The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through
Madness by Elyn R. Saks (Hachette Books 2007)
Reviewed by Patricia Steckler
Horrifying delusions and auditory hallucinations
did not deter Elyn Saks from her Oxford University Master’s degree studies. Compassionate
psychiatric care in England squired her through. But, later, as a law student
at Yale University and in a psychotic state, Yale psychiatrists “bound both
legs and both arms to a metal bed with thick leather straps” and forced
medication down her throat. Multiple times. She plummeted into despair.
“A sound comes out of me that I’ve never heard before—half groan, half scream, marginally human, and all terror. Then the sound comes out of me again, forced from somewhere deep in my belly and scraping my throat raw. Moments later, I’m choking and gagging on some kind of bitter liquid that I try to lock my teeth against but cannot. They make me swallow it. They make me.” (4)
Nature Store by Mary Kasimor (dancing girl press & studio, 2017)
Reviewed by Ann Tweedy
Mary Kasimor is an experimental poet who has published
numerous books and chapbooks and who, more recently, has begun to establish
herself as a visual artist. Now retired,
she served for many years as a professor at a technical college in
Minnesota. She describes her art as
being like her poetry in that it is “very experimental and abstract.” She uses thread, ink and paint (watercolor or
acrylic). Her paintings, reminiscent of
Rothko’s early work, have soft shapes connected by wavy lines which are set
against a colorful background. Her
poetry is imagistic and non-linear and often explores gender and other social
justice issues, along with her own experiences.
Queer literature isn’t just about representation. It’s about making room for fluidity, hybridity, experimentation, the complicated, difficult to define realities of the way we define ourselves, the ways we love, the ways we see and move through the world. This month, we celebrate LGBTQ+ authors — those we’ve covered in the past, and those we look forward to reading in the near future.
Favorites we recommend…
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.