NewPages Book Reviews
Posted May 1, 2008
Alex Rose’s The Musical Illusionist is a work of ambitious fantasy, written not as a novel or a collection of stories but as a guide to the myth-like Library of Tangents, “an archive not of history but of possibility.” These fictions (which are not properly stories, with the possible exception of the excellent title piece) take the form of articles describing the Library’s many exhibitions, including fantastical cultures, books, paintings, numerous foreign lands, even psychological disorders and microorganisms. Each entry is written so credibly that disorientation and disbelief go hand in hand, as the convincing prose and accompanying diagrams, photos, and maps seek to stun the reader into believing in even the most outlandish of exhibits.
Sloane Crosley’s debut collection of essays is the kind of book that causes deep bouts of guilty recognition almost as often as it induces laughing out loud. Crosley’s essays are self-deprecating and self-obsessed, written with a style reminiscent of David Sedaris but with a voice that’s all her own. Chronicling her disasters more often than her successes, Crosley relates everyday abilities like constantly losing her wallet and locking herself out of two different apartments on moving day, plus more specialized skills at ruining weddings and investigating unexpected “presents” left on her bathroom floor after dinner parties. The best of these is “Bring-Your-Machete-To-Work Day,” about the ancient computer game The Oregon Trail, and Crosley’s subversive playing style:
- Subtitle translations, variations and responses to the poetry of Xin Qiji
- Book Type Poetry
- by Christopher Kelen and Qiji Xin
- Translated From Chinese
- by Agnes Vong
- Publisher Virtual Artists Collective
- Date Published April 2007
- ISBN-13 978-0977297498
- Format Paperback
- Pages 161pp
- Price $15.00
- Review by Roy Wang
The title of this collection ambitiously suggests that after the first part of translations, the following variations and responses should enlighten our skies and blow us away. And while it doesn’t deliver the promised symphony of fire, it does burn in a few impressions that will last after the words have faded.
The poems in Andrew Kozma’s City of Regret spring from a source of electric personality and emotion, striving to escape grief by staring at it unblinkingly until it becomes something else. Surrealistic images stretch and bend until they encounter recognizable truths. Metaphors, which may at first appear too close in the mirror, shift to give perspective: the poem becomes a unified field of beauty. For example, in “The Cleansing Power of Metaphor” we see:
In Elizabeth Crane’s You Must Be This Happy to Enter, her third collection of stories, she tempers a sometimes pessimistic worldview with an exuberant joy that suffuses her stories from start to finish. From the bouncing opening story “My Life is Awesome! And Great!” (which may contain more exclamation points than every other short story collection published this year combined) to the warm familial ending of “Promise,” Crane takes her quirky style and uses it to bring a variety of mostly female protagonists to life, including a woman who gets turned into a zombie at a JoAnn Fabrics store and ends up as a contestant on reality television, a girl obsessed with staying inside her boyfriend’s closet, and a teenager whose forehead is covered in ever-changing multi-colored words who meets a boy whose face displays polaroids.
Li-Young Lee’s fourth collection of poetry is an elegiac march through a landscape of prayer, death, love, the eternal strife of family relations and the omnipresent political realities that come with the immigrant identity. More than any other theme, the status of the displaced illuminates these mysterious and evasively simplistic poems.
Charles Jensen’s The Strange Case of Maribel Dixon is an ambitious book, highly entertaining yet formally daring. It incorporates a variety of prose and poetic forms to tell a love story that spans most of the twentieth-century and at least two dimensions, all within the space of a mere twenty-one pages. Comprised of diary entries, academic papers, and shredded documents full of supposed “automatic writing,” this slim volume weaves a mysterious love story with far greater gravity than its size on paper would suggest possible.
Those familiar with the writing of Kim Chinquee will be pleased to read the seventy-four flash fictions and prose poems collected in her book, Oh Baby, not only for the satisfaction of revisiting a few select, memorable pieces, but also for the opportunity to see Chinquee work at length, crafting with a spare and precise language the most complicated, emotional stories possible per page.
Nate Pritts lives in a sealed chamber. At least, I think he does, or wishes he did. Whether the voice in his poems is his own or an invented persona is unclear, but the question is soon overwhelmed by the noisy glass cubicle of his poetic consciousness – things don’t hesitate to boom, explode, and self-destruct. The place simply simmers with internal threat. After all, volcanoes are exploding here, dinosaurs are waiting, lighting strikes, the roller coaster won’t stop, the wind won’t stop, violent floods of emotion assail him, and the light is dangerously perfect. But you only know it because he tells you so. You can’t see it. You can’t break through those glass barriers – no one can. Not the woman Pritts longs after with potent intensity, and not the nameless friends he apparently lives amongst.
The characters in John Brandon’s crime noir novel Arkansas are men who, finding themselves unsuitable for the everyday world of work, leave the straight life behind for more illicit activities. When twenty-something Kyle Ribbis is laid off from his job in a bicycle shop, the narrator explains: