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
A psychoanalytic spin on the “unthought known” stream of one woman’s stumble upon the narrative of self, reflective of intuitive synchronicity, Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love bursts the bubbles of vintage notions of the perfect family, or at least the façade of what the perfect family should have been.
In this memoir, Shapiro takes readers on a rocky ride through her personal genealogic discoveries; specifically, finding out after five decades that the man she knew as her father was not her biological father. Shapiro elaborates on how he was the only father she ever knew, and they shared an unbreakable bond until his passing when she was in her twenties. She tenderly recalls how he taught her about his Jewish heritage, which makes up a major part of the fabric of her self-narrative surrounding her paternity. She encounters rough waters throughout her quest, yet love remains the “unknown thought” she never gave up on.
You are now part of The Chain.
Adrian McKinty, originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, now a New Yorker, is an award-winning crime novelist who has written a stunning work of twisted psychology, domination, and contest of wills. The plan in The Chain seems foolproof, insidious as it is. A child is kidnapped, the parent gets a phone call, and a ransom demand is made. The parent is told to select another child and kidnap the target in order to get his or her child returned. A two-step process. The horrifying aspect of the demand is that the parent gets 24 hours to pay the ransom and kidnap the next child. No such thing as planning, considering, discussing, contemplating, rationalizing, justifying. The Chain makes an action demand, and the demand for fast action and tangible results. Or the kidnapped child is no more. The Chain has no tolerance for mistakes, for police involvement, for extensions of time to pay the ransom, for attempts to outwit. The entire process will be completed in 24 hours, or else.
Carla Rachel Sameth’s One Day on the Gold Line offers a gut-wrenching account of Sameth’s life from young adulthood through middle-age, spinning around maternal desire and loss, and probing the critical distinctions between an imaginary motherhood and the lived reality of mothering her son through young-adulthood. Structured through a series of twenty-nine short chapters that refuse easy chronology, the book is both thematically and formally interested in questions of time and identity.
Beginning with the essay “The Burning Boat,” the book charts Sameth’s insatiable desire to build a family, whether partnered or solo, and the obstacles that stand in her way. Conception comes easily to Sameth; carrying to term does not. Only after undergoing experimental treatments for recurrent miscarriage does she give birth to her son, Raphael. Significantly, Sameth chooses not to offer a developed account of gestation—the ground that most mother memoirs traverse; rather, there’s a temporal gap between the chapters that explore maternal desire and those that present difficulties of mothering, both single and as lesbian co-parent to her stepdaughter. In this way, the book provocatively explores what it means to create and sustain family outside heterosexual marriage.
Rooted in the physical and social landscapes of California, the last third of the book takes up the difficulties that Sameth experiences as adolescent Raphael undergoes treatment for drug use. Critically, the book offers addiction as a figure through which to understand all human desire. Sameth writes: “In my case, I desperately sought self-value; I thought that I could fix the hole by creating a family to love and nurture.” Writing against fantasies of ideal motherhood, Sameth’s book presents a brutally honest and much-needed account of family-building and parenting in the twenty-first century.
Review by Robin Silbergleid
Robin Silbergleid is a poet and nonfiction writer. Her most recent publication is In the Cubiculum Nocturnum (Dancing Girl Press, 2019). She currently directs the Creative Writing Program and teaches at Michigan State University. You can also find her online at @rsilbergleid and robinsilbergleid.com.
Perhaps it is because this was written in January, and in my part of the world, the temperature was hovering around 0 degrees. Maybe it is the hours I had spent hibernating and devouring hours of classic movies from the 1940s and 50s aired on TCM. Or maybe it’s simply the idea of a ‘radio in the sand’ emitting static and faint music from another place in the universe—Hollywood.
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.
"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
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.