Book Reviews

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... 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... 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... 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... 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... more

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Reviewed by:
Theodore Wheeler
In his convincing debut collection of short fiction, Quarantine (Harper Perennial 2011), Rahul Mehta chronicles the lives of openly gay Indian-American men, their disappointments and betrayals, and the hard-earned personal connections they come to cherish. In an intimate, confessional style, Mehta’s characters dwell on botched relationships, on their romantic, familial, and cultural... more
Reviewed by:
Jack Smith
“Wisniewski shows a shrewd hand with sparkling dialogue,” said Publishers Weekly of All Weekend with the Lights On, Mark Wisniewski’s 2001 collection of short fiction, and while this assessment is certainly true, Wisniewski’s deeply engaging prose style also owes much to the author's incisive wit and subtle irony. Combining the best of literary forebears Twain and Hemingway,... more
Reviewed by:
David Frederick Thomas
Following the publication last August of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, there has been much debate concerning the merits of big, Dickensian works. The underlying question is simple: can rather traditional novels continue to do new and exciting things? Benjamin Hale’s debut, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, is just such a work; and, in short, the answer is yes. Here’s the premise... more
Reviewed by:
David Duhr
Restraint is hard to come by in Las Vegas; just go to any gate at McCarron International and people-watch. Today’s bright-eyed passengers surging from the jetway, filled with the certainty that their big score is just over the horizon, are tomorrow’s dead-eyed downtrodden, shame and humiliation blanketing their faces, some of their innocence chipped away. It’s not easy to leave Sin City with your... more
Reviewed by:
Lucy Silag
Leslie Jamison’s first novel, The Gin Closet, is told from the alternating points of view of Stella—a thin-spired, quarter-life-crisis sufferer living unhappily in New York—and her fat, alcoholic Aunt Tilly, shunned by their family and spending the last of her miserable days in the Nevada desert. The two are brought together when Lucy, Stella’s grandmother and Tilly’s mother, dies after... more

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Reviewed by:
Claudia Cortese
A child gives her doll a spirit, a personality, a story. She constructs a narrative for her doll, filling an inanimate object with life. This imaginative process is one we often associate with girlhood. A constellation of images orbits the word “doll”: wooden dollhouses and porcelain girls in lace dresses and dolls that pee and dolls that cry and dolls that girls push in strollers. However, dolls—which are believed to be the first toys—have not... more
Reviewed by:
Chris Pusateri
I often think that I would rather be a painter, but I am not. Among those poets working today, Jane Lewty is one who possesses qualities usually ascribed to visual artists. Her debut volume of poetry, Bravura Cool, imports the movements of the gestural into a textual space, and in doing so, reinvents the age-old dictum that there can be “no ideas but in things.”The things of Lewty’s poetry are things in motion, and like humans... more
Reviewed by:
Maggie Millner
Anna Journey’s second book takes its name from an exhibit at L.A.’s Museum of Jurassic Technology called “Vulgar Remedies: Belief, Knowledge and Hypersymbolic Cognition.” The exhibit comprises folk cures and rituals predating modern medicine; the poetry collection features hypnotic fabulations on memory, fauna, and the body. At times tender and anecdotal, others grotesque and nightmarish, Vulgar Remedies explores the boundaries that... more
Reviewed by:
Carolyne Wright
In this volume of thoughtful, reflective, lyric-narrative poems, David Rigsbee's deep psychic engagement with perception, memory, culture, and the politics of human interaction, in all their expansiveness and limitation, is on full display. The poet's sensibility—guided by compassionate reflection and seared by loss—discovers its way forward through the inland waterways of memory to reach for difficult epiphanies. Lyric immediacy alternates with... more
Reviewed by:
Will Vincent
Dana Ward’s The Crisis of Infinite Worlds performs the opening lines of Comte de Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror in reverse, where rather than threatening to have our souls dissolved as “water does sugar” by the text itself, Ward’s book lands like a Lautréamontian crane on our brilliantine post-modern marsh. Floating above and aware of an avant-garde still obsessed with signs signifying signs signifying signs and... more

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Reviewed by:
Matthew Clark
To gauge a writer, one might consider his or her ability to transform something ostensibly banal, like chalk, ordinary blackboard chalk, ordinary calcium carbonate, ordinary grape-growing stuff, into something interesting. Unsurprisingly, to read John McPhee’s most recent collection of essays, Silk Parachute, is to marvel at the way he elicits a temperament the opposite of boredom. “... more

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