Freeman considers gardening as the ultimate art by discussing the notable gardens of two famous, queer woman artists.
Gardens are both art and autobiography, a landscape of self-expression combined with a love for natural beauty. As the great artist and garden-maker, Claude Monet, once observed, “I perhaps owe becoming a painter to flowers. My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.”
This collection of microreviews is a little more eclectic than usual. But these books, which range from history to YA to literary fiction and beyond, share a common thread: the way they ask readers to see the world in new ways. These books offer fresh perspectives through reinvention and retelling, but also by simply narrating from points of view that are rarely heard or respected. This month’s books include a stunning queer retelling of the Peter Pan myth, a genre-bending memoir-cum-historical-treatise on slave revolts, a graphic novel for kids that tackles chronic illness, race, and Latinx culture, and much more. In each story, we are asked to reconsider our old ways of knowing, and make space for new narratives.
Bestiary is a nonlinear, multi-generational experiment exploring how stories are passed down from generation to generation. K-Ming Chang plays with narrative structure by blending the epistolary form, fables, oral storytelling, and close third-person narration. In the narrative, the character Mother tells Daughter a story about a hungry tiger who eats toes to explain why she cut hers off and keeps them in a tin. Then, one day Daughter wakes up with a tiger tail. This novel turns impossible tales of rivers impregnating women, flying crabs, and holes carrying letters across the country into a plausible reality. There is no line between fantasy and reality as the two are brilliantly woven together.
In Chana Porter’s debut novel, an alien life form known as the Seep doesn’t conquer the planet in a military sense –instead it infiltrates humankind via their drinking water, achieving the “softest invasion” (9) earth (or the sci-fi genre) has ever seen. The effect of this invasion is not what one might expect. Not mind-control or bodily harm, but instead a oneness with the world, the ability to touch objects and feel their past, present, and future. For those under the influence of the Seep, “it was impossible to feel anything except expansive joy, peace, tenderness, and love.” (11) So begins an unconventional take on a classic sci-fi premise, a novel about grief and identity and those hardships of the human condition that persist even in a world where death is an “opt-in procedure” (44) and humanity has been freed to live outside “the old scarcity paradigm.” (13)
It was these lines from the poem Foreday in the Morning in Jericho Brown’s third, Pulitzer Prize winning book The Tradition that captured the emotion I, as well as many other Americans, felt as we watched George Floyd die by asphyxiation when a police officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while three other officers stood by. Ashamed and confounded not just by this singular outrageous and gross injustice, but by the fact that this sanctioned atrocity, involving another black American male, is a pervasive and persistent malady. This powerful book is built upon a foundation of poems in which Brown repeatedly forces us to confront the issue of racism in this country and the grim, indeed fatal, consequences that so often accompany it.
Peter McGough and his partner (in business and romance) David McDermott rose to prominence in the 1980s New York art scene. Their paintings have a vintage feel with a contemporary twist (a still life of flowers has the blossoms arranged into the shape of a dollar sign). Their later photography has a much more mysterious feeling, truer to whatever periods they were aping. Mentored by Julian Schnabel, their work appeared in three Whitney Biennials and graced a 1986 cover of Artforum.
If I really wanted to do Phil Stamper’s debut YA novel The Gravity of Us justice, I’d pull out my phone and video myself live walking through the streets of New York City while I shared my thoughts with you. To review the book this way would be the best homage to Cal, the wonderful narrator Stamper has crafted, a social-media-savvy, budding seventeen year-old reporter from Brooklyn who suddenly finds himself transplanted to Clear Lake, Texas when his dad is picked as an astronaut candidate for NASA’s first mission to Mars. In Clear Lake, Cal is pulled away from everything he loves from Brooklyn, but unexpectedly brought closer to Leon, the son of another astronaut and the perfect love match for Cal.
Ari Helix is a refugee who has no impulse control. So when she sets off alarms
she shouldn’t have on Heritage, a spaceship that belongs to the
tyrannical Mercer Company, she and her brother Kay escape from the ship and
hide on Old Earth, now a desolate planet. But when Ari pulls Excalibur from a gnarled
tree, she unknowingly sets into motion a new cycle of the King Arthur legend. A
cycle she doesn’t know has anything to do with her.
I know many writers obsessed with houses. Houses contain us; we fill them up with ourselves. We share them with our families, lovers, histories, ghosts. In poetry, stanza is another word for room – this makes each poem a house, a self-contained world of its own.