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For All the Obvious Reasons & Other Stories
Arcade Publishing, 2016
These nine stories by Lynn Stegner are straight-forward stylistically, reminding us just how moving well-crafted short stories can be. Each is a world unto itself in which we are given a glimpse by Stegner of one tiny desperation transcended by the characters. In Rogue, a wife recalls enduring the near total egoism of her husband who fancies himself a chef,
“There has always been something effeminate about Tom’s food preparations, the way his thick fingers pinch the edges of a tart or line up so snugly against the knife as it minces away at some culinary rarity, the fussy way he scuttles from counter to stove, the ever-frantic consultations with the cookbook, his forehead shining with effort. She’s not so sure that he really is a gourmet cook, or if it’s just a function of being able to read. Her friend Maggie is a wonderful cook, but to watch her in a kitchen, it’s half guesswork and another half taste, all piled atop a few basics. Tome thinks that he is unassailably fair and reasonable. ‘If I cook, you clean up. And Missy’–he calls her Missy whenever he’s in an educational mood–‘you have the fat end of that deal. You get to eat what I cook.’ So far she has always agreed, except that he only goes to lengths for company or for himself. The rest of the time he settles for her middlebrow fare.”
As she lessens and lessens after surviving a rogue wave on a family outing. The sentences that Stegner crafts are gorgeous, pregnant with meaning waiting to be read and dwelt upon. The title story, Rogue quoted above, Catch and Release (a fishing and funeral tale), and Mona’s Coming are my favorites but there is not a single poor or middling tale in the bunch. Stegner writes serious literature that is is not a bear to read, doesn’t leave you feeling inadequate intellectually, doesn’t overwhelm you with formal deviations or innovations, but refuses to not implicate you emotionally, refuses to allow you to forget the story, and refuses to not leave you wanting to read more.
The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective
What could be more simple and pleasing as a summer read than a detective thriller? How about one where Jesus Christ possesses the body of a genius boy detective to thwart demonic plans involving a seemingly never-ending game of poker where the stakes aren’t just your soul but all of creation? Oh, and there are more than a few Greek gods thrown in for good measure.
J. Bradley has put together one of the most obnoxious yet addicting novels I’ve ever read. I should expect this from Pelekinesis, a press that has been churning out marvellously well-crafted literary fiction and poetry often with a speculative bent (Lift Your Right Arm by Peter Cherches, Petrichor by David Scott Ewers, and the impressive Fingerless by Ian Donald Arbuckle among others). Bradley’s novel reads fast, knots your imagination as you keep pace with the plot, and delivers some perfectly timed comedy:
“‘He’s a boy detective. They’re required to know arcane languages in order to solve mysteries, like the one Timmy solved involving a jewel thief that received his jobs via telegraph,’ the dove cooed.”
It is probably one of the best written and most enjoyable novels I’ve read in a long time.
Art by Stephen Knezovich
Lost Horse Press, 2016
I’ve already gone on about how I enjoyed this slim collection of stories. I can’t say enough about how the art of Stephen Knezovich seemed to fold into Ligon’s stories; it’s almost as though the little book was one sustained exercise in ekphrasis.The stories themselves take the reader on an orbit around manic, twisted passion. Each tale is both surreal and banal making them endlessly enjoyable. There’s more than a smattering of tragi-comedy here, something more fiction writers need to embrace.
These last couple of titles are ones that I’ve yet to read but have ordered and are on their way.
Handbook For Hands That Alter As We Hold Them Out
Horse Less Press, 2016
Rob McLennan reviewed this and with it I’m hooked:
For Kate Schapira, poetic practice is a form of social engagement. While she seeks to write poetry that is “rigorously accountable” and “politically and ethically informed,” she aims for “illumination rather than transparency,” Schapira says. To that end, she pays close attention to the “rhythm and sound of language, to the swing of a line or sentence” and never loses sight of poetry’s potential to move, surprise, and inspire wonder.
Also, Horse Less Press, run by poet Jen Tynes, doesn’t fuck around when it comes to quality having published Daniela Olszewska, Sara Woods, and Kristi Maxwell among others. This is a small, independent press that has a catalogue of poetry that challenges readers emotionally and intellectually while still sparking awe and delight.
The Female Gaze is Cool
Bottlecap Press, 2016
Over at Vagabond City, Bethany Mary’s review drew me into this chapbook. This month, when I don’t have a post of my own, I’ve been trying to re-blog/re-post feminist articles. Mary’s review of Alexandra Wuest easily fit this category and as a delight to read. I’m also intrigued by seeing a quality review by a member of the ace (asexual) community, which deserves signal boosting. The passages Mary chose to feature were enough to entice me, “There are a lot of names for / ‘I want to consume you’ / but very few names for / ‘I am not up for consumption’ / You see I was taught it is men who / do the naming / You see I was taught the best kind of mouth / a woman can ever have / is an ear.”
There’s always time to dismantle heteronormativity. If Wuest’s poems explore how “the female gaze should be its own gaze, and these poems are a guide toward fostering an aware and self-determined gaze, whether the reader’s physical eyes are female or not,” then why not be on board? Bottlecap Press is another ultra small press, one I’m hoping to further explore.
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Nathaniel E. Baker