Month: April 2020

Book Review: Barn 8

BY MATT ELLIS

Deb Olin Unferth

Guggenheim Fellow and three-time Pushcart Prize winner Deb Olin Unferth knows that humans are a mess. Somewhere between visions of the ideal world and taking action, even the best-intentioned among us has the capacity to blow it completely. That’s probably why the clear underdog in her ambitious satirical political drama Barn 8 is a chicken named Bwwaauk.

Like with all great hen heist epics, this one starts with a late-night bus ride from New York to Iowa. Fifteen-year-old Janey Flores flies her mother’s coop to meet a father she didn’t know existed and to punish them both for the paternal omission. “She was going to make this man know her, or at least pay for not knowing her.” Her temporary act of teenage angst becomes permanent when tragedy strikes, stranding her in the Midwest, mourning the life she should have had.

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TCR Talks with Garth Greenwell

By Leah Dieterich

Garth Greenwell is the author of What Belongs to You, which won the British Book Award for Debut Book of the Year, was longlisted for the National Book Award, and was a finalist for six other awards. His new book, Cleanness, picks up where What Belongs to You left off. We follow the same narrator, a gay American ex-pat teaching high school in Bulgaria, through a variety of anonymous sexual experiences as well as a reckoning with love lost. While the book is at times brutal and explicit, it is also unspeakably tender. Many of the interviews Greenwell has done begin with questions about writing sex, an act which he calls “one of our most charged forms of communication,” so I wanted to break new ground and ask first about his love of language, particularly foreign language.

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Book Review: Optic Nerve

By Jackie DesForges

Several years ago I visited the Picasso Museum in Malaga, Spain. At the time, each gallery was arranged by theme rather than chronology, so that as you made your way through, you weren’t seeing Picasso’s works in the order they were —created—you would see a ceramic he created in the 1930s next to a drawing created at the end of his life next to a painting he made in the 1920s, all seemingly random until you realized that they focused on the same theme or subject. María Gainza’s debut novel Optic Nerve reminded me of this museum from the very first page. The story doesn’t proceed chronologically through the narrator’s life, but rather thematically. Beginning each chapter feels like stepping into a new gallery, perhaps especially because the book deals directly with the history of visual art.

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Aperture

By Christina Rauh Fishburne

Look at her go. See the ghost of sinew in those triceps and biceps as the creamy brown silk slides up to her shoulder in retreat. This gown was always her favorite. The one destined only for significant cocktail parties and evenings of general greatness. Observe her form. The strain of her graceful neck, the fluid rise of her arms like a worshipper of the sun, and the determined fan of her fingers spreading to embrace. The line of her shoulders as she rears back in Olympic elegance bent on a clean kill. Note the placement of her feet, small, dainty, shod in beaded open toe kitten heels of soft sole. She does not stand. She does not pose. She plants.

“Stand over there, by the hedge. I’ll take your photograph.”
“Now take your gloves off.”
“I think you might have blinked. Move to the other side, Love. Away from the sun.”
“Let’s have a smile.”

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Book Review: Rust Belt Femme

By Briana Weeger

The brain often holds onto distinct and unexpected images and memories at the time of traumatic events. These memories may not make sense on their own, and they may seem disconnected from what actually happened.

For Raechel Anne Jolie, in her coming-of-age memoir Rust Belt Femme, the unlikely memory is of lightning bugs. During summertime in a rural working-class Ohio village called Valley View, neighborhood children ran barefoot through unmown front lawns to catch fireflies. It is the fireflies Jolie recalls first when she thinks about her father’s accident.

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The art of waiting for catastrophe; or, why I’m hoping toilet paper remains the icon of the coronavirus days

BY LAURA BERNSTEIN-MACHLAY

Right now, my small family and I are beginning our second week in isolation here in Detroit.

Well, okay. We’re mostly isolated. My husband Steven and I still make the odd grocery store and pharmacy runs for whatever happens to be available on the shelves. To alleviate anyone’s worries, let me assure you that we’re fine for toilet paper. We haven’t hoarded, though, so in a week or two, we might have to scramble. Or, you never know; maybe the buying frenzy will abate by then as we all fold ourselves like origami creatures into the reality of this extraordinary new existence.

Meanwhile, even with my online classes to manage, my panicked students to soothe, the latest coronavirus updates to voraciously consume, I’ve got lots of extra time—useful for organizing crammed-full closets or meditating. Not so swell when I chew my nails and fret about whatever fresh chaos lurks just over the horizon. About the breaking world and rising infection rates and the recession churning through America’s economy; how, if it lasts, my college-student daughter will surely suffer—as she’s already suffering with her own classes relocated online, with being trapped in the same seven rooms with her fussing parents for weeks or maybe months to come, with her friends, even the local ones, utterly untouchable.

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The Book of Moths

BY ARIANNA SEBO

The moths have their own religion
one of colour and flight
fuzzy feelers searching for luminescence
not so different from us humans
following our flights of fancy
allowing our imaginations
to pave the way for our good intentions
not always fulfilled
but we try
with Sunday school children
and church bazaars
Sunday sermons and tapioca pudding
searching for heights
and falling from grace
like the moths
obsessed with the light

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Book Review: Please See Us

BY LAURIE ROCKENBECK

Caitlin Mullen’s debut novel Please See Us takes genre norms, chews them up, and spits them out into a gripping literary thriller. This ambitious work delves into a myriad of societal issues—trafficking, bullying, motherhood, drug abuse, mental health, inadequate foster systems, and misogyny.

In the prologue, we are introduced to two nameless women lying together as described by a distant omniscient narrator. If this were a movie, it would begin with a long shot of an airplane flying an advertising banner low over a decrepit Atlantic City. The camera would leave the plane as it swoops around to the back of a grungy pay-by-the-hour hotel and focus on the two women who are “laid out like tallies in the stretch of marsh just behind the Sunset Motel.”

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Andrea Doria

BY LESLIE ARMSTRONG

Andrea Doria (1456 to 1560) was born in Oneglia, west of Genoa. He was orphaned at a young age and became a soldier of fortune. In 1503 he served in the Genoese navy routing the French from Corsica. He spent the rest of his long life serving whoever paid well, commanding his galleys in warfare against the Turks and Barbary pirates and protecting the supremacy and independence of the principality of Genoa. He died a rich and revered man. Many Italian and US naval vessels have been named after him, the most famous of which was the passenger ship SS Andrea Doria, launched in June of 1951, maiden voyage January 1953.

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Book Review: Strung Out: One Last Hit and Other Lies That Nearly Killed Me

BY COLLIN MITCHELL

Like so many of the recent stories about opiate addiction in the United States, Erin Khar’s journey toward heroin started with a pill. “I pulled The World According to Garp out from underneath my pillow and read,” she writes, remembering the first time she raided her mother’s medicine cabinet. She was eight. “After a little while, the heat in my body was replaced by the lightness of little bubbles . . . . It was the exit I desperately wanted.”

Khar’s experience as an advice columnist for Ravishly is well-suited to turn Strung Out: One Last Hit and Other Lies That Nearly Killed Me from what might otherwise be a distressing year-by-year account of addiction into a story that develops context and empathy toward mental illness and drug abuse. Khar is forthright in her opinion about our inability to understand addiction: “The stigma associated with opioids, with heroin, with “being a junkie,” prevents people from reaching out. And that stigma is killing us. Americans are stuck in a spiral of shame, and that shame drives the vicious cycle of relapse that many drug users get caught in.” In a culture that tends to conflate pity and prejudice toward adversity, this could be a helpful guide for the uninitiated in understanding the causes of drug and alcohol dependence.

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