Book Review: C. W. Cannon’s “French Quarter Beautification Project”

By John Flynn-York

Wild, beautiful, bawdy, and vivid, C. W. Cannon’s new novel, French Quarter Beautification Project, is the song of one night on the streets and in the bars of New Orleans’ French Quarter, circa 1986. Waveland Rogers, known as “Buck” by all—“they call him Buck Rogers because of his repute for epic spaciness, a grand, sweeping, tremendous, but detailed spaciness”—is an aspiring composer who frequently drifts off into music-inspired reverie. He’s a server at Everybody’s Happy, a restaurant with themed tables and a costumed waitstaff, who jocularly call it “Nobody’s Here” due its lack of clientele. Buck wears a fedora and carries a whip, earning him another nickname, Louisiana Jones; his fellow servers include the buxom, randy Glory Ann, who dresses as Tinkerbell; a young guy known as Scrunge, who parades around as a lion; and Marciss, the manager, who takes his responsibilities lightly and is the occasional object of Buck’s skittering lust.

Book Review: Roxane Gay’s “Difficult Women”

By Jenny Hayes

difficult-womenRoxane Gay’s Difficult Women is a relentless and thrilling read. As in much of Gay’s other work, particularly her novel An Untamed State, there is no looking away from brutality, yet moments of grace, beauty, and humor serve as striking counterparts to the more unsettling passages.

In these twenty-one stories, women negotiate problematic relationships, search for love and comfort, and try to cope with pain.

Book Review: Rich Ferguson’s “New Jersey Me”

By Jenny Hayesnew-jersey-me-cover

Rich Ferguson’s debut novel New Jersey Me is a coming-of-age tale set in an intriguingly dysfunctional ‘80s South Jersey town. The narrator, Mark, has a chaotic home life. His mother moved out of the house when he was fifteen, leaving him alone with his dad, a tough-talking, somewhat shady police chief, and the good things in his life are few and far between. He and his best friend Jimmy are even convinced they’re cursed by a “pet jinx” that causes all animals in their care to meet a premature demise. The two teens spend most of their time listening to music, getting wasted, and trying to have as good of a time as they can in Blackwater, a town Mark describes as “just strip malls, gun shops, radiation, and funeral homes.”

Book Review: Paul Kalanithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air”

By Joelyn Suarez

whenbreathbecomesairHope is not the typical remedy that doctors prescribe for medical illnesses, yet it is exactly what neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi turns to when he is confronted with stage IV lung cancer. But what good is hope when all other scientific evidence points to an imminent end? Kalanithi’s memoir When Breath Becomes Air is about learning how to face death head on, while examining what it means to be alive. His definition of hope is not one that is unrealistic, or based on some miraculous intervention, but the very real possibility of leading a fulfilled life despite the amount of time one has left.

Book Review: Zoe Zolbrod’s “The Telling”

By J.Z. Manley
the telling

“I am a girl, a female, always in danger of assault,” writes Zoe Zolbrod, quoting Sylvia Plath in her memoir, The Telling, a raw examination of the author’s emotional ambiguity in the aftermath of her sexual abuse. Zoe is four when her cousin, Toshi, first enters her room in the middle of the night and presses his fingers against her crotch. The abuse continues over the next year, but Zoe doesn’t tell anyone until she’s twelve, and even then, she’s not sure whether she’s been traumatized by it or not, whether she’s a victim or not. She uses the word molested, “Because it’s a big deal, right? The happening of it? The naming it? Or is it not?” Can trauma affect her life without completely defining it? Is she strange for thinking this way?

When You’re Somewhere in the Middle: A Review of Jim Gavin’s “Middle Men”

BY CYNTHIA ROMANOWSKI

Nobody dreams about selling toilets when they grow up. It’s something that happens because something else didn’t happen—at least that’s what the young characters in Jim Gavin’s Middle Men might believe. Most of Gavin’s male protagonists are trying to do something, whether the goal is to get a basketball scholarship, find the girl that left, or just get a laugh or two at open mic night. Gavin’s characters are destined to come up short.

On Our Radar: Hum, Stories by Michelle Richmond

by Heather Scott Partington

Hum, Stories by Michelle Richmond
Fiction Collective Two in association with The University of Alabama Press
Trade paper, 168 pages

Michelle Richmond’s Hum is a collection of stories about men and women who are wanting. Like the constant buzz that emanates from the locked second bedroom of the couple in the title story, each Richmond character feels desire in a constant vibration; a sharp undercurrent to his or her actions. They get what they want for moments only, then ache for things they don’t have, striving not to acknowledge their own yearning. Richmond’s stories are humorous yet sad, toeing the line short stories often do, the one between odd and revealing.