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Book Review :: Flatback Sally Country by Rachel Custer

Flatback Sally Country by Rachel Custer book cover image

Guest Post by Mary Beth Hines

Rachel Custer’s new poetry collection, Flatback Sally Country, tells emotionally resonant stories of people who inhabit a hard-scrabble, left-behind, middle-American community. Through a combination of blunt and lyrical language, employing well-crafted formal and free-verse, these poems reliably deliver both pleasure and gut-punch. Custer’s linguistic alchemy draws the reader in from the start: “All day the sky is a closed fist [. . . ] All day the pregnant air [. . . ] It’s the kind of day that crouches low / behind your fear.” From there, each poem is as solid and satisfying as the next. Flatback Sally Country’s characters and sensibility are reminiscent of Marilynne Robinson’s novels, particularly Lila. Like Robinson, Custer shares glimpses into the lives of people born into overwhelmingly difficult circumstances. Yet, despite violence and hardship, the book flickers with redemptive moments, with love. Custer’s writing of this place and its people is a testament to survival, and to what matters. Its stunning closing, “As for me and my house, we will” is a praise song and a fitting conclusion to this review:

“praise the Lord of porkfat and Flatback Sally. [. . . ] praise hurt [. . . ] the same sin again and again. [. . . ] praise heat [. . . ] praise good killing one’s own dinner and the skin / tearing free from muscle at our hands / praise desperate land”

Flatback Sally Country by Rachel Custer. Terrapin Books, March 2023.

Reviewer bio: Mary Beth Hines writes poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction from her home in Massachusetts. Her work appears in Bracken, Crab Orchard Review, Cider Press Review, Tar River Poetry, Valparaiso, and elsewhere. Kelsay Books published her poetry collection Winter at a Summer House in 2021. Visit her at www.marybethhines.com

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