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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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: 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: Lying by Lauren Slater

Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir by Lauren Slater (Penguin Books 2000)

Reviewed by Patricia Steckler

Lying, a title for a memoir, why? Don’t we read personal chronicles for true, reveal-all accounts of the authors who pen them? Are we to believe what Lauren Slater writes here? Or discount it? What’s the significance of Slater’s subtitle, A Metaphorical Memoir? Before I turned to the first page, my head swirled. Off-balance, dizzy with uncertainty, I wondered what kind of reading adventure awaited.

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Review: So We Can Glow by Leesa Cross-Smith

So We Can Glow by Leesa Cross-Smith (Grand central publishing 2020)

Reviewed by Lisa Slage Robinson                         

I’ve told everyone, I’ll tell you. I married Bridge because he’s thunder. That man right there is a pack of hungry wolves howlin’ at the moon.

Leesa Cross-Smith explores the complexities of modern love and rediscovers the bold frontier of feminine desire in the highly anticipated So We Can Glow (Grand Central Publishing, 2020) a collection of 42 short stories, flashes and meditations.

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Review: This Close to Happy by Daphne Merkin

This Close To Happy: A Reckoning with Depression by Daphne Merkin (Farrar, straus, and giroux 2017)

Reviewed by Patricia Steckler

Not glamorous, not an artistically-hued state of suffering for the more sensitive souls on earth. Not a story that can be told with the dramatic climax and victorious transcendency that characterizes heroic tales. No. Depression is unabated suffering whose victims, often blamed for self-absorption, shunned as social pariahs, writhe in silence. Daphne Merkin, the writer and literary critic, tells her depression tale in the dark memoir, This Close To Happy: A Reckoning With Depression.

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Review: No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder

No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know about Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder

Reviewed by LaVonne Roberts

Sometimes a book comes along and, long after it is absorbed, nothing is the same. Rachel Louise Snyder’s No Visible Bruises demands that we have a conversation about an insidious national epidemic—domestic violence. Ms. Snyder reports, domestic violence, or “intimate partner terrorism,” as she prefers, is “among the most difficult of subjects to report on” because it’s “vast and unwieldy, but it’s also utterly hidden.” It’s like no other crime because it’s intimate— committed by someone who’s supposed to love you in the one place you’re supposed to be safe— your home.

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Review: Hum by Natalia Hero

Hum by Natalia Hero (Metatron Press, 2018)

Reviewed by Summer A.H. Christiansen

As someone who has never really been a fan of magical realism, I will admit I was a bit skeptical when I started reading Hum by Natalia Hero. However, after a few pages, I knew I was reading something special, and my skepticism was misplaced.

Hum is a powerful story that comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement. The novella follows an unnamed young woman as she grapples with her life after being raped. Hero uses the metaphor of giving birth to a hummingbird to illustrate that the effects of trauma are constant and ever present in one’s life.

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Review: Look How Happy I’m Making You by Polly Rosenwaike

look how happy i’m making you BY POLLY ROSENWAIKE (DOUBLEDAY, 2019)   

Reviewed by Gregorio Tafoya

1. Lack of Interest in Your Baby

So starts the quietly explosive “Ten Warning Signs of Postpartum Depression, a thick middle piece to Polly Rosenwaike’s short story collection, Look How Happy I’m Making You—best said in a sleep-deprived, low, gravelly tone.

Much like the characters in Polly Rosenwaike’s debut, I feel wholly inadequate and ill prepared for the task at hand. They are entrusted with the nobler task, that of motherhood, and I, a male with no child rearing experience, am attempting to review their explorations. When I get sentimental about fatherhood aspirations, it is always the highlight reel of playing catch in the backyard and teaching the finer points of auto mechanics—a concept I hardly have any grasp on. The scenes in Rosenwaike’s book are far from the highlight reel of any parenthood.

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