REVIEW: DIRTBAGS by Eryk Pruitt (Immortal Ink Publishers)
DIRTBAGS is worth the read for the title alone. The writing is solid and the dialogue (dialect) spot on. And the satire is biting-
Calvin Cantrell is a dirtbag, to be sure-
But as Pruitt likely well knows, reading/enjoying the book is itself and act of dirtbaggery-
My only grievance with the novel-
REVIEW: RECKONING by Rusty Barnes (Sunnyoutside)
If writers are builders of worlds, then Rusty Barnes may just be a master builder. The bleak world he pieces together in the pared down and finely crafted sentences of RECKONING is propped up with the stark realities of rural society in small town America.
The book is hard to classify. Ultimately it is a coming-
The word that kept floating to the surface of my subconscious mind as I read RECKONING was tension. This novel is full of it, which gives it the kind of intensity that keeps a reader turning pages. Violence teeming just below the surface is probably the greatest source of tension throughout the novel. The reader feels as if this rural world could explode at any moment, destroying not only Richard and Katie but the whole community. Richard seems keenly aware of this danger, too. Walking along the river, Richard notes:
The tress at the top of the ravine looked like they were about to fall, half their roots hanging out over the bank and a sandy cascade of rocks and dirt underneath and dropping down into the water. His father had told him one day the whole hill would fall into the ravine and the creek would redirect or no longer exist. Richard hoped he wasn’t here to see it.
The sense of tension caused by this looming destruction is only heightened by the long history of the people who lived there. In Richard’s case, “there’d been someone of his blood in this country for two hundred years.”
There are also less prominent sources of tension within the novel. Mr. Barnes uses the third person limited narrative splendidly in Reckoning. In the right hands, it is a perspective that can be used to incredible effect. The third person limited allows the reader to get into the protagonist’s head and “hear” his thoughts, but also to get a sense of his voice. Yet it is a perspective that creates and maintains an unnegotiable distance between the protagonist and the reader because the thoughts and voice are not coming directly from the protagonist. In RECKONING, the author also uses the TPL perspective to enlarge the sense of detachment Richard feels from his surroundings, from his rural life. This sense of detachment is in direct opposition to Richard’s intricate and unfailing knowledge of the paths, trails, and roads that connect the lives of those in the community. Again, more tension.
The plot of RECKONING is somewhat pedestrian; yet this is in keeping with the understated realism of the novel. There are no twists and turns—no big surprises. And there probably shouldn’t be. There are also a few situations that might raise plausibility issues for some readers. For me, it was Richard’s good-
REVIEW: GOLDSMITH'S RETURN by Terry Richard Bazes (White Pine)
I’m a fan of Terry Richard Bazes and an admirer of his work. A couple of years ago, I read the wonderfully bizarre LIZARD WORLD. If you’ve read it yourself, you’ll understand why I raved about it in my review at the time. (If you haven’t read it, you really should—the novel that is.) GOLDSMITH’S RETURN predates LIZARD WORLD by about a decade and a half. In author years, that’s pretty much a whole other era, a different lifetime, a previous incarnation—you get the idea. GOLDSMITH’s RETURN has the same exquisitely rendered sentences and the same Helleresque satiric tone, yet it seems the author’s over-
Although it’s fair to say that GOLDSMITH’S RETURNS is an understated work when compared to LIZARD WORLD, it is still a very, very funny novel. Needless to say, Bazes’ wry sense of humor is on display throughout, from beginning to end. Like this masterful tongue-
GOLDSMITH’S RETURN is one of those rare-
REVIEW: HELL'S HALF ACRE by Will Christopher Baer (McAdam/Cage)
The new trends being explored in neo-
REVIEW: BEST BEHAVIOR by Noah Cicero (Civil Coping Mechanisms)
There were times while reading Noah Cicero’s Best Behavior that I felt like I might be reading a less insane, more introspective Bukowski. Yeah, I know—saying someone writes like Bukowski has almost become meaningless, a kind of anti-
"But there are consonants between the generations that must be recognized, everybody from every generation shits, eats, needs shelter, has sex, and doesn’t enjoy when bad things happen.
So the questions are:
How do they shit, how do they inhabit those shelters, how did they have sex and respond to bad things. I guess those are the questions, and here is the really long answer:"
And answer he does. In fact, another way that Cicero’s Bad Behavior resembles Bukowski (aside from it being auto-
But taken as a whole, Best Behavior doesn’t read like a novel. It’s more like the personal travelogue of a journey—yes, to NYC—but more importantly, a journey inward. A journey in which the author explores his place or lack thereof, as it turns out, in a self-
There’s some beautiful writing here.
"Walk to the beach first. There was an ocean. It was large and blue. The wind hit me hard. Loved the wind. There was no wind in the city. Feeling the wind was good."
That kind of taut, pared down language hits like a low blow, a knot in the bowels. Dare I say, it’s Bukowskian in tone if not sentiment? And there’s plenty more where that came from. Plenty more.
Admittedly, Best Behavior was my first exposure to Cicero, and frankly, I’m impressed. More than impressed, truth be told. I now feel certain I’ll be spending some time with Cicero’s earlier works. And I’m looking forward to it. (4 stars)
REVIEW: MONKEYTOWN by Chis Vola (SAM)
Chris Vola is a very good writer—perhaps even a great writer. There are moments in MONKEYTOWN when the lexical spark of his finely crafted prose threatens to pull back the curtain on the bleak and insensate world that the author has so meticulously rendered in this work of transgressive literature. And make no mistake, this is transgressive literature—a world in which information and misinformation freely intertwine, disseminated through a nihilistic filter of drugs and alcohol. This overarching theme of the novel is fortified by and reflected in the untrustworthy narrator, Josh, whom the reader is reluctant to trust due not only to his unmitigated substance abuse but to his mind-
REVIEW: MAYBE by Jacqueline Valencia
One of the most compelling feats that Jacqueline Valencia manages to pull off in her collection of short prose and poetry Maybe is to show the reader that “maybe” is not just a linguistic theme around which she has built the collection but that “maybe” is somehow a symbol of something much greater. The collection itself becomes part of an extended metaphor in which maybe becomes the midpoint between forward and backward, the stasis and motion between life and death, and, yes, a kind of ontological stutter.
Despite being highly experimental (which is often code for emotionless), Valencia’s collection is highly affective and has the feel of postmodern confessional poetry. In short, it feels personal—unapologetically so. Yet it always opens up to something larger, a universe in which the reader may or may not step into and inhabit.
now my tea is as
tepid as the impotency
my keys sit quietly in my pocket
I’m sweating and
I’m feasting on the
dialectic of sour planets
by my door.
At this moment nothing moves; all is reified. Compare that to the movement in “Clara.”
This time Clara pushed off the plane. A big blue-
This is the movement between life and death. What some people call living but others just call existing. From “Selwynn”:
I watched them fly off in different directions. Their lights shot off into the sky and I lost sight of them among the rest of the stars.
I am alone and my back has become smooth now, but hunched with time and travel. I see a giant fire in the distance and a giant blue planet up ahead. I wish I could tell Debra about finally knowing where I’m going. I am whole with a sense of purpose.
There is an organic sense of wholeness to Maybe. This whole is certainly enhanced by Valencia imaginative art work interspersed throughout. By the last line of the book the reverberations of the whole are loud and clear. That is not to say there is some underlying sense or meaning to be taken away from the book. I don’t believe there is, at least not in the way that most people want to know “what’s it about?”
Aside from its sense of wholeness, there are also some stand alone, literary gems in Maybe. Like this one from “scenarios: how do you see it?”
click “like” on status.
this moral technology;
an easy cake walk.
Or like this one from “Lake Ontario Carp,” a meditation on a school of common fish.
the carp have swum over
to hide under a nearby boat
and the waves are now small
ripples of vagueries.
The possibilities beyond death,
the possibilities beyond failure
are like leaping with a feeling of
You see what I mean about the opening up into something larger? And although Maybe is not always pregnant with possibility, it is full of possibility at its most compelling moments. Maybe is equally cruel and kind. But its kindness is what the reader wants to cling to throughout. A longing which eventually lead to an end like this.
this is not the space to stop and
play the part; this is the place
to fuck, to sleep, to drink,
to get out of the muck.
I adjure you
stop putting yourself on hold
This is visceral stuff, yet emotional in its confessional tone. Valencia has struck just the right balance between the two. And that, I think, is what makes Maybe such a remarkable collection. Certainly, it is one to read again and again, and I cannot for the life of me imagine anyone who enjoys the written word not enjoying this book. It is an investment that pays out big time.
REVIEW: LIZARD WORLD by Terry Richard Bazes (Livingston)
Terry Richard Bazes is insanely creative. I could leave off writing this review having said only that, satisfied that I have made my point well. Because it’s true—so true. But somehow that is not enough, and there is more to say about Bazes’ wild imagination and his new novel, Lizard World. In Lizard World, the author roundly lampoons humanity’s seemingly unquenchable desire for immortality (at any cost) by pulling back the curtain and revealing it in a less than chivalric light. Griswold, a depraved three-
REVIEW: FOLLOWING RICHARD BRAUTIGAN by Corey Mesler (Livingston)
Let me just lay it out there for you: Corey Mesler’s Following Richard Brautigan is not a masterpiece, but it’s close. No, I don’t mean Masterpiece, capital M—it’s not War and Peace, not Kind of Blue, not Don Giovanni. What it is is a close masterpiece of language and sensibility. And if that isn’t a description of poetry—albeit an unimaginative and pedestrian one—then I don’t know what is. Yes, it’s poetry—which is fitting considering the ghost that haunts this novel and its protagonist. And since we’re talking about what this novel is, let me add a few more isisms. It’s a road movie, sans the movie part. It’s a coming-
The plot of the novel is unremarkable. In fact it is more of a skeletal framework onto which Mr. Mesler hangs his vignettes—some long, some short, but all delightful. And with gem-
Mesler is clearly a poet, and it shows. Not surprisingly, then, it is easy to take pleasure in passages like this:
It was raining a motherfucker.
It was raining a Dostoyevsky novel.
It was raining a Kurosawa film.
It was raining a Trout Mask Repilca.
Or this salient, stream-
Most of the poets, writers, dreamers we encountered had already survived and witnessed Hendrix chopping down a mountain with the edge of his hand, Miles running the voodoo down, Mailer and Ginsberg and Cal and Abbie levitating the Pentagon, children with their souls tattooed with tie-
Reading this slight, inspired, and thoroughly delightful novel, you will find yourself lost in milieu of language and sensibility. You will ponder the many allusions and tie them back to the page like ship lines to a pier. You will tell yourself to make sense of these later, as now you simply want to ride the tide further out (or is it in?). Reading Following Richard Brautigan is worth the time and effort, if effort is the right word at all (which it is not). It is more a labor of love than anything else. A peaceful sit-
REVIEW: BLOOMSDAY by David B. Lentz (Wordsworth Greenwich)
Perhaps the most striking aspect—at least initially—of Bloomsday: The Bostoniad is the decidedly striking parallels to Joyce’s Ulysses. These parallels are, of course, wholly intentional and justified in that Bloomsday is meant to be both a continuation and re-
Readers who are familiar with Joyce’s work will find the parallels between Ulysses and Bloomsday arresting at times—almost to the point of distraction—but will no doubt chuckle and even hee-
The plot of Bloomsday resembles that of Ulysses only superficially. Bloomsday offers some notable variations, especially those pertaining to the surprising paternity of Bloom and Dedalus. Another important variation is both Bloom and Dedalus lose their jobs on the morning of June 16th, although as the day wears on, Dedalus unwittingly picks up the very copywriting job which Rudy Bloom has earlier lost. This is a significant in that it informs one of the major themes of Bloomsday—capitalist greed in a society where one’s value is measured by his/her net worth. The setting, too, is important to this theme: Beantown, the Dublin of America. The sense of alienation that Rudy Bloom feels in Beantown has nothing to do with his being Jewish (he has converted to Christianity) as Leopold Bloom’s sense of alienation in the Dublin of Ulysses does, but stems from the fact that he is jobless in a rampantly (rabidly) capitalist society. In fact, consuming is at the heart of nearly everything Rudy Bloom and Thomas Dedalus do throughout their wanderings in the day and night duration of Bloomsday, and money facilitates that consumption. However, the plain fact that Rudy Bloom has lost his job is a constant source of tension for Bloom, as well as the reader. Also at the back of Rudy Bloom’s mind is his wife Penelope’s supposed intimate rendezvous with Blaine Boylston, womanizer, and the publisher of her poems. Like Leopold Bloom, Rudy is reluctant to go home—to give up his wandering—for fear of what he believes he will find there. Also like Leopold Bloom, Rudy is guilty of his own romantic dalliances. (He writes suggestive letters to Maddy Dunne and lusts after Margaret Breen.) And in this way, Lentz manages to make Rudy Bloom as lovable and yet as flawed a character as Joyce’s Leopold Bloom.
Thomas Dedalus’s predicament is just the opposite of Rudy Bloom’s. Having taken Bloom’s copywriting job, Dedalus now finds himself in a position to reap the benefits of living in a capitalist society. Like Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, Thomas’s turmoil stems from an unrealized sense of identity. In short, he is the artist who has sold his proverbial soul and along with it, his sense of self. Forced from the hallowed halls of academe, he now braces himself for a world of dining and drinking with wealthy clients who wouldn't know Prada from Proust. And in this way does he, the artist, “suffer” for his art.
In Bloomsday, Lentz has written a novel very much in the style of Joyce, replete with wit and wordplay, inner monologues, and dialogues based on rapid-
REVIEW: AMERICA INC. by David B. Lentz (Wordsworth Greenwich)
Despite my relatively limited exposure to author David B. Lentz, I think it’s fair to say that the James Joyce has significantly influenced his work. In Bloomsday, Mr. Lentz re-
First let me say that the satire that infuses America Inc is barbed with witticisms worthy of the greats—luminaries in the field of political shaming. Luminaries like Voltaire and Sterne. It starts from the opening act—when Bob is called by the CEO of America Inc. to head up the “Department of Korporate Kulture” (a department with a decidedly Germanic handle and one that is only a single “K” off from being the Klan)—and the hits keep coming nonstop until the final credits roll. Believe me when I say, this is funny stuff. Of course, the target of the satire is America Inc., and every scene reveals another layer of depravity and corruption among the leaders of this corpornation. No one is more corrupt, more power hungry, and more purposefully debauched than the CEO himself, Travis T. Bash.
Under Bash’s command, the country has run totally amok: the Supreme Court has been disbanded, a great brick wall is being built between the Redfish and Bluefish states, the citizens—ie. shareholders—are forced into the Suicide by 95 program, or worse, gassed and made into dog food, and the list goes on and on. In fact, it seems no political stone is left unturned by the author, and every political absurdity one can think of is dragged out into the light of day. But even more unsettling is the fact that our hero and seemingly only hope in the face of this rampant corruption, Bob, is powerless before these atrocities. It seems he can do nothing but impotently observe the dark machinations of America Inc. and lament the fact that his beloved country has gone to the dogs.
At one point Bash and Bob have the following exchange.
Bash: When you own real power, people want you only for what they can take from you. It’s usually money, power, sex, prestige or position. But you seem different. What do you want, Bob?
Bob: I just want our great nation to heal. To be free. And unified again.
Unfortunately, Bob’s idealism accomplishes nothing, or so it seems at this point in the play, except perhaps aids his own demise. In the end, it appears that the artist has no natural defenses against the real world in which he must live, prompting Bob to utter one of the play’s most memorable lines: “If a genius lives in American culture…in a lunatic asylum of epic greed…who’d ever know it.” It is realization and a point of resignation that every artist comes to at some point in his or her life.
Just when it seems Bob/the artist/we, the audience, can sink no lower, the play’s author cracks a door and a glimmer of hope appears, and only then does it become apparent that Mr. Lentz has deliberately led us to this low point in order to tell us something important. For, as the author goes on to suggest, only through his art can the artist transcend his surroundings, and only in doing so can he become free. This is a realization that Stephen Dedalus comes to at the end of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. And Bob also realizes it in the final moments of the play.
Bob: In the midst of bedlam. Above the brimming ambitions of cruel megalomania. Amid such tumult in the dark. You arose from the dust of the chaos like an angel phoenix—an epiphany from the ruins. And in your ascent I became transcendent, too.
The “you” here refers to Paige, Bob’s love interest in the play, specifically, but more broadly, “you” refers to Bob’s own art. This sentiment is more than cold comfort. The author would have us believe that this is an epiphany and a truth that every artist must eventually come to in order to keep from perishing. And in this realization, Bob saves himself. The implication is that anyone else who will listen and follow Bob’s lead will also free him or herself from the shackles of a broken, deeply flawed society, whether it be America Inc. or not. This, it seems to me, is the point of Mr. Lentz’s inspired and poignant stage play. Through all the belly-
REVIEW: I WILL ROT WITHOUT YOU (Fungasm)
Let me think-
Within an absurdist framework, Slater probes and prods familiar themes of love and longing between protagonist Ernie Cotard, ex-
There can be no doubt that Slater spins a lively tale in this novel. The story moves quickly from beginning to end, twisting and turning, or perhaps more accurately, writhing and gnashing, only momentarily coming up for air with brief-
“Black like pen ink. Like the fur of a bad luck cat. Black like the water at the bottom of the Ganges. I am adrift in the tide of this black dream. And I wonder if I were to shrink down so that I were the smallest thing in the universe, what color would the space between electrons be? Is emptiness black? Can you touch it? Does emptiness even exist at all, or does the black-
Which leads me to the one complaint I have about the novel: I wish there were a few more moments like this one. A bit more time to breathe. It’s a small critique, true enough. Oh, and there are several strands of the plot that seem to fall out of the weave and are never quite gathered back in. But these are small issues in the larger story. And this story is much larger that its page count would suggest. It’s as big as the universe that exists between the space of electrons. Yep, a conundrum-