October 2021 Reading Round Up: More Than A Mystery

Everyone love a good puzzle–but in this collection of mysterious microreviews, there’s more to the story than just a carefully woven plot. These four titles take the mystery genre and use it to explore class, gender, race, and revolution. From a man who is searching for the literal woman of his dreams to the subtle tensions between two families–one Black and one white–in apocalyptic Long Island, these stories make you reconsider what the mystery novel can do.

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Review: The Empathy Diaries by Sherry Turkle

The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir by Sherry Turkle (Penguin 2021)

Reviewed by Patricia Steckler

My mother kept secrets and spoke to me in a kind of code. Nothing was straightforward. From childhood, I had to figure out how to read her mind, to intuit the contours of her reality. If I developed empathy, at first, it wasn’t so much a way to find a connection as a survival strategy. (xx)

Secrets, taboo topics, and mystifying family tensions set the stage for Sherry Turkle’s memoir, The Empathy Diaries. Her memoir is a transformational journey from an anxiety-infused childhood to an adulthood devoted to psychological insight and excellence in scholarship. Turkle is the Abby Rockefeller Professor of Social Studies, Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Her highly regarded books, especially Reclaiming the Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age and Alone Together, probe the psycho-social impact of the digital world.

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Gardens that Breathe: An Interview with Laura Donnelly

Gardens that breathe: an interview with laura donnelly

Written by Jillian Smith

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.

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Review: DM Me, Mother Darling by Alexa Doran

DM Me, Mother Darling by Alexa Doran (Bauhan Publishing 2021)

Reviewed by Audrey Gidman

“We’ve all turned the knob down on God.”

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).

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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: A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua

A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua (Ballantine Books 2019)

Reviewed by Amaya Hunsberger 

Vanessa Hua’s debut novel, A River of Stars, follows the path of Scarlett, a pregnant Chinese woman while the child’s father, Boss Yeung, wishes to do business in America. She is sent to Perfume Bay in San Francisco where she and other pregnant Chinese women will deliver their children in secret in order to ensure American citizenship for their babies. The whole operation is run by Mama Fang, a lucrative entrepreneur. After finding out that her unborn child is a girl, she escapes the facility with a teenager named Daisy, and together they make their way to San Francisco’s Chinatown. There, they rely on the generosity of a new community and their own ingenuity in order to survive. 

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Review: The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang (Graywolf Press 2019)

Reviewed by Claudine Mininni

Esmé Weijun Wang’s illuminating essay collection, The Collected Schizophrenias, details her tumultuous relationship with schizoaffective disorder. In her opening essay, “Diagnosis,” Wang writes:

Schizophrenia terrifies. It is the archetypal disorder of lunacy. Craziness scares us because we are creatures who long for structure and sense; we divide the interminable days into years, months and weeks.

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