Greg November opens the Fall 2019 issue of Boulevard with “The Business of Killing Tony.” After initially skimming the first sentences as I paged through the issue, I found it nearly physically impossible to stop reading: “Tony’s death—the first one, I’m talking—last a week. We had nothing to do with that one, Gwen and I, at least not directly.”
The story follows three siblings, the narrator Don, Gwen, and Tony, in the days and weeks following Tony’s death and subsequent resurrection and even more subsequent deaths. Prior to the death, their relationships are strained: Don is detached from the other two siblings as he separates from his wife and moves into a new condo; Tony, addicted to drugs and alcohol, orbits as the family black sheep; and Gwen halfheartedly takes on a motherly role as she attempts to organize an intervention for Tony (which is where he dies the first time) and get Don to participate. Tony comes back with a newfound clarity, death becoming the push he needed to finally sort himself out. But he has one problem: he wants to stay dead and can’t.
November’s characters are wry and detached, and the universe he’s created is lightened with dark humor. The siblings react to the news of Tony’s resurrection relatively level-headedly and are brought together by this new task of killing Tony again and again. There are moments November works in feeling, though he never careens into sappy sentimentality. The plot is inventive and interesting, readers not knowing quite what to expect out of a universe where a man can come back to life and make ties between the lands of the living and dead.
“The Business of Killing Tony” is a great opener for this issue of Boulevard and I look forward to checking out more work by November.
Review by Katy Haas
In “Bought and Sold,” Issue 30 of True Story, author Renata Golden locates herself in the complicated history of the American West after inheriting two half-acre ranchettes outside of Deming, New Mexico.
Purchased in 1969 by her father, a man ready to leave the ordeals of the Chicago Police Force behind him, the land promised a “welcoming warmth.” Fifteen years after his death, Golden steps on ground that had been handed down to her as the American narrative of land leading to wealth and a better life. Instead, the barren landscape and hard crusted earth force her to confront “how primitive land could be.”
Though her father believed the winds of the West “carried a hint of hope instead of despair,” as Golden mines the history of her inheritance, she discovers the injustice, violence, and death inflicted on the natives and land grant owners who first called the land home.
Despite framing each scene of the essay with excerpts from historical documents, Golden writes, “I know that some voices have been lost to the winds that carry a palpable sense of grief. I do not know the truths of the past. I know only the stories told around campfires and corrals, in letters and ledger books, that have survived. Stories repeated became history.”
Review by Emily James
Although published in 1951, any person serious about literature would do well to read or reread Nabokov’s captivating autobiography, if not for the rapture of his complicated life, then for the beauty of his syntactical architecture. A master of form devoted to meaning, Nabokov relays the truths of a man twice removed from his home country of Russia, once by revolution and again with the rise of the iron curtain. He renders through complex but clear sentence structure the pains of diaspora and the call to home which he can never truly answer. Within this beautiful prose he also provides insight into his master works Lolita, Despair, and The Gift. He dangles before the reader a maze of sentences each providing a decadent feast for those who value—above all—the meaning-making capacity of provoking syntax.
Even his first sentence tells the reader more about his lost home and life than many lesser writers could conjure in a length of chapters, “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” Although he plays at the duplicity of life and death, so does his opening sentence relay the pain of a man who can never truly return to the womb of his mother country nor escape its call through death. Nabokov rewards the keen reader. He displays the full power of a prose master and does so with all the beauty of a life richly lived.
For those readers who seek reward through art, no writer has ever provided as much in their autobiography as Vladimir Nabokov.
Review by Justyn Hardy
A haunting meditation on the legacy of racism, violence, and abuse, Relief by Execution: A Visit to Mauthausen by Gint Aras is a gut-kick of a memoir in which Aras contemplates the far-reaching tentacles of anger and hate from the normalized cruelty of a boy’s childhood to the genocide of World War II. After a prolonged bout of PTSD following a violent attack, Aras visits the Mauthausen concentration camp in Lithuania and reflects on its horrors, acknowledging that as a descendant of Lithuanians, there exists within himself “the energy of the victim and the perpetrator.”
While depictions of the Holocaust remind us of the enduring human capacity for dehumanization and extreme cruelty, Aras’s essay is at its strongest when recounting the socially accepted racism of his Lithuanian-American community in Chicago. Jesse Jackson’s 1984 Presidential run provides a backdrop for Aras’s father’s racist diatribes; the community’s anti-Semitism is equally virulent and ingrained in their language. Aras writes: “The Lithuanian word for Jew is žydas. My family used this word to mean snot, and for a time I knew no other word. Mother would see me picking my nose and scold me, Netrauk žydų, or Stop pulling out Jews.” Aras draws the connections between the family’s denialism and scapegoating of Lithuanian Jews as Soviet collaborators with their refusal to see the physical and emotional abuse perpetrated against him by his tyrannical father. As an adult, Aras confronts his father in a harrowing scene, yet a cathartic reckoning remains elusive.
Aras reflects on whether he is imposing “the personal on the collective,” but most readers will recognize how hate, in its various manifestations, informs the cultural assumptions we carry. Aras’s willingness to confront this legacy is a useful reminder that we all bear the responsibility to do the same.
Review by Chuck Augello
Chuck Augello is the author of The Inexplicable Grey Space We Call Love (Duck Lake Books - April 2020). His work has appeared in One Story, Literary Hub, The Vestal Review, The Coachella Review, and other fine journals. He's a contributor to Cease Cows and publishes The Daily Vonnegut, a website exploring the life and art of Kurt Vonnegut.
The descriptions of people, the universe, and abstract concepts are always lyrical and moving. The characters, though isolated in their narrative spheres from other characters, all relate in symbolic ways, interacting like entangled particles.
This is a tale about skydiving, the brave divers through the sky, and the diverse revelations they encounter on land and in the arms of God, up in the air, floating like angels, hovering above the ball and chain of their earth, which to some is an Eden, and to others, an egg, flush with history, pregnant with myth.
It is also about childhood and escape, tragedy, and the infinite potential of the future, told in convincing voices with heart and love and joy. I was enchanted by the realistic characters, the effortless flow of the evocative language, the precise word choice, effective dialogue, and seamless storytelling. The novel works on multiple levels at once, guiding the reader through layers of meaning. It does not engage in handholding, nor is it like wandering a labyrinth. Reading it is like falling—which is a metaphor the novel makes ample use of—into a magical realm. The picture widens as you proceed, and the sky behind you is full of Halley’s comets, decaying gods, and past memories discarded like ballast.
There are many brilliant moments of interstitial congruency, like the following quote: “With the advancement of technology, he knew the future, however distant, would reveal the reality of alchemy.”
Sea Above, Sun Below is literary alchemy. A magnificent novel.
Review by L.S. Popovich
L.S. Popovich is the author of Undertones and Echoes From Dust. They have always been a cat person (a person who like cats, not a cat human hybrid).
The Tiger Moth Review publishes art and literature that “engages with nature, culture, the environment, and ecology” from Singapore and beyond.
In Issue 2, ko ko thett drew me in by writing about one of my favorite animals: elephants. “Funeral of an elephant” speculates on what is needed to mourn the death of the creature: the amount of men needed to carry the casket, how the casket should be made, what traditions to apply to this funeral, whether or not it weighs more dead than alive. thett prompts readers to hold this death in as great esteem as a human’s. I feel this is especially relevant after recent reports of eleven elephants dying as they attempted to save one another at a waterfall in Thailand. With their actions, as in thett’s poem, we see the humanity in the lives of these creatures.
thett also dedicates a poem to “The Chindwin,” a river in Burma. thett humanizes the river, comparing it to a “soon-to-be single mother,” a dominatrix, a woman puking, pissing, bleeding. There are no gentle verses here, just the ripping force of a river tearing away the landscape and the humans who have wronged her.
In both pieces, thett makes readers consider the humanness of nature, a nice selection to usher in the rest of this issue of The Tiger Moth Review.
Review by Katy Haas
Exploring the complexities and absurdities of grief, Book of Mutter is a lyrical text that will leave readers returning to its textured fragments of memory and meditation again and again. And each time, those moments will reassemble into something new and incisive.
Kate Zambreno, whose previous book O Fallen Angel won the Undoing the Novel—First Book Contest, reflects on and interrogates her relationship with her dying mother in this 2017 publication. Her mother proved such an invasive force in her life that Zambreno couldn’t help but turn to writing as the only hope she had to “expel [her] from my body.” With some photographs, spent lipstick tubes, hoarded kitsch, and a gardening journal, Zambreno sorts through these “ruins” in search of both a connection to and deliverance from the long shadow of a troubled relationship.
Far from conclusive or definitive, Book of Mutter offers something tragically beautiful and genuinely vulnerable to the perennial struggle of grief. While every page is not filled by text, they are all complete with curious and inviting moments of anger, confusion, peace, and yes, absence.
Review by Mark Smeltzer
Shanan Ballam’s newest book, Inside the Animal: The Collected Red Riding Hood Papers, published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company in 2019, pushes the persona poem to its most shimmering and starved limit. Blending her voice with the perspectives of a depraved wolf, a blossoming girl, and a wilting grandmother, Ballam continually smashes wide the familiar fairy tale and trades reader comfort for animalistic truth. What empathy can be had for the predator? Is there a love story folded into the sheets of Grandmother’s bed? Would Red Riding Hood slip into the wolf again? Continuing the work begun in her 2010 chapbook The Red Riding Hood Papers and furthered in her 2013 book Pretty Marrow, Ballam writes deeply into new velveteen layers of the aged cautionary tale.
Divided into six parts, the childhood world is rewritten for an adult understanding of intimacy and separation, ecstatic connection and pain. Through her passionate mastery of syntax and imagery, Ballam pulls readers deeper into a psychological landscape as sharp and mesmerizing as a kaleidoscope. The new Poet Laureate of Logan, Utah, as well as current faculty of Utah State University, Ballam writes with the bone-deep need to reclaim the story of monsters and naughty little girls into a truth more complicated and warm. Wholly driven and new, Ballam’s tangled reimagining of the condemning Red Riding Hood fable will mark up the mind.
Reviewed by Brittney Allen
Volume 12 Number 2 of Diode Poetry Journal shows the variety of sources poets draw inspiration from, whether it’s musical artists, medical documentation, or other poets.
Lip Manegio draws from one of my longtime favorite musical artists—Death Cab for Cutie—in “you tell me about your childhood memories of death cab for cutie, and i imagine every future and past we will ever get to live through.” Using Death Cab song titles as a way to jump into each stanza and light, beautiful language, they create a new song for themselves and the person the poem is addressed to.
Charlie Clark turns to “I am the beast I worship,” a line from the song “Beware” by Death Grips as he conjures his own beast, one that “speaks vulgar French,” “his whole demeanor muscle-thick and pissed.” The piece reads like a slow burn, a fiery anthem.
“[Infect this page]” by Hadara Bar-Nadav is an erasure poem made from the drug information for the antibiotic Ceftriaxone. Bar-Nadav creates art through the dissection of medical text and examines both sickness and art, urging the reader to action, to “Infect,” “Inject,” and “Kill / your need to / question / this / garbage art.”
Both of John Allen Taylor’s poems draw inspiration from other poets. “The boy thinks of after,” is written after Laurie Lamon, and “Dear Friend,” is written after and for Brionne Janae. Not only were his poems enjoyable to read, but they also open a door to introduce readers to other poets they may not be familiar with.
The latest issue of Diode shows the many ways writers draw inspiration from the media they consume and offers its own inspiration to readers.
Review by Katy Haas
From the introduction to the final sentence, Leslie Jill Patterson’s flash essay,“Study in Self-Defense: Lubbock, Texas,” published in the September 2019 issue of Brevity (Issue 62), kept me on the edge of my seat. A perfect read for this October, Patterson tells the story of the tense moments that follow her dog’s ferocious reaction to something, or someone, outside her house at one in the morning—an event that gives her “a lesson in self-defense.”
Patterson sets the scene by painting a sense of isolation: a woman living alone, lurking shadows, the man she is afraid might come after her. She then fully engages the reader’s fight or flight response through dark strokes of impending danger, her dog’s protective instincts engaged. From the moment of her dog’s jolt from a sound sleep to an adrenaline punched awakening, the reader finds themselves breathless as her “lesson” unfolds.
Patterson’s essay brings the scene to life with detailed imagery and an all too relatable reaction to terror. You can hear the furious barking of the dog as he “pinball[s]” from room to room, see the woman hiding as if to play “peek-a-boo,” and feel afraid even to look up from your own screen, your “covers,” and catch that terrifying glimpse. A thrill to read.
Review by Kelsie Peterson