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NewPages Book Reviews

Posted April 1, 2010

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  • Book Type Novel
  • by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Date Published May 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-1-936071-64-7
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 304pp
  • Price $24.95
  • Review by Laura Pryor
Anton Waker’s parents are dealers in stolen goods, and his devious cousin Aria recruits Anton’s help in setting up a business forging passports and social security cards. But all Anton wants is to be an ordinary corporate drone, living a simple, lawful life. He quits Aria’s business, gets himself a fake Harvard diploma and snags a job at Water Incorporated, determined to go straight. He gets engaged to a beautiful cellist with the New York Philharmonic and looks forward to a mundane, middle class existence.


But Emily St. John Mandel’s newest novel, The Singer’s Gun, clearly illustrates that you can’t escape your past, no matter how good your intentions. A background check at work results in Anton being demoted from an eleventh floor manager’s office to a file storage room on the mezzanine level. His access to the company computer system is denied, all the employees that he used to supervise report to someone else, and he is given no work to do. Inexplicably, however, he isn’t fired.

Very gradually, Mandel parcels out background information; scenes she described earlier in the novel take on new significance as we learn more about Anton and his past. Anton is being investigated by Alexandra Broden, an agent from the State Department. His fiancée cancels their wedding twice. He is contacted by his cousin Aria, asking for his help with one last illegal deed – on his honeymoon.

Any further description would spoil the fun, or at least the mystery/thriller portion of it. Mandel’s novel is hard to categorize; it’s more reflective, thoughtful and well written than the typical thriller, but has more intrigue and action than a strictly literary book. Anton Waker is no one’s action hero; he is the most passive main character you will ever find in a suspense novel. He stays with his fiancée even after she cancels the wedding twice; he falls in love with his secretary but marries his fiancée anyway (third time’s the charm). He lets his cousin bully him into illegal activities, and he waits around for a new position at work even though he is obviously persona non grata at Water Incorporated.

The novel is carefully crafted, revealing, layer by layer, the formation of Anton’s personality, as well as his cousin’s. It raises intriguing questions about the difference between illegality and immorality; as Anton’s mother tells him, “Most things you have to do in life are at least a little questionable.” Who is more immoral: Anton’s cousin for instigating illegal activities or Anton for passively acquiescing to her demands?

Mandel’s writing flows effortlessly, which makes for easy reading. Though readers may be tempted to read quickly to find out what happens next, it would be a shame to rush past some of Mandel’s lovelier moments, like this description of Anton looking for his lost lover’s reflection in the windows of the building across from his:
Sometime after seven his office window began to appear faintly on the surface of the glass tower outside, like a photograph rising out of liquid in a darkroom. An hour later the image was clearer, and by nine o’clock – damn these endless summer evenings – Anton could see almost every window of his building reflected on the side of the hotel . . . Anton stood close to the glass, looking from window to window, but none of the brightly lit squares held Elena.
While Anton is a sympathetic character, I did find myself wishing he would do something, take some sort of initiative, especially towards the end. And there was one plot development (again, I can’t describe it without giving too much away) that was so predictable it was disappointing. These defects would be more damning if Mandel’s book was strictly a genre novel of mystery and suspense, but because she explores so many other themes, the mystery element felt more like a pleasant bonus than the main purpose of the story.

The Singer’s Gun is full of complex, believable and very likeable characters; even the most irredeemable character has a pitiable background that provides some explanation, if not justification, for her behavior. Even without the intrigue, they would all be compelling; with it, they make The Singer’s Gun the best kind of page-turner: one you wish would go by a little bit slower, but can’t help reading in one sitting.
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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by Mark Matthews
  • Date Published May 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-0806140582
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 233pp
  • Price $19.95
  • Review by Joel A. Lewis
"But we have sensible reasons for not breaking out into the huge freedom of irregular shapes – once done we would no longer have the aid of our machines, tools and simple formulae." Steve Baer, a fellow-traveler of "the droppers," wrote these words in 1968 to describe the unorthodox architecture at Drop City, but the same quote can be applied in hindsight to the social experiments occurring there. Droppers provides a comparative look at Drop City and other communal ventures in America's past. Mark Matthews asserts that Drop City failed because it did not attempt to learn any lessons from past communes. The droppers intentionally charted out a new society without utilizing the "tools of history"; the commune took on an "irregular shape" that ultimately led to its destruction.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Jennifer Martenson
  • Date Published April 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-1-936194-01-8
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 62pp
  • Price $14.00
  • Review by Christine Kanownik
I must start here by proclaiming my love for the publishers of this book: Burning Deck Press. I have nothing but respect for the press and the great poets who run it. There are many presses operating today, but Burning Deck is refreshing for its consistent integrity and taste, and Jennifer Martenson's first full-length collection of poetry, Unsound, is another strong release. The politics of Martenson are well-thought out and exciting, and her poetic forms are fresh and unexpected. Most of the poems in the final section of the book have vivid imagery and a strong voice, though I do wonder if the poet occasionally relies too heavily on visual tricks rather than engaging language.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by N. Scott Momaday
  • Date Published October 2009
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8263-4816-6
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 144pp
  • Price $18.95
  • Review by Carol Dorf
In the Presence of the Sun brings N. Scott Momaday’s work to a new generation of readers. Momaday, a novelist and poet from the Kiowa tribe, combines the mainstream modernism of American poetry with an oral-language inspired reference to Kiowa and other Southwest Native American traditions, particularly the Navaho.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Mihaela Moscaliuc
  • Date Published January 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-1-882295-78-4
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 84pp
  • Price $15.95
  • Review by John Findura
Few books can be called “page-turners,” and even fewer books of poetry can claim that sobriquet, yet that is exactly what Mihaela Moscaliuc has managed to do with her debut collection, Father Dirt.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Olga Tokarczuk
  • Translated From Polish
  • by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
  • Date Published April 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-80-86264-35-6
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 248pp
  • Price $15.50
  • Review by Lisa Dolensky
For me, it’s rare for an author of fiction to accomplish “soul-touch,” but Olga Tokarczuk does just that with her captivating spiritual imagery and layers of characters that touch the heart-depths of readers’ imaginations. Primeval and Other Times is an award winning novel (first published in the 1990s) that takes place in a mystical Polish village guarded by four archangels through the 20th century. One particular passage woven within her mythical tale that stands out is almost a summarized subtext of Tokarczuk’s mastered, descriptive sensory writing style:
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Edip Cansever
  • Translated From Turkish
  • by Richard Tillinghast, Julia Clare Tillinghast-Akalin
  • Date Published December 2009
  • ISBN-13 978-1-58498-067-4
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 96pp
  • Price $14.95
  • Review by Larry O. Dean
It's an understatement to say that Edip Cansever isn't very well known in poetry circles (whatever those are), nor any more so in the specialized area of Turkish literature. Reading the introduction to Dirty August will give you some helpful background on the latter, but to appreciate Cansever's poetry one has only to peruse Julia Clare Tillinghast-Akalin and Richard Tillinghast's translations. While I can't vouch for their fealty to the native language – that would be an issue for a different kind of review, couched in quibbling over semantics – I can say that what Tillinghast fille et père have kindly bequeathed English language readers, through these eminently readable translations, is a beguiling peek into the work of a “Second New” wave poet (who died in 1986), one espousing a secular vision more philosophically aligned with European existentialism than with Ottoman empiricism. The Tillinghasts are long-time aficionados as well as scholars of Turkish idiom and culture, and their love for Cansever's writing is readily apparent in this slim, yet potent volume.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Julie Carr
  • Date Published January 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-1-934103-11-1
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 116pp
  • Price $19.00
  • Review by John Findura
“I almost fainted with desire and fear” writes Julie Carr in her 2009 Sawtooth Prize-winning 100 Notes on Violence, and in doing so sums up the experience of reading the 116-page collection. In fragments, lists, quotations, facts and chunks of prose, Carr offers up a reflection on not just violence, but on protecting ourselves and our innocence from it.
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  • Book Type Novel
  • by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Date Published May 2010
  • ISBN-13 1936071649
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 304pp
  • Price $24.95
  • Review by Laura Pryor
Anton Waker’s parents are dealers in stolen goods, and his devious cousin Aria recruits Anton’s help in setting up a business forging passports and social security cards. But all Anton wants is to be an ordinary corporate drone, living a simple, lawful life. He quits Aria’s business, gets himself a fake Harvard diploma and snags a job at Water Incorporated, determined to go straight. He gets engaged to a beautiful cellist with the New York Philharmonic and looks forward to a mundane, middle class existence.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Tara L. Masih
  • Date Published February 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-0-9825760-5-2
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 143pp
  • Price $14.00
  • Review by Alex Myers
Tara Masih’s short fiction has appeared in a number of well known journals for over a decade now, but Where the Dog Star Never Glows is her first collection of fiction. It does not disappoint. With seventeen stories, variety is the best word to describe this slim volume. The settings range from colonial India, to present-day Dominica, to the ‘60s USA, with lots of side roads taken. Though the prose style is consistently traditional – form is played with only slightly, and reality is always, more or less, real – the characters, themes, and content vary pleasantly, creating a dynamic and interesting collection.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Rachel Galvin
  • Date Published September 2009
  • ISBN-13 978-1-934703-72-4
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 62pp
  • Price $14.00
  • Review by Kate Angus
Pulleys & Locomotion, Rachel Galvin’s first full-length collection, finds delicate grace balancing on that titular ampersand. As pulleys are a tool of motion and locomotion is movement itself, so this collection asks us to stop and consider not just the trajectory, but first what enables it to occur.
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  • Book Type Fiction/Poetry
  • by Kim Gek Lin Short
  • Date Published May 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-0-9825216-1-6
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 57pp
  • Price $14.00
  • Review by Jeremy Benson
The Bugging Watch & Other Exhibits is under a porch, is between the fridge and the cupboard, is hiding among the coats and sweaters in the tilted closet above the basement stairs. Its shapeshifting and heartbreak is nightmarishly microscopic and horrifically asymptotical.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by John Jodzio
  • Date Published March 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-0984418404
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 180pp
  • Price $12.95
  • Review by Keith Meatto
In this debut collection, characters deal with pain in bizarre ways. A suicidal woman seduces a man in a coma. A lawyer drops pennies on passersby from the window of his office building. And in the title story, the teenage male narrator declares:
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Ange Mlinko
  • Date Published April 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-1-56689-243-8
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 81pp
  • Price $16.00
  • Review by Christine Kanownik
Ange Mlinko’s previous books have earned her much praise and fanfare and it does seem like she deserves it. Her third book, Shoulder Season, is sharp, entertaining and engaging. Her poems are timely and important. There are very few poets who can accomplish this feat. She is grappling with the world as it is. The landscapes are chaotic but the messages are not didactic.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Allison Titus
  • Date Published November 2009
  • ISBN-13 978-1-880834-88-6
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 78pp
  • Price $15.95
  • Review by Sara C. Rauch
It is very easy to lose yourself in the brave, lonely world of Allison Titus's Sum of Every Lost Ship. Her spare and questioning aesthetic is pleasing, and her subjects bristle just enough to provide a wonderful chemistry. Throughout her poems, she maintains a careful beauty and distance, and she creates a unique world of displacement, longing, and ultimately, survival.
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