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NewPages Book Reviews

Posted October 1, 2012

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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by John Warner
  • Date Published October 2011
  • ISBN-13 978-1-56947-973-5
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 284pp
  • Price $24.00
  • Review by David Breithaupt
With a title such as The Funny Man, I was expecting John Warner’s novel to be about the dark side of comedy. I sensed some sort of irony. Having known a few local comics while living in NYC, I was surprised by the flip side of their comedic faces. Many of them were depressed, bi-polar, damaged by childhood abuse or simply born unstable. All, it seemed, were self-medicating with humor.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Molly Brodak
  • Date Published April 2012
  • Format Chapbook
  • Pages 28pp
  • Price $10.00
  • Review by Alyse Bensel
One doesn’t have to know Paolo Uccello and his paintings to appreciate the quiet, lingering poems of Molly Brodak’s chapbook The Flood, a series of poems transfixed upon Uccello’s little-known life and works. Breathing life into Uccello through a distinct voice as well as elucidating his paintings through ekphrastic and descriptive poems, The Flood provides a concentrated illumination of how the written word can interact with and respond to visual representation.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Sylvia Montgomery Shaw
  • Date Published April 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0877853411
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 304pp
  • Price $15.95
  • Review by Mantra Roy
In Paradise Misplaced: Mexican Eden Trilogy, Book I, Sylvia Montgomery Shaw invites readers to a world of Mexican upper class etiquette, power, intrigue, romance, passion, murder, and yearning for forgiveness. In the book’s opening pages, the reclusive patriarch of the Nyman family, General Lucio Nyman Berquist, is found murdered. From then on, readers will find it impossible to set the book aside, through the trial of the general’s youngest priest-son, Samuel, to the entrance of the dashing Captain Benjamin Nyman Vizcarra—Samuel’s twin—and his incarceration in the premeditated murder of their father. The pace at which the events accelerate and the way the attractive characters present themselves—the three sons of the deceased, the estranged widow, the only daughter, all impressive in their nobility and grandeur—grab readers’ attention and curiosity. When Benjamin attacks his beautiful American wife, Isabel, in his cell for cheating on him and his family, readers will be eager to learn about the relationship of the “Gringo” with the Nyman family, the wealthiest in Mexico, in the first decade of the twentieth century.
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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by Catherine Taylor
  • Date Published April 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-1-933254-96-8
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 160pp
  • Price $17.00
  • Review by Pia Aliperti
The pendulum image, from the prologue to Catherine Taylor’s Apart, could swing neatly between “prose and verse” or between “faith and doubt, black and white, change and stasis, self and other, amnesty and retribution . . . poverty and wealth . . . alien and citizen” in a book that investigates the realities of post-apartheid South Africa. Instead, in a hybrid work that fuses the lyric, the documentary, and the memoir genres with Taylor’s scholarly inquisition, Taylor tells us that the pendulum system “doesn’t just swing back and forth . . . inscribing simple opposites” but that “it leaves a trail of ever-shifting ellipses.” Like the periodic sentence, the people of her country “move forward, want resolution, seek conclusions, note parallels, but they, of course, reach no final revelations, no concluding periods—no time with an end, no discrete clause of history, no full stop.”
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Elinor Nauen
  • Date Published May 2012
  • ISBN-13 9781935955047
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 64pp
  • Price $9.95
  • Review by Aimee Nicole
Cinco Puntos Press has a great reputation, and this little book of poetry adds to its wealth of good literature in a big way. Elinor Nauen weaves a string of poems that read like a novel as we plunge into her relationship with her husband Johnny. The book, set up as a series of poems, is read like a dictionary (think The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan) with the titles of poems succeeding in alphabetical order. This book takes the dictionary idea a step further than Levithan; Nauen also includes words and phrases specific to her relationship with her husband that would not be found in a standard dictionary. It makes this book of poetry an adventure unique to their relationship.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Fadi Azzam
  • Translated From Arabic
  • by Adam Talib
  • Date Published May 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-1-56656-862-3
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 224pp
  • Price $15.00
  • Review by Wendy Breuer
The novel Sarmada, by Fadi Azzam, is the story of the Druze village of Sarmada in the rugged southern mountains of Syria. The narrator, a journalist, has escaped his upbringing in this backwater for the cosmopolitanism of Paris and Dubai. In Paris he meets a woman who believes that in another life, she was a beautiful young woman of Sarmada, Hela Mansour, who in 1968 was punished for running off with a lover. The narrator goes to Sarmada to investigate this fantastic tale of transmigration. Interviewing village survivors, he learns of Hela’s five brothers and how their monomaniacal obsession to restore family honor forced the lovers to live as fugitives and pariahs. He learns how, out of exhaustion, Hela left her lover and returned to Sarmada to face the bloodlust of her family and how no one in the village intervened to stop the brutal death foretold. The narrator in his return becomes a seeker looking for “. . . clues to help me try to understand how I fit in with these people who made me who I am . . . who nursed me . . . with the waters of rage, fear, joy and gloom.” Foreshadowing the present convulsive awakening in Syria, with all the divisions and sectarianism, he portrays a place of myth and magic ultimately under siege by the forces of transformation.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by James Cummins
  • Date Published January 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0-88748-545-9
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 120pp
  • Price $16.95
  • Review by Joanna Kurowska
James Cummins’s volume Still Some Cake tells a story whose meaning unfolds gradually, like in a puzzle, as one pieces together phrases, motifs, insights, scenes, catchwords, central figures, and word or theme repetitions. Because it is a story, it seems advisable to read the collection as a whole, from the first to the last page.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Charlotte Pence
  • Date Published June 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0-9828766-7-1
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 28pp
  • Price $9.00
  • Review by Alyse Bensel
Charlotte Pence’s chapbook and winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition, The Branches, the Axe, the Missing, leads the reader through a sequence of unnamed poems. A brief narrative of a woman leaving her husband after a divorce and thinking about her homeless father is told alongside poems that address the development of language and social interaction among the evolution of humans as a species. Varied in form and length, each poem adds another link to the narrative chain that brings together a complex and sophisticated extended poem that dwells on our evolutionary desire to communicate.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by L. Annette Binder
  • Date Published August 2012
  • ISBN-13 9781936747313
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 168pp
  • Price $15.95
  • Review by Trena Machado
Winner of the 2011 Mary McCarthy Prize in short fiction, Rise by L. Annette Binder is a book of fourteen stories in which, with each story, we experience living inside a trauma from the subject’s interior eye level. Binder gives a no-blink portrayal of what happens to an individual and the person close to that individual as the trauma is lived and shapes their responses. She constructs her stories around traumas many of us will deal with at one time or another with ourselves or a loved one or collaterally from the newspaper: a child kidnapped at the mall, life lived around a birth defect, a child losing a parent to death, war with a malicious neighbor, molestation of a young teen by a parental figure, being diagnosed with a terminal illness, a driver hitting a child in a crosswalk. Once thrown into trauma that is life-altering, how do we reclaim ourselves . . . or can we?
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Thomas Cobb
  • Date Published September 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8165-2110-4
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 224pp
  • Price $24.95
  • Review by Lydia Pyne
In the John Ford’s 1962 classic Western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, there’s a line or two that ring particularly true to writing about the West. After learning the truth about the shootout and the story behind outlaw Liberty Valance’s death, the newspaperman tells James Stewart’s character, “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Rusty Morrison
  • Date Published April 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-1-932195-41-5
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 71pp
  • Price $16.95
  • Review by Pia Aliperti
Many of the meditations in Rusty Morrison’s After Urgency—selected by Jane Hirshfield for the Dorset Prize—arise from nature where the poet comforts herself after the loss of her mother and father (“‘My dead,’ I’ve begun to call them”), who died only a season apart. How, now, to “live past” their deaths? How to go on; “how to stand still?” In “Appearances,” Morrison’s melancholy goes unanswered by the landscape: “Tree-line, water’s edge, places that borders will gather against. / What a body might verge upon, it can neither tame nor test.”
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Sébastien Smirou
  • Translated From French
  • by Andrew Zawacki
  • Date Published May 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-1-936194-08-7
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 120pp
  • Price $14.00
  • Review by Patrick James Dunagan
Impossibly pure poetry is a losing game. At best, a transient mood may be set by way of tone as the general weight of measured restraint from over-expression provides an atmospheric gloss of consciousness. This is the haunting of Mallarme. The desire to have the poem stand for more than is possible. Yet Andrew Zawacki’s translation of Sébastien Smirou holds up admirably well in the face of such challenges.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Andrea Rexilius
  • Date Published April 2012
  • Review by Jeremy Benson
All throughout Half of What They Carried Flew Away, Andrea Rexilius proves her command of words and sentences. Mostly, the process of her creating is hidden by its resulting prose poems and declarative stanzas. One passage, however, lifts the curtain: “These borders live on, interrelated. Between the body’s procreation and use. I have been told, it is unfair to say the word ‘body’ again. That’s fine. It’s easy enough to ignore.”
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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by Chana Wilson
  • Date Published April 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-1580054324
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 384pp
  • Price $17.00
  • Review by Courtney McDermott
“I was the first child ever allowed to visit a patient at the private mental hospital where my mother was being treated. Before our first trip there, Dad said, ‘The doctors think your mother will get better if she can keep seeing you.’” The opening lines of Chana Wilson’s book illuminate the intimate, complex and soul-sucking relationship that she and her mother have throughout their lives, meanwhile plunging the reader into a sparse, transparent glimpse into the lives of women treated in 1950s psych wards. Wilson grows up with her parents as an only child, but at the age of seven, her mother is put into a mental hospital for her severe depression. She attempts to commit suicide numerous times, and the memoir jarringly opens up with the scene of Gloria holding a rifle to her head in the bathroom.
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