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Book Review

Book Review

The Last Wolf & Herman

by on September 8, 2016

unnamedThe Last Wolf, by Laszlo Krasznahorkai

Herman, by Laszlo Krasznahorkai

At the outset of this review, I must admit to a bias: I am predisposed in favor of audacity and the blending of chaos and symmetry.  This is not a perspective that all potential readers will share with me and I can say, quite objectively, that the writing of Laszlo Krasznahorkai is not for all potential readers.  But for those of you that enjoy brilliant use of language, clever re-purposing of convention, and seamless immersion into vivid perspectives, I dare you to find better than The Last Wolf and Herman, two novellas written by Laszlo Krasznahorkai and translated by George Szirtes and John Batki, respectively.

The Last Wolf is the sentence of a man who, through a case of mistaken identity, is invited to write the story of the last wolf of Extremadura, a region in Spain.  You read that line correctly.  This is the sentence of that man.  The entire work, spanning seventy pages, is written as a single, unbroken, grammatically correct sentence.  In creative writing classes and workshops, authors are perpetually warned against ridiculousness such as this.  They are told that readers do not want to devote the thought and energy required to follow, much less unpack, a work that so thoroughly contradicts traditional narrative structure.  To hell with that.  The Last Wolf is a work of true art, operating under its constraint with such a rigor and life that it seems hardly bound to any rules at all.  The contours of this sentence are shaped in such a way that an experienced reader and writer can actually see the craft as it unfolds, as if watching Krasznahorkai mold everything into its proper place.  And despite there being only one sentence, the narrative and the manner in which it is delivered never feels incomplete.  Pace changes, social commentary, and all of the necessary pieces of the plot’s mosaic are presented as if the story were a mystery, asking the reader to truly participate in the creation of this work.  In the moments where the text slows and looms toward a possible break in thought or an “appropriate” period, it suddenly rushes off again on a new train of ideas, bound in almost perpetual motion.  Which, incidentally, keeps the read from ever being boring.  Of course, the constraint is not merely there for its own sake – it helps to wonderfully encapsulate the perspective of the narrator, who is caught on some seemingly inevitable and relentless descent in perspective, lost in his own melancholy and frustration, so desperate to escape it that he seeks to live someone else’s lie.  He knows that his story, and his part of this story, must come to an end, and so he drags it out to such a length that you wonder if he might not have died after that first and only period.

By contrast, Herman is, on the surface, a more traditional pair of stories.  It consists of “The Game Warden” and “The Death of a Craft”, two short stories so wildly different that I would have believed anyone who had told me they were written by different authors.  It is as if Krasznahorkai, after writing The Last Wolf, then set out to show his grasp of familiar narrative, as if to retroactively justify his previous boldness.  And I can genuinely say I enjoyed these stories even more than the larger novella.  Both stories provide a wealth of commentary on human excess and existential motivation, but they approach the topics from entirely separate angles.  “The Game Warden” could almost be classified as a satirical take on the hero’s journey, if not for its profoundly serious conclusion.  A simple story about a hunter and groundskeeper, the titular Herman, trying to hold back the advance of nature quickly and systematically devolves into a visceral, brutal examination of human arrogance, self-righteousness, and willful ignorance.  “The Death of Craft” is one of the finest examples of atmospheric writing I have ever read, with the use of language and narrative tone so perfectly encapsulating a hedonistic mindset that I found myself feeling wanton and unclean as I read.  The story involves the same general setting and chronology of events as “The Game Warden”, but it does so through the eyes of a traveling group of sensationalist dilettantes, with perspectives about as far from Herman’s as it is possible to have.  Krasznahorkai’s chameleonic skill in writing such vastly different narrations is incredible, immersive, and engrossing.

Do yourself a favor and pick up these companion pieces.  They are not long, but they are so well written that they hold up and present fascinating value whether they are read in a quick sitting or whether they are deliberately unpacked and interpreted.  I could not be more impressed by my introduction to Mr. Krasznahorkai’s work, and I cannot wait to read more.


The Last Wolf and Herman are available for preorder now from New Directions.

Book Review

Poor Love Machine

by on September 6, 2016

PLMCover-1-e1460339402418Poor Love Machine by Kim Hyesoon


Kim Hyesoon has long been held in high regard as a master of Korean letters. Originally published in Seoul in 1997, Poor Love Machine was chosen for the Kim Su-yŏng Poetry Prize, arguably South Korea’s most coveted accolade. Recently, and with the assistance of another Korean literary luminary in Don Mee Choi, her works have been graciously translated into English. Choi’s recent translation of Hyesoon comes in the form of the poetry collection Poor Love Machine, an eloquent meditation on corporeal misery, and the crushing spaces the body inhabits.

The opening piece in the collection titled “Rat,” is packed with the overarching thematic qualities found in the collection, and is perhaps the most telling and intimate insight into the mind of Hyesoon and the temporal space her subjects reside.

Do people know how much it hurts the darkness when you turn the light on in the middle of the night?

“Rat” meditates on the speaker’s desire for a certain darkness to maintain within their life – specifically the essence of darkness that defines their body. Light is seen as something foreign and destructive to the relative solitude and solace that is found within the speaker’s bodily darkness. In one such attack the light places on the darkness, the speaker equates the experience eloquently to that of a pinned down beatle: “When the light is switched on inside my darkness, I buzz like a beetle pinned down, bzzz, bzzz, bzzz, bzzz, and shake my head wildly, my mandibles  holding onto a black string.” The body is not only a source of misery with Hyesoon, but it has also come to represent a symbol of the grotesque.

Choi’s translation of Poor Love Machine is worthy of its own critical review. The English translation of Poor Love Machine can feel opaque – with certain passages being thorny and vaguely impenetrable. This can be explained quite easily by Choi’s careful translation, and devotion to not compromising the inherent playfulness of Hyesoon’s Korean. It would have been easy for Choi to have bypassed the idiosyncratic nature of Hyesoon’s language, and opted for a more streamlined and accessible English text, but she decided to grace us with a wonderful translation that is combative, stunning, and at times challenging.

In the semi-titular poem “Poor Love Machines Trapped in Rain,” the theme of the human body being represented as something that is prone to being destroyed or “crushed” is on display:

The crushed body gets erased / then is crushed again

In Kim Hyesoon’s world the body is a consistent source of misery, and of cosmic constraint and disillusionment. In the piece titled “Driving in the Downpour,” Hyesoon lamentably asks, “why have I lived so long in the same body[?]” There is a strong thread of dissatisfaction with the body in this collection that really propels it forward at a manic, nervous pace. This feeling of neurosis bleeds from the page in pieces like “Sunstroke,” where the stylistic choice to use repetition only adds to its feverish nature:

Get submerged / get submerged in the blazing sun / get submerged in the rippling blazing sun

“Sunstroke” relies heavily on a vaguely Steinian poetic elliptical style. This becomes most apparent in the following three lines:

Hear something as I get submerged in the rippling blazing sun / Hear something then don’t hear then hear again / as I get submerged in the rippling blazing sun

This puts an emphasis once more on the body and the space that it inhabits. “Sunstroke” portrays the sun as a cleansing, almost spiritual entity, where the body is a source of pain and must be purged. Unlike collection opener “Rat,” where light was seen as something intrusive and destructive, Hyesoon attributes the sun to be a kind of corporeal reprieve. The speaker relates the sound of being submerged in the sun to that of a “voice I have wanted to hear for a thousand years.” The longing and insatiable desire for the body to enter a kind of cosmic oblivion free from the violence of the human body is at the heart of “Sunstroke” and Poor Love Machine.

It would be remiss to not highlight the cultural context for this collection’s release in Korea during the 1990’s. It’s release and acclaim represented a trailblazing moment for female Korean writers, and has long been seen as a crucial Korean feminist tome. The concrete misery conveyed by Hyesoon in this collection, is the collective misery of a turbulent Korea during the 1990’s, a country that witnessed vast cultural and social upheaval. Nearly 20 years later, and now with a wonderful English translation, this collection has the promise of being just as important and vital to the world of English letters. 20 years on, in times of great global uncertainty and misery, Poor Love Machine couldn’t feel more relevant.


Poor Love Machine is available now through Action Books.

Book Review

On The Edge

by on September 1, 2016

41p6CV9+ABL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_On the Edge, by Rafael Chirbes

Translated by Margaret Jull Costa


It is perhaps easier to see the beauty in art when that art deals with a subject that is, for lack of a better term, beautiful.  On the Edge, by Rafael Chirbes, does not deal in what most of us would consider beautiful.  But there is no denying the skill, emotive eloquence, and resonant power of this book.  It openly attacks youth-worshiping culture and sentimental idealism in a way that demands the reader listen, laying down the gauntlet after having slapped the face of naïve ignorance.  It manages to be both allegorical and extremely direct, doggedly rejecting subtlety but somehow rife with commentary and implications that take multiple reads to fully process.  This is the kind of book that, given its density and tone, you will want to reward yourself for having finished, and yet that same reward may very well be another crack at the text.

One of the best things about truly skilled authors is that, when they break “the rules” of writing, they do so in ruthlessly effective fashion, making their violations serve a purpose and enhance the atmosphere of the work.  Chirbes’ version of this is his mercilessly long paragraphs.  Whole sections of pages, whole pages, and even multiple pages can be taken up by the same interconnected, unbroken thought process.  Even to an experienced reader, this can be intimidating.  But the way to make this style work to the author’s advantage is to make excellent use of language and make the block feel authentic to the speaker.  Esteban, the novel’s protagonist, is bitter and desperate and intelligent and utterly lost.  His sentences are rarely complicated but they are delivered one after the other in otherwise unbroken litanies expressing his grievances and observations.  These paragraphs possess a deceptive and clever flow that both speed the process of reading them and immediately convey to the reader that Esteban has had enough time to carefully hone his thoughts in a highly organized and extensive essay on society.

Those thoughts are rarely unclear.  A reader can turn to any page of the text and pull something biting and poignant – “If money serves any purpose at all, it at least buys innocence for your descendants”.  But the lack of ambiguity is not a hindrance in the novel.  If anything, it assists the reader’s digestion.  The point is made, and the text moves on.  But that is not to say that there is not room for interpretation.  Moreover, while the novel gives us ample amounts of Esteban’s perspective, it doesn’t seem entirely settled on the idea that he is “right”.  For example, consider the following quote: “The easiest way to attract attention is to do extravagant, stupid things.  Standing out from the crowd because of your work is a lot harder.”  On the surface, the point is simple and particularly relevant in an age where Kim Kardashian and Farrah Abraham get more attention than most genuine, supremely talented artists.  But is this quote the resulting point of view of a bitter old man who watches as wealth and culture have left him behind?  Or is it the voice of someone who has suffered greatly from a system that extends far beyond his control?  An argument can be made for both, or neither.

Special note should be given for one of the most powerful and difficult moments in the book, in which Esteban gives his elderly, disabled father a bath.  The experience is described in intimate, uncomfortable detail that would be familiar to any who have dealt with such a situation before.  This is the book’s crescendo, where the sum total of its philosophy and perspective can be found in a multi-layered event.  And while it is perhaps the most strenuous part of the book to read, it deserves the utmost care while reading.  The relationship between generations of families and of nations, the human needs for understanding and respect, and the visceral, grimy nature of the book’s perspective on the world are all addressed as part of an intense metaphor.  It many ways, it leaves the strongest and most lasting impression.

Mr. Chirbes has written many stellar novels, and this definitely deserves to be counted among them.  On The Edge presents a demanding critique of modern Western society, including culture and economics, in such a way that it avoids the common pitfalls of soapbox preaching and not trusting the reader to common to their own conclusions.  The book is not for those who do not value a challenge, but, in all honesty, why wouldn’t we?


On The Edge is available now through New Directions Publishing Company.



Book Review

The Surrender

by on August 30, 2016


The Surrender, by Scott Esposito


2016 has been a year where many great novels, memoirs, and books of poetry regarding sexuality, identity, and the challenging of the gender binaries have been released. Authors like Susan Faludi, Drew Nellins Smith, and Robert Coné have found an imaginative way to present the aforementioned topics while allowing even the readers who may feel far removed from the topics to become absorbed in the literature. The same can be said about Scott Esposito’s collection of essays, The Surrender.

The essays supplement each other. They come together to form a magical journey that does not have a beginning, middle, or end. It is perhaps Esposito’s refusal to conform to a predisposed format that fascinated me. I wanted to keep reading because of the way the words moved on the page. Sure, it sounds a bit silly to say as such, but I found that within a matter of pages Esposito was able to take me from staring into a mirror at a woman who is captivated by her appearance to the heartbreaking pain a young boy feels as he sneakily tries on his sister’s bra. The incident with the bra is the first of a lifetime of feeling both shame and happiness. The narrator confides in the reader: “I had never felt revulsion at the thought of something I was wearing. I had never felt any feeling that remotely resembled this” but at the same time reveals: “Minutes later I wanted nothing more that to wear it outside of the bathroom, but I knew I couldn’t.” The contradictory revelation points to the way much of this essay is written. The narrator has many experiences where he is both shameful and enchanted to be wearing women clothing. Scenes like the one described above beg a larger question and one that should be directed to society: are we suppressing individuals by what we tell them to wear or by what we tell them not to wear?

Another reason I enjoyed The Surrender is because it is many things at once. The collection can be viewed as a memoir, film criticism, essay, theory, and even perhaps as a bibliography of sorts. Esposito’s last essay, “The Surrender,” conveniently reveals a sort of works cited where he divulges the different books and authors who have influenced him in some way or another. I can definitely see Esposito’s collection being taught in a Queer Studies or Women Studies class. At least, I hope a professor will encounter Esposito’s collection and get the same valuable information I received in the matter of a hundred pages or so and share the information with students in the hope of creating a dialogue both in and out of the classroom.

If one thing is to be learned from reading the collection is that identity is fluid. We live in a society where the media dictates what women and men should be wearing and how they should be acting. However, identity is not always related to our gender. Our identity constantly changes as we associate ourselves with other individuals and the different personas we constantly take in order to feel like we belong. This intersectionality of identities creates borders that we must see beyond. Ultimately, the reader is able to take away that identity is fluid not stagnant and is instead formed by the way in which an individual is socialized. I believe the point of Esposito’s words is to remind us that we can change the way we view each other. We can argue for the fluidity of identity and a remapping of our cultural topography.


The Surrender is available now through Anomalous Press.

Book Review

Alien Weaving

by on August 25, 2016

alien-weaving-cover-350x450Alien Weaving, by Will Alexander


In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato writes about a man who has literally added an entire dimension to his thinking.  The man’s eyes are opened to the world’s depth and complexity in a way that nearly blinds him twice.  And when he tries to share his newfound knowledge with his friends, they reject him and it in favor of their comforting darkness.  I cannot help but think of the Allegory of the Cave when I read Alien Weaving, by Will Alexander.  The protagonist of the story, a woman named Kathrada, reads as if she is stepping into the glare of the sun, her skin and retinas searing but vehemently resisting destruction, as if through sheer determination she can transcend physical limitation.  She goes on a psychological and metaphysical journey that somehow encompasses the entire planet and yet never truly leaves the confines of her cacophonous mind.  The result of this transformative trial of endurance is that she becomes a prophet of perspective.

The first thing that takes hold of you as you read Alien Weaving is the language.  From the first paragraph, the complexity and the intricacy of the word choice and sentence structure are of paramount importance.  It could said that this is the case for any work of literature, regardless of quality, but the difference here is that Alexander is using every vocabulary tool the English language can provide to describe the sensations and thought processes that Kathrada experiences.  It transcends pretention through sublime specificity, and it makes no apology for its quest to find the place where language and reason meet.  In fact, the closest thing to an apology is a demand of the reader: “You must excuse the complexity of my aboriginal fulguration, of my feral-first seeing.”  And, indeed, you must, if you have any hope of traversing the text.  Make no mistake – this work is demanding, challenging, and complex.  It is not for casual reading, winding down, or clearing the mind.  Kathrada has had her mind opened to the hypercomplexity of the cosmos and its vast interconnectedness, and she has no reason to wait for those who lack curiosity.  The words pour from her like light that simply cannot be contained by her physical vessel.

But for all of her intellectual apotheosis, Kathrada is still remarkably human, and that fact keeps Alien Weaving accessible and relatable through the myriad vistas and experiences.  As so many revelations are, the concepts that she encounters and describes are alternately beautiful and horrifying.  The aloof distance in the tone (made ironic by the use of the 1st person) buffers tragedies in a fashion reminiscent of Vonnegut – “When I renounced the Christ child as phasma I was no longer spared by believers, I was plunged into thickets of anathema, and then labeled as protectress of infernos.”  The descriptive terms are vivid and poignant, but the many sentences like these are spoken of in remembrance, almost as if they had happened to someone else, a possibility that, given the transformation of the character, is philosophically justifiable.  This distance cracks more than once, however, giving the reader critical insights – “I am an exile because of this fierce resistance I carry about me.  I refuse to be a resident within the statutes of crime.”  Lines like this are delivered with sudden venom and a flavor of defensiveness as if, even post-evolution, she still feels an instinctive impulsive to guard and justify herself.  Moreover, the work’s repeated invocation of the concept of vertigo is very telling.  Kathrada is overtaken by it more than once.  As she slips in and out of the flow of time, across the wide expanses of nations, and between schools of thought, she seems to be able to sense the sheer distance she has traveled and can traveled.  She finds it nauseating as often as any other descriptor.  Whether her alchemical reshaping is, as of yet, incomplete, or she exists in some Christ-like duality of human and divine is left for the reader to decide.

Alien Weaving is an amazing text and something of a love letter to the act of writing.  When Kathrada opens the text by stating “I create.”, she means that on multiple levels.  She understands now that, as a writer dedicated to her craft and crafted by her experiences, she possesses the tools and capacity to shape reality itself.  Moreover, she understands the responsibility that comes with such power, but she does not let it burden her.  She weaves in spite of the wounds, allowing blood the mix into the tones, forsaking the pristine in favor of the real.  Mr. Alexander has presented a masterclass in the use of language and the interconnectedness of emotion, thought, and existence.  I would encourage anyone who dreams of being a writer to engage this text again and again, so that they might see what can be achieved through choice alone.


Alien Weaving is now available through Anonymous Energy.

Book Review

Radio: Wireless Poem in Thirteen Messages & Uncollected Poems

by on August 23, 2016

diseno-de-tapa-kyn-taniya-print1Radio: Wireless Poem in Thirteen Messages & Uncollected Poems by Kyn Taniya

There is something to be said about the importance of translation in regards to literature. I would not have been able to experience the work of so many writers that I love and admire if it were not for the endeavor of translators. Sometimes, the translation is coupled with a work being re-issued after many years, shining light on authors that may not have had much exposure outside their language. Allowing the work to breathe new life and hopefully widen the reach of their powerful words. When I am handed a book of translation it is quite frequently an exciting moment. The gravity of the process that it took in order for the book to reach my hands does not fall lightly on me. This was especially true with the book Radio: Wireless Poem In Thirteen Messages & Uncollected Poems by Kyn Tania.


Originally published in Mexico in 1924, where it now considered a cult classic of the estridentista avant-garde movement, Radio has now been translated after 92 years for a new audience to experience. The first thing that strikes about this bi-lingual collection is the sheer modernity of the work. The poems in this short collection feel like they could have easily been composed today as they were in the early 1920’s.


Poems discussing wireless technology and celestial objects, making reference to radio waves, could be seamlessly interchanged to discussions of cell phones and Wi-Fi signals. An example of this is in the poem “Midnight Frolic”:



Listen to the conversation of words

in the atmosphere.


There is an insupportable confusion of terrestrial voices

and of strange voices



The feeling of connection in these poems – that is hopeful in many ways – still bleed so beautifully into the feelings of unease that has only grown exponentially as technology has grown. Today the voices we hear are schizophrenic and never ending (unless you are lucky enough to pass through a data dead zone which is becoming more and more infrequent). The idea of broadcasting yourself out in the world is still such a novel idea today, one that I grapple with on frequent occasion. Because it is still so new, the rules and etiquette are ever changing, what may be socially acceptable one day may be strange another day. You just have to listen to the right voices.


The concepts and feelings in regards to technology are coupled with social unrest, political instability on a global level, and loss of loved ones to make poems whose words are cutting, sincere, and contemplative. In the poem “… IU IIIUUU IU …” (of which there is a great recording online of the poet reading it) we are presented with broadcasts of problems and occurrences around the world: Deaths in Chicago, unrest in Bagdad, sports heroes, and more all for sale to consumers at low prices. So quick and accessible it would be a shame not to take it all in.


When I read these poems I was given the realization of how much the world has really not changed. There have been advancements in technology that have pushed us closer together, closer to the stars, yet closer to oblivion; however the sentiment, the soul of what concerns us as human beings is still very much the same. The poems that live within this collection are fresh, and vibrant. Just as alive as when they were written.


Radio by Kyn Tania is available through Cardboard House Press

Book Review

I Want Love So Great It Makes Nicholas Sparks Cream In His Pants

by on August 19, 2016

COVER18_Love_So_Great - Copy

I Want Love So Great It Makes Nicholas Sparks Cream In His Pants, by Calvero


A very large and ongoing conversation regarding poetry is: what should a poem do or be? Despite the many essays and all of the anthologies that exist on the subject of poetry, whether a poem is aesthetically pleasing to the eye and to the mind is always, arguably, up to the reader. This conversation is important when discussing Calvero’s I want Love So Great It Makes Nicholas Sparks Cream in His Pants. Calvero writes a little over two hundred pages of love poems, writing love in ways that make reading the words aloud may sound humorous, or may sound just like one giant dark satire on modern love and life. However, the words on the page are so frank, so unfiltered as if they were peeled off of the speaker’s mind like a sticker. They transfer onto the page as one (sometimes more than one) blunt, original, train of thought about things such as the woman that the speaker of the poem sexually desires, loves, sometimes even hates. This is the kind of poetry that forces oneself to think about our own writing. Whether it is a poem, a story, blog, Facebook status, or a page in our diary, what kind of agency do we give to our own thoughts? At what point do we decide which thoughts are the ‘good enough’ ones that are going to be seen by the rest of the world? The speaker in Calvero’s poems would probably say: fuck it, all of them.

I envy Calvero for what the speaker in his poems was able to deliver consistently from the first poem to the last- an unfiltered, unapologetic confession. Perhaps this was not his aim, but when I read the lines in his title poem at the end of the first chapter “I wanna fuck the woman/ of my dreams/on top of the Eiffel Tower,” I couldn’t help but wonder why he opted out of decorous, superfluous language. I thought about John Donne’s poem “The Flea,” where the speaker of his poem is using a Flea to convince the women in the poem why she should have sexual relations with the speaker. While Donne’s poetry is mainly described as metaphysical poetry, comparing the two poets’ style helps add to the larger conversation.  Needless to say, Calvero’s poems are anything but your typical hallmark card about love. This thought about Calvero’s poetry persisted into the second, third, and fourth chapter. In the penultimate chapter “Love from Afar,” the poem c.t., stands out as a moment where the speaker reaches a moment of clarity regarding the disdain that may come from love, or self-love. The speaker calls for one to allow your passions to consume you, to let our passions grow until they crush us, because “it’s the only way to live / and it’s the only way to die.” Often times in poetry, we are left to wonder if there is any big, capital “T” truths in it. We become heavily invested in trying to figure out if there is a point. However, in the poem c.t., I admire these words for their accessibility. At face value, the speaker may be offering us a way to deal with the heartache that comes from love and life, but simultaneously it is unaware of its audience. This poetry does not care whether you will listen to what it has to say, or whether you care about the words on the page sounding like they are trying to follow a popular literary convention.

This book is for those who are poetry opportunists, those who are willing to use the circumstances that Calvero has provided for us in writing, and use them to their advantage, i.e., a poem will make you feel something or perhaps nothing at all, and that is okay. In the culminating chapter “Finding Love in Unexpected Places,” Calvero expresses cynicism while still providing a sort of closure. In his final poem, “Happiness Revolution 4/15/13”, the lines “this is me / rebelling against everything shitty / that makes me / me” echo throughout and serve as a reminder to the speaker and the reader, that rebelling against oneself and the world around us is part of what makes us human. Our feelings are sometimes bigger than our own shadows, sometimes bigger than our logic at a particular moment in time: human heart > human brain. For seventeen pages, he constantly tugs at our failures as humans as orthodox, nothing more. Often times as readers or writers, we look for answers in what we read, but sometimes sit uneasy to voice our questions to get them. This is why Calvero’s choice of words throughout this book of poems is important—he champions the everyday voice in our head no matter who we are. It is okay to not have answers; it is okay to only have questions, to kick, scream and yell during our path to our own happiness revolution.


I Want Love So Great It Makes Nicholas Sparks Cream In His Pants is now available through University of Hell Press.

Book Review

The Information Crusher

by on August 12, 2016

informationcrusherThe Information Crusher, by John Colasacco


Many of our stories follow a certain structure, one that feels as though it fits with causality, or rather what we wish causality meant.  But slipping out from underneath such a definition can lead to experiencing a profound freedom of perspective.  John Colasacco’s The Information Crusher is a case study in such an experience.  The text is presented not as a puzzle with pieces meant to be rearranged “correctly” by the reader, but as the fragments of a shard of four-dimensional reality, intentionally smashed and left to create patterns based on existential whim.  No judgment is forced on these patterns.  They are allowed to be the product of random chance or the careful machinations of fate; sometimes both.  The fragments have connective tissue that is readily apparent, but that tissue is not so binding as to prevent the reader from creating her or his own meaning.

If that point sounds intellectually vague, it is because The Information Crusher is so open to personal interpretation that any attempt to rigidly define it is terribly vulnerable to counterattack by contradiction.  Is this book written in prose, poetry, or prose poetry?  Are there multiple perspectives in the novel or is it a singular mind smashed into tense and time fragments like the text itself?  Is the narrator only one of the characters or the author in some grandly mutated autobiography?  Does the narrator address the reader or one of the characters, or does the act of reading the text make require the reader to become a character in Colasacco’s story?  The real power of this book lies in, rather effortlessly, making the reader ask all of these questions while retaining both interest and intrigue.  The whole of The Information Crusher explores the fluidity of identity, be it with respect to sexuality, gender, childhood, parenthood, siblinghood, friendship, cosmology, or biology, and it consistently remarks on the inadequacy of outdated definitions – “In the middle of the night you were amazed your mother’s clothes would go onto you just as easily as your own”.  There is a story in the text, one of jealousy and consequence and need for acceptance, but discovering that story is akin to seeing the pieces of a former vase present in a mosaic.

There is a moment in the mosaic in which one of the primary characters falls off of a bridge that, for reasons made apparent through the novel, has a very direct metaphorical resonance.  It is not entirely clear whether or not the fall happens before or after the events that make the fall poignant, but that is part of the point.  The character injures his arm and says “But I wouldn’t admit to myself it was broken.  I could see and hear that it was broken, but I refused to accept it.  It felt like air blowing into a part of my armpit it had never touched before, nothing worse than that”.  In the interest of creating subjective meaning from a novel that embodies subjective perspective, I see that quote as a critical theme running through the text.  The character, a proxy for us, cannot accept that his body, his reality, his sense of self is broken.  He has been presented with the sharpness of circumstance, that existence is not the neatly structured arrangement he took for granted, and he refuses to accept it – until, of course, he later passes out from the pain and injury that he refuses to acknowledge.  This whole novel can be seen as a struggling and, at times, very brutal effort to escape from underneath a dominant ideology, as well as the violent, ignorant, and instinctive resistance against such movement.

This book deserves multiple reads from each of its readers, and readers of this book deserve to give themselves multiple angles from which it experience it.  Like a puzzle with disfigured pieces or an unfastened mosaic, The Information Crusher paints a new picture with each pass, many of which I doubt even Colasacco intended.  It is one of the most thoroughly engaging novels I have ever read, not because of immersion or agreeable tone, but because it has the frankness and trust in the intelligence of its readers required to make demands of them.  It challenges you, in what language it chooses to include and leave out, in how it presents itself as a beautifully and intentionally unfinished idea, and in what river bank it deposits you on at the end.


The Information Crusher is available now through Spuyten Duyvil.

Book Review


by on August 9, 2016

9525a5_ab5c974884a648cb865219e102fe9de2Baho! by Roland Rugero


There is something enchanting about the dichotomy of simultaneous simplicity and complexity.  The intertwining of the two, I believe, creates some of the best writing ever made.  In a time when Hollywood and many publishing houses are on the perpetual search for the next apocalyptic franchise, the beauty of a focused, microcosmal narrative is too often overlooked and undervalued.  There is no shortage of such narrative or such beauty in Roland Rugero’s Baho!, a novel that, despite (or perhaps because of) its brevity, provides an enthralling and profound slice of life.

Baho! ends almost as quickly as it begins.  The novel is not even a full one-hundred pages and yet it tells a story that weaves across and around generations from Kanya, a village in Burundi.  Time is an ever malleable concept in the novel, with the story’s plot and narrative structure delivered out of chronological order.  The narrative jumps between perspectives and between present, past, and future tenses.  In the vein of proper poetry, words are never wasted on the page.  The word choice is never pretentious and the sentence structure is never boring, leading to that rarest of combinations – quick pacing and rich language worth unpacking.  All of these effects flow together to leave the reader feeling as if no time has passed at all, whether measuring the minutes spent reading or following the lives of the characters.  This is beautifully exemplified by the novel’s use of the Kirundi word “ejo”, which can be translated into English as either “yesterday” or “tomorrow”.  There is very little difference between the two in Baho!, lending the story a cyclical nature that is pregnant with commentary on human nature.

And if Baho! has a great deal to say about time and the repetition of events, then it has a veritable oration waiting for patriarchy.  All of the horrific events mentioned in the novel, ranging from war and murder to rape and domestic abuse, are laid at the feet of a deeply sexist system.  Feminine sexual “purity” is regarded as a matter of life, death, and eternal salvation for the village of Kanya.  When a suspected rapist is caught, the group of judges that have taken justice into their own hands cry out “Let’s go, men!  We must defend ourselves!”, as if masculine honor and pride are of higher priority than personage of the potential victim.  The female characters, especially the poignantly unnamed, one-eyed woman, provide ironic and unintentional commentary on the mixing of alcohol and perceived emasculation.  Sexist ideology is so ingrained that the one-eyed woman, herself an otherwise strong-willed character, recites a story for children that can only be seen as romantic through male-dominated lenses that treat women as wares.

Rugero’s skill is doubly apparent in moments such as this because the reader is never instructed on how to think about the issue – he merely presents a sequence of events and allows them to speak for themselves.  All of the social commentary present in Baho! is expressed in this way.  The scars of war, the twisting of morality to justify fear and vengeance, and the very human need for scapegoats are all addressed as part of an interconnected landscape, not pleading to be the center of attention but also impossible to ignore.  This, in turn, plays perfectly alongside Rugero’s use of form and structure.  Just as is the case with his use of time, Rugero’s style alternates between all available to him, from Western hero’s journey to African oral tradition.  The novel tries on different presentations like a person tries on clothes, sampling the comedic, the absurd, the tragic, and even a pinch of deus ex machina which, rather than detract from the story, provides its own commentary on the nature of family and obligation.

I imagine that the comparisons this novel will draw are going to be multitudinous, but I am reminded most pleasantly of both Chinua Achebe and William Faulkner as I read it.  Baho! is a story of pride and masculinity run amok, of the aftermath of war and what it means to have definitions forced upon you by society.  It is a beautiful breath of perspective from the type of voice that we in “Western society” so rarely hear (oftentimes because we willfully ignore such voices).  And as the translator, Christopher Schaefer, so aptly points out, Baho! does not spend its time on the wider conflict between the Hutus and the Tutsis.  Rugero seems to understand that many of his potential readers have, rather shamefully, become desensitized to large-scale statistical depictions of the violence in the region.  So he has narrowed our focus down to a few people, a single village at the widest, and made us see the people as people, rather than numbers in a news report.  I highly recommend this novel, for the strength of its story, for the depth of its characters and commentary, and for the fact that you probably have read nothing it like it before.


Baho! is available now through Phoneme Media.

Book Review


by on August 4, 2016

9781939419729Arcade by Drew Nellins Smith


It is difficult to try and explain what Drew Nellins Smith’s debut novel, Arcade, is about. At its most basic level, the novel follows the unnamed narrator who refers to himself as Sam as he tries to anatomize his almost-closeted gay persona and the role society expects him to play. Other times, the novel switches to Sam’s desperate attempts to get back together with an ex who has long moved on. Even then, that’s not what the novel is about. Smith’s novel emphasizes the space the arcade —a place where otherness and anonymity mingle in between racks of porn DVD’s and dim-lighted booths where men (and sometimes couples) see their sexual fantasies come to life— takes in Sam’s life.

Sam is lonely and fails to know what he wants many times. In particular, the short chapters in the novel reveal Sam’s inability to figure out what it is he wants to do with his life. In fact, the chapters devote a sufficient amount of time and space to describe Sam’s job, the new relationship his ex-lover has, the peepshow arcade, and the sexual escapades that occur within it. As for the sex in the novel, Smith captures both intimate sex and the wild, almost neurotic, and detached sex —sex Sam only sees but rarely participates in. Though I really liked how the sex is presented, it is not the only reason I enjoyed Arcade.

Astoundingly, I believe it is the novel’s refusal to be a coming out novel that made me want to keep reading. For a long time, the gay novel genre has revolved around portraying male homosexual behavior and stories about their acceptances or rejections. However, Sam never outright admits he is gay and it is only his actions that ultimately portray him as a gay man. Of the topic, Sam says “And the truth is I’m telling people that I’m not really gay or whatever, but that I’ve fallen in love with a guy.” When asked what is the distinction between being in love with a guy and being gay, Sam’s response is that he does not want to think of it and that he “doesn’t even care if [he’s] gay or whatever.” Smith’s rejection of the typical gay novel allows the reader to focus more on the space, literal and imagined, of what it means to be a gay man never truly participating in sexual acts but watching them.

Though some may shy away or be offended by the frankness in which Sam recounts his time at the arcade, it is this very honesty that kept luring me to turn the page. Smith does not hold back in his novel: he patiently and carefully walks us down the lobby, through the aisles, and into the booths to join Sam to question the space which has been provided. The reader faces the truth of a situation where men like Sam are forced into literal dark spaces in order to satisfy their sexual needs.

The reason novels like Smith’s are important to read, especially given the recent Orlando attacks, is because the reader is able to see others have the same issues. Sam is not the only man in the booths but there are times when he might as well be. Sometimes he feels connected to the other men at the arcade knowing that just like him, they are looking to satisfy and be satisfied. However, more often than not, Sam feels detached from the location and the people in it knowing that most of the men go back to their wives and families and jobs and pretend the arcade does not exist. Sam does not have that option since it seems he is always thinking about the arcade, the people in it, and how he feels about it every time he steps inside and feels the surveillance the store is subjected to.

Arcade is a short novel in which Smith’s prose is straightforward and captivating. The series of scenes which are introduced with each new chapter create a cohesive story about Sam figuratively and literally watching others engage in sexual acts within the arcade. The men thrive in knowing they are anonymous since outside of the arcade those same men live normal heterosexual lives. Perhaps the arcade can be best described by Sam:

“Of course I could tell which men were rich or poor or middle class, but it didn’t matter out there. After the three dollar threshold, we were all the same… I liked the idea that most of us never would have met or interacted if it hadn’t been for that place, divided as we were by our jobs and incomes.”

Arcade is available now through Unnamed Press.

Book Review

The Hermit

by on August 2, 2016

lucy-ivesThe Hermit by Lucy Ives


Solitude. The first thought that this concept strikes within me is one of solemn and despondent feelings. Of hopelessness, the sheer and unbearable weight of being alone in the world, existing in a place, real or metaphorical, where you are left to your own devices. However, within this place that real introspection can occur. Where one can begin to process life’s eventualities, the brief moments that make up the whole, and the successes and failures that makes life worthwhile. It is exactly these things that Lucy Ives is exploring in her recent poetry book “The Hermit”.

At first glance this book is quite sparse. Blank space is at a premium in this text with many sections encompassing only a paragraph, sentence, phrase or other musing. This is not to the books detriment though. The emptiness of it all forces one to be more tuned in to the feeling of isolation, but more so to the language that is being used here. Language that captures quite powerfully the feelings or ideas Ives had set out to explore. Words are examined with precision, ideas are tackled with ease, and the reader is forced to examine language in modes that may twist your mind theoretically. Ives use of language is at times quite lyrical, thoughtful, poetic, introspective, philosophical or all of these at once. Small moments in life, moments that may otherwise go unnoticed are given the chance to shine in the limelight of existence.

The book is hard to pin down because it is ultimately so many things at once. It is a book about process: the process of writing, writing poetry and prose, how art comes into that process, and all the things it can encompasses. But it is also a book about emotions, either miniscule in their initial impact or devastating in those moments of inception, that dig into you so deeply that they become a part of who you are. The idea of these moments and emotions cycle back and we are presented with how Ives takes these emotions and turns them into something beautiful. So we now cycle back to the idea of process, but not as course one takes in order to create, but as a means to make sense of the world, to heal, to cope with the weight of it all.

It is within this realm of process, that the book that Lucy Ives has written becomes something remarkable, personal, and quite human. Ives breaks down fragments of her existence into the pages of this book and lays them out bare. The reader is given a glimpse into a world that otherwise is sealed; and by the end of the book you may not understand a single thing, or you may now be privy to many things, however this exploration will no doubt open doors inside your own soul to allow the band of thoughts and memories, and emotions to play their song and hopefully make you dance, at least a little.

“What if a person will always be a few steps from life, whetever that is, and what if this person will feel dissatisfied, imperfect on account of this distance? What will we say to them? Do they become a character typical of their time? And, if such a person cannot become such a character, what is the use of them?”

The Hermit is available now through The Song Cave

Book Review

Neon Green

by on July 28, 2016

51riiFrjYQL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Neon Green by Margaret Wappler


Most any reader can come up with a circumstance in which descriptions cannot do a novel justice.  When I was asked to review Margaret Wappler’s Neon Green, I was told it had aliens and environmentalists and cancer, and I took the book with one eyebrow raised.  Now, in all fairness, this book possesses all three of those things in ample supply.  But I have not regretted taking the book for an instant.  Neon Green is not science-fiction adventure, or science-fiction horror, or a morality tale on the treatment of the planet.  At its heart, the novel is a questioning of beliefs, of self-importance, and of our multitudinous blind spots.

The strength of this novel lies in its use of little absurdities to camouflage the poignant realism at its heart.  The presence and occasional perspective of the aliens are jarring interruptions to the mundane lives of the Allen family.  The agreement between the federal government and the aliens to allow visitation through sweepstakes is as ridiculous as it is random.  The suddenness of Cynthia’s cancer and its lack of concrete explanation seem to be products of an author trying to create conflict for her characters.  And yet none of these are true.  Despite their self-absorption, the Allen family is forced to come to terms with the notion that they are part of a larger universe, and a universe that is not going to behave in patterns that they would find acceptable.  Wappler sets the stage for some grand conspiracy reminiscent of that in “To Serve Man” by Damon Knight, but there is no forced payoff or glaringly obvious “aha!” moment.  Everything may happen for a reason, but that reason is beholden to no one’s ability to understand it.

The commentary provided in this denied resolution is brilliant and powerful.  It takes the Allens, especially Ernest, a long time to arrive at their understanding.  Aliens have been visiting for some time and yet Ernest’s primary focus is about his involvement in the local Earth Day celebration.  After Cynthia’s diagnosis, he becomes convinced that he is on the trail of, at best, a gross oversight, and, at worst, a terrible machination.  Through his example, the reader is driven to think beyond their figurative and literal spheres of influence, to question their sense of self importance.  Ernest’s quest to root out pretenders to the environmental cause and Gabe’s obsession with posers and quality musical tastes are biting critiques of what it means to be a “believer”, or an activist, or to have passions about a particular topic.  They force readers to ask themselves where true dedication ends and using a cause for status begins.

In order to accomplish something like this while avoiding heavy-handedness or soap-box preaching, an author has to carefully weave the messages into the story in such a way that the reader only realizes what they have seen well after actually reading it.  Wappler achieves this through fantastic control of language, scene, and pacing.  The book opens with description that is extremely vivid and pregnant with commentary, but delivered in a tone that suggests sterile observation and a heightened sense of being watched.  Then, without visible effort, it flows into an over-the-shoulder view of Ernest and his thought process, which describes the most mundane details with a nervous passion that are immediately telling about his character.  This flow happens with stellar ease throughout the book, and it allows Wappler to introduce things, like alien visitation sweepstakes, in a way that causes the reader to do a satisfying double take.  At the same time, Wappler breaks from several writing conventions to drive home the nature of the universe that she is describing.  White space breaks happen right in the middle of scenes, with no indication of time or perspective change, emphasizing the futility of trying to contain events into narrative cause and effect.  Ernest, the “hero” and protagonist, is continually denied an enemy that he can fight, or even an enemy that can regard him, and his attempts to create one only do him harm.

It is no easy feat to write something that is both simple in its delivery and yet vividly complex in its meaning, but Wappler has pulled it off.  And in that very act, there is yet more commentary.  The novel itself is an exercise in looking at the universe not from the perspective of a protagonist from some grand, carefully plotted story, but from the point of view of one piece of a larger cosmos.  It suggests that readers should take a moment, fight the instinct to take the familiar for granted, and appreciate the scale and depth of what lies around them.  And while the novel fully acknowledges the fear and strain of such a change in understanding, it also delivers a taste of the awe and majesty on the other side.


Neon Green is available now through Unnamed Press.

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