Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 2)

Mother Tongue Series (an excerpt) for the wounded daughters

If No One Could See

 “What would you write if no one could see?”

 Gina Frangello

what would I write if no one could see

I would write that I blame my mother

and then I would write that I was justified

 

it is an ugly story forged in the ugly stories

of her mother and her mother and her mother

and her mother I cannot extricate myself

 

from my mother I cannot get her fingers out

of my mouth when a mouse dies in the walls

of my house it can take months for the smell

 

to fade the mouse slowly rots until finally

its desiccated flesh turns to dust leaving only

the bones I cannot get my mother’s fingers out

 

of my mouth I wonder will the taste of her

fingers linger after she dies? I think maybe I will

 

taste her flesh persisting for days months first

bloody fresh coppery then sour then putrid putrid

putrid until there is nothing left in my mouth

 

but her white pebble finger bones rolling around

on my tongue after the tendons have rotted away

 

 

 

 

 

Mother Love

 “Of what had I ever been afraid?”

                         Audre Lorde

 of what had I ever been afraid

past dark past skin beyond stone

or fire or drowning my sponsor

once asked me this question of

what are you so afraid what will

happen if you just say no to her

past dark past fire beyond stone

my own skin burning say no just

say no easy as falling down a hole

I couldn’t give my sponsor an

answer except to say I can never

say no beyond stone beyond skin

past dark ten years on ten years

sober I can tell you the answer

it is mother love the answer for

that child is mother love it is the

bottoms of her feet slapping against

stone as she runs into the fire her

skin burning for mother love mother

love mother love what does a mother’s

disdain do to a child before she has

her speech to ask why? she keeps

running into the fire the bottoms of

her feet burning slapping against stone

 

This Time

 “… Here we’re all drunkards  … / joylessly … stuck together!”

                                                 Anna Akhmatova

mother I have savaged you across pages through decades across time

backwards and forwards mother Akhmatova said it best Here we’re all drunkards …/ joylessly stuck together!

I can wield words but I cannot tame us our story mother we circle

each other predator and prey we circle we spin

 birds in the wallpaper pining for air   mother why

can’t I write this story why do I hold your blood in my mouth

so much wasted time wasted words squandering time spinning in circles believing

like Anna if I tried hard enough if I wrote the words beautifully enough the sadness

the ugly my terrors your terrors could be tamed our stories rewritten

mother why can’t you remember any of your childhood

why do you love to tell the story of how I was born tiny and blue silent

and cold mother why did you tell me the earth was flat when I knew

it was round Akhmatova was right we are all just fucked

in any language mother   maman    madre    mater   mamma

I have chased you savaged you across pages across decades our truth hidden deep

our stories wound round together never quite touching

   a double grief helix mother

mamma why can’t you see me madre how did this happen maman why

couldn’t I help you tell me what name should I call you

              mother tell me if I write it right

this time this time this time this time

 

 

How She Lets Go

 “I am not the story you made of me.”

                                    —Lidia Yuknavitch

Look how her turquoise ring with its sterling silver setting

compliments her tan slender hand and the tips of her white

 

fingernails grown long now in summer   She has fat hands

like her father did   See how she uses her hands to carefully

 

brush and comb out her golden retrievers’ undercoats

shedding fast in the hot weather   She was always so

 

selfish   See how she watches her dogs’ eyes how she learns

their body language mimics it unconsciously how she checks

 

her petunias every day for aphids  She is unreliable She’s been

watching for the hummingbirds and she finally saw one

 

and then two flitting around the red geraniums Untrustworthy

She had been worried the hummingbirds disappeared

 

like the whales were disappearing off the Pacific Coast

shores   Selfish  She will buy a hummingbird feeder today

 

She lies   See how she couldn’t yet write about being a mother

herself but how she remembers well the shape of her sons’ baby

 

feet toes straight across how sweet they tasted in her mouth

as she tickled them She’s fat and has beady eyes like her father

 

did  She remembers how her son took her face in his little

hands saying urgently “listen to me” when her gaze drifted

 

far away This is how she does it now that her sons have grown

and she spends her time alone with her thoughts: she trims the fur

 

mats from under her dogs’ ears careful not to nick their thin skin

she turns the soil over in her garden smelling the fresh black dirt

 

on her hands she feeds the cardinal family nesting in her juniper

tree she waters her garden she picks zucchini blossoms

 

to fry for her supper and she watches with a faint smile

as a bright green garter snake slithers across her path


Signe E. Land is a queer, disabled autistic writer living in Hot Springs, Arkansas. She holds an MFA in writing from the University of Minnesota and a JD from William Mitchell College of Law, graduating class valedictorian. Ms. Land’s work has appeared in William Mitchell Law Review, Bookends Review, Rivet: The Journal of Writing that Risks, Atticus Review, Lady/Liberty/Lit and others. In 2019, Ms. Land won third place in the Kay Snow Poetry Competition, Second Place in Atticus Review’s Flash Non-Fiction Contest, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry.

Book Review: Kissing a Tree Surgeon

by Briana Weeger

Eleanor Levine’s collection of short stories Kissing a Tree Surgeon takes readers on a hilariously offbeat journey amidst an equally offbeat cast of characters. A woman takes her dead grandmother to a Bertolucci film in order to flirt with the popcorn attendant. A student with multiple personalities, including a “Jewish/nun/assistant endocrinologist; Jesuit fighter on behalf of the PLO; anti-Catholic dirt bomb activist; and Ayn Rand’s protégé,” attends Sister Jewniversity, “a bastion of anti-Semitic-anti-Zionist lesbianism.” And a man who thinks he is the love child of Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra is an unhinged AA sponsor.  

One such unorthodox character is Agatha Ravine, who makes repeat appearances as the narrator of many of Levine’s stories. Set against a New Jersey backdrop, Agatha is a misfit. She is a self-described social outcast who often has crushes on girls who were cheerleaders in high school, blonde shiksas, while she is more like the “protagonist in one of William Burroughs’s heroin runs.” And as she navigates both real and imagined adventures with an intelligent, sardonic wit, Agatha embodies the impulsive id we all have and at times wish we could let take the wheel.  

In the title story, “Kissing a Tree Surgeon,” Agatha is not invited to her friend Julie’s wedding. She thought it was because she had “made anti-Julie’s-boyfriend presents and gave them to her, in front of him.” But she comes to find out the real incident that infuriated her friend was when she kissed the tree surgeon. “Julie is drunk, and speechless, when she sees me making out with her old boyfriend Andrew’s best friend—a tree surgeon who lives in Rye, New York. We are at Andrew’s party where beer is on tap and hormones whir like gnats.” 

Agatha and other narrators reflecting on these kinds of past predicaments is a common thread that weaves through Levine’s stories. They look back on days where teenage transgressions felt like fatal blows and the raw newness of experience made lasting marks.  

In “The Boy Who Used the Curling Iron,” Agatha thinks about her ex-girlfriend Emily through the lens of their Senior Farewell dance. While Agatha received rejections, “Emily had the opposite problem. All the boys wanted her. She couldn’t keep the young males away—they were ringing her pink Cinderella phone like it was the Jerry Lewis muscular dystrophy telethon.” 

But Agatha and Emily eventually found each other and “rambled in each other’s brain like circuitous routes traveling undirected until she decided that my emotions were more in need of her than me. I’m like that sneaker hanging on the telephone line that looks inviting at first, but after five months is an eyesore.”

Often under the microscope are humorous descriptions of love and relationships gone wrong. Levine satirically depicts her narrators’ search for belonging and exposes an array of connection misfires and the thin borders that we feel separate us from others. Agatha’s ex Emily 

“took ballet lessons in Manhattan and got drunk in an Irish pub with Bobby Sherman’s niece,” while she “took public school violin lessons and played kickball in the street.”

And a woman who searches for love via OkCupid is duped: 

‘I’m not able to sleep at night,’ Vivian via Wisconsin via Amsterdam texted me. 

‘Oh boy,’ I replied, feeling the pangs and intimacies of love through the iPhone, ‘I wish there was something I could do.’ 

‘There is …’ 

‘What dear? How may I give you greater comfort in the evening?’ I had already checked out the Priceline.com tickets for Madison, Wisconsin, which were slightly cheaper than Amsterdam. There was a brief pause. She wrote back. 

‘Financial.’

In many stories involving the pitfalls of dating, Levine blurs the lines of reality and surreality, so the reader’s focus lies on the importance of what was felt over what actually occurred. A woman is haunted and shunned by the dead relatives of her ex-girlfriends, characters argue over spaghetti and a lost dog at the end of the world, and a girl falls in love with a turtle who won’t text her back. 

Levine’s unique voice catches you off guard and takes you on a wild journey you didn’t know you needed. Ultimately, Kissing a Tree Surgeon is a collection of stories about belonging. And in a time where feeling like an outsider amidst a surrealist landscape is common, Levine reminds us to laugh about it.     


Briana Weeger is a native of Southern California and is currently an MFA student in the low-residency program at UC Riverside. An alumna of UCLA and Brooklyn College, Briana works with underserved and immigrant youth using story crafting and storytelling as a means of self-discovery and empowerment. In her own writing practice, she is exploring the impact of often overlooked social customs with a mix of both fiction and non-fiction.

TCR Talks with Stephen Graham Jones

by Matt Ellis

I think we can all agree, 2020 has been an absolute dumpster fire. But it has been one hell of a year for Stephen Graham Jones and his horror novel The Only Good Indians. The success of the novel is no surprise coming from a prolific author whose honors include the Texas Institute of Letters Award for Fiction, the Independent Publishers Award for Multicultural Fiction, a Bram Stoker Award, and four This is Horror Awards. Jones has also been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the World Fantasy Award. I recently chatted with Stephen Graham Jones about the hidden dangers of live book events, challenging social stereotypes in fiction, crafting horror, and his recent contribution to the Marvel Universe. BEWARE: You may never look at a novel or a restaurant menu in the same way again.

Stephen Graham Jones, author of The Only Good Indians. Photo Credit: Gary Isaacs.

The Coachella Review: The Only Good Indians has had a fantastic release. How has the pandemic changed the experience?

Stephen Graham Jones: The big difference, of course, is no in-person events. I’ve had just one with a lot of masks and social distancing. It’s kind of a bummer to miss out on packed bookstores and venues, but at the same time, I get done with a panel or a reading and I don’t have to get on a bus or a plane or a train. I just turn my camera off and I’m home. That’s really nice. My favorite part is I don’t have to go to strange restaurants. I despise strange restaurants.

TCR: I never thought of that as a downside to a book tour.

SGJ: It is for me. I only like to eat off of menus I’ve already eaten off of, which is problematic because I don’t get to go to new places, but I’m happy with that.

TCR: The Only Good Indians’ depiction of contemporary Native American identity in horror is being compared to Jordan Peele’s Get Out. What are your thoughts?

SGJ: I’m thrilled with it, of course. I think two people kicked the door open for that—Jordan Peele [Get Out] and Victor LaValle, with The Ballad of Black Tom. They legitimized being who you are and not having to be somebody else to do horror. People keep telling me that The Only Good Indians is pushing back against this or that. It is, but I don’t have an agenda. When I write fiction, like all of us, I want to write real characters. In order to write real characters who are American Indian, built into that process is both pushing back against and having fun with some of the dominant stereotypes and issues. I do wade into some of that territory, but it’s all in the service of having real people as opposed to having an agenda.

TCR: Mongrels made a powerful statement about being poor in America but in a more general sense. Did you find yourself taking a different approach with The Only Good Indians?

SGJ: To me, it was the same as Mongrels. I was actually a little concerned that I was going to get called out for Gabe [The Only Good Indians] and Darren [Mongrels] being cut from the same cloth. They are similar characters to me. When I went to the people in my life on whom I base characters, Gabe and Darren are based on the same person. But did I have a different approach? I think I did in the sense that I knew that if I’m talking about racial stuff, people are going to react to it differently than they will talking about the working class or poverty level America. I had to account for that. As for how it changed the story, I’m not totally sure.

TCR: You seemed to delve a lot deeper into the backstories of the characters in The Only Good Indians. In Mongrels, you focused on why the characters moved from place to place but provided little info on, are they really wolves, or aren’t they?

SGJ: In Mongrels, the way they throw everything into the car and move to the next town, that was just my own childhood. So, there was that kind of ambiguity between ‘are they wolves, are they not wolves,’ which was what I was trying to explore—were we wolves as I was growing up? Or were we what America would have considered werewolves.

TCR: One powerful section in the novel was when the older Blackfeet set up the first sweat for a teenager and showed the differences in generational identity. The boy tells them that no one says Indian anymore. The characters also consider Hollywood depictions of their culture and lives. African American comedian W. Kamau Bell has a whole routine about loving the Dukes of Hazzard as a kid and later realizing why his mother didn’t like it. Did you have similar revelations in your life that came from the pop culture you grew up with?

SGJ: The Dukes of Hazzard was one of them. I have a model of the General Lee and I was so happy when I found that years and years ago, but then growing up, I realized, dude, that has a Confederate flag on it. That isn’t something you want to display. It’s very conflicting because I feel I used to want to be Bo more than Luke, because I thought Bo had more fun. But I think it’s like that with everybody and all of the media you consume before your defenses are up. It becomes part of your core identity. You can’t really shave that off. You can only try to press it down.

TCR: Was The Only Good Indians a story you carried with you for a while?

SGJ: No. I owed Ellen Datlow a novella after Mapping the Interior. I sat down to try to write one and wrote a novel and I was like dang. Then I sat down after that novel and tried to write a novella and wrote another novel. I thought, do I not know how to write a novella anymore? Then I wrote the first part of [The Only Good Indians], ‘The House that Ran Red,’ and got to the very last line and felt it was a fitting cap to the novella. I heard a whisper in my head of another line that could open it up into a novel, and it made me sad because I wanted to write a novella. I texted my agent and told her that I had just written this thing. I could keep it as a novella, or I could let it open up into a novel. What should I do? She wrote back and said novels sell better, so make it a novel. As for how the idea came, I was in my living room up on a fourteen-foot ladder trying to mess with a lightbulb that wouldn’t behave, and I looked down through the blades of the ceiling fan. I got to thinking about flicker rates and how it takes twenty-four frames per second to make the illusion of motion. I thought, what could I be seeing through the blades of this fan? Then the whole premise of the novel popped into my head about an elk that’s come back. Then I had to ask myself, why does the elk come back? I had to come up with all of that backstory.

TCR: A typical approach to horror seems to be a white guy who encounters something strange and the first hurdle is overcoming disbelief and skepticism. But some cultures deal with the supernatural and death in a vastly different way. If my Panamanian wife saw a ghost, the burning sage would come out immediately to cleanse every corner of the house or she’d find some spiritual help. Some of your characters seem to accept the supernatural at face value. Was there anything within Blackfeet culture that changed your approach?

SGJ: I didn’t even think about that. I guess it’s just the way I think. Whenever someone’s supposed to be at my house at eight thirty at night and they’re not there and it’s nine fifteen, I don’t think that they’re at another thing or they had a flat. I think the aliens got them. That’s definitely what happened. When they show up, I’ll say, ‘I thought the aliens got you.’ They’ll laugh. But I’m not joking. I think that’s why my characters are probably so accepting of unusual explanations because it’s completely rational to me. And Lewis, he’s propelled by guilt, and that pulls his defenses down quite a bit.

TCR: Speaking of Lewis, the tension seems to rely on points of perspective and leaps of logic more than red herrings or jump scares. Do you find those techniques more effective?

SGJ: On the page, yeah. As you know, it’s hard to do a jump scare on the page because the reader controls the pace. If the reader controls the pace, it’s hard to surprise them. I’ve tried it a couple of times, but I don’t know if it worked. In the novel or on the page, dread and misdirection are your best weapon. That’s what the first section of the book is driven by.

TCR: Some authors pride themselves on their gore factor and how you shouldn’t eat before reading their books. You seem to stick with a less-is-more approach with your kill scenes.

SGJ: You’re right. I think less is more when you’re talking about gore. Think about Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We don’t actually see the hook go into that girl’s back, we just see her on the way to the hedge and we hear the sound. When that stuff blooms in the reader’s head, it tends to plant itself deeper into their experience. You have to put some of those gore moments on the page, for sure. I try to dilate the moments and slow down time. Then I try to activate more than one sense. Maybe not go crazy with all five at once but come at it from two or three different angles when time is sliced really thin.

TCR: You’re not a Saw series type of person?

SGJ: I love Saw. I’ve got the first seven in my study. I love them, but I watch it like this [partially covers eyes with hand] because I get grossed out.

TCR: You play a lot with moral ambiguity. I wasn’t sure who to root for at times and what was justified.

SGJ: Definitely. That’s why I wanted to play with the slasher. I love slashers, but often they are too clear about good and evil. But what if the slasher, the spirit of vengeance, was sympathetic? What if we understood why she’s doing this? What if the victims weren’t all bad? What if we liked them? I thought that would complicate things in a productive way. The trick I did with what feels like second person but is dramatic monologue was to create a unique perspective on the page. On the screen, one of the core components is what I call ‘slasher cam,’ when you’re looking through Michael [Meyers’s] eye holes, or you’re looking through the bushes. He establishes the stalking and breathing presence. It’s an effective technique that’s been going on since giallo [early Italian-produced thriller genre], maybe longer than that in horror. But you can’t do that on the page. If you break section to go to the killer’s point of view, then that section break signals to the reader that we’re going to the killer’s point of view. You’re not surprised by it. To do slasher cam on the page, I’d switch from third person to what feels like second person without section breaks and try to pull it off without people calling foul.

TCR: Killing children and animals, especially pets, can really bring the ire of a reader.

SGJ: For sure. The last slasher I did, The Last Final Girl, starts with a decapitation or near decapitation. But within a page or two, there’s a guy trying to cut a living horse’s head off with a broadsword. I thought that would be where people who aren’t into that can go ahead and pull their escape lever. If you’re going to do that kind of stuff, do it early, so people have a way out.

TCR: There is definitely some of you in this book. Is that a natural inclination?

SGJ: I think the reason I do it is that, with my very first novel, The Fast Red Road, I had no idea how to write a novel whatsoever. I just knew I needed a lot of pages and I had no idea how to cross them. As you know, writing a novel is about writing twelve pages and hitting a wall that you don’t know how to get over, under, through, or around. But since I was on a first deadline for that novel, instead of kicking back and thinking about what comes next, I pulled a piece of my own life out and fit it on the page and changed the names. I got through the novel supplanting the empty spaces with my own life and it worked out all right. That also blueprinted and conditioned me toward that for everything I write. That’s how I get through it and make things real.

TCR: So, do you dog-ear pages?

SGJ: I will dog-ear pages. I prefer to stick something in there. I know Lewis is harsh on people who fold the pages. I’m not like that. However, I wouldn’t fold someone else’s pages. 

TCR: Oh, that’s where you draw the line? How far did you get into the backstory of the fantasy series Lewis lent out to Shaney?

SGJ: Just as far as what’s on the page. Initially, I didn’t even plan on there being any real story to the novels. But it turned out that I could use the fantasy novels to trace the mechanism of [Lewis’s] thinking, what was possible to him. He was used to the fantasy novel as a template for what he suspects is going on.

TCR: Basketball plays a significant role with the characters and relationships. How did that come to be?

SGJ: I had a novel come out in 2003, The Bird is Gone, and I planned on having one big section being called by announcers at a basketball game. I found out quickly that I’m terrible at giving dialogue to announcers. I don’t know how to make it interesting. Maybe I have a different skill set now, but I still don’t know how to make two people talking about a basketball game interesting. Then four years later, with Ledfeather, I thought, I’m going to do basketball now. I rigged everything to end with a really important regionals game with one guy rising to make a shot that everyone was hanging on. I got there and it was boring. Then I put everybody in a car to drive back home and the ending of the novel presented itself. I was totally surprised and blindsided, just lucky. Those two novels told me I can’t do basketball on the page in an interesting way to the reader. Then I tried it again in The Only Good Indians, and I think the reason it worked was that during those previous novels, I was still playing ball all of the time. Soon after Ledfeather, I blew out my knee and had to do months of rehab. Then I ruptured my Achilles twice in a row from playing basketball. It was putting me into rehab too much and taking away my writing time. I had to quit playing altogether, not even free throws anymore. I think because I wasn’t playing anymore, I could properly mythologize the basketball scenes because my heart still wanted to play so bad. I had to take the shots on the page.

TCR: Certain characters visualized the outcomes of their situations through what would be in the news headlines later. How did you come up with that?

SGJ: Randomly, really. Lewis was actually the first one to think like that. Ricky’s section in the prologue didn’t use to be at the beginning of the novel. It used to start with Lewis up on the ladder. I needed a way for him to be critical of himself and that was a nice and obvious way. I think that headline thing, to some extent, is something I’ve always done. So, it is just a way for me to infect people with my ridiculous way of thinking.

TCR: The Only Good Indians is like a masterclass of melding different approaches and bending the rules. You go from extremely limited point-of-view shifts to opening up wider and going from strict third person and then adding in dramatic monologue.

SGJ: I think what gave me license to go from really tight over Lewis’s shoulder to a build that allowed me to go from chapter-to-chapter with different people and then also embed that second person slasher dramatic monologue was simply the sections. In the first section, I stuck to the over-the-shoulder or in-his-head method the whole way through. Once we got through that and the filter of the newspaper [article excerpt], we’re reborn into a different section going into the sweat lodge massacre. Then things branched out, going into Denorah’s head and then Gabe, Cass, and then Elk Head Woman. That was what I took as my license, anyway. I couldn’t have done it without the section breaks. I think that the newspaper article was somehow a tunnel or a sluice or a waterslide that delivered you there.

TCR: How has being a teacher grown or changed your writing?

SGJ: Being a teacher, I always find myself articulating this technique or prescribing this rule. It’s not just in the boundaries of class that that stuff holds true. I feel that I’m being dishonest with my students if I don’t hold myself to those structures, the laws we lay down in class. “Laws” in quotation marks, because there are no real laws in fiction except for, like Mark Haskell Smith says, ‘Don’t be boring.’ I feel like when I’m writing, all of my workshops are standing around seeing if I’m going to do something that I told them not to do. That makes me a better writer. Hopefully.

TCR: Yeah. I was going through your book looking for your use of ‘as.’ (Check out Stephen Graham Jones’s excellent article ‘As I Lay Mostly Dying‘ on Lit Reactor.)

SGJ: Every once in a while, I want to do an ‘as’ construction. Then I think one of my students is going to draw a triangle over it.

TCR: Speaking of Mark Haskell Smith. He isn’t an outliner. Are you?

SGJ: No. I never have any idea of where I’m going. I just write the first sentence and let it turn into a paragraph and let that turn into a scene, to a section, chapter, and then a novel.

TCR: Marvel comics recently announced an Indigenous Voices project “to explore the legacy and experiences of Marvel’s incredible cast of Indigenous characters.” How did your collaboration in this project come about?

SGJ: They emailed me and Darcie Little Badger and Rebecca Roanhorse and asked, ‘Do you want to do this?’ Of course we all jumped at it because who doesn’t want to crawl into a Marvel character and write their story? I’ve done comic books and I teach comic books and I read comic books all the time, so it was no great strain. I’m already looking at the thumbnail sketches of all the layouts and the characters. Everything has come together nicely. I’m doing Silver Fox. She was Wolverine’s first kind of wife/girlfriend. They lived in a cabin up in Canada and it was a happy time for Wolverine. This [storyline] talks about Silver Fox just before that, a blank space in the Silver Fox mythos. We know nothing about Silver Fox, so I thought I’d tell a little bit of her story. It comes out in November if I’m not mistaken.

You can (try to) keep up with Stephen Graham Jones at his website: demontheory.net.


Matt Ellis is a retired Army officer serving as a security expert in Guatemala. Over the years, he’s been a HUMINT officer, counterintelligence agent, linguist, diplomat, musician, and Christmas tree trimmer (the machete kind). He’s a freelance reviewer for Publishers Weekly and was the staff screenwriter for Pacific Rim Media. His short fiction has been published at Thought Catalogue. He holds an MS in Information Security from the University of Maryland Global Campus and is studying Fiction at UCR Palm Desert’s Low-Residency MFA program in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts. Find him at www.letswriting.com.

Book Review: Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man

by Rachel Zarrow

According to psychologist and author Mary L. Trump, child abuse is “the experience of ‘too much’ or ‘not enough’.” In her recent memoir of a similar name, Too Much and Never Enough, Mary Trump, the president’s niece, describes the multi-generational cycle of emotional abuse in the Trump family that contributed to the development of Donald Trump’s persona. In the prologue, she writes, “I have no problem calling Donald a narcissist—he meets all of the nine criteria as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)—but the label only gets us so far.” She speculates that he likely meets criteria for dependent personality disorder and a caffeine-induced sleep disorder as well. Mary Trump paints a portrait of Donald as a narcissist whose disordered personality is a byproduct of the abuse of his parents—a chronically ill, subservient mother, and an emotionally withholding and financially enabling father. 

The book is as much an indictment of the entire Trump family as it is of Donald, and it focuses on the influence of Fred Trump senior, Donald’s father and Mary’s grandfather. Fred wanted his oldest son, Freddy (the author’s father) “to be a “killer”  which “was really code for being invulnerable.” According to the author, her grandfather Fred, who amassed a fortune developing real estate in Brooklyn and Queens, “had a propensity for showmanship, and he often trafficked in hyperbole—everything was ‘great,’ ‘fantastic,’ and ‘perfect.’” If this language sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because Donald has parroted the same language throughout his presidency, especially regarding America’s response to COVID-19. She writes:

Donald didn’t drag his feet in December 2019, in January, in February, in March because of narcissism; he did it because of his fear of appearing weak or failing to project the message that everything was ‘great,’ ‘beautiful,’ and ‘perfect.’

Mary Trump describes her grandparents’ house—the House as she calls it—as a place in which societal standards of fairness and justice did not exist.

Ideally, the rules at home reflect the rules of society, so when children go out into the world, they generally know how to behave. When kids go to school, they’re supposed to know that they shouldn’t take other children’s toys and they’re not supposed to hit or tease other children. Donald didn’t understand any of that because the rules in the House, at least as they applied to the boys—be tough at all costs, lying is okay, admitting you’re wrong or apologizing is weakness—clashed with the rules he encountered at school. Fred’s fundamental beliefs about how the world worked—in life, there can only be one winner and everybody else is a loser…and kindness is weakness—were clear.

Not only were the House rules twisted, but they were also unfair, bent to accommodate Donald, who Fred homed in on as his successor.

Mary Trump carefully selects family anecdotes to demonstrate the dynamics that led to both Donald’s inflated sense of self-importance as well as the ultimate downfall of her father, Freddy. Of one of Fred’s real estate controversies, the author writes: “It soon became clear that [Fred] wasn’t going to get the rezoning he needed. Nevertheless, he made Freddy responsible for the near impossible: making Steeplechase a success.” Ultimately, the deal fell apart, and Fred blamed his twenty-eight-year-old son Freddy for its failure. Though this particular anecdote doesn’t revolve around Donald, it demonstrates Fred’s tactics for manipulating his children, a cruelty and absence of emotional intelligence that led Freddy to alcoholism and an untimely death and Donald to an inflated sense of self-worth.

Spanning more than a century of family history in just over two hundred pages, Too Much and Never Enough moves at a fast pace. The challenge I faced, when reading and reviewing it, was the impossibility of compartmentalizing, of disentangling my preconceptions of Donald Trump—one of the most divisive figures on the planet—from the character of “Uncle Donald” as he’s presented in the book. Skeptical readers might dismiss the author as someone motivated by a thirst for revenge, and in the prologue, the author addresses this attack. Mary Trump explains how she’d realized, years earlier after she and her brother were almost entirely written out of their grandfather’s will, “that if [she] spoke publicly about [her] uncle, [she] would be painted as a disgruntled, disinherited niece looking to cash in or settle a score.” Yet she describes how finally, with the “out-of-control COVID-19 pandemic, the possibility of an economic depression, deepening social divides,” as well as the “events of the last three years,” she “can no longer remain silent,” This sense of urgency resounds throughout the memoir.

Toward the end of the book, Mary Trump describes her decision to provide documents to New York Times reporters working on an extensive article examining the Trump family’s business dealings and tax evasion tactics. Though the article details the financials, it doesn’t explore the personal reasons behind Fred’s favoritism and loyalty to Donald, and this personal side—the family dynamics—is what appears in this book and keeps the reader engaged. “Everyone in my family experienced a strange combination of privilege and neglect,” the author writes. Despite the family’s enormous wealth, most of Fred’s children (except Donald) were “trapped in their financial circumstances.” Mary’s aunt Maryanne could only afford to feed her family because she received furtive gifts from her grandmother, “Crisco cans filled with dimes and quarters” from the laundry machines in their various rental units. By most standards, the amount of wealth in the Trump family was abundant, but Fred created an environment in which it never felt like enough. “Of course wills are about money,” Mary Trump writes, “but in a family that has only one currency, wills are also about love.”

Among a number of other recent tell-alls about Donald Trump, Too Much and Never Enough stands out as the only book written by a member of the Trump family, and Mary Trump’s background in psychology positions her uniquely as family historian. With the 2020 election less than two weeks away, there’s no better time to share this book with the undecided voters in your life.


Rachel Zarrow writes fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in various outlets including The Atlantic, BUST, and the San Francisco Chronicle.She is working on her first novel and screenplay. She lives in San Francisco. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @rachroobear and at www.rachelzarrow.com

TCR Talks with Michael Scott Moore

by Matt Ellis

As a writer, Michael Scott Moore has covered the gambit of disciplines. As a freelance journalist, Moore has worked for the American and German press, covering a range of topics from theater, travel, politics, science, and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or outlets like Spiegel Online (now Der Spiegel), The Atlantic, The New Republic, the Los Angeles Times, and many more. Though his novel Too Much of Nothing was his first long-form prose, he is best known for his creative nonfiction work, which has involved traveling the globe to rough and violent areas. For his surfing history, travel, and lifestyle book Sweetness and Blood, Moore journeyed from the birthplace of the sport in the islands of Hawaii to Germany, England, Japan, Cuba, Indonesia, Israel, and Cuba. In 2012, during a Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting grant research trip to Somalia, Moore was kidnapped by Somali pirates. He wrote about his captivity and the people who held him hostage in his award-winning memoir, The Desert and the Sea: 977 Days Captive on the Somali Pirate Coast. Moore graduated from the University of California at San Diego with a degree in German literature. He speaks, reads, and writes fluent German and holds dual U.S.-German citizenship. In addition to being awarded the Pulitzer Center grant, Moore has been honored with Logan and Fulbright fellowships for nonfiction and MacDowell and Yaddo fellowships for fiction. Since the release of The Desert and the Sea, Moore has been a featured speaker about his capture, PTSD, and violent threats to journalists.

Author and Journalist Michael Scott Moore

In August 2020, I connected with Michael Scott Moore via FaceTime to discuss his approach to writing in so many different forms, experiences working as an editor and journalist for both the American and German press, covering stories in austere and violent places, cancel culture, and threats to journalists’ well-being and credibility.

The Coachella Review: Coming from California, you’ve been all over the place. How did you go from Redondo Beach surfer to author and journalist?

Michael Scott Moore: Surfing was never my career. It only occurred to me to write a book about surfing after I moved to Berlin, shortly after the release of my first book [Too Much of Nothing], and realized how many people outside of California liked to surf. I noticed that Germany had a surf scene, and I thought, well, that’s interesting. How did that get there? That was the beginning of Sweetness and Blood. It occurred to me that all these places, all these countries that had a surf scene, also had a story behind how it got there. So, I simply took some journalistic skills and applied myself to that question. I went to Israel, which was in the news around the same time for a cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian surfers. I wrote about the surfers in Germany. I’d already been to Indonesia. Then I went to Morocco. It occurred to me that I could build a book by going to a few more countries. By then, I was already writing for Spiegel, so the notion of writing about another country and inquiring about the culture and how something like surfing might have clashed with it didn’t seem too unusual.

TCR: I was amazed by the rapport and confidence you were able to build with people, like Amat and Haji in Sweetness and Blood, people who usually would be at complete odds with talking to an American. How did you learn that? 

MSM: That was a question of just being friendly and calm. I got to know Amat first, and he was just a very easygoing guy. Once we established a relationship and I spent a couple of days with him, I asked to talk to a few more people in his village. He called in a few people, including Haji, who happened to be not just a devout Muslim, but possibly a radical one. It was hard to tell, but that was just the feeling I got from him. It’s not that I felt in danger, it’s just that it was a particularly sensitive time to be traveling in Muslim countries.

TCR: Definitely. And in The Desert and the Sea, when you write about challenging one of your captors in Somalia about female circumcision not being in the Qur’an—I was taken aback.

MSM: By that time, I had been a hostage for a couple of months, and I found I could be friends with the lower-ranking guards. I think on that particular day, they had actually let me out of my room to sit in the sun on the deck of the room where they were holding me. They started by being nice to me, so it was already a little bit more relaxed. I felt like I could ask them a sensitive question.

TCR: You started writing theater reviews in the United States and then moved [to Germany] to work for Spiegel. How did you approach your work in Germany?

MSM: I was writing a theater column while I wrote my first novel, Too Much of Nothing. My marriage fell apart and, in effect, so did my whole life. I decided to do something very decisive. I wasn’t going to stick around in San Francisco while my ex-wife and my best friend got married. I knew it was cheaper to live in Berlin than in LA or New York. I established a new life in Germany, which turned out to be a great idea. Within a few months, I was working for Spiegel in Berlin. I was using aspects of myself that I hadn’t used in California at all, including the language and using my German passport. And that’s the paradox. I went from moving to Berlin, to feeling nostalgic about California or wanting to surf, to really becoming curious about this aspect of surfing and then writing Sweetness and Blood.

TCR: It seems that German and American audiences would have distinct tastes and expectations. Was there an adjustment period, or did you have to change your style and approach?

MSM: First of all, I couldn’t be as personal as I was in San Francisco, where I was writing a theater column in very much my own voice. A little bit caustic. A little bit funny. And in Berlin, at least, I started with just straight news. I did quite a lot of editing for the [Spiegel Online] website before I did any writing, but I think the first feature I wrote was based on some reporting I’d done in California [on] intelligent design [school curriculum controversy over courses in alternatives to evolutionary theory M.E.]. The story came to a head with a trial in America right around that time, so I banged that story into shape. With that, I could use my own voice a little more, rather than just writing straight news, and it had an effect. The intelligent design people, who were not very honest, had to answer that article. That was very satisfying. Germans don’t necessarily need all of the things that American readers need in a feature. When we wrote and edited features for Spiegel, we didn’t always worry too much about a lead. But, when we were writing for English language readers, we would try to restate the piece so that it did have a lead. First of all, it was an international audience, so you couldn’t assume that people knew things. Writing for a local audience in San Francisco, you assumed a certain number of shared values.

TCR: Were there any hard lessons learned in the early days writing in Germany?

MSM: No, it went well. I mean, when I first landed in Germany, I was just teaching English, so that was kind of a drag. I think what happened was that I wrote a feature about neo-Nazis for Salon very early on and the editor of Spiegel noticed that and took me on. The thing about that is, to Americans, a piece about the resurgence of neo-Nazis in Germany might seem like a very natural piece. But my German friends were like, ‘Oh Jesus, that’s such a cliché.’

TCR: There’s a growing cancel culture in America of people not only voting with their wallets but boycotting as well. Having traveled extensively and worked in the international press, do you think that’s an American phenomenon? Does that exist in other places?

MSM: It definitely exists in other places. But I always thought that one of the good things about America was that it existed less. And by the way, it has traditionally existed more on the Right, no matter what people say. Why it has become so popular on the Left? I don’t understand. But there was recently a story about a singer in Nigeria who said the wrong thing about Mohammed in a rap song and he’s going to be put to death. We don’t have anything like that, but the relative atmosphere of freedom is one thing that’s terrific about the United States, and I don’t see why anyone, especially those who call themselves liberals, would want to see that go away. Republicans love to bash people on the Left for cancel culture, but it’s always been worse on the Right. The ideological width, let’s say, within Republican circles has always been a lot stronger. I don’t see why the Left needs anything like that at all. We’ve really had a wonderful number of decades where thought could really grow freely in the United States, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t continue.

TCR: That’s an important distinction when looking at those issues from a global stage perspective, where a person can literally get killed for their expression, like in the Charlie Hebdo case. (The office of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo was attacked twice, a 2011 firebombing and 2015 deadly shooting, by Muslim extremists over their cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad). But there’s also been a lot of conversation about writing ‘the other’ in areas like YA fiction and when American Dirt came out last year.

MSM: It’s really interesting to read interviews from other generations. There was an interesting interview with Faulkner where he says a writer shouldn’t have any fences at all. It should recognize no restrictions on imagination. That said, I did just teach a seminar at Columbia, and obviously this came up. It’s not bad to have a high bar for writing characters who are not like you. If you’re going to do it, you have to do it well. Frankly, the true rules of writing a living character should be a lot more demanding, a lot scarier to the average writer than an uproar on Twitter.

TCR: That’s true. The process should be uncomfortable, right?

MSM: It should. Rules should be hard. But nobody should be canceled just because they were the wrong race and wrote about a certain ethnicity. That’s an aspect that seems worrying, but I think most of the controversies have also been about the quality of the writing.

TCR: You’ve written fiction, nonfiction, and worked as a journalist. How do you move between these different styles?

MSM: To me, it’s a spectrum. A continuum. I want to continue doing them all. But it is a different way of using your head, so I try to dedicate one day to fiction or nonfiction. I’m working on a couple of projects right now.

TCR: How do you choose what you are going to follow next?

MSM: It’s the project that builds momentum. It announces itself. For example, the novel I’m working on was already going by the time the last book [The Desert and the Sea] came out, so there was no question.

TCR: With the Desert and the Sea, you ended up being the subject of your own writing. Has that experience changed your approach with other projects?

MSM: Not necessarily. That was not the point with that book. But I had certainly written nonfiction from my own point of view before. In essence, it was like the travel writing in Sweetness and Blood, but it had to be more personal memoir and that was the difficult part of that book. I’d never written a personal memoir before. Although I knew exactly what had happened in Somalia, dealing with that material wasn’t as difficult as trying to figure out how much of my own life to bring into it. How much was enough? How much was too much? I had to balance this personal memoir with writing a worthwhile journalistic book, too.

TCR: You have worked to bring a lot of attention to violent threats to journalists worldwide. Have you seen any changes since you started?

MSM: If anything, it’s gotten worse in America. Luckily, the tenor has eased off a little bit. When I first started to talk about Somalia, a little bit before the book came out, which was even before Trump got elected, we started seeing pictures of people at rallies with t-shirts that said, ‘Rope. Tree. Journalist [Some Assembly Required].’ That was a really new atmosphere in America, and thankfully it hasn’t developed into anything as scary as it sounded. But that, as well as the recent police attacks on journalists trying to cover [Black Lives Matter] protests in the streets, these are new developments. I don’t know if young people can quite understand that. I’ve just written an essay about this, which should be out by the time this interview is published, but the Trump rallies really did remind me of the neo-Nazi rallies that I attended for that first article in Germany. The energy was the same. The attitude against journalists was the same. That’s when I realized we were dealing with something really remarkable in the United States.


Matt Ellis is polishing his reading glasses and sharpening his pencils—look for his review of Michael Scott Moore’s new book, coming to The Coachella Review in 2021. In the meantime, follow Michael Scott Moore on Twitter for updates and to watch for links to his short stories and essays, including his essay on the changing atmosphere of journalism discussed in the interview.


Matt Ellis is a retired Army officer serving as a security expert in Guatemala. Over the years, he’s been a HUMINT officer, counterintelligence agent, linguist, diplomat, musician, and Christmas tree trimmer (the machete kind). He’s a freelance reviewer for Publishers Weekly and was the staff screenwriter for Pacific Rim Media. His short fiction has been published at Thought Catalogue. He holds an MS in Information Security from the University of Maryland Global Campus and is studying Fiction at UCR Palm Desert’s Low-Residency MFA program in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts. Find him at www.letswriting.com.

Book Review: A Better Man: A (Mostly Serious) Letter to My Son

by Collin Mitchell

In A Better Man: A (Mostly Serious) Letter to My Son, actor and comedian Michael Ian Black explores the concept of toxic masculinity and what it’s doing to American families and society.

People are touchy (especially those who have never brushed with racist cops or a sexist boss), and even for the newly woke and well-meaning man, the question of, “what can I do to help?” is tangled up in history, falling somewhere between the great man theory and the white man’s burden. A man’s help is a wrought proposition. Because it is presumptuous for us to think, for example, that the BP’s of the world could be capable of cleaning up after themselves just to voluntarily let go of the fossil-fuel thing as soon as the last bird is spruced up and put back to sea.

But then again, why do we think this? Maybe we’ve been looking at the situation wrong, too hung up on the cynicism associated with men’s behavior. It’s perhaps not so much a matter of men getting out of the way (you may though, if you like), but rather, out of their own way, something Black explores well in this book that is part letter, part memoir.

Known for playing dry, socially removed characters for much of his TV and movie career, Michael Ian Black admits that he drew on this “stone-faced” persona until he realized there was “something fundamentally dishonest about it.” “I look more like my mom,” he writes. “But I have never felt possessed by her in the same way I do when I discover my dead father’s expression on my face.” Being a man is learned, he argues, a prescriptive measure, and it’s his ease of language and careful understanding of his own role as a father and celebrity that makes his book relatable for the reader who can chew gum and walk at the same time. Someone who can say: I am not a racist, misogynist, sex-entitled bore, but I am not immune to it either.

There is a sense throughout the book that America has walked itself into a corner, where choices on gendered behavior are either/or without much room for an alternative. This of course is changing, but certainly not overnight. Black, who is not yet fifty, reminds us that masculinity is not as fluid as so many commercials, think-pieces, and TV shows might lead us to believe. “The brain darts to ‘boy stuff’,” he writes of the unconscious impulses he had after learning he and his wife were having a son. The point he makes here, and through much of the book, isn’t that men’s train of thought is necessarily bad, but rather it’s how they act on it. Unraveling thousands of years of gender norms, often opportunistic and violent, is a lot to take on, but making oneself aware of it isn’t. “Sometimes it’s not easy to distinguish between the things that have value and the things that don’t,” Black writes of the challenge many people, especially older generations, face to understand cultural change.

At the same time, Black depends on what seems like outdated ideas about gender, writing, “[I]t wouldn’t be unusual to hear somebody say that a hard-charging stockbroker is a ‘real man’ but a stay-at-home dad is not.” For this reviewer, men as primary caregivers feels celebrated in 2020, even when stay-at-home dads don’t have a job. But Black’s experience tells me I could be wrong. Black has a large social media presence and has, over the years, opened himself up to no shortage of trolling, mostly questioning his manhood. Perhaps he is right to start the book at the collective bottom.

Black is self-effacing about sex and he writes openly about his own caution with early relationships. On splitting the dinner check, he carefully taps into a sense of remorse: “I didn’t want my dates to think that I expected anything from them in return for dinner and a movie; I was trying to protect my dates from, I guess, me.” This section is illuminating, and Black carefully prescribes his thoughts on the ambiguity of “sexual courtship,” while acknowledging that men are not all “sex-crazed goons,” though it would be nonsense to think that average young men don’t think about sex all the time. A problem (one of many) about sex between men and women is a lack of talking. This is an oversimplification of something Black does very well to write about, but in the end, good sex for men—and it was refreshing to see this in print—comes from the inside. As a letter to his son, Black is successful here in making plain what many young men don’t want to admit: that they actually care about the other person, even if it’s just for a night. “‘Can I kiss you?’ does not have to be a buzzkill,” he writes. “And if she says no, congratulations! You’ve just avoided sexual assault.”

A little self-awareness goes a long way according to Black’s account of the male psyche. And you don’t have to step on anyone’s toes in doing so. At its core, A Better Man is one white male talking to another about responsibility—a conversation for the ages. Yet it turns the highly wrought advice of, don’t be scared, you’re a man, on its head. Rather it’s, ask for help, you’re a person. The book effectively asks the question of what it means to be a man and what that inquiry of identity is doing to men and society at large. The answer is a lot. Some of it good, some of it bad, but regardless, you have to take responsibility for how you treat others. Or else no one is going to like you. That’s incredibly good advice from one dad to another. (Algonquin Books, $24.95)


Collin Mitchell is a student in the UC Riverside Low Residency MFA program and the author of The Faithful, a historical biography of the opera composer Giuseppe Verdi. He lives in Palm Desert with his wife and son.

Book Review: Convenient Amnesia

by  Sara Grimes

The sweetness of Convenient Amnesia, Donald Vincent’s debut poetry collection, took me to new heights before unsettling me in the pit of my stomach. Vincent catches us off guard by capturing breathtaking beauty before leveling us with the realities of twisted wrongs against the Black community. The first poem, “Lucky Charm,” sets the tone: “You knew about it but forgot like last week’s newspaper / headline. / I want to whistle whimsical feelings to white women, / Emmett Till’s charm.”

Convenient Amnesia summons all the appeal and literary acumen required of it as a fierce debut book of poems. Yet it also uses that very same blend of scholastic prowess and street smarts to dismantle oppression.

It seeks to awaken us to the history of oppression in a jarring way that we cannot forget. Likewise, it emulates a history of poetry while shaking us to the core of what it means to do the work of poetry. The first poem in Part III, entitled “Trigger Warning,” asks us, “Is art not / capitalist propaganda?”

As an artist himself, it would seem that Donald Vincent holds the inherent contradictions of this statement. It seems like a question he grapples with throughout the book. In one sense, art is capitalist propaganda because it is systematized in a way to fuel complacency. In another sense, the more agency artists—particularly artists of color—have over art, the more art can use elements of creativity, beauty, and wonderment to manifest change.

The book is divided into three sections. Part I is a savage critique of complacency in the face of racism: “When I die, will I see black? Buried in a black coffin—trapped Waiting on Obama to address my situation in his fireside chats,” Vincent asks us in “Black Ink.” Is the author equating Blackness with death, or is he asserting that only once one has escaped from the racism in this life can a Black person be free? Whatever his meaning, there is no room for waffling on the issue of race in this call to arms.

Vincent opens Part II with the words: “Because some things in life are better when we can willingly forget.” This is when the title comes into the foreground. Convenient Amnesia takes hold as the author loses himself to the three distractions of white women (“Somewhere between struggle-fest and jet lag from this year’s Cannes film festival, could this be love at first swoon?” from “Poet’s Portrait of Marie C.”), the beauty of the Western world (“I want to write this poem in French because I am in France” from “La Seine”), and education (“I peek at the Boston U. biddies, who look cute in groups” from “Riding the T.”). Each of these distractions is problematized by the dual threats of racism: violence and ignorance, two sides to the same coin. Even in the throws of the type of convenient amnesia found in French splendor, Vincent takes a trip to the graveyard and is reminded, “Death makes us feel alive, an orgasmic hoax.”

In the final section, Vincent returns to chronicling a history of oppression, but this time he does so by cracking open the lens of poetry. Vincent pays tribute to a literary cannon of diverse authors from Gwendolyn Brooks to Amiri Baraka to Emily Dickinson to E.E. Cummings. His penchant for summoning charm that leaves a sinking feeling comes into play as he takes us whimsically through Desgas’s arabesques to Maya Angelou’s America as a cage “or a jukebox with no change.”

The final poem, “Waking from Sleep,” is a tribute to John Sexton, but it is also a summary of the activist nature of this book of poetry. It is a call to wake up from the complacency of wavering opposition to racism. Moreover, it is a demand to confront it as lethal with critical urgency.


Sara Grimes is a poet and writer, studying creative writing at UC Riverside. Her poetry has been published in the Dewdrop Digest and Beyond Words Magazine and featured in Kelp Journal. She is an advocate for diverse women’s rights through her work in Expat Women, is active in immigrant education through her work at Literacy Source and uses her writing to empower neurodiverse individuals. You can find her on Twitter at @UrbanLimrick.

TCR Talks With Michele Filgate

By: Felicity Landa

Shortly after Michele Filgate’s deeply personal essay about her relationship with her mother was published on Longreads, it went viral. “Our mothers are our first homes, and that’s why we’re always trying to return to them,” she begins in her poignant and moving piece. In her essay, Filgate breaks her silence to tell the story of why her relationship with her mother is so painful.

“I wrote this essay because I felt like we couldn’t have this conversation in real life,” she tells me during our interview. In doing so, Filgate unearthed a community of people who also had stories about all the things they couldn’t talk about with their mothers. “Knowing that something can speak to a stranger and make them feel less alone, and really resonate with them—that’s the power of words,” she says. The overwhelming response to Filgate’s words gave her the idea to compile an anthology named for her original essay: What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About.

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We Are All Karolina

by Cynthia Bruckman

“EXCUSE ME, MISS! ARE YOU JEWISH?”

I had just moved from San Francisco to New York City. I was walking down Park Avenue, heading to the 6 train after a particularly grueling day of work, when I was approached by two young men from the Chabad, an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic movement, waving what looked like willow branches at me as they shouted and ran in my direction. I had that dark-haired “Jewish look,” I suppose, that they were eagerly scouting for in rush-hour Manhattan during Sukkot. They were very excited.

“It depends on how you define ‘Jewish,’” I answered. It appeared as if I were about to be blessed by their branches, and as a newly arrived New Yorker, I needed to be blessed.

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TCR Talks with Abby Geni

BY: A.e. SANTANA

Abby Geni is the award-winning author of The Lightkeepers and The Last Animal. Her latest novel, The Wildlands, explores the traumatic repercussions of a category five hurricane when it hits Mercy, Oklahoma, and demolishes the home of the McCloud family. Orphaned, the children attempt to go on with their lives but are swept into a world of dangerous, fanatical eco-terrorism that is both frightening and understandable. Through their story, Geni examines the turbulent state of our natural world and plays with the line between saving the planet and destroying ourselves.

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