September 2021 Reading Round Up: Emotional Landscapes


In this round of microreviews, we’re focusing on feelings, from one author’s illustrated year with Seasonal Affective Disorder to the complex emotions contained with three generations of an Indian family. These books focus on the emotional landscapes of their subjects–and ultimately advocate for a world in which art, and the complex experiences and emotions it evokes, is inherently valuable.

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Review: Likes by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

Likes by Sarah shun-lien bynum (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2020)

Reviewed by Lisa Slage-Robinson

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.

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The Yellow Wallpaper: A Therapist’s Reconsideration 130 Years Later

The Yellow Wallpaper: A Therapist’s Reconsideration 130 Years Later

Reviewed by Patricia Steckler

The Rest Cure

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.

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Review: The Wind That Lays Waste by Selva Almada

The Wind That Lays Waste by Selva Almada, trans. by Chris Andrews (Graywolf Press, 2019)

Reviewed by Allison McCausland

There is an old saying that one can tell the character of a person not by how long they have known them, but based on a single gesture. These view sinuously weaves together four characters of Selva Almada’s 2012 novel The Wind That Lays Waste. Translated by Chris Andrews in 2019, both author and translator create a character study of four individuals at a roadside garage in Argentina.

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Review: Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami (Europa Editions 2020)

Reviewed by Megan Foster

Three women in Japan wrestle with the nature of the body and the self. 

Natsuko is a struggling writer when her older sister, Makiko, and Makiko’s teenage daughter, Midoriko, come to visit for a few days. Makiko has made the journey to Tokyo to explore affordable options for breast enhancements. Midoriko, who hasn’t spoken a word to her mother in six months, privately wrestles with her own changing body and turns to her journal for companionship. A climactic clash occurs between Makiko and Midorko before the two return home, and the narrative flashes forward in time ten years. Natsuko has managed to publish one collection of stories but, even more than her struggle to write a novel, wrestles with her desire to have a child.  Without a partner, Natsuko seeks other possible means to fulfill her deepest wish to be a mother as she continues to grow older alone. 

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Review: What You Have Heard is True by Carolyn Forche

What You Have Heard is True by Carolyn Forche (Penguin Press, 2019)

Reviewed by Allison McCausland

            History is written as much by the victors as it is by its witnesses. Witnesses are often responsible for giving voice to the unrecorded events and marginalized factions that history textbooks tend to gloss over. Poet Carolyn Forche served as one such witness to the beginnings of the Civil War in El Salvador, bearing witness to both atrocities and small glimmers of hope.

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Review: The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams

The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams (Doubleday Books 2020)

Reviewed by Summer A.H. Christiansen

Clare Beams’ new novel, The Illness Lesson is a gripping historical fiction that will leave you on the edge of your seat. The novel is set in Ashwell, Massachusetts in 1871, where Samuel Hood, a retired transcendental essayist, is establishing The School for the Trilling Heart. This private school for young women is the first of its kind. Its courses are taught by Samuel, young Civil War veteran David, and Samuel’s daughter Caroline. Throughout the novel, we follow Caroline as she struggles with her identity as an educated, unwed twenty-eight year old woman.

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