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NewPages Book Reviews

Posted April 1, 2013

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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Michele Poulos
  • Date Published December 2012
  • Format Chapbook
  • Pages 31pp
  • Price $12.00
  • Review by Alyse Bensel
Michele Poulos’ debut poetry chapbook and winner of the 2012 Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Competition, A Disturbance in the Air, embodies a meditative, emotive lyric in finely crafted poems that deal with the complexities of interpersonal relationships. In examining lives through a historical veil, various speakers narrate and reflect on historical events surrounding Greece and other places, prompting the dead to speak and even return.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Percival Everett
  • Date Published February 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-55597-634-7
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 256pp
  • Price $15.00
  • Review by Trena Machado
Percival Everett’s narrative model is vacillating like our thoughts, changeable as our awareness that inhabits the present as we are ever forced to find meaning by telling ourselves what is in front of us. Upfront in Percival Everett by Virgil Russell, Everett constructs the perch from which the book is written: “language was a great failure or deceiver . . . that it could not be trusted” because the Ontological Argument for God’s existence was logically, but not factually, sound. “A=A,” a logical proposition, is not the same as “A is A,” pointing at existence. Once we are in the territory of “is,” the otherness of life as its own force enters, and with the acknowledged unreliability of language comes a different kind of narrative than the narrative forms we have acclimated to in the modern era. All the techniques of postmodern narrative, a merged narrator of at least seven voices, intertextuality using literature elements from more than two thousand years, the narrative looking at the narrative as it is being written, nonlinear time, mix of high and low subjects, and varied writing styles are used to give us a story pointing beyond language . . . and Everett does accomplish this. The postmodern techniques, as deranging as they are, take a backseat to the “heart of the matter.” Yet the techniques let us experience our struggle for the incomprehensible knot it is.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Herman Koch
  • Translated From Dutch
  • by Sam Garrett
  • Date Published February 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-7704-3785-5
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 304pp
  • Price $24.00
  • Review by Olive Mullet
Dutch novelist Herman Koch’s The Dinner, a bestseller in Europe, is funny, intense and discussable for its morality. Two brothers and their wives meet at a topnotch Amsterdam restaurant to talk about their fifteen-year-old sons. One brother, Serge, is a politician, a shoo-in for prime minister, and the other, the narrator Paul, was a high school history teacher. At first the novel is funny due to Paul’s acerbic comments on the restaurant’s pretensions and his brother’s obvious love of being in the spotlight. But then when we learn of the crime perpetrated by Paul’s son Michel and Serge’s son Rick, and we learn more of Paul’s background, the book grips us with its surprises.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Laura Kasischke
  • Date Published March 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-936747-49-8
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 184pp
  • Price $15.95
  • Review by Kirsten McIlvenna
In Laura Kasischke’s first collection of short stories, she grabs you from the beginning, making you catch hold of your breath in anticipation. And I mean from the very beginning. The first line of the first story (“Mona”) reads: “They’d all warned her not to snoop.” Already, we are just as curious as the mother in her teenage daughter’s bedroom. What will she find? And in addition, what will we, as readers, find between the pages? This collection speaks of the unknown. What is your daughter hiding from you? What are the lives like for the people in the houses you pass by each day? What will happen when you grow up and are no longer a child? What lies ahead of you after death? And yet, what we find isn’t necessarily answers to those questions. I found arresting images, ones that allow both the darkness and the light to live within the same text.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Ray Morrison
  • Date Published October 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-1-935708-67-4
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 154pp
  • Price $14.95
  • Review by Ryan Wilson
Southern discomfort informs Ray Morrison’s short story collection In a World of Small Truths, yet the unease that permeates each story comes distinctly from the New South, nowhere near the traditional gothic trappings of Faulkner or O’Conner. Still, Morrison’s voice is that of an insider, often reflecting on a youth long gone, not unlike a more collective longing for those lost antebellum days.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Vladimir Voinovich
  • Translated From Russian
  • by Andrew Bromfield
  • Date Published October 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8101-2662-6
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 248pp
  • Price $24.95
  • Review by Lydia Pyne
A Displaced Person: The Later Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin is the much anticipated finish of the Chonkin trilogy, told through a curious and unexpected Absurdist literary frame for our Russian protagonist. The story of A Displaced Person is fantastical dark satire of a Stalin-era Soviet soldier who manages to blunder his way from one adventure to another. This story, however, is also a wonderfully powerful philosophic commentary on the struggle for meaning in the confusing, conflicted experiences of a Russian Everyman. This detached existentialism that surrounds Private Chonkin throughout the narrative allows the author the opportunity for caustic commentary on Russian and Soviet moralism.
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  • Book Type Anthology edited
  • by Lee Gutkind
  • Date Published April 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-1-937163-04-4
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 255pp
  • Price $15.95
  • Review by Cheryl Wright-Watkins
The twenty-two essays in this collection were chosen from four hundred submissions in response to Lee Gutkind’s (editor of Creative Nonfiction literary magazine) call for essays on the subject of death. The book is a collaboration of Creative Nonfiction and the Jewish Healthcare Foundation. While it isn’t a book one would choose for entertainment or casual reading, it is an important one that offers an expansive view, from various perspectives, on how we deal with death and dying.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Amy Willoughby-Burle
  • Date Published October 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-1935708605
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 110pp
  • Price $12.95
  • Review by Jodi Paloni
In her debut collection, Out Across the Nowhere, Amy Willoughby-Burle tells vast and vibrant stories (fourteen of them) in a scant (ninety-three) number of pages. Think bright and miniature, resembling the fireflies in her title story: “. . . like all the stars have left the sky to come roost in the tree limbs.” Think of their impact and largeness, and they make us feel that “We could swallow them and make little galaxies in our empty stomachs.”
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Matthew Specktor
  • Date Published March 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-935639-44-2
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 460pp
  • Price $25.95
  • Review by David Breithaupt
Matthew Specktor’s new novel, American Dream Machine, is set in LA and spans the second half of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st. My mind has pop-ups when I hear about a book that takes place in LA—I think Chandler, Fante and Mosley, not to mention all those black-and-white noir films. Never having visited, I prefer to keep my perhaps faux-romantic ideas of this location rather than be disturbed by the actual reality of Los Angeles. So, I wondered, what will Specktor’s book add to my at-a-distance relationship to this fabled city?
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Dobby Gibson
  • Date Published January 2013
  • ISBN-13 9781555976323
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 96pp
  • Price $15.00
  • Review by Theresé Samson Wenham
Dobby Gibson’s newest collection, It Becomes You, is his third book of poetry. His poems remind me of Billy Collins or Mark Strand: conversational and witty with themes of nostalgia and doubt. At their best, they reflect the sharp humor of Auden, who makes tight lines appear effortlessly conversational. From W. H. Auden’s “The Unknown Citizen”: “Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd: / Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.” Gibson’s best poems aspire to this same kind of detached philosophical clarity. He generally succeeds, but without the formal aesthetic pleasure.
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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by Lee Upton
  • Date Published July 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-1936797141
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 220pp
  • Price $24.95
  • Review by Courtney McDermott
“This is a book about ambition,” Lee Upton writes in the first section (aptly titled “Ambition”) of Swallowing the Sea. It would seem that Upton’s own ambition with this book is to discuss writing as a writer, and yet the book does so much more. For anyone in love with writing, Swallowing the Sea is an homage to the delicate, painful, and (for some) necessary impulse to write. Upton explores the process of writing, the hurdles and frustrations along the way, and the fervor of being an avid reader, while employing personal anecdotes, literary criticisms, and poetical metaphors to make sense of writing’s place in our culture.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Julie Choffel
  • Date Published March 2012
  • ISBN-13 9780823242306
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 88pp
  • Price $18.00
  • Review by Pia Aliperti
Julie Choffel offers a warning at the start of The Hello Delay, winner of Fordham University Press’s 2012 Poets Out Loud prize: “my poetry has no camera.” Photographs tell stories; their tableaus create the “‘everyone crying’ scene” or the “‘everyone looks elsewhere’ scene” (“The Sorrows”). Still, in a photograph’s version of reality: “mud is paper mud / the sky has creases in it” (“The Rain Falls as a Cylinder”) or “the sand is never real sand, but some uncatapultable feeling of / sand” (“The Sorrows”). Besides a natural disconnect between the image and the physical object, photographs have their own contexts, back stories, and intrigues that make meaning depending on the beholder. When the speaker of “The Sorrows,” for instance, gazes at a photo of herself, she “can only see [her] own eyes / seeking their place” and not the whole of the composition. Choffel’s collection resists “easy combinations” and singular definitions. In fact, her photography metaphor informs how the collection thinks about language: exploratory, changeable, and exhilarating.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Mary Szybist
  • Date Published February 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-55597-635-4
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 72pp
  • Price $15.00
  • Review by Alyse Bensel
Mary Szybist’s second poetry collection, Incarnadine, traces the ordinary and the divine in well-lit poems engaged in lyrical narrative. Although initially read as quiet, introspective meditations, these poems claim larger historical ground through interactions with and dissolutions of male-centric texts, including those of Nabokov, George W. Bush, and Byrd, and well-known female figures. With strong representations of Biblical female figures that further complicate the lineage and significance of women, specifically the Virgin Mary, Incarnadine leads the reader through a nuanced interpretation of gender roles and expectations.
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