencies as our hoofed and feathery counterparts. And even though we might consider ourselves beings of intellectual and artistic ability, it is difficult to push aside the lingering traces of animal ancestry along with the need to break free from societal restraints.
Jacob Appel’s The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street proposes an intriguing question, and with it, a particular view on and of society. While it may play fast and loose with both extremes of logic, insisting on familiar reality at times and abandoning it to implausibility at others, its characters struggle with that compelling question of choice and consequence, often long after they have resigned themselves to passively letting their lives play out.
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.
book reviews by glassworks editorial staff