Debunking the “otherness” of nature: Companion Grasses by Brian Teare (Omnidawn, April 2013)

Debunking the “otherness” of nature: Companion Grasses by Brian Teare (Omnidawn, April 2013)

Companion Grasses, by Brian Teare (Omnidawn, April 2013)

Are veins of blood so different from tributaries of rivers? Is the way grass in the wind might blow dark on one side, and flip to silver on the other so different from the way we might turn a dark thought in our heads to see the brighter aspect from another perspective?

Briane Teare’s fifth full-length book of poetry, Companion Grasses, offers a new perspective on the human relationship with nature.

Read my review here on the incomparable Litseen.

Here is How it Happens, Spencer Dew (Ampersand Books, March 2013)

Here is How it Happens, Spencer Dew (Ampersand Books, March 2013)

This is How it Happens, by Spencer Dew (Ampersand Books, 2013)

Irony’s chokehold on fiction is beginning to crack, and Here is How it Happens.

It happens in art school in Ohio. It happens in a greasy spoon on the highway at sunset, and again just before dawn. It happens not in spite of, but because cinnamon-apple is not in alphabetical order, household products kill, and killer bees are on the way. It almost happens on a dryer during the permanent press cycle. And it never happens the way it is supposed to.

Billed as fiction, but with lyricism borrowed from poetry, a California Sea Lion tranquilizer dart, and a day-glo orange hunting cap with earflaps, Spencer Dew‘s debut novel, Here is How it Happens, tracks a group of art-school sophomores in a small Ohio town.

Armed with scalpel-sharp wit and dwindling hopes, its characters have grown up in a culture saturated by a propaganda of naive optimism, oversimplified morality, and cookie-cutter trajectories: fall in love, get married, work hard in a fulfilling career, be satisfied and happy. Presented with a very different reality- parents lost to mental illness or alcohol-fueled absurdist beach parties; a tuber-like populace eating their way through chain restaurants; love that fizzled early and quickly descended into obligatory ritual- these characters have responded the way a real generation of young people has responded: by falling into a numbed, cynical detachment. Every moment turns into an opportunity to chain-smoke, huff paint thinner, or pillage someone else’s box-wine while quipping mordant slogans like, “Faith is a bit clichéd,” and “The kitsch of the past is the discourse of the future.”

This territory would instantly become tedious if the author were offering us only smart-alecky, ironical humor as a reason to read this book. But Dew is not a coward: he, like his protagonist, Martin, is a circumspect hunter out to bullseye the target on the dummy-deer in the Walmart sports-supply department, proving that it rests directly over an empty place that should contain a heart. One of the book’s principle characters, Kim, is the art “star” of the group. Rewarded with droll accolades by her teachers and held up as an example before other students, she is a vulture incapable of not creating art out of every waking experience, including those of her friends. She is the ultimate in righteous self-obsession, and is Dew’s acknowledgment that aloofness and abstraction is no better answer to the dark night of the soul than cleverness and self-destruction. But for a group of young people whose lives already feel as if they are nearly over, what is the answer? An overdose? Giving in to expectations and marrying the person you should love, but don’t? Cultivate the thickest skin possible? Concede futility and pursue one of many paths to zombiehood?

Rather than remain in the safe buffer zone of intellect, Here is How it Happens takes a brave step out of the realm of cynicism toward the infinitely more risky territory of tenderness. Dew does this best when he is not padding his good work with lyric flourish. Though there is plenty of heady, well-crafted language here for those who need the illustration of metaphor to solidify the underlying emotion, “a storm of blood light, clotting the sky,” the most powerful moments are simple and guileless, like the night Martin comes home to the attic dorm room he shares with Eddie, whose art takes the form of painstaking miniature dioramas of famous political scenes like the mass-murder at Kent State. Eddie, who has been working for hours and is covered with paint, puts a comforting hand on Martin’s shoulder, leaving a smudge:

“He dabs at my jacket with one of his rags, the rag smelling of heavy turpentine, blotched with military-tone paint.
‘It’s okay,’ I say. ‘Please don’t try and fix it.'”

 

Here is How it Happens
by Spencer Dew
Ampersand Books, March 2013

This Terrible Symmetry: a review of Helsinki, by Peter Richards

This Terrible Symmetry: a review of Helsinki, by Peter Richards

by Peter Richards

I rarely have a viscerally bad reaction to a book, but when it comes to connecting with a reader, I find it frustrating when surrealism is confused with, well, confusion. Other reviewers describe this book as containing an “exuberant grief,” but in my review this month in Gently Read Literature, I argue that there is a way to use surrealism in poetry to heighten and clarify awareness, particularly when writing out of grief -T.S. Eliot did it in The Wasteland– but Richards does not sustain it in Helsinki.

Read more

Sharks in the Rivers at Gently Read Literature

Sharks in the Rivers at Gently Read Literature

While reading Ada Limon’s Sharks in the Rivers, I shapeshifted into a bird, a fish, a river, a horse, a desert, and another woman.  I took on other forms but those are secrets. If you want to try on wings or fins yourself, you should check out the brand spanking new May issue of Gently Read Literature, and read my review.

eavesdrop…dream…subvert (at work!): evan karp’s podcast pilot

eavesdrop…dream…subvert (at work!): evan karp’s podcast pilot

Wish you could read a book of fine local literature instead of working?  Now you can!

I know all you creative people wear headphones at work, so just tune in to evan karp’s podcast pilot and experience literary dissidence while only appearing to be running on the usual mental hamster wheel:

A CONVERSATION WITH TUPELO HASSMAN: girlchild and the city with the most trailers in the world

A CONVERSATION WITH TUPELO HASSMAN: girlchild and the city with the most trailers in the world

Check out my interview with Tupelo Hassman about her new book, girlchild, being released today from Farrar, Straus and Giroux!

Crooked Hills, Book One, by Cullen Bunn (earwig press)

Crooked Hills, Book One, by Cullen Bunn (earwig press)

Crooked HillsCrooked Hills by Cullen Bunn

At some point, the head noise of adult life dulls out a vital sense that kids know deep down in their bones: sometimes what you’re looking for is also looking for you.

Charles “Charlie” Ward is almost 13, and newly-made man of the house after his father’s recent death in a suspicious hit-and-run “accident.” Charlie’s a Chicago kid who’s looking forward to losing his troubles in a summer of video games, horror novels, ghost stories, and baseball with his friends, until certain doom hijacks his plans: a family vacation in the Ozarks with his mother and annoying eight-year-old brother, Alex. But the summer has its own plans for Charlie, who finds himself headed for Crooked Hills, the most haunted town in America, and home to Maddie Someday, a spirit who wanders the woods at night, in search of children she find by the blood-red light of her ruby ring.

Cullen Bunn, who has written for Marvel and DC Comics, Wildstorm, and IDW, is also author of the horror noir series, The Damned, The Sixth Gun, and Like a Chinese Tattoo. His new juvenile fiction series, Crooked Hills, is a cobwebby trap-door that suddenly appears in the ceiling of your clean, new, suburban home: a portal for children to climb into the ghostly back rooms and hidden spaces of supernatural fiction. And unlike the recent turn that tween supernatural fiction has taken into bodice-ripping, fashion-conscious, narcissistic soap-opera, Cullen Bunn delivers the real goods: worms, spiders, headless chickens fleeing bloody axes, kidnapped little brothers, and girls with slingshots who can track ghost dogs by moonlight.

Crooked Hills is a series you’ll want to kid to read, or better yet, to read together, because all horror and supernatural fiction fans know that the prickling, shuddersome feeling that comes from a good ghost story is no cheap thrill, it’s a vital connection to something larger and and deeper and more shadowy: a key to what’s haunting you.

Forthcoming in February 2012: Cullen Bunn’s,“Creeping Stones and Other Stories.” Individual stories to appear digitally leading up to book’s release.

A Bird Black as the Sun: California poets on crows and ravens

A Bird Black as the Sun: California poets on crows and ravens

Please read this review on Litseen

A Bird Black As The Sun: California Poets on Crows and Ravens, edited by Enid Osborn and Cynthia Anderson
reviewed by LJ Moore

Green Poet Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-615-53632-3

Pop-Lit Bleed Out: Soulstice, by Lance Dow and Keana Texeira

Pop-Lit Bleed Out: Soulstice, by Lance Dow and Keana Texeira

Luna's Dream (Soulstice, #1)

Soulstice: Luna’s Dream
by Lance Dow and Keana Texeira
(613 pages/Red Tide Publishing, 2010)
ISBN : 9780578053721

Soulstice: Luna’s Dream is part one in a four-part saga about vampires and werewolves co-written by 15-year-old pop-singer/model Keana Texeira and screenwriter, Lance Dow. Texeira will star in the movie version of the book, which was publicized for release in 2011 but has apparently overslept in its coffin. Soulstice is a teen romance written in the voice of its 15-year-old narrator, Luna Tremaine, a vampire who breaks the cultural code of her species by… you guessed it… falling in love with a human boy.

Before you read any further let me do you a favor: if you are a fan of well-written gothic/horror/supernatural fiction, simply skip Soulstice. I doubt you even need me to tell you that. If you are a fan of the Twilight series, you should also skip Soulstice. Frankly, everyone should skip it. However, I have made it a personal point to only write negative reviews when a book goes beyond being junk reading and crosses baldly into the territory of, as Robert Smith sang it,  jumping someone else’s train.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a longstanding tradition of theft in literature, music, art- in all of human nature. No one really invents the wheel: we steal the idea from nature, and then we steal it from each other, making improvements along the way. The line betweeen plagiarisim and inpiration is really the difference between knock-off and innovation: one is an assisted act of creation, fueled by the influences/samples/riffs of others. The other is a cheap vampire.

For fans of the Twilight Series, (and I am not one, but let’s just pretend for a moment) Soulstice is going to seem groan-inducingly familiar: the story takes place in a remote town in the Pacific Northwest, it is about vampires falling in love with humans, the trials and tribulations of high school, love at first sight, feats of inhuman strength, vampires defending the humans they love against other vampires, rebellion against cultural taboos, pop culture and fashion, running really fast in the forest, jumping really far, mood swings, brooding, emotional outbursts, and blood. Don’t forget the fashion-conscious-yet-eco-friendly plugs for hemp, as well as Native Americans who appear as caricatures of doomed wisdom.

Soulstice is written in the confessional style it seems pop culture ascribes to being the universal voice of teens everywhere. Texeira’s age is a consideration, but not an excuse to confuse bad writing with “voice.” To be fair, Texeira hits her stride near the end of the book with fast-paced, truly gory fight scenes. If all of Soulstice were written with that kind of focus,  wiped clean of asides, self-conscious meanderings off-topic, and tedious scene-setting blow-by-blows, (now I’m parking my bike, now I’m putting on my headphones) it could at least be a guilty pleasure to read at the gym.

There is very little in Soulstice that is not derivative of Stephenie Meyers’ world (itself filled with plagiarism of Anne Rice, but don’t get me started), which begs the question: why does Soulstice bother itself with being about vampires anyway? If nothing new is being brought to the mythology, why not do something creative with the concept and take the passionate, fresh, bloodthirsty focus of a teenage perspective and apply it to a new vein? Since the Twilight Series has done this decades’ work of re-opening the pop-lit artery, the answer seems to be that there’s a feeding frenzy on for derivative blood money.

Meanwhile, a generation of new hemophiles will eventually (hopefully) figure out for themselves that reading books like Soulstice is about as satisfying as a bottle of cold, skunky Tru Blood.