In Midwest Gothic, her second collection of poetry, Laura Donnelly channels a speaker alternatively fascinated and fearful, youthful and wise, steadfast and skeptical. Through a rough yet rich expanse of memory and history, she seeks to both recover and reframe her past, a process as ominous as it is life-affirming. In doing so, Donnelly honors the resilience, creativity and legacy of her female ancestors, especially their ability to nourish a place into being, to maintain a home that not only withstands what is wild but welcomes it. As a revision to the ubiquitous patriarchal narratives the young speaker was exposed to, Donnelly posits women not just as the keepers and growers of an eternal garden, but also, subverting many Gothic tales, as the heroines of their own stories.Throughout the collection, we feel a complexity of emotions that is as unsettling as it is alluring, each poem a musical note that resounds into the vastness of history, building on previous notes, and both haunting and uplifting what’s to come.
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum is all grown up. In what may seem like a departure from her trademark whimsy, Likes, a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize for Fiction, is a collection of nine stories, mostly grounded in reality, that dwell in the concerns of mid-career professionals, their affairs, infertility and child-rearing. The O’Henry Award winning story, “Julia and Sunny,” for example, laments the disintegrating marriage of a perfect couple.
It is quite drizzly on this 2nd of July–the perfect day to deliver our next batch of micro reviews for your reading pleasure.
This month, we are bringing you four “true stories” that defy convention, and play with the idea of what it means to write about reality. We have a book of poems that take language from someone else’s diary to tell a new kind of truth. Auto-fiction, which uses fiction as a vehicle to explore a very real autobiography. A hybrid essay-poem that plays with space to portray family truths lost to history. And a book of essays that doesn’t shy away from the ugliest, strangest, funniest parts of what it means to be human.
We hope our picks this month inspire you, and give you space to ponder what it means to tell the truth.
Erotic, synesthetic, nebulous, rebellious, sensual, haunting: these words continuously ran through my mind as I tried to integrate the radically clever and wild movement of Alexa Doran’s debut collection, DM Me, Mother Darling.
How do I say it other than this: the work is amalgamous and full of pain—effervescent, shifting shape, shedding over and over like a snake whose skin has never fit. Doran amorphously circles and strikes at the tensions of motherhood, sex, grief, drugs, God, judgement, resilience, sickness, instincts, and grit as she tries, repeatedly, to convince us “to believe [that] love is / obscene” (25).
The Rest Cure for women with “nervous conditions” in the 1880s yanked depressed women away from their homes, families, and friends for months of bed rest. Assuming women to be the weaker, more fragile, and hysterical sex, incapable of coping when stressed, the Rest Cure removed all socialization and stimulation. Strict rules governed each day: banning pens and writing paper, music-playing, sewing, and daily tasks of any sort. Nannies assumed all childcare.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in her 1892 short story The Yellow Wallpaper, chronicles the torment induced by a Rest Cure prescribed for a nameless female narrator. In this early classic of the feminist canon, the narrator falls into a depression after giving birth to her first child. Her husband, John, a doctor of good repute, takes charge of her so-called case, devises a Rest Cure, and rents a rural country home with high walls for a three-month stay.
We have just a few titles for our June round up as we ease into the summer weather and spend a little more time outside. This month, we’re sharing four wildly different novels that have one thing in common: we couldn’t put them down.
Whether you’re looking to lose yourself in a fantasy universe, a love story, an all-too-relatable satire, or a modern fable, we’ve got you covered.
Autobiography is the most personal genre and the most generous. By definition it favors the up-close gaze. It is the fruit of self-absorption but also the turning of self-centeredness to purposes far beyond narcissism. Ancient writers, who rarely saw their reflection, spoke of the first-person narrative as a kind of mirror for the reader. For centuries, we have been entranced by the near magical link between someone else’s self-disclosure and our own self-empowerment. The Latin for looking glass, speculum, is related to a broad family of intriguing spin-offs such as speculation and introspection but also respect and, charmingly, even spice. Meredith Talusan’s memoir, well seasoned with sharp intelligence and rare powers of awareness, is a courageous gift of self that delivers keen insight into the mystery of visualizing who we are and who we long to be.
A note from the author on the form: One of the things I love about this collection of poems is the frequent questions it asks. At their core these poems say: It’s okay to have questions, to question. Reading these poems made me wonder, and the wondering became questions of my own.
In our third reading round-up, we are taking stock, both physically and metaphorically.
Our selections for this month include lists and inventories, which use objects as a jumping-off point to explore memory and meaning. But these books also take stock in other ways — by examining and retelling ancient stories, diving into the colonial, patriarchal, and racist systems that plague our daily interactions, and sending characters on journeys of self-reflection and discovery. These inventories aren’t just lists. They are a means of determining who we are now, how we got here, and where we are going.