Book Reviews

Reviewed by:
Brittany Borghi
Recently, I fell asleep in bed reading Porochista Khakpour’s new memoir Sick, the story of her lifetime of physical and mental health crises that eventually leads to a diagnosis of late-stage Lyme disease. In that sleep, I had a terrifying dream that my skin suddenly ripped open between my second and third ribs, and while the air leaked out of my body, I wasted time panicking about which... more
Reviewed by:
Alessandra Simmons
My mother divorced when I was six months old and remarried when I was twenty-eight. Even with a handful of kids, my salsa-dancing, surfer-girl mother was a catch. And so a parade of men took my mom out on dates, attended our birthday and Christmas parties, and sat through our recitals and school plays. My siblings and I were generally welcoming of our mother’s current beau—until the breakup. Then... more
Reviewed by:
Anya Ventura
Rachel Arndt’s brilliant debut collection, Beyond Measure, explores the idea of “the quantified self," the movement which purports to grant “self-knowledge through numbers.” Overwriting any sentimentalized notion of a unique and irreducible “I,” the self as the sum of private thoughts, Arndt’s “I” is instead an assemblage of data: sleep stats, Airbnb ratings and Tinder likes, pounds... more
Reviewed by:
Thomas Simpson
Heather Derr-Smith’s fourth collection Thrust, winner of Persea Books’s Lexi Rudnitsky Prize, is a volume of exorcism and ecstasy, of violence and desire. It takes her out of some of her earlier work’s terrain—the refugee camps of Syria and Bosnia-Herzegovina—and into ruins far closer to home: the American South, where her speaker was conceived in distinctly American sin. The broken lines... more
Reviewed by:
David Greenberg
Our culture’s obsession with fairy tales and superheroes is both a premodern revival of myth and a form of compulsiveness. It doesn’t matter that Spiderman has been played by multiple actors or that Disney creates microvariants of identical coming-of-age stories. Myths are meant to be retold, and the more retelling, the greater their power. Nor does it matter when the work winks at the audience... 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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