Autumn’s Yard, by Anne Averyt

Reviewed by Sarah W. Bartlett

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Finishing Line, 2016

From the first poem, “Autumn’s Yard” explores themes both enduring and endearing. In this debut collection, Averyt pays close attention to the vagaries of nature – from the external world of Nature we associate with trees, flowers and birds; to the inner world of nature as personal character and spirit; to the Big Questions concerning the nature of life, love, mortality, eternity.

The first thing the reader learns is that Averyt loves to move ordinary language around, catching both the unexpected and the doubly-intended meanings in a single pass. This she achieves through word order, reference and line breaks as much with as the sound of words themselves.

For instance, in the opening poem she writes “Here the doves in coo/mourn . . .” where the pun on here/hear immediately alerts the reader to a needed second look at the stanza. Then of course the mourning dove, rather than cooing, is “in coo,” both a reversal of the anticipated order of the phrase and an added level of meaning. Continue reading

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders

Reviewed by Jennifer Spiegel

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Random House, 2017

I love George Saunders, and I’ll read anything he writes.

My review, in summary: he’s brilliant, a genius even—but Lincoln in the Bardo, his first novel which follows a stellar short story career, is more like an amazing exercise to be appreciated and discussed, from somewhere below; however, it failed to do what I personally like in a novel, which is for someone else’s story–besides mine!—to absorb me. That’s a lot to ask, but I often ask it. This explains my love of big, bulky stories like The Nix or The Goldfinch. Saunders offers fascinating ideas, brilliant collaging, and great sentences—but I wasn’t overcome, and I wanted to be. Did I step outside of myself and into the life of another, much like the Bardo “ghosts” step into the lives of the living? Am I closer to the human experience?

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We Are Traveling Through Dark at Tremendous Speeds, by Sarah Sadie

Reviewed by Karla Huston

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(Lit Fest Press, 2016)

I’m one of “those” readers who begins at the beginning of a volume of poems. I don’t page through, lighting on a title to stop to read only to flit off again. I do not read the end of the book first, although as I write this, I wonder, if perhaps I should.

While reading Sarah Sadie’s poems, I start at the start, but first, I read the narrative that scrolls across the bottom of the page like the Breaking News! crawl on national news-tainment channels.

A volume of poems unlike most, it has a sense of “other.” First, Sarah Sadie is the nom de poem used by Sarah Sadie Busse, Middleton, Wisconsin. It is appropriate she has named herself as such, since these poems are about of becoming, of defining and refining the self as (not?) “Middle-aged, middle-class, middle-western. [Middleton?] Flyover territory.”

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Just Kids by Patti Smith

Review by Jennifer Spiegel

Who isn’t listening to audiobooks these days? I was late, as I am to many trends, as I was with Patti Smith. I think I only “discovered” her in the nineties. Actually, I know exactly when and where I was. The nineties, the East Village, a used record shop (are they still there?) Me, trying, failing, to be cool. I bought Patti Smith’s Gone Again. Hooked, ready for Horses.

I finally listened to Just Kids, which is narrated by Smith. It’s extraordinary. Though the book focuses on her relationship with Artist Robert Mapplethorpe (who, admittedly, interests me considerably less), it was Smith who lulled me with her prose. When poets commit to narrative, sometimes amazing things happen.

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The Neapolitan Novel Quartet by Elena Ferrante

review by Jennifer Spiegel

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My Brilliant Friend (2012), The Story of a New Name (2013), Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2014), and The Story of the Lost Child (2015): doesn’t this four-book-in-a-row thing blow you away?

My introduction to Ferrante came on the operating table, minutes before I had both breasts cut off. Probably my most-trusted literary confidante had told me to read Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment (2005), and—for some no-doubt predestined reason—that was the book I took to the hospital to get a double mastectomy in the summer of 2015. I read parts of it, in a hospital gown with only socks on—no underwear. The protagonist’s marriage was over. Reality, contorted. I woke up and read again. My body, compromised.

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Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

Review by Jennifer Spiegel

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I can’t believe it took me so long to read (or listen to) this! I’ve had this latent, mildly unkind disinterest in Didion’s work for a dumb reason. I had to read one of her books in an undergrad class called “Politics and the Novel” (I won’t tell you which one), and I guess I didn’t like it. The class was taught by a Poli Sci prof who liked to read, rather than a stuffy old English prof or a chic/smarmy writer-type: the course was a noble endeavor, but somehow I missed out on the heart of the Didion conversation. Continue reading

Californium by R. Dean Johnson

Review by Paul Fuhr

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(Plume Books, 2016)

There’s a moment midway through R. Dean Johnson’s Californium (Plume Books, 2016) where the novel’s teenage protagonists are comparing the logo of their new punk band to the iconic ones from the legendary bands before them: “Pretty soon, all we’ll need is the top part. Like how people know it’s the Dead Kennedys just by seeing the tomahawk or the Clash when all they see is the guy bent over, smashing his guitar.” It’s a moment that speaks to how emblems, symbols and patterns embed themselves in our consciousness and stay there, triggering instant recall upon seeing them. This is also true of Johnson’s writing: the longer you stay steeped in his words (SoCal, circa 1980), the longer it stays with you and the faster you identify with it. Johnson’s characters—Reece, Keith and Treat—join forces against the headwind of adolescence through the shared love of punk rock. Continue reading