Category: Blog (Page 1 of 19)

A Glass I Won’t Pick Up Again

By J. Jules

Why did I pick up that glass?
Wine doesn’t sit well on an empty stomach.
And I’m allergic to sulfites.

I could have avoided it all.
The nausea, the vomit,
the horrified look on her face.

No excuses. I did. And boy,
did it make a mess to clean up.

Of course, I apologized.
Got down on my knees
to wipe off her shoes.

But it didn’t prevent
her offended stomach
from lurching.

And ever since, my Twitter feed
has been covered in her puke.

 J.Jules is the author of three chapbooks. Her work has been published in over a hundred publications.

Book Review: Family of Origin

By Amy Reardon

Leave it to the generation that enjoyed a privilege and abundance fueled by post-WWII government subsidies to close the door behind them, handing their children an earth destroyed by greed, a democracy gone off the rails, and crushing student debt. Leave it then to a mind like CJ Hauser’s to capture what happens next: how the children abandoned in a dry well must set to work building for themselves a stairway of hope before they can climb out and face the serious work of healing the planet.

In her new novel, Family of Origin, Hauser takes to extremes the idea that the youth of today will never have it as good as their parents. The novel’s world is a fictional island off the Gulf Coast inhabited by the Reversalists, an isolated colony of scientists studying a rare species of duck they hope will prove a renegade theory: that evolution has reversed and is now going backwards. The book’s inciting incident, the death of their never-satisfied father, brings estranged half-siblings Elsa and Nolan Grey to their father’s abandoned hut on Leap’s Island, where they soon become embroiled in the book’s central quest: “They were thirty-five and twenty-nine years old, too old for this. Elsa’s life was a litany of troubles caused by the various absences of Ian Grey. Why should death be any different?”

If the secret to an emotionally satisfying novelistic journey lies in the gap between what the characters need and what they want, then Hauser does not disappoint. What Elsa and Nolan (who refer to themselves as “the children” even though they are grown) need is evidence their father loved them. They arrive seeking closure from a troubled childhood and proof they were good enough for their father’s PhD-sized standards. But as the children search his belongings for clues to why their brilliant father abandoned civilization—and with it his own children—they are surprised to discover the one living thing that sparked his joy. His field notes reveal an unexpected hopeful side, one that Elsa and Nolan craved as children. And so they must set off to find what they now want: to see for themselves what’s so special about one particular bird their father called the Paradise Duck.

In order to free themselves from the emotional bonds of their parents’ expectations and also solve the science, the children must face the truth. “Everything out there doesn’t get any less bad just because you don’t have to see it,” Elsa says. Family of Origin is a coming-of-age story, packed with revelations like Nolan’s— “maybe there were no adults in charge of anything. Maybe it was just children above children, all the way up the chain” —but modernized, with a sexy side of science.

With Family of Origin, Hauser joins a new era of writers like Mira Jacob and Carmen Maria Machado, who have neither the time nor the patience for old school beating around the emotional or physical bush. Hauser’s characters are here to give it to you straight, even when it hurts. The pain is at its glorious, titillating worst when Hauser finally gets to revealing the secret that broke the family and that Elsa and Nolan spend the first half of the book avoiding. But Hauser knows her audience and when life gets tough, a comfort animal is always nearby for a cuddle. The undowny bufflehead ducks, the subjects of the Reversalist research, are cute, fluffy, and tame. Especially endearing are Elsa’s words of encouragement to Jinx, a German Shepherd who hesitates from fear. “You are a ferocious wolf,” she reminds the dog, words one imagines Elsa would like to hear from her parents.

Using no quotation marks and no single point of view, Hauser moves deftly from the thoughts of Elsa and Nolan to the background stories of each Reversalist scientist. One of the scientists, in fact, will be familiar to those who read “The Crane Wife,” this summer in The Paris Review, Hauser’s smash hit personal essay about calling off her wedding, studying birds in the wild, and why there is nothing more humiliating than her own desires.

In Family of Origin, Hauser argues there is still room on our desperate earth for the future, still reason for the children to hope: “Nolan laughed. He sat down on the porch, knees crooked, and held his own head in his hands and laughed.” By the novel’s resolution, Hauser satisfies by bridging that emotional gap between what Elsa and Nolan want and what they need. The end feels inevitable, yet new and different.

In capturing the pressures on and the promise of the Millennial generation, Family of Origin asks whether perhaps, despite the bad news and bluster, humanity is still evolving after all. Even carrying the baggage of their parents’ unmet expectations, the Millennial generation represents the largest voting block alive today. In my view, the sooner they step into their power, the better.

Amy Reardon is an editor at The Coachella Review. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, The Adroit Journal and Glamour. She is at work on a novel. Follow her on Twitter @ReardonAmy.


TCR Talks With Catherine Ryan Hyde


Twenty years ago, Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novel Pay it Forward became an international best seller. [1] The following year, the film adaptation debuted at number four at the box office its opening weekend. The book also spawned a social movement promoting kindness, optimism, and faith in humankind. Hyde has since published thirty-six books, including a young readers’ edition of Pay it Forward, two dozen novels, and a book of travel photography based on gratitude. Her most recent novel, Have You Seen Luis Velez?, was published in May of this year.[2] A new novel, Stay, will be released on December 3, 2019.[3]

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Book Review: A Girl Goes Into The Forest

By Anjali Becker

The title story of Peg Pursell’s new collection of short fiction, A Girl Goes into the Forest (Dzanc Books, 2019), opens with an unnamed girl following a male figure into the forest, “moving in the direction where perhaps she imagined the rest of her life waited. So ready for something to happen.” The “old secret cottage” they were evidently aiming for has long since collapsed, so they spend the night on the hard ground. Toward the end of the short piece, the girl thinks that eventually, “It might turn summer and she’d have survived the season.” The girl has ventured beyond whatever home she might have known and is searching for something, although what exactly that is, beyond survival, is unclear, both to her and to us. What is clear is that the stories to come will explore the emotions that drove so many young girls in the fairy tales of old to leave their safe little hamlets and to venture out into the forest of the unknown.

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Ritual Cleansing

By Paul K. Smith


  • THIEF: Any age, any gender, any heritage. Projects menace.
  • CLERK: Any age, any gender, any heritage. Registers threat.
    Plaintive and Conciliatory for the first five minutes.

Place:  A convenience store in an American city.

Time:   Just before midnight

Night.  A convenience store.  Empty.  Except for the CLERK.
A big clock with a clock face – the hands show it is ten minutes to 12.   

At Rise: The CLERK is behind the counter, ritualistically wiping cans in a display, using a long feather duster.  Wiping clean  and counting familiar places in his circuit.

(Outside, a THIEF walks back & forth, fighting a temptation to go in, rob the store. Finally he goes to the unlocked door – but sees a CLOSED sign.

(The THIEF enters the store. Lots of pockets in what he wears.)

(CLERK continues to dust cans.  Watches for the big clock to release him.)

(CLERK counts out each can he dusts.) 

(THIEF watches him until the menace of his presence registers. . .)

CLERK: Forty-nine. . .

THIEF: (Menacingly:) Would be no problem to blow the back of your head off, would it?

CLERK: (Matter-of-factly:) Did you find what you need?

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Book Review: Your House Will Pay

By Collin Mitchell

Ripples from the past resurface in Steph Cha’s new novel, Your House Will Pay.

At the time of the writing of this review, veteran journalist K. Connie Kang had recently died after writing about the Korean community for the the Los Angeles Times. Kang gave voice to the Koreatown community affected by the riots in the wake of the Rodney King verdict. Journalists like Kang are burdened with adhering to the idea of truth, while the creative writer can entreat memory and personal experience in finding a truth that fits within the framework of their own grief. It’s these personal stories, the prejudiced tales told within families, that Steph Cha explores in her new novel, Your House Will Pay. Through the frame of early ‘90s race-tinged LA and our current grapple with race politics and police brutality, Cha ably depicts greater Los Angeles as it is: a melded body of bedroom communities, sun-bleached strip malls, and liquor stores threaded together by a dozen distinct cultures and a violent history. It’s in this context that the book examines the idea of transgressing the familial stories we think define us and finding a part of ourselves that can separate from the past. As one character observes: “This is when shit gets permanent. The choices you make are gonna stick, they’re going to follow you.”

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Three Parts

by: Kate scholl

This thing has three parts;
Three will be returned thrice more
One, two,

Three times…
There is the before time:
the boyhood, the uncertain masculinity, the obliviousness
The now time:
the girlhood, the transition, the finally finally figuring it out, the contentedness
And the then time:
the woman I will be, the knowing altogether who I am, the victory

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TCR Talks with Rachel DeWoskin

By Gina Frangello

The versatile writer and former actress Rachel DeWoskin—a member of my Chicago writing group since we were set up on a “blind friendship date” by our mutual close friend Emily Rapp Black—was born in Kyoto and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan. After studying English and Chinese at Columbia University, DeWoskin moved to Beijing to work as a public-relations consultant and ended up all but accidentally becoming a Chinese TV star and sex symbol on the blockbuster nighttime soap opera Foreign Babes in Beijing, which was watched by approximately 600 million viewers. Following this heady and surreal experience, DeWoskin returned to the United States in 1999 and returned to her first love—literature—earning a master’s degree in poetry from Boston University. Her memoir, Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China, was published by W.W. Norton in 2005; Paramount Pictures purchased film rights and the project is currently in production. DeWoskin has since become the author of five novels: Big Girl Small (FSG 2011) Repeat After Me (Overlook 2009), Blind (Penguin 2014), Some Day We Will Fly (Viking 2019) and Banshee (Dottir 2019). DeWoskin, whose mannerisms are gracious and intense in equal measure, is, in addition to her writing, a devoted mother of two, married to the playwright Zayd Dohrn, a morning exerciser, a fierce friend, and the core creative writing faculty at the prestigious University of Chicago. Who better to dissect the complications and contradictions of a woman, like Banshee’s Samantha Baxter, who “has it all” than DeWoskin, who is both extraordinarily productive while leading an intimate family life?

It was my pleasure to discuss Banshee with Rachel over an email exchange conducted while we were both traveling like maniacs over the summer. Further, as a breast cancer survivor myself, the publication of Banshee feels watershed to me. Transcending facile “sick lit” portrayals of virtuous heroines and “feminist outlaw” labels that eschew serious examinations of women’s own culpability, DeWoskin presents instead a ferocious, lyrical, highly skilled tightrope walk of one woman’s simultaneous emotional disintegration and sexual awakening in the face of a dehumanizing medical industrial complex and a lifetime of seeing male colleagues “getting away” with behavior she would never have considered prior to staring her mortality in the face. What results is one of the most complex, morally ambiguous and intimate stories of body and women’s (still) societally sanctioned roles I have read in recent years. It was my great honor to read and blurb Banshee prior to its publication, and it’s even more exciting to share my conversation with Rachel DeWoskin with TCR readers.

–Gina Frangello 

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Tangible Things

By Marianne Rogoff

In the beginning all we owned was a deep hole that was bigger than both of us. On a clear morning we watched the small wood box get lowered and dirt from the hole thrown on top where it settled over days and weeks and then we returned with garden gloves and shovels to plant rosemary and lavender.

The first year we went there all the time and lounged on the ground as green grass also grew on top of what used to be the hole. We brought picnics, knelt in the grass, and felt close to Mystery, the name we had printed on a pink hand-painted tile marked with the date of her birth and her death, so close to each other. After bringing a small bag of cement and tools to mix and fix the tile in our amateur way, to lie flat on the earth, this object became the tangible thing we visited.

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Book Review: Very Nice

By Leanne Phillips


Marcy Dermansky’s new novel, Very Nice, starts out with a simple enough premise. Nineteen-year-old Rachel has a crush on her creative writing professor, Zahid Azzam, a one-hit wonder of a novelist who has been skating on the success of his only book for years. When Zahid impulsively confides to Rachel that he’s had a bad day, she impulsively kisses him. But the plot gains in complexity from there. Anyone who’s seen The Wife knows that crushes on creative writing professors don’t end well, and there are red flags that Rachel chooses to ignore. Rachel’s passion for Zahid seems lukewarm at best, and Rachel is a bit taken aback when he calls their kiss “very nice”—during the semester, he had crossed out all of the verys in her short story.

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