Review of Christopher Kang’s WHEN HE SPRANG FROM HIS BED…

WHEN HE SPRANG FROM HIS BED, STAGGERED BACKWARD, AND FELL DEAD, WE CLUNG TOGETHER WITH FAINT HEARTS, AND MUTELY QUESTIONED EACH OTHER
Christopher Kang. Green Mountains Review Press, $15 paperback (141p) ISBN: 978-0-9963342-3-5

Despite or because of their brevity, the 880 tiny hard-to-categorize pieces that fill these pages demand our attention. With shifting POVs and a hybrid blend of poetry and prose, the pieces (which are titled by number) contain a range of the unattainable where feelings and acts are often represented as objects. Confusion, for example, is a tangible thing to be left somewhere, and a confession can be pried open and explored. In “538”, “He uncovers in the crisis a smooth and flat layer of apathy.” Kang’s superb writing lends a real physicality to human experience, bending and enhancing the reader’s perception. Longer pieces, though no single piece ever fills a page, allow for a broader range of movement, as in “15” which begins with a sudden death and then ends with an image of a severed hand providing nutrients to a plant. Recurring themes such as loss—violence and the suggestion of violence abound early on—and memory are depicted, often beautifully and with great surprise. “457”: “After her death, he stands naked in front of the mirror and imagines she is hiding behind him.” While each piece exists as a standalone, Kang’s slow and careful tone provides cohesion, his words shining spotlights down hallways of self, showing how we learn, fear, and build. These pieces are sharp verses in a song of shape and motion, of the making of human moments, of the setting and spirit of human lives. Categorically elusive, this stunning work is best known by experiencing it. “64”: “He lies motionless in the rain. A train approaches and roars. He is dreaming of everything.” (February 2017)

“To duplicate and to be duplicitous” Review of James Tadd Adcox’s REPETITION

Repetition
James Tadd Adcox. Cobalt Press, $10 paperback (65p) ISBN: 978-1941462171

            When writing my academic letters of interest, I almost always use a basic, self-made template. Within this template, there is a paragraph whose details shiftever-so slightlyto strategically recalibrate this portrait of myself as an academic. With a few performative clicks of the keys, selective liberal arts college becomes research institution, the phrase diversity becomes polyvocality, and the name of some press or some magazine shifts to some craftily emphasized other. I am the puppet master of this bullshit theater of myself: hovering, pulling, snipping strings to my own dancing simulacra!
            Such is the absurd performative tapestry of James Tadd Adcoxs Repetition, a devastatingly honest and humorous novella. Framed from the fictional but excruciatingly realistic perspective of an aspiring (untenured) Assistant Professor, Repetition follows his account of a conference dedicated to Constantin Constantius, the fictional performance of a real philosopher (aka the pseudonym of Søren Kierkegaard.) Herein, academias hierarchies, rituals, and unspoken rules of engagement are beautifully deconstructed, all within the context (as we later learn) of the narrators necessary recollection, his repetitive reconstruction of events.

Review of Matthew Vollmer’s GATEWAY TO PARADISE

Gateway to Paradise
Matthew Vollmer. Persea Books, $10.35 paperback (184p) ISBN: 978-0892554669


Matthew Vollmer’s short story collection Gateway to Paradise is a gateway into lives veering off course, from a teenager unwittingly pulled into a homicide to a father struggling to keep his family together while under house arrest. Through their often surreal predicaments, the collection explores a universal dilemma in surprising and memorable ways.
     In “Downtime,” a dentist tries desperately to move on from the death of his wife, who is not cooperating. In “Dog Lover,” a woman admits to a radio show host that she has more in common with her dog than her husband, and decides to put her theory to the test. In “Scoring,” a teacher is seduced by a nail-buffing woman at the mall while attending the AP readings miles away from his wife and family, only to find that what the woman wants goes way beyond a quickie in the fitting room.
     All of the characters in the collection are stuck in the awkward space between the physical and sublime, and Vollmer’s deft and powerful writing drives this home. The dentist is haunted not only by his wife, but by “Mouths—where bacteria flourished, where puffy gums bled at the slightest touch, where teeth had been worn down to little eraser-sized nubs, and where incomprehensively fat tongues slapped against his rubber-gloved fingers.” At the same time, he confesses that mouths, “after all, had saved him.” In the title story, the main character finds a Happy Meal box “nestled like a gaudy temple among a bed of ferns,” only to discover “somebody’s turd” inside. She sees “Amish boys with bowl cuts fervently tonguing soft-serve cones.”

Review of Mayank Bhatt’s BELIEF

Belief
Mayank Bhatt. Mawenzi House, $24.95 US paperback (200p) ISBN: 978-1-927494-80-6

Newly unemployed, and seeking to develop his computer skills, Abdul Latif opens his son’s laptop and discovers evidence of a terrorist plot. He immediately turns his son, Rafiq, into the police. Heartbroken, he and his wife watch as his son is arrested and “frog-marched” out of their townhouse. They arrange for a lawyer, attend the hearing, and remember. As they travel the labyrinths of their past, Rafiq struggles to cope with the harassment of other inmates, his interrogations by two agents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and the truth.
    Bhatt’s probing into the deeper reasons why some young Muslims can become disaffected is worthy of respect. He never takes the easy out but explores issues that are often left unexamined, such as the chronic underemployment of immigrants and their identification with their coreligionists ‘back home.’ Thus, Abdul and Ruksana work long hours at minimum wage jobs, raising their family in a one-bedroom apartment until, at last, their children can buy them a townhouse. Huddled together in front of a Hindi channel, the family is rocked by violent riots back in Mumbai. Abdul’s depression at losing his job is offset by the breeze in their small backyard, but that small patch of earth is small comfort for a son agitated by what he perceives as worldwide injustice. At the time of his arrest, Rafiq is twenty-two years old and incapable of empathizing with his parents’ sedate appreciation of their kitchen and its appliances.  

Review of Tim Weed’s A Field Guide to Murder & Fly Fishing

A Field Guide to Murder & Fly Fishing
Tim Weed. Green Writers Press, $24.95 hardcover (262p) ISBN: 9780997452877


Everyday people fill the short fiction of Tim Weed’s A Field Guide to Murder & Fly Fishing. Such is the case of the man teaching his son and nephew how to fish in “The Camp at Cutthroat Lake.” Their rite of passage is so common that we are unprepared for the dramatic impact that their story will have on us. Weed’s characters are not remarkable. What they are is real. The two high school misfits whose friendship and experiments with LSD are delineated in “Tower Eight” are labeled “freaks” by their peers. The Deadhead in “Steal Your Face” leaves his girlfriend to re-experience a vision induced by dropping acid at a Grateful Dead concert. The ex-patriot photographer in “Foreigner” becomes enamored with a Spanish woman when she mimics his American accent. Cheeks aglow and snow dusted from a glove convince Henry, in “Diamondback Mountain,” that an Italian actress is his soul mate. Working at a remote skiing lodge in the 1930’s, Henry wrestles with doubts about his self-worth as he squeezes meaning out of casual conversation. Only the husband in “Keepers” is successful in love. But Weed’s stories are never simply about the plot. They are also studies in character.    

Review of Tatiana Ryckman’s VHS AND WHY IT’S HARD TO LIVE

VHS and Why It’s Hard to Live
Tatiana Ryckman. Zoo Cake Press, $16 chapbook in combination with Ryckman’s chapbook TWENTY-SOMETHING (29p)

You’re running late to an event, and you join a program already in progress. You missed the introductions, the keynote speaker, the crudite platter is picked over. The people on stage now keep referring to presentations you didn’t catch. And then, without warning, you’re called up and asked to speak. If you happened to have just read Tatiana Ryckman’s VHS and Why It’s Hard to Live, you’ll be prepared for this moment.
     VHS, a chapbook-length collection of short essays, is a testament to the incomplete information we start with, and the warped knowledge we accumulate. Take for example “Anne of Green Gables,” which begins, “In High School I aspired to be anorexic or bulimic, but the truth is I just wasn’t motivated enough.” Taking inspiration from the beloved and wholesome literary character, Ryckman sets off with a bottle of ipecac syrup and ends in a misadventure a contemporary Anne would be proud of.  
     Ryckman’s essays show that growing up is a process that can last a lifetime. In “VHS v Beta” her parents buy a Betamax videotape player, a decision that still impacts Ryckman to this day, with “a deep, sickening nervousness every time we face a new VSH v Beta, like Blu-ray and HD, because one side always has to lose...” In “Biology Class,” she enjoys a moment of smug reflection when she schools a friend on the nuances of the female body. “To discover something so new in your body as an adult, I thought, must be terrifying.” But years later she realizes that she might have some uncharted territory of her own. It’s these misplaced allegiances and confused notions that make Ryckman’s essays so enjoyable to read. It’s not just you, they seem to say, it’s everyone—but each with our own embarrassing subtleties.

Review of Berit Ellingsen’s VESSEL AND SOLSVART

Vessel and Solsvart
Berit Ellingsen. Snuggly Books, $10 paperback (110p) ISBN: 978-1943813261


Berit Ellingsen’s work is some of the most exquisite, darkly beautiful fiction you’re ever likely to encounter. Minimalist in structure, yet spilling over with symbolism, themes and weighty truths, Ellingsen’s fiction is uncanny and her style is instantly recognizable. Ellingsen’s latest offering, the pocket-sized collection Vessel and Solsvart from Snuggly Books, gives the reader everything they’ve come to expect from Ellingsen—stark landscapes, enigmatic characters, eco-apocalyptic warnings—and more.
     Vessel and Solsvart houses five short stories and each is as meticulously crafted as the rest. When I talk about Ellingsen’s singular style, here’s a taste of what I’m getting at:

“The new heat reaches us from the seeping marsh, the lichen-veiled trees, and our soft bedding of moist sphagnum moss. The water, which used to be as cool as a mallard’s feet, is now as warm as bat blood, the trunks that were hunched and slowly being choked by vines stretch like flowers in the sun, and the glistening purple earthworms that used to peek up through the moss are no longer here.”
 
     These are merely the opening lines of the opening story, “Vessel and Solsvart” and everything that