A Review in Questions: Odes to Lithium by Shira Erlichman (Alice James Books, 2019)
Reviewed by Crystal Condakes
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.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019)
Reviewed by Patricia Steckler
When Lori Gottlieb’s book, You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed, came out, I kept it at arm’s length. As a psychologist in practice for 40 years, I what I thought would be the show-offy tell-all of another therapist.
Why would Gottlieb choose to write her story if not to appear in a good light? Wouldn’t she be self-aggrandizing? Wouldn’t the book reek of fake pseudo-modesty to keep the reader from judging her too harshly? Might her attempts at endearing us be, in fact, manipulations designed to keep us from taking a more penetrating look?
In our second round of micro-reviews, we are thinking about place – not just in terms of physical setting, but also the emotional and imagined places that books allow us to inhabit.
This collection includes poetry set on a rumbling train, a novella about a woman for whom time is as much as a place as the otherworldly rural setting in which she finds herself, and a mystery in which the real horror comes from inhabiting the mind of the troubled narrator. With books set from Cairo to the Oregon coast and everywhere in between, you are sure to find a book in this round-up that speaks to your desire to escape.
The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (Europa Editions 2020)
Reviewed by Angela Gualtieri
Elena Ferrante’s works examine a person’s interior with a focus on the feminine experience. Her prose captivates readers as she contrasts vivid imagery with womanly milestones and life’s difficulties. Ferrante also brings a true sense of Italian-ness to her work that cannot be overlooked nor removed. Being Italian-American, all these qualities drew me to her newest release, The Lying Life of Adults.
77 by Guillermo Saccomanno, trans. by Andrea G. Labinger (Open Letter 2019)
Reviewed by Allison McCausland
Fear makes people do crazy things. When a country is in turmoil politically, its hard to distinguish the clear-cut actions of people as heroic or survivalist. In the case of Professor Gomez, the protagonist of Guillermo Saccomanno’s latest translated work, 77, he acts as more of an active bystander, drawing in the reader through his retrospective narration of his time in Buenos Aires during the Jorge Videla coup d’état in 1977. Saccomanno captures the uncertainty and day-to-day dangers of living in this era with visceral scenes and inner longing for a better life. Translator Andrea G. Labinger keeps the rhetoric in line with Saccomanno’s vision to ground readers in both terrifying and startlingly mundane situations.
This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins (Harper Perennial 2018)
Reviewed by Janyce Wardlaw
Morgan Jerkins has put her crafty finger on everything it is to be a black woman in her collection of essays, This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America. Each essay is a raw anecdote revealing to the untrained heart what the world has infused into a black girl to make her want to be white, question all she knows to be true, or doubt her worth. All the hot buttons are pushed for us in these pages, as Jerkins pulls back the curtain on sexuality, men, hair, Black Girl Magic, and much more.
Ugly Feelings by Sianne Ngai (Harvard University Press 2007)
Reviewed by Ingrid Carabulea
The power of literary criticism lies in its ability to shape the way we view texts and engage with the world, often through the use of analytical lenses like psychoanalysis, feminism, etc. Ugly Feelings by Sianne Ngai, however, asks that we view texts through an emotional lens, a focus not often emphasized in literary criticism.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Ray Books 2020)
Reviewed by Summer A.H. Christiansen
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s latest novel, Mexican Gothic is one feminist horror story you will not want to miss. The reader invests immediately in the heroine of the novel, Noemí. She is a 22-year-old socialite who enjoys her lavish life in Mexico City. Beautiful, well-dressed, and quick-witted, Noemi dreams of becoming an anthropologist. Her parents don’t agree with her lifestyle and wish instead she would focus on settling down and finding a husband, or as se sees it: “…she should never have any fun for the sake of having fun, but only as a way to obtain a husband” (6).