Book Reviews

Reviewed by:
Bassam Sidiki
Partition. Migration. Trump’s America. These are among the themes of Faisal Mohyuddin’s and Fatimah Asghar’s respective debut full-length collections: The Displaced Children of Displaced Children and If They Come For Us. Mohyuddin is a teacher and writer based in Chicago, and Asghar is a performer known for writing the Emmy-nominated web series Brown Girls. Having descended... more
Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Hoover
In his 1987 painting “While There Is Still Time Let’s Go Out and Feel Everything,” Paul Thek scrawls those words in looping light blue script over a darker blue punctuated by wavy lines. Because the words and the marks share an improvisational, finger-painted quality, they blend together and into the only slightly darker background. From a distance, the work looks like an abstract color-field of... more
Reviewed by:
Neil Roberts
Toward the end of Erik Martiny's The Pleasures of Queuing its narrator writes, “There should really be a literary prize for the best novel ever written by a writer afflicted with ADD who has radios broadcasting from every room in the house, every area of the brain, an exponential, incremental number of siblings, a hawk-watchful mother, and an increasingly eccentric and money-stinting... more
Reviewed by:
Ralph Pennel
The essential idea behind string theory is this: all fundamental particles of the Standard Model (which describes both the building blocks out of which the world is made and the forces through which these blocks interact) are really just different vibrating, oscillating strings. And, in many ways, this is also the shape that any work of art’s meaning takes inside us. This meaning vibrates within... more
Reviewed by:
Jess Smith
A futon, a house, a lover, a dog, a child, a country. These are all things Sarah Viren has, or has had, and lost. It is the exploration of that possession and subsequent absence that she explores in her essay collection Mine, winner of the 2016 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize. Each essay is titled with the possessive my—”My Catch,” “My Choice,” “My Ballad for You”—but... more

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Reviewed by:
Michael Magras
In Film According to François Truffaut, the great director of The 400 Blows and Jules and Jim says, “I always preferred the reflection of life to life itself. If I chose books and films, from the age of eleven or twelve, it’s because I preferred to see life through books or films.” Truffaut wasn’t the only one who felt this way. For some people, film isn’t just a... more
Reviewed by:
Nick Ripatrazone
Novelist Thomas McGuane says there are cowboys who are as “deluded” about their trade as are workers in the “entrepreneurial class.” Romance about ranch work means “their hold is tenuous and they're always on the cusp of violence or rage about being in that situation, and they're naturally in conflict with their bosses.” Cowboys used to be in it for the long haul; they were “lifetime admired.”... more
Reviewed by:
Jack Smith
Watch Me Go establishes Mark Wisniewski as a writer who moves adeptly from the light to the dark, from the quirky, sometimes bizarre comic story to the eerie, unsettling thriller. His previous work—most notably Show Up, Look Good; Confessions of a Polish Used Car Salesman; and All Weekend with the Lights On—contains dark undercurrents suggestive of human frailty,... more
Reviewed by:
Alex McElroy
“People talk about the sea being monotonous, as they do about anything they don’t observe closely enough,” says the narrator of Medardo Fraile’s story “The Sea.” Reading the stories collected in Fraile’s Things Look Different in the Light, the Spanish author’s first book translated into English, one would have a hard time accusing Fraile of careless observation. Translated by Margaret... more
Reviewed by:
Michael Magras
If you’re familiar with the lyrics of Jimmy Cliff’s 1972 reggae classic “The Harder They Come,” then you won’t be surprised to learn that T.C. Boyle’s new novel of the same name includes protagonists who, like the tune’s singer, would “rather be a free man in my grave / than living as a puppet or a slave.” And if you’ve ever seen the film The Harder They Come, in which the song appears,... more

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Reviewed by:
Peter LaBerge
“Standing at the water’s edge, I watch myself / loosen into a brief, exquisite blur.” Though we begin our journey through Richie Hofmann’s stunning debut poetry collection Second Empire with the freedom to move and self-express, it is a destination of sorts for Hofmann himself. The collection functions as a deeply personal glimpse into the immediate and long-term effects of the tension Hofmann experienced growing up as a queer man in... more
Reviewed by:
John Tamplin
Geoffrey O'Brien's poems are full of things vanishing. The first three poems in his new book, In a Mist, appear to be elegies for vanished people. "For S." concludes:A wisp is too harsh.At mere hint of sightall parts of youdrop into the glare.  "A Yard at Daybreak" ends:The shop is shutteredand the yard so quietyou can hear the noiseof shadows vanishing.The poems offer faint images in clipped lines, favoring a suggestive juxtaposition... more
Reviewed by:
Adam Day
One of the most engaging poems in Mark Bibbins’s smart and enjoyable third book of poetry, They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full, is “Pat Robertson Transubstantiation Engine No.1,” the first of a series of six such poems, and which opens with these lines: “First I was fellating an African despot / for his diamonds, next I was paying / a hooker to give me back / my teeth.” When first encountering... more
Reviewed by:
Zach Savich
Broc Rossell’s debut book of poetry, Festival, starts with an Oppenesque pronouncement that could be read as an ars poetica: It becomes necessary to liveIn waysWhich if impossibleAre predicated on that definitionAnd therefore openThe same way I open to what’sNested in the white treeThese lines offer an opening in several senses. There’s Rossell’s refreshingly measured phrasing; in contrast with lineation that aspires to dismissible... more
Reviewed by:
Alanna Hickey
Tributaries, the first book-length collection by Shawnee poet Laura Da’, begins with a scene of childbirth by Caesarean section. With an “abrasion that draws the past glistening into the present,” this commanding debut opens with a reflection on openings—the ruptures in our histories, geographies, and bodies that, following Da’s attentive gaze, demand we take a closer look. In poems that intertwine personal memoir, familial past,... more

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Reviewed by:
Mitch Nakaue
“When but a child, I learned that our ancestors came out of the trees, stood upright on the savannahs, and became human.” So begins John Leland’s essay collection Readings in Wood. A nature writer, Leland makes his home in the southern Appalachian mountains of Rockbridge County, Virginia, a region known for its wilderness and as a repository of American history dating back to the... more
Reviewed by:
Sarah Viren
When I saw Lacy Johnson read from her new memoir, she came right out with it. “No one says what this book is about,” she said. Then she told us.The Other Side (Tin House Books, 2014) is about the day that Lacy’s ex-boyfriend kidnapped her and took her to a soundproof room he had built for the sole purpose of raping and killing her. He raped her and then left briefly to create an alibi... more
Reviewed by:
Michael S. Lewis-Beck
Midwest humorists can be pretty funny—sometimes very funny, like June Melby. Melby, an Iowa native who for years worked the stand-up comedy circuit in L.A., returns to her childhood serving up sno-cones and wisecracks in her debut memoir about growing up on a mini-golf course, My Family and Other Hazards (Henry Holt and Company, 2014).Year after year, June and her sisters crushed ice and... more
Reviewed by:
Andrew Blackman
How does a literary text come into being? Is it born from mad inspiration, or from the labor of a logical mind?Pablo M. Ruiz explores these questions in Four Cold Chapters on the Possibility of Literature (Leading Mostly to Borges and Oulipo) (Dalkey Archive, 2014), but he also ends up doing much more. He takes us on a journey through literature from Aristotle to Queneau and, being a... more
Reviewed by:
Sadie Shorr-Parks
A pattern of traveling and returning can leave a man with a motley tongue. Jeremy B. Jones’s language is one of the many frustrating contradictions he faces when he returns to Bearwallow in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, where his family has resided for two centuries. When an older fellow in a grocery store parking lot asks Jones and his wife, "So ya’ll’s mountain folk?" Jones... more

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