NewPages Book Reviews
Posted June 2, 2008
Emily Galvin likes details. In her mini-plays that make up the first half of the book, she pencils every texture, breath, and tilt of head with conspicuous meticulousness, as if the rabid observation of minutiae should yield meaning like the sudden breakthrough in a mathematical proof. This approach often leads to pieces that are more description than dialogue, but with focus that renders it powerful, rather than an inanely panning camera eye. The terse dialogues that do ensue have an amplified gravity, and given their binary form, cannot fail to call up Endgame or another of Beckett’s masterpieces.
- Book Type Novel
- by Michelle Latiolais
- Publisher Bellevue Literary Press
- Date Published May 2008
- ISBN-13 978-1934137116
- Format Hardcover
- Pages 192pp
- Price $22.95
- Review by Cynthia Reeser
A Proper Knowledge, Michelle Latiolais’s follow up to the family-centered novel Even Now, is another novel focused around family and relationships. Luke is a dedicated, perceptive Los Angeles doctor with a practice treating autistic children – his career choice influenced by his own late sister, a schizophrenic whose memory haunts him at times.
Dennis Must’s stories are at times both unsettling and tremblingly genuine, and once the reader gives herself over to them, worth consideration. Not that stories about immolation, cross-dressing, prostitutes, Bible study beauty pageants, family, and loss normally aren’t. It’s just that the stories come on slow, and before you know it, you’re sitting in your living room pondering whether you should be imagining a grieving widower dressing up in his dead wife’s clothing.
Suzanne Burns’s Double Header is a slim chapbook comprised of just two short stories, “An Acquired Taste” and “Tiny Ron.” Both stories are full of magic (one more literally than the other), and both have marriage at their centers, both thematically and as plot devices.
Jean Echenoz’s latest work Ravel, translated from French, is a novelistic rendering of the final ten years in the life of Maurice Ravel, a wildly famous French concert pianist and composer. Adhering to the musician’s real life in extraordinary detail, Echenoz pens a seamless entry and exit into the previously unexplored soundscape of Ravel’s mind. In a novel consisting of only 117 pages, there isn’t one unnecessary syllable, let alone a dissonant note.
It would be easy to urge you to read The Human Mind because of the natural lure of the characters that people its short prose. There’s a man made of smoke and another of glass; a woman who slips her fingers into the stringy coagulation of her thoughts kept in a bowl; an impoverished Edgar Allan Poe who supports himself “on what he could squeeze out of his brain, a kind of black milk of his words.”
The cover of Jon Pineda’s second collection, The Translator’s Diary, which depicts a graceful and nebulous spiral, is eerily reflective of the poems it obscures. Pineda’s poems turn in on themselves, each a pointed and intimate introspection sheathed in the gauze of the lyric, accruing momentum in a sort of ripple effect as the book progresses.
Rusty Barnes’s Breaking It Down collects nearly twenty flash fictions into an attractive, pocket-size book, a rare instance where the size of the book accurately depicts the size of the stories. Luckily, it is only the page counts of the stories that are small, as the themes and characters contained within each tale loom larger than life, like the low-class tall tales they are.
- Book Type Fiction
- by David Galef
- Publisher Noemi Press
- Date Published December 2007
- ISBN-13 978-1934819036
- Format Chapbook
- Pages 54pp
- Price $7.00
- Review by Rav Grewal-Kök
“Beware the impractical man,” warns the narrator of the title story of David Galef’s chapbook collection of short and flash fiction: “Their wives either cherish or divorce them, and their sons and daughters, in reaction, often grow commonsensical and a little costive.” That’s funny, but we shouldn’t miss the menacing undercurrent. The unfortunate ideas of Bernardo Lazar – a backyard smelter, a “Reaction Recovery” device, and “a project about giant vegetables” – put his wife and young children through a comic set of trials. So light is Galef’s touch that we hardly notice, until the final sentence, that the Lazar family has come undone.
- Book Type Edited by
- by Danielle Ofri
- Publisher Bellevue Literary Press
- Date Published February 2008
- ISBN-13 978-1934137048
- Format Paperback
- Pages 312pp
- Price $16.95
- Review by Sean Lovelace
No human thing is more universal than illness, in all its permutations, and no literary publication holds more credibility on the subject than The Bellevue Literary Review. I say this with upmost confidence as an English professor, a registered nurse, and as someone who recognizes the historical and philosophical origins (and namesake) of this fine literary periodical: Bellevue Hospital Center.
The collected work thus far of Peter Markus could be likened to an early earth encyclopedia, or a table of the elements. In Markus’s world, though, the elements are not cryptic chemical symbols devised and laid in line by science. Instead, they are the epoxy of existence – they are the things we know without having to decipher, they are brothers, fish and mud. One could cut to most any page in a Markus apparatus and find these common images there repeated, like age lines encased in a tree trunk. Markus’s word channels the innate. Each sentence placed next to one another as if by nature, his layered phrases cause an incantation.
The poems in Jane Augustine’s A Woman’s Guide to Mountain Climbing confront, rather than bypass pain, and their “golden and piercing” music is made from a rugged but precise lineation and a relentless eye for detail.
Gary Amdahl’s I Am Death collects two novellas, the crime story “I Am Death, or Bartleby the Monster (A Story of Chicago)” and “Peasants,” a tale of hostile office politics. The two novellas are strikingly different in setting and tone, allowing Amdahl to display a range of abilities as both a writer and a storyteller.
You’re in an abandoned house. The floorboards are damp and creak under you – what was the reason, again, you decided to go bare-footed? And once in a while something brushes against your face. Sometimes it’s the stray end of a cobweb, sometimes the rusty pull-chain to the chandelier. Sometimes you don’t know. Of course, the lights don’t work. You’re not quite ready to leave, but you’re starting to look for a way out. Sometimes you find stairs going up to strange cupboards; other times the stairs bear you down into musty basements.
Something wired very hard into the human psyche lights up at the notion of discovering hidden things, putting the pieces together and finally accessing occult knowledge – wisdom or treasure or whatever seems to be missing from human experience – things which, when uncovered, could possibly explain our present situation and hopefully unlock the power to choose our future with certainty. Zachary Mason touches, tickles, and strikes these wires in The Lost Books of the Odyssey and, in the end, creates nothing short of a synaptic fireworks display.