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NewPages Book Reviews

Posted May 1, 2014

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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Robert Lax
  • Date Published November 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-933517-76-6
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 353pp
  • Price $25.00
  • Review by Elizabeth O'Brien
Poems (1962-1997), a new collection from Wave Books, presents 35 years’ worth of work from avant-garde poet Robert Lax. An enigma even in the weird world of poetry, Lax (1915-2000) was educated at Columbia University, where he met lifelong friend Thomas Merton and studied with poet Mark Van Doren. He served over the years as a critic, editor, and writer for TIME, Parade, and The New Yorker, among other publications, although he identified himself as a poet first and foremost. As a young man, he spent a season traveling through Canada with the Cristiani family circus, which eventually led to his first book of poetry, The Circus of the Sun.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Dorthe Nors
  • Translated From Danish
  • by Martin Aitken
  • Date Published February 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-1-55597-665-1
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 104pp
  • Price $14.00
  • Review by Wendy Breuer
If the fifteen stories in Karate Chop, by Danish writer Dorthe Nors, were drawings, the spare lines would be punctuated by dark space filled with implication. Each tale is a visit to a foreign place from the viewpoint of an other, someone you might pass without noticing—a walker in the park, a woman getting a haircut, a teenage girl with her father in a car.
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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by Peter Kaufman
  • Date Published September 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-60938-188-2
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 298pp
  • Price $19.95
  • Review by Patricia Contino
A fire sparked Peter Kaufman’s Skull in the Ashes: Murder, a Gold Rush Manhunt, and the Birth of Circumstantial Evidence in America. On the evening of February 3, 1897, the Walford, Iowa General Store burned to the ground. Among the few recognizable items found in the rubble was a skull detached from a partial male skeleton. The assumption was that it was storeowner Frank Novak, who had been guarding his property following a rash of neighborhood burglaries.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Saul Lemerond
  • Date Published September 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0989607-10-0
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 103pp
  • Price $15.95
  • Review by Benjamin T. Lambright
Saul Lemerond writes in a bizarre universe, fraught with psychosexual dysfunction and filled with strange and desperate characters. The worlds of Kayfabe, whether rainbow cities littered with drunk children or WWE-style wrestling rings, are surreal, disturbing, and often hilarious. He goes to places where few writers have dared, or thought to dare, and finds something universal out there on the same edge that Vonnegut likes to view us from.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Kristina Marie Darling
  • Date Published October 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-60964-160-3
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 56pp
  • Price $16.00
  • Review by H. V. Cramond
Kristina Marie Darling’s Vow is simultaneously familiar and strange. The title itself evokes Anne Waldman’s Vow to Poetry, but one look at the small, spare book tells you that this is a different thing. It is, like Waldman’s book, a text about text, but not just in content:
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Tessa Mellas
  • Date Published November 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-60938-200-1
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 133pp
  • Price $17.00
  • Review by Courtney McDermott
Tessa Mellas’s debut collection is full of noise—and absurdity, charm, otherworldliness, and beauty. The twelve stories in Lungs Full of Noise brandish the bizarre and stroke the pages with strange and unsettling stories that hover on the border of reality. Mellas ushers us into the uniqueness of her world, reminding me of the inventive and alluring worlds created by such writers as Kevin Brockmeier and Joyelle McSweeney. It is no wonder that she was the deserving winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Victoria Chang
  • Date Published August 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-938073-58-8
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 46pp
  • Price $20.00
  • Review by Aimee Nicole
Any time I pick up a book from McSweeney’s Poetry Series, I have high expectations—and Victoria Chang’s The Boss does not disappoint. This collection of poetry is full of clever, cheeky language that propels you through to the last page. The author presents us with a diverse collection written on the same core topic, yet contemplates it from so many points of view that although she considers it fully, I still wanted more. A particularly good example from “The Boss Has Grey Hair”:
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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by Barbara Rylko-Bauer
  • Date Published March 2014
  • ISBN-13 9780806144313
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 416pp
  • Price $26.95
  • Review by Girija Sankar
Every so often one comes across a book so engrossing that, as the truism goes, one can’t put it down. Typically, such books tend to be works of fiction—popular crime thrillers, espionage novels, or summertime beach reads. It’s nice, then, to find a work of nonfiction that takes on a subject matter as grim as the Nazi concentration camps and turns it into an utterly relatable story—like that of a Catholic Polish woman who survived World War II and lived to 100 years of age. A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps: My Mother’s Memories of Imprisonment, Immigration, and a Life Remade is anthropologist Barbara Rylko-Bauer’s rendering of Jadwiga Lenartowicz Rylko’s memories of life, both before and after World War II.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Corey Mesler
  • Date Published September 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-9887328-5-8
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 212pp
  • Price $16.00
  • Review by Cheryl Wright-Watkins
On the copyright page of Diddy Wah Diddy, Corey Mesler writes: “Everything in this book, including its truths, is a falsehood,” establishing a humorous tone that continues throughout the book. The disclaimer is also a reminder that this is a work of fiction, even though historical characters—one-time Memphis mayor “Boss” Crump, W. C. Handy, Robert Johnson, Arty Shaw, Elvis, John Dee, Butterfly McQueen, Bessie Smith—appear in the scenes. While most of the chapters or vignettes could stand alone, together they present a complex, multi-layered imaginative account of post-World War II Beale Street, gateway to the Delta and birthplace of the blues.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Nicelle Davis
  • Date Published September 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-59709-239-5
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 112pp
  • Price $18.95
  • Review by Emily May Anderson
Becoming Judas, Nicelle Davis’s second full-length poetry collection, is a strange, beautiful, complicated book which includes equally strange and beautiful illustrations by artist Cheryl Gross. The book is comprised of a vast cast of voices and stories, with the speaker weaving religious history, popular culture, and personal experience into a complex personal mythology. Judas and Jesus may be expected characters, based on the title, but the book also includes Joseph Smith, John Lennon, and Charles Manson, as well as the speaker’s mother, grandmother, son, and many others.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Crystal Williams
  • Date Published February 2014
  • ISBN-13 987-0-9911465-0-5
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 63pp
  • Price $18.00
  • Review by Andrea Dulberger
William Carlos Williams famously wrote, “It is difficult to get the news from poems.” However, Crystal Williams’s third book of poetry, Detroit as Barn, is lacking neither in news nor in difficult truths between the lines (between the minds) of those she writes about. Her poetry engages with the question of how to live with what changes and also with what stays uncomfortably the same, stuck in a rut. The collection is centered on real moments where history seems to sit on a struggling city and its people, yet there is also a central wonder throughout the book about the “life beneath this life,” a reminder that history is shimmering, that it is not one thing.
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