Author: The Coachella Review (Page 1 of 4)

Book Review: Alice Anderson’s “Some Bright Morning I’ll Fly Away”

By: Kaia Gallagher

In Some Bright Morning I’ll Fly Away, Alice Anderson proves she is a survivor no matter what life throws at her. Her memoir recounts a decade-long battle to protect her three children from a vengeful, violence-prone ex-husband. The courts provide little help, encouraging family reunification rather than assuring the safety of an abused spouse.

Anderson is no stranger to hardship. Early in her writing career, she recounted her determination to overcome her father’s sexual abuse in an award-winning book of poetry. Human Nature is a harrowing description of a young girl’s fight for a future despite a childhood filled with incest and violence. It won the 1994 Elmer Holmes Bobst Award for Emerging Writers.

Despite her early success as a poet and international fashion model, Anderson is haunted by her past: “Something about [being a model] made me feel used up, consumed, like I was the little girl my father gobbled up all over again, his sexual abuse consuming in a drunken, hungry rage all the best parts of me until I was nothing, but a pretty, performing doll.” She becomes ripe for a relationship with Liam, her ex-husband whom she sees as someone trying equally hard to escape his family demons. Her spiral down into acquiescence is gradual, with an ever-tightening noose that threatens to erase not only Anderson’s very identity but also her life.

After a courageous escape, Anderson finds that the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina mirrors the displacement and chaos in her own demolished life. She hopes for protection from the Mississippi Family Court only to discover that if she reports her husband’s violence to the police, her children will automatically be placed in foster care. Her husband warns her, “If you leave, I’ll have you good ol’ boy’d right out of Mississippi so fast you won’t know if you should scratch your watch or wind your ass.” More ominously, he assures her he will kill her without a second thought.

Despite evidence of her husband’s attempt to strangle her and a psychologist’s assessment of his predilection for violence, the court continues to allow her husband visitation rights. It’s a grueling story as the court battles never cease and the threat that Anderson might lose her children is ever present. Victims of spousal abuse will recognize the familiar themes of domination and control; the linkages between mental illness, alcoholism, and violence; and the difficulty abused women have in enforcing protective orders and protecting their rights.

The personal cost of the struggle is high. Anderson second-guesses her lifestyle choices relative to how they might be perceived by the courts. She wants to fly away, but through it all, her desire to protect her children keeps her determined to fight, “In some ways, I gave up on life. I certainly gave up on the idea of love. I felt like I’d come so close to the edge so many times I couldn’t take that risk again. Every time I tried to have a little something extra, things went terribly wrong. So, I finally accepted that custody of my children was perhaps the only thing I got. And that was enough.”

It’s a cautionary tale of the emotional and legal costs of battling a relentless spouse who is more determined to seek full custody of his children for revenge rather than any fathering instincts of his own. Anderson shows what it takes to rise above it all, despite the odds, despite the discouragement, living with her scars and getting better each day.

Her prose is lyrical, written with a poet’s sensibility as she writes a story she hopes might be an inspiration for other families experiencing the same type of struggle, “I imagined somewhere in the endless crowd there was someone just like me, who carried the ghost of fingerprints around their neck. Somewhere was a mother who’d taken her children and run. Somewhere was a trio of siblings who knew what cruelty meant. Somewhere was a family who’d lost it all.” Through this survivor’s story, Anderson demonstrates the grit that helped her rise above it all and live again. In the end, her memoir is an inspiring tale of determination by a mother whose three children become more important than her own life.

Rubber On Wheels

by jim kelly

Side by side at a stoplight, engines revving, roaring. “Teach them a lesson?” Fat Leonard shouts. My big brother, riding shotgun, nods. Turning, he hollers for me to “hold on.” Fourteen, drunk, I have nothing to hold on to. Below me, cement, the floor having long since rusted out, fallen away. For safety’s sake my feet rest on a single, hopping-around piece of jammed-in two-by-four. Junker with a crap paint job, a scrounged joke of a thing with a monster engine dropped in. Engine with more power than this stripped down, rattly ass car was ever meant to handle. Beside us a shiny new, daddy-bought, big engine Buick. Front seat and back, it’s full up with shouting guys. Pointing at us, laughing, calling names.

It’s summer 1964 and the muscle car is king, faster the better. Late nights in a shut down Shell station. The one Fat Leonard runs. His call when to quit pumping gas, close down, then open up for his friends to work on cars. Allowed, if I keep shut, I watch, all eyes, all ears, as my brother and his buddies turn junkyard finds into hotrods. Dross into dreams. A tiny, greasy front radio with a single, broke-tip antennae plays and quits, plays and quits. Somebody shakes it. Somebody punches it. Off and on rock and roll, at no set intervals, all night long. Ragged bits and howling, truncated pieces. Blue air thick, molten at the top of the tire racks from all those cigarettes, one after another. Drained, stomped flat beer cans kicked out of the way, piling up.

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by jane katims

I find myself on 44th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan, in front of a gallery displaying award-winning photographs by students.   I shade my eyes with my hand and peer through the window of the gallery — inside, a reception party is in progress, glasses of wine poured and passed around, animated conversation, laughter.  A tempting sight, but I prefer to look in on it from the outside, prefer to be free to move away, to feel the spring air, and to let my own thoughts encircle me.  For a moment, I stand on the corner, observing life on the street.

I wander down 44th.  At the entrance of the Algonquin Hotel, a doorman nods, opens the glass doors for me.  In the hotel’s large lobby-lounge, a woman with a beaded black jacket with sequins around the collar sits on a couch.  Her legs are crossed, she holds a yellow iced drink.  A man with a martini sits close to the woman, his arm around her.

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TCR Talks with Ragnar Jónasson

By David M. Olsen

On a recent visit to Reykjavik, Iceland, I found a great little bookstore in the downtown area. Eymundsson was a three-story establishment with a coffee shop on the third floor. I sought out the section by Icelandic authors and came across an impressive display for Ragnar Jónasson and his Dark Iceland Series. I knew that Nordic noir was very popular throughout the European zone, so I purchased a copy of Jónasson’s bestseller Snowblind. I read the first chapter that night, and tore through the rest of the book in a few days. Needless to say, it’s a gripping read. It tells the story of Ari Thor, a rookie police officer in an isolated Icelandic village investigating the mysterious death of a writer. After I finished it, I emailed Ragnar to see if he would be interested in doing an interview, expecting never to hear back. To my surprise, he responded, so I asked him a few questions about his books and his writing process over email.

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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.

Escape From Delhi

by scott morris

I am at the exact furthest point from home possible—zenith or nadir, depending on perspective—standing at the immigration counter at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, body wracked with some stewing South Asian pestilence stirring up the worst kind of hallucinations, trying to get the fuck out of India.

Earlier that night the proprietress of the hostel had given me some expired medication. She assured me it would fix me right up, quiet the internal motion of unwell, that she had seen all this before, but the only difference it made was that I had started passing out periodically, the first time while walking into the train station. I had to lie on a bench for a while to regain enough strength to get through security, all while a circle of Indian men crowded around, shouting offers of every type of service imaginable at this prone and seemingly dead American man. The modern train was built for western tourists, and I was the only passenger, thankfully alone to save myself the embarrassment of having others watch me vomit into a plastic bag.

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Two Poems by Breeann Kyte


in the close dark causes tongues to catch
on knobbed spines. Unzippering
mouthfuls along the length of secret

sentences. One language to another
opens in a grin, a stutter
to a tentative translation
of this alphabet of four.

Now see,
her jaw lit.
Why sew ivy
cut for the sun? Let

barrel-folded fingers wring the kinks straight:
Staircased helices, the hidden yes.


Phages in Love 

Separates fuse in this commitment
to kill unless a mad moron. No dead
end here: pressure, coiled tight, crushed
in corners, quiet until now. When God
says to count stars, he has no idea
the amplitude of the viral flood.
Their collars fringed with feelers, pulsing
signals as legs snap to attention—
rapt in another—stories thrusted, spill,
remake cytosolic space.

Replicate: this urge, primordial
code to send snipped ends in embrace;
tongues alter to single tale. Houdini
never vanished so completely, never
resurrected as a multitude.
No magic in heedless need stripping
away sense of self until a ripple,
a shiver through lipid walls—the hijack
fills to burst, seams split wide.

A more temperate path: long life
shrunk small, tucked into, integrated—
part of the spiraled ladder of years.
The Cumean Sybil’s voice was not so
soft, not so persuasive, hushing. Replicate
with each divided daughter further
doubled, further repressed, suppressed
and snugged in cell. They looped through
wiry helix until induced to excise.

Annul this union.



Breeann Kyte is a research biologist, creative writer, and facilitates collaborations between scientists, writers and visual artists. She writes poetry as a fresh way to use language and images for her research and writing. Both poems are on the life cycles of viruses. Her creative work has been published in The Scientist, Sunshine Noir, the Eeel, Orion (online blog), Serving House Journal, and City Creatures (Center for Humans & Nature).


TCR talks with Zoe Zolbrod

BY tracy granzyk

Zoe Zolbrod’s memoir, The Telling, was published in May of 2016, and it will undoubtedly remain a “go to” book for both survivors and family members of those who have experienced childhood sexual abuse. In The Telling, Zolbrod comes to understand and accept the grey her own experiences have equated to within, while at the same time gives readers an example of how trauma and tragedy might be assimilated and used to empower one’s self. Especially poignant and game-changing in the memoir are her experiences as “Mama Bear”; a new parent with an immediate need to protect not only her children, but all kids from suffering the same experience she did. While Zolbrod never takes refuge in the title of victim, her honest pain exposes the depth to which she is still able to feel, never seeming to shut off and others out as a result of what was done to her.

As a writer, Zolbrod’s voice is both authoritative and accessible, and the narrative flows smoothly through different time periods of her life. She serves as both teacher of topic and craft by threading four Research Shows chapters within the story’s framework, allowing her to break off from the narrative, which she described during our conversation as a respite from the emotion inherent in diving back into such a painful experience. As a person, Zolbrod’s warmth and kind soul are what I was first drawn to during the interview that follows.

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