Month: May 2017

TCR Talks with Jenny Forrester

by dein sofley

In her debut memoir, Narrow River, Wide Sky, a heart rendering portrayal of small-town life, Jenny Forrester vividly evokes the landscape and culture of the conservative Colorado town where she grew up surrounded by narrow-minded churchgoers, ranchers, Native Americans, and strident
patriots. The book explores the complex forces of family, politics, and religion that served as catalysts for the author’s feminist awakenings. Throughout the memoir, Forrester navigates feelings of isolation, loss and grief with sensitivity and resilience. It’s a breathtaking, story about one woman’s search for identity within the mythology of family and America itself.

Forrester is the force behind Portland’s Unchaste Readers—a quarterly reading series for women, now in its fifth year—and an award-winning flash fiction writer. Her stories have been published in Seattle’s City Arts Magazine, Gobshite Quarterly, PomPom Lit, Nailed Magazine, Hip Mama, The Literary Kitchen, Indiana Review, Columbia Journal and in the Listen to Your Mother anthology, published by Putnam. Her latest writings and photos can be found at

The Coachella Review: The title Narrow River, Wide Sky reflects the Western pioneer mythology that, as a child, you struggled to navigate. In its injustices and contradictions is your genesis story.  You forged your identity through the uncharted terrain of your upbringing. As a result, the word navigate emerges throughout your memoir. In your stories, you navigate the vast landscape of your western Coloradan heritage, along with your mother’s contradictions and feelings of isolation. As a child, you weren’t given the tools to navigate. Was writing a way for you to map your feelings?

Jenny Forrester: Writing became the way to deal with my feelings, with my moral core, with my desire to come to terms with loss, but also with many other things in life. I’d kept a diary and actually quoted from it in the book—it was a coming together of different sorts of writing I’d always done, but writing a book to be published was a dream. An ambition. Something I wanted, but wasn’t sure I could do for many reasons, ranging from the impact it could have on my family members to the artfulness and the how-to to the actual finding a publisher and then what.

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Two Poems by Alexander Radison

I Cannot Dwell in Possibility

There is a theory that states
there are an infinite number
of parallel universes, each a mirror
of our own, but slightly different.
Each choice made creates another universe:
In this one, I went back to college,
in another, I stayed in the army.
Here, my mother picked up her first cigarette at 14
in the bitter cold, December 1975.
In another, she politely declined.
There is a world where she never worried
that she may have to bury her first son.
The version of me that she deserved
lives in that one.
There’s one where I could call her, right now.
Hear her voice, her laugh.
Tell her I love her. Tell her
Everything, anything at all.


Semantic Satiation

The first time I said it, it was as if I was speaking some foreign tongue that was similar to my own but different in one small way that made it so completely wrong, so alien, that it warped my sense of reality like a black hole. She was. I said it three more times: Was. Was. Was. Say a word enough times and your brain loses the ability to process it. It starts to lose its meaning, becomes an abstract concept, just letters with no real value: Was. Was. W / A / S. Originally wæs, past tense singular of wesan in Old English—to remain. Also derived from bēon— to be, from the Proto-Germanic biju. Was. The past tense of the most common yet irregular verb in the English language, described as a collection of semantically related paradigm fragments. Or, an accidental conglomeration from the different Old English dialects. 53 years on this Earth reduced to an accidental conglomeration of sounds. Sounds that clump deep in my throat before dripping from my lips like molasses, thick and slow and sticky. Sugar boiled bitter.


Alexander Radison is an MFA candidate in poetry at Queens College (CUNY), where he also teaches creative writing. His work has been previously published in Utopia Parkway Literary Magazine, Newtown Literary Journal, The Violet Hour, and was awarded the Making Work Visible poetry prize at


Book Review: Jeremy Robert Johnson’s “Entropy In Bloom”


If this were a typical review of a typical book, it’d start with a few catchy lines, maybe a summary of the text, providing skim-reading literati enough information to decide whether the review, and by extension, the text being reviewed, is their cuppa or not. Genre words like horror, bizarro, surreal, and suspense would attempt to box this book into some convenient framework by which it might be pre-judged.

Jeremy Robert Johnson’s Entropy In Bloom isn’t a typical book, so it won’t be getting a typical review.

Sure, there’s a summary that can be expressed. The underlying theme driving the collection is, well, entropy—the degradation of a system from a state of order to a state of chaos—and the beauty that can sometimes be found therein. Johnson’s characters are on the precipice of destruction, and we fall over that precipice with them into chaos—or redemption. It’d be easy to categorize a text whose unifying theme is descent into disorder as an exploration in loss—and some of these stories certainly open those kinds of wounds—but in this collection, there’s hope in oblivion.

The Tech Specs: sixteen stories, all previously published save the last, “The Sleep of Judges,” a sweat-inducing novella chronicling a desperate husband and father’s quest for revenge. One Pushcart-nominated short, heartbreaking in its shouldn’t-be-a-surprise ending: “Snowfall.” Gut-punches of emotion, not only in “Snowfall,” but also “Luminaries” and “The Gravity of Benham Falls.” And, so that no twisted appetite is left unsatisfied, sharp body-horror in “The League of Zeroes” and “When Susurrus Stirs,” two grisly tales of metamorphosis.

In another story of metamorphosis, “Dissociative Skills,” Johnson provides one of the most intriguing where-do-we-go-from-here opening lines a vignette about escalation could have: “Curt Lawson felt like a surgeon right up to the moment he snorted the horse tranquilizer.” The next few lines reveal a surgical kit set up in a decidedly non-surgical setting, and we realize that the teenage Curt is about to undertake an act of Special K-fueled rebellion against his alcoholic father and apathetic mother. Interestingly, using the horse tranquilizer in partial response to his father’s substance abuse creates an ironic disjunction that pervades not just this story, but the collection in general, in that Curt eventually becomes something more than he was through his destruction: a proud achiever, of sorts.

That story also contains what might be considered the collection’s thesis: “Her laugh seemed to Curt like the sound of a zoo animal finding the humor in its cage.” This is Curt’s mother surrendering to her circumstances and finding joy, however dysfunctional, in the horror of it all. Characters in the collection, whether due to societal pressures, psychological fracture, or plain bad luck, find themselves in horrific situations and still discover some glimmer of light, achieve some kind of enlightenment as a result of those circumstances. That’s the human experience. Our moments of highest potential occur when we are broken. We become something new in the repair, so new that repair may not even be the right word.

In a typical review, this conclusion would list a few writers that Johnson emulates/is reminiscent of/is influenced by. Again, Entropy in Bloom is ill-represented by the tropes of a typical review. There are clear ties to Palahniuk’s “Guts” and Choke, connections to Stephen King’s emotional symphony in Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, and even loose ties to the sliver of positivity spiked at the end of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Where Entropy in Bloom separates itself is in the “bloom:” the beauty in all that horror is the point here, and not a side effect. As a result, this is a many-tentacled beast of its own family, genre, and species.

TL;DR: This is your cuppa. In political landscapes that include terms like “Mother Of All Bombs,” “Alternative Facts,” and “Nuclear Solutions,” it’s comforting to be reminded of a fundamental human truth: we are, to the last, capable of finding humor in our cage.

Here, a typical review would end with a neat little wrap-up line that puts a bow on the whole thing. Instead, I’ll just tell you that the last line of the review doesn’t matter. You shouldn’t be reading it anyway. You should be reading Entropy in Bloom. You have great things to look forward to.


Eli Ryder writes fiction and drama, teaches literature and composition, and abhors maple bars that dare to parade around without bacon. He is the Drama Editor of The Coachella Review.

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