Dante Di Stefano creates a fascinating read of precise opinions and clever phrasing with poetry in his new book, Ill Angels. If I were to divide it roughly into subject chapters, one would be musicians, another would be portraits, then love poems to his wife, verses about America, and poems for his students. Throughout the book, a characteristic worthy of attention is his skill in giving fresh meaning to words.Read more...
In 2018, Driftwood Press began accepting graphic work for their book publishing arm, and as readers wait for their chance to pick up a new graphic novel, they can check out the graphic work in the literary magazine. The current issue published at the start of 2019 features three selections in graphic works: “LaughTrack” by J. Collings, “The Salton Sea” by Cindy House, and “Émigré Animals” by Jason Hart.
In “The Salton Sea,” House writes of her young son who, after refusing to complete a project, is given an alternate assignment at school. House’s eager willingness to patiently teach her poet son how to navigate in a world that doesn’t completely suit him is palpable in her poetic language and minimal illustrations, a touching piece.
Hart uses topiary animals to explore the immigrant experience in “Émigré Animals,” a man showcasing his resiliency as he creates the animals of his home country along the streets of his new home. The images of this comic reminded me of a children’s book, and I could easily see Hart’s topiary artist inhabiting a longer, expanded story.
“LaughTrack” is creative in its wordlessness; the only dialogue in the comic are streams of “hahahaha” laughter written in red. A man, miserable in his day to day life, feeds off the laughter he gleans from others, culminating in one final letdown. Despite the sullen tone hanging over the comic, the bright colors and sketchy lines make for a visually enjoyable read.
None of the three comics in Issue 6.1 of Driftwood Press are alike. Each brings something different to the table—different art styles, writing styles, subject matter—and I look forward to discovering even more comics offered in future issues and novels from Driftwood Press.
Review by Katy Haas
When her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the 60s, Wolf’s father conspired with doctors, friends, and family to conceal the truth from her, a secret he ends up taking to the grave, a family member the one to finally break the silence. Wolf’s poems are about this time in her family’s lives, the title drawing from the conversation in which Wolf finds out about her mother’s illness:
“Did you know?” she asked.
“Know what?” I responded.
“Did you know the secret?” she asked.
“What secret?” I responded.
[ . . . ]
Now there was an “us”:
the ones who did not know.
Following the revelation about her health, Wolf’s mother challenges the life she created behind the shield of her husband’s secrecy; Wolf the voice in her ear urging her to finally do whatever she wants.
Wolf writes in a straightforward voice, never losing readers in overly flowery language, instead focusing on clearly relating her mother’s story, giving her a voice when she was denied one by her husband for so long.
Reading Did You Know? is an intimate peek into an archaic practice—a husband able to dictate his wife’s medical care while hiding it from her—but as women are currently fighting for bodily autonomy while access to abortion is challenged, the chapbook ends up feeling incredibly current.
Review by Katy Haas
If my mother and I walk out of a store into the center of the mall or exit a building onto any town’s main street, there’s a 95% chance she’ll ask me which way we came from and which way we’re now headed. If we park in a crowded lot, she follows as I lead to her hidden car. When I’m with her, I am the navigator, the way-finder.
The 33-page nonfiction piece begins in an airport, Sellers struggling to find her way out to her car. From here, we work back, finding this was always an issue, cultivated when she was young as her mother struggled with mental illness and her father with alcoholism. Knowing which way to turn, when it’s okay to turn on a red light, how to navigate a college campus or a familiar neighborhood, recognizing faces—this is all foreign to Sellers. However, Sellers writes all of this straightforwardly and clearly as if she’s describing how we can make it out of an airport, a route we can effortlessly follow, her words a way-finder at our side.
After tracing back to examine the possible source of this predicament, she puts a name to it: prosopagnosia or topographical agnosia. Once it has a name, it’s easier to understand and cope with, which leads to the deeper point of Sellers’ piece. In witnessing others struggle, she notes that she’s not uniquely alone, and she realizes the compassion and patience she shows others lost with or around her. This sympathy is missing when dealing with her own directional mishaps, the rest of the piece a steady reminder for readers to treat ourselves and others with more compassion as we find our ways through the world.
Review by Katy Haas
"People in glass houses should not throw stones"
The characters within the novel are very thought out, and the reader is able to visualize their appearance as well as learn about their personalities through the words on the page. Gabby, who is a detective, is a strong female lead, and this is nice to read as she is seen as a feminist character. Each character adds their own input into the story and their lives are all intertwined through a series of events which will be revealed within the novel.
Each chapter is full of suspense, and they are short, so the reader is not left hanging or bored with the content. The plot is structured into two strands: before and after the murder.
The settings are beautiful within the book, and they can only be described as a paradisiacal haven where only the rich of the rich get to go. The story is set, for the most part, in a huge glass rental house, and though cliché, the saying “people in glass houses should not throw stones” perfectly applies to this novel. Pathetic fallacy is used a lot to set the tone of each chapter as the plot twists and turns.
As the reader, you go through a roller coaster of emotions throughout, deciding who to side with and trying to work out who is lying and who is telling the truth. And you constantly question yourself as to whodunit.
Overall, this was a very good novel by Holahan, and I will not hesitate to pick up another of her books in the future, as I read this one in only one weekend!
Review by Tom Walker
In response to the recent abortion bans in the United States, Jellyfish Review has been publishing a series of “Pro-Choice stories” with their usual selections. In the days surrounding the bans, my social media accounts exploded with people in my life coming forward with their own abortion stories, each of their needs and wants behind their choices unique. The Pro-Choice stories of Jellyfish Review mimic this: varying voices and points of view from different walks of life, all of them valid.
“Now That I’m Being Honest” by Holly Pelesky is addressed to the child the narrator planned to abort and didn’t, back before she found her voice, highlighting how important the ability to make a choice is in a life. In “A Fetus Walks into a Bar,” Jonathan Cardew’s imagined fetus is cold-blooded and gun-toting, leading readers to consider the rights afforded gun owners vs. uterus owners.
“None of It Was Easy” by Meghan Louise Wagner is a short, thirteen-part nonfiction piece that walks through each step, from the first hint that Wagner is pregnant to the afternoon the day of her abortion, ending with the sentence “I felt sick and empty but, most of all, I felt relieved,” her relief palpable.
Filled with tension is “The Morning After” by Andrea Rinard, a mother supporting her daughter after her daughter’s assault, the desire to protect her battling with the knowledge that she must let her daughter make her own choices.
The stories continue, each different, each important. The editors include links to pro-choice organizations after every piece, inviting readers to continue to support the choices others make for their bodies, all as different and important and valid as the stories Jellyfish Review presents.
Review by Katy Haas
It’s nothing new for a novel’s key character to share his name with the book’s author. Past examples are Stephen King in Song of Savannah, Paul Auster in New York Trilogy, and Philip Roth in Operation Shylock. But Ches Smith’s protagonist, Ches Smith, is something apart and definitely a standout character in Smith’s new book, The Author is Dead. Try not to speculate on any detail in this book that might be drawn from the author’s life, except that it’s about a writer who writes a book titled The Author is Dead.
We meet Ches, the character, at Sugarville Mall. He carries his writings, his so called “loose-leaf chronicles,” in a black binder that’s always with him. Ches is intrigued by Thalia, lead singer with the Zombie Cowgirls, a “punk-country fusion” band. One short conversation with her and he’s hooked. It won’t be giving anything away to tell that Thalia very soon becomes his ghostly muse, since her otherworldly presence is key to this story’s setup.Read more...
The cover of Booth’s Winter 2019 issue invites readers in with little square scenes of bright colors and caricatures, with text promising the Nonfiction Prize winners inside. Of the four pieces selected by Judge Brian Oliu, two touched me most: “A Fractured Atlas” by Alex Clark and “Remember the Earth” by Angelique Stevens.
In the first, Clark recounts the fractured memory of being molested as a child by a friend’s father. Points of view are manipulated. “Her” becomes “you” which sometimes slips into first person: “you grow my nails out.” Throughout the piece, names are redacted, reduced to “( )” for the friend and “// //” for the father/abuser. The switches in POV, these redactions, font changes, and layering of text and image parallel the ways memory works. Details are left out, forgotten, rearranged, repeated, layered with other memories. Each page feels like decoding a map, like uncovering a new memory, a truly inventive piece of nonfiction.
In “Remember the Earth,” Stevens explores the idea of death, of what and who we leave behind. After her sister Gina’s suicide, she faces their tumultuous relationship and the years, months, and days that lead up to Gina’s death. She tries make sense of the timeline that brought both of them there. A tender and intimate work, Stevens packs so much raw emotional energy into one short piece, I had to read it in little bursts.
Both deserved of placing in the Nonfiction Prize, Clark and Stevens peel back layers of their memories. While constructed completely differently, both give stark and honest examinations of a moment in each of their lives.
Review by Katy Haas