Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett (Tin House Books, 2019)
Reviewed by Emily Nelson
Florida has a pretty brutal reputation. Between the ghastly riches of the Florida Man meme to Marco Rubio, there’s definitely more than a few reasons that a decent portion of the U.S. sees it as the embarrassing Drunk Uncle of the states. But if Kristen Arnett has anything to say about it, Florida is on the come up — at least, as far as literature is concerned. Her debut novel, Mostly Dead Things, is as much a love letter to her state of residence as it is a darkly sweet story of grief and growth in a family of taxidermists. Arnett, a darling of Literary Twitter for her dispatches on working as a librarian and her dedication to convenience stores (her Twitter bio declares her a “7-Eleven Scholar”), creates in Mostly Dead Things a universe conjured from swamp magic and sweat, something gritty and wild and aggressively real that makes it instantly unforgettable.
Take Me With You, Wherever You’re Going by Jessica Jacobs (Four Way Books, 2019)
Reviewed by Risa Denenberg
To read Jessica Jacobs’ newest poetry collection, Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going (Four Way Books, 2019) is to start out where she began in her first collection, Pelvis with Distance (White Pine Press, 2015; winner of the New Mexico Book Award in Poetry) and left off in In Whatever Light Left to Us (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016). Each book in this trilogy performs an aria of lesbian love and lesbian sexuality that earns its encore.
Ends of the earth by kate partridge (university of alaska press, 2017)
Reviewed by Bianca Glinskas
Walt Whitman once described a poem as, “a place to enter, and in which to feel.” While reading Kate Partridge’s Ends of the Earth, I experienced this profound sense of transportation, and emotional surrender–the escapism and vulnerability Whitman refers to. Ends of the Earth is a portal which delivers readers into a poet’s imagination: the inventive, intangible tedium of the poet’s inner-workings, which transform attempts to make sense of the world into an art.
moon tiger by penelope lively (andre deutsch 1987)
Reviewed by Emily Nelson
In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf’s seminal essay on writing, feminism, and everything that lies between, Woolf writes extensively against “masculine” history, which favors stories focused on war and patriarchal politics and dismisses “feminine” history that “deals with the feelings of women in a drawing room” (77). Instead of perpetuating such a one-sided view of history, Woolf argues, it is the job of writers — particularly female writers — to explore and celebrate a more subjective and inclusive version of history that emphasizes and elevates the history of the individual above the history of the political. And in my opinion, there’s no better example of this principle in action than Penelope Lively’s 1987 novel Moon Tiger, which explores a fictional female historian looking back on life on her deathbed.
The Hole by José Revueltas (New Directions, 2018)
Reviewed by Andres Vaamonde
In 1969, writer and leftist revolutionary José Revueltas was in prison. It wasn’t his first time. More than thirty years earlier, when Revueltas was a teenager, he served multiple bids for his participation in the then-outlawed Communist Party of Mexico. He never attended university. Still, he became an important (if controversial) intellectual figure in Mexico, eventually finding himself in a cell in the infamous Lecumberri Prison in 1969 with nothing but time, fury, and, somehow, a typewriter.
The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea (Little Brown 2004)
Reviewed by Chidinma Onuoha
As long as there have been people walking the Devil’s Highway, there have been deaths. It is Desolation. It is a wasteland where any green vegetation is grey and were temperatures rise up to the triple digits. Here, bones pepper the region and Levi jeans last longer than flesh. In this book, Luis Alberto Urrea paints a harrowing true story of twenty-six men who took the forty mile death march across the Arizona desert in hopes of prosperity in the United States. Only twelve made it out.
Ghostographs: An Album by Maria Romasco Moore (Rose Metal Press 2018)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
“We were proud that a town as small as ours had an abyss of its own.”
Recently, I took my partner up to the place where I was raised, a string of little towns in the corner of northern Vermont on the edge of Lake Champlain. It was ten degrees colder there, beautiful and mostly empty. It snowed. As we drove around he was uncertain, a little nervous. I showed him the half-built mansion across from a dairy farm where the recession and disputes over money lead a couple to divorce before the crew could complete construction. I showed him row after row of cornfields, train tracks. To me it was familiar, comfortable. It always will be. As the product of that rural corner of the world, I don’t mind the emptiness, the eccentricities. My partner said, on our way home: “In some ways it’s kind of beautiful up there. You don’t have to assimilate. You can just walk in the woods, have your delusions. You can be your complete self.”
by Rebecca Valley
In 2017, the U.S. spent more than ever before on natural disaster relief — an astonishing $306 billion. In September and October, as I sat through the first few weeks of my graduate writing program in a peaceful (though unseasonably warm) Massachusetts, three record-breaking hurricanes ravaged the Caribbean and Gulf Coast. Continue reading
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press, 2017)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
I’ll begin by saying what I want: a world where we can all recognize that women are the true and most honorable proprietors of horror writing.
I’ll begin this way because I think Carmen Maria Machado proves it. In order for horror to be truly horrifying, it has to be earned. It has to dig into the sensitive skin under our fingernails, on our bellies, the places where we store our most reasonable and our most plausible fears. The ones that, when touched, send out a sharp alarm in our brains, and we realize we’ve been waiting for this moment to come. Continue reading