The Beauty of Nature and the Dullness of Man
Review: Songs for a River
Fiction/Media - Stories
Knut House Press: pp. 241
Cost: $35.00 (full color edition)
$15.00 (black and white edition)
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.
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.
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.
A Landscape of Lust of Lies
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.
Jaded Ibis Press, pp. 196
Cost: $9.99 for the App
$15.00 for paperback
The psychiatrists were left scratching their heads. They could not understand how such a polite person who seemed together could commit such a heinous crime. They walked away empty-handed. From the time a reader encounters the first sentence in Alexandra Chasin’s Brief, “I have requested an oral argument because I’d like to try, if I may, why my representation and I have chosen this defense, uncommon though it is, and why I would take issue with the psychiatrists’ findings,” he knows there is something wrong. Our narrator seems a little off and eventually we understand why. But at the heart of Brief is a narrator who is trying to change our outlook on how we perceive other people.
Reading Brief is an experience unlike any other. It is the first book that can be downloaded as an interactive app that changes with every read and reread of each page. The pages inside are littered with torn magazine images that feel as though they came from the '60’s. If you flip forward a page, but then need to go back again to re-read, the page you have just left is not the same. The images have changed and so has the layout. Each new read will be a different experience for the reader. This idea of book construction is so unique that it is sure to be soon copied.
At the start of Brief, Chasin’s narrator gives clues to where she is taking us. She starts with an oral argument to begin explaining her psychiatrist’s findings. According to her they came up with, “bupkus.” Our narrator gives us reasoning as to why she thinks she vandalized a work of art. While many others would blame it on the parents, or her childhood friends, she blames it on the changing times of her youth.
book reviews by glassworks editorial staff