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.
Humanity has long searched for meaning and truth by looking toward the stars. Poets Steven and Benjamin Ostrowski believe we only need to look within ourselves. This father and son team present what they’ve learned and what they seek to know in their new book Penultimate Human Constellation: A Father and Son Converse in Poems (2018, Tolsun Books). Less an epistolary narrative and more like a private conversation over a long sleepless night, the Ostrowskis embark on their unique quest. We become privy to their efforts.
Seemingly Simple Reflections of Life
Review: Driving Together
Robert Tyler Sheldon
Meadow-Lark Books, pp. 84
In his poetry collection, Driving Together, Tyler Robert Sheldon shares personal observations of seemingly simple moments in his life: observations on a hummingbird, a physical scar, yard work, and graduate school. Spanning all of these subjects, Sheldon’s poems use crisp imagery and storytelling. Through his prevalent themes of childhood experiences, the nature of Kansas, and the relationship to his wife, Sheldon reveals to his readers an unexpected depth to life’s simplicity by use of imagery.
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.
Transformation and Letting Go in the Las Vegas Valley
Review: Echo Bay
Tolsun Books, pp. 48
Cost: $10.00 (paperback)
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?
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.
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.
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.
Baz Dreisinger has crossed oceans and boundaries—both figuratively and literally—in her new book, Incarceration Nations, which provides a first-hand account of Dreisinger’s two-year quest to penetrate the walls of some of the most notorious correctional facilities around the globe. Dreisinger maintains a dual purpose in her pilgrimage and her account. She hopes to inject small doses of hope and creativity into the inmates she encounters, as well as provide an account to the world that will foster awareness and spur a cause-to-action mentality for the prison crisis that exists in today’s world. Dreisinger’s work seems to accomplish both purposes, as the impact that she has made in the lives of the people who reside in “The Houses of the Living Dead” is evident. The astounding facts and accounts of the inmates’ lives that are carefully crafted into this book have and continue to invoke necessary changes in the global prison system.
book reviews by glassworks editorial staff