1Q2014 Book Reviews

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Old Souls and the Grammar of Their Wanderings

by Berrien C. Henderson (Papaveria Press)

I’ve been waiting to read this retelling of Arthurian Legends, Old South style. Henderson needn’t have worried; it is not the love child of Jeff Foxworthy and Malory. It’s lyrical, and the amnesiac old souls of legend meet the Song of the South with a plop of a frog into a pond surrounded by Southern pines, where the mists of Avalon curl around the knees of cypress trees. You know how those of us who are Sherlock Holmes fans geek out on finding references to old stories and characters on the television show, Elementary? Well, fans of the Arthurian mythos will find the sword mutated into a shotgun, the stone mutated into a pawn shop, the Lady of the Lake in cut-off jeans and Arthur as a young man fresh out of college and dealing with his deceased father’s estate, er, kingdom. Lance is obviously Lancelot, but the holy grail is a little obscure. Read it. You’ll find it. Like me, your main complaint may be that you want more.

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Eyeballs Growing All Over Me . . . Again

by Tony Rauch (Eraserhead Press)

This book of  short stories is as disjointed as its title. Overblown purple-prose descriptions vie with too-obvious and “why should I care?” openings. Blunt traumas via words share shelf-space with obscure metaphors. Lists masquerade as description, and unnecessary detail weighs any chance of pacing down as surely as a stone anchor. And it’s all in first person, present tense, which is further off-putting: especially when this choice becomes a vehicle for showing, not telling, POV character motivations.

Despite the Amazon book description I find this neither whimsical nor surreal. This is yet another example of a writer who has not yet perfected their craft, and was published way too early. To the folks at Eraserhead Press, I have a simple question: what were you thinking when you published this?

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My Name is Dee

by Robin Wyatt Dunn (John Ott)

Noir Magica. This story is not dove grey but at times so dark it’s nearly black.

Writing from the POV of someone who is insane, on drugs, or experiencing an alternate reality is an exacting task. Reading such a book is no trivial exercise, either, but some people enjoy teasing out clues to the actual state of such a character’s life. “My Name is Dee” is not a book for the casual reader: a dedicated reader needs to sift through clues to unravel such a story and do that while getting their information carefully filtered though an unreliable narrator.  Did John Dee kill his son? Did he kill a female writer? Are there really aliens, and is his “magic” perception of the power structure behind the shadow-world of Los Angeles real, or is he insane?

When reading such a work, my personal preference is to (a) have some sort of resolution toward the end, where you can decide what actually happened and (b) to not be forced to wade through a sewer of the darker side of life while doing so. I do not feel that I was rewarded for my hard work in following this dream-like plot. The author chooses to leave the reader undecided about his protagonist’s sanity. Note that this is a personal preference: you may enjoy such a book. I felt let down, however, annoyed and a little betrayed.

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Come Late to the Love of Birds

by Sandra Kasturi (Tightrope Books)

The title is a reference to not noticing birds until late in life, and by metaphorical extension finally noticing other things that had hovered on the edges of awareness. This poetry chapbook is a paean to what can be the sharp, discerning reality of later years, when humans start to truly realize that they are not indestructible. So it’s a self-aware little tome, full of meaning wrapping in avian metaphors. Below, I provide a few tastes of this feast of words, hoping to entice you to read all of her poetry. Sandra Kasturi is maestro.

For example, this on the impermanence of promises:

You give me nothing but words

vermilion and verdigris and very

smooth as pebbles

shaped by the rough tongue of centuries.

If you were to place me in your mouth

would I not become a word then—

a strange sound echoing across the desert,

my bones and consonants sanded away

leaving nothing behind

but hieroglyphs of wind.

 

Or this, on the numbing effects of routine:

It’s these household rages that do me in,

fret me into a guitar-plucked hum,

a dissonance of dishes, roasting chickens

clucked quick into the oven, their crumb-

tossed, butter-paled bodies dimpling in glass pans,

heated caskets ready for the cremation

of Sunday dinner and the Monday dance,

the weekly pirouette of desperation.

There I am, humped in a chair by the window

in some nameless café, swallowing tea

by the styrofoam cupful, fat with sorrow

and dulled by a relentless certainty:

This clutching life, it ever groundward bends us,

makes us routine’s hostage; how watchfully it tends us.

 

Part of a poem about a predatory male:

You were not to be trusted or believed,

even when hooded and trussed

unless your ravenous hunger

had already been sated

with a meat raw and bloody.

 

Such exsanguinations had to be effected personally:

flesh rendered by others

was, even at the very moment of death,

already too old to be touched.

You were fastidious.

It’s no secret that I am a sucker for that which makes me look at reality in new and shining ways. This chapbook does that, and I will re-read it on cold winter nights, as a source of warmth.

Hummingbirds don’t fly south for the winter. They just freeze where they are in the air, mistaken for speckles of winter sunlight, or, sometimes, low-hanging stars.

And as we all know at Abyss & Apex, prayer causes stars.

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Daughter Cell

by Jay Hartlove (Damnation Books)

Daughter Cell is a paranormal thriller, a mystery with a biotech beat, and a real treat. It brings back Haitian psychiatrist Sanantha Mauwad, and while it’s a sequel to The Chosen, this standalone book takes us to Malaysia, Korea, and the innermost workings of a triangle of love, deception, science, religion, fear and desire. Warning: if you have a fear of snakes, this book will freak you right out.

Identity theft and adultery are the least of the crimes uncovered in this fast-paced story. Layer upon layer of lies are peeled back slowly to a satisfying conclusion that also involves bodies of rather under-served paranormal lore: Voodoo, and Korean animism.

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