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NewPages Book Reviews

Posted November 1, 2013

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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Margot Berwin
  • Date Published November 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0307949813
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 240pp
  • Price $16.95
  • Review by Michael Caylo-Baradi
This novel’s title and cover image, of reddish curls of smoke, inspires assumptions that another vampire story is lurking in our midst, quietly digging its fangs on an ever-crowded genre dominated by pale, gorgeous characters, 500-year-old blood-suckers whose sense of smell defies any human standard of keenness. In the novel’s first paragraph, the narrator’s revelation of a loss—of “something very special . . . running through [her] veins like a blessing, or a plague”—appears to support that impression, that perhaps she is referring to properties in her blood, of being trapped in the vacuum of eternity itself. Even the narrator’s name—Eva—has strong kinship to blood, old blood, the origin of blood, fallen, cast away from innocence, purity. It’s hard to say where our impression of vampires eventually fades in the story; Margot Berwin’s canvas is filled with shadows, quiet rooms with creaky doors, cloudy skies, and lonely roads, whether Eva is in the mountaintop town of Cyril, New York where her grandmother Louise lives, or in the tropical weather of New Orleans, where Eva shacks up with her boyfriend Gabriel after Louise—an aromata, a master creator of scent—passes away.
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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by Howard Mansfield
  • Date Published September 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-87233-167-9
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 238pp
  • Price $22.50
  • Review by Lydia Pyne
It’s hard to imagine a trope of Americana more ingrained in the public conscientiousness than purposeful living in New England. In Dwelling in Possibility: Searching for the Soul of Shelter, Howard Mansfield takes Thoreau’s call to “live deliberately” as a demand to examine the nature of shelter and the circumstances that create a home. These themes, he argues, are how people can engage with their culture and how they live in their spaces. Dwelling in Possibility, one could say, is Mansfield’s answer to “putting to rout all that is not life” (Walden-Pond-style) by calling direct and specific attention to what he sees as humanity’s un-purposeful living in their dwellings.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Brian Russell
  • Date Published July 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-55597-648-4
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 88pp
  • Price $15.00
  • Review by Kelly M. Sylvester
The poems in The Year of What Now by Brian Russell can catch an unsuspecting poetry reader off-guard, much like a sudden illness or the meeting of your future significant other. Within the opening two lines of the book’s first poem, we discover we will not be eased into this experience: “your hands were stained the urgent shade / of blood when I found you.” As readers continue, they will uncover sections of humor, as well as soft assuring language and soothing music within the poems. Every poem is written without any punctuation marks, except apostrophes. This tactic, although noticeable, doesn’t interrupt the flow or create uncertainty and confusion; instead, it makes the message clearer, helps readers directly connect with the narrator’s thoughts and share the narrator’s sensation of uncertainty. Readers are opened to accept the music of the moment with comforting sounds like “clack of keys,” repetition and rhythms like, “born from smoldering / Rome came crawling,” and unexpected rhymes like:
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Rebecca Gayle Howell
  • Date Published March 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0986025730
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 88pp
  • Price $15.95
  • Review by Emily May Anderson
Rebecca Gayle Howell’s debut collection was selected by Nick Flynn for the 2012 Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Prize. In his foreword, Flynn writes: “To enter into these poems one must be fully committed, as the poet is, to seeing this world as it is, to staying with it, moment by moment, day by day.”
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Jonathan Callahan
  • Date Published April 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-9837405-7-5
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 328pp
  • Price $16.00
  • Review by David Breithaupt
When I began to write this I suddenly realized that in order to review Jonathan Callahan’s debut collection of short stories, The Consummation of Dirk, I’d have to invent a whole new set of adjectives. The writing contained within these covers is imaginative, wrought, out-of-the-box, and perhaps bordering on the avant-garde, all of which have been said about many works of literature and which, in the long run, tell you little. Yet, while reading his stories, I had a sense of the traditional narrative undergoing a transformation—I pictured Bruce Banner changing into the Hulk. These are stories trying to punch their way out of the bag. They are written with some edge and share varying degrees of foreboding.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Hailey Leithauser
  • Date Published October 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-55597-657-6
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 80pp
  • Price $15.00
  • Review by Elizabeth O'Brien
“If it could speak it would offer / you excess; it would / offer you more.”
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  • Book Type Edited
  • by Jason Lee Brown and Shanie Latham
  • Date Published March 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-253-00818-3
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 264pp
  • Price $30.00
  • Review by Cheryl Wright-Watkins
The editors selected twenty stories from more than three hundred submitted by literary journals, magazines, and small presses and arranged them to make up New Stories from the Midwest 2012. Editors Jason Lee Brown and Shanie Latham explain that the goals of the series are to “celebrate an American region that is often ignored in discussions about distinctive regional literature and to demonstrate how the quality of fiction from and about the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) rivals that of any other region.” In the introduction, Guest Editor John McNally, born and raised in the Chicago suburb of Burbank, writes: “If all politics is local, as Tip O’Neill once famously declared, then so is all fiction. The best fiction, it seems to me, is always strongly rooted in place.” These stories are linked by place, specifically the Midwest, where fierce winds blow in off the plains, corn stalks tower in ubiquitous rolling fields, snow begins before Thanksgiving and lasts long into spring, and ice freezes summer lakes. While the landscape and weather provide the settings and common themes for these stories, their universal appeal lies in the characters whose lives inhabit them.
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  • Book Type Anthology compiled and edited
  • by Travis Kurowski
  • Date Published August 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0984040575
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 431pp
  • Price $29.95
  • Review by Kirsten McIlvenna
In an opening piece (originally written in 2008) in Paper Dreams, Jill Allyn Rosser gives us “Reasons for Creating a New Literary Magazine,” beginning with, “There probably hasn’t been a new one created in the past six-and-a-half days.” Through this sarcastic piece, Rosser actually lists many reasons why you shouldn’t begin a new magazine. Among my favorites is, “There are serious, good, seriously good writers whose work is being completely ignored, and you are so nattily optimistic as to believe that literate people are going to read them in your new Yet Another Literary Magazine when they already have piles and unread piles of them . . .” Clearly, literary magazines are cropping up everywhere. And while there is an abundance of them, they are important in the literary culture.
  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Dan O'Brien
  • Date Published July 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-934909-35-5
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 132pp
  • Price $18.00
  • Review by Kelly M. Sylvester
War Reporter tells a compelling story of war, conflict, and torment of the human spirit through a collection of poems based upon Dan O’Brien’s research, email exchanges, and interviews with photojournalist Paul Watson. Often the poems’ narrator is “The War Reporter Paul Watson on […]”. One of the most brilliant devices used in these poems is the heavy use of imagery. This comes as no surprise as these poems are being told from a photojournalist’s perspective. Very few poems from Watson’s narration read as his thoughts on a particular subject as much as they read like a series of snapshots through his photojournalistic lens to show his story. An example of this comes from “The War Reporter Paul Watson Considers the Peacekeepers”:
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Tess Taylor
  • Date Published August 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1597092708
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 88pp
  • Price $17.95
  • Review by Julie Swarstad Johnson
“[S]he could see her story going on, her people there in the past—a way of imagining that grounds her,” writes Tess Taylor in her debut full-length poetry collection The Forage House (“Meeting Karen White, Descendent of Jefferson’s Gardener Wormley”). While these words describe someone other than the collection’s primary speaker, they prove an apt summary of Taylor’s first book: in The Forage House, we witness a personal discovery of family history and how it colors the speaker’s present. Throughout the collection, Taylor’s first-person speaker finds herself immersed in the vivid reality of her family’s past, a past that spans a period from Thomas Jefferson to a Confederate soldier who survived Gettysburg to her parents’ early years of marriage living in a Brooklyn commune. The Forage House presents the simultaneous distance and unshakeable presence of history through poems that bridge research and imagination, the distant past and the lived present.
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